Chapter 24

3-8 The monkey said, "I told you so."

It was the middle of the night. The monkey's head floated above the stone marker standing at the side of the road. After leaving Kasai and wandering about for a while, Youko had continued on down the highway.

She was on her own again. In the process she'd ended up with Takki's rucksack. In the bag was a change of clothes and Takki's purse. There was enough money in her purse that if she ate and slept in cheap dives along the way she could make it last a bit. The theft didn't bother her conscience a bit.

"I warned you, silly girl."

Youko ignored him. The glowing blue head tagged along, as if skating next to her as she walked along silently. Youko zoned out the monkey and its screeching laughter. She knew she'd been a fool to let herself be fooled so badly. She didn't need to hear it from the monkey as well.

Besides, she had more pressing things on her mind than the monkey, such as the gold-haired man she'd seen in Kasai, and the appearance of the youma in the middle of the city.

Youma are never supposed to go where people live.

Takki had said as much, said that it was rare that such a thing should happen.

Youma never show up in the middle of the day.

The tiger in Kasai, the dog-like creatures that attacked the wagon, the kochou that had shown up at her school, they had shown up during the day or in the early evening. But they were the exceptions.

Was it because Keiki was there?"

The monkey's piercing laughter interrupted her mid-thought. "Little girl, it's because you're such an easy mark!"

This was impossible for her to ignore. "It's not!"

"Oh, but it is. Think about it carefully, little girl. Even you find it most strange, do you not?"

Youko bit her lip. She was determined to believe in Keiki. If she couldn't believe in him, she would have nothing to fall back on. Nevertheless, her doubts continued to grow.

"He pulled the wool over your eyes, little girl. He gave you the shaft, he did."

"No, he didn't."

"I simply cannot comprehend this stubbornness of yours." The monkey said, laughing, "Unless it's your way of refusing to see what a fine fix you really are in."

"Keiki protected me from the kochou. Keiki is my friend."

"Really? Is he? And since coming here, exactly how has he helped you? It was that one time only, no?"

Youko stared long and hard at the monkey. How could it know about what had happened before she came to this world? The tone of his voice gave her the creeps.

"What do you mean, that one time?"

"Over yonder, I mean. When you were attacked by the kochou, I mean."

"How could you know anything about what happened there?"

The monkey screeched, "Oh, I know everything about you, little girl. I know how much you distrusted Keiki. How hard you tried to get away from him. You don't want to believe it, how much he totally used you."

Youko averted her gaze and stared at the dark road. "That's not . . . it's not true."

"Then why hasn't he come to help you?"

"Something must have happened."

"What possibly could have happened? Did he not say he was going to protect you, little girl? Let us think this thing through. It was a trap, right? Do you get it now?"

"Other than at the school, I can't be sure that I really saw him those other two times. It couldn't have been him!"

"Have you been seeing a lot of golden-haired chaps around these parts?"

I don't want to listen to this.

"And wasn't your Jouyuu as well convinced it was Keiki as well?"

How could he know about Jouyu? As she thought about this, staring off into the distance, the monkey's mocking eyes suddenly collided with hers.

"I know everything. Just like I told you."

Taiho. That voice was suddenly alive in her memory. She shook her head. She would never forget the surprise contained in that one word

"No. That's not right. Keiki is not my enemy."

"Are you certain? Really certain? Yes, but that would be nice."

"Shut up!"

The monkey turned its eyes towards the heavens, laughed. He whispered, "Want to know what I think?"

"I don't want to hear it."

"It was Keiki who sent those youma to attack you."

Youko couldn't move. The monkey looked at her blank, wide-eyed stare and leered at her.

She said, "No way."

The monkey roared with mirth, peals of laughter that went on and on like the ravings of a madman.

"There's no way!"

"Are you so sure about that?"

"He'd have no reason to do anything like that!"

"No reason?" the monkey inquired, with a crooked smile.

"Why would Keiki do something like that? It was Keiki who saved me from the Kochou, wasn't it? He gave me this sword, and put Jouyuu inside me. It's only thanks to him that I'm still alive."

The monkey giggled gleefully.

"If he wanted to kill me, he could have done it right then and there."

"He had you attacked on purpose, so he could save you and be your pal. Did you ever think of that?"

Youko bit her lip. "Yes, but now that I've got Jouyuu, it won't be so easy. If he wanted to kill me now, he'd have to exorcize Jouyuu out of me first."

"But maybe his goal isn't to kill you."

"Then what?"

"Hmm, I wonder. Well, you'd better figure it out eventually. They are really going to come after you after this."

Youko scowled at the bobbing, chortling head and quickened her pace. "You can't go home." The monkey's voice followed after her. "Not at all, little girl. You're going to die here, my dear."

"No way."

"But there's always a way, isn't there? If it hurts so much, it could all be over in an instant."

"Shut up!" Youko shouted.

Her words were swallowed up in the darkness.