The sun had begun to set in earnest over the Romanian countryside and Megame, Hachi, and their new traveling companion Kara had decided to set up camp for the evening. Megame learned that Kara seemed as used to roughing it as they were, perhaps even more so as she didn’t even bother with a tent or a bedroll, choosing instead to sit on a smooth old stump and tend the fire while Megame set up her sleeping arrangements and Hachi cast protective charms around the campsite.
“I guess you’re like Hachi, huh?” Megame smiled at their quiet companion.
“What do you mean?”
“She doesn’t use a tent either.” Megame said. “Unless it’s raining; otherwise she sleeps outside most of the time.”
“Well she’s a fox. Seems natural enough.” Kara shrugged.
“Are you a spirit?” Megame asked bluntly. It wasn’t always an easy thing to tell, but Kara’s eerily pale appearance and almost shining blue eyes seemed to lend an inhuman quality to her, not to mention her phenomenal marksmanship.
“In a way, I suppose.” Kara said. “But it’s not important.”
“Are you an animal spirit like Hachi?” Megame’s curiosity was not yet satisfied. Her teachers knew that when she wanted an answer, no half-responses would satisfy her. “Maybe you’re…oh! You could be a raven spirit!”
“Not an animal spirit, sorry.” Kara said. “But like I said it’s not important, if anything you two are the weird ones.”
“Well duh.” Kara looked askance at her. “Two Japanese girls wandering around Romania? And judging by those clothes you didn’t exactly get here before the Days of Revelation.”
“Oh that!” Megame chuckled. “Yes, we left Japan last December.”
“I’m guessing there’s a story there.” Kara leaned her back against a tree, arms folded over her chest. “Let’s talk about you then.”
Megame could not help but notice the deflection of questions from Kara’s own nature and background, but she’d gone so long without real human (or close enough) contact beyond Hachi that she didn’t really care. She would leap at the chance to talk to a new face, no matter how reticent it might be.
“Well, I’m from Kyoto, I was a college student who worked at Fushimi Inari Shrine serving as a part-time miko.”
“A ummm…a shrine maiden, a spirit worker, a priestess, a shaman…”
“Oh” Kara nodded. “Alright, think I’ve got it now.”
“Ummm Kara-san, if I could ask you something?”
“Just Kara, and sure.”
“Right umm…you said you didn’t understand Japanese, but I’ve been speaking it this whole time.”
“Could’ve fooled me, it doesn’t sound like Japanese in my ears.”
“What does it sound like?”
Kara glanced away, breaking eye contact. “Doesn’t matter. But ya, I don’t hear Japanese.”
“Weird…” Megame thought it over. She had been having a lot of trouble early on in her travels with language, but it had become less noticeable with time, or maybe simply less prevalent, what was going on?
“Go on.” Kara’s voice brought her back to reality. “You said you were a shrine maiden in Kyoto. How did you end up out here?”
“Well, now I work with one of the Okami…”
“Ya, that word didn’t translate either.” Kara said. “I understand the gist of it but you don’t come with subtitles.”
“A umm…well Kami are spirits.” Megame said “They inhabit everything. Mountains, rocks, trees, animals. Okami are the big and important ones…loosely speaking.”
“Gotcha, keep going.”
“Well, I was approached by Inari-sama, the Okami that presided over the shrine.”
Megame still clearly remembered the day, when the golden okami had emerged from her statue before the altar, larger than life. She had floated in the air before her, a beautiful maiden with hair and eyes the color of gold, dressed in voluminous robes of reds, whites, and other colors, filling the room with light and silencing all other noise as she spoke. It had been Megame’s first interaction with an Okami, and it had left her the intense impression that this was not someone to be crossed.
“She told me she wanted her shrines to spread across the world, and the best place to start would be far across the globe, in Rome.”
“Rome?” Kara asked incredulously. “Not China or India or any number of more sensible places, but Rome?”
Megame nodded. “She said Rome and her mind was made up. She wanted me to travel to Rome to establish a shrine there.”
“Well…I’m impressed you got this far.” Kara said. “And all of it was on foot?”
“Just about.” Megame nodded. “Obviously I had to take a boat between Japan and China, but after that it was all on foot.”
Kara stared at her for a few uncomfortably long seconds, clearly mentally grappling with something before she finally asked “I’m sorry, but how are you not dead?”
“I mean you walked across several thousand miles being torn apart by monsters and internal strife, rife with rampaging creatures of legend and bands of violent human raiders. How is it you, with nothing but a fox, managed to get here in Romania?”
Megame had been more confused by Kara’s bluntness than her question in all honesty. The fact that she was not only alive, but happy and healthy after a march across a war-torn continent was nothing short of miraculous, but Megame had her explanations already.
“Well there are a few things.” Megame said. “You saw us fighting in the village.”
“Right,” Kara nodded. “You put on quite a light show there.”
“A temporary blessing from the Okami Amaterasu-sama, She Who Shines in Heaven. I’ve found these zombies are weak to sunlight.”
“They’re not zombies.” Kara said. “But who is that lady? I thought you served Inari whatshername.”
