Soul of the Night
by Barbara Sheridan & Anne Cain
The truth of his vampiric nature a carefully guarded secret, Kiyoshi Ishibe wanders alone in the shadows of the past. Banished from Edo in disgrace, the once famous kabuki actor Ryuhei Nakamura also journeys in loneliness. Both souls find one another in the night, each man filling the emptiness of the other.
But temptation and desire brings out the worst in Kiyoshi, triggering a fascination with the blood of a killer known as the Poisoned Dragon. As this interest quickly spirals into an obsession, everything Kiyoshi and Ryuhei have come to treasure is in danger of being lost...forever...
As it turned out, Kiyoshi’s money went a long way in this small town. He and Ryuhei were able to take some of the better seats on the knee-high platform along the inn’s walls, with the nicely polished tables and clean chopsticks. Two bottles of warm sake were brought to them.
“You’ll have to be careful with me now.” Ryuhei giggled lightly behind his hand. “Sake tends to loosen more than just my tongue.”
Kiyoshi felt his cheeks color as he glanced down at Nakamura-san’s lap. If anything, the sake seemed to harden some parts of Ryuhei. He signaled for the innkeeper. “Perhaps we should see about arranging that room and finishing our drinks in private?”
“I would like that very much.” Ryuhei tilted his head forward to peer seductively up at Kiyoshi through a fringe of dark lashes. He stood a bit shakily, dipping a little and murmuring about how “That was good wine.”
He started humming folk songs about sakura blossoms and the moon, and Kiyoshi thought Ryuhei had a sweet-sounding voice. “Those are pretty songs.” He smiled at Nakamura, standing to help keep the actor steady as the innkeeper returned.
Apparently, Ryuhei’s balance depended more on how close Kiyoshi was than any effect of the liquor. Dropping his arm around Kiyoshi’s waist, Ryuhei didn’t seem quite so tipsy after all. They followed the innkeeper up the wooden staircase that rose over the entrance to the kitchen, heading toward the room that had been readied for them.
“If I still had my shamisen, I could play those songs for you and you could sing them,” Ryuhei suggested playfully.
“I don’t know the lyrics; you’d have to teach them to me.”
Ryuhei gasped with mock horror. “But every child learns those songs.”
“Neh…sometimes I forget things like that.” Kiyoshi laughed nervously. He’d been born long before the first versions of those songs had been sung in any country village.
“Oh, Kiyo-kun.” Nakamura giggled. “You can remember my performances from ten years ago, but not this?” Ryuhei stopped in the middle of the hallway. “You do remember me, don’t you? You aren’t saying it to be kind?”
“I do remember.” Kiyoshi nodded adamantly until the sad expression lifted from the actor’s face. “I couldn’t forget such a stirring performance.”
They both turned in unison to stare over the railing at the man who’d just burst through the front entryway. His bright red costume was rumpled and soaked with sweat, the feathers crowning the brass lion’s mask under his arm were limp and soggy.
Ryuhei tensed at first and then his shoulders slumped. “Oh no,” he groaned. “It’s Shosei from the Noh idiots…”
“Nakamura!” Shosei bellowed again, jabbing his finger up in the air rather rudely. “We had a show tonight.”
“Did we, Shosei-san?” Ryuhei blinked innocently.
The Noh actor sputtered and then shouted, “Yes.”
“Did anyone attend?”
“What the hell do you mean ‘did anyone attend’? Half this town must have shown up.”
“Did anyone important attend?”
“You—” Shosei’s round face turned the same shade of scarlet as his costume. “I had to play all three roles myself. I’m not paying you to chase ass here at the inn.”
“You call that two-bit pittance payment?” Ryuhei leaned over the railing, just as worked up as the Noh actor. “It’s robbery. An actor of my skill stuck playing the role of waki—a meaningless secondary character? Insult!”
Kiyoshi looked around, nervous at the attention the scene was getting from the other guests. One thing was certain—this was a far better show than anything performed at the Noh.
“Robbery, is it?” Shosei shouted. “You’re fired.” With that, he stormed back out of the inn.
Everything was silent in the inn for a long time afterward. Then Nakamura stood up straight and pronounced with all the dignity of an official in the emperor’s court, “It’s a good thing I quit first.”
Soul of the Night
Copyright© 2006 Barbara Sheridan & Anne Cain
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication