Tag Archives: yokai

A Risky Conversation

This week for #SaitoSaturday I decided to give a little bit more of a clue than usual, because while Kagami gets a lot of love (he’s the namesake of the book, poor dear, and thus doomed), Akira gets…much less. Therefore, it’s back to chapter three, draft two, for a bit of a snippet that expands on an excerpt from a few weeks ago. Akira enters the fray via Taira Arashi, he-who-is-a-dragon-bastard, and one Watanabe Sakiko, she-who-is-a-pain-in-the-ass. Of course, he doesn’t know this yet, but he will…


The low, black throbbing of Taira Arashi’s laughter followed Akira out of his office and into the elevator, with the woman, Watanabe-san, right behind him. As they stepped out onto gold-veined marble of the first floor foyer, she smiled at him, almost a grin. “You did well, Saito-san. I’ve seen very few men hold their ground against Taira-sama.”
“And this amuses you.” It did not amuse him.
“Oh, yes.” If she was aware of Akira’s irritation, Watanabe-san didn’t show it. “What is that old saying, laughter or tears? Perhaps you should keep it in mind, Saito-san.”
Shaking his head, Akira tugged at the hem of his jacket and scanned the foyer. The two of them seemed to be the only humans, at least judging by the breadth of the smiles aimed in his direction, their fanged promises. No one approached them, and yet he felt the weight of many eyes, much attention, and shuddered. “How do you work with him, Watanabe-san?”
She did not meet his eyes, scanned the room for a moment then slanted her gaze into the shadow of her own hair. “How? I wonder. Perhaps, as he said, it is just because this is a different time. Another era.”
Akira snorted, then cleared his throat . “Apologies, Watanabe-san. I… Having heard the stories of my parents and grandparents, I can’t see how anything is changed. ”
Widening her eyes at him, she leaned closer. “No? Your job exists, doesn’t it? A hundred years ago there were no human police.”
“And what good does it do?” He kept his voice quiet, but Akira couldn’t let her statement go without challenge. “Eight out of ten cases reported are dropped, because in eight out of ten cases, the perpetrators are yokai. And that line? That’s where we lose all jurisdiction.”
There was something blase in her shrug, and she sashayed away from him, catching up with her gaze over her shoulder, pulling him along behind her with it. He followed because he had to, but she seemed to think it was her due. “Don’t such things make you eager to follow Taira-sama’s instructions? To make a place for yourself here in Asakusa, to expand your sphere of influence?” Watanabe-san settled herself on a soft couch and gestured at the chair across from her. “The lines one cannot cross, one must patrol…or at least observe carefully, even from a distance. Is that not so?”
This woman. There was something strange in her smile, in her sudden sadness. Akira settled himself gingerly, trusting not even in the furniture in this place, and nodded slowly as he contemplated the woman and her words. Even her name was suggestive. “Perhaps we will be so lucky. Watanabe-san, I hope you don’t mind the question, but are you of any relation to Watanabe Jiro, head of the Relations commission?”
“The judge of YAMA?” Her laughter was very soft. “You could say that. He’s my husband.”
“Your – husband.” Akira blinked at her in confusion, then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “You’re married to the head of YAMA, and you work with Taira-sama?”
She hummed her affirmation, tapping her fingers on the arm of the couch, tilting her head as she smiled at him. “This surprises you? But my husband also works with yokai.”
Shrugging, Akira narrowed his gaze at her. As if the two were the same thing. “Of course, but -”
“And it is you and your work we should be discussing, Saito-san.”
The sharpness of her words stopped Akira short. Again, something…off stuck out to him, as if the edges of his woman’s presence were prickly, too hot, thorn-studded…something. “Ah…” Was there a flame in the flicker of her eyes, a glow burning brighter? No, couldn’t be. Just the florescence of the overhead lights. “Right. I apologize.”


*Interested in where this all begins? Check out the first KAGAMI post, which starts at the beginning of the book!

