by Claire Youmans
Date Published: May 2021
Publisher: american i publishing
Japan, 1877. She fought for her identity. She won her dream. Now she’s not sure she wants it.
How can Toki-girl Azuki abandon what she’s worked so hard to achieve when rebellion threatens to shatter the Japanese Empire’s fragile internal peace and fracture its relations with the outside world?
Her uncle fears she’s causing mysterious events sabotaging her family. Azuki’s dual human-toki nature means something far more ancient and elemental could be at work, if only she can figure out what it is.
Birds teach dragons to dance. Eastern and Western dragons unite even as humans splinter in conflict. A princess wants to help the people she thinks she’s failed. Her small brother can’t keep a dangerous secret. Troops are on the move and tragedy looms as old ways clash with new hopes in Japan and the world.
Can Azuki stop the disruptions plaguing her family and help her nation prosper while trying to survive the rebellion shaking her country’s very soul?
The Shadows of War is the eighth book in the gripping Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series, where magical realism collides with historical fantasy in Claire Youmans’ enthralling Tales of the Meiji Era.
THE SHADOWS OF WAR — CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
One access to Otohime’s caverns was through a lava tube in the crater of Mt. Fuji. Dragons, of course, didn’t need to use it. Non-dragons couldn’t reasonably get there unless in the company of one, or at least none ever had, so it actually served for ventilation. While Renko and Irtysh had deduced the way Ryuujin kept portions of his undersea palace filled with air on a continuous basis, dragons couldn’t create something out of absolutely nothing. They needed materials to work with.
Otohime had simply never thought about making air, not when so much was readily available to her. Even when she was under the sea watching the emerging volcanoes that fascinated her, she had never thought to make air. She just made sure she had an adequate supply before she left and transported more if she needed it. Dragons were diligent and usually acquisitive. They could be creative and artistic. They were not necessarily curious.
Irtysh was both artistic and creative. He was also diligent and a perfectionist. When impelled by the lure of something he wanted to have, or show, or do, he pursued it until he found a way. That wakened his nascent curiosity.
“I want to try something,” he said to Otohime. “If you’ll indulge me.” He flourished his wings before tucking them in and made a slight bow.
She looked at him, secure in the seat he had made her, interested. “Something new?” she asked.
“Yes and no.” He settled comfortably on the floor of her principle chamber. Quietly, without even thinking about it, he adjusted the rock here and there to give himself a suitable place to recline while in her company. She’d promised to make him a seat, just as he had made her one in his home, but she was still thinking about exactly what she might want. She also planned something to do with water, here, in her audience chamber, but she hadn’t decided on that yet, either.
“When we have gone to see your volcanoes,” he reminded her, “we have gone together in your bubble of air. You have propelled us under the surface of the water. We talked about doing this high in the air, using my cloak, or perhaps joining our enclosures together. Would you like to try it?”
“Yes!” Otohime didn’t want to tell him about what she’d been learning from Akira just yet, but that had emboldened her. Plus Irtysh always made her feel adventurous. That it was in part because she trusted him enough to feel safe with him didn’t change the fact. “How shall we do it?”
The two dragons, so dissimilar, soared high above Mt. Fuji. The atmosphere thinned, but they didn’t need to bother with that, because their air supplies were carried with them. Irtysh flew within his cloak, using his wings to move the air within and moving his cloak through the thinning atmosphere through that effort. Otohime created currents within her bubble to produce the same effect.
“I’ll just be a moment,” Irtysh called, hovering. He reached outside his cloak to gather the bits of matter he needed to build a breathable atmosphere. Next he had to see if he could bring it within his cloak. He could transport it, of course, even from the denser atmosphere of the planet now far below, but he wanted to try building it from what was around him.
“What are you doing?” Otohime asked, detecting the minuscule movement of the atmosphere around him.
“Making air. It’s taking some time as there’s little to work with here.”
Otohime decided to try that herself. She found she could collect and concentrate the thin atmosphere. She could convey it into her bubble, yes. Irtysh was doing the same thing, she saw, watching his cloak expand.
“Our sister,” Irtysh explained, “thinks she knows how his Majesty keeps his undersea chambers filled with air even in his absence. I want to see if I can manage it here.”
“It’s not merely transporting air, whether from outside or what we make,” Otohime said, trying it. “I can do that, but I have to pay attention to it. Now that we’ve got the process for making it going, perhaps we can”—
“Make a self-sustaining system,” Irtysh interrupted. “That’s what Renko thinks your father does. Do you have any ideas? I want to try this.” He tweaked the transport he’d arranged to make a flow and backed his control away from it.
“This might work better.” Otohime duplicated his maneuver, but changed a detail.
Irtysh examined her work. “If we can just expand on this bit here,” he said, demonstrating.
“We’ve got it!” Otohime cried, delighted, when she saw how well it worked. “We could have just asked Father, but this is much more fun.”
“Do you think he would have told us?” Irtysh grinned.
Otohime grimaced. “I’m not sure. He does like to be the most powerful among dragons.”
“As does Mother. They don’t like to give away their secrets, either of them. Shall we try merging our air supplies and joining them? Break off at once if it doesn’t work,” he cautioned.
“We’re not too far to transport ourselves down to where we can breathe without bubbles,” Otohime reminded him. “Meet me halfway.”
