SCP-6500 Fragment 5

Kegare

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Mount Ibuki

A cool spring wind swept down the forested mountain, as Kaito Eguchi climbed the narrow, dirt path through the trees. He leaned on his staff, an eight-ringed shakujō given to him by his father who was gifted it by his father before him. Kaito came from a multi-generational lineage of Buddhist monks, but unlike others in his calling, he had no temple to call home. His temple was the open sky.

Kaito rubbed his bare scalp, looking up further along the mountain trail. He was in his forties, but his active lifestyle kept him lean and wiry. His robes were mostly traditional, but he had discarded the long billowing sleeves, so the cool mountain air kissed his bare arms.

A wandering monk, Kaito begged alms from locals in communities he passed through, often staying in homes for a night or two before moving on again. His work took him from one end of Japan to the other, sometimes more than once in the space of a year. More often than not, his duties took him to out-of-the-way places such as this; hiking a dirt trail up the side of Mount Ibuki in Shiga Prefecture, Kansai region.

Kaito looked up at the sky and estimated it was several hours past midday, so he leaned his shakujō against a nearby tree. He untied the cloth knapsack from his back and opened it, retrieving a few onigiri wrapped in seaweed and filled with smoked fish. He ate his meal gazing out over the edge of a cliff, overlooking Lake Biwa in the afternoon sun. A sudden shift in the wind brought with it a smell of rotting leaves and wet earth. His meal finished, he took up the shakujō and continued his way up the mountain path. With each step he took, the eight steel rings atop the shakujō chimed, lending a simple tempo to his progress.

After another hour, he stood at the base of a steep stone staircase framed by a large stone torii gate, stained by water and lichen. He stepped over the threshold and started to climb the leaf-blanketed stairs. The trees grew closer together as he climbed, shading the stones and simulating a later hour.

At the top of the stairs a shattered wooden gate hung open, rotting from moisture but also having been recently struck with incredible force. Kaito gripped his shakujō as he approached the open gate, but before he reached it, two brilliant orange lights flitted past him. He jumped back, almost losing his footing on the leaves. Kaito’s gaze followed the lights as the two hitodama spirits flitted between the trees in their retreat. The little balls of flame fled from the recently dead and were said to be souls escaping the body. As he turned back towards the gate, Kaito began chanting the Amitabha Sutra in an effort to guide the two souls to the Pure Lands.

Beyond the broken gate was a small courtyard paved with stones, surrounded by the remains of a dilapidated traditional wooden fence. The stones of the courtyard were tightly fit together and littered with dead leaves. At the far end of the courtyard, three dilapidated temple buildings lay abandoned – once a shrine to Mount Ibuki’s resident kami. Time and the elements had clearly taken their toll on the structures, but despite the abandonment, the temple still stood in the crisp mountain air.

The temple was laid out in a horseshoe formation facing away from him, creating an inner courtyard. Kaito continued across the stones until he stood before the shattered sliding door to the central temple building. Entering the decrepit structure, he found leaves and little else. The floors were free from furniture or the usual temple accoutrements. He could hear strange, garbled sounds coming from the direction of the inner courtyard, so he climbed up the withered wooden staircase in the back of the temple. He found a panel on the upper floor that would allow access to the tiled roof for repairs and exited into the summer sunshine.

There was a mist hanging over the courtyard, and trailing up the mountain side beyond it. Kaito approached the edge of the roof and looked down.

Laid out on the pavestones of the shrine were two bodies, a young man and a middle-aged woman. Blood drenched the pavestones, splashed around the corpses which had each suffered terrible blunt trauma to the torso and head. Crouching over the bodies was a large figure with wild, knotted hair, horns curling up from his forehead, discolored inhumanly red skin, and tusks growing from his lips.

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The oni’s face was covered in blood. He held the woman’s arm up, his glistening tusks stained red in his open mouth, as he prepared to take another bite from her flesh. The creature stood tall enough that his head would have brushed against the ceiling of any country house, shoulders so wide that he would have little trouble tackling a water buffalo.

Suddenly the troll dropped the arm, and looked up towards the roof Kaito was standing on. “Ah, hello, priest. How pleasant.”

The oni wiped his mouth with the back of his hairy forearm, wiping it off in turn on the rough tunic and rags he was wearing. “Could you come back in an hour? I am trying to enjoy my meal. We are old friends, you and I, certainly you would afford me such a small request.”

The oni’s Japanese was rough, with an underlying growl to each syllable, but Kaito understood the yokai well enough.

“No. Stand clear from the dead, oni-me.”

“I don’t think I will, priest.” The oni reached for a long iron bar, hexagonal in shape with rough teeth of metal protruding from its upper half. The club had a handle made of bone and wrapped in rough-hewn leather. It was half as tall as Kaito.

Kaito brought forth two ofuda paper charms from his belt pouch, attaching one to the tip of his shakujō . With a spoken incantation or kotodama from Kaito’s lips, it wrapped tightly around the shaft beneath the steel rings.

“I ask you, stay your hand, oni. There needs be no conflict today. Let me see to these dead and you go back to your realm.”

“No, insect, I will not! You seek no conflict but you prepare weapons of war. Why are you even here, priest? This is not one of your temples.” The oni growled these last words, holding his club out in front of him.

“Peace for the dead, and for all things, brings me here. These are not weapons, but tools. I seek no war with you.”

“The weird and wonderful fall apart even as we natter at each other! The realms fade, magic fails, and the kami abandon their temples. For this you fight? Leave off!”

“The kami has not abandoned this place. And I will not abandon my congregation.”

“These two worms?” The oni indicated the dead at his feet. “You don’t smell as if you’re from the area. These are not your congregation, priest.”

“All the people of Japan are my congregation, hitogoroshi-me.”