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That Shower Scene

This week for #TeaserTuesday I decided…to expand on last week’s excerpt! Remember this hint of a scene? Have some more – but not too much! (And it’s still a wee bit NSFW, so read carefully.) As Kagami can attest, Akira is a distracting bathing companion…


The walls and floor of the ofuraba were both tiled with raw, grey stone – everywhere but a little window set in the wall above the ofuro. Mesmerized, Kagami stared while Akira turned on the tap, and the deep, square tub started to fill with steaming water. There was a drain set into the floor, with a short wooden stool above it and a wide, flat bucket with a washcloth in it set to one side, but Kagami had no idea what all this stuff was for.* Before he could ask, he was distracted from his perusal.
kagami sees an akira     Akira stripped off his shirt, was suddenly half-naked, and the shifting muscles under the skin of his bare back incited a need Kagami had never experienced before. Was this desire? This feeling, tight in his belly, hot in his chest, a startled ember rolling down his spine. His heartbeat – that he had a heartbeat – Kagami grew aware of its pulsing in his fingertips, the trapped, rigid length of his sudden erection, his lips, his tongue… Warmth fled his fingertips for his cheeks and the tops of his ears.
     With one hand, Akira tossed his bloody shirt in the trash, then seemed to hesitate for an instant before he stuck his thumbs into the waistband of his pants and boxers and shoved them down. Kagami licked up the man’s body with his glance, then lowered his eyes, unable to keep the smile from his face as he stripped off his own borrowed clothes. His policeman was good to look at all over. The thick muscles of his thighs, his taut, dimpled buttocks – the angles of his shoulders, his hips…
wet abs (akira)     A rough rush of something like summer lightning spurred Kagami forward a step, had him reaching out, but he jerked his hand back as Akira doused himself with spray. It came from a shower head outside the ofuro, and Kagami regarded it with interest…but not as much as Akira. Wasn’t the bath already full of water? Why would he need to get wide outside of it? But when he was wet all over, the man sat on the stool, took a washcloth and soap and started to scrub himself around blossoming purple bruises. “If you’re gonna stand there and stare, you wanna wash my back?”
     The words jerked Kagami’s attention up to Akira’s face. “Saito…san?”
     He was looking at Kagami with eyes gone dark and heated, and his gaze flickered down over Kagami’s naked body, then up again more slowly. “Well?”
SONY DSC     Kagami gloried in being looked at, being seen, as much as in the fact that Akira seemed to return his desire. “I can…I can do that.” It was only as he took the cloth from Akira’s hands and started to rub it against his shoulder that Kagami realized this gave him permission to touch without misgivings or embarrassment. He stopped moving the washcloth to follow the lines of the policeman’s back with the tips of his fingers instead,  tracing lines beneath the suds. Thin, pale ridges of scar tissue came under his hands, and he frowned, staring. An old wound?
     Akira twisted around then, eyeing him with heated amusement. “You can actually scrub, y’know. I’m not gonna break.”
     Yes, there was that about humans, wasn’t there? They had their frailties, but to shatter at a touch wasn’t one of them. Even if those scars were proof of mortal vulnerability… Shuddering at just the thought, Kagami pressed closer to Akira’s back as he scrubbed up the man’s spine.


*Interested in what makes this scene different from how you might take a bath? Check out the first Sugoi! post, Secrets of the Soak, about the customs and history of bathing in Japan!

Kagami

It’s time for another dip into…the Secret Files! Have a peek at Kagami, the character who gave his name to the first book of the upcoming Yokai Chronicles!
Kagami is a type of tsukumogami (pronounced soo-koo-mo-gah-me), mythological creatures in Japanese folklore. His true form is a mirrored piece of glass, but he’s eager to escape the restraints of being a mirror. Mischievous, dedicated, and just a little bit of an oddball, Kagami escapes his mirror with an eye on Akira, a Tokyo police inspector who reminds him of the one he must avenge: his Maker. In search of the one who slew the glassmaker who created him, and the full experience of life in the real world, Kagami…begins!
Take a peek at some inspirational images (yes, that means gorgeous Japanese men), and a special sneak-peek of Kagami’s first scene below!

