"A Thousand Steps into Night" by Traci Chee, Part II: Chapters 16–31

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
Gesticulating wildly, she pointed the knife at the other girl, who took the opportunity to screech even louder than before.
Perhaps Hawi and the loud girl had been engaged in some sort of midnight tryst when Senara had interrupted them.
Like Miuko, Senara's options had always been limited—to marry, to manage a household, to bear and raise children—but her illicit romance with Hawi had narrowed her opportunities even further.
They both cried out as Naisholao's emissary twisted upward again, away from the undulating waves, as Miuko struggled onto his back.
"We have nothing but time."
To this, Miuko had no rejoinder, so she told the girl her story, and as she did, she found herself remembering who she was and who she'd been—a girl, just a girl, who wanted to be human again.
Rocky and barren, the island was about the size of the guesthouse at Nihaoi, with nothing but a few dips and hummocks marring its otherwise gentle slope.
Time is a river with many tributaries, Otori Miuko.
Upon Afaina's body, there now appeared hundreds of eyes, all of them opening and closing as they looked upon temporal variations only the God of Stars could see.
"You're not volunteering," Miuko pointed out.
"Yes, but I'll be in close proximity to the volunteer, won't I?"
To the south, a macabre crimson glow cloaked the horizon where the Awaran mainland lay.
They remained immobile on the shore, placid as cattle.
Below them, great swaths of devastation marred the landscape: fields and forests burning, smoke upon the mountains, cities like cinders, crawling with fire.
They soon outstripped the destruction, pausing briefly so Miuko could check Geiki’s wounds, but they dared not linger long.
For a moment, she wished she could blame their fear and anger on Tujiyazai's powers, but the demon prince was too far away to affect them, and besides, those ensorcelled by him did not speak.
It seemed her demon body recovered swiftly; though, at the rate she was accruing injuries, not swiftly enough.
Grimacing, Miuko limped back to Geiki, who could evidently sleep through anything, including the threat of impending demise.
That's not going to help, the little voice admonished her.
They had a doro's soul to find, a malevolence demon to stop, and Geiki still had to evacuate his flock in the Kotskisiu-maru. Sufficiently chastised, he departed soon thereafter and did not return until afternoon, when he came plummeting out of the smoky auburn sky in magpie form, alighting on Miuko's shoulder with only minimal snarling in her hair.
A haze lay upon the fallow fields, dense with foreboding.
Peering past the gate, Miuko looked longingly toward the ramshackle houses and broken-down shops of Nihaoi.
Twilight fell as they crossed the dilapidated bridge, but the waning moon was bright enough for them to see flotsam in the Ozotso River: barrels, baskets, charred scraps of wood.
Swallowing, Miuko looked from one of their motley assembly to another: the forest spirit, two murderous girls, a dapple gray mare, and Geiki, who winked at her.
Darting past the cloven pine, she raced through bedchambers, kitchens, and sitting rooms, where visiting dignitaries had once gathered to discuss politics, philosophy, and the dowries of their daughters.
Beside him, another of the soldiers roared, revealing a gullet ringed with spines.
"She is a teapot! Missing its—"
Miuko sighed. The ruse had been a long shot anyway.
As if sensing his old enemy nearby, Pareka rounded on the doro's soul, snapping and slavering.
His spirit thinned and shrank, sinking inexorably into the stone.
He pointed to the fields beyond the storeroom, now teeming with yasasu, the twisted forms of the Ogawa soldiers clashing and bellowing as if the malice that had sustained them all these centuries had erupted as suddenly and violently as water from a geyser.
In similar circumstances, a lesser man might have refused the overtures of a woman and a demon. Indeed, if she'd made such an offer only a few weeks before, Omaizi Ruhai might have rejected both her proposal and her assistance.
Tujiyazai's head arose from the side of the doro’s neck, his face swathed in flames.
In an instant, Miuko was reminded of the forests above Koewa: the first hunter, advancing with his pitchfork, Tujiyazai catching him by the chin, all the rancor draining from his body, leaving him bewildered at the edge of the ravine.
I’m the one who kept us alive. I'm the one who killed Tujiyazai. And this is all I get? One hand? One measly hand?
There, upon the Old Road, were the rest of her friends: Kanayi, with half her face bandaged, and Roroisho (completely unharmed and utterly splendid); Senara, limping beside them but smiling effusively; and Nogadishao, who carried upon his back several villagers in varying states of consciousness and shock.
But whatever she was, after all that had transpired, she knew one thing for certain: for the first time in her life, she was finally, wholly, unabashedly herself.
Perhaps, in other times or to other eyes, such a sundry gathering might have been unseemly, but the doro, much to everyone's delight, had always had a transgressive streak in him—and, after his strange journey through the spirit world, he found he had less and less patience for the rigid conventions of Omaizi society.
Roroisho, who had become rather accustomed to the copious amounts of adoration lavished on her by the villagers (and by Geiki in particular), was at first a little peeved to share any attention at all with the doro's fine horse, but she was an adaptable creature; and besides, both Kanayi and Geiki adored her more than enough to make her the best-loved horse for many miles around.
They did not balk when Kanayi rode by on Roroisho. They did not try to prevent Miuko from walking about unescorted.
These were soon joined by several crude wooden statues, each of an old man with a long beard, hands pressed together in a posture of utmost serenity.
Given her affability, she soon found herself the center of considerable romantic attention and even entertained the affections of one or two suitors, although as she confessed to Miuko over a steaming pot of jasmine tea, she hadn't really given the affairs much thought.
Over the wild blue countryside they flew, like a pair of heroes from some ancient tale or a constellation limned in stars, and not once did she look back, for she did not need to—she had the support of her loved ones behind her, and the big, beautiful world ahead.

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