“Murder? What are two more dead? Humans fill these lands a thousand thousand times their number since the reign of Nobunaga. They scour the seas dry of life, they burn harsh chemicals in the air, and heap their landfills with refuse. Their lives are disposable.”

“Enough words, oni. Step away!”

Snarling, the oni rushed forward the length of the small courtyard and swung his club at Kaito’s torso. Slipping under the sweep of the club, Kaito leapt backwards to gain some distance. The oni slashed out one clawed hand and partially collapsed the aging roof. Kaito could feel the structure struggling to stay upright, so he slid to the edge of the tiles, and lowered himself to the pavestones in a smooth motion. His knees complained at the impact of his landing, but he kept his footing.

The oni snarled and charged at him again, swinging the club down towards his head. Kaito stepped to the side, letting the rough iron implement slide past him, and extended the shakujō so that the tip wrapped in the ofuda glanced against the oncoming weapon.

A bell sounded in the courtyard, there was a flash of light, and the great iron war club of the oni rebounded as though it had struck a boulder. The oni stepped back and shook out his hands, one after the other.

“That hurt, priest. You’ve learned new things since I saw you last. Let me remind you of my name, Shak–”

“Your name holds no interest for me. I mean no offense, but I do not care to know you. Despite your familiarity, I will not warn you again. Leave this realm and let me care for the dead.”

“I’ll save your corpse for my midnight meal!”

The oni leapt into the air, bringing his great club down towards Kaito who dashed to the side and swung his shakujō. The club crushed the pavestones Kaito had stood upon but his shakujō struck the oni’s left shin as it landed, producing a loud crunch as another flash of light erupted from the ofuda-wrapped tip.

The oni grunted in pain, dropping the club and clutching at his left leg. Kaito advanced on the moaning giant, who reached for his club as he saw the priest’s approach.

Kaito loudly pronounced a kotodama, infusing his will and that of the Amitābha into the sound, and the courtyard was filled with a celestial ringing. A force impacted the club, causing the heavy weapon to skitter across the pavestones and out of the oni’s reach.

A great, pained sigh escaped the hideous tusked mouth. “When magic fails, the realms will empty, and we will all die, priest. All the yokai and children of the dark places will shrivel, your words will lose their meaning, and those charms will be so much paper. What purpose will you serve then, onikari?”

Instead of answering, Kaito darted forward and struck the giant in the forehead with an open palm, attaching the other ofuda to its flesh.

Another bell chimed in the courtyard, long and clear. The oni wailed as smoke poured from his mouth and a bright white light consumed his form. When the light dimmed there was nothing but scorch marks on the pavestones. The club wavered in the afternoon light like heat shimmering on desert sands, and then it too faded from the physical plane. Kaito noted the mist clearing as the oni’s influence faded.

He took a deep breath, shaking with adrenaline. He touched the ofuda wrapped along the tip of the shakujō and it crumbled into dust, its potency spent. He leaned on the staff, catching his breath. He approached the two dead, wondering what had brought them to this place. He turned to the desecrated shrine and bowed, whispering a prayer of thanks to the kami whose house it had been.

“If I had time, I would repair the damage to your house, honored one. But it appears as if we have company.”

He turned his head to the corner of the temple building the oni had damaged and called: “Well, come out if you want to talk.”

A young woman in combat body armor stepped through a gap in the ruined fence just past the temple building. She carried an assault rifle, and a pistol was holstered at her belt. Although she held the rifle in her hands, she did not raise it in his direction.

“Who are you and what do you want?” he continued in Japanese.

“I’m Fumiko Tanaka, I represent–”

“The Foundation,” he interrupted in accented but competent English. “Your Japanese is terrible, Tanaka-san. What do you want?”

Her eyes widened a bit. “You know about the Foundation?”

“Yes, the Jailors don’t have a strong presence in these lands, but obvious if one pays attention. However, that does not explain what you are doing here. You could have been killed.”

“‘Jailors’? So, it’s true, you’re with the Hand?” The agent shook her head as she said this, approaching his position. She continued to hold the rifle in a low-ready stance.

“I’m familiar with the Hand and they’ve offered support in the past. But you would try even the Buddha’s patience with your evasion. Answer my question.” He took a step forward and looked into her eyes, which continued to pan around the courtyard.

“I’ve been sent to assess your effectiveness in helping with a vital mission.”

Kaito said nothing for a moment, then laughed. “I don’t work with your organization. You would have captured the oni, studied it, and having no effective measures against it, would have allowed its eventual escape to plague more of the people here.”

“That was an oni?”

“Yes, or ogre as you would call it in English.”

“I may be American, Eguchi-san, but I have heard of the oni. And you’d be surprised at our capabilities.”

Kaito held up his hands to show he meant no harm. “Well, that is neither relevant nor interesting to me. I’ve already told you; I don’t work with your organization.”

She let the assault rifle hang from her shoulder by the strap. “There’s a situation we’ve come across that could use your experience, if you’ll let me explain?”

“Feel free, Agent Tanaka.”

She spoke for several minutes, and when she was done, he sighed. He turned his back to her for the first time. “Well, then, I guess I will come with you. But first, I attend to the dead. You have transportation?”

She nodded. “A helo is in the area.”

“Good.” He began straightening the bodies so that they lay as serenely as they could, having seen such a violent end. He recited another sutra and cleaned the blood from their faces.

When he was done, he turned back to her. “Call your helicopter, we must hurry to Ine.”


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Fishing Village of Ine

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The helicopter had dropped them at a nearby field, close to the Sea of Japan. From there, Agent Tanaka called in a boat to take them to the fishing village. The village was built bordering the coast along the northern tip of the Tango Peninsula, north of the old capital, Kyoto. Many of the buildings were of a traditional style, called funaya, with small built-in docks for boats serving as the first floor and living quarters above.

