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The Monster on the Mountain and the Star That Fell, by Ichinomiya Kantarou

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Many years ago, before there were people, there was only the earth and the sky above it. The earth was filled with youkai – demons and monsters and spirits, and most of them lived in harmony, sharing the forests and the waters and the grassy fields together.

But on a rocky promontory on the side of a mountain above the forests, there lived a cruel monster, all alone. He was bent and ugly, with hair black and unkempt. His eyes glowed red, and his talons were razor sharp to shred the flesh of those smaller creatures who were foolish enough to venture close.

"What are you doing?"

Haruka blinks as he turns away from the window. There are still sparkles in the back of his eyes from sunlight reflecting through the bits of glass he's hung there, and it takes a moment or two for the fuzzy shape to solidify into the form of Kantarou. "Nothing," he says.

Kantarou laughs softly, like the sound of the colored-glass tapping against Haruka's windowpane. "Silly Haruka. How can you spend so much time just looking out the window?"

"I'm not—" Haruka starts to say, but trails off, lip curling. It's useless to describe to a mortal what his goblin's eyes discern in the sparkle of red and green and purple and blue, or how the lights and colors remain with him long after his eyes are closed.

"Well, come on then," Kantarou says, the beginning of a pout pursing his lips. "Come on! I want to go to town."

Haruka unfolds his long frame from the window seat. "As you wish," he says.

The monster lived in a cave where everything was dark. And his heart was dark, too, and shriveled and cold. In winter he'd stand on his rock and curse the dark grey sky and the freezing snow. In summer he'd hide in his cave and curse the burning sun and blistering heat. Snow or sun, every day was the same for him on his solitary rock – unless, of course, an unlucky demon or fox-spirit or small youkai ventured by too close to his cave. And then the sharp talons would appear and do their work without mercy.

Haruka never calls Kantarou "master," and wouldn't even if Kantarou demanded it. The young folklorist may in truth have control over him, but Haruka refuses to acknowledge it so directly.

That doesn't mean, however, that he isn't susceptible to Kantarou's will. "Ooh, I want strawberry cake!" Kantarou moans, nose pressed up against the bakery window. His silver-white hair falls over his eyes. He looks younger than Rosalie, and certainly is not as well behaved. It's hard to remember that Kantarou is a grown man when he acts so willful and childish.

Beside him, Youko clutches her purse tightly. "Kantarou! We don't have enough money for sweets! Get a client or go home and write a book and we'll have money to buy cake."

Kantarou sighs dramatically. "But—" He turns his strange red eyes to Haruka. "Haaaaruuuuka," he chants, smiling in a way he must believe others find charming. "Doesn't Haruka have some money Kantarou can borrow?"

"Stop referring to yourself in the third person," Haruka mutters. "It's childish." But he finds himself reaching into his pocket. The coins glitter silver in Haruka's hand as they catch the late afternoon sunlight, silver as the moon, silver as Kantarou's hair. Haruka stares at them, transfixed. And then they are snatched from his palm by a grinning child-man who dashes off to buy himself cake.

"Why do you do that?" Youko moans. "You'll never get it back, you know!"

Haruka knows.

One cold, dark night as the monster sat at the entrance of his cave, he happened to look up, and there in the sky he saw a single star, brightly shining against the black sky. The star sparkled and glimmered, and the monster stared at it, unable to look away. He felt a strange sensation in his breast, but he was unable to give a name to the feeling, for until now he had known only anger and loneliness. He reached up to grab the star out of the sky, extending his arms and talons as far as he could, but no matter how far he reached he could not grasp it. Angry, the monster shouted a curse at the heavens and crawled back inside his cave.

At the same time the monster looked up, the single star looked down and saw him below. And though it was warm and bright and glimmered in the heavens, it was lonely, too, separated from its brothers by darkness. The star watched as the monster stretched out his misshapen arms and extended his claws to reach toward the heavens, and in turn it reached out its beams as far as it could toward the earth. But it was too far; the star could not reach the monster any more than the monster could reach the sky. The star grew dim and mourned.

