Japanese Demons 4

Momoko lived with her mother's sister and husband for the next few months. They had no children of their own, and they were fairly well-to-do for village folk. They taught her calligraphy and art, as well as some other things a growing child should know. Though she didn't wear such pretty clothes as she did when traveling with Katsuya, her aunt took good care of her.

"Are you happy with us, child?" She would ask.

"I'm happy with you." Momoko said truthfully. She loved her aunt, but for reasons she couldn't explain was a little shy of her uncle. "I don't know about uncle Ryou though, I don't think he likes me."

"What do you mean? Ryou may not be the best with children, but he's never spoken harshly to you has he?" Momoko shook her head. It was true he never hit her or spoke harshly when her aunt was there, but he reminded her of the men from her previous village. She got a strong impression that he didn't want her around, resented her presence even. Formidable as Katsuya sama could be, she never got that feeling around him.

"Why did Katsuya sama slip away so quietly like that? I didn't even see him go."
"Hmm?" Her aunt looked puzzled for a second, then her forehead straightened. "Oh, you mean that...that apparition? The yokai?"

"I wish he had stayed a little longer." Momoko murmured, dismayed at her beloved aunt's expression.

"He knew you belonged with us." Her aunt said. "The way you came to us has always stood out to me as pretty amazing. A local yokai tried to kidnap you, you know."

"I know," Momoko grinned, "And Katsuya sama saved me, he killed it!"

"At any rate, that demon is no longer around. That one, that Katsuya yokai, he doesn't belong here, he belongs in his own realm." She put a hand on Momoko's shoulder. "I know you go up the mountain looking for him, but he's not coming back. I think he probably came here to bring you to us, he knew that we need you, and you need us. We can take care of you."

"Still, I wish I could see him once more." Momoko said sadly. That's when her aunt gave her the picture of Katsuya.

"Here." She said kindly. "Your grandmother painted that. You can keep it, if you promise not to tear it." Momoko kept the painting rolled up in a bamboo container, beside her sleeping pallet for a long time. However, Momoko did see him again several times as the weeks passed. He never appeared long enough for them to speak, or for her even to get close. But those glimpses were enough to keep her coming back to the misty, mountain pool day after day. Then after a few months, he stopped coming all together. When she realized that he'd stopped coming, probably for good, she felt a sharp pang. Once again, someone she loved had stepped out of her life. That day she ran all the way back to her aunt's house and when she found her, hugged her close.

"You won't abandon me, will you?" She asked. "No matter what I do, you won't leave me?"

"I promise." Her aunt said.

Momoko went inside one day and was consternated to find her uncle looking at her painting. She stood by quietly as he gazed at it. Finally he put it aside. "Why do you have your grandmother's painting of a demon?" He asked. He was on a journey when Katsuya and Momoko stopped by, and had not seen the demon lord. He had not been too pleased coming home to find a girlchild. He only allowed her to stay because she was his wife's kin. He didn't quite believe her story about how a yokai dropped her off.

"Where have you been?" Ryou asked without letting her respond. "Running off into the forest again? Strange child, why do you not play with the other children, or spend more time with your studies? If we had a boychild, he would know how to behave."

Momoko hung her head. She was still shy of other people, from traveling so long with Katsuya and Seijin as her only companions, and from the abuse she suffered from the village members before that. The children from this village mistook her shyness for snobbery and didn't bother talking to her. Their parents were wary of her because of her alleged connection with demons, and besides that she knew they were jealous of her. She learned calligraphy, which only boys were supposed to know, and she outran them at their races so they called her a freak behind her back. Her uncle continued to scold.

"Why do you keep this? Holding this parchment will not bring the spirit back. However," Ryou studied the scene, captured in beautiful colors and flowing strokes. "It would fetch a good price." Momoko looked up, alarmed.

"Please don't sell it, it's the only reminder I have of Katsuya sama!"

"What do you care? You said yourself he is never coming back. Yokai have no use for anything but themselves."