“You’re sure the bodies will be treated with respect?” he called out over the roar of the boat’s engine.

“Like I said before, we’ll send them to the appropriate services and make sure their families are notified once they’ve been identified.”

Kaito nodded, holding his hand out to shield his eyes from the sun out over the water. Despite the late afternoon hour, the village was quiet. Normally, this would be when the men and women on fishing boats would be returning to clean their late afternoon catches or working on their boats. But today, as the sun approached the glittering horizon, there was no activity. The boat slid into an empty space by a dock, and Kaito leapt onto the wooden structure. He made eye contact with Fumiko.

“Where are all the people, Agent?”

“We’ve evacuated the villagers with a story concerning a possible terrorist plot.”

“Where, then, are the Defense Forces and police one would expect in such a situation?” he asked her.

Fumiko smiled and shrugged, then followed him onto the dock. She turned to look at the pilot of the small boat, dressed in similar combat gear as she, and nodded. As she turned away from the vessel, he sped off down the coast.

She looked at Kaito. “Don’t worry, we’ll have backup if we need it.”

Kaito walked in between two of the funaya to approach the nearest street. “That will not be necessary.”

Fumiko snorted. “A little overconfident, aren’t you?”

Kaito turned to her and leaned on the shakujō, his eyes narrowing as he met her eyes. “I have been defending my people from yokai and oni for all my adult life. Most of that time, I have been alone. So, I would say I’m at the ‘just about right’ level of confidence.”

She held up her hands in mock surrender and followed him towards the street between two of the houses.

“Tell me about these murders,” he said over his shoulder.

“Over the last eight days, six people have died suddenly.” Her tone belied very little horror, as though she was reciting.

“Bite marks? Tearing of the flesh, like an animal was at the body?”

Fumiko shuddered subtly, then she shook her head. “No, suffocation in each case. But there were no marks of strangulation or drowning.”

“Were the victims found in their beds?”

“No. Although the deaths occurred at night, only a few were found in their homes. The others were found on the street. No witnesses have come forward.”

“It sounds like a yamachichi, but not quite.”

“What is that?” Her tone was light, as if she didn't care about this subject at all — which didn't make sense. This was why he'd been called here, was it not?

“A yokai that steals the breath from sleeping people. But usually they live in the mountains and when a victim is attacked, they die the next day.”

“Could this be one of them?” she asked.

“Yamachichi are exceedingly rare, and even when one is present in an area, it wouldn’t hunt this frequently.”

“How rare?”

“I’ve only ever read about them in an old bestiary from the Edo period.” Kaito sighed. He stopped to pull a refillable water bottle from his knapsack and drank for a moment before he spoke again. “When was the most recent death?”

“Several nights ago, in a home just up this street. Want to take a look?”

Kaito nodded and indicated she should lead the way. A few minutes later she turned into one of the funaya houses and opened the door, pushing past the police barrier. Kaito followed her up to the residential section of the house, removing his sandals at the entryway. Fumiko started to enter the residence, but Kaito stopped and looked down at her combat boots.

“No one lives here, currently. It’s not exactly expedient to remove these and put them back on…”

“Then stay here,” Kaito said.

As he walked past her, she said, “The body was found in the kitchen.” Kaito nodded and passed through the entryway, sliding aside the traditional rice paper door. The floors were polished pine, smooth against his bare feet. The living room was first, small with an old TV sitting on a dresser. Then past a modern bathroom, and into the kitchen.

Kaito could feel where the life had ended. The emanation came from the corner, where the resident had fallen propped up against the wooden cabinet and the small washing machine. He clasped his hands and bowed, reciting a sutra.

A noise at the window startled him, and he just managed to see a furry body slide off the windowsill and out of sight.

Kaito turned and ran back to the entryway, slipping into his sandals, and rushed out the door. Fumiko followed several paces behind.

“What is it?” she asked.

Kaito shook his head as he rounded the corner into the street and just barely caught sight of movement slipping between two houses a few dozen meters away. By the time he reached the alley, there was no sign of the thing.

Fumiko caught up to him and covered the space with her assault rifle. Kaito put his hand on the weapon and pushed it down.

“It is gone.”

Kaito walked to the end of the path between the houses and looked out on a small, well-kept park. LED lights flickered on along the length of the street and in the park, illuminating the neatly cut grass and play area for children. On the other side of the park was forest covering a rising hill. He stepped into the street towards the park but was struck in the back by something small and terribly dense.

Kaito’s face met the asphalt with loud click and the world went dark for a moment. As his vision started to clear, he tasted blood in his mouth. His head shuddered as he turned to look at Fumiko and found the yokai crouching over her face, her body supine.

He could see the breath escaping from her lips as he struggled to regain his feet. The image of the street swam in front of him, creating doubles of the scene. Nausea wracked through him, and he gagged. Only managing a shuddering cough when he tried to speak, he tasted blood in his mouth. She was going to die.

Suddenly three shots rang out and the yamachichi reeled back, collapsing to the ground. Fumiko gasped for breath, moaning, and then sat up. Kaito looked down the alleyway to see several Foundation soldiers approaching, rifles extended.

Kaito stood up, checked that Fumiko was breathing steadily, and forced her to stay seated with a hand on her shoulder.

He turned to the nearest soldier and swept his legs out from under him with the shakujō. He followed with a kick to the fallen soldier’s solar plexus and extended the shakujō out catch the next in the jaw, sending him sprawling. The third soldier raised his weapon and aimed it at Kaito.

“Stand down!” Fumiko shouted, hurrying to get between them. She held up her hand in front of Kaito, while she turned to address the soldier. “Help them up and retreat back into the street.”

“But—“

“Now, sergeant!”

Fumiko turned back to Kaito, placing both hands on his chest as he started to push past her to follow the soldiers.