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Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami.
Are you awake? Awake…
Wake!
Ka
Ga
Mi.
From the depths of his own reflection, he surfaced with the sound of that name. Am I Kagami? The world around him, outside him, was a red-hot blur of indistinct intentions, full of the wild pounding of drumbeats, the ritual smoke of incense, sand burning, charcoal, fire. Most of all, the mirror was aware of the flames that kept his molten surface in motion, but his consciousness was scattered. Piecemeal. His perceptions gained meaning only as he grew aware of them.
To see. To feel – and again, to see. And then: to hear.
“No, no. There’s no point complaining, and I don’t want to hear you scream.”
A voice engaged the mirror’s whole attention as his surface smoothed into stillness and reflected more of the world than fire. Thinner than that boisterous voice, muffled noises hummed at the edge of his consciousness.
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
Are you awake, awake, awake – ?
The echo was distorted, a shallow vibration that twisted slowly through the molten depths of the mirror. Then, more strongly, he heard a single voice from outside, though it was not speaking to him but someone out of his sight. “You did this to yourself, yes, you did. Oh, I know all the excuses, all the reasons you could list. I have heard them all before – yokai, human, it makes no difference.”
A clatter of shining sound sprang to life all around the mirror. Metal? But no, it was too clear, too starry, too bright. The roar of the fire intensified in response to a bellows’ gust, and the mirror realized it was the sound of other glass, tingling voices shouting, laughing, agreeing with their Maker.
There was only a single muffled tremor of denial, and then the Maker’s voice again. “Yes, I know. You think yourself special. But it has been more than eight hundred years since I took this work on myself, and criminals are all the same. Now, wait just there while I make this beautiful baby ready.” A pair of gleaming eyes appeared suddenly above the mirror’s glowing surface, set in a soft, furry face. The dark eyes were black-ringed, tanuki eyes, and the whole of his body, nose to tail-tip, fangs to claws, glowed with a soft haze of yokai energies. The Maker leaned back and changed, his body flowing like the glass he worked, and the mirror observed with interest the way he traded his tanuki shape for one more human. Only the dark, soft eyes with their kind satisfaction, their encouraging expression, stayed the same.
Restless, the mirror shifted, bubbling with focus but not purpose, need but not understanding of it. He was, but who was he? Who was he to be? What was being?
Beautiful baby, the soft-eyed one had said, his Maker. Beautiful baby. Was that his name? Or was it kagami, as the shining echo still insisted? The question vibrated through him, coalesced in sparks on his molten surface, and the Maker’s voice was tender when he answered.
“You are awake, Kagami? Yes, that is your name, though I will call you many other things in love. It is almost time to give you your heart. Pay attention, now. This is your sacrifice, your beginning. You will cleanse his soul in the fire, and in one hundred years you will take it for your own.”
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
This time the pieces of echo, this new label for his being, came with laughter and a feeling of welcome, but Kagami, newly named, was still only a questioning awareness, perceiving and not understanding. A heart? What was a heart? What was a soul? Whose were the voices that laughed at him, reached out for him, not his Maker but shadows in the dimness with him, behind the surface of still-boiling glass?
Kin.
Your.
Kin. Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami!
The heart is –
The soul is –
The sacrifice!
The…sacrifice?
As if in answer to his questioning, a boy was lowered toward Kagami’s surface. The ripples of heat rising from him brewed drops of sweat that sizzled as they fell. The boy’s eyes were hard and cold and horrible, but Kagami perceived without knowing how that the fire still within him, his own molten being, would cleanse the grime from the soul that had been chosen for him, the heart that would beat inside him.
Yes.
Kagami!
A heart, a soul, a face, a name.
To be born.
With us!
Among us.
One of –
Us.
Kagami.
More and more voices, more and more entreaties called out to him, demanding, amusing themselves with his emptiness, the things he did not know or comprehend. The truth came in softer, firmer words from outside the mirror-world, beyond the inner reflections and their echoing glass voices. “You become, Kagami. My finest work, the most beautiful mirror, one pane of glass, never to be broken, never to forget your name. My masterpiece. You become, and you are tsukumogami. Do you understand? That is to be yokai, but born of man and not of nature. Tsukumogami: a living thing, an embryo one hundred years in the birthing. Behold your sacrifice, Kagami. Behold your heart, and the face you will possess.”
The face…he would possess? The Maker gestured, and the muffled source of the room’s discontent was revealed. A boy, hanging above him, bound and gagged and struggling vain and furiously. Sluggish, learning more of motion than he had in his first moment, Kagami rose up, pressing against his own red-hot surface to peer closely.
Oh. Pretty. As the sacrifice was lowered closer to his molten glass, Kagami could see the boy more clearly, the rippling muscles of a youth in his prime, soft, bronze curves of body, narrow nose, slender face, elfin chin…they were not quite human, those features. More than mortal. An interesting face. -a yokai face?
This one…he would be a powerful sacrifice.
Tendrils of bitter yoki embraced his Maker once more, embraced the boy as he pulled at his bonds, and rained onto Kagami’s surface.
“You can’t do this! I’m not human, you can’t just snatch up yokai and use them as you please! Don’t you know whose son I am? What right do you -” The Maker made a slashing gesture with one hand, and though the boy’s mouth kept moving, the hollow of his throat vibrated only with silence.
It appeared the Maker knew everything that mattered – even to this boy. “Quiet now. Enough struggling. This is the end of your world, you should know that. What does your father matter, compared to your crimes? What would the Fujiwara say to your excuses?”
The boy bucked harder, bent nearly in half, then screamed as his toes came too close to the searing glass beneath him. He jerked back as far as he could in the other direction.
“Was that a name you didn’t expect to hear? But that is why you are here, boy. The life you stole is the reason your life was given to me.” The glassmaker spoke in a conspiratorial tone, but with sad, sad eyes. “It troubles me to no end that I never have any trouble finding a sacrifice. Ah, well. You’re a beautiful boy, you will give my masterpiece a lovely face. And one hundred years from now, when the grief of your evil has faded, I am sure your soul will serve him better than it has served you.”
Dark hair flailed as the boy was dropped the last few feet, free-falling, the strands dancing like silk thread in a high wind. His face was a scattering of regrets-rage-hate, a distortion of his general, fleshly beauty. Then he hit the surface of the glass, and Kagami bubbled eagerly out of his frame, up around the boy then down to embrace him. He became more as he consumed this sacrifice. More aware. More shining. Brighter.
Blood and skin and bone melted away, eaten in an instant, devoured to the last particle, leaving behind only the diamond heart of a soul, and a realization. To be was… To be was to be Kagami.

