2-4 The old lady took the mirror from Youko's distracted grasp and calmly examined it. "Nothing wrong with the mirror from what I can tell." She handed it back to Youko.
Now that Youko thought about it, her voice sounded different, too. She had become a completely different person. Not a beast or a monster, but . . . .
"Well, then, so you don't look exactly like you used to."
The laughter in the old lady's voice made Youko look at her. "But why?" she asked. She again peered at herself in the mirror. It gave her a strange sensation, seeing that stranger in place of herself.
"Why, indeed. Not something I'm bound to know."
With that, she took hold of Youko's hand and with a wetted cloth dabbed at the many small wounds.
When Youko looked more closely at the her inside the mirror, she could begin to tease out the vestiges of herself that seemed familiar. But they were very faint.
Youko put down the mirror, resolved not to pick it up again. As long as she didn't look it wouldn't matter what she looked like. True, mirror or not, she couldn't very well ignore her hair, but if she pretended it was dyed she could put up with it. That didn't mean she was resigned to every other aspect of her appearance, but at this point she didn't have the courage to take an unvarnished look at herself.
The old lady said, "Can't claim to know much about it myself, but it happens, or so I've heard. Sooner or later you'll settle down and get used to it."
She took the bucket off the table. In its place she placed a large bowl. It contained something like mochi rice immersed in soup.
"Go on, help yourself. There's plenty more to be had."
Youko shook her head. She had no appetite whatsoever.
"You're not going to eat?"
"I don't want any."
"Give it a taste and see. Sometimes that's the only way to know if you're really hungry or not."
Youko silently shook her head. The old lady sighed. From an earthenware teapot that resembled a tall water jug she poured a cup of tea.
"You come from over yonder?" she asked. She drew up a chair and sat down.
Youko raised her eyes. "Over yonder?"
"Across the sea. You come from across the Kyokai, did you?"
"What's the Kyokai?"
"The sea at the foot of the cliffs. The sea of emptiness, the sea as black as night."
So it was called the Kyokai. Youko tucked the word away in her mind.
The old lady put a box with an inkstone on the table and spread out a sheet of paper. She took a writing brush out of the box and held it out to Youko.
"What's your name?"
Youko pushed aside her mounting confusion, obediently took the brush and wrote down her name:
"Oh, yes, a Japanese name."
Youko asked, "This is China, isn't it?"
The old lady cocked her head to the side. "This is Kou. Specifically, the Kingdom of Kou." She picked up another brush and wrote out the characters.
"This is the town of Hairou. Hairou is in Shin, a county of Rokou. Rokou is a prefecture of Fuyou, which is a district in Jun. Jun is a province in the Kingdom of Kou. I am one of the elders of Hairou."
Her style of writing was only subtly different from the Japanese Youko knew. Even the Chinese characters looked pretty much the same.
"That's kanji, right?"
"If you mean what I'm writing, then that's what it is. How old are you?"
"I'm sixteen. So what are the kanji for Kyokai?"
"It's the Sea (kai) of Emptiness (kyo). What's your occupation?"
"I'm a student."
The old lady paused hearing Youko's answer. "Well, you can speak, and you do know your letters. So, besides that strange sword of yours what else are you carrying?"
Youko emptied out her pockets: a handkerchief, a comb, a hand mirror, a notebook, and a broken watch. That was it. After a cursory examination, the old lady asked what each one was or meant. She shook her head, sighed again, and deposited everything in the pockets of her dress.
"Um . . . what's going to happen to me next?"
"Well. That's to be decided by my superiors."
"Did I do something wrong?"
They were sure treating her like a criminal, Youko thought. But the old lady shook her head.
"Don't mean you've done a thing wrong. It's just that all kaikyaku got to go see the governor. That's the way it is. No need for you to go jumping to conclusions."
"Means the visitors (kyaku) from across the sea (kai). They say they come in from the east over the Kyokai. They say that at the eastern edge of the Kyokai there's a country called Japan. No person has ever seen it for himself but it must be true, what with so many of them ending up here."
The old lady looked right at Youko, "Sometimes those Japanese people are swallowed up in a shoku and wash up right on our shores. Like you. That's what the kaikyaku are."
"It's written with the same character as 'eclipse.' It's a tempest, a great storm, but it's different from a storm. It's there in the blink of an eye, and gone in an instant. Afterwards, that's when the kaikyaku appear."
Then she added with an uneasy laugh, "Most of them are long dead. And even if they're living, they don't last long. But, still, we take them to the governor. There's lot of very smart people up there who'll figure out what to do with you, too."
"Like what, you ask? Frankly, I wouldn't know. The last time a living kaikyaku came ashore in these parts was back in my grandmother's day, and the word was that he died even before he got taken to the prefecture seat. A lucky girl you are, making it this far and not being drowned along the way."
"But . . . . "
"But exactly where am I?"
"The state of Jun, I told you. Here." The old lady pointed to the list of place names she had written down.
"That's not what I mean!"
She turned and pleaded with the old lady, who looked back at her with wide eyes. "I don't know anything about this Kyokai. I don't know what kingdom the Kingdom of Kou is. I don't know anything about this world! What is going on?"
The old lady had no answer except a troubled sigh.
"Tell me how to get back home."
"Can't be done."
The abrupt answer made Youko wring her hands together. "It can't?"
"No human being can cross the Kyokai. No matter how they somehow arrive here, there's no going back."
This explanation did not satisfy her in the least. "No going back? That's just stupid."
"But . . . I . . . . " Tears welled up in her eyes. "But what about my mom and dad? I didn't go home last night. I missed school today. I have to go to school. Everybody's going to be worried."
It was an awkward moment. The old lady averted her gaze. She stood up and began arranging the things on the table. She said, "Probably better you get used to things being the way they are."
"But coming here wasn't my idea! I had nothing to do with it!"
"That's what all kaikyaku say."
"My whole life is there. I didn't bring anything with me. Why can't I go home? I . . . "
No more words came. She burst into loud sobs. The old lady paid her no mind. She left the room. Everything she brought with her she took with her, even the candle, leaving Youko alone in the pitch black cell. The sound of the locking bolts echoed in the dark.
Youko screamed, "I want to go home!"
But it was too hard to carry on in such distress. She curled up on the bed and wept. She finally cried herself to exhaustion.
And slept without dreams.