Yamada Monogatari: The War God’s Son by Richard Parks
Yamada is back!
The Abe clan and its allies are in full rebellion. When the Emperor's greatest military leader, Yoshiie, is targeted for assassination by magic, it is up to the newly sober Lord Yamada and his exorcist associate Kenji to keep the young man alive long enough to put down the uprising before the entire country is consumed by war. Yamada knows how to deal with demons, monsters, and angry ghosts, but the greatest threat of all is one final assassin, hidden in a place where no one—especially Lord Yamada—would ever think to look.
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Excerpt from Chapter One:
There were three of them standing near the foot of the bridge that joined what had been Kuon Temple to the shore of a mountain lake. They looked almost human, but there was a slight shimmer in their outlines that spoke of their tenuous connection to this world. The temple itself had been abandoned for nearly a hundred years, but the bridge was of stone, and so had not quite fallen to ruin. Kenji and I had spent four days tracking our quarry, and I was feeling a bit impressed with myself for finally running him to ground, but that was before I saw the creatures waiting for us.
Shikigami. Of course.
Now I not only knew who the culprit was but how he had made his attempts on Lord Mikoto’s life, twice entering locked gates and guarded rooms. We were dealing with an onmyoji, a magician of some skill. Dolt that I was, if the assassin had managed a third attempt, chances were that my client would already be dead.
“Shikigami,” Kenji said, and he sighed. “I really do detest those things, Lord Yamada.”
The priest, like myself, was badly in need of a shave and a bath, though he had the added disadvantage of a stubbly head that by rights should be clean-shaven. Still, four days of rough pursuit in the mountains north of Kyoto hadn’t allowed for even the bare minimum of hygiene.
“It does explain a lot, though the fact our quarry has studied Chinese yin-yang magic surprises me.”
“Any more such surprises and we may turn out to be the quarry,” Kenji said dryly. “What do you think? A strategic withdrawal?”
“I think turning our backs to these creatures would be a serious mistake. Besides, it would have been easy enough for their master to arrange a potentially far more effective ambush farther along the path, and yet they meet us openly at the bridge.”
“So you believe their purpose is primarily to delay us, assuming they cannot kill us outright?”
“Their master knows, if he did not before, that he is being tracked. Right now there are three of the creatures. Give their master enough leisure and there will be dozens.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.” Kenji took a firmer grip upon his staff as I drew my tachi. “If there’s no help for it, let’s go,” he said.
We crossed the bridge at a quick trot. We had one advantage—the shikigami were armed only with clubs rather than swords, but I had dealt with enough of their kind to know better than to underestimate them. Yet as we got closer, the creatures’ human appearance grew even more tenuous. They might fool anyone at sufficient distance, but closer than a bowshot no one would mistake them for people. Frankly, I had seen far better work.
Almost carelessly done. Or perhaps hastily?
I didn’t have time to ponder meanings, for in a moment we were on them. Or it might be fairer to say they were on us...
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