Chapter 10

2-2 She sat there staring out at the sea until the sun had risen high in the sky. What kind of world was this? Where was she?

They had passed through the halo of the moon to get here. That alone was hard enough to believe. In any case, to capture a moonbeam like that, it seemed equally unlikely that you could do the same thing with the light of the setting sun.

Then there was Keiki and all those strange creatures. None of them were from any species on Earth. They must come from this world. That's the only thing that made sense to her.

What was he thinking, bringing her here? He said it was dangerous, he said he would protect her. Yet here she was. What were they up to? Why did those monsters attack her? It was like out of a nightmare, the same dream she'd been having for the past month.

From the beginning, from the moment she met him, none of it had made sense. She knew this much: she was lost. He had shown up out of nowhere, had dragged her off to this strange world without a second thought about the circumstances of her life. It wasn't because he hated her, she was sure. But if they had never met she wouldn't be stuck here, she wouldn't have had to kill all those creatures.

So it wasn't that she missed him. There simply wasn't anybody else she could trust and he hadn't returned to retrieve her. Perhaps something had happened during the battle with the monsters that kept him from coming back for her. Whatever the reason, it only made things worse for her now.

Why must I keep dwelling on it?

Because it wasn't her fault. It was Keiki's fault. It was his fault the monsters came after her. The enemy is at the gates, the voice in the vice-principal's office had said. But that didn't mean they were her enemies. She had no reason to make them her enemies.

And that business about calling her his lord. She'd been thinking about that as well. Because she was his lord, his enemies had gone after her, not him. She'd had to use the sword to defend herself, and she'd ended up here.

Nobody had made her lord of anything.

He'd made the whole thing up. Or he'd made a mistake, a really dumb mistake. He said he'd been searching for her. You'd think when somebody was searching for their king or whatnot, they wouldn't screw up this bad.

"So who are you protecting now?" She grumbled to herself. "This is your mistake, not mine."

The shadows lengthened. Youko got up. Sitting here complaining about Keiki wasn't solving anything. Glancing to her right and left she couldn't find the gap in the trees she'd come through before. Whatever, she told herself, and marched off into the forest. She didn't have her coat but it wasn't that cold here. It must be a warmer climate than where she lived.

The forest looked like it'd been hit by a typhoon, broken branches strewn all about. The forest was not deep, and when she emerged she found herself at the edge of a wide marsh.

It was not a marsh but a rice paddy. Directly in front of her a causeway jutted above the water. She could see the tops of some kind of short green vegetation blown flat against the muddy lake. Beyond the rice paddies a handful of houses formed a small village. And beyond that, the steep slopes of a mountain.

There were no telephone poles or power lines. No television antennas. The roofs of the houses were made of black tile, the walls of yellow adobe. The village had once been ringed by a line of trees. Most of the trees were toppled over.

Youko pressed her hand to her chest. With a great sense of relief she took in her surroundings. It wasn't the sight of the buildings, or the strange landscape she had more or less been prepared for. This could be any plot of rundown farmland scattered around the back country of Japan.

Some distance away she spotted the forms of a number of people working in the rice paddies. She couldn't make out any details, but they didn't look like monsters.

"Oh, thank God!"

The exclamation rose unconsciously to her lips. She was still recovering from the confusion of seeing that black sea of stars. But, finally, here was something comfortingly familiar. If she ignored the complete lack of telephone poles she could pretend it was an ordinary Japanese village.

She took a deep breath. She decided to call out to them and see what happened. She hated the thought of talking to people she had never seen before. She didn't even know if they spoke the same language. But if she wanted any help she didn't have much choice. Partly to encourage herself and partly to calm her nerves, she said aloud, "I'll explain my situation and ask if anybody's seen Keiki around."

It was the best she could be expected to do.

Youko returned to the causeway she had seen earlier and made her way toward the people in the fields. As she drew closer to them it became apparent they were not at all Japanese. There were brown-haired women, red-haired men. Many reminded her somewhat of Keiki. Their features and stature weren't Caucasian, either. Their oddness seemed mostly due to the color of their hair. Take that away and they'd be quite normal.

Their clothing wasn't that dissimilar from traditional Japanese garb. All the men had their hair grown out and tied back. They were breaking down the causeway with their shovels.

