[X]She had the impression she was the only one who was taking this war seriously. All the other youkai thought of it as a mere game. But war does not work like that. Those Lunarians are fighting to protect their home, whereas most of the youkai only were in for the fight. And that could make the difference.
Konka remained silent for a few seconds. She had the feeling that what she was going to say was going to offend her friend, considering the conversation they had at the crater minutes before. While she was searching for the right words to soften the blow, the woman took a third sip from her plate. Although she prefered her sake colder, she enjoyed the fruity yet acidic flavor of the drink, and the cool, stinging aftertaste tingling on her throat.
"This is some good stuff you had stashed, Seita," Konka commented. "Where did you get this?"
"Oh, that. Remember when we were on our way to the lake and we came across the tengu parade?"
When the Witch of the Boundaries summoned all the youkai to take part in the Lunar Invasion, many heeded her call. The Myouou clan planned to regroup with other oni tribes at the Misty Lake, but when they arrived, they found out that some tengu families had already set their camps there, waiting for other tengu to join. This led to a series of misunderstandings and confusions that, added with the usual rowdiness of the oni and the thrill of battle that had been building for a while, ended up in a massive scuffle. Tengu and oni attacked each other with punches, kicks, swords, hammers, magic, gourds, basins and everything they got, and both sides got so riled up they got to the point they couldn't tell friends from foes anymore. Many youkai ended up with several injuries even before the real war even started - Konka considered herself particulary lucky for avoiding being wounded in that fight.
"Yeah, that was nasty," said Konka, recalling that incident. "But quite fun, nonetheless. Seldom we have the chance to engage in a battle royale with the best tengu warriors of the land."
"You can say that again," chuckled the oni. "And once you get to know them, they turn out to be excellent drinking buddies."
Even so, the hurting was nothing the youkai's physical abilities couldn't withstand. Just as quickly as bones mended and cuts closed, bad blood gave way to camaderie, and later that night, everybody was already drinking and partying loudly like they were old friends.
"So you stole the bottle of sake in the middle of the fight while everybody else was busy?" asked Konka.
"Aw hell naw! I'd never stoop so low!" Seita frowned, disgusted at the mere thought. "No, I won this in a fair match against Tenma."
"I see... wait, against Tenma? That Tenma?" the woman blurted in disbelief.
"Eeyup," he nodded. "When I barged at Sojobo's tent, she jumped out of nowhere and went directly for my neck! But luckily I managed to put my club between me and her knife," he waved his arms, trying to reenact the scene. "Pushing her away was easy, but she didn't give up, and tried to slice me again, that pesky persistent crow."
"Uh-huh," Konka was already too enthralled with Seita's story to remember why she brought it up in the first place.
"We went at it for a long time, while the rest of you took the skirmish elsewhere. I had reach and strength, but she had skill and endurance. We were still trying to kill each other when they came to tell us the misunderstandings were cleared and that we had to stop fighting."
"That explains it! I was searching for you all the time, but I couldn't find you," commented Konka.
"Were you? I'm sorry... but yeah, I was kinda busy trying not to get beheaded."
"So that's it? You stopped fighting and joined the party like nothing happened?"
"No, neither of us wanted to leave our duel unfinished. Not without a clear winner," he shook his head. "So we continued our little quarrel at her hut."
Konka already guessed how it ended up, but she was too curious not to ask him nonetheless.
"Let's just say I had reach and strength, and she had skill and endurance."
Seita's smirk was all Konka needed to confirm her suspicions. Still, imagining the stern and composed Tenma going wildly at it with the balmy and rowdy Seita was a rather bizarre and zany mental picture for the woman.
"But who won in the end?" she asked, trying to get that image out of her head.
"We decided to call it a tie after nine rounds," he chuckled. "And we changed liquors as a token of our consumated rivalry and friendship."
"So this is a personal gift from Tenma?" Konka finished her plate and picked the gourd again.
"A special brand of sake, flavored with cherry petals. Only the tengu know the recipe, or so she told me," nodded Seita. "Pour me some, please."
