Part 1 HQ
Part 2: Biwako-Ohashi-Bridge
Dat: 30.10 Officers: Kuro, Lou Rouxgaroux, Felix Kanagawa
We reached Kyoto by bullet train. Rain clouds made the October afternoon look like an early winter greeting. Two very bored uniforms welcomed us at the platform.
First, their halfhearted attempts to hide their disinterest didn’t rub me the wrong way, but when one of them placed a folded up paper into my outstretched hand expecting a handshake… I wanted to punch them. Who was I kidding, I wanted to punch everybody. Always. It was a note was from Superintendant Yatomi.
“That’s just peachy!” Lou read it over my shoulder.
The local police force refused to provide us transportation or support of any kind, claiming 100 percent utilization. The letter was polite, but stern. “Too busy, huh?” I raised an eyebrow at the policemen.”Officers, are you aware that we are a MEL unit?” They looked at each other with a horrified expression and backed away slowly. Neither of them dared to look into my eyes. It wasn’t their fault, I knew that. Still, they pissed me off. “Oh, it would be a real shame if you had unnatural bad luck from now on.”
The older man fidgeted with his uniform and looked at the shape of his shoes.”We are very sorry. We didn’t know and didn’t mean to take the money. It was a sincere misunderstanding.” Misunderstanding my ass. Maybe this was a lucky turn of events after all. “Here!” He thrusted both of his hands forward, offering up a neatly folded envelope bearing the police seal.
Okay, this was new. Lou snorted with laughter. The man kept his eyes down, but his face turned beet red. There had been an envelope containing some banknotes and the Superintendant’s note.
Felix sighed.”Go easy on them. They are only human.” Lou and I stared at him. “What?! They are weak, aren’t they? You could break them with a snap of your finger, Kuro. Just imagine the mountain of paperwork.” I nodded. The man with the envelope shook.
“Rental car it is.” Lou took the envelope. “Hey, by the way. Strange things might surface around Lake Biwa for about a week. Just a fair warning. Things will go bump in the night. Call us, if it gets ugly.” The police officers nodded and swallowed. “Oh, I almost forgot. We need some files printed. Can we do that in your coban?” The man bowed and rushed off with his colleague towards a little office in the train station.
I had prepared maps of the ancient rivers, underground waterways, and storm sewers, as well as the connecting points to Lake Biwa. I had superimposed them and left the police officers a copy to give to the Chief Inspector on duty. For the next week, they should mark down all the “funny” or “fishy” events.
We were pointed towards a car rental business that was open 24/7. A fat man clad in a brown, corduroy business attire greeted us. He reeked of fear, diabetes, petrol, and cheap beer. To him, we might have looked like Yakuza, thanks to a glamour, adding to his distress. He dishing up Sake and Mochi, trying to be a good host. His index pointed to a Ferrari, then something equally big, loud, and expensive. He laughed too loudly at our refusal. Rent was equal to all of his cars, he told us. We didn’t budge. Lou shook his head and pointed to a boxy-looking red car we agreed upon beforehand. I’ve had the same model, in another lifetime. The Toyota Pixis was cute, and I was lucky to call dibs on driving, as a nostalgic feeling hit me.
During my short stay at Hirosaki Gakuin University, I had called my red Toyota Pixis, my Little Red Riding Hood. We had such a blast. Good old days, charting the landscape, digging for charming Jomon sculptures. I loved that period, never stopped admiring the expressive pieces. True art. Those long-dead people understood the principles of banishing. I spent my time after studying with hiking, mapping out the ancient roads, and enjoyed the humongous amounts of snow during winter. And one day, I unearthed something I couldn’t handle by myself. Boom! My humanity was ripped from me. My recovery made me the first puzzle piece in a questionable experiment. And somewhere along the line, the first MEL unit was created.
Now, if you knew the history of that university, you’d be confused at my claim, that I studied there, since it was a women’s only university for liberal arts and Christianity, since the founding days in 1882. I never was Christian, nor a woman, duh, but that was a tale for another boring night.
After a bento dinner and armed with awesome snacks and enough coffee to wake several mummies, we started from downtown Kyoto towards Otsu and Moriyama. Behind the wheel, the city looked more rural than I remembered, maybe because I was used to the fire that Tokyo was. Compared to the capital, this place was small and easy to navigate.
Since the Moonlight Market had to be approached from water, we needed to get to Takashima and then set over to Maibara or Hikone. The well of power guided me towards the natural landmarks, but not just me. All of us felt it as a magnetic pull inside our chests. Felix was the one most affected by the interferences caused by peaking energy. He seemed bigger and brighter than usual.
