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Authors: Simon Higgins

Moonshadow

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Table of Contents

MOONSHADOW
Eye of the Beast

Simon Higgins

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 

Moonshadow 1: Eye of the Beast

ePub ISBN 9781864714883
Kindle ISBN 9781864717488

A Random House book

Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060
www.randomhouse.com.au

First published by Random House Australia in 2008

Copyright © Simon Higgins 2008

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.

Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at
www.randomhouse.com.au/offices
.

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

Higgins, Simon, 1958–.
Moonshadow: Eye of the beast.

For primary school age.
978 1 74166 283 2 (pbk.).

Spies – Juvenile fiction.
Secret societies – Juvenile fiction

A823.4

Cover and internal illustration by Ari Gibson of The People's Republic of
Animation, except stamp logo by Astred Hicks, Wide Open Media
Cover design by Wide Open Media
Typeset in Goudy by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed and bound by Griffin Press, South Australia

Random House Australia uses papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Alison Goodman
whose stories are so cool

THE FURUBE SUTRA
(the 'Shrugging Off')

Preparation Verse

Gather, tidy and align your doings and their karma

Facing Self Verse

Cleanse any lies made this day, scatter not one grain of life

Verse of One Resolved

To end this path in happiness, make still your mind

THREE LEVELS of THE
EYE OF THE BEAST

1. Beast Sight

To link your mind to a creature and use its senses

2. Dual Sight

To see with your own eyes
and
those of a linked animal

3. Sight-Control

To both see through and command a beast, making it your spy or weapon

ONE
The slaying of
No-Name

Dawn was around two hours away and the moon had finally set.

At the end of the dark corridor, Nanashi sank to one knee. He adjusted the sword on his back, head turning left and right while he steadied his breath. Stretching, he listened. The cool night had silenced the last crickets outside. Now there was not a sound.

The great mansion was silent too and he dared not break its hush before reaching his target. A cold breeze snatched sweat from his forehead and the hollows around his eyes. With it, a smell of stale bean soup from the kitchen found his nose.

He shuffled noiselessly up to the twin sliding screens.

Nanashi drew a small bamboo beaker from a hidden pocket in his black jacket. Easing the cork stopper from the tube, he hunched over one end of the floor slot which held the screens. Nanashi carefully poured water into its runner. As the liquid spread, he silently counted to five.

Tentatively he moved the nearest screen about a hand's width. It glided with a mere whisper. The water had stopped the screen grating noisily against the runners, just as he'd hoped. The time had come. He would not think about the consequences of failure. For clarity, for strength, he would try not to think at all. He set his jaw and tightened the dark head-wrap that hid his smooth face. If he was forced to fight his way out, the guards would live to tell only of his eyes. If he let them live.

Nanashi sighed. But of course. On this mission, the orders were rigid.
Retrieve the documents. Take
no life.
No doubt Mantis had a hand in framing these rules. Him and his views! He'd get them all killed one day with that stuff. Nanashi pictured Mantis's gaunt face, his deep eyes that changed faster than storm clouds crossing the summer sky: one moment they were hard with fierce resolve, the next glowing with a pride that bordered on tenderness. And, in almost every glance, just a hint of the sorrow that drove his strong beliefs. The boy momentarily hung his head. The beliefs that made everything twice as hard!

Nanashi stilled his mind and drew in the chilled pre-dawn air. Though veiled by cloth, his nostrils flared sharply.

Inside a nearby room, perhaps just two walls away, someone was sweating hard. The scent was of either an older man with a bad cold or a young, very fit man filled with tension. Both smelled the same to dogs, wolves and foxes. And to Nanashi.

Training had not given him the heightened sense. It was what Groundspider called 'residue'. Peculiar abilities sometimes lingered in Nanashi after sight-joinings, when he focused his mind on a nearby beast or bird and saw through the creature's eyes. Most of these abilities quickly faded, and he knew that those that stayed could vanish at any time.

He gently opened both sliding doors. With the night-sight his special diet had given him, Nanashi scanned the unfurnished room ahead.

It was rectangular. Plain side walls. Tatami floor . . . all reed matting. A single paper-covered sliding screen door broke the far wall. Still no sign of guards, but the scent of sweat was stronger now. It came from beyond that single door.