"Then it must be a very rare brew," the woman took a second plate, poured the rest of the bottle on it and gave it to the oni. "Now I feel bad about drinking it."
"Don't be. Drinking alone is so sad and boring! Sake is best enjoyed with buddies," Seita took a long sip. "I prefer my booze drier and stronger, though."
"Shouldn't you save it for when you have another 'quarrel' with Tenma, then?"
"I could, yeah. But..." he took another sip. "A fine liquor like this is better suited for a finer person. Like you."
"Wow, you're a real charmer, you know that?" Konka smirked, already used to Seita's flattering. "Did you use a similar pick-up line with her too?"
"Nope. My ass is for any pretty girl, but I save my wit only for the dearest of my friends."
Seita grinned at Konka and gave her a sly look, and she raised her eyebrows in mockery. They stared at each other for two long seconds, and suddenly they bursted out laughing loudly in unison.
"Okay, that- that was corny as hell," Konka said, still chuckling.
"See? This is the kind of laughs I can't get with anybody else. Tenma might be a good companion for a night, but you're much more fun to hang around with," Seita raised his plate to his friend.
"I'm flattered," the woman mimicked the oni. "Well, I'm glad at least one of us is enjoying his time."
"What? You don't find my company pleasant enough? Aw, that's cold, Konka," he put a hand over his chest, pretending to be hurt by her comment.
"No, no, it's not that. It's..." the woman sighed, knowing that she was about to break the good mood again. "This war is not like all these merry fights we're toasting over. How... how can you be enjoying them? What fun do you see in killing rabbit people?"
"I believe we already had this conversation a few minutes ago," he pointed out.
"I wanted to ask you then, but we were in a hurry."
"I see. Well, I enjoy this war because it's just another fight for me."
Seita answered the question like it was obvious. This left Konka dumbfounded, who could not believe what the oni said so non-chalantly.
"This war is completely different! It has nothing to do with our battles back at Earth! It's bound up with hatred, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, sadistic pleasure-"
"I still can't see the difference," Seita shrugged. "We act like that with every adversary, as far as I recall."
"The difference lies in that the Lunarians don't think this is a goddamned game!" Konka snapped. "They won't be forgiving like the rest of our opponents, because we're invading and defiling their homeland. They have a good reason to kill and die for, unlike us. The Lunarians will certainly not sit at the table and drink tea with us after we get bored of fighting. No, this war will be over only when we retreat, or when they get annihilated."
"Then so be it."
"Look, Konka, I don't know why the Lunarians are against us, and I couldn't care less," Seita spoke in a cold tone completely unfit of him. "The only thing that matters to me is that they're our enemies. And anybody who gets in my way will be crushed under my club."
"I fight because it's in my blood, in my nature. I want to prove myself better than my adversaries. When I fight someone, I feel the urge to break their ribs wide open, plunge my hands into his chest, rip out his heart and show it to him while he draws his last breath," Seita clutched his free hand, squeezing an imaginary heart. "That's total victory for me, and I strive for no less. I don't want to simply defeat my enemies in combat. I want to crush their wills, their hopes, their dreams. I want to dominate them, and conquer their souls."
Konka looked at Seiga in utter disgust and disbelief. It wasn't the first time she saw the oni having a fit of sadistic brutality, but she couldn't get used to see his normally gentle friend speaking like that.
"Okay, that part was played up a lot," conceded the oni, trying to calm the woman down. "I know you're asking this because you believe we need a just cause to fight a war, and you don't think ours is. And I admit it, it isn't. I for one just want to do what I do best, and that's fighting. I love it, and that's a good enough reason for me."
"...Do you all of you youkai think the same way?" asked Konka, disheartened.
"Most of us do, I'd say."
Konka remained in silence, thinking about everything Seita told her. She opened her mouth about to say something, and closed it when she couldn't find the words. She repeated this for a couple of times before she finally spoke:
"Gah, who am I kidding? Look at me, critizing all of you for not having a good enough reason to be at war, when I don't have any at all," she sighed.
