Shadow of the Moon

Chapter 36

5-2 Youko spent the rest of the day in the room sleeping. She’d come to the conclusion that Rakushun was the sole occupant of the house.

“It’s got a tail. That can’t be good, eh?” It was the middle of the night. The blue monkey’s head sat at the foot of the bed. “One way or another he’s bound to betray you, don’t you suppose?”

Though there were two beds in the room, Rakushun didn’t sleep there. She didn’t think the house had another bedroom. She wasn’t sure where he bedded down for the night.

“Isn’t it about time you skedaddled out of here? If you don’t, he’s bound to steal your life away. No?”

Youko didn’t answer. If she continued to lie there and listen, the blue monkey would just repeat itself over and over. These were her anxieties. The monkey appeared in order to reveal them to her. He fed her fears and then gobbled them down. She was sure that was the way it worked.

Youko turned on her side. The blue monkey smoothly slipped over the covers until its small head rested next to her pillow. He peered at her. “You’ve got to strike first, before something bad happens. If you don’t, you’ll never survive. Isn’t that right, little girl?”

Youko rolled over and stared at the ceiling. “It doesn’t mean that I trust him.”

“Eh?”

“The way things are now, me not being able to move and all, I can’t do anything about it. If I leave before being able to effectively use the sword, I’ll just become some youma’s next meal.”

Not to mention that the wound to her right hand was severe. Even after a day of pressing the jewel against her hand, she hardly had sufficient strength in her hand to grip the sword.

“He’s going to figure out soon enough that you’re a kaikyaku, no? You really think you should be taking it easy like this? Ah, the governor’s men could be arriving any second.”

“In that case, I’d let my sword do the talking. If four or five of them came at me, I’d get away with my head intact. But before that happens, I’ll take advantage of the situation.”

There’s no one here I can call an ally.

But she really needed help now. Until she could properly wield the sword again. Until a bit more of her strength returned. Until then, she needed a safe bed, food and medicine. She didn’t know if Rakushun was on her side or not, but at least he was providing what she desperately needed. Until she knew for certain, she would take advantage of the situation as things stood.

“He could be poisoning the food, no? How can you be sure that that medicine is really medicine?”

“I’m taking precautions.”

“And I’m telling you that you’ll be outsmarted.”

The blue monkey was venting her doubts and fears. As she answered them one by one it resembled an exercise in self-examination.

“If he really had in mind to do something to me, he could have done what he wanted when I was unconscious. Even now, even if he wasn’t poisoning the food, he would have had any number of chances to kill me.”

“Perhaps he is waiting for something? Waiting for reinforcements, no?”

“In that case, I’ll save what energy I’ve got until then.”

“In the meantime, he’s getting you to trust him. Then he’ll turn the tables on you.”

“In that case, until Rakushun shows his hand, I’ll keep on pretending to trust him.”

The monkey burst into bright laughter. “Look at you, growing a backbone all of a sudden!”

“I have figured a few things out.”

Like the fact that she had no friends and no allies in this world. The fact that she had no place to go, no home to return to. The fact that she was completely on her own. Nevertheless, she had to stay alive. A life without friends, a life with no place to call her own—yes, it sucked being her. But if everyone in this world wanted her dead, then she wouldn’t die. And if no one in her old world wanted her back, then she’d go back anyway.

She wasn’t giving up. No way was she ever giving up. She was going to live. She was going to find Keiki. She was going home. It made no difference whether Keiki was friend or foe. If he was her enemy, if he threatened her, she’d make him take her back anyway.

“And what will you do when you get home?”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

“Better to just cash in your chips right now, no?”

“If no one gives a crap about me, then at least I’ll give a crap about myself.”

“That rat’s going to betray you.”

Youko turned and looked at the monkey. “If I don’t trust him, then he can’t betray me.”

It would have been better, of course, if she had figured this out earlier. She was a kaikyaku. That’s why she was hunted. A kaikyaku could count on no one. There was no place a kaikyaku could call safe ground. If she’d understood even that much, she wouldn’t have been duped by Takki and Matsuyama. She wouldn’t have been so ready to trust and been so easily betrayed. When it came to staying alive, she would use the appearance of trust to get what she needed out of people. That was the better strategy to follow.

Take advantage of people who could be taken advantage of. Not the most ethical approach to life. Takki and Matsuyama had taken advantage of her to make themselves a little richer. She should have a few scruples, then, about using Rakushun to keep body and soul together.

“You’re turning into quite the little scoundrel, now, aren’t you?”

“Just doing what I have to do,” Youko muttered. She waved her hand dismissively. “I’m tired. Go away.”

A strange look came over the monkey’s face, an expression like a child stubbornly chomping down on a lemon. He turned his back to her and in a wink sunk down into the futon and disappeared.

Watching this, Youko laughed thinly. These were all the anxieties she didn’t allow herself even to feel brought out in the open. It was proving a useful way to organize her thoughts, something she could take advantage of.

“Yes, I really am turning into quite the little scoundrel.” She laughed softly to herself in self-derision.

Nevertheless, there was no way she’d allowed herself to be used by another person again. No way she’d willingly allow another person to harm her again. Come what may, she was going to protect herself.

“That’s why it’s got to be this way.”

The mother and child she’d met on the mountain road, they hadn’t betrayed her because she hadn’t given them the chance to betray her.

I won’t give Rakushun the chance.

And that is how she would stay alive.

But why had it been so necessary for her to come to this world? Why had Keiki called her lord? Who were her enemies? What were they after? Why were they after her? That woman—the one with the same golden hair as Keiki—who was she? Why had she done what she had done?

Youma are not the kind of creature to go chasing after one person in particular.

Then why were they attacking her? That woman had embraced the corpse of the black dog as if mourning its death. Maybe they were comrades in arms. She’d gathered youma around her the same way Keiki did. Except she sent hers after Youko. Still, it looked like the woman was being ordered to attack her. Who was giving the orders? Was it Keiki or somebody else related to her?

She was clueless. She couldn’t afford to stay clueless. She had to find somebody with the answers. Unconsciously she clenched her hands into fists. Her fingernails dug into her palms. Youko held up her hands and examined the tips of her fingers.

Her chipped and broken nails were like knives, like some creature’s talons.

Only youma and wizards can cross the Kyokai.

Youko was neither a god nor a wizard.

That makes me a youma.

The dream of the red beast she’d had on the beach of the Kyokai—was it really a dream? Before coming to this world, for a long time she’d dreamt of being attacked by youma. That dream came true. Was her dream of becoming a youma also a premonition of things to come?

Her hair had turned red, her eyes emerald green. Were these the first steps in a total transformation? Perhaps that meant she wasn’t a human being at all, but a youma. It struck her as a very frightening thought and at the same time a rather pleasant one.

She could shout, scream, wave her sword about, threaten complete strangers, and all with a strange, hidden sense of euphoria. In the world she was born into, she had not once dared to raise her voice or give another person a cross look. To do so had always seemed like a sin. But wasn’t that because she had always known the truth? Wasn’t this all the result of pretending to live a harmless life, when deep down in her subconscious she knew she was a youma, knew she was a ferocious beast, knew she could not have gone on living in that other world?

Perhaps that was why everybody had described her as an unknown quantity, a closed book.

With these thoughts crowding her mind, she drifted off to sleep.

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.