My thanks to Suika Roberts for giving this a read for me. She didn't proof it so any errors are all my fault.
In early spring Yoshino was always crowded. The village's streets were choked with the traffic of thousands of people, come to see the cherry blossoms--a huge floral carpet, ascending up the mountains.
Under the trees people had set up their personal spaces. Plastic tarps laid on the ground on which the revelers sat, drank, sang along with portable karoke machines that they had brought with them. The din under the canopy was increased by the loudspeakers, blaring out the high pitched voice of some singer.
It was loud, but few people were bothered by that. Under the cherry trees, they found happiness, or at least something that passed for it.
Higher up the mountain sides, the trees had still not blossomed, the temperatures a little too cool. Near this boundary a young woman rested on a set of tarps, drinking saké from a glass, trying to ignore all the sounds. Her friends had all left, gone down the mountain to get more alcohol and food. She had stayed behind to keep their area.
Swirling the rice wine in her glass, she stared down at it, wishing, not for the first time, that the music and other noise would just go away. She wanted quiet, a restful, contemplative quiet. All the noise, it had not been like that long ago.
As the darkness under the trees grew, she found herself thinking of those times, wondering what it might have been like. The loudest sound she might have heard would be singing, or perhaps a flute, and the only light that of lanterns and the stars.
She smiled ever so slightly, spinning the saké in her glass a little faster, the liquid almost sloshing over the rim. It would have been much more pleasant a hundred, or two hundred years before. Simpler, and better for it. She wished she had been born to another time.
"Which time, oneesan," someone asked.
The woman looked up, a little surprised. Had she been speaking aloud?
Standing by the trunk of the tree, slightly in shadow, was a young girl wearing a school uniform. She recognized the school, one of the senior high schools in Nara. The girl was far from home.
"Which time," she asked again, moving a little out of the shadow. Out of the shadow she could see her much clearer. She was beautiful. Her long hair was bundled up with a red ribbon, her large eyes seemed to catch the light. For a moment the woman thought they were gold, but she realized that was ridiculous.
"A long time ago," she said, feeling as if the words were being drawn from her.
"A long time ago," the girl smiled. "Before the Meiji restoration?" she asked. "Before the Black Ships?"
"Yes," she said. "Yes."
The girl moved forward, dropping to her knees in front of the woman. "A long time ago," she said. "A peaceful time," she shifted forward. "A Tokugawa lady," she moved closer, brushing the woman's short hair from her shoulders, from her neck.
The woman looked at the girl, staring into gold eyes. A shiver ran through her body, but she did not pull away. The girl moved forward, up onto her knees. Her lips lightly brushed the neck, then her teeth gently parted the skin.
Miyu left the young woman behind her as she walked further up the mountains. The trees had yet to bloom, the branches they presented were bare, skeletal. Miyu found that more comforting than the blossoms below.
He reasons for being there had nothing to do with blood, but, the woman had been very attractive, and her dream so strong. So she had paused on her real mission, taking a chance. Yoshino was well known for its cherry blossoms and for the Shugendo priests who made the area their school. They still understood and practiced the rights of exorcism and of magic.
She did not let the threat of the priests bother her though. She would be gone before they ever knew anything had been amiss, assuming they even realized it at all. Putting them from her mind, Miyu continued up the mountain.
There was something up there. Something powerful. She had caught a hint of it from Nara. Now it drew her along.
Away from the lights, the darkness began to grow thicker, the sound from below was muted. As Miyu walked her school uniform faded away, replaced by the child's kimono she had worn for so long. She moved up the mountain side faster, her bare feet silent against the twig littered ground.
It grew darker and the sounds from below were lost in the night, none of it was natural. Miyu no longer walked in the world she had been in, she was in a someplace, a mix between the dream and dark. She stopped her walking, looking around her.
There was a soft, chittering sound all around her out of the corners of her eyes she saw small, dark things, scuttling about her. Something caressed her mind, first a gentle touch barely perceptible, then again, stronger, testing. There was a feeling of a trap in the air.
Miyu extended her right hand, turning palm up. A ball of flame gathered there, barely cutting through the darkness around her. Still, the pressure on her pulled back slightly. It was not afraid, she could tell that, there was a sense of curiosity there, of waiting.
Around her, glinting in the light of the flame, were very thin strands of a silk like material. She noticed a few of the strands touched her, connecting her to the things in the darkness. The flame in her hand flared up, lashing out like a whip, burning away the threads. Out in the darkness a sense of anger came to her.
"Lavar," she called out.
Behind her the darkness grew thicker, taking on the form of a man in a bone white mask. Lavar stared out at the darkness, sensing the same thing Miyu did. He lashed out with the long nails of his right hand, cutting through the last of the strands.
