Hello and welcome to FanFiAddict’s stop on the book tour for Virginia McClain’s Sairō’s Claw. We want to thank Justine & Timy @ Storytellers on Tour for letting us be involved, and a big shoutout to Virginia on her newest release.
Below, you will find information on the book and author, an extended excerpt, and links so you can grab yourself a copy.
Make sure to check out the rest of the tour by hitting up the schedule link here!
Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain
Series: Gensokai Kaigai (#1), Chronicles of Gensokai (#3)
Published: May 7, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Action-Adventure, LGBTQ, Seafaring Adventure Fantasy, Samurai-inspired Fantasy
An action-adventure fantasy romp featuring sword lesbians, sea battles, and a grumpy wolf spirit.
Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.
In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions.
As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept.
10日 5月,新議 8年
10th Day, 5th Moon, Cycle 8 of the New Council
“This report is most enlightening, Raku-san.”
Raku bowed, her head touching the tatami that still smelled of whatever citrus mix had been used to clean it recently. She expected nothing less from the New Council receiving room, but it still made her nose wrinkle slightly.
“You must inform me the moment you learn anything more along these lines,” Tsuku insisted. Raku frowned, even as she brought her head up.
“You wish to hear from me in less than a moon?” she asked. Of course, she enjoyed feeling like her work was appreciated, but delivering paperwork to New Council City more than once every three tendays seemed excessive, even to her.
“If you learn anything else about these agreements, then yes.”
Raku said nothing for a moment and the grey-haired woman on the dais in front of her, composed and graceful as always, smiled and added, “If it is more convenient, you may send your next missive by hawk.”
Now Raku raised an eyebrow. Of course it would be more convenient. It would also, under normal circumstances, be considered a waste of the hawk’s time, regardless of the days of travel it would save her.
“I was not expecting these reports to incite so much curiosity, Tsuku-sama,” she said, choosing her words carefully.
Tsuku smiled again, never glancing at the guards who stood beside the doors in the otherwise empty chamber, but somehow Raku understood that the missing gesture was intentional. She had been working with Tsuku for a long time, after all.
“The people have gone a very long time without a proper account of their own history. I consider it of primary importance that we share as much of the truth as we can confirm without delay.”
Raku said nothing. She knew that Tsuku was indeed interested in the history that the Rōjū had hidden for so long—she wouldn’t have a job still, otherwise. After all, the work she had done to help depose the Rōjū was no longer needed, and if the New Council had been more interested in burying the truth than uncovering it, she would not have found herself so gainfully employed in the secret archives that had been uncovered seven cycles ago.
But Tsuku’s urgency suggested something else was afoot, and her reluctance to speak of it openly meant there was someone who disapproved, someone high enough up for Tsuku to be concerned about spies in the receiving room.
Raku bowed again.
“I’ll be sure to send word as soon as I find anything else on the subject.”
And then she stood and turned to leave the room.
She walked out of the enormous complex that housed the New Council and all of their offices, through the expansive gardens that surrounded the compound, over the bridges that connected the gardens to the main roads in the city, and resisted the urge to check her pockets or her satchel before reaching her horse. In fact, it was only when she was all the way home in her woodland cave, the one that Taka and Kusuko had gifted to her and Torako five cycles prior, that she finally reassured herself that all nine of the scrolls she had taken from the archives the morning of her interview were present.
She was almost unsurprised to find that the one she’d been reporting to Tsuku-san about, the only one that had been in her satchel overnight in New Council City, was missing.
1日 6月,新議 8年
1st Day, 6th Moon, Cycle 8 of the New Council
Kaiyo looked into the rolling mists and ran the small, owl-topped seal through her fingers, tipping it absently over one knuckle at a time. The combination of sea air and cloud cover left a tangy moisture on her tongue that she might normally have savored, but today she ignored it. Instead, she focused the entirety of her attention on listening—beyond the creaking of the deck beneath her feet, beyond the bare whisper of her crew relaying hand signals up and down the afterdeck—straining to hear the enemy before they heard her. Hoping that in doing so, she might live long enough to regret having volunteered herself and her crew for close patrol that morning.
