Naming The Demons
by Lara Dean-Brierley
Mija, kneeling before her father, made his words into rain: pattering softly
but insistently against her ears.
"I don't understand why you can't kill them," he was saying. "They're
Mija tried to slide past the familiar rhythms of the start of his tirade.
"They would be foolish to do that, honored father," she said as diffidently
as she could manage. "Why annex a nation of corpses?"
"They're crushing our spirit," he snapped.
She couldn't deny that. They had just learned of the new decree: not
content with their land and their labor, the Japanese were taking their
names. Stripping them of identity, wiping out generations of
painstakingly recorded lineages. Filling their mouths with stark, foreign
consonants even to greet a neighbor. Her father, trembling like a leaf in
an autumn wind in an effort to contain his anger, had announced that they
were henceforth to be called Hida. She would be Mineko. She had tried
tasting it; it had been sour, the hollow name of some stranger.
But she was sworn to protect friends and strangers alike, and she did not
have the luxury of drawing that line. "I cannot kill men," she said softly.
Not softly enough; she saw the storm break across his face. "'Men'?
They're beasts, trying to drag us down with them. They love our blood and
pain--they wallow in it. Our misery is their food, and they glut
themselves." He rose, looming over her, anger lending him strength. "How
are they any different from the demons you slay each night?"
She had no answer. Instead she bowed low, touching her forehead to the
floor between her hands and hoping that his rage would pass over her.
"Forgive me, honored father."
He sighed, and she risked straightening. There was the same regret in his
eyes that she had seen on the day her teacher first came for her. "Go," he
Mija bowed again before she rose and left the room. Her mother, sitting
mute in the corner all this time, was already by his side and comforting him
when she slid the door closed behind her.
She had never wished to be a burden upon them. She remembered a childhood
in which her father had handed her forsythia blossoms, so that she could
drop them and watch how they twirled as they fell; her mother taught her
just how to spice dishes, and promised her a handsome, wealthy husband.
They had surrendered their dreams of grandchildren when a man walked into
their garden, crushing fallen yellow flowers underfoot.
He waited outside the gate even now, her teacher. For a moment she
staggered under a hate so intense it blinded her. She despised him and his
large, callused hands that had ripped her away from her family, and his
crane-graceful movements when he unfolded attack after attack upon her, so
that she could learn from the bruises. Then she blinked, and it was a man
she venerated who stood before her. She bowed to him and murmured the
traditional greeting: "May peace be with you."
She understood why he did not offer it back. He never gave her promises,
and she accepted this: it meant that there were none to be broken.
His face was grim. "You heard?"
She nodded. "My father is going to register a Japanese name tomorrow," she
said, and there was something blurred pushing at the back of her eyes. It
was the last night she would have her own name, and she had to spend it
killing demons. She wanted to curl up on the mats in her room and surround
herself with familiar things so that she would not forget who she truly was
when morning arrived.
Her teacher shook his head. "They dare too much. I will not be called by
the name of one of those brutes." His voice frightened her more than her
father's had--it was cool and dispassionate.
"We must bend with the wind, and let our roots hold fast," she said. "They
can't keep us from using our real names, any more than they can keep us from
speaking Korean when we're among ourselves."
"Yes--Yoon is holding lessons tonight," he said, recalled to his duty. "He
asked that we keep the children safe."
Those lessons were held by candlelight and in hushed tones, because in the
schools, their history had been rewritten to glorify their conquerors, and
all instruction was in Japanese. Though their mother tongue was forbidden
them, they defied the law by sending children to learn at scholars' homes
during the night. It was so easy for one of them to be plucked away as they
were herded down the streets. Their caretakers were vigilant against
policemen, not demons.
They did not save the first child. Huddled in an alley, the demon lifted
his head from the space between the boy's neck and shoulder and growled at
them. Her first blows were meant less to harm him than to force him away
from the body, which she did not want sullied any further by dust. Then
they truly began to fight. He was all fire, raging at her, flickering here
and there; she was water, fluidly moving out of the way of his fists. She
let herself forget all her troubles except the one before her, until she saw
a brief opening, a gap in his defense, and she slipped through.
