Disclaimer: I own nothing, this is just a little fantasy my mind took off on.

The court at the Emperor's Palace was in full swing, and courtiers revolved around the room in an intricate dance with the Emperor himself at its center. Courtesans flirted with nobles, and samurai looked on with impassive masks for faces. All was lively and entertaining with the feeling of a silk robe covering a sword: as long as you were polite, the blade would not be felt. If you were rude, the social blade would cut you in two and leave you bleeding. No one wanted to risk being cut out of the rest of society like a cancerous growth, so all behaved properly as the Emperor wished.

The Emperor startled everyone in the Hall by suddenly rising to his feet, causing everyone to bow. He was staring at a man who had been relating tales of the northwest, and the look of surprise and interest on the Emperor's face made everyone worry. His plot to kill a forest spirit had turned up nothing, so what was he thinking now?

"Tell me more, Jigo," the Emperor said, re-taking his seat. "You could not find the Shishigami, but what is this princess you speak of?"

The monk smiled and leaned in more closely. "They called her Mononoke, sire, and she is a young woman of fierce beauty. She is as wild as the beasts themselves, and they obey her. She is known to leave the woods only at night or during sunrise, and the birds sing to her on command."

The Emperor's eyes lit with fire. "Is she a Mononoke?" he asked, meaning a spirit.

"No, but they call her their princess. For all that I could tell when I saw her, she was human."

The Emperor's eyes burned more brightly as they began to be consumed with a greedy flame. "Jigo, I want you to bring her here."

"As Your Majesty commands, so shall I do," Jigo said, bowing low.


San was crouched in the underbrush, enjoying a game of hide-and-seek with her brothers. Despite what some had thought, the Forest Spirit's death had not reduced the animals to dumb beasts but had left them with their speech. It was the first time since Moro's death that they had been willing to play as they had done while they'd been pups, and San was glad of it. It showed that they were beginning to be happy again.

A large, cold, wet nose pressed against the back of her neck, and San jumped up, startled.

"I found you, San," Taro said, grinning.

"Your turn to seek," said Jiro. "After this, we'll hunt!"

San smiled and nodded. "All right," she said, turning to face a tree and pressing her face against the bark. "I'm hiding my eyes, so you'd better hurry up and disappear!"

She heard them go with hardly a whisper of leaves and smiled. They were good at this game.

"SAN! HUMANS!" she heard a few moments later. Whirling away from the tree, she ran off after her brothers, using her nose when she couldn't see them. They continued calling, and she caught up to them on a small rise where they could look down into a gulley that housed a human camp.

"Why are humans camped out in the forest?" Jiro asked, perplexed. "They have Iron Town."

"I don't think they're any of the humans from Iron Town," San said, looking carefully at the tents. "They look like warriors."

"Why are they here?" Taro asked.

"I don't know," San admitted. "But we should stay out of sight until they're gone. Come on."

San turned away and led her brothers into the trees, blending in silently with the forest.

Author's Note:

Taro and Jiro are two Japanese names, meaning 1st born male and 2nd born male.