“Ah! Well that’s a really cool thing.” Megame smiled. She loved being able to show off this part. From her pack, she removed several of the small paper ofudacharms like the one she had used in the village, all of them had the names of different kami written with painstaking precision in elegant hand-drawn calligraphy.
“Each of these has the name of one or more kami written on it.” Megame said. “By invoking their name I can channel their power, even out here, isn’t that neat?”
“Neat, ya…” Kara seemed more interested in the charms themselves than what Megame had to say. “Some are longer than the others.”
Megame nodded “Well, some kami need extra exaltations, and some need to be summoned as a group, so more powerful or numerous kami need longer charms, which are harder to write accurately.”
“Gotcha.” Kara said. “Though this is pretty…irregular.”
“It is?” Megame asked, curious. She’d never met another person with extraordinary abilities, so she didn’t know what was considered ‘normal’ and what wasn’t.
“This goddess, Inari, she made you her champion, right?”
Megame nodded, a bright smile on her face. “Yes!”
“Well usually gods are pretty possessive about this kind of thing.” Kara said. “They only allow their own power to travel through their chosen instrument, which is good because most people aren’t attuned to more than one or two kinds of spirit to that degree.”
“Well sure.” Kara said. “A war spirit couldn’t empower a pacifist, could they? The relationship would be physically uncomfortable for both of them and ultimately rejected. But here you are with a half dozen charms on the ground, have you ever had trouble using them?”
“No, just trouble writing them.” Megame said sheepishly. Her calligraphy was improving, but she had not received good remarks on it from any of the kami she summoned.
“Weird…” Kara said, more to the empty air than to Megame. “What are Inari’s domains? What’s she a goddess of?”
“Lots of things!” Megame smiled. “These days mostly wealth and business, but she’s also a kami of rice and agriculture, she was a war kami for a time, oh! And foxes too…well, she’s also the patron of good fortune so…good luck!”
“Bet that’s another reason you’ve done so well.” Kara smirked. “Not hard to beat the odds with a loaded deck, if you believe in that kind of thing.”
“In what kind of thing?” Megame cocked her head to the side, curious.
“In luck.” Kara said. “I’m not a big believer in it, generally speaking.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Megame said. “Of course luck is real, what else is there?”
“Look it’s not important.” Kara said. “I just think most of the time if something good or bad happens that’s just fate. You can’t really fight fate with luck.”
Megame frowned. Obviously being Inari’s champion she believed in the power of luck, but Kara also seemed like the type of person not to be easily convinced, and Megame wasn’t terribly good at debating. Quietly, she resolved to somehow show this woman the power of luck in the near future…somehow.
“So I’d like to hear about your mission.” Megame said, breaking the silence. “I mean, you’re a real-life vampire hunter?”
“No, no.” Kara shook her head. “This is kind of a one-time thing, plus I need to hire a professional to help me out.”
“But it’s still a real live vampire?”
“Well…not live no.” Kara said. “Kind of by definition they’re not alive.”
“What are vampires like?” Megame asked.
“Scary nightwalking spirits here to suck our blood!” Coming from behind her, Hachi had grabbed Megame’s shoulders, causing her to squeal and jump slightly in her seat in surprise, heart hammering in her ears.
“Hachiiiii…” She complained, turning a hurt look on the meddlesome fox spirit.
“Oh don’t give me that look.” Hachi said. “Just having a bit of fun.”
“Hmph.” Megame huffed before turning back to Kara, leaving an apologetic Hachi to revert into her fox form and nudge and nuzzle her way into Megame’s lap.
“So what are real vampires like?” She asked again.
“Kind of varies from place to place, I’m not an expert around here though.” Kara said ‘Your usual basics though. They suck blood, only come out at night, sleep in coffins, and can beguile the weak of will to their cause, all kinds of things.”
“…That sounds really dangerous.” Megame didn’t know what she had been hoping for, preferably one of those softer modern vampires.
“Need to be on your guard.” Kara nodded “I don’t usually hire consultants for my mission but this is a special case; our vampire is pretty well-established in his area.”
“It’s hard to believe it’s real.” Megame said. “I mean, they made books and movies about vampires and now they’re real all of a sudden?”
“Oh, they’ve been real for a while.” Kara said, matter-of-factly. “Not actually appearing, just coming out of hiding.”
“Ya” Kara nodded. “Besides, you’re hardly allowed to be skeptical.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’re running around using the powers of spirits and gods to blow up skeletons with your magic fox companion.” Kara said. “And suddenly vampires are unbelievable.”
Megame was stunned into silence for a moment before she burst into a fit of giggles. “It is silly when you say it like that.” She laughed, and was glad to see Kara lightly laughing as well.
“So this professional you’re looking for is…”
“Yep” Kara nodded. “A professional vampire hunter, if you can believe it.”
“I guess I have to.” Megame smiled. “Don’t want to look like a skeptic.”
“It hardly suits you.” Kara smiled back, before she caught herself and her face turned serious. “Now let’s look into getting dinner started.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=12&sl=490