The flame in Miyu's hand grew brighter, though the flames themselves shrunk into a small ball in the palm of her hand. A moment later a tongue of fire leapt forward, burning into the darkness. Something passed through the area, a spasm of outrage/hurt/fear. Then it was gone, as were the other things. The faint light from below returned, as did the noise.
"Do you know what that was?" she asked Lavar.
Lavar took off his mask, looking about. "I don't know."
"Shinma," Miyu said.
Lavar nodded, and said nothing else.
Miyu waited for a moment, then continued up the mountain, following the lingering sense of wrongness that had brought her there. Lavar followed close by.
There was a path of sorts, though it was long since overgrown. The thick underbrush did not effect Miyu, she moved through it as if it was not there.
The nature of the trees changed, the cherry mostly gone, instead camphor trees were more common. Ahead of her, the underbrush thinned, and then was gone, leaving a clear, well traveled path. For a moment Miyu remained motionless, looking about. Then, hesitantly, she put her foot on the path and started down it.
The path led down into a hollow of sorts, the darkness thicker there. She continued along the path, the sense of wrongness was almost gone. She doubted that any threat remained. Now all she could hope to find were answers.
Near the bottom most part of the hollow she found a group of large trees, wrapped in the straw ropes that marked the space out as sacred. Miyu halted as she got close. There was some powerful force there, a kind of warding. She circled the trees, noting that they formed a rough circle. Within them she could make out a large, shadowy shape. She also noticed that one of the trees had fallen inwards, getting caught in the branches of the other trees.
She completed the circle and was back on the path. She looked behind her and saw Lavar waiting. He had not put his mask back on, nor did he look worried.
Satisfied that there was no immediate threat, she stepped into the circle of trees. The shadowy shape she had seen was a rock, several thick ropes wrapped around it. On top of the rock, partially destroyed by the branches of the tree that had fallen, was a small shrine.
Stepping closer, Miyu felt the force she had sensed grow stronger. The shrine was the center of it, where the wards had been set, long ago. While still strong, they were shattered, allowing egress. Something had been held there once, but it was gone now.
Miyu left the circle, walking towards where Lavar was standing. As she got closer she could see what he had found. There were two mounds of fresh dirt on the forest floor, neither marked in any way. Miyu looked at them for a moment, then turned away from them. She had not learned everything yet, but she had some answers.
"Let's go," she said to Lavar, walking away, returning the way she had come.
Miyu followed a little behind the group of girls, close enough to keep up with the conversation. She answered the few questions put to her, but did little else. The girls were a blind, the friends she was expected to have. There had been others like them in the past, there would be more in the future.
It had been some time since she had last been in Nara, she could not quite remember how long it had been. Sometimes she saw women, near middle age, look at her as if they recognized her. They would shake there heads and then go on. Miyu suspected she had known them some time ago. Just like the girls she was with now.
"Shall we go to the park?" Natsume asked.
"You always want to go to the park," Reiko said.
"You just want to feed the dear," Miki said.
"But they are so cute," Natsume said.
"Do you want to go Miyu-san?" Miki asked.
Miyu did not really care, but knew if they did not Natsume would get sulky and she did not want to have to endure that. She doubted that any of them did. "Yes."
"Good," Natsume said, turning at the corner of the street they were on, moving out in front of the others.
"She always acts like such a child, ne Miyu-chan?" Reiko said softly to Miyu.
"She refuses to put aside her innocence," Miyu told her.
"It is annoying," Reiko told her. A first year senior high school student, Reiko did all she could to seem older. Her eyes were on the future, and university, things of childhood mostly discounted.
Miyu said nothing else, simply following after Natsume.
One of the first things that Natsume did was get a package of biscuits from one of the vending machines. It was not long before she was surrounded by a small group of deer. The animals had been spoiled rotten by the many tourists and others who came to the park and fed them. They could be very annoying, though Natsume did not mind.
Reiko stayed as far from them as possible, though it was hard to avoid them. Miki bought a package of biscuits and also fed the dear. Miyu sat down on a bench, the deer avoided her, and put her briefcase on her lap. She took out a notebook and looked over her homework.
Most of her classmates thought she was brilliant. Perhaps she was, but part of her success at school had to do with the fact she had done it all before. The mortal life she hid within never changed.
She suddenly sensed something, something close by. As Miyu returned her book to her bag, she looked up. Natsume was a some distance away, walking towards a stand of trees. Miyu got to her feet and followed after her.
There was nothing odd about Natsume, she walked forward, looking around, perfectly natural. Miyu lengthened her stride slightly, catching up to Natsume when she was ten meters from the trees.
"Did you see something?" Miyu asked her.
"Maybe," she told her. "I'm not sure."
Miyu said nothing more and just followed Natsume into the stand of trees. At first nothing seemed amiss, then a scent reached them. It was a sickly sweet scent that Miyu had not trouble identifying. Natsume's steps faltered, and she stopped.