The near-silence across the water stretched on, the fog muffling the soft sound of sails bending to the wind, gentling the already quiet slap of waves reprimanding the hull of the Wind Serpent. And well they might, for their scouts hadn’t reported enemies within sight of the close patrol circuit in cycles. The most exciting part of this patrol should have been redirecting wayward fishermen from the mainland. Of course it would be on her watch that they’d sight another sail through the fog. Far too large to be a fishing vessel, and not the faded blue of a Kaigun ship either, as she’d known the moment her lookout had called the word sail—all of her ships were accounted for.
The stillness drew out like the tide and her whole crew held ready, the only motion the silent tip of her stone owl between her fingers, a motion she could not suppress, the only thing keeping her from screaming.
Kaiyo’s hand stilled as she caught the faint sound of… something… muffled by the wind, the fog, and the waves lapping against the hull. She strained to hear, wondering if it had only been her imagination, and then the silence was shattered utterly by the unmistakable, terror-inducing crack of cannon fire.
“DOWN!” she cried, silently cursing whatever ill luck had put her ship in the path of an enemy armed with cannons.
A great splash of seawater coated everyone on the Wind Serpent’s deck, but the shot was low, falling far short of the ship’s hull. Kaiyo and her crew were in motion the moment they realized they were not dead.
“STORMCALLERS!” she cried, pulling herself to her feet and tucking the small, owl-topped hanko into her pocket even as she reached for the dagger on her belt. She hoped they were a long way off from daggers and close combat, but her crew approved of a bit of dramatic flair, and she would do whatever she could to focus them on the thrill of battle rather than the terror of cannon fire.
“Ready!” she called out, thrusting her dagger into the air for emphasis. She listened closely for the sound of the hatches sliding open on their spring-loaded tracks, transforming her ship from a seemingly toothless sloop to its true thirty-gunned glory.
“Aim!” she called next, wishing she could see the look of surprise on the approaching captain’s face as the guns were run out of their hatches faster than should have been possible.
“Fire!” she screamed, releasing the brunt of a full broadside on the massive ship that loomed above the Wind Serpent in the swiftly shifting fog.
The guns cracked out as her crew timed their shots to the roll of the surf, and Kaiyo cursed whichever gaijin had invented the blasted things. They were as loud as they were devastating, and she wished they had never come into existence. But when the ships their patrols encountered had started carrying them, the Kaigun had had no choice but to adopt them too. Raiko could devastate any ship, cannon or no, but if one hoped to convince the enemy to surrender rather than merely die, one had to outgun them.
Which was precisely what Kaiyo planned to do.
“Run us home, raikotachi!” she called, brandishing her dagger in the air and pointing it towards Kaigunjima. “Let’s see how well these gaijin like the answers they’re looking for.”
Raku pushed her hair from her face and then frowned as the scent of ink grew sharper and her skin tightened ever so slightly in a line just above her nose.
“Kami curse it,” she muttered, reaching for the damp rag she kept on her lap desk. She wiped at her face and had to hope that she got it all. She didn’t have time to go searching through their trunk to find the sole looking glass that Itachi hadn’t managed to find and shatter in her toddler days.
She wiped her fingers thoroughly, in hopes of preventing any more smudges on her face, and then she took up her brush again and refocused on the characters in the ancient text that she’d been puzzling over for half the morning. She hadn’t added any new strokes to the crisp parchment pinned under her right wrist recently, but she was poised to do so anyway as she glared at the faded, crumbling parchment to her left and willed it to make some kind of sense to her.
“Out… outer… outside?”
The characters in the scroll, which she was doing her best not to touch, for fear she would destroy it, were archaic at best. It had been almost a thousand cycles since they’d been handled by a human, let alone since the time they were written, and Gensokan had changed quite a bit in that time. But the word she was stuck on wasn’t just an archaic version of a word she knew, as most of these characters wound up being, it was something else altogether.
“Outside sea? What does that even mean? On land? But that doesn’t make sense with the rest of this sentence, ‘We agree to open trade with the following outside sea lands,’ no… ‘on land lands’ no, that’s stupid, why would they use land twice? Ugh… Kami take this forsaken scroll! Why did ancient people talk in circles?”
“Raku-san? Are you there?”
Raku’s head shot up at the sound of a familiar voice on the far side of the leather blanket that served as a door.
