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Clouded Moon Chapter 1

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When I first came to my senses, all I could see was white.

I was unable to move, so there was little I could do except wait. It took minutes before the light faded, and I could see- directly in front of my face- a flower. Staring right back at me.

The flower was pure silver, its three concentric petals shining like blades in the relentless sun. In its center, it had a face- a soft, feminine set of features. Not quite human: it looked more like a fairy. It might have seemed humorous, except for the expression it held, a piercing, forlorn look that went straight into the soul... even one like mine.

My soul?

Upon actively trying, I couldn't remember a thing. Well, nothing that told me who I might be. Pieces of disconnected knowledge were already stagnating in my brain- the trick to throwing an unbalanced knife accurately, how to skin and butcher a human without wasting a drop of blood... those and other such things that I didn't really care to reminisce upon. Whoever I was, with knowledge like that, it didn't seem that I had been an upstanding citizen.

With an effort, I turned my head a fraction of an inch. The flower-face before me immediately spat a powdery substance onto my face and eyes, and then retreated. A few seconds later, the powder started to burn. The mild pain galvanizing my body into action, I sat up and began to scrub my face with my hands.

There was a hissing sound as the powder fell off my face and onto the ground. I looked down, and saw that the chemical was quickly eating through the silver leaves that lay beneath me. Luckily, it didn't seem to have any effect on me beyond bothering my eyes.

I was completely nude. It didn't bother me, considering the situation. I was alone in an unfamiliar realm without my memories; compared to that, what was a lack of clothing? The sun beating down on me was growing uncomfortable, though. The reflective foliage didn't provide an inch of cover, and in fact served to focus the light on my bare skin. I'd fry if I sat here too long.

My strength seemed to have returned, so I got to my feet and looked around, shielding my eyes. I was definitely in a forest; mostly trifoliate shrubs, with a thin canopy above formed by palm-like trees about three times my height. The trunks and wood of the various plants were a dull grey color flecked with black, but the leaves were all bright, metallic shades. There was not an inch of chroma anywhere, except for the clear blue sky above the canopy.

Wrapped around one of the trunks was a familiar, anthropomorphic flowering vine. It looked disappointed.

Since those shining leaves covered the ground, and seemed to lose none of their luster as they decayed, it was extremely bright. I couldn't see too far into the distance, but the glare in one direction seemed a little less intense then the others. I set off that way. The leaves looked like metal, but they were soft enough under my feet.

After some time, the forest began to thin and I reached the wall of a huge structure, hewn out of granite. Detailed patterns seemed to be inscribed in the stone, so lightly that they were almost obliterated by its coarse texture. It was a fortress, or perhaps a city, as I heard the sounds of many people from behind the wall.

Following the wall, I reached a well-maintained road and a large gate. There were guards there; tall, pale people dressed in elegant red and blue uniforms and wielding polearms. They conferred briefly among themselves before arresting me, without so much as asking my name or purpose. I was somewhat relieved. The sun was really starting to get to me.


The guard station, built into the stone wall, was quite large; it seemed that this was an important city. Despite the inelegance of the location, everything inside was covered in colorful tapestries. As the furniture was made of the same wood I had seen earlier, they served to break up the monotonous gray that would have resulted otherwise. Even gate guards need endure only so much drudgery.

The figures upon the tapestries were highly stylized, reminding me of sand-paintings I'd seen once. Also woven into them were row upon row of trigrams, arranged like writing. Seeing them only in passing, though, I had little time to ponder them. I was given a guard's jacket to cover myself with, then escorted to a cell in the lower level- well furnished as prisons go, but with no tapestries.

I rotted in there, alone, for two days. They fed me occasionally- a gruel that was filling enough, but had an off metallic taste- and took me to the latrine, but little else happened.

Late on the second night, a woman came down to the cellblock, followed by a guard carrying a chair. She appeared young, with pitch-black hair, unlike the silver hair of the other people I'd seen here; it was gathered in a long braid tucked over her shoulder. The darkness of her hair, contrasted with her pale skin, granted her a decidedly chiaroscuro appearance. She wore a different uniform than the guards did- more elegant, if such was possible- and the cap on her head bore a square cross upon it.

