PART TWO: AVERSION
Our footsteps echoed back at us down the dark corridor. Yumi, with her long legs, was always a fast runner, but I do pretty well when motivated by terror and the creepy face of Master Tainaka had loaded me up with plenty of that.
That dead spirit of Satozora Shinga had just taken control of our teacher and whatever it was, it was determined to kill us. I could hear her snarling just a few steps behind me and though I didn’t dare look back, I could feel hands reaching out for me.
“Hoshi! This way!”
I saw Yumi hurtle around a corner. My shoes skidded on dusty stone as I scrambled to make the turn and I grinned to myself as I heard the teacher behind stumble and crash to the floor. Cursing and scrambling came from behind and we had a few moments to pull away.
Yumi raced ahead of me, her long blue robe flapping out behind her. I put on a burst of speed to catch up a bit.
“What’s. What’s down. This way?”
Ever tried to talk when you’re running full blast? Not easy.
Yumi of course just giggled.
“No idea! But we have to lose Master Tainaka. I don’t know what to do about her.”
I risked a look back over my shoulder and saw a dark form charging after us.
Yumi grabbed my hand and we leapt around another corner, and again I could hear Master Tainaka struggle to make the quick turn.
We ran. On either side dark sepulchre mouths hid the honoured dead, shiny new nameplates unreadable in the growing gloom as we pelted deeper and deeper into the recently-built complex.
The teacher pursuing us snarled, “The spirits of the White Jade Clan are not your playthings! You will regret your interference, foolish child!”
Ghosts are always saying things like that to Yumi. Usually she just laughs that off. But this time she was running for it and I don’t mind telling you that frightened me quite a bit. Not even her giggles soothed me. Yumi giggles most when she’s about to die.
But her hand was warm and strong and I wasn’t about to give up if she wasn’t. We kept on running, footsteps still echoing all around us. Distantly I could hear the music of the dancers outside, and the banging and clattering of the final construction work, but it all seemed very far away.
Here, in this dark corridor lined with dead bodies, all I could hear was our panting and the growling curses of our possessed pursuer.
“Yumi! She can’t turn fast! Sort of clumsy, I guess.”
“Right. This way!”
Yumi yanked and we turned again, dust kicking up around us, and then around another corner, and another, and each time those snarls behind us got fainter and fainter.
At last we halted. Yumi sagged against a sepulchre door, head down as she struggled to catch her breath. I just collapsed and after a second Yumi slid down the wall to sit beside me in the dark. I could just make out the lines of the walls and those shiny nameplates and the dark wave of Yumi’s hair. She leaned over to whisper in my ear.
“I’m going to ask around and see if anyone knows who that was.”
“Ask around… Oh. Sure, what could go wrong?”
I pulled my arms around myself as Yumi rose up, murmuring quietly and spreading her hands out to either side. It was already plenty dark, but the shadows deepened further as she chanted quietly.
And deepened further. I blinked, but it was now so dark I couldn’t see any difference between eyes open or closed. I could hear Yumi’s voice, soft and low, and then just below that I heard a subterranean moan.
Since it didn’t make any difference, I just decided to keep my eyes closed.
The moan trailed off, and then a voice of cold shadow whispered.
“Thou art bound, aren’t thou? Trapped within thy graves.”
That voice of cold shadow was my friend, of course. Another quiet, far-off moan drifted through the darkness.
“But thou art dead, ancient one. That makes thee mine. No… matter how powerful the spell that binds thee…”
Yumi was gasping for breath, struggling with each word. Her voice had fallen by what sounded like twelve octaves. I could feel her slim body trembling against mine.
“Speak… I command thee… Speak… Who is it that has bound thee?”
That far-off moan rose up for just a moment, barely articulate.
I frowned and opened my eyes. The darkness had receded a little and I could see Yumi frowning above me. Her arms were crossed over her chest and her jaw worked – a sure sign of her thinking hard.
“Yumi-san?” I whispered, still fearful of the possessed Master Tainaka still out in the maze of tombs, looking for us. “Can’t you break them free like you did those spirits trapped in your mother’s mirror?*”
“That was a spell cast by another sorcerer, Hoshi. This is an edict by the Grand Master of the clan. Even if I could force these spirits to disobey him and answer me, I’m not sure it would be the right thing to do.”
“So what are we going to do? How are we going to get out of here?”
“No idea. Weren’t you paying attention?”
At my outraged expression, Yumi giggled and settled down beside me.
“Just kidding, Hoshi. But I don’t know how to get back to where we were, and Master Tainaka is still out there.”