“Coming!” she called, as she carefully returned the lid to her inkpot and wiped her hands on the rag once more. She didn’t think anyone would be surprised to see her covered in ink, but she liked to at least attempt to look presentable. She’d used to be able to work with ink all day and still keep her clothes unblemished and her face clear of even the slightest smudge, but somehow that had changed since having a child, and she wasn’t even certain how. Itachi wasn’t even here. How her mere existence led to Raku being an ink-covered mess was something she’d never understand. Perhaps it had to do with the tiny ball of energy always occupying some portion of her mind. Perhaps it was the same part of her mind that usually kept track of whether or not her fingertips were stained.
Ignoring that largely useless train of thought, she stood and headed to the door, such as it was, and pulled the flap aside to allow the bright summer sun into her small cave. Why had she not opened the flap as soon as the sun was up in full? She frowned, wondering when she’d become as distractible as Torako, but then her eyes focused on the faces of the two people standing outside her door and the edges of the frown reversed direction.
Of course, “people“ was perhaps not the most accurate term for the pair that stood before her. Certainly, the elder woman with the white streak in her lightly greying hair fit most people’s definition, but the large tree standing just behind her, whose trunk split in two about halfway to the ground, and whose upper bark housed a crinkled face comprised of lichen, amber, and moss, was not what most humans would include in the term. Raku, of course, was not most humans, and she could not think of Yanagi-sama as anything other than people.
“Yanagi-sama! Tenshi-san! How lovely to see you both! Would you like to come in?” She hoped she hadn’t been staring at them too long before she spoke, but her brain was still stuck on the strange characters she’d been trying to modernize in her transcription only moments before.
“We can’t stay long,” Tenshi-san said, her bright green eyes reminding Raku warmly of two of her favorite people, “but we wanted to let someone know where we were going.”
Raku nodded and gestured into the cave.
“Of course,” she replied. “I’m sorry that Torako-san and Itachi-chan aren’t here right now. They’re out on a patrol and won’t be home for a few more days. They’ll be sad to have missed you. Especially if you’re going to be away.”
Tenshi smiled, and the gesture made Raku unaccountably sad. Yanagi tutted from outside the doorway.
“You may bid me farewell once you are done with Tenshi-san,” he rumbled, in a breath of wind through leaves and branches.
Raku belatedly realized it might be rude to meet with Tenshi inside her cave when Yanagi would not be able to fit unless he changed his shape.
“I’m sorry, Yanagi-sama. If you—”
But the tree Kami had already wandered away from the door and seemed to be ignoring her.
“He had planned to give us some time alone anyway, Raku-san. Don’t worry,” Tenshi said, patting her arm.
“Is everything alright?” Raku asked, unable to ignore the feeling that something was off, despite how distracted she’d been a moment ago.
“I hope so,” Tenshi replied.
“That’s not entirely reassuring.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t come here to reassure you,” Tenshi replied.
“Ah. Well, is this warning for me, or for Tora-chan?” Raku asked, feeling her stomach drop even as she did her best to sound flippant.
“Either. Both.” Tenshi heaved a sigh that did nothing to reassure Raku. “I wish Tora-chan could hear this from me instead of anyone else, but… if anyone knows the importance of conveying information fully, it’s you, Raku-san. So… if you would listen with the ears of a storyteller and repeat it with the accuracy of a scribe, I would be in your debt.”
Raku did not like how formal Tenshi was being, not even a little bit. The woman had been cuddling Itachi and sneaking her mochi the last time she’d visited, chuckling every time Raku pretended to be stern about the girl having too many sweets. Tenshi hadn’t spoken this formally to her since the wedding. Formality had all but disappeared the moment Itachi had been born.
“You have my word, Tenshi-san,” Raku said, reaching out to hold the older woman’s hand, unable to resist the need to offer comfort to the woman who had done the same for her countless times in the past four cycles.
Tenshi’s smile seemed genuine but did not quite reach her eyes, as she allowed Raku to take her hands and drew a deep breath.
“I can’t tell you much about what Yanagi-sama and I must do, because I’m not even that clear on what he needs me to accomplish, but… we’re going to help my father.”
Raku felt her eyebrows raise towards her hairline.
“Your father? You’ve never spoken of him before.”
Raku didn’t add that Tenshi had never spoken of either of her parents before, besides a few offhand comments about things she had done with her own mother as she was teaching Itachi how to fish, or how to hold a carving knife, or how to hide candies in her sleeves so her parents wouldn’t notice… instead, Raku waited to see what else Tenshi would add.
