Japanese Demons 2

The day Seijin went to retrieve food for Momoko he'd fallen afoul of one of the village guardians. This one came from a shrine by the village and protected it from minor demons. It was dark when the dragon finally descended in front of Katsuya and Momoko.

The scent of ashes from Seijin's skin and a strange spirit's scent told Katsuya's sensitive nose at once what happened. He let it go, and took the melon Seijin had stolen out for Momoko. He sliced it open with his talons and handed it to her.

"Where is Seijin san?" (san=mr) She asked, scooping out the pulpy insides with her fingers.

"A guardian spirit got him."

"An amatsu-gami?" She asked, eyes wide. Since that first time she'd witnessed Katsuya slay a holy warrior's body, they'd had a few more run-ins with them, and Katsuya sama always sent them back where they came from. She never enjoyed those encounters, when bursts of energy pulsed through the valleys and horrible shrieks hurt her ears. She still hid until they were over.

"No a guardian spirit, a Jinushigami. One of the spirits that dwells in the stone statues that reside by villages. Not a holy warrior."

"Is Seijin san ever coming back?" She asked. "Why don't you stop the hell-messengers from taking him to the grave, Katsuya sama? Like you did for me?" She asked, looking at the second sword hanging at Katsuya's hip. It enabled him to stand against these messengers from the underworld who took the dead down to hell.

"I don't choose to go look for his body." Katsuya said. She winced at his tone, he was angry with her, and she didn't know why. Momoko was the first creature Katsuya had ever saved from death, and he didn't like her mentioning his moment of compassion.

Bandits had overrun her village and he'd found her in the woods, slashed through the neck and breathing her last. When the spirits came to claim their own for some reason he still refused to acknowledge as emotional weakness, he'd sent them packing and saved her. She still had a scar from the neck wound.

If he didn't know himself better, he would think he'd gone soft on humans the way his brother had, even allowing them to join in his quest for power. But no, of course that would not be it. For every gift there must be something given in return. She had tried to give him food (the fact that he wouldn't eat it was irrelevant) and he'd given something back in return. It wasn't his fault she'd joined him. The fact that she followed him around like a disciple meant nothing. Reassured, Katsuya responded to the little girl.

"Seijin's had enough second chances. Besides, the messengers from the netherworld have probably already taken him away by now. We'll make camp here." He said.

Momoko nodded, she never questioned him. They were camping out in the open, but she held firmly to the belief that nothing bad could happen while Katsuya sama was near. That is, nothing that he didn't cause. He could protect them from anything.

Stomach full from Seijin's last gift, she went to the dragon's side and pulled out a mat and a cover. She spread the mat out on a flat spot in the hillside and snuggled under the blanket. Just before she fell asleep she peered over the coverlet at Katsuya, sitting beside the dragon, his hands and feet enveloped in his robes and his long, white hair flowing in the night wind. He always wore beautiful clothes, and he always had that impassive look on his face. She couldn't even guess what he was thinking.

Before he came along no one had wanted her. The villagers allowed her to stay after her parents died, but no one took care of her. They gave her just enough bread to survive and beat her when they caught her stealing. She slept outside, was always too cold, too hot or hungry. Now no one dared touch her, she was always safe with Katsuya sama. He wasn't like anyone she had ever known. They went to interesting new places, she always had enough to eat, and she always wore pretty clothes. He cared. Katsuya sama wasn't looking at her, but she thought he knew she was peeking. She moved deeper into the blanket and sighed.

Katsuya'd had Momoko with him since she was six. Now she'd outstayed even his servant demon Seijin, who'd been sent to hell after a run-in with a common village guardian. The night wind was cold, but Katsuya did not feel it. He would sleep eventually, because even his body needed sleep. Demons could not be killed or die by normal means, only holy warriors or the Jade Emperor himself could slay them.

Seijin was a low class demon and it didn't take much to damn him, but powerful indeed would be the warrior to send Katsuya to hell.

A pair of obsidian eyes gazed into a magic mirror. "What is he doing? He's been sitting there for most of the day. I need to get closer, to understand him better."

Katsuya moved on to the next memory. In this one his dragon had gotten away and he was running to catch up with it. His feet were touching the ground, something they didn't do when he went full speed, so he wasn't being serious. He was running man-speed partly to tease Momoko, who was constantly afraid he would leave her alone someday.

He didn't want to lose her however, and looked back. And was surprised to see her right at his elbow. Her legs flashed as she ran with her eyes fixed on his face. No normal eight year old child should have been able to keep up. She must have become very fast since he'd found her two years ago. Or rather, after she'd found him.

