Heart of Shadow

Villages destroyed; towns bereaved of life; people dying. The witches have returned in full strength, and they leave death in their wake...


8. Akuma







She woke with a pounding headache. The room wasn't spinning any more, which was a relief, but she still felt completely nauseous when she stood.

    "Yukiyo?" she managed to croak. From behind her came a sleepy murmur, and then her Kojin was beside her in a second.

    "Sit down, Akuma," he ordered in a voice that was both gentle and firm. Swaying slightly, she allowed him to guide her to a chair. She was slightly aware of three springs digging mercilessly into her back, but it was, at least, better than the bed. 

    "I don't like beer," she announced. Yukiyo sighed, looking down at her in a mixture of fond affection and slight concern. "But I'm fine," she assured him, somehow pushing down the pain of her throbbing head to speak to him. Yukiyo didn't reply.

    Akuma sank back into the chair, closing her eyes and sucumbing again to the powerful grip of sleep.


    When she awoke again, her head was only slightly pained, and there were two figures standing above her. The smaller of the two, she quickly identified as Yukiyo, and the other...

    "Okami?" She thought she'd simply been dreaming of his fight with the humans. Had he really been there? She'd passed out right afterwards, but she thought that the engulfing darkness had all been another part of the dream. After all, Okami was the Kojin of the deceased Majo leader - Hisa had taken him for her own servant. What was he doing here? Surely Hisa would never let him leave the village...

    "Yes," he replied. "It's me."

    "He followed us from the village," Yukiyo explained. "Somehow, he convinced Hisa that we were powerful enough to be protected."

    "You convinced Hisa that?" Akuma muttered. "How did you manage that?"

    A wry smile touched the corner of Okami's lips. "With great difficulty."

    "Thanks," she grinned.

    "No problem," he shrugged. "But I still don't know why you're not terrified here, among the humans. You were raised differently to them, so you can't blend in so easily. If Yukiyo's hood were to fall down for some reason, he'd be pointed at and stared at. You can't afford attention, and you know that. So why are you so happy here?"

    "There aren't any Majo Hanta here," Akuma replied, shrugging. "So we can fight any normal humans if we need to."

    Okami shook his head. "If you use magic, then they'll call the Majo Hanta. They can track being like us, Akuma. They'd kill you."

    Akuma realised the reality of his words. The beauty of the city had drawn her away from the potential dangers. No doubt Yukiyo had already thought of this, but hadn't told her because he knew how much she'd wanted to see the city.

    She paled. "Oh. I'll be more careful, then."

    "There's something else, as well." Okami's face was deadly serious. His silver eyes glinted like steel; his lips had set a firm line across his jaw. "I saw one of the Majo coming back to the forest. Ame was killed during her latest mission. The Majo Hanta saw through her illusion, and they killed her."

    For a moment, the world seemed as though it was no longer moving. And then her breath sped up; her heart smashed against her chest with such violence it seemed almost impossible. No, she thought, not Ame. Ame - who had cared for her after her parents had been killed. Ame - who had looked upon her with mutual respect rather than disdain. Ame - who had never once failed her.

    "No," Akuma whispered, slowly, painfully. "No!" she repeated, screaming. "She can't be gone!"

    She was faintly aware of her cheeks burning with tears, and that the world was no longer completely still but crashing and tumbling and falling around her.

    "I'm sorry, Akuma," Okami said quietly. "But I had to tell you."

    "You're lying!" she screamed, pushing herself from the chair and throwing herself at Okami. "You're lying, you're lying, you're lying!" Her fists pounded uselessly against his chest, each blow shaky and pathetic. No. Yukiyo put a gentle hand on her shoulder, and her hands dropped uselessly to her side. A strangled sob escaped her throat. Not Ame. Why did it have to be her? Why did the Majo Hanta have to kill her?

    Akuma's knees buckled, and she crumpled. Yukiyo caught her, pulling her close and holding her together.


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