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Page Four

Juuni Kokuki — 十二国記
(The Twelve Kingdoms)

Tsuki no Kage, Kage no Umi — 月の影 影の海
(Shadow of the Moon, Sea of the Shadow)

By Fuyumi Ono — 小野不由美

Translated by Atosryac
Edited by Myuuchan

Volume One – Chapter One – Page Four

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

    “……I have found you.”
    With the voice came the faint smell of the sea.

    The homeroom teacher looked behind Youko with an inconvenienced expression, and with that Youko also glanced back.
    Behind Youko stood a young man – a complete stranger.
    “It is you,” he said, looking straight at Youko. He was perhaps in his late twenties and odd enough to leave one agape. He was clothed in what resembled a long-hemmed kimono. And if a face like a Noh mask with hair long enough to reach the back of his knees was not already extraordinarily strange enough, his hair had an unnatural, pale gold color.

    “Who are you?” the homeroom teacher asked in a reprimanding tone.
    Appearing completely unconcerned, the man did something even more surprising. He knelt at Youko’s feet and bowed his head low.
    “……I have searched for you.”

    “Nakajima, do you know him?” asked the teacher.
    Youko, who had been staring blankly, hurriedly shook her head.
    “No.”
    It was such an unusual situation that neither Youko nor her homeroom teacher seemed to be able to react properly. As they stared at him perplexedly, the man stood up.
    “Please come with me.”
    “Huh……?”
    “Nakajima, what’s with him?”
    “I don’t know.”
    Youko was the one who wanted to ask. She looked to the homeroom teacher, seeking help. The other teachers who had remained in the staff room gathered around suspiciously.
    “Who are you? Only authorized personnel are allowed on school grounds,” the homeroom teacher said firmly, seeming finally to have come to this realization.
    The man met the teacher’s gaze impassively. He did not appear at all cowed.
    “This does not concern you,” he spoke coldly. He surveyed the teachers who had gathered around. “Or you. Please leave.”
    It was such an imperious manner of speech that anyone would be taken aback. The man fixed his eyes on Youko, who had been just as startled.
    “I will explain the circumstances in due course. In any case, please come with me.”
    “Excuse me, but-“
    ”-who are you?” Youko was about to ask when suddenly, a voice sounded nearby.

    “Taiho,” it called.
    The man raised his head to the voice. Perhaps that was the stranger’s name.
    “What is it?” the man asked with knitted brows, but there was no sign of the voice’s owner in the place where he directed the question.
    From out of nowhere, the voice echoed once again.
    “A pursuer,” it said. “It appears you were followed.”
    Suddenly the man’s Noh mask-like face became grim. Merely inclining his head, he grasped Youko’s wrist.
    “Excuse me. It is dangerous here. This way.”
    “……dangerous?”
    “There is no time to explain.”
    Addressed sharply, Youko unconsciously drew back.
    “The enemy will come before long.”
    “……enemy?”

    It was when she asked this, feeling uneasy without knowing why, that once more came a nearby voice.
    “Taiho, it’s here.”
    Looking around, the voice’s owner still could not be seen. It happened when the teachers were just about to say something.
- The window glass facing the rear yard was smashed.
    It was the pane nearest to Youko that was smashed. Youko, who had instantly closed her eyes, could hear cries verging on screams blending with the sound of broken glass.
    “What was that!?”
    Opening her eyes at the sound of the homeroom teacher’s voice, she saw that the teacher appeared to have rushed up to the broken window and was looking around outside. A cold wind blew in from the window, which faced a broad river, carrying in a bloody stench along with the chill. Broken remnants of the window were scattered on the floor. Despite being relatively close to it, Youko escaped being covered in shards – the strange man had acted as a shield for her.
    “What……?”
    To Youko, who so asked without understanding the situation, the man responded somewhat coldly.
    “That is why I said it was dangerous.”
    So saying, he grasped Youko’s arm again.
    “This way.”
    She felt extremely uneasy. She tried to pull her arm free, but the man did not at all seem willing to let go. If anything, he pulled even harder. As Youko tottered and staggered, he placed a hand on her shoulder.
    The one who stopped the man’s pulling was the homeroom teacher.
    “Is this your doing!?” he demanded.

    The man looked at the teacher with a dangerous glint in his eyes. His voice when he spoke was cold and implacable.
    “This does not concern you. Away with you.”
    “Who are you to talk so big? What do you want with our student? Do you have friends outside or something?”
    After shouting at the man, the teacher scowled at Youko.
    “Nakajima, what’s the meaning of this?”
    “……I don’t know.”
    Youko was the one who wanted to ask. The man dragged at Youko as she shook her head.
    “At any rate, this place is-“
    “No.”
    She dreaded this kind of misunderstanding — being thought of as this man’s associate. At the same time that she twisted her body, pulling free from the man, once again from somewhere above came a voice.
    “Taiho,” it said tensely.
    The teachers looked around, futilely searching for the owner of the voice. The man unquestionably frowned.
    “Truly, how stubborn.”

    Saying this as if he was spitting the words out, the man suddenly knelt. Giving her no time to react, he seized Youko’s foot.
    “I shall never leave your side. My eternal loyalty, I pledge unto you.”
    No sooner had he uttered this rapid flow of speech, than he fixed his stare on Youko.
    “Say that you accept.”
    “What!?”
    “Do you not value your life? —-Say, ‘I accept’.”
    Overpowered by the harshness of these words, Youko involuntarily nodded.

    “I accept……”
    What the man did next was enough to leave Youko dumbfounded.
    After a beat, from around them came disgusted voices.
    “You two!”
    “What are you thinking!?”
    Youko was simply struck dumb with surprise. This complete stranger of a man lowered his head and touched his brow to the instep of Youko’s foot.
    “What are-“
    ”…you doing?” she started to say before her words were cut off.
    She felt dizzy. Something was rushing through her body, and for a moment, it made her vision go black.
    “Nakajima! What is the meaning of this!?”
    It happened at the same time that the homeroom teacher, face flushed, raised his voice in anger.
    Boom. With a low sound like an earthquake, all of the remaining window panes facing the rear yard became turbid white.

Copyright Fuyumi Ono, Kodansha, 1992
(C)小野不由美・講談社 1992

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