He'd thought that she would drop by the wayside or go to some village rather than follow a demon, but she never did. She'd witnessed him commit horrible acts of violence, and yet her attitude towards him never changed. She continued to follow him wherever she went, looking at him with those trusting eyes. The same eyes she had fixed on him now as she ran, checking his expression. Why would she bother? His face was virtually carved out of marble. Only someone who knew him intimately would know what feelings flickered behind his eyes, or what the subtle differences in his mood meant.

Katsuya looked ahead and saw they could never hope to catch up with his mount at this pace. He grabbed Momoko and ran full tilt. When he was in human form he wore an enveloping stole of demon dog fur that became his skin when he transformed into his true shape. She pushed her face into it and inhaled, loving the way his fur smelled. It reminded her of safety.

She held onto his collar and squealed as the wind whipped her hair back and whistled in her ears. They were virtually flying now. Katsuya's nails pierced the skin on her arm, but he didn't realize that he was hurting her and she didn't mind. When they'd caught up to the dragon, it was already rising into the sky.

The sun glinted off the dragon's scales in every direction as it spread its wings. Katsuya sprang into the air and they landed on its back with the lightness of a cat. His long fingers took control of the reigns and he changed its direction. They sped through the air and came to rest in the mountains.

The spot Katsuya chose was beautiful. A waterfall spilled over the face of a sheer rock cliff on one side to form a wide, misty pool below. A canopy of trees shrouded the area, so it was always cool; yet a breeze swept away the insects and a stream continuing out of the pool kept the water from stagnation. It could easily have been a sacred place, if some god were only to find it.

Katsuya suspected the village nearby was a defiling influence, and affected any god's desire to live there. Villagers were never around when he arrived however, and he had his own home so he never stayed too long. His nose would tell him long before they arrived. He could not smell any villagers around now. The place was untainted...except...

Momoko had jumped off the dragon and run to the pool, enraptured by the sparkling water. As she reached for its surface, she heard Katsuya's voice behind her. "Did you see the village Momoko?"

As always, when he spoke to her she turned around and answered instantly. "Yes."

"Go there. I want to be alone." She left without complaint, only hesitating to say,

"You'll come for me, right?" His eyes flicked to her, and she left quickly. Her capable goat feet took her down the mountainside to the village below.

Even though she saw many children there, she chose to play out of sight on the village's fringes until nightfall. She was used to being alone. In her own village she'd had bad experiences with nonorphans. Besides, she knew she was conspicuous in her beautiful clothes. She was at home in the woods anyway. Before Katsuya sama entered her life that's where she went when she couldn't beg or steal anything to eat. That was when and where she had found him.

When Katsuya didn't come for her at nightfall, she crept into the village. Carefully she entered the closest house. It had a gate, which denoted a relatively high position in the village. She climbed over the gate and entered stealthily through the front door, moving so quietly even the dogs didn't pick up her presence. Once inside the house she stepped over the woman sleeping on the floor and helped herself to food sitting on the counter, fruit, vegetables, and leftover rice sitting in a wicker basket. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something lying on a counter.
In the dark she couldn't tell what it was, but when she moved closer she was it was an ivory comb. She picked it up admiringly. For all its length, Katsuya's beautiful hair never tangled, but hers was often a mess. In the dark she tried running it through her hair, but the tangles were too thick.

A hand reached out and grabbed her wrist.

Katsuya had forgotten about Momoko. He sat by the pool for a long time, his image reflected in the water, alone with his thoughts. Around midnight he remembered her, and looked up. She had not returned. He sniffed the air and could not smell her scent anywhere near. Leaving the dragon behind he descended into the village, walking on soft feet where her tiny ones had pattered. He followed her scent from the brush where she had played to the first home in the village. He didn't bother sneaking in like a thief, merely dismantled the door handle and let himself in. The dogs scampered away as he entered.

The light was on, he could see it shining through the one window, and it hit him full in the face as he entered the house. A woman sat on a chair by the table, and a little girl was on the floor with a comb in her hands. Light from a large candle showed up her sky-blue dress prettily. It was fine even compared to the woman's white silk kimono. They both looked up when he entered. The marks of the dog demon stood out clearly on his face, stripes stretched across his cheekbones and a crescent moon stamped on his forehead. The woman's eyes widened.

"My husband is away, what is your business?" The woman asked.

"I've come for her." He said. Momoko beamed at him, but didn't move from her spot.

"My niece Momoko? What claim do you have on her?" The woman asked. Katsuya looked at Momoko and she nodded solemnly.

"She knew who I was." She confirmed and then yawned.

"I recognized my sister Naoko's child right away, even when she came into this house like a thief." The woman glared at Katsuya accusingly. She seemed unafraid of his glinting talons. He could slash her into bits if he chose; he'd done it before to anyone who got in his way. The woman stood. "I have something to show you." Katsuya remained at the doorway as she began to enter another room and she looked over her shoulder.