In the evenings, when she braided her hair tightly and placed it atop her
head, she replaced the long metal hairpins with wooden ones. She pulled one
out now and slid it into the demon's heart, careful to penetrate between the
ribs, and then there was only the harshness of her breathing and her teacher
asking, "Are you hurt, Mija?"
Her teacher had already tended to the boy, arranging the limbs to a more
peaceful position. He would find his parents later tonight and deliver to
them this fresh grief among all the others collected--for no family was
untouched by hardship, these days. She went to kneel by the corpse and
touched his blood-flecked face, eyes and mouth wide with horror. Even
before the demon fed, his skin must have been so tightly wrapped around his
bones, for there was little rice that was not sent to Japan. A harsh end to
a harsh life. She could almost understand why someone might become demon
merely for sustenance.
"No," she said, but she was lying.
They protected the children when they returned to their homes, as well.
Once, Mija had learned their names and murmured reassurances to them. They
called her elder sister out of respect and affection. They wanted her to
hold their hands, even though she told them that she might have to drop them
at any moment. Jihae, a girl with a serious face and therefore the most
beautiful smile, asked her to tell old folktales about the moon. Her house
was the farthest, and so after all the others had been delivered to safety,
she was the last one they guarded. It was during one of these times that
she watched Mija fight and kill a demon. Mija had worried that she had
frightened her, but the girl had only clung to her and said fiercely that
she wanted to do the same when she grew up.
But children were never patient.
She must have wandered out into the night on her own soon afterward. Mija
imagined, vividly, how full of terror her last moments must have been. The
next time Mija had seen her, collecting the children for another session of
covert schooling, her face had been twisted into a demon's. Mija had slain
"Sister?" Jihae had whispered before dissolving into a grit-filled wind.
Now she never spoke to the children, save to offer them warnings. It hurt a
little, as she led them away from Yoon's house, that they drew away from
her, intimidated by her coldness, but it hurt less than killing Jihae had.
She would never have sons and daughters of her own--she wouldn't live long
enough to bear them--and neither could she afford to pretend that these
children were hers to care for as any more than extensions of her duty.
Walking the streets now, she concentrated instead on the shape of the night
and what it might hide.
She knew it was there: somehow she felt the press of its soles into the
ground, the way the night breezes had to part around its body and found no
heat to steal. Mija whipped around and saw a shadow draw away from the
moonlight. She moved toward it.
"Go! Run!" her teacher said sharply from behind her. The children, trained
to silence, made no sound but pattering footsteps as they fled. He went
with them, in case there were other demons lurking tonight.
This demon wore the face of a man. He was pale and lean, and reminded her
of winter. He rushed at her like a blizzard, and she stepped aside--and he
vaulted over the wall behind her.
She leapt after him, scrabbling for handholds and pulling herself over just
in time to see him rip open the gate at the other end of the garden, then
vanish through it. She reached the gate and glanced both ways. There was a
diminishing figure to the south, and she followed, afraid to blink despite
the wind making her eyes tear, in case she would not be able to distinguish
him from the surrounding darkness when she opened them again.
He vanished around a corner. She skidded barely short of missing the turn
altogether and sprang in the new direction. He stood there, arm cocked back
as if to throw something-- She flung her body back behind the wall just as
he hurled it.
A heartbeat. Another. Her pulse slowed and she warily stole forward,
pressing herself against her cover and allowing only one eye to be exposed.
But he was gone, and when she stepped out, no presence prickled across her
Something lay on the ground, obscured by her own shadow. She walked forward
and picked it up. The petals of the hibiscus blossom were soft in her
Her teacher did not come the next evening. Mija dared not attract attention
by standing outside and scanning the streets, but she found a myriad of
errands that needed to be run, all of them taking her outside and none of
them taking her far. After each, she lingered by the gate before passing
through, but no one she saw possessed the water-smooth stride that she
always recognized him by, no matter what his disguise. Her mother found her
standing by the door, dressed in men's garb and with her hair braided,
shifting her weight between her feet.
