Shadow of the Moon

Chapter 28

4-4 Youko pulled the futons down from the shelf. With a sigh she resigned herself to making her bed there. It’d been a long time since she’d slept on a futon and she was still wide awake. So many things weighed on her mind.

Why didn’t the language confuse her? If she hadn’t been able to comprehend what people were saying, she couldn’t imagine how things might have turned out. She couldn’t begin to imagine why things had turned out the way they had.

If the lingua franca spoken here wasn’t Japanese, there was no way she should be able to understand anything. When she spoke to that person outside the door, what possible language could she have been using? The old man heard Japanese and the other person heard his own language.

The few words that the old man could speak in the language sounded only slightly different to her ears. Even that was a curious thing. And then saying that there was no such word as “governor.” If that was the case, then what had she been hearing every time someone said the word?

Youko stared up at the low ceiling. A translation. The words were somehow being translated so she could understand them.

“Jouyuu? Is this your doing?”

Naturally, in response to her murmured words, she felt nothing at all.

As she always did, Youko slept with the sword clasped to her chest. When she awoke, the rucksack she had deposited in the corner of the room the night before had disappeared. Youko jumped to her feet and examined the door. The lock was fastened soundly.

She caught up with the manager and explained what had happened. The door and room were examined by two men who both regarded Youko with suspicious looks.

“Are you sure you really had your luggage here?”

“It was. My purse was inside it. Somebody stole it.”

“Yeah, but the door was locked.”

“What about a master key?”

The men again exchanged suspicious expressions. “You trying to say that one of us stole your stuff?”

“We couldn’t do it if we wanted to. Or were you intending to blame us and run out on the bill all along?”

The men sidled up to Youko. She put her hand on the hilt of the sword. “Not true.”

“At any rate, you still owe us.”

“I told you, my purse was stolen, too.”

“Let’s take it up with the constable, then.”

“Wait a minute.” Youko started to undo the covering of her sword. She said, “Call that old man who was here last night.” It occurred to her that he could put in a good word for her.

“Old man?”

“From Kei. His name is Matsuyama.”

The two men exchanged glances. “What do you want with him?”

“Ask him. He saw my rucksack.”

One of the men stood guard at the front door and gestured with his chin to his younger companion, who ran off down the hall. He said to Youko, “What’ve you got there in your left hand?”

“Nothing with any money in it.”

“Maybe that’s for me to decide.”

“After we talk to the old man.”

The man glared at Youko, taking her curt reply to mean she was hiding something. Soon came the sound of pounding footsteps and the young man returned.

“He’s not here.”

“Not here?”

“His stuff’s not here. Looks like he took off.”

The man blocking the doorway stood there clucking his tongue. The sound made Youko’s blood boil. It was him. That old man did it. She closed her eyes. Despite them both being kaikyaku he had betrayed her.

Maybe he couldn’t forgive the fact that she had grown up knowing only the good life after the war, or that she could understand the language while he couldn’t. Or rather, that robbing her had been his intent all along. She thought she had found herself a kindred spirit. He’d led her to believe that as well. After being tricked by Takki she didn’t have the courage to trust any of these people. She’d let herself be fooled by a kaikyaku like herself.

Painful emotions rose in her throat, anger that called up visions of storm-wracked seas. When that happened she knew she was about to turn into a monster. Buffeted by these waves, she spat out, “He stole it.”

The younger man said, “He was just a tramp. He got tired of working here.”

“Stop making excuses and hand that thing over. I’ll decide whether it’s worth anything or not.”

Youko grasped the sword. “I am the injured party here.”

“And we’ve got a business to run. We can’t let people stay here for free.”

“Then you should run your business better.”

“Shut up and hand it over.”

The two men closed on her. Youko set herself into a defensive position, and with a flick of her wrist unraveled the covering on the sword. A beam of sunlight spilling in through a small window glittered off the blade.

“What the hell . . . ”

“Get out of the way. I told you, I am the injured party here.”

The younger man yelped and ran off. The man left behind wavered back and forth, clearly flustered.

“Move it. If it’s money you want, chase after that old man.”

“This is what you had planned all along!”

“I already told you what happened. You catch the old man and the money in the rucksack is yours.”

She thrust the sword out in front of her. The man retreated. She advanced three more steps. The man hurriedly turned and fled. Youko feinted as if giving chase, and then ran away.

Summoned by the other man, a posse of men came running, swords drawn. They poured out of the inn and pushed their way through the crowds. Youko noticed that her arm ached badly, the same place where the old man had tightly held her arm the night before.

She wasn’t going to trust anybody ever again, this she promised herself.

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