Saturday, September 18, 2010

Down the Road –Chapter 1

It had been drizzling in the Asuka area since the previous evening. Ancient thickets of cedars blocked the sunlight, making it dark on Ayakashi Mountain even during daytime. A statue deep in the mountains that somewhat resembled a monkey, placed there ages before even the Tenbyo era in the eighth century, looked up at the sky with its huge eyes that almost took up half its face.

The rain falling in front of the statue became tinged with crimson. Despite the winds being calm, the raindrops started to waver. Something like an aurora appeared between two moss-covered old tree trunks. This phenomenon, called "Ayakashi" by the people of Yamato, was the origin of the mountain's name. The aurora increased in density, shining a brilliant festival of lights on the normally dark mountainside. A sudden gust of wind blew the light rain aside, and as it seemed to shake the aurora itself, the shapes of two people appeared in midair.

The two shapes solidified and dropped to the grass below. Just as it had appeared, the aurora gradually lost its light and vanished. As if it had never been there, the drizzle fell through the area where it had hovered a moment before.

According to the traditions of the local people, the gods of Yamato used the Ayakashi to travel to China and India. Those unfortunate humans who entered it unknowingly would vanish and never be seen again, so people were forbidden to approach it. Izanami had used that power to save Nakajima and Yumiko.

The calm wind on his skin and the cold rain on his cheek, Nakajima opened his eyes. Next to him, covered in fern leaves, lay the half-naked Yumiko.

Where are we?

Not letting go of Yumiko's hand, Nakajima warily scanned his surroundings. The world he had seen beyond the aurora had been one of fields and rolling hills, yet they were now in a dim forest.

Either way, they were safe. That, of course, was due to Yumiko's courage and extraordinary power. Wondering how that sweet expression could possibly hold the power to stop a demon in its tracks, Nakajima put his hand on her cheek.

Yumiko's cheek was hard and cold, almost as if she was a doll of ice. Telling himself it was because of the rain, Nakajima took off his shirt and sat Yumiko up so he could to put it around her. However, when he put his hand behind her delicate shoulder, it came back covered in thick black clots of blood. Nakajima timidly looked at her back, suppressed the urge to cry out, and shuddered.

From her right shoulder to her waist, Yumiko's back had been brutally torn open; even her bones were visible. In trying to grab her, Loki's claws had dealt her a terrible wound. As if awakening from a deep sleep, Yumiko opened her eyes. Her calm, pure expression betrayed no hint of pain from the wound as she gazed at Nakajima and whispered "I'm sorry."

"...."

Nakajima didn’t know how to respond and simply hugged Yumiko tight. He should have been the one apologizing. Having Yumiko apologize to him hurt far worse than her condemnation would.

But Yumiko's words had a meaning to them. She murmured into Nakajima's ear.

"Sorry...I don' t think I'm going to survive this. But will you wish to bring me back?"

"What are you saying? You won't die just from this wound! Hang on!"

"No, that's not it. Izanami told me earlier. It's not just because of this wound on my back. I borrowed Izanami's power to fight Loki. But her power was far too strong for me to handle..."

"Izanami?"

Nakajima was shocked by the words coming from Yumiko's mouth. With his background in magic and mythology, he was able to grasp the meaning of what she said, even if only vaguely. At the same time, he realized the meaning of the strange visions that he had seen several times before.

They had been an exact replay of Japanese mythology. In order to bring back his dead wife Izanami, Izanagi, the father of the gods, went to the land of Yomi. While there, Izanagi looked upon his wife, who had become hideous, and broke a great taboo in doing so. He was forced to abandon her and flee back to the surface.

"She told me that I am a reincarnation of Izanami. And that if you desire for me to return to life, you should bring my body deep into her grave, right to the room where she is entombed. If you do so then I will return to life, and this time we can be together." Yumiko started coughing fiercely.

As her throat shuddered, Nakajima wiped aside the fresh blood she coughed up.

"Yumiko, don't talk like that. You're not going to die. We're going to live happily ever after." Nakajima opening up to her, when he had never been open with anyone, brought a smile to Yumiko's pale face.

