"So, you had to soak nightshade, lilac, and blackberries in water mixed with honey and then leave it under the noon sun until the mixture turned gold?"
"The potion worked perfectly."
"Perfectly how, may I ask? I presume it didn't give the poor child the stomach ache of a lifetime?"
"Certainly not! It gave her the ability to speak to dogs!"
"To dogs?" Tomoko asked with a laugh.
"Take it from me, Tomoko, this child will revolutionize the field of veterinary science!"
"Provided her parents don't think she's possessed!"
"Not this little one. She knows better. And she will be a friend to all canines, the most loyal of creatures. Except, perhaps, for bats," Ladahord added, tipping his friend a wink.
"And I thought the potion you told me about last month was your most creative work. What was in that one again? Bark from a willow tree and a strand of a horse's mane?"
"A strand from a wild horses's mane. Given willingly, I might add." Ladahlord chuckled. "I spent nearly an hour trying to convince that stallion I wanted a single strand, not his whole mane. Huh, his dam didn't call him Diablo for nothing!"
"Diablo?" Tomoko asked.
"It's Spanish for "devil." And believe me, that was a name well-given!"
"Hmmm," Tomoko mused. He leaned back against the grassy knoll where he and Ladahlord were sitting. His wings spread slightly, circling the demon as he glanced up at the full moon. "I thought you said the wild horses were in the American west."
"Oh yes. But their ancestors were brought from Spain and escaped into the mountains and plains to form wild herds."
"Ahh." Tomoko looked up at the moon. "Is Spain a nice place?"
"It can be lovely. But I am partial to England myself."
"Yes, you mentioned that before," Tomoko mused. "That's where you are from, correct?"
"Yes, my brother and I."
"Brother?" Tomoko turned to face Ladahlord fully. "You have a brother?"
Ladahlord chuckled. "Well, in a matter of speaking. The two of came into the world together. Don't ask me how or when, I don't remember. But whereas I have chosen to the roam the world and give magical aid to those who need it, my brother usually stays in one place for a set period of time. Throughout the course of history, he's been a painter, a philosopher, a musician, even a healer."
"What is he doing now, this brother of yours? And what's his name?"
"His true name he prefers to keep a secret. He takes on a new identity when he changes his profession." Ladahlord laughed. "As of now, he's back in England and a candy maker of all things! I believe he has taken the name of Willy."
"Would I be able to meet him?"
"Come to England with me. I'll introduce you."
Tomoko fell silent, turning his eyes back to the full moon. "Would that I could now, my friend," the demon said. "But for now, my place is here with my family."
Ladahlord titled his head at his friend. "You know, Tomoko, I never got the sense that you were particularly happy here in Japan."
Tomoko remained silent, not looking back at his friend. Ladahlord continued. "I have no doubt that you love your family and I know they love you back. But the life you've been leading doesn't seem to suit you."
The bat demon sighed. "Ever since I can remember, I knew my role would be to rule alongside my brother as a leader to the Kuroski bat demons. But Takashi is the one meant to be the next Lord. He... he has something to him I don't." Tomoko closed his eyes as he spoke. "We of the Kurosaki bat demons are famed for being the demons none would dare cross. Why, my father's reputation alone has kept rival demons at bay for over fifty years and Takashi is just as fierce. But I...." Tomoko's voice trailed off.
"You feel you lack the fierce temper and rage that your father and brother can display at a moment's notice?"
"Yes. I can understand fighting to defend my home and my loved ones; I've done it before. But when it comes to an unfamiliar face, well.... I don't see the point in baring my fangs and demanding to know their business."
"As memory serves, that's what led to us being friends."
"Exactly! And I am glad we are friends!"
"As am I. Yet, I remember you mentioning that your father has made it clear that those who live on his territory are free to come to him with any concerns or grievances, correct?"
"That is so. Humans and demons alike, should they so choose."
"Forgive me, but it seems like having the reputation of being fierce demons while encouraging people to come talk to him would hinder your father and brother more than help them."
"It's not just my father and brother, Ladahlord. So many demons build up a reputation of being so strong and vicious that no one dares approach them!" Tomoko shook his head. "Think of how many friendships aren't formed because of that. How much mistrust has been sown not just between other demons, but between demons and humans." Tomoko shook his head. "I just don't see the wisdom in threatening potential allies to the point where you end up becoming enemies."
"Nor do I. Have you spoken with your family about all this, Tomoko?"
"Once. To my father."
Tomoko drew his knees to his chest, resting his elbows on them. Folding his hands, the demon stared ahead of him as he recalled the memory.
"I remember being quite young, probably only thirteen. I asked my father if I could speak to him in private. When we were alone, I asked him if he was bothered about being regarded as one of the most vicious demons to have ever lived. I told him we probably wouldn't have many allies if people were too scared to approach him."
"What did he say?"
"For a long while, Father didn't say anything; he just looked at me. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and gave me the most serious expression I had ever seen. Father told me that while I wasn't wrong to feel the way I did, there was a good reason why the Kurosaki family had built up such a fierce reputation." Tomoko glanced back at the sky. "Father told me that because so many were afraid to cross him, our territory was one of the safest places in all of Japan to live. The demons who lived there didn't dare break his laws and as such, the few human villages that had cropped up around our homeland could prosper in peace. And if peace was bought with fear that crossing him would yield deadly consequences, he was happy to pay that price."
Tomoko paused, his brow furrowing. "What I remember most about that conversation was the way my father looked at me. His face was serious, but his eyes.... when they met mine, they were so full of sadness. I think...." Tomoko's voice trailed off.
"You think he knew that you lacked what some might call the demon's true nature?"
"Yes. And he wasn't the only one. More than once, I've heard the other bat demons whisper how I would've been better suited to a monk's lifestyle." Tomoko shook his head, making his fawn-colored bangs dance over his brow. "I know my father loves me; I've never doubted that. But I also know that Father far prefers Takashi as an heir over me."
"Tomoko," Ladahlord murmured. The bat demon shook his head, smiling sadly.
"Don't mind me, my friend. As I've said, I've had my family's love."
"But not their full approval for the person you are."
Ladahlord reached over and placed a hand on Tomoko's shoulder. The demon glanced over and smiled at the sorcerer, nodding in thanks. Together, the two of them watched as the moon cast its radiance over the field.
"You've been out again."
Tomoko turned to see Takashi in his bedroom doorway. The elder demon was watching his brother.
"Yes, Takashi, I have," Tomoko answered, securing his night robe.
"Ladahlord the sorcerer. You remember him?"
"I remember," Takashi answered stiffly. "But I don't see why you've felt it necessary to meet with him for the last five moons."
"Because he's my friend, Takashi."
"Friend?" Takashi frowned, tilting his head at his brother. "You consider the sorcerer a friend?"
"What about the rest of us?"
"The rest of us?" Tomoko sat down on his sleeping mat and picked up a small polished stone.
"Your friends among the bat demons here. Your own people."
"You?" Tomoko ran the stone over his claws, honing them to razor points.
Takashi clenched his jaw. "Yes."
"Takashi," Tomoko began gently.
"Tomoko, I urge you to remember that the sorcerer, while a good man, is not one of us and-"
"And he's not my brother," Tomoko finished as he set his stone aside. Rising to his feet, Tomoko approached his older brother. "But you are, Takashi, and that won't change."
"Tomoko." Takashi's eyes softened and he reached out to grasp his brother's shoulder. "I-"
"I know, Takashi," Tomoko said, laying his hand over his brother's. "I know."