Because of the tour, Mitsuo and I were walked home later than usual and the sun was starting to set. Dusk was the time a youkai’s day started. Darkness was their friend. Cue creepy organ music.
“Interesting day, huh?” Mitsuo said.
“Every day in the mystic school of weirdos is interesting.”
“But I mean, Wu. That was different.”
“Yeah. He’s definitely hiding something.”
“We’re all hiding something.” Mitsuo said, showing that rare spark of insight that always reminded me never to take anything at face value. “Like last year. You never told me you were going to go hunting for the Hyakki Yako that killed your mother. And your grandmother.”
“You didn’t need to know.” The slightest hint of hurt settled on his face.
“I mean, it was my deal. My responsibility.”
“You should’ve waited, you weren’t ready.”
“I heard that a lot.” My brothers yelled at me all the while the doctors were applying the cast for a broken ankle and a bruised rib.
“I guess I should have figured it out.” Mitsuo said. “You talked about it all the time, everything you did, all the training was for that. And you did it.” He paused as we walked in silence. “So what’s up?”
“What do you mean, what’s up?”
“You killed the Night Parade, you did what you always wanted to do. Then you went back to work and you haven’t talked about it since.” Mitsuo was staring determinedly ahead of him. “You’re not happy about it?”
“Of course I’m – ” What the hell did ‘happy’ feel like anymore? “I’m good. I mean, I did it, y’know.”
“Try not to trip over yourself.” Mitsuo said. “What’s wrong? Is it because it feels like you’re done? You became an Onmyouji for it, trained for it. Are you just finished?” Even my brothers didn’t know I was thinking about that. Trust Mitsuo to hit it on the nose.
I liked to think of my family now as just my brothers and me, but every legacy was a clan. Even the Kanda’s, who were significantly smaller in family size, was a clan. I was part of the main house and their Onmyouji, but I wasn’t actually the Head of the clan, that was my grandfather. He dropped by every now and then with the representatives from branch houses to complain, berate and remind me that the Kanda’s had a vendetta against the monsters from the Night Parade, Hyakki Yako – the Night Parade of One Hundred Monsters.
In Heian Japan, when stories and rumors of mysterious creatures had caused fear and panic, the Hyakki Yako had been the epitome of those tales. Youkai activity wasn’t as rampant now as it was then, but the Night Parade was still a thing to be feared, any who crossed their paths were met with death. And I, as the reigning Kanda Onmyouji, had an obligation to rid Kyoto of this Parade. It became personal after the Parade killed my grandmother, and then my parents.
It wasn’t an optimistic vendetta. Grandma died in her early thirties and so did Mom, taking Dad with her. The clan considered them martyrs to the cause and their names were haled with honor. At five years old, I was an orphan with three older brothers thrust into the caretaker position, surrounded by people who acted as if my parents’ death was the best thing in the world. Assholes.
The worst part was that the Parade was just a symbol, it was never the same parade – youkai tended to kill the weaker ones in order to take their territory – and this kind of thing appeared sporadically all over Japan. There wasn’t really an end to youkai, which meant there couldn’t be an end to those who were supposed to kill them either. Yin and yang, a never-ending cycle.
I had succeeded in destroying the Parade and a new one wasn’t forming any time soon. I’d accomplished the goal at a younger age than anyone expected. There had been a price to pay and I still thought it was worth it, not to have that hanging over my head, not to have to wake up and have this pressure to hurry, to grow older and faster and stronger before I even realized what was going on. Now, I suddenly had an open future in front of me and every step was a blind one into darkness. I didn’t have a goal anymore. My life was my own and that was terrifying.
“I don’t know. What I want. Never had to think about it, you know?” I said, loosening the tie that was starting to feel like a noose.
Mitsuo nodded. “It’s nice though. To be able to decide without anyone really expecting you to do anything. Your brothers wouldn’t care if you ditched the title.”
“They’d be overjoyed,” I muttered. “I didn’t think you’d want to talk about it.”
“It kind of involves me too.” Mitsuo said wretchedly.