“Listen to me!” she shouted into his face, causing him to pause. “They were just protecting me. That’s their job!”

Kaito brushed her hands away with a strength she clearly found surprising, and turned back to the yamachichi. The yokai was shaking, brownish-red blood pouring from the three bullet holes in its torso. It looked like a toddler-sized possum, but slightly anthropomorphized. Its eyes were a shockingly human blue. Kaito touched the beast’s chest, just in time for the breathing to stop.

“It was only acting on instinct. There’s no malice here,” he said.

“What were they supposed to do, let me die?”

“You would have reincarnated. It will not.” He was silent for a few minutes, as he crouched by the yamachichi. “There is no prayer for a yokai. No hells or dharmic cycle. Just oblivion.”

Fumiko touched Kaito’s shoulder. He looked up into her face. "I'm sorry. I'm merely frustrated by all this violence."

“Why do I feel so strong? I feel like I’ve just had three shots of espresso and my breathing isn’t even strained.”

“When a yamachichi is interrupted from taking the breath from a person, they will not only not die the next day but will have increased vigor and extended life… or so it is said.” Kaito spoke softly, untying his cloth knapsack, unfolding it, and laying it across the small furry body. He sat his water bottle on the ground, and slipped his excess ofuda into the pouch on his belt.

“What would you have done?” she asked.

“Incapacitated it and banished it from the realm. It was just a poor beast.”

A clapping of hands came from the tree line, in slow applause.

Kaito turned and saw a tengu emerging from the trees beyond the park. Its clawed feet dug into the neat grass as it walked. Its black feathered wings were folded behind its back, and it carried a long spear made of black, oily metal. It wore leather armor on its chest with steel rings sewn into the material.

“Very nice.” The tengu laughed in a shrill sound emerging from its beak. “Funeral rites for a yamachichi! Do you want to recite a sutra?”

“There would be no point, it’s spirit is gone to wherever yokai travel when they die. It has no anima to be reincarnated, no path to the Pure Lands.”

“Ah, too bad. I watched out for the little thing. He was good company and will be missed.”

“He was killing rampantly, six in the last few weeks. That’s uncharacteristic. Were you spurring him on?”

“I? No, why would someone such as I want the random deaths of fishermen? The furry devil was famished, after so long away from your world. I don’t even know what he was doing in this area.”

“I do not believe you, tengu-san.”

The tengu shrugged as it continued its approach through the park.

“Are you calling me a liar, priest?”

“Yes. Your kind is all too fond of mischief, usually ending in the deaths of innocents.”

“Innocents! Ha!”

“What have these people done to you?”

The tengu stopped at the edge of the park, a few meters of asphalt between them. He held his arms wide, the spear swung in a sweeping gesture to indicate the village.

“They live, priest! They foul everything they touch. There is no room for us anymore, no stories told of our might, no game to be found in the forests. Just endless humans with their televisions and their cars, corrupting the land. They are kegare.”

Kaito gripped his shakujō in both hands, holding it across his body horizontally, as if to make a barrier.

“That doesn’t mean they should die.”

“Oh poor, guileless priest. Don’t you believe in the wheel anymore? They’ll be reincarnated, right? No harm done.”

“Must we do this? Won’t you leave this realm in peace? I do not want more violence.”

The tengu shrugged. “The girl’s soldiers killed my friend. Blood is necessary to balance the insult.”

Kaito saw Fumiko bending down to pick up her rifle. He grabbed an ofuda from his belt pouch and adhered it to the shakujō with a spoken kotodama. She turned and met his eyes, nodding. He indicated with a head bob that she should fall back, but she shook her head. She sighted down the rifle and gasped.

Kaito turned just in time to see the tengu rushing down from the sky, at the completion of an inhumanly high leap. He stepped to the side and raised his shakujō to meet the oncoming spear thrust. A bell chimed with the impact, and again, a bright light erupted from the tip of the shakujō where the ofuda charm enveloped it. The spear thrust was shunted to the right and towards Fumiko.

Kaito started to call out a warning, but the agent was already spinning to avoid the thrust, just barely missing her face. Fumiko fired a burst from her rifle but the tengu spun its spear, deflecting the rounds into the road. The beaked mouth of the yokai clicked several times, a chiding “tsk tsk” sound.

The tengu continued a rotation of the spear, bringing the blunt end down in a blur towards the agent’s skull. Kaito called out a ringing kotodama, and the spear haft was deflected into the body armor Fumiko wore, striking her between the shoulder and head. She grunted in pain and sprawled backwards against a funaya’s exterior wall, not quite losing her feet.

“Enough, bird!” Kaito shouted at the tengu in Japanese. “It is time for you to leave.”

He swung out at the yokai’s face with the shakujō, slipping past its guard and striking it on the side of the yellowish beak. There was another flash and the birdlike yokai flew backwards onto its back on the asphalt. It made a shrill cry of pain. Kaito followed with an overhead blow on the tengu’s spear arm, hitting the wrist with a nauseating snapping sound. The yokai screamed and dropped the weapon.

“I hope you burn in all the hells, priest! I only wanted to see the world again, there’ll be nowhere to go home to soon. You send me to oblivion!”

Kaito stood over the tengu with another banishing ofuda charm in his hand. “What do you mean? Quickly, before I beat you senseless!”

“Magic fades! The realms wither! Soon there will be no home… we must come here.”

“You are not welcome,” Kaito said softly.

“Omoguchi-sama was right about you people.”

“Who?”

“Our patron, you ape. He supported our coming here again after so long away for most of us. He warned us you people would never let the yokai return to Japan.”

“Where is this man?”

The tengu struck out with its good arm, but Kaito stepped aside and struck it with the shakujō again. The light was dimmer than before, but the tengu cried out in pain all the same.

“Answer me!”

When it spoke, the tengu’s voice was low, contrasting its previously violent-jovial tone. “You think I’ll betray the only man who would understand our needs? Rot, priest. Simmer in the filth of your fellow humans. Do not look to the realms when your arts no long work!”

Kaito stepped forward and placed the banishing charm on the tengu’s chest gently. A bell chimed in the empty street, and the yokai was gone, leaving only smoke in its place. It did not scream.


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Kaito removed the used charm from his shakujō, wondering why the ofuda seemed less potent than in years past. He leaned on the shakujō as he turned toward Fumiko who had her back to the wall, left hand cupping the place where the spear haft had struck.

“Are you alright, Tanaka-san?” he asked in English.

“I don’t think anything’s broken.”

“What do you know about this fading of magic the bird spoke of?”

She hesitated a moment, then shook her head. “Nothing. Like you said, my Japanese isn’t the best, I wasn’t catching all of that.”

Kaito stared at her, but she did not look away. She met his eyes without hesitation.

“You don’t know anything about magic fading? Just now, and at the temple, my charms were not as effective as they once were. A few strikes and then they are just paper.”

“Charms? I assumed the staff…”

“What? No, my shakujō is merely steel. It’s traditional for traveling monks. The charms I wrap around the staff are what hurts the yokai, and the kotodama.”

“Those words you say like a spell?”

“They are not a spell. They are gifts from the bodhisattvas and arhats, empowering the knowing with certain abilities. They are tools, not spells.”

Fumiko shook her head. “Seems like a spell to me.”

Kaito snorted back a short, sharp laugh.

“So, the staff doesn’t do anything? The way you swing it around, it sure seems potent.”

“It hurts when I hit someone with it, would you like a demonstration?”

Fumiko laughed uncomfortably. “Message received, dropping it.”

Kaito sighed. “There are very few legends concerning a shakujō having powers.”

“Like what?”

“Many years ago, I read about a famous monk who was visiting Enkōji in Kōchi Prefecture. The monk used his shakujō to split the earth and reveal a spot for a well to be dug, as the nearby village was suffering terribly from drought. It’s still there, and is called the eye-cleansing well by the locals.”

“Neat story. Not terribly helpful in this situation.” She smiled at him.

Kaito laughed, causing his head to ring from the impact against the asphalt.

“What of the man the tengu mentioned? Do you know him?” he asked.

“I thought I caught a name, Omoguchi, right?”

“Yes, and the yokai used the sama honorific, so he must be someone of importance.”

“I’ll call it in. Are you alright?”

Kaito swirled some water in his mouth from his bottle, rinsing out the blood and spitting it into a nearby shrub. “I will be fine.”

Fumiko turned from him and placed a finger on her ear as she started to talk on the radio. Kaito turned and looked at the covered body of the yamachichi. He tried to tune out the sound of her discussion with her superiors, while he cleared his mind and struggled to accept the responsibility of this death. He was still staring at it when she tapped him on the shoulder.

“There’s a man in Kyoto named Kenta Omoguchi.”

“Why do you think that is the man the tengu spoke of?”

“It’s not a common last name, and this Omoguchi is the CEO of Transtar Energies. The headquarters are in the city.”

Kaito rubbed at his aching skull. “Well, then, let us speak with Omoguchi-san.”


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Kyoto

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Kaito sat in the back seat of an armored SUV with tinted glass, watching as the vehicle crested a hill and the city of Kyoto came into view. He gripped the shakujō in both hands. A man was calling the yokai and oni into the material realm, and Kaito did not know what to make of this information. What would they face with this man?

Fumiko sat in the front passenger seat, talking into her phone in quiet tones as the silent, uniformed driver operated the vehicle. Kaito tapped her shoulder as she hung up and she turned to look back at him.

“What are we doing?” he asked.

“A forward operating team has secured the building and evacuated everyone but Mr. Omoguchi, under the cover story of a security breach connected to the terrorist attack in Ine. He’s being delayed by some agents so we can speak with him.”

“A bit heavy-handed, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s not as subtle as I would usually like but it wasn’t my decision. The situation needs to be contained as fast as possible. If someone is connected to the rising incidence of yokai, then we need them to stop.”

“So, there have been more incidences than usual?” he asked.

“From what we can see, yes. You’re normally fairly active from what we’ve noticed, but when was the last time you needed to deal with three yokai killing people within the same day?”

He rubbed his closed eyes, his head still aching from the hit he took in Ine. “Never. They are usually solitary, spread out. Hidden.”

“Right, so if this is a rising tide situation there’s a significant threat to normalcy.”

Kaito scoffed. “Normalcy? These things have been existing since before Japan had people living in her borders… what is normal? You fools are always trying to impose your own limited views on what the natural world consists of. This is real.”

She shifted in the seat, avoiding his eyes, and turned back to face forward. “I know your opinions, and I empathize, but the point is this situation is dangerous for you and I to handle alone. How many dead now just from these two events? Eight? That’s too much, people are going to start wondering. Imagine the panic!”

He nodded absentmindedly, before realizing she was no longer looking at him. “Okay, I agree, the panic would be devastating. But perhaps it’s time to start informing people of the world they live in.”

Fumiko shrugged. “Above my pay grade, Eguchi-san.”

He watched out his window as the city grew around them, ancient temples and modern businesses intermixed in the way only Kyoto appeared. How fitting to face a man of business here amongst the old city – if he were communing with the oni, then where better? The past and present were intertwined into the very bones of the old capital.

“The tengu said something before you banished it,” Fumiko said.

“It said many things, Tanaka-san.”

“Right. But something I caught was that he called people ‘kegare’, and that’s not a word I know.”

“Its literal meaning is defilement or uncleanliness, but in Shinto it has another.”

