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
Translated by Shinkun
Edited by Acerbia
Volume One – Chapter One – Page One
It was pitch black.
A girl stood, frozen in terror, in the jet-black darkness.
From somewhere, she could hear the sound of dripping water. The faint sound echoed in the darkness. It was as if she was in a pitch-black cave, but she knew that was not the case.
The light, appearing as a spot of flame, began to take shape.
Beyond the flame were countless shadows.
It was a group of grotesque creatures, coming forth from the light.
There were monkeys, and mice, and birds.
But while they held the general appearance of such animals, they were a bit different from what one might find in an encyclopedia.
Moreover, these creatures were much bigger.
There were red beasts, black beasts, and blue beasts.
The ground trembled.
The creatures were running, or perhaps leaping, or flying trough the air.
It was as if they were an approaching parade at a cheerful festival.
It was a cheerful festival, in a way.
The grotesque creatures, hunting for prey, approached in a frenzied rush. Bloodlust was in the air, howling like an errant gale.
The head of the pack was already four hundred meters away and closing in.
Some of the creatures already had their large mouths open. Although they emitted no cries, their facial expressions were quite communicative.
Not a single voice nor footstep could be heard. The sound of dripping water persisted. The girl could only stare at the silhouettes of the approaching creatures.
When they arrive, they will kill me.
Upon realizing that, the girl became terror-stricken.
Her body would not move; I’ll be eaten, she thought, ripped into eight different pieces. Even if she were able to move, there was no place to run. There was no way to fight them.
Youko jumped to her feet. Sweat beads hung on her temples, stung her eyes. She blinked many times, disoriented, and was finally able to take a deep breath.
She knew she was now awake because she was able to speak again.
Her paralysis and muteness had made her extremely uneasy.
“It was just a dream.”
Even though she had been having this dream for an entire month, it was no more than a dream. Youko slowly stretched her neck.
Behind heavy curtains, the room was dark. Reaching out for her bedside clock, she realized that she had woken up a bit early. Her body felt leaden. Although she was finally able to move, she still felt very sluggish.
She had first started having that dream a month ago.
At first, the dream contained little more than just darkness. There was only her, standing in a pitch-black limbo, and the sound of dripping water. Terrified, anxious, and unable to move.
It was on the third day of having that dream that the crimson light began to appear. Youko also became aware that she was being pursued by something terrifying in her dream. She continued to have the same dream for the following five days.
Soon after, the shadows appeared. When she saw the shadows, she would wake with a scream. At first, they appeared as a black stain floating against a backdrop of vermillion light. Several days later, she identified the shadows as her terrifying pursuer from before.
She didn’t realize that it was a pack of things until a few days after that. It took yet another few days for her to realize that the things were these grotesque creatures.
As Youko held one of the stuffed animals on her bed, she thought, They’ve gotten so close! It’s been a month already. They’ll be here soon. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps the day after. When they get here, what will happen to me?
“If you won’t dye it, why not cut it?” her mother persisted.
Youko silently hung her head in shame and quickly braided her hair. She wove her hair into three tight braids. Her hair now looked just a little bit darker.
“I wonder who she’s trying to imitate?” her mother sighed. “I was asked by your teacher you know. ‘Is that her natural hair color?’ he inquired. That’s why I’m telling you to dye your hair.”
“It’s against school rules to dye our hair,” Youko complained.
“In that case, why don’t you cut it? If you do, you won’t stand out as much. The most important thing for a girl is to be neat and clean. To be inconspicuous and to be gentle. Girls these days go out of their way to look showy. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
“I don’t want you to become like them,” her mother added coldly.
Youko only stared at the tablecloth in silence.
“Do you want to be the center of attention? Do you want people to hate you? I’ll give you some money. Cut your hair on the way home from school.”
Youko sighed beneath her breath.
Copyright Fuyumi Ono, Kodansha, 1992