Judging from her air, and the way her escort treated her, she was someone important. Once she was seated a tactful distance from the bars of my cell, the guard took up a position at the end of the corridor. My guest gazed at me with a faint frown on her face, then spoke. Her voice carried a strange accent, and its tone put me on edge.

"You could almost pass for one of us."

"Who are you?" I asked, irritation coming through in my words despite myself.

This brought a smile, although not one I liked the look of. "I am Eirin Yagokoro, I believe, in your tongue. I serve as an assistant physician to the royal family. Overly important to be dealing with a prisoner, but..." She sighed theatrically. "It seems that I am the least privileged medical officer who is familiar with your kind. A pity, is it not?"

"Why a medical officer?" I asked. "And what do you mean, my kind... and 'pass for one of us?'" I realized the strangeness of her speech wasn't merely an accent; she spoke in an archaic and overly proper manner that probably hadn't been used in a thousand years. Just where was this place?

"Please offer one question at a time," she responded. "I am only here to temper your curiosity so far as doing so reveals to us whom you are." She cleared her throat. "Why a medical officer, you ask of me? Well, you are obviously crazy. Few earth-dwellers possessed of their sanity come to our moon, and I do not want to consider why you were wandering the Forest of Death with no clothes on, were you in your right mind."

I said nothing, and she continued. "Those who do come here, or whom we have affairs with on your territory, are humans. Youkai have nothing to offer us."

"Youkai?" I blinked. "I'm human, aren't I?"

She stared at me expressionlessly for a few moments, then turned her head and spoke a few words in a language I didn't understand to the guard in the corridor. He nodded and came over to the cell bars. "Give him your hand," she told me.

I did so, and he drew a knife and lightly nicked the tip of my finger. I pulled my hand back. The blood that welled from the tiny cut was not red, but a deep magenta in color.

"The blood of all beings contains an elemental component," Eirin said. "In humans, it is iron. In us, it is silver. And in youkai such as you, it is raw magic."

This time I frowned. "I can hardly remember anything, but I could have at least sworn I was human..."

"Perhaps you once were." The woman leaned forward. "Some youkai are created by chance when an explosion of magic engulfs something- object, animal, human... never Lunarian;" she noted with a prim smile, "we do not have sufficiently incompetent magicians here. In any case, such explosions have also been known to displace their victims through space and time. It would explain your appearance and your confusion had you been caught in one. Also, your speech."

"I thought you were the one who spoke strangely," I commented. "I don't suppose you know the year by the human world's reckoning? Your language sounds positively atavistic to me."

"It is far worse for me. I suspect I can only comprehend you because languages were an idle pastime of mine," she said. "If you will excuse my colorful metaphor, it sounds as if some beast ingested your language and that of the T'ang together, then defecated into your mouth. Reckoning? Atavistic? I cannot make sense of those, only your simpler words."

"We can discuss linguistics some other time," I replied. "The year, if you know it."

"I can never keep your emperors straight; they live and die like flies. But your people had just begun writing their language using borrowed letters when I last visited. They have a chronicle they are very proud of, which I brought back a copy of for some reason I cannot fathom now."

The Kojiki, or the Nihon Shoki. My guess had been pretty close. "In that case, I'm from at least a thousand and two hundred years in your future," I informed her. I lay down on my cot and stared at the ceiling, no longer in the mood to show my visitor perfect courtesy; she hadn't shown me all that much herself.

Eirin seemed to care little about my manners. "Is that so?" she responded to my revelation, giving me a calculated gaze. "Tell me, then, what does humankind think of the empire of the moon in your time?"

"Most of us don't. They think the moon is a frozen, airless chunk of rock on which nothing can live. I was one of the enlightened ones, though."

She smiled. "There is no need to excuse yourself. I think we would prefer their ignorance." Crossing her arms, she continued, "I am unsure if I should take your word on your time of origin, but the-" she frowned and paused momentarily- "speech-study evidence is compelling. It is difficult to fake a language with such conviction."

"I have other proof," I said. "The silver atom has, umm-" This time I frowned, struggling both to recall the knowledge and put it in words she could understand. "47 positive components and 60 neutral components. No ordinary earth-dweller would know that, would they?" I hoped the Lunarians did. They looked like a modern society from the little I'd seen, but that consisted of one gate and one guard station- hardly a proper tour.