“Which is?”

“Spiritual corruption. Stagnancy. Breeding of disease, on the level of the soul. This is not a moral corruption, not referring to sin or the staining of one’s spirit from one’s action. This is a natural reaction to amoral, unnatural forces. So, one might seek forgiveness for one’s wrongdoing and yet still have kegare; they would still be stained by the action. Do you understand?”

“Not in the context of the whole human race, as the bird implied.”

“Kegare needs to be remedied by the people responsible, through purification rituals. A common allegory used in Shinto is that a still pool can become stagnant, a source of infection or breeding ground for plague-bearing insects. But running water is clear, it is pure. The tengu was calling human society a stagnant pool.”

Fumiko sat silently for a moment, and he could not gauge her mood with her facing away. Suddenly, she spoke again.

“What does purification of an entire society look like?”

“In the tengu’s mind, a tsunami would probably be appropriate,” Kaito said.

A little gasp escaped the agent’s mouth before she stifled it. She turned and looked into his eyes. “Could a yokai be capable of such a thing?”

“Literally? I very much doubt it, the seas are more powerful than any one yokai. But metaphorically? A wiping of the slate? Possible. There are many realms beyond this one, and they are filled with many yokai.”

Fumiko was quiet again, eyes cast downward, and then she said “Genocide?”

It was Kaito’s turn to shrug. “Both the oni on Mt. Ibuki and the tengu mentioned the realms were fading, because they claimed magic was faltering. I don’t know what they meant, but if all the yokai and oni were to find themselves without homes and needed somewhere new, there’s not much room in Japan as it stands.”

Fumiko shuddered.

“I agree, it is not a pleasant thought,” he said. And you claim not to know anything about this fading of magic, Jailor, he thought to himself.

The driver spoke for the first time. “We’re approaching the address.”

“Any word from the forward team?” Fumiko asked.

“Negative. They reported the building was evacuated and were going to secure the POI, but no further updates have been transmitted.”

“What?! That’s not good.”

“What does it mean, Fumiko?” Kaito asked.

She turned back towards him, her eyes a little wide at his use of her given name. “Trouble.”

A few minutes later they stood in front of the ten-story office building, its clear glass doors showing a pristine lobby cleared of all people. There were no signs of Foundation activity.

“That’s right, we haven’t heard anything since they secured the building,” Fumiko said into her cell phone. “No, I think we need a full tactical team here now. Mobilize a task force and get them to our position. Thank you, Director.”

As she hung up the phone, Kaito looked at her. She made eye contact and looked apologetic. “We’re going to need to wait for reinforcements.”

“No. I’m going to speak with this man, and now.” He started towards the glass doors, but she ran and stepped into his way with her arms outstretched as a barrier.

“We need to wait; we don’t know what’s happening in there.”

“I will not enter that building behind a squad of your professional soldiers, Fumiko. I’m going in now.” He pushed her to the side, gently but firmly, and started walking up the stairs to the glass doors.

“Goddamnit.”

Fumiko turned to the driver, still seated. “Stay here and update the team when they arrive, I’m turning on my transponder so they should be able to see exactly where we are.”

“Those aren’t our orders!” he shouted at her back as she turned to follow Kaito into the building.


Wheel.png

Kaito looked about the empty lobby. A pristine polished floor and abandoned security station faced him. He approached the security station and looked at the computer monitor, which was still logged in and open for use.

“You evacuated the entire building?” he asked over his shoulder as Fumiko entered the lobby.

“Yes, or that’s what I was told.”

“This station hasn’t been abandoned for long, and there’s no one milling about outside.”

She shrugged as she came up beside him. “That was twenty-five minutes ago, so I assume whoever was left has gone home. It’s after twenty-one hundred, not many would still be around I’d think.”

He turned and looked around the lobby once more, then met her eyes. “Where is your team?”

“Their transponders are all in the executive suite. Top floor.”

Kaito picked up a security badge that was laying on the security station’s desk. He walked to the elevators and held the door for her.

“Backup is another fifteen minutes out,” she said as she followed into the open elevator.

“We won’t be waiting for them,” he said as he pressed the security badge against the sensor and keyed the top floor.

“What’s your plan here, Kaito?”

“Talk with the man, find out his connection to the oni, find your team.”

“You make it sound very simple.”

He smiled sadly. “Everything is simple, if you look at it the right way.”

She shook her head and checked her rifle. “Not in my experience.”

“Let go of your fear, this is the illusion. All things must end eventually.”

“Well, I’d rather we not end tonight.”

He nodded as the elevator doors opened on the top floor. Fumiko entered first, clearing the room with her rifle raised. Kaito followed but stopped to look above them.

The ceiling was over fifteen meters tall, and a large torii gate stood in the center of the room. The corridor beyond led to many other rooms, but to enter the executive suite, one needed to pass beneath the torii.

He walked to the reddish-orange stone arch and placed his hand upon it, still looking upwards.

“What’s wrong?” Fumiko asked.

“This is an actual torii, not a decoration. It’s very old and well taken care of, but it’s strange to see one in this setting.”

“Huh, right. You don’t see these indoors a lot.”

“I can’t think of any example of one being moved into a building such as this. In Shinto, they serve a function in the open air. Separating the mundane from the sacred. I do not think much on the concept of heresy… but I think this may be close.”

“The Buddha would not have found corporate executives to be sacred?”

“Unlikely.”

He walked further into the large room, realizing this was another lobby. A receptionist’s desk stood a few paces from the torii, guarding the way to the inner offices of CFOs and CEOs. It, too, was empty.

The clanging of his shakujō’s rings echoed in the empty hall as he walked further in. There was no sign of the Jailor team.

“Where are your men?”

“Few dozen meters down this corridor.”