"But he is not like the other yokai." Momoko insisted. Her uncle just grunted and walked away, leaving the precious picture in her grasp. The other demons in the village made her shudder. Most of them only came out at night, and the smaller ones could be repelled by the right powerful incantations. Her house had a lot of sheets of magical characters, but there were some spirits that even those would not keep out. There was one, a wolf demon who lived in a shrine not far from the village, and it was said some of the bad men in the village were his offspring. Anyone who came across him he killed and ate. Momoko took care to stay away from that part of the forest.
Violet eyes flashed open and regarded the gray sky above. All Katsuya's senses returned to reality with a jolt. It was gone, every trace of his weakness cleansed. He was here, but not alone.

"Azuka." He said. "You can come out of hiding." The image of a young woman formed several hundred yards away as the bubble of invisibility around her faded.

"I forget that as a dog demon you have an unusually keen nose." She said calmly.

"You were still for an extraordinarily long time." And she had been watching for just as long, he was sure.

"What is it?" She asked, walking closer. "I don't know what you've done, but something has left you."

He looked at her with unfathomable eyes. It was true, but he couldn't remember what. Whatever it was, it had cost him a lot more than he had expected to relinquish. She was nowhere near as powerful as he was, but the fact that she had sensed, if not fully grasped, something of what he was doing attested to the power she did possess.

"I am somewhat familiar with these kinds of things." Azuka said, walking closer. "Is there a hole inside, Katsuya?" She stood face to face with him now, her black hair swirling around her white skin and her taloned hands reaching out to touch him. There was desire in her black eyes. "Come with me and we will fill it together." He rose to his feet and followed her back to her cave.

A long time later he emerged from the cave and stood out in the darkness. She came out to him, her long, green dress almost invisible in the blackness. He couldn't see her, but he could smell the scent of her hair, her skin, her scaly clothes. She didn't touch him, just stood at his side.

"I have given some thought to the dragon that would suit you." She asked coolly.

"What is that."

"It is kin to the one that sleeps underneath now. It was born five hundred years ago, and is female. It lives now in the mountains far south of here, and preys on ogres. Her name is Sarutahiko. She answers to no one and has never been tamed. It will take several months to call her forth from her cave where she now sleeps."

"Don't bother. I will go to her." Katsuya held out his palm.

Azuka put her hand in a pocket in her dress, and withdrew a scale. She held it carefully, keeping all the edges away from her skin, and placed it in his hand. She held it that way for good reason; it was razor-sharp and unbendable. He placed it in his kimono for safekeeping.
"Who dares pass?" A large ogre roared. "Who dares disturb my mistress?" With one sweep of the ogre's fang sword Katsuya laid him low and entered the cavern he had been protecting. It was hot in that area and perpetually humid, yet there was no sweat on his skin. He stood at the entrance of the cavern and gazed into its dark anterior. It sloped down into a scooped out pit, and within something slept. He hurled the ogre fang deep into its depths. An ear splitting roar filled the air. The whole cavern rumbled, and chunks of earth flew in all directions as the twenty-foot ogress bursting out the top of it. Her bellows of outrage filled the valley and bloodshot green eyes searched for the cause of her distress. They settled on Katsuya, who stood untouched at the base of her resting place, at her feet.
Hands as big as horses reached for him, and grasped empty air.

"I am looking for the dragon Sarutahiko." He said in her ear, his own talons piercing through the thick cartilage. "You are its guardian?"

"Years it took us to ensnare that beast. Now, no one will live to wake it!"

"As long as you are alive, no." Katsuya said. He did not need to use the fang for this one.

"No one shall wake the dragon! I'll tear you apart, you pup!"

A few minutes later he was standing over a mound of quivering flesh. His hands and claws steamed from hot blood and reeked of ogre flesh. He wasn't even panting. The grisly head moved.