"You do not go out tonight?" she asked.
She was so faded, the strength gone from the once-straight spine and her
hands as seamed as any grandmother's. Her voice was a magpie's, harsh where
it had once been mellifluous--she used to sing lullabies to her.
Mija's heart ached whenever she looked at her mother, but she let none of it
show on her face. "My honored teacher has not yet come," she said. "When
he arrives, we will go out."
Her mother did not say, I wish you had not been cursed with this duty, or
If only you had been born as some other family's burden. She said, "Be
careful, my daughter. And be strong." She slowly raised her hand and
smoothed Mija's hair with stiff fingers. Then she turned away. Mija
watched her retreat to her chamber and slide the door shut behind her.
Outside, the gate rattled.
Her eyes narrowed. Who would shake the gate so, instead of knocking?
Careful to keep her footsteps silent, she made her way there and listened
A man's hoarse breathing convinced her that this was not a demon. She
opened the gate.
Her teacher was lying on the ground, one hand lifted to push against the
gate again. When he saw that it was open he gasped and let his arm fall to
the ground with an audible impact. His clothes were stained with blood,
both dried and fresh, and there were similar splotches on the face he raised
to her, only of the dark plum of bruises.
She didn't waste time with words, only crept her arms around him gently and
helped him into the garden. He couldn't manage to stand, only scrabble
along on his elbows with his legs dragging behind him. She closed the gate
and then caught him about the waist, holding him upright and letting him
lean against her as much as his dignity would allow.
It took long, dragging minutes for them to reach the door of the house, and
then into her chamber. She unfolded two mats for him, so that the surface
he lay on would be twice as soft, and helped him settled onto them. Then
she fetched water to trickle between his bloody lips, and to wipe the grime
off his face.
She wanted him to save his strength, but he insisted on telling her what had
"I was coming back from the home of that boy we found. I was tired and
angry, and careless. A policeman caught me outside and arrested me for
"You were in prison all day?" she whispered, horrified. She should have
known, somehow, and come to his aid.
"They bound me and beat me with bamboo sticks."
"Rest," she said, alarmed because he was growing agitated. "Don't dwell on
it. You can stay here as long as you need to. My father won't object."
Her father would consider her teacher a hero for defying the Japanese.
"When you're better--"
"When I'm better, I will leave," he said quietly.
He did not mean the house. She forgot herself and stared at him.
"The resistance is strong in the north. They need men. My skills will be
useful to them."
"Of course," she said dully. "You can teach them how to fight."
"Yes." He was not looking at her, surely, with that dark glare, but at an
all-too-recent memory of his suffering. "I've seen the true demons, Mija.
They must be stopped." He suddenly focused on her. "You must come, too."
"I--" She turned away, unable to bear the intensity of his gaze. "Honored
teacher, I can't. I must stay here and do my duty." The duty he had taught
her, but she dare not reprimand him. It was not her place.
"Your duty is to fight demons," he said.
"Yes," she said steadily, and they both knew that in her agreement she was
His lips thinned, much the way they did when she made a careless mistake
while fighting. She did not think she could bear a lecture from him on the
error of her ways, so she rose to forestall him.
"Stay in peace," she said, and bowed before taking her leave.
After she slid the door shut, she pressed her forehead against the wall and
tried to stop her trembling. How dared he abandon her? He had torn her
away from a contented future and taught her of death, and told her it was a
sacrifice for a cause that came before her birth and would last long past
her death. She remembered him walking into the garden and addressing her
instead of her father, reshaping their lives with blunt words. You were
called to guard the people. And now he dismissed it all, like a piece of
straw to be blown away by the first strong wind that came.
No. She forced herself to honesty. She resented not that he was leaving,
but that he asked her to go with him. Because part of her yearned for the
cold of the north, where she knew people dared to openly speak against their
rulers. And if they could use her teacher, they could use her, surely, with
her strength and speed and training.