One of the men looked up. Seeing Youko he pointed her out to his companions. He shouted something at her, but she couldn't make it out. The eight or so men and women there turned and looked at her. Youko acknowledged them with a slight bow. She couldn't think of what else to do.

A black-haired man in his thirties scrambled up the bank to the causeway. "Where you from?" he asked.

Youko registered the question with a deep sense of relief. They spoke the same language. She almost felt like laughing. She wasn't as bad off as she thought.

"I was over there, by the cliff," she said.

"The cliff? I mean, what's your hometown?"

Tokyo, she started to say, and changed her mind. She'd decided simply to explain her circumstances, but she doubted now that they would find anything she said believable. As she stood there trying to think of what to say, the man pressed again, "You're not from around here, are you? You come from across the ocean, huh?"

It was close enough to the truth. Youko nodded. The man's eyes widened. "Yeah, figures. A real pisser, you know, your kind showing up out of the blue like this."

The man grinned at her, as if comprehending something that she did not. He stared, his look approaching a leer, until his gaze fell on the sword she held down at her side. "Hey, what have you got there? Looks important."

"Someone . . . gave it to me."


"His name is Keiki."

The man closed the distance between them. Youko took a step back.

"Looks heavy. Don't worry. I'll take care of it for you."

The look in his eyes did not assuage her. She didn't like the way he spoke to her, either. She clasped the sword to her chest and shook her head. "It's okay. Where am I? What is this place?"

"This is Hairou. Frankly, missy, a dangerous thing like that, don't want you waving it around, specially when you don't even know where you are. Hand it over."

Youko retreated again. "I was told not to."

"C'mon, give it up."

The force of his demand made her quail. She didn't possess the courage to tell him no. Reluctantly she held it out to him. He snatched it from her and examined it. "Yeah, fine work, this. The guy you got it from must have been loaded."

The other men and woman gathered around them. Somebody asked, "One of those kaikyaku, is she?"

"Yeah. Look at what she was carrying. Must be worth a fortune." He went to pull the sword from the scabbard. The hilt did not budge. "So it's just an expensive toy!" He laughed and tucked the sword into his waistband. He reached out and grabbed Youko by the wrist.

"Ow! Let me go!"

"Can't do that. All kaikyaku get sent to the governor. That's orders." He gave her a shove. "Get going. And don't try anything." He raised his voice to his companions as he pushed her along. "Hey, I could use some help, here."

Youko's arm hurt. She could not begin to guess this man's true motives, nor where he was taking her. What she wanted most was to be free of him.

Immediately as the thought entered her mind a cold sensation crept into her hands and feet. She jerked her hand free of his grip. Her arm, quite on its own accord, reached for the sword at the man's waist and came away with both it and the scabbard. She jumped back from him.

"The bitch! Watch out! She's got the sword!"

"What? It's just an ornament. Hey, little girl, calm down and come with us."

Youko shook her head.

"You want to get dragged the whole way there? Huh? Quit clowning around and get your ass over here."

"No way."

More people were gathering around them. The man took a step towards her. Youko pulled the sword from the scabbard.

"What the hell!"

"Don't come any closer . . . please."

Everyone around her froze. Youko eyed them and backed way. As soon as she turned and started to run she heard footsteps behind her.

"Don't follow me!" she shouted, but as soon as she had glanced back to see them coming after her she drew up, raised the sword, her body preparing itself for combat. Her blood roared in her ears.

"Stop it," she told herself.

She lunged with the sword towards the nearest man charging towards her.

"Jouyuu, stop!"

It was pointless to argue with him. The tip of the sword traced a graceful arc in the air.

"I'm not killing any more people!"

She shut her eyes. At once the movement in her arm stopped. At the same time someone came upon her on horseback, yanked the sword from her hand and knocked her roughly off her feet. Tears welled up in her eyes, more from relief than pain.

"Stupid girl." They jabbed and kicked and punched her, but it was not too much to bear. Someone dragged her to her feet and pinned her arms behind her back. She did not care to resist. She pleaded with herself, with Jouyuu, do nothing.

"Let's take her back to the village. Better take that strange sword to the governor as well."

Her eyes still tightly shut, Youko could not tell who had spoken.