The next few days passed without any sign of the smoke or Axin. Her fear of the smoke appearing at night didn’t cripple her as much, and for the first time in a long time, Sarah managed to get a good night’s sleep.
She packed the last of the papers into a folder and shoved it into her laptop bag. Mr. Takamori was to sign the contract today, and she arranged with him to do it in person. She needed a few final details of the house as well before the contractors moved in to tear it all apart.
Lexi had been kind enough to let Sarah borrow her car while she was at work, and after almost an hour’s drive, she stood in front of the house, smiling at the old lady.
She was led to an office with large double doors leading in, to find Mr. Takamori sitting behind his desk.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Takamori,” Sarah greeted, thanking the elderly lady as she scurried out of the room.
“Good afternoon, Miss Weller. It’s nice to see you again,” he said, standing up from his desk.
Coming over to her to shake her hand, Sarah couldn’t help but notice the stunning library he had on the wall behind his chair. Old spines of ancient books, many looking like first editions lined the shelves from floor to ceiling.
She tore her eyes away from the impressive sight and smiled as she greeted her client. “Thank you for seeing me today, Mr. Takamori. I just need to go over what you wish to keep and what can be torn down one last time, so the movers and builders don’t get it wrong, then we can sign the contract.”
“Of course. Where would you like to begin?”
“The only part that I was not clear on, was the main wall in the dining room. You mentioned that there is a one of a kind painting on that wall. May I see it?”
With a nod, he led her out of the office, and down the hallway towards another set of doors.
“It is very old. Painted by the villagers of a small town in Japan. I would like this to be treated with care.”
“Of course. That is why I want to see it, so I know who to call to store it for you.”
They reached the doors, and Mr. Takamori swung them open to reveal a luxurious dining room with a massive wooden table surrounded by ten large chairs in the center.
But it was what was on the wall in front of her that made Sarah gasp and drop the tube in her hands. It clattered to the tile floor, making Mr. Takamori spin to look at her.
“Miss Weller? Are you alright?”
The concern in his voice was warranted. She could feel the color drain from her face and knew her mouth hung open.
“What is that?” She breathed out, not once tearing her eyes off the painting on the wall.
It was on an old canvas, taking up most of the wall. Dark shades of grey and black filled most of the surface in a boiling rage of smoke. Tiny stick figures running away in fear from the two, bright red eyes that froze her in place.
Mr. Takamori turned back to the picture with a frown, “This is Shadōu~ōkā no densetsu. The legend of the Shadow people. It is an old tale from Japan.”
“Can you tell me about it, please?” she asked, not once tearing her eyes off the red dots looking back at her.
“The legend says that the Shadow people live in a world next to ours. Behind a very thin veil.”
She swallowed. “Are they evil?”
He turned to Sarah with a frown. “No. In fact, they are our protectors.”
His words made her head spin to look at him. “Protectors?”
He grinned with a nod. “Motto ocha o kudasai!” He called out into the rest of the house and gestured for them to sit at the dining table. A moment later, the old lady came scurrying in with a tray of tea and placed it on the table.
Mr. Takamori poured the tea and began to speak, “You know of heaven and hell, yes?” he asked, handing her a cup.
“Yes.” Sarah took the cup with a grateful bow and turned her gaze back to the art.
He leaned back in the seat, looking at the painting. “There is another place, like those. A place. . . in-between places. A place where the monsters of the world go after they die.”
“To the shadow world?”
He smiled. “No. Rengoku... Purgatory. A place where those that heaven and hell do not want. The unnatural souls who walk among us.”
“So where is this shadow world? If it’s not heaven or hell or purgatory, then where is it?”
“My grandfather told it to me like this. . . imagine... Hmm, how to say it so you will understand... Imagine the US is the world as we know it. Everything you see here, the lives we all live, all of it.”
She nodded in understanding.
“Now imagine that. . . Europe is purgatory. All the monsters of the world go to live there after they die, yes?”
Again she nodded, not once looking away from the red eyes.
“The shadow world is like the ocean between us. They are the ones who stop the monsters from getting back into our world. The prison guards of the dead world.”
Sarah let out a breath. “So then why are all those people running away from the shadow in the painting?”
He chuckled. “Those are not people. Those are the prisoners running from the guard. Behind the shadow is our world,” he said and nodded with his head at the painting again.
It was only then that Sarah noticed there was more to this work of art. She placed her cup on the table. “May I?” she asked as she stood to get closer
Mr. Takamori nodded and stood to follow her to the artwork.
Once closer, the image behind the dark cloud of grey and black became clearer. An ancient city, with clear Far-Eastern architecture and faded colors, began to reveal itself. Tiny villages, with happy little faces going about their business, green fields, with rolling hills and little huts dotted around the landscape in faded shades of color.
“Why are they made of smoke?” Sarah finally asked, thinking about all the times she saw the dark smoke.
“That is not smoke,” he said as he put his glasses back on. “That is only what we see of them. There is a veil between our world, and theirs. When a shadow person gets close to the veil on their side, we see a dark smoke on our side. Does this make sense?”
“Yes, it does,” she breathed out. “What about the eyes?”
“Ahh, the eyes. The red, scary eyes that give children nightmares.” He laughed. “They are only eyes. The shadow people see through two veils, into three worlds. Their eyes need to be different from ours. There is a legend in Japan, that if you see the red eyes of the shadow, trouble follows. They are a bad omen, to signal that something is loose, and the Shadow Warrior is looking for it.”
“Like what?” Sarah’s body trembled from what he said.
“If the eyes are looking into our world, then something has escaped the prison. It has gotten past the guards and has reached our world. Purgatory is a place for evil creatures, so nothing good ever happens when one gets out.”
“Can the Shadow people hurt us?”
He turned to her with a frown. “No. It is only a fable, Miss Weller. I found this piece of art in a village, and I remembered my grandfather telling me this story, to scare me to behave.”
I think there’s more truth to it than you think. She shook off the unrelenting fear she felt creeping back in. I need to be professional.
She turned to him. “It’s a stunning piece of art, Mr. Takamori.”
He pulled his glasses off his eyes and gave her one last smile. “Not everything that looks scary should be feared. The true monsters... look just like you and me.”
Leaving the lake house with more information than she ever expected, Sarah made her way back towards the city.
A shadow world. Purgatory? Monsters? What the hell am I mixed up in?
Her mind took her back to Axin, standing in the field. He didn’t scare her then. Even though she was confused and a little freaked out at how she got there, the man speaking to her didn’t instill fear in her. Rather curiosity.
They are not evil, Sarah. They are the good guys.
Once she got home, she pulled into a parking spot outside her building and sat in the car, thinking.
So, he really is a Shadow person.
With one last deep breath, she got out of the car and made her way to the apartment. Once inside, she hung her bag and keys on a hook by the door and inched her way into the apartment.
I need to know what the hell Axin wants from me. What truth he was talking about.
She went into the lounge, and with a calming breath, she called, “Axin?”
She waited, watching the corners for any sign of the smoke.
“Axin?” she asked louder.
“What did you expect?” she asked, feeling foolish at her own madness.
The sun was still out, and Sarah had never seen the smoke during the day before. Why would now be any different? If she wanted answers, they would have to wait until later.
She sat down at her computer and began looking up everything she could on the Legend of the Shadow People.