"I don't like this," Natsume said.
"Don't like what?" Miki asked from behind them.
Natsume started, then said, "I'm not sure." She turned around and walked back the way she had come. Miyu watched her go.
"What's that smell?" Miki asked.
"Blood," Miyu said softly.
"Something died here I think," Miyu told her, walking forward.
"Really?" Miki said. "What?"
Ahead Miyu stopped. On the ground was the body of one of the deer, ripped apart. It appeared as if it had died recently, Miyu looked down at the puddle of sticky, fresh blood she had steeped in. It had not congealed very much. She lifted her foot, for brief moment the blood held, then let her foot go. She wiped the sole off against an exposed tree root.
"What is that?" Miki asked.
"It was a deer."
"What did that?"
"I don't know," Miyu lied.
Miki looked at the remains for a moment, then turned and walked away. She was not really bothered by the mess, but had no interest in looking at it, and she was a little worried about what might have done that. Miyu remained behind for a short time, but she did not look at the deer. Instead she examined the area, trying to get a feel for the being who had done it.
Her bare feet were silent against the wet grass. The park was dark but for a few lights along its paths, and deserted due to the late hour and the storm that had recently passed. Miyu ran across the open grass, hunting. There was a Shinma in the park, a minor one, but she suspected that it would not stay that way. She would deal with it now to avoid having to deal with it later when it might be more of a nuisance.
It was ahead of her, not yet aware that it was being hunted. Miyu increased her pace, altering her course somewhat.
Sometime later she had circled around the Shinma, coming at it from off the path. She suspected it might have sensed something, but its attention was elsewhere, not where she was. It was on one of the paths that led to the Kasuga Taisha shrine. All the approaches to the shrine were lined with lanterns. Miyu leapt atop one of the stone lanterns, looking down at the Shinma's back.
"Konbanwa," she said, looking down at it.
The Shinma spun around. It was a strange creature, short, thin, almost childlike, but for overlarge, luminescent eyes and a mouth too full of teeth. It hissed at her, backing up slightly.
"I am Miyu," she told it. "The Dark's guardian. It is time for you to return."
The Shinma hissed at her again, then gathered it's legs beneath it and leapt at her. Before it came close a dark shape flashed between it and Miyu. The thing let out a pained squeal and fell to the ground. It's bare torso deeply marked with three long slash marks. A short distance away Lavar turned to face it, some of its blood on his scalpel like fingernails.
"Bye bye," Miyu said. The Shinma was suddenly surrounded by flame, flame that ate away at its being and left nothing behind. It writhed in the fire, and its mouth opened, but no sound came and there was nothing it could do to escape. A moment later it was gone, locked away in the Dark.
Miyu leapt down from the stone lantern, landing gently on the pathway beside Lavar. She reached up and took the mask from his face, looking up into his eyes.
"We are being watched," Lavar told her.
"I know," Miyu said, sounding unconcerned.
Lavar turned his face away from her and stared out into the darkness. Miyu shifted about slightly, looking where he was. A moment later they could see something moving in the shadow, coming towards them. When it stepped on the path both could see the woman clear enough.
She was tall, with long black hair and dark eyes. Her ears, those of a fox, were covered in a russet fur, the same colour as the several tails she had. The beautiful Kitsune looked both Miyu and Lavar over with an unconcerned air. Miyu studied her a bit more intently. She realized that the woman had been there that night when she had gone to Yoshino, but had been masked by whatever had brought Miyu there.
"Who do you hunt this time hunter?" she asked, looking at Miyu.
"I don't have a name for it."
"It knows your name."
"Perhaps it will find me then," Miyu told her, sounding unconcerned.
"Perhaps it will, thought I doubt that."
"Don't you know the answer already?" She laughed. "Beware hunter," the Kitsune warned before stepping back into the shadow.
Miyu took a step forward, but was stopped by Lavar's hand on her shoulder. She tilted her head back to look at him. He shook his head.
Miyu looked back the way the woman had gone but could sense nothing from her. Se was gone and there was little good that could come of trying to follow her. "Let's go," she told Lavar, stepping away from him.
"Did you hear?"
"Junpei-san died last night."
"He and his entire family. They left the heaters on and died of carbon monoxide."
Miyu trailed the third year students, not really listening to what they said. She was giving more thought to the Kitsune she had met the previous night as well as the strange force that had drawn her to Yoshino. She had put some the pieces together, the two graves Lavar had found no doubt had something to do with the Kitsune, probably her family.
That meant she was hunting it as well. Miyu did not mind that, it was a minor problem. If the Kitsune succeeded, it meant little to her. If not, it would not matter. Either way, the Shinma would be dealt with.
There was still the question as to what the Shinma was. She had found no information about the shrine she had discovered, though the mountains around Yoshino were covered in small shrines. She would have to wait and see what happened, for the Shinma to come out into the open.
"Miyu-chan," Reiko called, running to catch Miyu. "Ohayo."
"Ohayo Reiko-san," Miyu said, smiling.
"Did you hear?"
"Tanaka Junpei-san, one of the third years, died last night."
"I heard," Miyu told her.
"Isn't it terrible? He was so cute."
Miyu nodded. "It was terrible." Her voice held little emotion.
"You're so cold," Reiko said reproachingly.
"Perhaps," Miyu said, not bothered by Reiko's remark.
"Miyu-chan, can I borrow you're homework for last night?"
Miyu smiled. "Hai."
"Thank you," Reiko said. "There was a good movie on TV last night and..." she trailed off.
"I understand," Miyu told her. I'll give it to you once we get to school."
Reiko thanked Miyu again and the conversation turned to things of little consequence. Natsume joined them soon after, Miki caught up with them just as they were entering the school grounds. After that they went their separate ways to different clubs. Miyu gave Reiko her homework then watched as the girl disappeared in the school. She would be skipping her club practice to get everything done before school started.
Miyu walked towards the school entrance near the band's practice room. She thought about Reiko for a moment, and how many girls like her she had known.
After their homeroom teacher called the role she went through the morning announcements. First period classes would be made up after the other classes so they could attended an assembly. Most of the people in the class realized it was about the death of Junpei. The news had been spreading through the school, having a wide range of effects. The third years were affected the most by it of course, Junpei had been in their year. He had been well known throughout the school though, being a bit of a wild one, well liked by most of the students and teachers.
Miyu did not give it much thought. Her thoughts were on other things.
'It is here in Nara,' she sent to Lavar. 'That is why the Kitsune is here.'
'Yes,' he returned.
'I wonder when it will begin.'
The ceremony was much like Miyu had thought it would be. The principal talked for a long time about what a terrible loss it was that Junpei died, and how it should remind everyone to be careful about heaters. He expressed his wish that the baseball team fight harder now that Junpei was no longer with them.
Miyu listened, maintaining a polite expression. She could see a number of the other students were beginning to look bored, especially among the first and second years. They hid it as best they could, out of respect for the dead was well as a little fear that the third years might bully them. Miyu was not worried about being bullied. She was left alone when she wanted to be left alone.
"I would also like to add another piece of sad news," the Kocho-Sensei said, folding up the paper his speech had been written on. "Mikawa-sensei was in a car accident last night. She will be all right, in time, but she will not be returning to school for several months."
That announcement resulted in some real upset from many of the first year students. Mikawa-sensei, the school nurse, had been well liked. It was her first year at the school as well.
"Fortunately we have been able to find a replacement very quickly."
That surprised Miyu a little. Usually it took a long time for replacement teachers to be found. Her interest was piqued.
"Yamaguchi-sensei," he called.
There was a small disturbance as students tried to see the new school nurse. A moment later a young woman was walking up the stairs. She wore an almost conservative skirt suit, her black hair was long, past the small of her back, and she was slim. When she turned around everyone could see how beautiful she was. Pale skin, dark eyes, fine features, Miyu heard a number of voices murmuring about how she looked like a model.
Her beauty was obvious to Miyu, as was its source. Kitsune had long been known for their bewitching beauty. Miyu wondered why she had come to the school. Was it because she was there, or was there something else in the school that had attracted her.
"Ohayo," she said, looking out over the student body. "My name is Yamaguchi Akiko and I am glad to be here. I hope you will help me over the next little while and I look forward to getting to know you." Her speech was simple, quick, and most of the students were grateful for it. They had had enough of long speeches.
A short time later the assembly ended and the students started filing out, the third year students first.
"Don't you think that Yamaguchi-sensei is beautiful?" Natsume asked Reiko and the others. "She's like a princess."
"Acting like a child again," Reiko said. "Seeing princesses and oni everywhere."
"I am not acting like a child," Natsume said, a little angry. "She is beautiful."
"It's a little strange," Miki said.
"What?" Reiko asked her.
"I was just thinking how Yoshida-kocho sensei did not say much about what she had done before, you know, schools, previous jobs."
"That is a little strange," Miyu said.
"Maybe she was just tired after everything else," Reiko suggested.
"Perhaps," Miyu said.
A short time later their class began to make its way out of the gym and the girls stopped talking.
"I forgot," Miyu said. "I have to clean up some things in the music room."
"Do it later," Reiko told her.
"I can't. I'll be back soon. Here," she pushed her bento box into Reiko's hands then turned and ran back to the school.
"If you aren't I'll eat your lunch," Reiko called after her.
Miyu said nothing, just ran to the entrance closest to the music room. When she got into the school she did not go to the music room but instead continued to the second floor, stopping in front of the nurses office. She waited a moment, then slid the door open and stepped into the room. There was no one else in there but Yamaguchi-sensei.