She went out alone before she could convince herself to return to her
teacher and tell him that she had changed her mind.
But her feet were curiously light as she moved along the streets. There was
no one at her back, warning her to be cautious and snapping out
instructions. Nor was there the heavy presence of her disapproving father,
or the sad weight of her ailing mother. Only a fierce sense of freedom: she
owned this night, and whatever she encountered was hers to deal with.
The first demon she met was a woman, as emaciated as she had been in life.
She was a young demon, then, not yet plump with stolen blood, and she was
easy to defeat. For the first time, Mija felt no regret as she drove wood
through her heart, only a blazing need for more violence. The next three
she found together, and she knew this would have worried her teacher, but
she tossed aside such concerns the way she flung them away from her. She
was upon each of them before they could recover, and rendered them into
Silence reigned over the next several streets, and weariness was finally
settling into her flesh. She circled back and began to make her way back
home, when she saw someone leaning over a sprawled figure near a wall. She
recognized him: it was the same demon she had chased the other night.
She pulled him away from his victim and struck at him, sending him
staggering away. Her fingers sought a hairpin. But as she bent her head so
that she could reach it more easily, she froze.
The man on the ground wore the uniform of a Japanese policeman.
The demon took advantage of her hesitation and hurled a punch at her. She
ducked aside and whirled, but he crossed her arm with his own and stopped
her. When she tried to slam her hand into his neck, he shoved her away,
then leapt to attack again.
A flurry of blows. One of them caught her on her head and Mija reeled back
to recover. She yanked out another hairpin, and was startled to discover
that it was the last. Her hair uncoiled along her back, an unfamiliar
weight. The demon smiled with his eyes.
She flushed. A man was not meant to see the unbound hair of any woman but
his wife, and that he was witnessing her thus-- She aimed a vicious kick at
that not-quite-curving mouth, and he caught her foot and twisted. She was
rolling when she hit the ground, and she hooked one of his ankles between
hers, bringing him down with her. He didn't manage to stand quite as fast
as she did, but he raised his arms in time to block her next blow.
Her hair was in her eyes; she cursed it and swiped it aside. That cost her;
during her moment of blindness he surged upward, and his fist exploded into
her stomach. She folded over his arm, desperate for air, and he moved aside
and let her fall, grabbing hold of her hands so that he could twist them
behind her back. She cried out as he jerked her upright, her shoulders
suddenly aflame, and then he slammed her face-first into a wall. He pinned
her there with his own body, one hand still enclosing her wrists. The other
wrapped itself in her hair and forced her head back. The sky was a
beautiful, endless shade.
He laid his cheek on her shoulder, breathing deeply--for want, not need.
Inhaling her scent. She could feel the ridges of his face, and the
sharpness of the fangs that drew a teasing line down her neck. His tongue
stroked her throat, and she shuddered. She closed her eyes and prayed for
her ancestors to receive her kindly despite her failure.
Then there was smooth skin against hers.
"I hunted other prey tonight."
It took a moment for her to realize that he spoke.
He lifted his head a little so that his whisper trickled directly into her
ear. "Why did you stop me?"
"I was called to guard the people," she said.
He pulled her away from the wall then shoved her back into it, hard. She
had just enough warning to turn her head so that her cheek was bruised
instead of her nose, but this was even worse, for now she could see him. It
was not fair that he looked so human.
"He is Japanese scum," he said. "He is not of your people."
"I share more with him than with you," she said evenly.
This time when he yanked her body toward him she was ready, and she twisted
her wrists sharply. His grip fell away. She dove for the ground, where her
hairpin had fallen, but then he threw himself atop her. They rolled
together, fighting for the upper position, until they finally dropped into a
ditch and the impact made them break away from each other.
He half-rose onto his elbows, while she curled protectively around herself,
watching him warily and ready to move as soon as she recovered from the
agony that splintered along her ribs with each gasp.
