Japanese Demons 10

The Dead Village.
The words Bankotsu said hurt her, and caused her to think. Was she really any different? If she HAD been a little sister, would she have turned out exactly the same way? The hate and anger that burned inside her now against the men she traveled with festered inside, and she didn't know how to get rid of it. She was too small and helpless, but she knew if she were big enough to do it, she would have killed Touya at least. Was wishing any different from actually doing something? The intent was there, and if she could she knew she would have killed him.

However, now that she was sure how much she hated him, Touya changed. He stopped his painful tormenting, watched her with those self assured eyes and started calling her 'little sister.' It was almost as if Touya had been waiting for her to do something despicable to accept her. She felt like for him at least, Bankotsu's words were true and he thought he recognized something in her that he saw in himself.Momoko didn't reciprocate any of this friendliness because he gave her the chills. They all did.

She actually felt the safest with Bankotsu, because she knew what he was about. Genji would look at her with those eyes like Kogaratu's and Ryouji was so cold and calculating. Shinji would have weird mood swings, and she could detect a maniacal gleam in his eye. He liked to kill animals. He had to do it when no one was watching, but she saw him hamstring one of the soldier's horses once. No one could figure out who did it and she was afraid to say. He had seen her watching and just smirked because that was back when they all figured she was a mute.

Unfortunately, it was Shinji who was in charge of watching her today.

"C'mon brat." He said. Shinji had gotten into the habit of taking her to the outhouse before they settled down for the night. Right now she was treading carefully because his eyes were dull and when that happened he would switch from moody to raging mad in an instant over the most insignificant occurrence. Shinji had strange streaks under his eyes, almost like tattoos, and small pupils. He was taller than Bankotsu and had a thick build like Ryouji. She followed so quietly behind him that he checked a few times to make sure she was still there. In the outhouse she took care of her business while he waited outside.

"Hey you." A large soldier was coming towards him. Shinji watched him through uncaring eyes. He stopped him with one hand when he tried to enter the outhouse. The man leaned against him and breathed heavily into his face. "Who are you to stop me?" He slurred, his breath smelling of alcohol. "You stinkin' brigand. OUT OF MY WAY!" And with that blast of bad temper he sealed his death sentence. Shinji had with him at all times death claws made of iron that strapped onto his hands. Without further ado he stuck these into the soldier's belly, withdrew them in a second and slashed him across the throat. The soldier was dead before he hit the ground.

Momoko heard the uproar from inside the wood bathroom. She came out and watched in horror as Shinji slaughtered all the bystanders, his muscles bulging in his back and the veins popping out of his neck. She ran. Have to get away, have to get away, have to get away...She was running as hard as she could, when she felt a hand grab her from behind and she was being lifted from behind.

"Yo." Touya was strong for such a delicate-seeming boy. He was a head taller than she and had her completely up in the air. Her feet kicked uselessly as he raised her eye level. "Where did you think you were going?" He asked. He walked back to where Shinji was on his blood rampage. He watched as his older brother slew the last man standing, and turned to them, panting, a doglike grin on his face. "I think it's about time we go." Touya said. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled, loud and clear. In an instant Bankotsu and his two other brothers appeared. Shinji slashed a rope connecting a line of saddled horses meant for the samurai and they made their escape.

"Shinji you just couldn't control yourself could you?" Bankotsu said, his large sword hanging down his back.
Bankotsu scolded Shinji roundly for his massacre. "No jobs now you idiot because you couldn't take on a soldier in a normal brawl like the rest of us. You've become like an insane beast! Now we're going to have to raid another two-bit, starving village for rice instead of staying with the soldiers a little while longer to see if we could get hired for a real job." Shinji grunted.

"Fortunately I know there is a village here we hit last year around harvest." Bankotsu said. "We'll be there by nightfall."

Genji petitioned Bankotsu from behind them. "Make Touya stay behind. I want a living bedmate this time."

"I'm also tired of entering huts with all the women slain at my feet." Ryouji said.

Touya looked slowly over his shoulder at Ryouji, a smirk growing on his face. "Why don't you tell me so yourself?" He paused before adding softly, "Instead of having Bankotsu do it?" Ryouji slowly turned beet red and Touya looked away smiling smugly. Momoko riding behind Ryouji felt his back muscles tighten under her hands.

They arrived at the village as the sun began to set. The men halted their horses on top of a ridge and looked down at the village. The wind blew past them down into the village.

"Something's not right here." Bankotsu said. "The field workers should still be out for another hour or so. Last time we came everyone saw us and escaped into the woods and we just took what we wanted. Now, we stand in plain view and no one is running or sounding an alarm."

"Jinushigami?" Genji asked.