They continued on until they reached large double doors with a name placard that read Omoguchi Kenta CEO in formal Japanese characters. He pushed one of the doors inward and gasped.

Fumiko rushed in beside him, and shouted. “Fuck!”

Arrayed before them was the five-member team, eviscerated and bludgeoned into almost unrecognizable shapes. Several had their heads torn off. The smell of blood and fecal matter was strong in the large executive office.

Kaito’s vision swam as he panned across the bodies, until movement at the end of the room caught his eye.

A middle-aged Japanese man in an expensive suit walked out from a personal bathroom, wiping his hands with a towel. Kaito noted the white towel had been streaked red.

“What is this?” Kaito said in Japanese.

“You come into my building, without authorization, and have the gall to ask me that?” the man said in English. “Corporate spies, no doubt. Or terrorists.”

Walked to his desk and threw the bloody hand towel into a small trashcan, then walked to stand in front of his desk, leaning on it slightly.

“You are Kenta Omoguchi?” Fumiko asked. “Actually, fuck that! What did you do to these men?”

“They came in waving about those guns… I was afraid for my life.” The man smiled.

“So, you killed them with your bare hands?” Kaito asked.

“Yes, they did not show me proper respect, priest.”

Fumiko pointed her rifle Omoguchi.

“You son of a bitch!”

Kaito touched her shoulder and whispered, “No, we need to know what happened here.”

“I am a king. I do not answer to vagabond priests or paramilitary agents of shadowy organizations.”

Kaito started to ask what the man meant, but was distracted by the sound of the suit ripping at the seams. His flesh grew, tearing through the fabric and then his pale skin, revealing a horned oni warrior two and a half meters tall. The shed skin slapped against the tiled floor messily, spilling blood in a pool around him.

The oni had bright blue skin, three horns protruding from his brow, and a mouth full of tusks. His eyes shone red in the dimly lit office. He wore a coat of oily green scales, like armor over his rough flesh.

Kaito looked around and saw the light fleeing from the room, a mist arising from the floor and occluding the dead agents. The air grew colder as well. The oni reached to his left and pulled a large naganita from the shimmering air.

“Who are you to invade my domain and demand answers, hōrō-sha?”

Kaito’s gripped his shakujō and placed an ofuda on the head of the staff. “What is your name, demon?”

“Shuten-dōji.”

Kaito’s mouth opened wide, lost for a moment.

“What?” Fumiko demanded.

“Your priest has heard of me!” the oni cried, then filled the room with booming laughter. “What can I say? I always liked sake.”

Fumiko almost asked another question but was thrown backwards as the naganita’s blade slammed into the floor in front of her. A shockwave rippled from the impact, but Kaito’s shakujō deflected the force, a bell chiming as the ofuda took effect.

“No more questions!” cried the oni as it lunged in his direction.

As the naganita’s blade swung for Kaito, he uttered a kotodama and leapt to his right. The blade bounced off the force of his word and deflected away into the floor again, crushing tile and causing the chips to bombard Kaito’s body. He felt burning slashes across his cheek and arms, knowing there would be blood.

He swung his shakujō down and hit the oni’s forearms, with a heavy thud. The oni growled and reached for him. The large hand wrapped around Kaito’s outstretched palm and a brilliant flash of light erupted from the oni’s clenched fist. Blue blood splashed across Kaito’s chest as Shuten-dōji gasped and pulled his maimed hand away. Three fingers had been crushed by the blast and a cut was rent into the large blue palm.

Kaito threw down the ruined ofuda, stained with oni blood. The demon dropped the war spear and clutched his hand to his chest.

“You fucking mouse! How dare you strike me?!?”

Kaito rushed in and plunged his shakujō into the broken tile in front of the giant. The staff’s base sunk neatly into the floor and the ofuda at the top shined brightly, triggering a cacophony of chiming bells. The ofuda flashed a white light and the oni clutched at his eyes with his good hand, gasping a curse in Japanese.

Kaito leaned in and placed two ofuda on the shimmering scalemail armor. White light erupted and formed a series of chains that wrapped themselves around the oni, tying him to the floor. The oni gurgled as one of the chains wrapped around his thick neck.

Kaito pulled his staff from the floor, causing the used ofuda to crumble from its tip. He turned and looked down at Fumiko, who was struggling to get up from where the blast had thrown her against the far wall. The drywall was cracked above her where she had impacted it.

He crouched down next to her. “Are you hurt?”

Fumiko groaned and reached for him. He pulled her to her feet. “My head’s ringing, but I don’t think anything’s broken.”

He looked over her shoulder at the crater she’d left in the drywall. She followed his gaze and gasped, then started running her hands over her body. “Jesus, am I bleeding?”

“It does not appear so.”

“The yamachichi?”

He nodded, and turned to look at the struggling oni. The chains shone brighter as he tried to flex his way free, wrapping tighter around him.

Kaito stood in front of the oni king. “What are you doing here? I had heard you were dead.”

“Humans and their stories, bah!”

“Who is he?” Fumiko asked.

“Self-proclaimed king of the oni, who once caused many deaths in this area. Legend had it that his head was severed from his body by a famous samurai.”

“And so it was, priest. But I still lived! My magic is strong.”

“Why the masquerade? Why pretend to be a human?”

“Power. Isn’t it always about power? I needed resources and influence to guide my fellow yokai back to the waking world.”

“Tell me about the realms fading, why do you seek refuge here?”

“Ask your colleague.”

Kaito looked at Fumiko, who was shaking her head.

“She knows, they all do. They’ve been trying to round us up for months, they know why we’re here. Magic fades, priest. What would you have us do?”

“Is he speaking the truth? Have you been hunting yokai?” Kaito asked Fumiko.

“Of course, that’s what we do! We contain the anomalous.”

“But then, that begs the question, priest. Why did they need you?”