Lou was moody. He kept sulking and complaining. Since he was shotgun, he played with the radio, the air conditioning. It was too loud, too cold, too hot, not enough room. Yeah, I got it. It felt stuffy. It was the silence before a storm.
Just before the outskirts of Kyoto, visions of fireflies, laughter, and light on the surface of water flooded my mind and even my peripheral vision. I had to blink and remind myself, that it was Felix broadcasting, and not the road magically glowing. I chose the rural roads more carefully, went below the speed limit. I slapped Felix. That usually snapped him out of the movie in his head, but not today. He felt sticky and pillowy. Odd. The scent of jasmine flowers, mowed grass, BBQ and wet soil filled the car. It smelled like the happiest summer I never had.
Felix kept slipping, and he almost drowned out my feelings, my vision, and my proprioception. I knew he couldn’t help himself. Lou and I had to yell at him to keep his projections INSIDE his head, or our next stop would be any restroom to dunk him into a toilet, or a very long cigarette break to calm down or both.
My lower back went warm and I got giddy. “Son of a!” Okay, those were definitely not my memories or phantasies of a perfect holiday at the lake. Oh, he’s getting explicit now. My knuckles went white on the steering wheel. Still, I felt hot soft thighs under my fingertips. “Felix, you jerk! Stop it!”
“Don’t get excited,” Lou muttered to himself. Those were very intimate personal impressions of – let’s just say – being frisky on a stuffy evening and – wow a dragon could do that? You had to be flexible for, oh okay. Gosh. I didn’t know a human could do that too. Wow. I’d probably need to try that one day. Lou stared out of the passenger side window and lit a cigarette, hand resting on his crotch. We were both breathing heavily, and I decided that next time, Felix had to go in a different car.”FELIX! Stop it!”
Luckily, we reached Biwako-Ohashi Bridge without any accidents, in a light drizzle. Twilight and mist enveloped the bridge and the buildings around the lake. The streetlights threw out ominous haloes of orange and yellow glowing mystery, too feeble to reach the wet concrete.
Suddenly, Lou whimpered and clutched at his ears. Felix emitted a low barely audible rumble and whistle. Ugh, I hated this part of weather magic. I clenched my jaw and tried to ignore the skin-crawling shriek of magic in my bones. The car vibrated. Static electricity made the hair on my neck stand on end. Uh-oh! “Wait! Wait! WAIT!” I screamed at Felix. “NOT IN THE CAR!”
The line at the toll booth was enough for us. We threw out the car doors and jump out, yanking Felix with us, out of the car. I didn’t need another fried car. In the back of my head, I prepared to swallow the lightning Felix was inevitably producing. His human form was already fuzzy and blurred, eyes white, budding antlers under his turquoise hair. Dramatic river spirit was dramatic. All Lou and I could do, was to step back and let him dissolve into his original, dragon form. Hopefully, he remembered going invisible.
Lightning cracked above the bridge, and the gentle drizzle decided, that moment, it wanted to be a downpour instead. Lou and I got back into the car. I swore and Lou snarled and growled. A weight had lifted. Finally! My thoughts weren’t submerged in honey anymore. The numbness dissolved into annoyance and rage. Felix took relief with him. “Great!” Lou’s frustrated voice made me realize I was shivering. “I’m wet. Horny. My ears hurt. And I want to smash something. Right now. Ugh! Remind me again, why am I doing this?”
“You have six cubs and a pregnant wife. The other jobs you could get are shitty, or dangerous, or both. And you’d be thrown into jail if you didn’t.” I recited. That was what all of us were told before being part of MEL.”Hey, do you mind, if we’d get a hot meal or a hot shower before we enter the Market?” Lou shook his head. He looked worn out and in desperate need of a stiff drink.
“Kuro? Why are you here?” I turned the keys in the ignition and the engine came alive with a stubborn hum. The wipers did their best to ensure visibility. I thought about answering, but it seemed that the right moment passed somehow in silence. Lou kept quiet too, maybe he didn’t expect an answer. I summoned up what was left of my motivation and I tried to get as fast as possible to the next restaurant or hotel in Iwakata.
to be continued:
Part 3 (Rustling in the Dark) /
Part 4 (Moonlight Market) /
Part 5 (Giant Magic Spider) /
Part 6 (Woven) /
original art by the writer (ink, pencil, paper) 2000