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Eleventh Entry: Rakushinpu

 

joro

The sound of the water rushes overhead. Beside us, the great fall is a roar and in its shadow the gleam of spray and the shadow of leaves overtake the world, together with drowsy promises. 

The spirits of the mountain speak in murmuring voices, a whisper to calm the senses, a low, red sound. Of love, it speaks, with the sound of a lute  and the eager harmony of all night’s darkest passions.

Come to me.

The voice does not belong to the water.

Stay with me.

The words are a plea from which an answer will summon only regret.

Is it not quiet here? Are you not tired now? Stay a while and sleep with me…

The lady of the falls trades on her whispers, and when the sun dips past the high of noon toward the horizon, when the laziness of the afternoon is full upon us – then, at the edge of the water, climbing in silken coils, the threads come one at a time.

Each one attaches to a man. An ankle. A toe. A calf. But we are prepared, as not many before us have been. The threads are not broken, but hooked to trees, to stumps – one rooted life in exchange for each marked man. 

As the sun begins to go down, the threads are pulled, one by one, and one by one pieces of the forest crash over the cliff-side, down the mountain, into the rage of the river and the waterfall’s roar.

A woman cries with it, and the longing has not left her voice. 

Stay with me, won’t you?

There is no laughter, no speech, as we make our way down the night blackened sides of the autumn mountain. We return to our camp – to the nearest village. It is there that we count our number and find that twenty-four has been reduced to twenty-three. 

Stay with me…

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Read more in the erotic horror novella Rakushinpu, free on Amazon KDP!

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Rakushinpu/Jorogumo References
Jorōgumo Wiki
Jorōgumo Legends

Have a suggestion for a creature that belongs in the Bestiary? Leave it in the comments!