“I never do. In fact, until recently, I wasn’t entirely certain who he was. But over the past few cycles he has made himself known to me, and… well, he’s the reason Yanagi-sama and I will be traveling to… well, he’s the reason we’ll be away.”
Raku held her tongue for a moment, hoping that Tenshi wasn’t planning to leave things that vague. What in the Kamis’ names did she expect her to relay to Torako after this?
When Tenshi didn’t continue, Raku blew out a breath and said, “Tenshi-san, you asked me to speak with the words of a scribe, but… you haven’t given me much to pass on to your daughter. Do you wish me to tell her who her grandfather is? Or, at the very least, tell her where you’ve actually gone?”
“I hope to be back to tell her the details myself in a few tendays, a moon at most. In the meantime… well, I suppose I wanted to be sure that you knew I was gone in case you need someone to look after Itachi-chan. Yanagi-sama and I will both be out of reach, and I know he’s the person you look to for Itachi-chan’s lessons and… I thought it was best to tell you in person that neither of us would be here.”
Raku took a deep breath and turned to look out of her door at the tree spirit who seemed to be holding court with a crowd of forest animals. Perhaps he was delivering a similarly vague note of farewell.
“This concerns him, too?” she asked, hoping to drag a few more details from Tenshi.
“It does,” Tenshi sighed. “If you need to speak to us… well, it won’t be easy, Itach—no, that won’t do… Tatsu-sama will be able to get a message to me, or to Yanagi-sama, if there’s an emergency.”
That had Raku frowning. It was a full two tendays’ travel to Tatsu-sama’s mountain, and one could go almost anywhere in Gensokai in that amount of time. How on earth could it be faster to talk to Tatsu-sama than to simply find Tenshi and Yanagi wherever they were headed?
“Tenshi-san, are you…“ Raku shook her head then, because the notion she was about to suggest was impossible. “What aren’t you telling me?” she asked instead.
“My father is… not the normal kind of father…“ the older woman stumbled to a halt.
“Tenshi-san, forgive me, but you sounded like you wished to issue some kind of warning when you first arrived, and now… well, I’ll struggle to tell Torako-san anything at all after this.”
Tenshi sighed again, and Raku could feel her jaw tense as she wondered if the woman had any intention of answering her with more than the barest vagaries.
“My father is a Kami,” Tenshi huffed at last.
“So he’s no longer with us,” Raku spoke softly. “I’m sorry for your loss Ten—”
“No, he never was with us. He’s not deceased. He was born in the spirit realm.”
“Born in the… what are you saying, Tenshi-san?”
“My father is the moon Kami, Tsukuyomi.”
Raku simply let her mouth fall open. She wasn’t certain what else to do. There were many problems with that statement, and she hadn’t the slightest idea where to begin. Unfortunately, the base statement was the least problematic. It explained all too much.
“Are you saying the reason that your granddaughter is abnormally powerful is that she is actually one-eighth moon Kami?” Raku hissed.
Tenshi looked a bit sheepish, even as she nodded.
“And in the past four cycles, it never occurred to you to tell her parents this bit of information?”
“I didn’t want you to worry,” Tenshi began, but Raku cut her off before she could get any further.
“Does Tora-chan have any idea?”
“I may have hinted at it when I told her about her own… condition, but no, I’ve never told her the entire truth.”
“Lovely,” Raku huffed, unable to contain her frustration. “No wonder she didn’t speak with you until Itachi-chan was born.”
The look of pain that crossed Tenshi’s face when Raku said that made her wish the words unsaid.
“I’m sorry, Tenshi-san, that was cruel of me.”
Tenshi waved a hand at her, as if to brush the apology away.
“You’re not wrong. Torako-san had good reason not to speak with me until Itachi-chan was born. I won’t pretend that I don’t understand her anger, even if it hurts. I am grateful she was willing to reconcile for the sake of my grandchild.”
Raku knew the issue of Torako’s ‘power’ was complicated, and that Torako was so loath to speak of it that in their eight cycles together her wife had barely mentioned it more than once. Raku had been surprised and delighted when Torako had chosen to include her mother in their lives after Itachi was born. Tenshi had been one of the best parts of Itachi’s childhood, and Raku couldn’t imagine her daughter’s life without the older healer. She’d been a calm, thoughtful presence in the girl’s life, even when Raku and Torako had been at a total loss what to do with her—their daughter whose powers so greatly outstripped their own.