Bankotsu threw him a sizzling stare. "You believe those stupid stone statues actually come to life, rise up and save the mud dwellers down there?" His brothers didn't look up at him. Ryouji claimed to have had a run-in with a village guardian years ago and since then they'd avoided villages with them, but though he'd come back with bruises Bankotsu thought he'd staged the encounter to keep some money he'd been entrusted with.

Momoko stared at the man. "You don't believe the spirits exist?" She asked. Normally she wouldn't bother to pose a question, but this idea was too shocking to let slide.

He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Oh I believe they do exist. They just don't have anything to do with us. Touya go wait in the forest and take Momoko." At his youngest brother's protest he told him he could get in on the next raid. "It won't be as lousy as this one." Touya took Momoko from off Ryouji horse and rode into the woods.

Bankotsu then sent Ryouji to the village to scout things out. He wasn't stupid, he knew either the villagers had been hit by a band of ronin or they had come in early for something like a wedding or celebration. But if it were a celebration they would have heard the sounds of rejoicing...and Bankotsu didn't hear anything.

The wind blew hard against Ryouji's back as he cautiously entered the first huts. He knew why Bankotsu sent him, because he was the biggest threat and therefore the most expendable. Plus no one ever accused Shinji of being subtle...but still Genji would have been just as good to... Ryouji reared back as a tall figure with shining white hair stepped in front of his horse.

"Ekibiogami has been here." Katsuya had been at the opposite end of the village and smelled the disease from miles away. The wind blowing in his direction let him know what was going on but he went anyway. He'd been looking for Momoko for weeks. He passed the disease demon as Ekibiogami left and stopped him.

"What is it Katsuya." Ekibiogami was a surprisingly handsome yokai, but when he smiled babies screamed and men clutched their stomaches.

"The village you just left, who did you kill?"

"All of them."

"How many girls of age nine did you find?"

"There were thirteen females between ages five and fifteen." His snake green eyes narrowed. "What is that to a powerful mononoke like you? Your hostility towards your brother for his affiliation with human beings is infamous."

"Ekibiogami knows demons have more use for humans than pleasure or food."

"And what Katsuya wants with a nine year old girl is certainly his business." Ekibiogami confirmed. Katsuya nodded and the yokai went their different ways.

At the village Katsuya entered every village and checked every face. Ekibiogami had done his work well, staying in the village until every man, woman and baby was dead. As he knelt and lifted the chin of yet another little girl the stench of death surrounded him completely. Humans, so frail, so weak. So easily killed. He stirred restlessly, knowing he could have taken Momoko to Binzuru-Sonja, the god of health. But no healing spirit would have given him what he wanted, because he was a yokai. But that would not have stopped him, except that he would have had to gone up to a god's mountain, walked among them, and...they would have all seen that instead of discarding her he had carried a sick human child up among them, humiliating himself for it.

Instead, he had left her with a human couple in a human village, with her own kind as it were, and when he came back around she wasn't there. She hadn't been there. The village was decimated by brigands and he didn't know where she was. So now he was checking all of them.

Katsuya's eyes glinted. He recognized the smell of the man before him as that of the rogues who'd destroyed the village Momoko was in. He lashed out and with an iron fist and dragged the man off his horse. At 5'9" Ryouji was taller than most other men he associated with, but Katsuya was 6'5" and easily snatched him off his squat horse. Holding Ryouji over his head Katsuya smiled, showing long canines.

"Where is she?"

Craven with fear, Ryouji quaked in the yokai's grasp. "What do you mean?" Now that the wind stilled he could smell death too, but he was facing a much more frightening form of it in the face. It was changing, wrinkles growing on the face, the eyes wide and purple and the mouth widening at the corners as Katsuya grinned, baring all his teeth. The razor-sharp claws were digging into his chest like so many daggers.

"I can still smell her on your clothes, alive not ten minutes ago. She was right. behind. you. Where is Momoko?"

"I-in the woods with my brother." Katsuya dropped the man like so much trash and he landed in a crumpled, quivering ball at his feet. Ryouji stared up at the tall demon as he strode past, the ivory spikes gleaming in the sun.

Touya was taking a piss into a stream. He liked contaminating things and the thought that other animals would have to drink his urine. When his stream finished he looked back at the rock Momoko had sat on, but she wasn't there. Cursing he spun around and looked in all directions. He'd thought that the leaves in the forest would crunch under her feet and give her away, but it was no use, in the thirty seconds it had taken him to pee Momoko had disappeared.
Momoko was dozing off in the darkening woods. She could hear Touya peeing in the stream and the quiet rustling trees all around. She heard the softest of crunches as someone stepped towards her, peaked, and her eyes went wide as Katsuya stood in front of her. He swept her up and they left silently through the woods. They didn't stop until they were far on the other end of the fifty-mile forest.
Published: 2/26/2010
Bouquets and Brickbats