King’s Daughter

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Earthbound, that book which will one day consume  us all. But me first, so you’ll have warning! 

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From the inner chambers of the court, past the Golden Lotus Pavilion and over the covered bridges, the King made his way past the flares he’d ordered lit. Some of them, poorly placed, guttered in the rain.

As he crossed the last bridge, the sound of strings came to him, though faintly. A low arpeggio of sound brought green to mind, swelled like a mountain growing in the back of his thoughts. Beautiful, Liuxing’s playing, and more lush than he remembered. Quietly, careful to make no sound, the king passed through the open door at the northwest corner of the Hall, then up the stairs to where the outline of the prince was barely visible, staring down from the shadows, visibly enraptured.

The king smiled, then stayed where he was, waiting. Trickling sound filled up the room and spilled out its melodies around them. Deep, plucked notes slid down the walls, pooled on the floor, then sprang up and splashed down again, rippling outward.

But the longer he listened, the more the king frowned, and deeper.

This…was not a song he knew, or one he had heard her play before. The falling arcs of sound were slow…so slow, but there was passion in them and unease crawled down his shoulders. Passion. Not love or excitement, not gentler emotions. Something as real as the passion of the spring for rain –

That green, flowing sound. Did she already have a lover? Was that the reason behind her avoidance, the reason she chose to ignore every suitor he selected?

He hadn’t even considered that, when perhaps it was the most obvious reason…but how could it be? The first man he’d picked, she had rejected without a second glance, and all the others since. She was watched, accompanied, guarded and attended, so how could she have had a lover? One or many, it was equally impossible.

Still, he couldn’t deny what he was hearing. If he closed his eyes and shut out the sight of her, her playing rolled over him and spoke of things she shouldn’t know. One of his own consorts might play such a melody, one of the palace concubines. It was seductive, a lure, a song designed to enchant a man, and it should not have been coming from the fingers of his innocent daughter.

But there was more than desire in it to disturb him.

Mountains, hills, the river moving – moonlight – they were all in her music, but they were sounds of the wild world, far beyond her experience. She played them all the same, and his mind chased the straining sound of her strings back to their source. A shadow. It moved behind his eyelids, silent and saturated with green.

A green…shadow. The rhythm moved in waves that summoned more than sound, layers of melody speaking a language he didn’t understand.

A whisper disconcerted him, a human noise rising through the falling tones of longing Liuxing was sending out into the rain. It was the prince, speaking to a servant, but the king heard nothing of his words. He was on the edge of approaching, making himself known, when the woman came back and the Prince reached out and took something from her –

A flute. He lifted it to his lips and played a clear, strong note that chased the sound of Liuxing’s strings in eerie harmony.

There was a gasp in concert with the first note of flute, discord as Liuxing’s hands came down across the strings, as she looked up and caught sight of the Prince standing on the gallery, looking down at her.

“Don’t stop, Princess. Play something with me. I’ve never heard anyone as good as you.”

“You’ve interrupted me, and spied on me, and you still ask that question? Do you have my father’s permission to make such requests?”

“I could not say I do.”

“Oh? Very well then.”

She returned her hand to their places on the strings, and the king smiled. Perhaps Liuxing had finally taken interest after all? He looked down and moved along the gallery away from the prince, until he could see her face.

Her expression set off a tingle of warning at the base of his spine. She looked – so calm. But calm was not the word for it. Her expression was deep ocean, still on the surface but something moving beneath. For a moment the king saw that something clearly, and didn’t understand. A monster, terrible and lovely, lifting her head to discover what had dared call her out of the deep…

For the second time that morning he remembered Liuxing’s mother.

He closed his eyes, but the music had changed. The green shadow behind his eyes turned black and cruel as the night.

 

Red Woman

It’s #1lineWed again, and that means time to riffle through my word-stash! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Rakushinpu, another WIP I’ve not shared from previously. It takes place slightly before  and during Japan’s Heian era, and explores some of the mythology of the Jorogumo, or Rakushinpu.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The woman – is she, can she possibly be a woman? –  draws Miho’s eyes. The red-painted smile drifts on her face like coiling smoke. She walks under a red umbrella, and her hips sway back and forth with her steps.