"If you share anything with him, it is because they have taken everything
from us and made it theirs," he said, as though they had never been
He granted her the time she needed to collect breath and speak, which
frightened her. "What do you want?"
"I want you to fight them." His smile was fierce. "With your strength and
mine, we can make them suffer."
She was startled by the longing that leapt up inside her. Her father, her
teacher, now even this demon, all demanding the same thing of her. It would
be so easy to comply. To allow herself, at last, some measure of justice.
What would it be like, to strike a man and watch his body fold to the
ground, broken flesh and spilled blood in place of dust?
"I can't," she said brokenly.
He stood and she immediately staggered to her own feet. But then he bowed
deeply, low enough for a king. He straightened. "Think about it." He
offered the hairpin to her, limp in his fingers. "You dropped this."
She took it. She could not seem to speak, then or as he turned and strode
away with the arrogant confidence that she would let him. Troubled, she
It was only as she was returning home and passing his unconscious form that
she remembered the Japanese policeman. She hesitated, then knelt by his
side and checked his pulse. It was slow and faint, but steady. She tore a
strip of her shirt off and wadded the cloth up so that she could press it
against the bloody punctures on the side of his neck.
He stirred suddenly, one hand questing in the air, his lips forming an
"Are you all right?" she asked.
He blinked up at her several times. "Someone attacked me...."
"He's gone now," she said. She put one arm around his back and helped him
sit up. "But you must be careful during the nights."
"It's after curfew. There shouldn't be any Koreans on the streets," he
said. Belatedly, he seemed to recognize what she was. "What are you doing
She tensed. Would he try to arrest her after she saved his life? "Be glad
"I am," he said slowly. His fingers touched his neck.
She let go of the makeshift bandage so that he could hold it for himself.
"Can you walk?"
"I hope so. I've no wish to crawl home."
She wanted to say, You made my teacher do that. You beat him so badly he
could not stay upright without pain. You destroyed his body and his pride.
Why should I care for yours? But instead she murmured, "It is well," and
He caught at her sleeve. "Who are you?"
He looked far from being the sadistic brute that everyone told her every
Japanese policeman was. He couldn't be much older than herself, and with
the vulnerability and unexpected trust that formed his expression, he seemed
no more menacing than her brother would have been.
Her brother had been taken away, to serve the Japanese in their war. She
let that harden her.
"Just another one of the people you conquered," she said. "That's all you
would see me as anyway, isn't it?" She stopped abruptly. If she let even a
small part of her bitterness loose, it would all pour out at once. "Stay in
peace." Mija began to walk away.
She understood then the smugness that the vampire must have felt, leaving
her in confusion. There was so much contempt she could show by offering her
back instead of an honest view of her face. But she turned around, and
found him standing and leaning against the wall, cloth lowered so that the
punctures on his neck were visible.
"It wasn't a man that attacked me, was it?"
She hesitated, then shook her head. It was as much warning as she was
willing to provide, and although he called after her again, this time she
She woke late in the morning, exhausted. She had slept in her parents'
chamber, so that her teacher could rest undisturbed, but when she went to
him to tend to him, he had not improved much. He had fretted the night
away, and she did not know what he had told himself, but it left him cold to
"I won't impose on your family's hospitality," he said. "If you will tell
one of my friends that I am here, he will help me leave."
"You shouldn't be moved," she protested.
"I shouldn't stay under the roof of a Japanese sympathizer," he said with
quiet venom. "You might betray me. Out of duty, of course."
Tears caught in her eyes, but she only bowed and left to fetch his friend,
who came and took him away. It was hard, watching him leave without
farewell. She could not even blame him. And he was nothing to her, she
insisted to herself, nothing but biting comments and unbending rules that
she was better without.
Still, when a knock came later, she hoped it was some last message from him.
She unlatched the gate and let it swing open.
The policeman of last night stood there. During day he looked much
stronger, the tan of his face no longer washed out by moonlight.
