Stay with me. You need not fret. Surely you know that there has never been a time when I did not think of you.
Toko gripped Oguna harder. She could feel that he was struggling to remain detached.
Let the girl go. The voice suddenly sounded harsh.
She’ll be the ruin of you. She’s detestable.
Which one of us is really detestable, Toko thought. Despite her terror, she felt anger swelling inside her.
“If you kill Toko, then I will kill you and sever this tie,” Oguna suddenly said out loud. His voice was low and hard.
If you kill me, you too will die.
“Even so, I will kill you.”
You cannot kill me. I am your mother, the creature said gently. I know how you suffered when you killed your brother Oh-usu. Would you also turn your hand against the mother who bore you? For a mere girl?
Toko felt Oguna’s pain as if it were her own. Why did the woman press him so relentlessly? Toko could not bear it. She had not come here to make Oguna suffer like this. But Oguna spoke again. “Even so, I will kill you. You and I were not meant to be together on this earth. I was never meant to be born. I should never have existed in Toyoashihara.”
If that is how you feel, then I accept, the creature agreed abruptly. I would rather choose that than have you taken by another. Kill me and rejoin me. If we return our souls to the state prior to our worldly births, perhaps we can rise to the heavens together.
Toko prayed desperately from the depths of her heart. Somebody, help! Please! But there was no one who could change this situation. There was only Toko.
“Stop,” she said to Oguna. “Please don’t.”
“I don’t want you to go to that extreme for my sake.” She opened her eyes, which had been shut tight, and looked toward the creature. Something white seemed to flash before her eyes. She blinked in surprise for instead of the creature she had been expecting, she saw a woman—a tall, slender woman, wearing a gown with trailing sleeves. Her black hair flowed down her back like the night. Although terrified by this apparition, Toko could still see that the woman’s face was noble and even beautiful. She must have been an unsurpassed beauty when she was alive. Toko could also see the resemblance to Oguna. So this was his mother—the person Toko had wished for many years that she could meet.
I must at least give you credit for your courage, the woman said. You’re an impudent girl to look at my true form.
“I won’t let you kill Oguna,” Toko said. “You don’t want him to die either, right? For it was you who protected his life with the power of the Sword.”
Yes, it was. And I can continue to protect him. But it goes against my will to have his heart taken by another. I will not have him sever his bond to me when I have sacrificed so much for him. She pointed a pale finger at Toko. Everything will be fine once you are gone. We don’t need you. This child belongs to me, and to me alone.
Toko cringed as the phantom reached out to grab her. Would the woman steal her soul so that she could never return to the living again? The thought froze Toko’s heart. At that moment, a light shone. Caught in its beam, Oguna’s mother hesitated. Frowning, she shielded her eyes with her hand. What is this?
Toko turned to see its source. A yawning distance stretched behind her, and through it, the light shone like an arrow. Somehow it seemed familiar. An even more familiar voice spoke in her ear.
“Toko, this way. Come back.”
But I haven’t moved, she thought. Where’s Oguna? I thought he was right here. Instantly, she understood, and understanding, she opened her eyes. Although she had thought they were already open, they had still been shut tight.
There was Oguna. She was lying in his arms, as if she had fainted.
Toko started to speak and then saw the Misumaru shining on her chest and Sugaru’s face peering into hers. So this had been the familiar light, and it was Sugaru’s voice that had called her.
He smiled smugly. “Honestly. You’re always getting into trouble, Toko. I came to your rescue, didn’t I? You owe me one now.”