Lifting her ax from a now thoroughly shredded second monster, Yukiatsu eyed the black-clad blonde with curious wonder. Samurai black and samurai sword, but that hair, those pale gray eyes…. Ogasawara’s books said foreigners could look like that, but she’d never thought she’d see one.
…And she’d never read anything that said foreign women had – um – pillows like that.
How does she run in that uniform?
“Hey!” The kid aimed a swipe at Yukiatsu’s head; seemed surprised when it missed. “Stop staring at Matsumoto-sensei, you old pervert!”
“Old?” Yukiatsu muttered. Granted, the calendar said she was thirty-nine. But between the year that had just vanished for her while she was in the Other World, and the fact that time seemed to just tap her on the shoulder rather than dragging her along to an ordinary mortal’s grave… hells, sometimes Ogasawara looked older.
Then again, she had been staring.
And I can’t even blame forty years of acting like a guy.
She couldn’t help it. She chuckled. Because gods only knew, a year ago she would have been doing her best to act the hoary vagabond, and that spiky white hair would have been standing straight up with fury, not just indignation.
A year ago. Before Ogasawara had dragged her kicking and screaming into facing the monsters again. The youi, who preyed on humans… and the maigo.
Those who’d survived kamikakushi, being taken, and fought their way free. Back to this world. Back to humanity.
Only… not all the way back. Something of their souls had been torn away – by the Thorns, by the youi – and the Other World’s power had bitten deep into the wounds. Saizou’s dance enthralled youi in helpless wonder. Young, cynical Kyousai painted reality, so keenly he’d frightened his family into abandoning him in Yoshiwara. And Yukiatsu-
I have ayagami.
And I think… I might just have allies.
And possibly more than that. She knew that dawning realization in gray eyes, the reddened cheeks as Matsumoto put together subtleties of face and voice men never noticed-
“You’re not interested in my girls at all!” Matsumoto sputtered.
Yukiatsu snickered, as White-hair suddenly deflated. “But sensei, he-”
“Use your eyes, Toushirou!” Flicking monster slime off her blade before she sheathed it, Matsumoto’s face held an odd mix of chagrin, indignation, and burning curiosity. “She’s a woman!”
Toushirou’s jaw dropped.
Yukiatsu gave him a wry grin. “Let’s just say, my clan really didn’t want to adopt an heir. Too bad for them.” She bowed to Matsumoto, much as she would to Ogasawara when she wanted to tweak him. Yes, I’m a vagrant and a ronin and no better than I should be. And what are you going to do about it? “Yukiatsu Ryuudou. Shall we see if there are any more monsters-”
A crimson bolt blasted something shadowy through a long rack of shelves. It hissed, but writhed free, fleeing through cracked transparent doors into the night.
Glass doors, Yukiatsu realized, stunned all over again. Who makes doors out of glass? Besides some powers in the Other World. But this wasn’t the Other World… she hoped. “Any more, that aren’t fleeing in terror?”