He studied the floor of the room ahead.
Strange
little shadows.

The floor was covered with neat, even rows of iron tetsubishi: sharp triple-spiked foot jacks, caltrops whose tips were probably flecked with poison. They were painted a straw-colour to make them blend in with the tatami. Nanashi slid the soft backpack from under the sword on his back and eased a bolt of rough black cloth from it.

Lining up the long axis of the roll carefully with the distant screen door, he leaned into the room and flicked his wrists. The bolt quickly unwound in a straight line down the centre of the tatami. Thinning as it turned, the spool crossed the floor with a faint
hiss
. Nanashi watched it, breath held. It ran out roughly three long strides short of the door. A complex potion smell, with hints of both persimmons and seaweed, escaped from the cloth. Though pungent, Nanashi was glad of its presence. Any spike penetrating the cloth shield would be coated with its dried potion, an antidote for tetsubishi poison.

This was the final door, if old Badger's archives were accurate and unspoiled. One could never be sure. The librarian's monkey had been known to deface his maps and charts in a variety of unseemly ways, and Badger, though he could speak and read in most known languages, was often unwilling to interpret his own charts for others. '
You
work it out, boy,' he'd told Nanashi a hundred times, 'or your lazy brain will dry out like kelp flung on the rocks!'

Nanashi shook his head. Thanks, Badger! Well, last room or not, he couldn't leap quite that far, from cloth to door frame – not at that angle, anyway.

Moving on all fours, Nanashi padded slowly along the strip of cloth, spreading his weight evenly, testing each spot first with light, probing cat steps. As he put more weight on the thick, dense weave of the fabric, it caught and held the points of the surrounding tetsubishi.

He reached the end of the cloth and smoothly drew the sword from its scabbard on his back. Balancing on the edge of the tough weave, Nanashi stretched forward. Using the flat of his sword he gently swept left, then right. With a soft tinkling, tetsubishi were flicked aside. He stood slowly then took a wary step onto the new strip of floor he had cleared, sword held out before him, its tip hovering at throat height. Nanashi squinted at the path ahead, took three quick steps and launched himself for the door.

He cleared the last tetsubishi, landing without sound in a crouch before the paper-covered screen. Nanashi glanced around, sheathed his sword and once again carefully poured water into the floor slot to silence the screen runners. Then he rose to his feet, counting slowly as he redrew his blade. With its tip, he gently slid the door open. His nostrils flared again.

This room, also a rectangle, was not empty like the last. A squat Chinese-style writing desk stood at the far end under a shuttered, bolted window: a desk of stained cedar, a pressed gold hexagram on one side. Just as the plans had promised – the documents must be here.

As always, he studied as much of the room as he could see before entering. No sign of any traps. The sweat smell was so strong here, there had to be a guard, coiled and ready to attack, tucked into one of the closest corners. But which one? And was there only one guard? Faint gnawing sounds came from behind the writing desk. Nanashi smiled as he smelled
rodent
. How helpful! Some scribe had eaten here recently, and a mouse was seeing to the crumbs the maid had failed to notice.

He sank to his knees and rested the sword across his thighs. Staring into the darkness, Nanashi aimed his mind at the source of the noises. His hands trembled momentarily. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes. The gnawing stopped. There was a soft scraping sound. Nanashi grimaced and pinched his nose: the odours in the room were suddenly overpowering.

The mouse crept out from under the desk, whiskered nose twitching fast, tiny twinkling eyes flicking up at the doorway.

As if now seeing through a thin, quivering layer of water, Nanashi saw, as the mouse saw, his waiting nemesis, crouching to one side of the doorway. This was no ordinary guard. The fellow wore a dark cloak and hood. Black unmarked armour showed beneath it. His head turned sharply as if he heard or sensed the mouse's movement. Nanashi's heart began pounding. Inside the enemy's hood glittered a mesh veil. A straight sword hung on his back, assassin-style, but he also carried a hardwood
bo
staff. He was a big man, too.

Nanashi reclaimed his sight from the rodent, forcing his own eyes to open. The usual fleeting moment of confusion jarred him, then he focused on the writing desk ahead. Just as his sharpening vision located the mouse, it looked up then twisted and fled under the desk. An instant later he saw a blur of movement through the doorway, heard the swish of a whirling
bo
.

