Back to my original piece of work. This is my first attempt at writing a short story, and confirmed my suspicions that I’m too long-winded to carry out short stories.
It was meant to be a prequel to the Onmyouji Chronicles that I’ve tentatively named the Night Parade. Those who wonder what that refers to should check out my post on the Hyakki Yako.
The writing is rougher than I like and I’ll probably re-haul it again, but here it is:
“To restore the Kanda name, you have but one purpose: destroy the Night Parade.”
The first time I heard this mandate from my grandfather, I was seven years old, facing this stern, gray man I had come to associate with absolute obedience. I was suitably cowed and the order reverberated in my mind with the pounding strength of a battering ram.
Now I was fourteen, and the directive had since grown stale.
It was the celebration of a New Year and the Kanda clan – as sparse as it was – had gathered together in our annual assembly. My grandfather, the Head of our clan sat seiza-style in the head of the room. He hadn’t changed much. There was never a smile on his face; and never offering more than a grunt in response no matter who greeted him and how effusive they were, accepting the laudations as if they were his due. The only emotion he ever seemed to show was disdain, usually when he was looking at me, wordlessly criticizing me, finding me lacking in every aspect conceivable.
“You’ve completed twenty missives this past year. Only three of significance and all of them with more property damage than is appropriate.” That was the first thing he said to me after a year’s absence.
“Yes.” If grandfather was looking to make me uncomfortable, he was going to have to try harder. I’d long since made peace with the fact that Mashiro Kanda was simply a hateful old man whose shriveled black heart could only gain satisfaction by belittling people.
“You’re still training under them. I can’t even imagine what they’ve been teaching you.” Of course he couldn’t. Grandfather hadn’t been the Onmyouji, he’d been the sucker who was chosen from one of the branches of the clan to marry into the main house and take the Kanda name.
“It was what Grandmother Izumi wanted.” I watched as Grandfather’s mouth twitched at the mention of her name.
“Clearly, she wasn’t in her right mind. A more soft-headed woman you couldn’t find.” Grandfather threw a stack of papers at me. They spilled out in a scatter of black on white, reports of my various assignments. “And yet you haven’t achieved even half of what your grandmother did when she was your age.”
This was the part Grandfather enjoyed. “Have you forgotten what you have sworn to do? The Hyakki Yako is not an enemy to be underestimated.” Hyakki Yako – the Night Parade of One Hundred Monsters. In Heian Japan, when dusk was the start of a youkai’s day, when stories and rumors of mysterious creatures caused fear and panic, the Hyakki Yako had been the epitome of those tales. Any who crossed their paths were met with death. It was basic Onmyouji 101.
I kept silent as greedy eyes watched me from the sidelines, gouging out petty entertainment.
“Perhaps it is time to reconsider your legal guardianship.” This was a familiar theme as well. “Clearly your brothers are not fit guardians, too young and too – normal – to understand what is being done here.”
“Hajime has legal guardianship.”
“And I have the authority to refute that, surely you want your brother to have a normal life not saddled with three miscreants.” There was a low swell of chuckles at that.
“He’s still got you for his grandfather, doesn’t he?”
The loud crack of flesh on flesh caught me by surprise. It wasn’t until the pain flared up and I tasted blood on my cheek that I realized what happened. I heard gasps of horror and whispers, but predictably, no one said anything, did anything.
Grandfather settled back into his seat, wheezing as if hitting me had taken all the energy out of him. “Insolent dog.” He said harshly. “You take after your grandmother, she never knew her place either.”
She had been one of the best Onmyouji the Kanda clan produced, with the red hair that signified her potential. The same red hair I had inherited which put me, the youngest of four brothers, into that dubious seat of honor. I felt the impotent fury rise up in a wave and choked it down. Every year was the same. Every year I was judged and reminded of a vendetta I had no part of, expected to deliver excuses for my so-called shortcomings. And every year, my restraint was tested as I struggled not to allow my anger to get the best of me. All I wanted from this clan was to be left alone and to stop having the threats of ripping the only family I had from me, looming over my head.
Grandfather settled back into his seat with an unctuous kind of satisfaction, his cruelty having been temporarily sated. “There is no escape from this, Subaru. You would do well to remember that this is your clan and you will bleed and die by it.”