Her robes are the robes of a lady, but she is alone – no guards, no outriders, no chaperon, no escort. Her face is hidden behind a red fan, but her eyes are black and gleaming above it. Miho stares at her; why is she familiar?

No woman like that has ever been inside her father’s house.

A little at a time she follows the woman through the market. Past the stalls of food vendors and their sweet-spicy smells, past shops selling paper and silk and ink and furnishings and combs and jewelry, past men and women going about the business of their lives.

Her eyes are focused on the flash of red that moves ever in front of her, the swinging black hair like a cut out section of starless night, drinking light.

Miho traces lines of gold embroidery with her eyes, then stumbles a little. She has seen a flash of pale skin. A bare foot, visible for a sneak of a moment, one shining instance that Miho was lucky enough to catch.

So improbable. Her attention lingers on it long after it has passed. Her gaze is fixed to the hem of the woman’s robe now, waiting, hoping – so pale, that skin! Milk and moonlight. Like Miho’s own skin, but more gleaming.

She is so distracted by it that she doesn’t notice the trap in front of her until it is too late. Until she is in it.

The woman turns down a darker way, and Miho waits a moment and then slips around the same corner.

A dead end, and two chips of onyx that confront her, eyes so dark she can’t discern their pupil. Miho draws in a sharp breath and turns to run, but a sharp, hard grip has her by the shoulder in the next moment.

“Don’t run, little girl. I meant for you to follow me, though I wasn’t sure it would be so easy. Do you know me, pretty one?”

Miho stares at her, stunned. No one has ever, ever called her ‘pretty one’. The fan lowers before the face, and it is a beautiful face – the most beautiful face Miho has ever seen, as she’d known it would be.

“I – you wanted me to follow you?”

The woman smiles, though her mouth does not move. The crinkles at the corners of her eyes give her away. The eyes themselves drink Miho in, drink her whole awareness with the penetrating nature of their stare.

“Yes. I needed to thank you. But you haven’t answered my other question. Do you know me?”

Miho stares at her, the slender fingers wrapped around the black lacquered pole of her Chinese umbrella, the red shade across the pale skin of her cheeks and the darkness of those eyes. Always, always the eyes.

“I know – your eyes.”

And then she averts her gaze and twists her fingers together, suddenly ashamed that she should be dressed below her station, with leaves in her hair and the dust of the market on her face – and I’m ugly I’m so ugly it’s not fair, she’s so beautiful

“But I called you pretty one, didn’t I?”

Miho starts backward away from the fingers that are reaching out for her cheek and finds her back pressed against the wall of the alley.

“I – you – I didn’t meant to say that out loud, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry -”

“Hush, flower, glowfly, beautiful darling – is that enough to reassure you? Pretty one, I said, and I did mean it…and you…you spoke only to yourself, only in your mind – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hear you.”

Miho stares.

“You know who I am now, don’t you?”

The utsukushii woman has a voice like honey and plum syrup, thick and rich and too, too sweet. Miho feels that voice sticky on her skin and poured into her ears and drowns in it. Red woman – red woman, utsukushii woman, too sweet woman luring her closer, always closer, speaking like the spider to the fly.

“The spider.”

Yes.

 

Third Entry: The Yuki-onna

 

the yuki onna, bestiary 3

We came upon her in the snow, crouched in a field empty of all things but the white glare of the moon on the ice. Her hair was darkness cut out of the night, darkness out of the heart of a cave, and her skin and her robe were as white as the reflected night.

She called to us, but we did not dare go closer. In the frigid air her words showed no breath, and her red lips were the color of spilled blood, not paint. When the sun came up, she became like icy mist, turned to smoke and faded from our sight.

We left her behind, and turned our faces to the southern wind.

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Yuki Onna References

Yuki Onna Wiki
A Story of Yuki Onna from Musashi Province
General Information

Image Credit: rennerei

Have a suggestion for a creature that belongs in the Bestiary? Leave it in the comments!