It was sensuous, even intimate, the way their air containers touched, then merged into a single unit, Irtysh thought. The overlap required control, like trying to fly touching inside wings with end claws gripping while letting their outside wings carry them in synchronicity. He hadn’t tried that since he was a youth! It was exhilarating! Suddenly he felt he could do anything!
So he would.
“Otohime? Will you make your currents support my wings and give me something more to push against so I can direct our flight?”
“I can do that,” she replied. “Let me know what works best for you.” She thought that supporting his flight would be like supporting her own, but with a broader current, emphasized where his wings pushed. She began to move the air inside their joint bubble. She liked the feeling of their merged enclosure. She knew what it was to hold hands with a human; this was something of the same feeling, only more so in a way she didn’t want to examine at the moment. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise,” he said, flexing his strong wings against her air current to propel them onward with increasing speed. “I think we should both continue making air,” he continued. “We’re going further out and there will be even less to work with. In case one of us falters, either of us can keep the atmosphere going long enough to get us to safety.”
“Do you think we could combine our atmosphere production?” she asked. That would truly be amazing. She’d never even thought of that before, but it seemed he had. “How?”
“Like this,” he said, flashing her a schematic. “But I am not sure it would be safe to do so out here.”
Otohime recoiled when she first saw the diagram in her mind, but then she examined it carefully, fascinated. It was not only amazing, she realized, but such a joining of purpose and action would require a mental intimacy that went far beyond anything she had ever experienced, not even with her siblings when they worked and played together. It was deeper. It was more. More like what lovers might do, if they only could. Didn’t he realize that? What was he asking of her? What did he want? Then she remembered: he, of course, had never loved a human and she, despite her age, had never loved a dragon.
Around her, what she saw grew dark, punctuated with points of light she recognized as stars, more of them than she had ever seen, surrounding her, going on forever until they vanished in a faint mist of light. Brighter spheres were planets, some of which she recognized. And there—she saw the sun, glowing with a fiery rim she had only previously seen during eclipses, with occasional jets of flame shooting out of it that must extend many thousands of ri to be visible from here. More stars spread out before her, a glowing waterfall of sparkling light, running thick where the Amanogawa seemed to flow, truly a river of stars.
Mesmerized, she watched, nearly falling into the vastness of the universe around them, barely noticing where Irtysh was carrying them as her currents of air lifted his wings. Because of the way they flew and the need to make air currents, when she looked straight ahead, she could only see his dark hide, so she looked to the stars, at the points of light that seemed to never end. She had no idea how long they had traveled or how far when she felt herself vanish, pulled along through the ether by Irtysh transporting them both until they appeared with a thunk on something solid, their joint atmospheric container surrounding them.
They were on solid ground, she saw. It wasn’t, but it looked like the inside of the Fuji crater more than anywhere else Otohime had ever been. Dust, rocks, what looked like ash and little pits where rocks had struck. She could tell from a quick scan outside the container in which they stood that there was precious little in the way of atmospheric building blocks outside.
Her gaze followed Irtysh’s extended wing. Otohime gasped. Rising in the sky ahead of them was a huge blue object, white swirls circling around its surface. It was magnificent in its beauty. She regarded it with wonder for a moment then turned to look at the Western dragon.
He looked tired, but sublimely satisfied.
“Where are we?” she said. ‘What is that?”
He smiled. “We are on the moon, and that is the Earth. I said I would bring you to the moon, and with your help, I have done so.” He bowed. “Do you like it?”
“It is more splendid than I ever would have thought.” She bowed in return. “Irtysh, thank you.”
He essayed another bow in response, and she could see from the droop of his wings that the journey really had tired him.
“Let us simply admire it for a while,” Otohime said. “You give me the most incredible things, and I am grateful.”
They rested on the lunar surface, watching the earth rise. Otohime pointed out the weather patterns. Irtysh found he had no trouble recognizing them because of something Ryuujin had said about enjoying watching weather from the upper atmosphere. Ryuujin would enjoy doing that even more from here, Irtysh thought, but wasn’t sure he would ever tell the Dragon King about this! This was a gift for Otohime. Fascinated, he watched the cloud formations circle themselves and move across the surface of the planet. He could distinguish land masses but couldn’t tell what they were. It was all so beautiful. He felt himself growing stronger, but though he felt he could easily take them home, he didn’t want to. Not yet.
He looked at the Eastern Dragon Princess he found in all ways beautiful and smiled gently.
“I have been learning to dance the way the eagles dance in the air on the earth.”
He tilted his great head, encouraging her to continue.
“I don’t do it very well yet, but I have memories and images I can project. We should be able to do it from within our joint bubble if we work together like we did to come here.” She extended her whiskers and beckoned an invitation.
“Irtysh, will you dance with me?”
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book One
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Two
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Three
Uncle Yuta has an Adventure
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Four
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Five
The Dragon Sisters
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Six
The Eagle and the Sparrow
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Seven
About the Author
Claire Youmans first went to Japan in 1992 and was immediately captivated. After years of travel and study, she continues to be charmed and amazed by a fascinating history and a culture that’s both endearingly quirky and entirely unique.
In 2014, she started Tales of the Meiji Era with The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy’s unparalleled blend of historical fantasy and magical realism in Coming Home. She continues exploring the combination of history and folklore to share her love and fascination with a very different country and culture.
Exciting adventures continue to unfold in this delightful fantastical yet historical world as social and political changes expand, technology explodes, and two very unusual children grow up.