"Konichiwa, Satoo-san," the woman said, not looking up from her desk or the paperwork on it.
"I've talked to some of the other senseis about you."
"Really?" Miyu asked, crossing the room to stand beside the desk.
"They seem to like you. They say you are very intelligent and very polite. They think they know you."
"Perhaps they do," Miyu smiled slightly. She had a taste for the game they were playing.
"I don't think so. They all note that you speak very politely, almost old fashioned really, so they think you come form a very traditional family. Yet, your ears are also pierced," she looked up at Miyu, indicated the earrings-small gems of a deep red colour-she wore. "Not really the sign of a traditional family. They also fail to notice other things, such as you home address, or the fact your attendance record is not perfect, or that none of them know anything about you beyond what happens in school."
"That is interesting," Miyu said.
"Who did it kill?"
"My mate, and child."
"And you escaped?"
"It was still weak. This thing is mine to hunt. Stay away from it."
Miyu said nothing. She stepped back, bowed slightly. "Sumimasen," she said, then turned and left the health room.
Akiko watched her go and said nothing.
As Miyu crossed the school grounds, walking towards the place she and the others ate lunch, she considered the Kitsune. They could be dangerous but the fox wives were mostly benign, though legend attributed a certain amount of mischief and vindictiveness to them. She would try to get her revenge, but Miyu wondered if she would succeed.
The Kitsune obviously knew much of this Shinma that she was not saying. Miyu decided that keeping an eye on the woman might be for the best. Of course that would not be easily done. Kitsune shared a cleverness that was attributed to their fox brethren. She was going to have to be as clever if she hoped to use the woman.
Miyu stood high in a tree, behind her Lavar kept her shielded from the Kitsune they followed. Even with his aid she could tell that Akiko sensed something. Her movements conveyed that nervousness, and she was very vigilant. Still, she did not know that she was being followed, only suspected it. It was not enough to stop her it seemed.
Miyu had to admit to being a little surprised when Akiko eventually lead them to a building that she recognized as being where Junpei had lived. She had not given the young man's death much thought. Carbon monoxide poisonings did happen.
She waited in the branches of the tree as the Kitsune broke in and then waited longer for her to come out again. When she did, Miyu had to choose whether to follow her or to examine the apartment. She had a feeling that Akiko would not lead her anywhere that night. She waited until the woman was gone, then leapt from her perch, landing on the window sill of the apartment where Junpei and his family had lived.
Entering was easy enough. She slid the window open and slipped into the apartment. She entered the kitchen, a small room, made cramped by the appliances, the table and everything else. Something had happened in the apartment, there was a scent of power there. Some it was very fresh, probably something that Akiko had done, but there was something else. It was recent, but muted.
A Shinma had been responsible for the death of Junpei's family, the same Shinma she had sensed in Yoshino. The manner of death was strange though. Few Shinma seemed to care enough to make it look like an accident.
Miyu walked through the apartment, looking things over, trying to get a feel for what happened. It was all too murky though. She did not know what she was looking for. After a moment she turned and walked back to the kitchen. She would learn nothing that night.
There was some talk about two people who had been killed in a car accident the night before, but it was just part of the news. The two people had nothing to do with the school, unlike Junpei. Miyu might have ignored the event completely but for the Shinma she knew was in Nara.
She would hunt again that night, though she was not sure if she would find anything. This creature was not obvious, it hid and killed by making things look like an accident, or so she supposed. She still did not know much about it.
Behind her she heard the door to the music room open, a bang as it hit the end of its runners. Miyu did not turn or say anything, though she knew who it was. She continued placing the music books back on the shelf.
After a time, Akiko spoke. "You followed me last night."
"Yes," Miyu said.
"I told you, it was mine."
"Do not get in my way Satoo-san."
Miyu put the last of the books up on the shelf, then turned to face her. "Of course Yamaguchi-sensei," Miyu said very respectfully.
The Kitsune stared hard at her for several seconds. "Do you believe that you are the one that leaves them behind you?" she asked, a cruel smile on her face.
Miyu said nothing. She smiled and walked towards the woman. "Yamaguchi sensei, do you miss your child, your mate?" she asked. Around them the room faded away, the dark forest of her realm replacing it. Her uniform was gone, she wore her kimono. Akiko also changed, the marks of the fox appearing. "Don't you wish you could be with them?" She laughed softly. "Aren't you lonely?"
There were unshed tears in Akiko's eyes, it made them glitter, she did not cry though. Her right hand slid into the left sleeve of the kimono she wore. "I will not let you speak lightly of them."
"Don't you miss them," Miyu paused, "sensei?"