She gathered calmness to herself and clutched it close. "What are you doing
"I followed you the other night," he said. "Since you wouldn't tell me who
"So that you could arrest me?"
"No. So that I could thank you properly."
She hesitated. She had no wish to invite him in, but clearly he would not
leave soon, and the neighbors would talk if he lingered visibly too long
outside the gate. Reluctantly she moved aside and said, "The garden will
have to suffice--my parents aren't well enough for company." Her parents
would disown her if they knew she was allowing him to set foot here.
"That's fine." He stepped inside, but his gaze didn't wander about the
garden, as most people's would; it remained steady on her face.
She lowered her eyes. "Please don't stare."
He started. "I didn't mean-- It's just your hair."
"My hair?" She touched it with a hand and found it smoothly braided, as was
"You let it down last night."
Hot shame crawled up her cheeks. "You do me dishonor," she said lowly.
"I apologize," he said swiftly. "That isn't why I came."
"I know." She pressed a hand to her forehead. "You've thanked me. Now
"But I haven't." He moved toward her and she refused to retreat from him.
He was close enough to touch her, if he dared. She swore to herself that
she would have his hand should he try. But he only lowered his voice and
spoke earnestly: "They will be searching the houses on this street later
this afternoon. If you have anything valuable or contraband, be sure to get
rid of it or hide it well."
Her eyes widened as she thought of the silver jewelry tucked inside the
folds of old garments. And her weapons--those would be questioned, of
course. But if she buried them there would be signs of fresh earth.
Perhaps she could hide them in the bottom of one of the tall food urns.
"What's your name?" he asked in that same gentle, insistent tone.
Distracted, she said, "Han Mija."
"Remember to use your Japanese name," he said.
Her temper flared, but she reined it before she said anything regrettable.
It was wise advice, as much as she abhorred it. Stiffly, she said, "Thank
"My own is Izumi Akihiro. Use it, if you think it'll have any force."
She refused to thank him twice. But her silence did little to deter him.
"Do you go out at night often?"
Mija slanted a disdainful look at him. "As though I would tell you."
"I think I already know," he said drily. "But I'm not accusing you of
anything. I was wondering if you've seen any other attacks." He raised a
hand to forestall her protest. "I know some things are better unknown. But
whatever is out there is dangerous, and could be threatening other people."
She studied him. He actually seemed serious. "What do you want?"
"Tell me of other attack sites. I'll go there tonight and hope that it
shows up so that I can take care of it."
"No! You were almost killed last time." After what she had been through to
save him, she did not want him to toss his life away.
"Surely you're not actually concerned about my safety." When she said
nothing, he smiled tightly. "It should be of no concern to you, then."
"Let me show you instead," she said, and the words tasted thick and sour.
"Some of the places are difficult to describe." She would protect him and
take him to areas where she had never found a demon, then let him return
disappointed to his home and go out again by herself. She would pretend
that he was one of the children she guarded on the way to lessons. And he
was a child, she thought, furious at his stubborn insistence.
His smile turned genuine. "My thanks," he said. "Tonight, then." He
opened the gate for himself, and left with the same quiet assurance with
which he had entered.
He had not lied about the search. Someone banged on the gate just after she
finished stashing the last of the jewelry into a hole in the wall. She
covered it hastily and ran to the gate, knowing that too long a delay would
make them suspicious.
Four policemen shoved their way past her. One of them barked orders, and
the others moved purposefully into the house. She looked down, trying to
adopt a meek demeanor that would not offend the commander.
"Hida Mineko," she said.
"Who else lives here?"
"Only my parents, honored sir."
"No other family?"
"My brother is serving in the army," she said, her voice as dry as wood.
There were noises from the house. They were not being gentle. She found it
difficult to concentrate on the rapid fire of questions while the policemen
rifled through her things. She hoped they would not be rough with her
parents, whom she had warned.
When they finally emerged, looking disappointed, she was careful to keep her
sigh of relief internal.
"Nothing," one of them reported.
The commander nodded and began to wave them out the gate. He paused at the
threshold, though, and turned back.
