A paper crane sat in the middle of the trail that morning, right in the shadow of the abandoned tower. The farmer stooped and picked it up, puzzled.
The farmer walked past the abandoned tower every time he went to town. Nearly every weekend he had to take that trail to get supplies, and so he would pass the tower on the way there, and again on the way back, and not once had he ever heard a sound from within, nor seen any movement. So where had this come from?
He unfolded the crane, and inside, a message was written:
Dear noble sir, it read. I have watched you from the top of my tower for many years now, and think you very handsome. I believe I may love you. I am trapped here by oni who have cast a curse on me so that I may only be carried out of this tower by the man I love. Please help me.
Thinking it odd, but never one to turn down a woman in distress, the farmer turned to the tower and approached the door. Mounted above it was a blood-red katana and an oni mask of matching color. Shrugging his shoulders, the man slowly opened the door. He slipped inside the dark, musty room, which was nothing more than the floor and the bottom of a flight of stairs. He tiptoed to the stairs, but before he could take the first step, a flash of light burst in front of his face.
Floating in front of him was the bodiless head of an oni. It glowed an eerie green and had large tusks and horns protruding from its grotesque face.
“She will not love you. Turn back,” it growled in a voice that seemed to speak directly into the farmers mind.
The farmer shoved the levitating head out of the way and ascended the steps to the second floor, where he was met by a second oni.
“No matter what you do, she will never love you. Turn back.”
The farmer pushed ahead anyway. All told, there were nineteen floors, each with their own oni, which each warned him similarly.
Finally, panting heavily, the farmer reached the top, where there was a door. He pushed it open and stepped inside. There was a bed inside, and sitting upon it was the most beautiful woman the farmer had ever seen. He gulped nervously and tried to look presentable. He greeted her warmly and told her that he had received her note and that he was going to take her away with him. She smiled a dazzling smile and embraced him tightly, and then kissed him.
“Thank you, my love,” she whispered sweetly in his ear. “I knew you’d come.”
He led her back down the stairs, but the oni did not appear this time. Without any struggle, they left the tower, and walked down the trail back to the farmer’s home.
There they stayed for nineteen months, and they were deeply in love and deeply happy. But on the day before the twentieth month, the woman asked him an odd question.
“When are you going to take me to my castle?”
The farmer was puzzled at the question.
“What castle do you mean?”
“I am a princess after all, surely you didn’t think to rescue me without having a proper castle to take me back to?”
“I confess that I didn’t, my love. But I’ll build you a castle if that would make you happy.”
“Yes, do it now.”
“It will take time, my love.”
“Then you should get all of your fellow samurai to help you,” she said irritably.
Another strange thing to say, the farmer thought.
“I am not a samurai, my love. I am a farmer.”
“Then you must become one. I can’t be with a lowly farmer.”
“I will train to join the samurai, for you, but it will take time.”
“Time is something I do not have,” she hissed.
“Am I not worth waiting for, my love?” the farmer pleaded.
“No, you are not. I do not love you anymore and never will,” she said coldly.
The farmer stared at her in shock. He could feel his soul crumble as she spoke those words.
“I miss my home, please take me back.”
The farmer nodded silently and picked up a lantern. He led her down the trail to the tower and opened the door for her, tears welling up in his eyes. She lifted his chin and looked at him intensely.
“Do not cry,” she said with a smile. “A little part of you will always be with me.”
She kissed him gently and then disappeared into the shadows of her tower. The door shut silently behind her. The man collapsed to his knees, sobbing. He looked up to the top of the tower, hoping to see her face looking down, but he saw nothing. His gaze lowered down the tower until it fell upon the oni mask and the blood-red sword. He pulled them both down from their place above the door and tied the mask on.
He raised the blade…