Akiko growled deep in her throat, her left foot slid forward slightly. "Do not make light of this vampire." She drew forth four slim knives from her sleeve, letting them fly at Miyu. The blades passed through empty space. Akiko looked about, wondering where she was hiding.
"Don't you miss them?" came from behind her.
Akiko whirled, a knife in each hand, exploding forward. She stopped suddenly, held transfixed by those golden eyes. Miyu stepped forward, standing on her tip toes, placing her hands on either side of Akiko's face, her fingers gentle on her skin.
"Do you miss them?"
"Yes," Akiko said, her voice barely whisper.
Miyu brushed the hair away from Akiko's neck. Akiko felt the fingers against her ear, then, gentle breath tickling the small hairs on her neck. She closed her eyes.
Suddenly it was all gone. She opened her eyes finding herself back in the music room. Miyu had left the room and was walking away from her, down the hall. She took a few steps forward, then stopped, not ready to confront the girl again. She turned around, facing away from the door, wanting no one to see her. She covered her face with her hand, promising herself she was not going to cry.
The sound of Miyu's laughter, soft, ethereal, seemed to mock her. She began to cry.
Flares chased the darkness away around the accident site, revealing the twisted wreckage of the minivan. The ambulance crews had arrived first, but there had been little they could do. Four fatalities and one miraculously unscathed boy. He had been sedated and sent to a hospital.
Just outside of the light, in the shadow, Akiko watched as the police examined the accident site, trying to ascertain what had caused the accident. The Kitsune watched, knowing that they would find some explanation for it, probably a very simple one.
This was his second vehicle accident she realized. Obviously he found them to his liking. A gathering of people, in a potentially dangerous situation. An easy target.
She moved closer, trying to get a feel of the area. Her family had long been guardians of the site and had learned to tune in on their charge. She could feel his energy there, muted by the painful emotions that filled the air. She touched a trace of anxiety in the air, a certain fear. She saw the tire blow in her mind, the vehicle skidding out of control, crashing into the guardrail.
She was not seeing what happened, but a fear of one of the passengers, a fear made true.
Shaking herself free of the fading memory, she moved deeper into the shadow, leaving the spiritual pollution behind. As it faded, other things became to come to her. He was close. She was certain of it. This had been recent. He would be waiting, watching. She was certain he knew she was there as well.
A chittering sound reached her, soft, but growing. Around her, in the corner of her eyes, she could just make out scuttling shapes. Each of her hands slid into the opposite sleeve, grasping the blades stored there. Her motions subtle up until the moment she exploded into motion, the knives leaping from her hands, shining in the darkness like frozen, beams of moonlight.
Around her were many screams, painful whines as the things died, fading away. She had another handful of blades out, but they were gone. Not that it mattered, they had woven the trap about her. She felt a pressure against her mind. He was close.
She moved forward, or tried to. She was jerked to a stop by the strands surrounding her, they held her fast. The touch on her mind grew stronger, pushing at her.
Violently, as if she were crazed, Akiko began to slash through the slender threads, cutting them away from her. One, then another, a third, somewhere she heard a cry, it repeated as the fourth fell away, with the fifth she recognized it. The cry of her son. She stopped cutting, the crying stopped, the pain that she had been burring deep inside herself since the deaths rose in her chest, choking her.
She knew what was happening, but she could not fight it. That morning the vampire had offered her an eternal dream, then snatched it away, showing she could answer cruelty with cruelty. It had weakened Akiko, leaving her vulnerable. She could feel them, close by, her husbands lips against hers, her infant son nursing, a thousand sensations. She was helpless before them.
And then she saw it again. The fear she had known since she was old enough to understand what her duty entailed. His escape, his killing her family, her power too weak to stop him. She had feared it, and he had made it happen. Now he was finishing it, gathering the last, great burst of energy he would receive with her death.
Akiko tried, she gathered all her strength and slashed at another of the threads, once again hearing her sons cry. She was killing him. She had killed him. To weak to protect him. It was her fault. The thought crashed against her with a palpable force, knocking her to her knees, the knives falling from her hands.
He was before her, his thin, tall frame, covered with a black, dusty cloak that held the musty smell of a not too old tomb. Long, black fingers stretched forth towards her, on the end of each, many-segmented finger a razor like claw. He reached towards her. She could see his spider like eyes shining in the darkness of his cowl.
She swallowed, choking down the ball of sobs that were stealing her breath away. "I won't let you have it," she told him, trying to master her fear.
"You will," is said in a voice that sounded like the ripping of silk.
"No," she said, trying to master her fears, refusing to give them to him. She had to do at least that.
He laughed and his hand lashed out, the claws ripping into her chest, tearing the material of her kimono, cutting gashes across her chest. The pain was exquisite. It seemed to travel from the tears in her chest to every nerve ending in her body, flaring with every pain she had known. She fell backward, unable to regain her feet.