"You look young and strong," he said. "Why aren't you working at one of the
Fear gripped her. "Please," she said with soft urgency. "My parents are
ill, and I must care for them."
"Everyone's health is at stake during this war," he said. "Besides, every
Korean seems to have come down with some sickness or other. Do you think
Yes, she wanted to shout. We are all weak and ill because you take away
the food that should give us strength, and the money with which we could buy
medicines. She said, "No. But Izumi Akihiro understood." She bit her lip
and hated herself for using his name.
There was a pause, and then a burst of laughter. One of the other men
crowed, "So Akihiro finally fell for someone, did he?"
She knew her face was burning. The commander took hold of her chin and she
filled her fists with folds of her skirt, so that she would not strike at
his arm. He inspected her like so much merchandise, then grunted and
"Perhaps. I'll check with him. If you're lying, girl, we'll return."
"As you see fit," she said. "Go in peace."
They didn't bother to return the courtesy.
Her parents were overanxious about the search, and she spent the rest of the
day soothing them and assuring them that they had found nothing. Her father
lashed out at her, accusing her of bringing the policemen upon them; she did
not deny it, although she learned that other houses on the street had
suffered the same. She knew that it gnawed at him, that he had acted
subservient while they were in his house.
When her father's railing finally tired him out and led him into sleep, she
cleaned the house of the wreckage the Japanese had left, and waited for
nightfall impatiently. She needed very badly to kill a demon.
After the very first rap on the gate she pulled it open and walked past
Akihiro. He had to close the gate and lengthen his stride to catch up with
"You used my name," he observed.
Mija did not look at him. "It will probably make you a target of gossip."
"I don't mind," he said. "Not if it helped."
She sighed. "Yes. It helped. Thank you."
"Your parents weren't hurt?"
"Only because they did not resist as the house was overturned."
He realized her mood then, and fell into silence.
She led him rapidly to several random sites where there was no sign of any
demon. She almost wished for one, although she did not know how she would
explain it to him, afterward.
"You think I'm a fool," he said finally, halting before she could take him
to another such place. "You're taking me to meaningless places."
Reckless, she said, "You are indeed a fool, to wander about outside at
"And you?" he asked.
"I have a--" She hesitated. Duty.
He took up the sentence swiftly. "A secret lover, I'm sure, for whom you're
willing to defy both parents and law."
"No!" Too late she realized that it was the perfect explanation. What else
would he have assumed when he saw her with her hair down, returning home in
the middle of the night? But she refused to let him think such. "I am
seeing no man," she said loudly, as though vehemence would make him believe
her. Her voice echoed down the street.
He looked astonished for a moment; then he pulled her to him suddenly and
covered her mouth with his. Her hands were trapped against his chest, and
she was about to push him away, when a belligerent voice hailed them.
"You! What are you doing outside?"
Akihiro broke off the kiss. "Keep it down, Hideaki," he hissed, while she
hid her face against his shoulder.
"Akihiro? Ah." A snort. "I see. You could have the decency to take her
to a room."
"You could have the decency not to interrupt," Akihiro returned.
The other man chuckled and moved on.
He pressed his face into her hair for a long moment, taking in unnaturally
deep, even breaths. Then he pushed away from her.
"I am sorry," he said.
She shook her head. There should be rage, she thought. There was only a
painful twist of sorrow trapped in her throat. She forced words past it,
but they sounded stilted. "I should return home."
"Of course. I'll come with you--"
She stepped back and he immediately stopped.
"Of course," he repeated softly. And as though some book had just been
opened to her, she suddenly knew him. The expression he wore now, with the
corners of his mouth tight and his brows gathering slightly, was worry for
her, and the gesture he made, hands briefly spread open, was helplessness.
He would do this: let her make her way through the streets by herself,
because he understood honor and wished for her to keep it.
He hesitated only a moment longer before he walked away.
She was not surprised when the demon emerged from the darkness behind her,
just as Akihiro turned the corner. She felt him approach and wearily turned
to face him.