I felt something wet on my hand. Enthusiastically wet, if you know what I mean.
“What is it, Hoshi?”
“Somebody’s licking me!”
Yumi giggled even more.
“I’m sure you’re tasty, Hoshi, but it’s not me.”
A tiny yip came from between us. I looked down and could just make out a furry wriggling form.
“Hey boy! Yumi, it’s the puppy.”
The little guy leapt away from us, then scampered back. As soon as I reached out to him he rushed away again, then stood wagging his little stumpy tail.
I grabbed Yumi’s arm.
“Yumi, he wants us to go with him.”
“I think you’re right, Hoshi. Come on.”
“What if we meet, uh, Master Tainaka?”
“I’ve got an idea for her. It’s possession, right? So an exorcism should work.”
“Have you ever done an exorcism before, Yumi?”
“No, but I’ve watched my mother do a bunch.”
We jumped to our feet and followed the puppy. Delighted to have our attention, he bounded forward and back, leading us through the maze of catacombs. Yumi and I clung together, trying to keep our ears alert for any sound of the teacher who’d been pursuing us so murderously only moments ago.
There were still the distant noises of music and construction, and now and then I thought I could hear our classmates calling out, but we didn’t dare respond. At one moment we froze as something shuffled and groaned, sounding like it was only a few feet away, but nothing came after us and we carried on in the wake of the happy little puppy.
After a few thousand years of stumbling through the darkness after the puppy, we saw a lighted area up ahead. We edged forward and found ourselves back in the Hall of the Masters, white stone, light streaming in from outside, and statues along both walls.
We moved cautiously into the open hall. Yumi smiled as the puppy bounded about, stopping before the statue of the kid, Shinaka, to wriggle and wag.
“He’s awfully cute, isn’t he?”
“Funny how he sort of just disappeared when we try to show him to Master Tainaka.”
Yumi glanced at me, then stared at the puppy with narrowed eyes.
“You know, I think he’s dead.”
I looked back and forth between Yumi and the happy, bouncy puppy. He seemed like the most alive thing I’d ever seen.
“Dead? You mean that’s a ghost puppy?”
“He appeared right when I called up the clan spirits, remember?”
We crossed to the statue in question. Yumi peered closely.
“I don’t think these are just statues. I think these are sarcophagus… es.”
“So you mean the Grand Masters are buried right here? Even the one you woke up, Satozora Shinga?”
“Yup. Why did he bind up all the other ancestors, I wonder?”
“Satozora Shinga will see you in hell, child!”
I yelled in alarm as Master Tainaka lurched out of the darkness to grab at Yumi.
But a ghost had to get up pretty early in the morning to get ahead of my friend Yumi Sasori. She gave a shout and thrust her hands out at the advancing teacher and I saw a blackness burst out of the woman’s back and then rise up again in a billowing form.
The billowing form took the shape of a man as our teacher collapsed to the stones. The man-shaped thing didn’t have much in the way of a face, but what it had looked extremely pissed off. It advanced towards Yumi, who stood her ground, her robe billowing around her.
She looked very pleased with herself.
“I thought that would work.”
The ghost snarled in its own voice, a thin whispering hiss.
“I warned you to stay out of the White Jade’s bus–”
The shadowy form broke off as a wriggly little form lunged at it.
The ghost-thing hurled a ball of shrieking blackness at the puppy.
I won’t pretend I was really thinking. I’d like to claim I jumped in front of the horrible black sorcery because I was so
brave and all that, but honestly, I don’t even really remember what happened.
I just know I jumped forward and then I felt a black electric convulsion all through my body. I bet I screamed plenty loud.
Everything went dark. My brain took a little vacation.
And then somebody was licking my face. Enthusiastically.
“Yumi, that’s not you, is it?”
I opened my eyes and found the puppy jumping on me, as happy and energetic as ever.
I wasn’t in the Hall of the Masters any more, although all those statues still stood in two rows around me. All that beautiful white jade, though, was gone, replaced by dismal grey mist on all sides. There was no sign of Yumi or the ghost of Satozora Shinga. Just me and all those statues. But here, in this strange place, each statue had been wrapped in black ugly chains, as though they might escape.
I blinked. It was all still there.
Right in front of me stood the statue of that kid, Shinaka, younger than me. It was all wrapped up, too.
And then its eyes opened, and it saw me, and it screamed.
* See “Yumi Sasori and the Case of the Reflected Revenants: A Yumi Sasori Mystery”