"Your son and husband knew this pain," he told her.
Her hands flailed nervlessly as she tried to find her blades. She wanted to at least make an attempt. She could not make her hands work to grasp the blades she could not feel.
He leaned over her, grasping her around her neck, ever so gently. She could feel the cruel claws on her skin, tiny pin pricks of pain, a promise of what was to come. She did the only thing she could, she kept her eyes opened, waiting to see her death. It was an empty gesture with no meaning, but it was the only one allowed her.
Her empty gesture allowed her to see the black shape that rose up behind him, to see the white mask, marked with gray that outlined the eyes. She saw the pale, almost fragile looking white hand with red nails lift into the air then slash down to become lost in his musty cloak.
And Akiko felt a flush of hope as she heard its scream and knew it could be hurt. That joy was tempered by pain as it ripped the hand around her throat away, cutting her again. She knew she would live, but the pain was incredible.
The Shinma leapt back, around them the night exploded in tiny, black, scuttling shapes. They went straight for Lavar, weaving their threads around him. He slashed as the shapes and the threads, destroying them and ensuring he would not be trapped.
The Shinma looked around, knowing that the hunter was close by. He could see how little effect he had on Lavar. That one's fears were too tightly controlled. The hunter would be closing in. It faded away, taking its small brethren with it, leaving Lavar alone, victorious.
On the ground Akiko looked up at her savior.
"I hope you are all right sensei," a familiar voice said.
Akiko managed to sit up, despite the pain. She watched as Miyu walked up to her, standing beside Lavar. "You were here all along," Akiko accused.
"I needed you to tell me about the Shinma," Miyu told her, smiling. "Lavar, let's go." She turned and began to walk away.
"Please," Akiko shouted, the strain causing her more pain. "Kill him for me."
The only answer was Miyu's soft laughter as she and Lavar faded away.
Akiko fell back to the ground.
Miyu stared into the hospital room, wanting to be sure the boy was alone. They had put him in a private room. That made things a little easier. She alighted on the window sill and gently pushed at the glass. The window opened, she stepped down from the sill and into the room.
She walked to the bed, placing a hand on the boys head. He moaned softly, then his eyes fluttered open. He turned his head to look at Miyu. Miyu ran her hand through his fine hair, smiling. The boy seemed to know who she was and what she offered. That happened sometimes, when the need was very strong. He shifted so he was sitting up, reaching out the grasp hold of Miyu. He buried his face in her shoulder, crying softly.
Miyu shifted him slightly so she could reach his neck. Her teeth brushed the skin, then sunk in. He let out a small gasp of pain, but that was all. She took a little of his blood, for her own sustenance.
"Are you ready?" she asked him a short time later.
"Unn," he nodded, wiping at his eyes then his nose.
Miyu smiled and gave him what he wanted.
Almost as soon as she did she could feel the presence close by, angry. Miyu laid the boy back in his bed then turned to face the window.
"You can't have him now," she said, walking to the window. "He is beyond you, as is the all the energy you wish." She leapt up onto the sill, looking down into the darkness.
The Shinma was there, in his musty cloak, staring up at her. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"I am Miyu, a vampire, the Dark's guardian. It is time for you to return."
He hissed angrily as he launched himself at her, opening his arms wide. From under his cloak came hundreds of silken treads, exploding out towards Miyu. Before he had crossed half the distance Lavar was between the Shinma and Miyu, slashing deeply into it, tearing the cloak and skin.
Lavar landed on his feet below where Miyu stood on the window sill, the Shinma landed on its back some distance away. It pushed itself up to a sitting position, its many eyes glittering in the shadow of its cowl.
Miyu held her hand out, a globe of fire appearing in her palm. The Shinma hissed again, and suddenly the night was filled with the scuttling shapes. They launched themselves at Lavar, like a swarm of insects. Lavar slashed through them as they got close, but that did stop them. They covered him, tiny little claws digging into his cloak, a shroud of webs covering them and Lavar. Then suddenly they and Lavar were gone.
"Lavar!" Miyu said, looking down where he had been.
There was a flash, Miyu barely managed to jerk back, falling back into the room. Pain washed through her as one of the claws cut across her shoulder. She fell onto her back, staring up at the window. On the sill stood the Shinma, staring hungrily down at her.
She managed to roll to her knees when a woven cord of threads whipped out to wrap about her wrist. There was an icy burn on her skin, and the contact she had felt before grew stronger. In her free hand a ball of fire appeared, around them the room became dark as Miyu called up her realm. The fire burned brighter in her hand, then suddenly dimmed and went out as Miyu heard someone call her name.
"Miyu," it came again, stronger.
"Okasan," Miyu said softly.
"Miyu," the voice was close by, she could make out her form in the darkness. Suddenly she felt the sorrow wash over her again, the sorrow that she had never forgotten, that haunted her. "Miyu," she called again, and Miyu could see her clearly.
