Content warnings: None.
Notes: Written for Jashi Week: Thursday Toast.
The rebuilding and restoration of the Samurai's homeland had made leaps in progress. Grass painted the hills green again, wildlife flourished in abundance, and his people were steadily recovering, still making the transition from a life of enslavement to a regained life of freedom. What truly signaled the sign a fully-renewed home, however, were the words of a group of children, eagerly running home with smiles spread widely across their faces.
"Fireflies!" one of them exclaimed. "We saw fireflies!"
The Empress brought a hand to her chest. "The fireflies…they have returned?"
"Are they a threat, Your Majesty?" inquired Ashi, "I don't think I ever saw or heard of any in Aku's future…they sound like they could produce great damage."
"Oh no," chuckled the Empress, "No, not at all. They are magnificent creatures that emerge in the summer, with a glow that can only be seen when it's dark out like this. They disappeared since Aku's reign…" Ashi felt a pang of guilt at this fact. "…I thought they would never return."
One of the children ran up to the Empress.
"Here you are, Your Majesty!"
The Empress gasped softly in wonder as the child opened her cupped hands and a glow emerged from them. Out fluttered the creature known as the firefly, its golden glow shining brilliantly. Ashi stared at its beauty in awe and brought an outstretched finger to it, which the firefly perched on. She smiled, knowing that she lived in a time where this bug would not meet an abrupt and unfortunate end, and that she could enjoy its company. That joy was quickly extinguished, however, as the bug's light began to fade out.
"Oh no," gasped Ashi, turning to face the Empress. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty…Aku's darkness must still be lingering inside of me. I thought I knew how to control it…I thought it was gone for good."
The Empress smiled and shook her head. "Don't worry, my dear, that's not what happened at all. Look…"
The firefly's glow slowly returned, like the fire of a candle that appeared to be flickering out, only to return burning just as vibrantly as ever. Ashi couldn't hold back the smile that grew wider at the marvel of the creature that stood on her finger.
"If what the children say is true, there should be more hiding in the tall grass," said the Empress with a knowing grin, "I think my son would be delighted if you surprised him."
Ashi and the Samurai walked through the grass, guided by a lantern Ashi carried out in front of them. A gentle breeze blew through the warm summer air, rustling the tall blades of grass and bringing out a lively chorus of chirping from the crickets. The Samurai sighed contentedly.
"This takes me back to when I was a child," he remarked, "I was so small that the grass towered over me, it felt like being in a forest. I would get lost exploring, looking for crickets, dragonflies, frogs…any sort of creature that caught my eye."
"That sounds wonderful," said Ashi with a hint of sadness in her voice.
She could sense the Samurai honing in on her feelings of longing, searching for words to comfort her, and turned around to see her suspicions confirmed by the concerned expression on his face. She quickly tried thinking up something else; this was supposed to be a happy night, after all.
"Speaking of which," she said, having thought of a means to shift the tide of melancholy that threatened to drown out the evening, "I think you'll like where I'm taking you."
The Samurai's face lit up.
"And that's the only hint you're getting."
And then his face turned into a pout. Ashi smirked and the pair proceeded onward, Ashi continuing to walk in front of the Samurai. She didn't want him to discover his surprise before she did.
After some time walking, Ashi spotted them: glowing orbs peeking from behind the grass. She held back a gasp; one firefly was wondrous enough, she could hardly process the idea of seeing a whole group of them. Her heart hammered excitedly in her chest at the thought.
"We're here," she said, shining the lantern over to illuminate the meeting place of the fireflies.
The Samurai stared at the sight before him, his mouth agape. Glowing, shining lights scattered all around the grass in front of them, floating through the air like tiny lanterns. Ashi was equally taken aback by the magnificence of it all. All this beauty, all produced by these small, living creatures. It just went to show that anything could be amazing, no matter what the size.
The Samurai slowly walked toward the fireflies, as though he were lost in a trance. He extended a hand out and let one settle in his palm.
"All the wondrous creatures I've seen in Aku's future and yet," he said, examining the firefly, "None could ever quite meet the majesty that is the firefly. I haven't seen one since I was a child…before I left on my journey."
"I never saw them either…until I came to your time," said Ashi, "I was told they disappeared during Aku's reign…" She winced for a moment, feeling somehow responsible, but tried keeping her chin up for the both of them. "…and that they've just now returned."
"Then…" The Samurai turned to take Ashi's hand in his. "Then I believe this calls for a night of celebration. For the fireflies, and for us."
Ashi smiled, setting the lantern down to let a firefly land on her finger.
"Did you know fireflies carry the souls of fallen warriors?" said the Samurai.
"No," Ashi replied, wide-eyed, inspecting the firefly on her finger closer. "So we're meeting with a gathering of warriors…"
"Indeed," the Samurai said, "Many belonging to ones that have protected the land from Aku's rule, no doubt."
Guilt gripped again at Ashi's heart. She stared sorrowfully at the ground. Even knowing she was not her father, even knowing that Aku was gone for good, she still felt like an extension of his curse upon the land. The darkness that would never leave.
A hand gently gripped her arm and she looked up to see the Samurai, smiling softly at her.
"You know, without the darkness, we couldn't see these wonderful creatures," said the Samurai, looking up to the star-studded night sky, "I believe this meeting of the fireflies also signifies the unification of darkness and light. One cannot exist without the other. Both are worthy of celebration."
Ashi let the Samurai's words wrap around her like a blanket. She held up the firefly on her finger.
"I wonder if it's possible that any of these fireflies could be my sisters," Ashi said quietly, "Despite Aku's future being gone…do you suppose it's possible?"
"I know it is possible," the Samurai responded with confidence, "I know because I can sense the spirits of my own friends from that future, shining passionately here. And I know that when it is our time to move on, we will join them."
The both of them released their fireflies and embraced one another, the glow of the fireflies dancing around the figures that unified light and dark.