Several hours later, Lexi left to go to work, and Sarah found herself dialing Mr. Takamori’s number. Axin was on her mind from the moment she woke up, and she needed to know more about him.
“Miss Weller, is everything alright?” Mr. Takamori’s voice answered.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Takamori, I hope I’m not bothering you.”
“Not at all. I am waiting for the movers to arrive to take all my belongings to storage. I will be flying to Japan on Tuesday to spend some time with my family. Is there something I can help you with?”
She bit her lip, wondering if this was a good idea. But he already signed the contract, so backing out over something as trivial as asking about a painting didn’t sound like something he would do.
“Mr. Takamori, I was hoping I could ask you a favor. That painting of the Shadow people… Could we speak more about it?”
She heard the smile in his voice. “Of course. Why don’t you come to the summer house, I have many books here for you to read about it.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I can be there in an hour.”
“Alright. I will see you then.” The call ended and Sarah darted to her bedroom to dress.
A quick call to Lexi assured her that she had a car to drive to the Hamptons with, and before she knew it, the old Japanese lady was leading her to Mr. Takamori’s office.
“Thank you so much for seeing me about this, Mr. Takamori,” Sarah said, shaking his outstretched hand.
He smiled. “I don’t mind at all. I appreciate the fact that you are curious about my country’s history.”
He gestured for her to sit at his desk and he went to the books lining the back wall. He pulled three of them out and placed them on the table in front of her before he sat down.
“Those are the only ones I have that have English translations in them.”
She glanced at the books, their old, worn spines, and the gold edges of the pages.
“Thank you. How did this legend come to be?”
“A very long time ago,” he reached for the top book and began looking through its pages, “a rice farmer in the Saga district, in the south of Japan, woke up in the middle of the night to a noise outside. He went to look and found all his chickens were dead. He called his son, a boy named Hashi Kiyomasu, to help him find the wild animal that killed them. They went into the rice fields together, under the full moon, and searched for whatever killed their chickens.
“Hashi’s father instructed the boy to go check the lower fields, while he checked the top ones. Hashi did as his father said, and when he got to the bottom of the rice fields, he found what he described as a monster with red eyes, sitting on a rock, watching him. A massive bird, with eyes of fire, and a body of spikes and scales.” Mr. Takamori turned the book in his hands to face Sarah and slid it closer to her. She reached out for it and glanced at the picture on the page. The writing was all in Japanese, but the image was clear as day. A massive winged creature, looking a lot like what she saw Axin turn into, sat perched on a rock, looking out of the page.
She ran a finger over it, a small smile playing on her lips and Mr. Takamori continued, “Hashi wrote in that book later, that the creature looked wounded. A long, deep gash in its side, dripped blood into the field below the rock. Then he heard his father screaming, so Hashi ran up the hill to see what had happened. His father was dead. Like the chickens, he was ripped apart. Hashi called for the winged creature to come to help him, to hunt the thing that killed his father, but the creature was too badly hurt.
“Hashi buried his father in the rice fields but also went to help the creature. It was weak and close to death. As he tended to its wounds, the creature spoke to him, telling him of the world he lives in, and how he protects the living. Hashi wrote that the creature was destroyed with guilt, that the beast that killed Hashi’s father managed to get out of the prison. He told him of people that live in our world, that have the nature of an animal inside them. How they change after death, and what awaits them.”
Sarah nodded, looking back down at the page.
“Axin,” she whispered, running a finger over the image.
“What did you say!” Mr. Takamori shot up from behind the desk, his face growing pale.
She frowned. “Nothing… it’s just a name I heard.”
Mr. Takamori spun, running his gaze over the books, mumbling in Japanese to himself.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” she said, closing the book and placing it down on the desk.
He spun to her, a large, black book covered in what looked like leather in his hands, and his eyes wide and scared, “You know that name?”
“Axin? Yes, I do, why?”
His fear grew even more, as his fingers went white around the book.
“Mr. Takamori, please tell me what is going on.”
He scurried past Sarah to the doors of his office, closing them, then locking them, before he faced her again.
“How do you know that name?”
Fear inched its way up her spine.
“It’s hard to explain-”
His loud shout made Sarah jump and she took a step away from him.
She raised her hands at her sides. “Please, Mr. Takamori, just take it easy.”
“Tell me how you know of the beast of Purgatory?”
He marched over to the desk, slamming the book on the table and flipped through the pages. He stopped on one, studying it for a moment then spun it to face Sarah, “Kore wa akishindesu!”
She inched her way back to the desk and tore her eyes away from the terrified man. On the pages of the book he held open, she saw something that made her skin grow cold.
A picture in full color, with great detail, depicting a massive dragon that looked a lot like Axin. His enormous wings extended at his side, the fire in his eyes burning with red hot fury as pieces of people fell from his mouth. Blood stained the ground below him, woman and children crying and cowering away from him.
“What is that?” she breathed out.
“That is Axin! The warden of Purgatory. That is what he does to my kind!”
She whipped her head around to look at him. “Your kind?”
Again, Mr. Takamori flicked through the pages of the book. “Yes. I am a Mizu no akuma.” He paused on a page and spun the book to face her.
It showed a picture of a strangely deformed man, swimming in water. Its head looked too big for his body, its arms and legs bent out, as though the elbows and knees were broken outwards, with webbed feet and hands. Its eyes, two large solid black oval-shaped holes in its face, and slits along its neck.
“What is that?”
“Please, Miss Weller, tell me where you heard that name?”
Sarah wondered if telling him about Axin was a good idea, but he seemed to know a lot more about all this than she did. He also sounded petrified of him.
“All my life I have seen the smoke.” She started, glancing back at the book. “Ever since my parents died when I was five. I only recently found out that the smoke was Axin, watching over me all these years.”
“You are tenpu?”
“What is that?”
Mr. Takamori thought for a moment. “Linked.”
She shook her head. “No. At least I don’t think I am. Axin told me I’m normal.”
“You speak to him?” His voice held disbelief as his eyes went wide.
“Yeah. But only recently. He took me to his world last night. We spoke there.”
“Mr. Takamori, please… Am I in danger with him?”
“I do not know, Miss Weller. If you are normal, then he has no reason to want to seek you out. If you are linked, then… then your future is as dark as mine.”
“Tell me about that other picture.” Sarah gestured to the book. Mr. Takamori flipped back to the image of Axin chewing up people.
“This is what Axin does. He devours the linked in Purgatory. Once a linked soul passes to the other side, it lives in purgatory. If Axin decides that you do not deserve to live, then he devours you. It is the final death. You no longer exist. He is the only one that can do this.”
“He just eats people?”
Mr. Takamori nodded. “He is the judge, jury, and executioner in Purgatory. Anyone that misbehaves is prey to him. He has a cold, dead heart, with no mercy, and no love for anything. He will kill without thought. The only thing keeping him at bay, is his master, the Father of Magic.”
“The Father of Magic?”
“Yes. An ancient man of power, named Nilu. The father of all magic and the creator of purgatory. Only he can control Axin.”
Sarah’s mind raced. How could any of this be true? She spent time with Axin, and not once did he give her the impression that he ate souls for lunch.