"Are you working on your story?"

Haruka leans against the doorway to Kantarou's room. Papers are scattered, on desk, chairs, floor – pens are loose everywhere, ink stains the desk and papers. Kantarou himself is collapsed loosely, head down, on a pile of papers, looking more like a jumble of clothing than a human being. It is dark in the room, with only a single light to illuminate it, and the moon shining in through the open window. There is a tinkling sound; Kantarou's wind chimes, catching a midnight breeze.

"Ah, Haruka," Kantarou sighs into his papers. "I'm a failure. I can't write. I want to die."

"No you don't, you don't want to die," Haruka answers. His eyes stray from the wind chimes, flickering with golden light from the moon, to the despondent being sprawled across the desk. In this low light the only bright spot besides the glass chimes in the window is the shimmering halo of Kantarou's hair. Haruka moves closer and his hand reaches out of its own accord to touch the silvery-white strands, shining like glowing wires, like silk spun by magic glow-worms, like a jeweled coronet of—

"Haruka?" Kantarou sits up suddenly and Haruka's hand drops to his side. Kantarou turns a plaintive face toward him, eyes huge and dark against his pale, pale face. "Why, Haruka? Why?" Kantarou's small white hands reach up and clutch at Haruka's shirt. "Tell me why."

It's strange, peculiar, frightening, to be clutched at this way. Haruka's hands itch, clenching by his side, as his talons attempt to release. He tightens his jaw against his fangs, holding them back, and his back aches with the effort of keeping his wings closed. These are the reactions of battle, or fear. Fight or flight, they call it. But it can't be fear; Haruka has no fear of this small human's strength. He could easily tear him to pieces. Why, then, is he suddenly thrumming with the desire to—

"Haruka?" Kantarou's face, white as the moon, swims back into focus.

"You don't want to die. You want to live to annoy everyone," Haruka says, taking a step backwards so Kantarou must release him.

"But—"

Haruka doesn't wait to hear more. He flees, taking refuge on the roof, where he can stare at the vastness of the sky until he calms.

Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto beheld the star's sadness, and asked it why it mourned. And so the star told the god of the Moon about the creature below. "It is so lonely, and so beautiful," said the star.

"Ah," said Tsukyomi. "But some would say it is ugly and monstrous."

"Oh no," the star answered, shining with a bright silver radiance. "I think it the most beautiful being I have ever seen, and I have lived a long time."

The god of the Moon smiled, and said, "I have lived longer than you, my child, and I know a thing or two."

And Tsukyomi-no-Mikoto grew full, and shined his light upon the star, which became brighter itself. It grew and grew, taking form, growing arms and legs and all other parts, until it assumed the shape of a human being. But no longer being a star, it could not remain in the heavens, and so, carried on the Moon's beams, it fell gently to earth.

Haruka lies on the roof, staring up at the sky, which is filled with stars despite the lights from the town. He breathes deeply, filling his lungs with sweet air, and thinks about flying away, never to return. If he left he would be free, free of these binding clothes, free of the clutter of this life, free of the confinement of rooms, even the rooms with light sparkling through the windows. Most of all, he would be free from Kantarou.

He could fly away. He could go right now.

But that is a lie; he will never leave, though the bonds that tie him to his master are thin and easily torn if he were to try hard enough to free himself. The bonds that keep him here are not imposed by his formal vow to Kantarou; the bonds that hold Haruka are entirely self-constructed. He will stay because he cannot leave.

There is a rattling nearby and Haruka turns his head. Kantarou is climbing the rickety ladder to the roof.

"Go away," Haruka says.

"I won't."

Haruka turns his head and closes his eyes. "You'll fall."

"I won't."

"I'll throw you off the roof myself."

"You won't."

What an insufferable being Kantarou is, childish and demanding, willful, stubborn. He is annoying and manipulative. He is small and silver-white and his hair shines like a coronet of diamonds, and his eyes sparkle like deep-set rubies and his laugh is like—

Haruka looks at the odd creature before him and in Kantarou's pale face he sees sunlight sparkling through bright bits of glass. Kantarou laughs gently and he hears wind chimes stirring in a midnight breeze. And then Kantarou crawls across the roof and takes Haruka's hand in his own and Haruka feels silver coins warm in his palm.

Using human hands the star-being climbed beyond the trees, up the mountain, and it was a terrible, dangerous climb to make with its new, fragile body. At last it pulled itself over the final rock and came to the cave of the monster. And there the monster sat, waiting, claws extended, ready to kill whatever came near. But just when it was about to strike, the monster stopped, for it had never seen the like of this creature that stood before him. It was pale and silver, strange and beautiful, and glowed with a warm light, like the star he'd so wanted to pull from the night sky. Strangest of all, it did not seem to be afraid.

But now the monster was afraid.

"Go away," said the monster, "or I will eat you."

"Then eat me," said the star-being, "if that is what you wish."

"What are you?" asked the monster.

"I am yours," said the star-being.

"Where do you come from?" asked the monster.

The star-being looked upward into the heavens. "I have come down to earth to be with you."

The monster looked up and down again. "You are…my star?"

"I was alone. I looked down and saw you, and you were alone. Tsukyomi-no-Mikoto changed me into this form so that I could come to you and end our loneliness."

Kantarou leans closer, his breath tickling Haruka's ear, and it is all Haruka can do to keep control. He tries to move away, fearful of what he may do. But for his size, Kantarou is strong; more than that, he is determined, and he pushes Haruka back against the tiles of the roof, holding him there, his thighs bracing Haruka's legs, his warmth heating Haruka's loins. He looks down, his hair in his eyes. "Haruka," he says raggedly. "Haruka."

The way his name sounds on Kantarou's lips– It's too much to bear. "Don't," Haruka groans, his voice thick. Kantarou rolls his hips and Haruka cannot stop himself from thrusting back. "Kantarou, stop. Don't."

"Why?"

The way Kantarou sprawls along Haruka's body, pressing himself so closely – does Kantarou have a death wish? Haruka thinks wildly. Doesn't he know what might happen? "Don't. Just don't."

"Why? I thought, Haruka, the way you look at me, that you feel what I feel, that you want—"

"Don't be stupid," Haruka growls, but the sound becomes a moan. "I… I want—" He struggles for control. "I'm stronger than you, Kantarou. I don't want to hurt you."

And Kantarou laughs.

"Honestly, Haruka," Kantarou says softly, his fingers stroking Haruka's wings so gently that Haruka nearly cries out with desire. "You won't hurt me. I won't break. I'm not made of glass, you know."

And Haruka suddenly knows: this is the truth. I will never hurt you. But..."Kantarou. I don't know what will happen."

Kantarou's hands are soft, and so is his mouth. When after a breathless moment he lifts his head, there is a sly grin on his face. "Don't worry, Haruka," he says. "I'll write us an ending."

And the monster stared in wonder. He felt a strange new emotion; it was not anger or hate or sadness or loneliness—for the first time he knew what it meant to have joy in his heart. He stepped forward and gathered the strange being to his chest. His shriveled heart swelled with brightness, and his back grew straight; there was a prickling in his shoulders, and wings grew from them, long feathers of black that shone red and green and blue and purple as they shimmered in the moonlight. Until that moment the monster had not known he had wings, nor that he could fly. But now he spread his beautiful wings, and with the star-being held carefully in his arms, they soared upwards, black and silver together, becoming one.

And they say that if you look up very carefully into the night sky, you might see them flying there sometimes; even now they are together, dark and light, cold and hot, a bright comet soaring across the sky.