And then there was something else, a dagger, spinning as it fell, catching the light. And suddenly the flame was there again, cleanly cutting through the cord that had held her. The illusions had no more power to hold her.
The Shinma, taken by surprise, stumbled back and was not prepared for the lance of burning light that hit it, burning a hole through its shoulder. It let out a high pitched scream as it fell.
"Lavar," Miyu called, her voice full of command.
Somewhere Lavar was lost, around him an impenetrable darkness. And then, her voice came to him, her blood resonated in him, and he knew where to go. In a moment he was gone from the place that had held him.
The Shinma had managed to return to the world, but that only gave it a moments respite. Miyu and Lavar were there as well. He got to his feet and fled, the night swallowing him up.
"Lavar, follow him," Miyu commanded. Lavar left, fading away, following her orders.
Miyu ran her hand along the wound in her shoulder. She looked at her fingers, staring at the blood there. Then she smiled and licked them clean. A moment later she was gone.
The Shinma ran. Behind it it could sense pursuit. They were coming for him and he was much too weak to fight them. He had to escape, find some place to hide. That was his only chance.
He thought he might actually make it, until he saw her standing on a wall directly in front of him.
"Konbanwa," Miyu said.
He stopped, falling. As he pushed himself up he knew that the other one was close behind him. He had no escape.
Pushing himself to his feet, he stared across the distance at the guardian. If he was going to die he would at least take her as well. He hated her. Hated that smile, that arrogant look. He would kill her.
He gathered up his energy, getting his feet under him. A moment before Lavar arrived, the Shinma leapt, propelling himself at Miyu.
Before Miyu could react, several knives, glowing with energy, slammed into the Shinma, knocking it away from Miyu. It hit the wall instead, bouncing back and hitting the ground.
Miyu looked across at Akiko for a moment, but the woman had collapsed to her knees. She looked down at the Shinma, struggling weakly to get up.
"Bye bye," Miyu said, and suddenly flame erupted around the Shinma, its form burning away, leaving nothing. It screamed silently for several seconds, beating at the flames around it, but to no avail. Then it was gone.
Miyu leapt down from the wall and walked to Lavar. She stopped in front of him, then looked over at Akiko. The Kitsune was struggling to get to her feet but it was obvious her wounds pained her too much. It was amazing that she had managed to get there at all. It must have cost her dearly.
"Let's go Lavar," Miyu said, turning away from the woman, walking into the darkness. Lavar followed her.
Natsume sat on her bed, amidst the stuffed animals, brushing her hair. She stared at the window, but only saw her own reflection.
On the other side of the window, sitting on the branch of an old tree, was Miyu. She stared into the room, watching the girl. Smiling, she got to her feet, walking slowly along the branch, approaching the window. That was when something shot up from the ground, landing on the end of the branch, between Miyu and Natsume's window.
Akiko stood there, hands in the sleeves of her kimono. She stared at Miyu.
Lavar started to approach but Miyu held up her hand, stopping him.
"Konbanwa sensei," Miyu said. "Are you all right? You look a little pale."
"You can't have her," Akiko said.
"Would you deny her what she herself wants?"
"She does not know what she wants."
"And you do?" Miyu asked, laughing, then she paused, a contemplative look crossing her face. "You have chosen to become their guardian."
"There are dangers in the night," she said, staring straight at Miyu.
Miyu looked at the Kitsune. She put on a brave front, but Miyu could tell that the previous night's exertions still hung heavily on her. Akiko would provide no real challenge. Still, her decision amused Miyu.
"As you wish Yamaguchi-sensei," Miyu said, stepping back into Lavar's arms. He folded them about her, covering her under his cloak.
Akiko knew she had not won, that Miyu had given in, for her own reasons. Still, she could tell that she was now safe and the wish to somehow hurt the vampire returned to her. "You would not have given her a gift," she said.
"Would I have not?"
"To be left behind by life. That is a curse."
"Is it?" Miyu laughed softly.
"They'll forget you," Akiko tried.
"In a way," Miyu still smiled.
Akiko wished she had some way to hurt her, but her words did nothing.
"Yamaguchi-sensei," Miyu called, she and Lavar were beginning to fade. "I hope you do not fail this time." She and her dark servant were gone, only Miyu's laughter was left behind.
Akiko closed her eyes against the tears, then leapt across to another tree, and then another, leaving the place behind.
In her room, Natsume got up from her bed and walked to the window. She put her hand up the shield some of the light, and looked out at the night. She thought she had heard a noise, but there was nothing.
"Lavar, I'm thirsty," Miyu said quietly.
"We're here in the Engineering section of the USS Enterprise. We have replaced the fine Dilithium crystals they usually use with folgers crystals. Let's see what happens."