In the Shadows

 

“Did you see it? Did you see it?” said Jiro, voice shrill with horror.

“I saw it,” said Matsu, and made an effort to sound calm and collected. Truth was, he was scared too, but he was damned if he was going to show it in front of the new recruit. “Ugly bugger, too.” Matsu hoped the bravado would mask his own fear.

Even by the light of the full moon it had been difficult to make out very much. The shape had been small, like a child or a small adult. Its big floppy ears had looked like wings on the side of its too-large head.

And it had giggled. That was the scariest part.

The two sentries had readied their bows and both stood with an arrow to the string. Their gaze was fixed at the edge of the forest. Whoever – or whatever – it was out there had to clear a good hundred strides of open ground if they decided to emerge from the woods. Even at night, that was a risky bet.

“Wh-what was it?” said Jiro.

“A bandit,” said Matsu, though he did not sound convinced himself. “With big ears,” he added.

“It didn’t look like...”

“Shut it!” said Matsu and kept his eyes on the edge of the forest. He was trained. He was ready. Big ears made big targets.

The next time they heard the growl, it was right behind them.

Jiro saw the point of the spear protude from his chest. He died not even realizing what had happened.

Matsu had time to spin around. How the devil did he get behind us? he thought when he saw the little demon-creature.

Before he had time to reach for his own sword, the other Bakemono had cracked his skull. As he lay on the floor paralyazed from his injury, his body slowly shutting down, he could make out several more shapes, roughly the size of children entering the sleeping hamlet.

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