“It didn’t occur to you that it might be useful for us to know why she was so powerful?” she asked, when she could finally speak without anger choking her voice.
“It did, of course it did, but… oh, Raku-san, can you imagine, even for a moment, how terrified I’ve been to lose Torako-san’s goodwill again? What would you do, if you had a truth you knew Itachi-chan should know, but feared she would never speak to you again if you told her?”
Then Tenshi sighed and let out a humorless laugh.
“What a silly question. Of course you would tell her the truth anyway.”
It was Raku’s turn to laugh now.
“Regardless of what you think I would do, I understand your fear, Tenshi-san. I do. So… fine. You never told Torako about her grandfather. Why now, then?”
Tenshi finally looked up at Raku, her green eyes meeting Raku’s head-on.
“We’re about to go see him. To help him, and… it could be dangerous.”
“You’re…“ and now Raku had to believe the impossible idea she’d had earlier, because it was the only thing that fit. “You’re going into the spirit realm?”
Tenshi looked away, even as she admitted the truth with a dip of her chin.
“Yes. Yanagi-sama is taking me there. My father has asked me to help him, and… I’m not entirely clear on how I’m meant to do that, but it’s important that I try.”
“Why?” Raku asked. “Why help someone who never even showed up in your life until…“ she let her voice trail off, unsure of why the moon Kami had revealed himself, and almost afraid to ask.
“I wouldn’t go at all, but he said it’s to protect Itachi-chan.”
Raku gasped, feeling her muscles tense in response to a threat she could not see.
“Tenshi-san, it is time for us to go.”
The loud, rustling voice of Yanagi-sama made Raku jump. She’d been so focused on Tenshi’s news that she hadn’t even noticed the walking tree’s approach. His amber eyes blinked slowly at them, as if adjusting to the light of the cave.
“Yes, Yanagi-sama,” Tenshi said, giving Raku’s hand another squeeze. Raku had forgotten that the woman was still touching her until that moment.
“You’ll tell Torako-san everything?” she asked, as she stepped towards the door of the cave, dropping Raku’s hand as she went.
Raku followed mutely after, unsure how to respond.
“You’ll let her know that I love her, and the reason I didn’t tell her was only because I feared…“ she didn’t finish, but Raku knew well enough what she meant.
“I’ll tell her,” she promised. “But, Tenshi-san, Yanagi-sama, please, can’t I help in some way? Can’t I come with you? Or Tora-san? A warrior. Ryūko-san is a friend of yours, isn’t she? If there’s danger, shouldn’t you—”
“Ryūko-san has done enough for Gensokai, and besides, she can’t go into the spirit world. Neither can you. Torako-san might be able to with her heritage, but she might not after… everything, and we don’t have time to find out what it would do to her, or to the realms. The best thing you can do to help is to stay here and tell Tora-chan what I’ve told you. This isn’t her battle, or yours, not yet.”
Raku had no response to that, so she swallowed the emotions that were hot in her throat and looked at Yanagi-sama instead.
“Itachi-chan will miss your lessons,” she said, glossing over how she would miss the tree spirit’s easy presence, and how Torako would miss his gentle teasing. She couldn’t say the words. They would catch in her throat next to all the things she wanted to tell Tenshi.
“We’ll be back before the season’s change, youngling, don’t you worry,” Yanagi-sama boomed cheerily. “Tsukuyomi-san is prone to exaggeration. The threat is likely not as great as he supposes. Please tell Itachi-chan to work on her dreaming while I’m gone, and to keep an eye on the weasels.”
Raku could do nothing but chuckle at those instructions, and then she wrapped her arms around Tenshi’s retreating form.
“Itachi-chan will miss you, Tenshi-san, so will Tora-chan, and so will I. Come back soon, ne?”
This time Raku could feel Tenshi’s smile against her cheek, all the way to her bones.
“See you soon, Raku-chan.”
The odd pair, giant walking tree and smallish human woman, hadn’t gone more than a few paces when Yanagi rumbled.
“Oh, I almost forgot. Raku-san, ‘outside sea,’ it’s ‘foreign.’ The word you seek, is ‘foreign.’” And then he turned again, waved, and before Raku could even remember what outside sea he’d been referring to, they had faded from sight.
Bookshop (Hardcover): https://bookshop.org/a/2725/9781999461256
Bookshop (Paperback): https://bookshop.org/a/2725/9781999298074
Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.