"Thanks. Don't abandon me mid-way like Izanagi did in the myth..." Yumiko closed her eyes like she was going to sleep, and drew her last breath.

Embracing her body and stroking her wet hair, a fire of emotion blazed forth inside Nakajima. Putting aside those visions, he had never had any contact with Izanami. But he believed Yumiko. Or perhaps it would be better to say that he had decided to believe her. After all, he had summoned Loki, the god from the legends of northern Europe. Nakajima had no idea how the mechanism for reincarnation worked, but if Izanami from Japanese myth really existed, then he would seek her out.

"Hold on. I promise I'll bring you back." Carefully laying down Yumiko's body, Nakajima picked up the handheld computer that had dropped to his side and turned on the switch. Fortunately, it still appeared to be working.

If I can summon Kerberos...

As the white mist appeared from the small liquid crystal display, Nakajima breathed a sign of relief. The fully materialized electronic beast roared once and looked at his master with fire in his eyes. But the wounds he had sustained fighting Loki had robbed Kerberos of his usual vigor; it even looked as if his entire body had gotten a little smaller. It would probably take at least a few months for wounds that serious to heal. It might be possible to heal him by fixing errors in the computer data that comprised him but Nakajima had never tried to do anything like that before. Even if he tried, it wasn’t something that could be completed in a day or two, and Nakajima didn't have that kind of time. Patting Kerberos' muzzle to encourage him, Nakajima pulled Yumiko's body up onto his back and set out.

After ten minutes walking along animal tracks, they emerged from the trees. Far beyond a steep slope covered in kumazasa growth, the humidity in the air shrouded a small mountain hamlet in mist. On the right was a great stone tumulus, and behind it, mountains emitted a greenish aura.

That's an Ishibutai grave and Tono Peak. So this must be Asuka!

The scenery perfectly matched the photos in a much-reread book on ancient history he had eagerly studied long ago. Maybe it was true that an ancient Japanese goddess had called them to the mountains of Asuka, which were intimately entwined with Japanese myth. But how was he supposed to find Izanami's tomb without any guidance?

The demonic beast beside Nakajima let out a low growl, as if to encourage the motionless youth as he stared ahead blankly.

"Yeah, you're right, Kerberos. That has to be it..."

Drawing a deep breath, Nakajima balled his right hand into a fist and touched the tip of the beast's sharp fang with his wrist. In an instant, sharp pain ran through his arm as fresh blood flowed out of the wound. Nakajima tried to use his own blood to create and power a thaumaturgic circle In order to find the location of Izanami's tomb. Even as his blood fell to the muddy ground, the rain simply washed it away, distorting the shape of the circle. Dizzy from blood loss, Nakajima tried to redraw it.

Though he was well-versed in magical theory, Nakajima had always relied on computers up until now. Although this was his first time casting a spell by himself, there was no hesitation in his expression. There couldn't be any ambiguity when casting spells using a computer. Having mastered the theory to that extent, he was sure he could do this. Nakajima calculated his direction from the ishibutai and Tono Peak, used his computer's astrology software to find the position of the stars and phase of the moon, and drew his circle. Circle completed, Nakajima sat down and murmured, "Izanami, please tell me where you are."

He made a sign with his hands and began to meditate.

Nakajima lacked any sort of psychic powers, but his feelings toward Yumiko and the unique magnetic field at Mount Ayakashi easily pulled him into a trance. He concentrated on the silver thread of fate that connected Yumiko and himself. The thread he pictured started to glow. In that state of deep meditation, Nakajima tried to superimpose the thread that he was picturing onto the scenery of the real world. His brow wrinkled deeply as he focused his spirit to the utmost. An eternity later, he could clearly see the silver thread in his metal image being pulled into two small knolls that had been plowed into grape fields.

That must be where Izanami's grave is.

Awakened from his meditation, Nakajima knelt down and looked for something in the scenery around him that matched what he had seen in his trance.

"That's it! That's Izanami's grave!" Nakajima cried aloud.

The two knolls formed a perfect triangle between the Ishibutai and Tono Peak. Drawn by the smell of blood, several flies crowded around Yumiko and landed on her wound. Irritably brushing them aside, Nakajima picked her up and put her up onto Kerberos' back.

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