"Are you afraid, Katsuya? That a mere human would trap you? I am not even half demon."

Wondering how she knew his name, he followed her into the room. The candle in her hand illuminated various scrolls and paintings hung on the walls. It would seem Momoko came from a family of artists and scholars. She opened a desk drawer and withdrew a parchment, handing it to him.

He could see the picture clearly even without the feeble candlelight. The lily-covered pool depicted was the one from up the mountain. A young man sat by it, his flowing white hair, fur and kimono painted in sweeping strokes. A little demon stood by his side and under his feet were the characters Katsuya. The artist's name was signed in delicate characters, Saeko.

He remembered. Fifty years ago a girl started coming to that spot whenever he was there, always keeping a safe distance. He didn't see her half the time and whenever he caught her scent it was far enough a way that it didn't matter.

"That was my mother." The woman informed him. "She would climb up in a tree to study you and paint. She heard your servant call your name. She spent more time there than in this village with us, always hoping you would come. She was heartbroken when you stopped coming. Once she was wed she hid the paper away, but couldn't bring herself to destroy it. Momoko belongs here with us, not with you. You can't look after a human child."

"What do you know about it?" Katsuya asked with a hint of a snarl and looked out through the doorway at Momoko. She had fallen asleep. "Well, I've been looking for a way to be rid of her as it is." He let the yellowed paper fall and left the room. He walked past Momoko's sleeping form without looking at her.

The black haired woman watched him go, a smirk on her face. When she looked down at the little girl the smirk widened. With quick, decisive steps she walked to the kitchen counter and got out a wok, some spices, a stone and all the knives.

She sharpened each knife in turn, from the meat cleaver and to the smallest paring knife. As she ground the paring knife, it slipped and sliced open one of her fingers. She gasped, and inspected the finger.

"It will heal soon," she muttered, and looked for a cloth to stop the free-flowing blood. Even as she looked the wound closed and all that was left was what blood had dripped out. The candle went out and the woman's head snapped up as she was enveloped in darkness.

"Someone's not telling the truth." A smooth voice observed from behind her.

Katsuya stood in the doorway, his silver hair blowing around him. A sword flashed in the moonlight. "But you were right to say you weren't a halfblood, you're completely demon!" He cleared the room in one leap and the sword sliced through the air, just a hair too late. With a snarl the woman jumped and up into a corner of the kitchen.

She laughed.

"Oh Katsuya, how low you have fallen. We local demons have heard so many stories about your strength, only to see you brought down by a human child." In the next instant Katsuya was in front of her, blocking any escape.

"Quite attached to this whelp aren't you?" She hissed, her tongue thin and slit like a snake's.

"I'm not, I only protect what I own." He said calmly. "How did you know her name?"

"Well she does have an aunt, and she does live here." The yokai replied.

"When I heard you were coming through again, I thought it would be fun to pretend to be the aunt and take the child. Eventually you would have realized what you'd done."

"You fool. You didn't possess the woman, you only took her form. If you had been inside her the real woman's scent would have masked your own much better, not that it would have saved you from discovery. You thought you could capture and eat the girl, only to laugh at Katsuya the next day? No one laughs at me." Moving only his sword arm, he cut her down.

The demoness who had taken Momoko's aunt's form was no match for his sword, forged from an ogre's fang and she was slain. Unpleasant smelling vapors rose from the corpse and in a few seconds nothing was left of her flesh. Katsuya glanced over to where Momoko lay on the floor. Having satisfied himself that she was still sleeping he gathered together the bones and walked out of the house to throw them in the forest. When he returned he stretched his long legs out under the table and toyed with the knives until morning. When the little girl finally woke up it was dawn. She yawned, kicked off the blankets, and looked around disoriented.

"Katsuya sama!" She said happily when she saw him. She paused, "but where is the lady from last night?" She asked. Katsuya rose, he could hear something stirring in the basement and he knew what it was.

"Let's go." He said.

She got up to follow him out but the basement door opened. A woman appeared, one who looked exactly like the demon from the night before. Momoko's aunt had crawled up the stairs after waking from the debilitating spell the demoness cast on her. She stared at the two, her eyes traveling from the tall, awe inspiring dog demon to the little girl at his side.

"Naoko's child?" She asked in disbelief.

Momoko threw herself at her and wrapped her arms around her aunt's neck. "I barely remember my mother," she told her, "But you look so much like her." Katsuya saw the expression on the woman's face and how Momoko was taking no notice of him. He slipped out the door.
Published: 1/21/2010
Bouquets and Brickbats