With blinding speed the strange guard sprung into view, swinging one end of his staff at Nanashi's head.

Nanashi ducked then tumbled, brushing past the guard's leg and into the last room. He twisted his spine and swung a cut at the fellow's legs as he passed, but the
bo
dropped hard and fast out of nowhere to block the blade, which bit deeply into its wood. Wrenching his sword free, Nanashi bounded to his feet near the writing desk, whirling to face his enemy. The attacker dashed across the room, spinning his staff and moving quickly for one so large. Nanashi shuddered.

His opponent bore down on him. The hardwood staff sang through the air, closing horizontally with his neck. Nanashi parried upwards with the flat of his sword, darted in closer and aimed a powerful angular cut at the staff itself.

There was a dense splitting-tearing sound, then the
bo
clunked to the floor as two midget staffs. The large guard spun in a circle as he drew the sword from his back with startling fluidity. Raising it in a two-handed grip, he started closing the distance between himself and his target at alarming speed, sword whistling as it arced in the air above him, tip poised to fly like lightning at Nanashi's forehead.

Without thought, Nanashi prepared for the response he knew best of all. A crafty set of moves, practised a thousand times until they had become part of him.

Turning one shoulder to the oncoming threat, Nanashi took up a low stance and faced an empty spot off to his opponent's side, daring the foe to take advantage of his awkward position. Only his eyes remained on course, locked straight ahead, judging the scant moments left before the attacker was close enough to strike.

Suddenly he was.

Nanashi rose fast, turning to face him head-on and pouncing forward. The sudden turn and the change in both height and distance all combined to ruin the guard's timing. Before the man could slice downwards, Nanashi's sword glided up into a fast, hard cut aimed at his raised forearms.

The blade bit home, folded steel grinding against concealed gauntlets. Focusing his balance and energy, Nanashi pushed with a muted grunt, forcing his opponent one step back. One step would be enough. Keeping pressure on the enemy's gauntlets until the last second, Nanashi whipped his blade back, then drove a powerful vertical cut at the man's cloaked shoulder. A riskier target than his head, but the orders were
take no life.

The guard hoisted his sword into a strong block, but was a shade too slow to meet the incoming slice. There was a muffled
clang
, a sound of tearing cloth. Nanashi's blade glanced off the man's shoulder, slicing open his cloak to reveal armour before flailing off to one side. Seizing his scant chance, the guard turned his sword and lunged, blade leading the stretch of his long arms.

Suddenly the cold flat of its steel pressed at Nanashi's sweaty neck. He froze, lowering his sword.

'Next time you will die, in such a place, such a moment.'

The guard's voice was muffled, but his baiting tone was clear enough. The armoured giant sheathed his weapon then peeled off his cloak and plain black helmet. 'Yes, it
is
me. Did you understand, Nanashi? You should have been slain. Right here. Just now.'

From somewhere outside the mansion, a cock crowed.

Nanashi sheathed his sword and untied his black head-wrap. It was soaked with sweat and as it fell away the cold night air stung his skin.

Groundspider, alias the guard, eyed Nanashi with his ironic smile. His clean-shaven, aloof mouth twisted. 'Cheer up! You're really fast now with that move, you know that?'

'Fast,' Nanashi slapped his own neck, 'but
dead
. So what use is that speed?'

'Look, it's not my place to explain . . .' Groundspider shoved him affectionately, '. . . but
relax
, kid!' He broke into a grin. 'Always so serious! When are you going to become more like me? About to live or about to die, I still don't let anything worry me.' Nanashi heard a familiar ring of mockery in Groundspider's voice. It was partly aimed at Nanashi, but partly at himself.

Despite his nervous sense of anticipation, the boy cracked a reluctant smile in return. Though Groundspider's official role was to be Nanashi's sparring partner and to teach him the use of exotic, compact weapons such as throwing knives and smoke bombs, the big fellow often assumed the role of his entertainer, too. It came to him naturally. Hence he excelled at playing extroverted roles in the field, disguising himself as the cocky, gregarious silk merchant or the loud, buffoonish labourer. He was always the first to find the humour in things, to make light of disasters, even to poke fun at his own limitations.

BOOK: Moonshadow
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