2-8 If it hurts so much, it could be over in an instant.
The monkey’s words rested heavy on her heart. Youko couldn’t dismiss them from her mind. Neither could she tear her eyes away from the sword resting on her knees. It lay there, cold and hard, glimmering in the barely perceptible light.
If it hurts so much . . .
She could take the thoughts no further. She shook her head, cast them aside. She couldn’t go back and couldn’t go forward. She just sat there and stared at the sword.
After a while the blade began to throw off a faint but discernable glow. Youko opened her eyes wider. Slowly, the white outline of the sword emerged in the dark. Youko picked it up and held it out in front of her. The sword cast a brilliant glitter into the night. The flat of the double-edged blade was as wide as her fingers. She concentrated her attention on the curious colors dancing along its length.
An image of some sort was being projected by the sword itself. At first, she thought it was herself, but realized it was not. When she looked closer at the blade she saw it was the silhouette of a person, of somebody working.
She heard a familiar sound. The high, clear sound of water, of a drop striking the surface of calm pool. As she concentrated, the projection from the sword became clearer. The notes sounded and the image drew into focus, like the ripples drawn across the mirrored surface of a pond gently subsiding.
It was a woman, a woman busying about a room. Then Youko grasped what she was looking at. Her eyes brimmed with tears.
“Mom . . . ”
The person she was seeing was her mother. The room she was seeing was her own room. The wallpaper with the ivory pattern on a white background, the curtains arrayed with a design of small flowers. The patchwork comforter on her bed. The stuffed dolls on the bookshelf. On her desk, The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Her mother walked aimlessly around her room, touching things here and there. She picked up a book, flipped through the pages, went to open a drawer, maybe to look inside, but instead sat down on the bed and sighed.
Mom . . .
Her mother looked tired. The gaunt expression on her face made Youko’s chest hurt. Her mother really was worried about her. Two days had passed since Youko left. Not once had she even been late for dinner without informing them of her whereabouts beforehand.
One by one her mother picked up the stuffed dolls arranged along the edge of the bed and gently petted them. Then she lay back against the headboard, clasping the doll, and burst into muffled sobs.
Youko couldn’t help herself. “Mom!” she called out, as if she were there in the room with her.
As soon as she spoke the scene ended. She suddenly came back to herself. Her eyes refocused. All she saw was the sword. The glittering light was gone, she could see nothing in the blade. The sound of falling water ceased.
“What was that?”
What in the world had she been looking at, she wondered. It looked so real. She again held out the sword in front of her. No matter how much she concentrated, the images did not reappear. Nor did she hear that sound of water.
The sound of a falling drop of water.
It was the sound she’d heard in her dreams. The dreams that had gone on for a month. That same high sound of falling water had accompanied them. Those dreams had become her reality. But what about the vision she’d just seen? The more she thought about it the less she understood. She shook her head. No, she had seen her mother because she wanted so badly to go home.
She looked off in the direction where the monkey had vanished.
You can’t go back. It was a trap.
If that was true, all her hopes were in vain. But it wasn’t a trap. Surely, even if Keiki wasn’t able to help her, that didn’t mean he had abandoned her.
No . . . she hadn’t clearly seen his face. She could have been mistaken. Maybe it wasn’t him at all.
“That must be it.”
It looked like Keiki, but it wasn’t him. People around here had hair in all kinds of colors. She thought it was Keiki because he had blond hair, but she hadn’t clearly seen his face. Now that she thought about it, the figure of the person she’d seen was a bit smaller than Keiki.
“Yes, yes, that’s what happened.”
It wasn’t Keiki. Keiki simply wouldn’t have deserted her like that. If she could only find Keiki, she was sure she could go home again.
She firmly clenched the hilt of the sword. A series of sensations scurried down her spine.
Her body roused itself of its own accord. She undid the jacket wound around the sword and cast it aside, prepared herself. “What is it?” she asked, knowing there would be no answer. Her eyes scanned the surroundings. Her pulse raced.
From ahead of her came the dry whush of something pushing its way through the underbrush. That something was coming her way. The next thing she heard was a howl, as when a dog marks its territory for all within earshot.
The same dogs that had attacked earlier?
She was at a clear disadvantage fighting in this darkness. She cast a glance behind her. She had to find someplace where there was even a little bit more light. She moved with careful steps, relying on Jouyuu’s promptings to guide her. Then took off at a sprint. At the same time, behind her, that big something broke free of the undergrowth and rushed after her.
Youko ran through the black forest. Her pursuer should have been fast enough to overtake her but was not quick enough or smart enough. As she dashed from tree to tree, she could hear its heavy mass lurching from side to side, and the occasional thud as it collided hard against a trunk of a tree.
She ran towards the light, bounded out of the forest.
She found herself on a terrace that jutted out from the deforested side of the mountain, bathed in white moonlight. Below her an unbroken view of a range of gently rolling mountains opened up. Cursing that this was not a level and open field she turned and steeled herself. With a great crash the huge shadow charged into the clearing.
It resembled a big bull with a long shaggy coat that rolled in waves as it breathed. It growled at her like a Doberman.
She felt neither panic nor surprise. Her heart raced, her breath burned in her throat, but any fear she might have towards this strange beast faded away. She focused her attention on Jouyuu’s whisperings. Her body filled with the roar of the ocean. Yet she couldn’t help thinking, I really hate getting blood all over me.
She lost track of time. The moon rose high in the sky. The silver sword gleamed in the clean light of the moon.
And then, under the night sky, it was stained black. Three more blows brought the beast to its knees. As she drew close and delivered the coup de grace, she saw the glowing red eyes gathering around her in the surrounding dark.
She walked only where there was light. Countless times she beat back the attacking youma.
These creatures could not abide the daylight. So they came at her over and over again throughout the night. Though it was not one long continuous battle, the jewel couldn’t stave off her growing fatigue. By the time daylight finally broke over the deserted road, she was jabbing the sword into the ground and using it like a cane. Walking hurt like hell.
The sky grew brighter and the attacks came farther apart. With the first rays of the sun they ceased completely. She wanted to collapse there at the side of the trail, but it’d be dangerous if anybody came across her there. Dragging her aching limbs she crawled in amongst the trees shouldering the road and found a patch of soft ground cover. She clasped the sword to her chest and fell into a deep sleep.