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Page Three

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 KgPinpon

Volume One – Chapter One – Page Three

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

    Within the skyless, groundless darkness, from high, high up the hollow sound of falling water could be heard. Youko was standing in that darkness. In the direction her face was turned, she could faintly see crimson lights. Behind those lights, countless shadows were wriggling. A horde of strangely-shaped beasts was coming towards her, capering. The distances between herself and the horde was now no more than two hundred meters. Just considering the size of the strange creatures, this seemed a terrifyingly short distance. She could see the shiny red fur of a huge monkey with its mouth opened wide in a raucous laugh, muscles stretching as it leaped frenziedly. And there was only that much distance left.
    She couldn’t move her body, or make any sound. All she could do was watch the nearing horde, with eyes so wide it felt like their corners might split.
    They were running. Leaping. Dancing towards her. The bloodlust blowing towards her stopped her breath in her throat, like a sudden gust of wind.
    I’ve got to wake up.

    She had to wake up from the dream before the beasts reached her. But even as she wished she had no idea how to do it. If she could have woken herself with willpower, she would have done it long before. With nothing else do, as she watched, the distance shortened to half of what it had been.
    I’ve got to wake up.
    She was attacked by an unease so strong it made her grind her teeth. It whirled within her body so hard it felt like it would pierce her skin. Her wild breath, fast heartbeat and rushing blood produced a sound not unlike the rumbling of the sea.
    I’ve got to do something and get out of here.
    As she thought that, she suddenly felt a presence overhead. It descended, the force of its thirst for blood crushing Youko. For the first time in the dream, Youko was able to move. She looked up. What she saw was a pair of tawny wings. Then legs of the same color, and terrifyingly sharp, thick claws. There was no time for the intent to run to even come to mind. At that moment, the roar of the sea in her body became stronger, and Youko just screamed.
    “Nakajima!”
    Youko fled at once from where she had been. Her body had yearned to flee, and she had unthinkingly obeyed that. Only afterwards did she finally look at her surroundings. There was a female teacher with a surprised expression on her face, and students wearing the same expression. A beat later, laughter suddenly burst out. Youko let out a sigh of relief, then blushed suddenly.
    She had been sleeping. She hadn’t been sleeping well recently because of the dreams, and her sleep was always shallow. Because of the lack of sleep, she was often drowsy in class, but this was the first time she had dreamed.
    The female teacher walked briskly towards her. It looked like no matter what the reason, she was going to make Youko her enemy. Of all places to fall asleep, thought Youko, and bit her lip. Youko was popular with most teachers, but no matter how obediently she behaved, she just couldn’t get along with this English teacher.
    “……Honestly.”
    Saying this, the teacher smacked her textbook onto Youko’s desk. “I’ve had students doze off in my class before, but never before has there been one who slept so soundly as to act half asleep when she woke up.”
    Youko hung her head and returned to her seat.
    “What exactly are you coming to school for? If you’re sleepy, you should just sleep at home. If you don’t like your lessons, I’d rather you not force yourself to come.”

    “……I’m sorry.”
    The teacher tapped the corner of the textbook on the desk. “Or is it that you’re too busy playing around at night?”
    The students suddenly began laughing again. Within the classroom of students laughing without any pretense were the faces of Youko’s friends. She heard a noisy laugh coming from the seat on her left as well.
    The female teacher lightly tugged the single braid that hung down Youko’s back.
    “This is the color you were born with, I hear?”
    “……Yes.”
    “Really? I had a friend in high school who had hair like this. It sort of makes me remember her.”
    Saying this, the teacher laughed.
    “But then, she bleached hers, unlike you. In our third year, she quit school under guidance. I wonder what she’s doing now. How nostalgic.”
    Here and there in the classroom, snickers could be heard.

    “—Well? Do you feel like learning? Or maybe you don’t?”
    “……I do.”
    “Is that so? Then stay standing like that. That way you’ll be able to stay awake, won’t you?”
    With that order, she returned to the teacher’s podium with a meaningful laugh.
    For the hour that Youko stayed standing during the lesson, the stifled laughter in the classroom never stopped.
***

    That day after school, Youko received a summons from her homeroom teacher. It seemed that, somehow or other, the story of what had happened in English class had reached his ears.
    So she was called to the staff room and questioned at length about what kind of lifestyle she had.
    “There are teachers who say you’ve probably got some kind of night life, you see.”

    Saying this, the middle-aged teacher frowned.
    “What is it? Are you in some situation where you have to stay up late?”
    “……No.”
    There was no way she could talk to the teacher about a dream like that.
    “Are you watching TV until late or something?”
    “No, um……”
    Panicked, Youko searched for a reason.
    “My grades on the midterms dropped, so……”
    The teacher seemed to comprehend quickly.
    “Ah, I’m sorry. That’s why, eh? —But even so, Nakajima.”
    “Yes, sir?”
    ”Even if you’re staying up late at home to study, there’s no meaning to it if you don’t listen to the crucial lessons.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    “It’s nothing you need to apologize for. It’s because it’s easy for people to get you wrong, Nakajima. That hair of yours standing out so much and all. Can’t you do something about that?”
    “I was thinking of cutting it today……”
    “I see.”
    Saying this, the teacher nodded in approval.

    “You’re a girl, after all. I’m sure you don’t like the idea, but I think it’ll be better for you. There are teachers who say you’re dyeing it, that you’re playing around.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    The teacher waved a hand at Youko.
    “Well, you can leave now.”
    “Yes, sir. Excuse me.”
    Youko bowed her head. It was right then. Right then that a voice called out to her from behind.

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

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