"Weren't fighting to know more about Lunarians?" asked Seita.
"I pondered about that and... it doesn't make much sense," Konka shook her head. "I'd love to see by myself if the legends are true, but at the same time I'm killing the only ones who know the truth behind the rumours. That isn't logical, is it?"
Seita shrugged, not being an oni who followed logic with much frequency.
"I thought I had it all together, you know. That if I believed I was doing the right thing, everything would sort itself out someway or another," the woman sighed. "Now I just look around and realize, I'm a mess. I don't know what's right or what's wrong. I don't know why I do things anymore."
"You don't have to."
"I believe you're worrying too much about all this," said Seita. "So what if you don't have a good reason to go to war? Maybe your cause lies in the battlefield, not outside."
"So you're telling me I should kill people to find a reason to kill people? That makes even less sense!" exclaimed Konka, exasperated.
"But you're forgetting one basic thing here, Konka," Seita raised a finger.
"What is it?"
"War is not about fighting for your cause. It's about making the other bastards die for theirs."
It was the kind of answer she expected from him, Konka thought while she nodded slowly, but it was a good advice nonetheless. Confidence in her own motives helped, but they didn't necessarily ensure victory in a fight. A battle was ultimately decided on "The Three S", as she liked to call: Strength, Skill and Strategy. In the heat of battle, honor was discarded and causes were forgotten; all they ever needed to fight was a little hot blood and the knowledge that it was more dangerous to lose than to win. And Konka had both of those at spades.
Beyond the mirages and the shadows, there lies the true face of the moon. Beyond your fears and doubts, there lies what you are searching for.
It didn't matter if she didn't believe her reasons were 'just' or not. She had a clear goal in mind - learning the truth about the Lunarians - and she had every intention in the world to fulfill it. Even if her path was clouded in fears and doubts, she'd cut through the fog and charge forward until she could see the light again, until she reached the true face of the moon. That was the oni way of dealing with problems, the way she was taught, and the way that always worked for her.
"Yeah, you may be right. I might be fretting too much over this," Konka finally said. "I'll just go there, do my thing, and live to tell the tale."
"Atta girl!" Seita smiled and patted Konka's shoulder. "Now that your moral dilemma is finally solved, let's celebrate it with another bottle!"
"Sorry, but I can't stay longer. The meeting with Lady Yakumo is about to start."
Konka didn't know exactly how much time she spent at her friend's tent, but she deemed it sensible not to arrive late at two consecutive reunions the same day.
"Oh, that's too bad. Guess I'll save it for after the battle, then," Seita took the gourd of sake, plugged the cap back and hid it again under his hammock. "And I suppose I should be getting ready myself too."
"Yeah, wouldn't want to keep our boss waiting," she said as she stood up. "Now he's one guy I don't want to face, with or without good causes."
"You tell me!" laughed the oni.
"Well, I'll bid my leave now. Thanks for your council and company, Seita."
"Anytime, dearest of my friends. Oh, and..."
Konka was about to leave the tent, but she stopped when Seita called her.
The oni brought his fist clenched to Konka, in a sign she knew too well.
"Give'em hell, Konkara!"
The woman corresponded the move and pumped his fist with her own, chuckling.
"You be careful out there, too."
And with that, the woman left the oni's tent, feeling a bit more reassured and confident than when she got in. Although she got used to the stink of whatever Seita's was smoking, Konka appreciated the fresh air as she got out. However, the stink was lingering on her clothes, and her breath reeked of alcohol. The thought of running to her tent and preening herself crossed her mind, but she doubted she had any time left for that. In the end...
She decided to go back to her tent and tidy herself up. Showing up reeking of smoke and alcohol was a bad idea - she had to look presentable at the very least.
She decided to rush to the reunion. She already arrived late at one today - she couldn't afford to miss another.
This update arrived later than usual, because of Easter, b-day, exams and a small writer block. The firsts drafts of this update turned out too angsty, and it's still too soon to make this grimdark. I think I managed to cut it down a few notches, but I still have the feeling I didn't do a too good job...