"May peace be with you," the demon said gravely.
"It is not peace that either of us seeks," she said.
He smiled. "True. But it isn't my death that you want, either."
A moment of weakness had brought her this. If she had killed him the first
night she saw him, she would not have to listen to these taunts. "What is
it that I want, then?" she challenged him.
"How would you like," he said, "to be free?"
"You offer me things that aren't yours." She thought of the hibiscus,
stolen from someone's garden; her own hairpin. He thought to fool her with
"Independence is nothing I can give you." He circled her and she pivoted to
keep him before her. "It is something you must take."
"From you?" She made the question disdainful.
His mouth tightened in anger. "From whom else would you seek it? The young
Japanese policeman with his lovely dark hair and crisp uniform?"
"No!" He was too close to truth. "He is one of the enemy."
"Good of you to remember," he said. "Perhaps you should keep it in mind the
next time you allow him to hold you and put his mouth on you."
She flinched away. "I never--" But that was a lie. "There is nowhere in
my life for a man of any kind," she said instead, weakly.
"Ah." He drew closer and curved his hand over her shoulder. She caught at
his wrist but did nothing else, confused as to his purpose. "Then no one
has ever touched you like this--" The fingers of his other hand glided
across her collarbone. "--or this--" Downward, between her breasts.
She pulled away, but the movement was as slow as though it were against the
current of a river. "Don't do this." So many young men had been sent away
to fight for the Japanese, and even if there had been any left, there was no
chance she would ever be betrothed. She had not been born to be a wife.
And so these were forbidden to her, the light strokes across the flush of
her skin, as though he practiced calligraphy on her flesh.
"Do you deny yourself everything you want?" He circled her waist with a
lazy arm and pulled her toward him. When she turned her head away he licked
the corner of her mouth. She closed her eyes and fought the need for air
that made her want to part her lips. Then he breathed into her ear, "You're
as starved as I...."
Mija violently tore herself away and fell to her hands and knees when he let
her go. "I will never consort with a demon!" Her breathing was harsh
because of her fury, she told herself. "And I would only be your prey, in
He laughed. "Likely." Unconcerned, he crouched in front of her and dragged
his knuckles along her jaw. "But we could hunt together, instead."
She rose on her knees and laid a hand on his chest and felt the silence
within. No gentle rise of breath, no startled leap of heart. She
remembered these things from Akihiro, and it was a memory she should not
have, but it coursed through her blood nonetheless.
When the demon caressed her leg she did not stop him. He smiled and leaned
forward to lay the coolness of his mouth over hers. He bit her lip and she
jerked away, but his hands slid up to her hips and pulled her back to him.
His thigh was between hers, now, and the friction added to the heat building
low in her belly.
His fingers raked through her hair to loosen it from its careful braids,
letting it fall unbound down her back. She made a sound she did not
recognize. The pressure of his kiss increased until she was arching
backward, steadying herself with hands set on the ground behind her.
He pushed her down more roughly. Her palms scraped along the ground and
rolled briefly over one of the fallen hairpins. She pushed it to one side
as she lay down, throwing her head back to expose her throat. He leaned
over her, his eyes dark with hunger, and she curled her fingers around the
slender piece of wood and shoved it through his heart.
She could have stayed there for hours, dust settling over her like a
coverlet, if she hadn't heard footfalls. She pushed herself up onto her
feet and waited.
Akihiro stopped in front of her.
The utter lack of surprise on his face told her. "You knew," she said.
"You knew everything." And she had never known him.
"Hardly," he said. "If I knew how to slay demons as well as you, this one
never would have surprised me that night. And if I had known what your
choice would be between two duties, I wouldn't have stayed to watch you
She rubbed her arms, feeling the cold all at once. Duty. "You are my new
She sighed a little, and studied his face. There was a tenseness in him, as
though he waited for something. Mija went to him and put her arms around
him, pressed her body tightly to his, and listened to the sound of their
hearts against each other.