The woman took a few moments to make sense of what I'd said. Even then, she was unimpressed. "You are short by two neutral components, although Earth-silver might be different from ours," she replied. "And I have heard the Arabs are quite advanced in that science."

"Do I look like an Arab?" I snapped in irritation.

"I have never seen one, but no less then you look like a human, I would expect."

"What are you talking about? Youkai look like humans. You tell them apart by their questionable fashion sense." I glanced down at myself, nude except for the borrowed jacket; the theory held. "Your kind look human, too."

"Hardly," she scoffed. "Our bonework is much more elegant. And have you ever seen a human with hair such as ours? Well... such as his," she said, indicating the guard.

"Myself. Human until recently, that is."

"Your hair is not silver; it is a very dull gray. Perhaps you don't wash it often enough."

"And your hair spent too much time in a coal mine," I replied.

"I would perhaps be offended if I remembered what coal was," she said. "Something you humans eat, is it not? In any case, no need for us to be so rude." Eirin smiled. "This has become truly interesting. Stray earth-dwellers are just frequent enough to be dull, but if you are indeed one of those displaced by high-energy magic, you are more rare then the coming of the Time of Red Light."

Despite her earlier appearance of skepticism, she seemed to be convinced. "I will see if I cannot change your place of accommodations to somewhere you can take a shower," she continued.

"Not to ask the moon of you, but while that's being arranged, could you get me something- anything- to do?" I said. "If I spend another week in here, I think I'll be about ready to claw my eyes out from boredom."

"You should not have to wait long. My rank in the imperial court may be meager, but it far exceeds any guardsman." With that, she left me alone, to contemplate the alien world outside the stone walls... or perhaps just sleep. I'd had only my own thoughts for company prior to this hour, and was quite sick of them by now.


True to the woman's word, the next morning a group of guards came down and let me out of the cell, bringing me upstairs. I received proper clothing, of a sort; a red shirt and blue pants. There followed a brief argument. From the paraphernalia involved, I gathered some of the other guards wanted to bind and blindfold me, but my escort disagreed. Eventually, Eirin's status won out; we proceeded through the streets, I with a semblance of dignity, although still under watch.

The monotonous stonework of the inner wall was absent from the rest of the city. In their place were a variety of chiaroscuro textures that, although still without a speck of color, were anything but dull. So far as I could tell, the construction of the buildings I saw was mostly wood and metal, but the specific materials were like none my eyes were familiar with- except for, on the roofs of some of the more ornate structures, the shine of elemental silver.

In contrast, the people we passed were all colorfully dressed. Red and blue seemed to be the predominant colors here, but the fabrics ranged throughout the entire rainbow, and not one garment was white or black. It was rather practical; those walking along the avenues could be immediately spotted against their monochrome surroundings. I heard many more people in the distance then I saw. I supposed the guards were taking me through the back streets.

After a moderate walk- welcome exercise for me- we entered one of the ornate buildings. Tapestries adorned the walls, like those of the guard station; but these were far larger and more colorful then the ones I'd seen before. Frankly, it was somewhat tacky and tiring to the eyes, since the architecture underneath had lost none of its grayscale chaos. It seemed this city of the moon was a place of visual excess.

After a guard conversed with the receptionist, a female attendant in purple appeared. The guards entrusted me to her, and she showed me to a room on one of the upper floors. That it was quite a bit nicer then the cell I'd been in is rather obvious to state, but it was beyond my expectations. If it weren't for the bars on the windows, I'd have thought I had been booked in a hotel; thankfully, the room's decor was much less opulent then the lobby.

Quite welcome, since I hadn't eaten this morning, was a small tray of cakes laid on the desk. I hadn't had a satisfying meal for as long as I could remember (that is to say, three days.) The attendant spoke a few words in her language, which I couldn't understand, and left the room. I immediately sampled a cake. It resembled wheat flour, with that same off metallic taste, but this was mostly concealed by the filling- a jam with a tangy flavor. Some sort of citrus? In any case, I wasn't complaining.

After finishing off the entire tray, I investigated the bathroom. Eirin had suggested a shower, but I felt like wasting water. I took a long bath. After washing my hair twice, I emerged and peered at myself in the mirror. My hair was as gray as ever.

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