"You fool." The disembowled ogress growled. "If that dragon is unleashed she will wipe out everything." Katsuya slashed off her head and drew a long key from her gullet. He walked to the cave, and in an obscure crevice found a rough keyhole. He jammed the key into it, a key as long as his body and twice as thick, and turned it. The face of the mountain rumbled, and then shifted. The illusion melted away and there was a gaping hole. The cave seemed to swallow him alive as he disappeared inside. When he saw the dragon, he took out the red scale in his pocket. The blood red matched. He flexed his fingers. A second later fire shot to the heavens.
He returned to Azuka riding the dragon. As he ascended from the heavens he saw her standing at the mouth of the cave, in her shining scales and scent of alluring power. She saw that her cold-eyed powerful lover had returned riding the dragon countless others could only hope to never see, offspring of the worm living in the mountain in which she also resided. Her black eyes and hair seemed to absorb the light as she smiled up at him. The dragon no one could tame, was wearing a green saddle, embroidered with gold threads, and carrying its master the dog demon. A diamond ring was through its nose and every spike along its tail barbed in metal.

"You've made some improvements I see." She said. "And you've subdued Sarutahiko so easily." Her hair blew back as it landed and stood, tail lashing as Katsuya descended. "Or is it under a spell?"

"Under a spell." It was one thing to kill a creature, Katsuya reflected, training it to be a subservient mount was another thing.

"It is an animal and not a demon, so it has no learned fear of Katsuya. How long will it take you to subdue it?"

"I don't want to teach it to fear me. I want to teach it to trust me." It took him a month to train it to respond to his call, and another six months to make it his friend. She was fierce, battle-hardened, and wise, with an intelligence that surpassed any other beast. She would be a worthy mount for Katsuya. One day towards the last of the training period Katsuya allowed Sarutahiko to roam free as he returned to Azuka's cave. It was turning to the coldest part of the year, and bitter winds lashed past his unfeeling skin. At the entrance of her home he paused. He could tell she wasn't in there. Instead he looked left, up higher on the mountain where he could sense faint tinges of her aura. They came to him, even in this strong wind, a tainted, seductive demonic power. Being used in excess...she was putting herself out for some reason. He turned back to face the cave and walked in.

"Were you strengthening the seal?" He asked, when she came in several hours later.
Her eyes flicked over to him. He could smell no sweat on her, and she didn't seem strained. He knew she probably strengthened the seal yearly to keep the sleeping monstrosity in a spell-induced state. It drained her immensely, and she would spend all year preparing for that day when she would perform the rite. Yet the tremendous energy she'd exerted had been a few hours ago, so any trace of physical fatigue would have left a demoness of her power a long time since.

"You could tell?" He knew she tried to hide it from him. He also knew it wasn't for any love for peace that she did it. She harnessed the dragon's energy while he slept. She had found some way to siphon it into her own store of power. Even though it took so much out of her to keep the seal fixed, her core of strength was steadily growing. How, Katsuya didn't know or particularly care. He never had to resort to such tricks. His own power was strong enough, and he had never felt its limits. The dragon's energy likewise had to be vast. Such a powerful aura he could feel even through Azuka's seal, and it hadn't waned in the least since he first arrived. It was vastly stronger than his dragon's.

Katsuya was not thinking about her anymore, Azuka could tell that much at least. No matter how carefully she chose the time of her going, he always knew. The time will come when she would stop trying. He was already out of her class strengthwise and it is not good to reveal your source of power or your times of weakness to anyone. Like what he had done in the séance. But he was so great a yokai that even that time of depletion still left him several notches more powerful than anyone else she had ever known. What was it that you tried so earnestly to expel? She wondered.

Katsuya rose from Azuka's bed, tossing his head back to disentangle his hair from hers. The silver strands slid free of her inky tresses as she gazed up at him. "Stop probing my dreams."

"Is there something there I should not find?" She asked. "Some other demoness?"

"What business is that of yours?" He asked. He'd known what she was doing and allowed it until her wandering feelers had turned to the sword of life...the very first and only time he'd used it. "What you are looking for, you will not find."

"Won't I? If it is not there, you would not say such things to me. I know you must be harboring some trace of it. You can tell me Katsuya, I will find out eventually anyway." And if what I see doesn't please me, Azuka thought, I could make things go very badly for the other girl.
Published: 2/1/2010
Bouquets and Brickbats