"A Thousand Steps into Night" by Traci Chee, Part II: Chapters 1–15

October 26, 2022
After receiving a curse that causes her to slowly transform into a demon with a deadly touch, Miuko embarks on a quest to find a cure so that she can return to her normal life.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Part I: Chapters 1–7, Part I: Chapters 8–15, Part I: Chapters 16–33, Part II: Chapters 1–15, Part II: Chapters 16–31
He wore leather-coated plates of armor that dangled from his rotting form, and disintegrating gauntlets that revealed finger bones and sinew beneath.
Being a demon now (or mostly a demon, anyway), she shrugged the weapon off, causing a cloud of spectral flies to buzz indignantly about the halberd's frayed tassel.
A sudden, deadly whimsy unfurled inside her.
The overgrown fields, which she'd once thought sprawling and wild, were like patches of moss compared to the mountains she'd seen from Geiki's back.
With nearly comedic force, he flapped the tiny scroll at her, brandishing it as if it were a blessed blade, not a yellowed scrap of paper.
She could not tell whether such unsteadiness was an effect of the priests' spells or part of the general malaise that had plagued her since she was transported to the Old Road, but the time on her back did give her the opportunity to admit that she still had a lot to learn about being a demon.
Smoke, noxious and brown, lay thick upon the breeze.
"Go! You are not welcome here!"
She'd wanted to be human again...for this? To be reviled by the one person she loved most in the world? To be betrayed? To be cast out?
A lifetime of trying and failing to fit in? To be quiet, obedient, feminine? Her father may have indulged her occasional waywardness (while the villagers had barely tolerated it), but none of them had truly embraced it.
As she wept, a voice, small and sibilant, drifted up to her from somewhere on the forest floor: "What tearsss? Why crying?"
Miuko had less than forty-eight hours to reach the House of November before both it and the mountain upon which it stood became an oyu—a blight bereft of all life, both mortal and spirit.
"So what happens to the shadow, if it doesn't belong?" she asked.
"It's...er... expunged."
" Expunged!" He waved his arms as if dispersing a cloud of smoke.
Judging by the opacity of her limbs, she estimated she was already a quarter transparent.
Abruptly, she flung herself to the ground, prostrating herself before the daigana, who recoiled.
You see that I wear the clothes of a priest? That is because I have been ordained by the disciples of Amyunasa to carry out a mission of utmost importance.
Only I can prevent this from happening, and only you can help me, for, without you, O Paragon of Swiftness, I cannot make it to the temple in time.
The daigana might get the adulation he so desired, and Miuko might not be a liar after all.
Who had the power to incite the kind of massacre that had occurred here—that would occur, now, if Miuko didn't stop it?
Through the trees, Miuko caught glimpses of the priests attacking one another in front of the pagoda, seizing whatever weapons they could lay their hands on: ceremonial urns, ropes, salvers of burning oil, which flew through the air, catching on trees and wooden cloisters.
"You have better things to do now than reprimand me, priest," she growled.
Once, at Ogawa Castle, Miuko had thought him lonely; but now, seeing him encircled by such unrepentant destruction, she understood that he could never be lonely, because he did not desire company.
They had been replaced by cramped chambers and the stifling odors of medicine and incense—herbs swaying from the rafters, pots of liniments crammed onto the shelves.
The horse nodded, although she was not a sentient horse, so she was likely nodding for other reasons, perhaps pertaining to the fly buzzing at her left ear or a persistent crick in her neck.
Once the energy Miuko had drained from Nogadishao had dissipated, she was left feeling fainter than ever.
The fog buffeted about her, as if in annoyance, before ascending into the sky, taking Beikai with it.
Peering around the statue, she watched, openmouthed, as a troupe of monkeys cavorted out of the trees.
Squinting, she eyed Miuko appraisingly. "But maybe you help us, Demon Lady? And then we help you?"
Miuko felt the other baiganasu frolicking around her, brushing against her with their small furry bodies and filling her senses with their pungent furry smells, and she could not help but smile at their antics.
Her misgivings resurfaced, however, at the sight of the trapped sled.
It reverberated through the woods in an ugly, guttural roar, causing dry pine needles to drop from the canopy in a sudden, mildly painful shower.
She gestured to the rest of her troupe, who quickly yoked the animals to the sleigh.
And they were off— helter-skelter through the trees, with Neinei and Yoibaba yanking at the reins while the rest of the baiganasu careened from one end of the sled to the other at every twist and turn.
She could not help but think of her mother and how much she would have loved it, how she would have devoured every sight, every sound, every phantasmagoric scent wafting up from the volcanic fissures and meadows of drunken, chittering flowers.
Built on top of the glacier, the January God's court was a castle of scalloped ice so clear and blue, it appeared like crystal.
"How am I supposed to get past them? I'm not exactly inconspicuous here."
Panting, Miuko dashed past the spirits to the third floor, followed by an intrepid snow spirit and the tachanagri she had frightened in the garden.
With a start, Miuko realized he was crying, large dribbles of sap flowing down his craggy features and congealing in his beard.
But a contingent of crab guardians had already blocked the stairs, and more were marching toward her through the crowd.
Those are gods! Oh, gods. We should be bowing! Groveling? No, bowing.
"Dispose of them," Naisholao said, puckering her small, red lips in a moue of distaste.

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