Kaito stared at Fumiko.

“I already told you! We couldn’t find what was killing the people in Ine, we needed someone with more expertise.”

The oni started laughing again, the sound reverberating off the walls.

“They didn’t need you. They needed that.” The oni was looking directly at Kaito’s shakujō.

“What?”

Fumiko looked from the oni to him and then raised her rifle to point at the demon. Kaito grabbed the rifle and pulled the barrel up towards the ceiling.

“No! Tell me what he means!”

Fumiko yanked the rifle away from him and turned away. “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

“Stop lying, Fumiko,” Kaito said softly.

She turned towards him quickly, anger clear on her face. “I–”

Suddenly she touched her ear, and spoke softly enough he couldn’t understand her.

“Alright. Thank you, sir,” she said to whoever was on the other end.

“What is it?” Kaito demanded.

“We did want your help, that’s true.”

“But?”

“We also want the staff.”

“Why? It’s a memento from my family, it’s just a shakujō. You could buy one fairly easily.”

“Not like that one, we couldn’t.” She rubbed her temples, either from pain or frustration, or both. She sighed.

“It’s a relic. An anomaly. We came across some documentation in the archives that implied it was magic, with a capital M.”

“What nonsense is this?”

“You have to know, it’s much more than a staff. It’s a key.”

“To what?”

“To the realms. To dimensions. To endless thaumaturgical energy. It’s a lightning rod for the divine, it’s spilling akiva radiation like we’ve almost never seen.”

“What does any of that mean?”

“It’s the reason you banish the yokai so easily, not your charms. Not your spells… kotodama. It’s the staff.”

“No.”

“Have you ever met another oni hunter that was effective as you? Did you think you were just stronger than anyone else? You can banish a spirit with ease that would take a squadron of soldiers and thaumaturges to take down. Look at what you did to him!”

The oni laughed again, but not as loudly. “It’s true, priest. You’re nothing special. It’s the rod that’s doing the hard work.”

“Don’t listen to this murderer. Listen to me!” Fumiko cried.

Kaito stared at the staff gripped loosely in his hands.

“He’s right. Magic is failing. The anomalous is falling apart. Things we’ve known about for centuries are just ceasing to exist… and some of them are causing a fair bit of chaos in their wake,” she said, gripping his shoulders. “But what isn’t failing, Kaito? You. That staff. You’ve been fighting off demons for decades, and you’ve always succeeded. The staff is why.”

“No,” he whispered. His arms started to shake.

“Yes! But it doesn’t take away from anything you’ve done… you’ve served your people well.”

“And now?” he asked, pushing her hands off his shoulders and turning away from both woman and oni.

“We can do something about this entropy, and that staff could be the linchpin. Come with us, help us.”

The oni started laughing loudly again. “He doesn’t work for Jailors, little agent. Just look at him! You expect him to change now? He’s cracking under this new world he’s discovered!”

“Shut up!”

The oni growled and the room grew even darker. Kaito looked around frantically. The walls of the office were gone, replaced with red hued mist and dying trees.

“Look around you, priest! The realms die, and we will take our place in the waking world.”

Kaito turned towards the oni king just in time to see the shining chains dim and then split with a crack like a gunshot. The spirit chains fell towards the ground, flickered and then dissipated.

Shuten-dōji backhanded Fumiko into the mist and screamed at him. “I will take your toy, eat your flesh, and my people will cover these islands like a flood! We will take better care of them than any human would. Once they’re all dead!”

The oni roared and the mists enshrouded them both. Kaito looked back towards where the top floor lobby had been, where the torii gate shone a dull red. The oni had pulled them into his realm. The torii had been a boundary, not of the sacred but of the otherworldly.

Out of the mist, the naganita’s blade thrust for Kaito’s chest. He stepped backwards and swung the shakujō in a tight arc, deflecting the blade. A bell chimed dimly in the distance.

He leapt up as the blade swung for his feet and in mid air stuck the thick shaft of the spear, snapping it in two. Another bell chimed, louder and closer this time.

Shuten-dōji roared. “Just fucking die already!”

Kaito plunged into the mist, and as he did so, he recited a poem quietly in Japanese:

The flowing river waters
bring all things to the sea
I too, must go.

The mists parted and the oni snarled over its large bloody tusks. It reached for him with its hands, one whole and one horribly maimed.

Kaito twisted as he ran, slipping between the two monstrous hands, and struck the wet ground of the oni realm with the shakujō. A bell pealed all around them and a white light engulfed the oni as blue-white flames swept across the ground and up his legs. The oni reared back, screaming and frantically batting at the flames. Kaito swung his staff and struck Shuten-dōji in the face.

Blue-black ichor splashed across Kaito’s body and face, blinding him. The oni king screamed in pain and lashed out desperately, striking Kaito in the chest and sending him crashing to the cold earth.

When he could open his eyes a little he saw light returning to the space, the walls of the office melting back into place, and the half-caved-in head of Shuten-dōji staring at him. Shuddering breaths came from the ruined oni king’s throat as he struggled to speak. Suddenly the oni fixated on his face with its one good eye and groaned, “I will not… fade…”

Shuten-dōji’s chest was wracked with violent coughing, causing more of the blue ichor to spill from his lips. He managed a weak, wet sigh, and then fell silent. The beast’s chest stopped rising and the light dimmed in his eye as it grew brighter in the room. Kaito looked away.

Kaito gripped the shakujō across his chest, lying flat on his back. A sharp pain stabbed in his side with each breath, and he tasted blood. He struggled to crane his neck so that he might look at the staff.

Well, look at me now. Couldn’t you have told me about your power before now? I could have used the help.

Someone rushed over to him; he barely recognized Fumiko in his fugue.

The world went black as he closed his eyes.



<END LOG>
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