Little Kitsunebi Part ii
rating: +15+x

pd56batch7-073a-nap_1.png

The impending footsteps on the dirty concrete floors of Level 2 abandoned all sense of secrecy.

What had once been a neurotic suspicion of being followed morphed into a sudden realization as my pursuers revealed themselves with the sound of their heavy footsteps. They were closer, much closer than we anticipated, and there were several sets of them – not only that, but they were accompanied by the sound of rolling tires, the clanking of metal, and most foreboding of all, the lack of a single spoken word.

From that, I gathered quickly that they were an organized team that didn’t need to shout order to communicate. That kind of swift efficiency bore down on our haphazard raggle-taggle group of unorganized runaways. As their footsteps quickened, as did ours, as what had been a silent creep turned into a chaotic cacophonous frenzy in a matter of seconds. We shed all form of evasiveness, for we knew we had been found. We blew past tunnels full of piping, assorted fixtures, and metal, kicking aside and trampling scraps of unwanted materials. Various shards of sharp objects and glass crunched under our feet as our assailants loomed closer.

I could feel sweat forming on my brow as the temperature began to steadily rise the further we pressed onwards. The air became thick with the stench of hot iron embedded in the steam of our frenetic exhalation. From around the corner, I could see several elongated shadows creep up the far wall, cast by an unknown flashlight just around the bend. The light danced back and forth, searching for its prey, the deer caught in its headlights. Just as I saw the outline of an arm cross the threshold, I felt sweltering heat explode into my palms. I grit my teeth and heaved my arm forwards with all my weight, ripping into the fabric of reality with my claws and igniting my fingers with the friction. The world grew silent for a fragmented second before the ground in front of me flew into an infernal conflagration. The flames shot upwards, snatching the ceiling in its grasp and filling the room with incandescent light.

I gaped in awe as I saw that between my fire’s angry tongues, several silhouettes flickered back and forth. I heard the sound of a large object being planted on the ground, and then an angry hissing scream above the noise. I felt a tug on my palm as my fire began to dwindle, writhing about like a great beast cause in a suffocating net.

“Kimiko-sama!” Sagobe-san called from up ahead. She was already nearing the corner of the next hallway, shouting over the heads of all my other Masked Maiden brethren. She slowed down to call me, and the rest of my companions whizzed past her, blanketing her in a sea of bodies as she struggled to snap me out of my trance.

“Don’t watch! You have to run, Kimiko-sama!”

I closed my open palm into a fist, sparks flying between my knuckles. In that instant, I saw my clothes and hands disappear in my periphery as my body faded into intangibility. Invisible, I gasped as I saw the number of people that were chasing us. Most surprising of all, however, was the contraption that they carried with them, straddled by two men on either side. A gigantic garden hose, its length leading straight into a gargantuan tank hoisted up by four people at once. One man switched off the valve and its foamy spray shuttered to a halt, leaving no trace of my fire and the ground rife with puddles.

Sagobe-san and the others had already rounded the corner. When the two men grabbed onto the sides of the garden hose’s wheel, life sprung back into my feet. I dashed around the corner as our assailants picked up the pursuit.

Even an ethereal spirit such as myself was not immune to fatigue, and the blistering heat was not helping one bit. As the chase dragged on, I found that the pounding of my feet against the concrete of the ground and the wood of my sandals sent painful shocks throughout my body with each step. My breath caught in my throat, too scared to escape. Even with the added time that I had bought them, we were still losing ground, and fast.

Guilt wormed its way into my heart as I realized the reason that we were being chased. For a secret organization, I had done a lousy job of keeping it secret. Over time, I had tried to infiltrate the M.E.G. on numerous occasions to gain vital intel for the rest of the Masked Maidens. That was my job, and I had done it poorly. I had allowed myself to be discovered, and I had allowed the M.E.G. to be able to develop a trap to hunt our entire group down using the form of a tracked file. And if we were caught here because I was unable to stall them for long enough to escape, it would be my fault, too. Despite the kitsune powers that I possessed, I was fundamentally useless as part of the Masked Maidens. Detrimental, even.

“In here, quickly!” Sagobe-san shouted as I caught up to the rest of the group. She gesticulated wildly to her right, where there was a doorway. Beyond the doorway was a large room, ornately decorated in all sorts of suburban clutter. With a nostalgic pang, I realized that the room’s make was not unlike that of a typical Japanese home. It was that final straw that brought the tears in my eyes out. I revealed myself, no longer having neither the strength nor focus to keep up the magical cover. I let my arms hang limp as I choked on what little breath I had left.

“Sagobe-san! It’s a dead end!” Marcus, one of my fellow Maidens, shouted from somewhere inside the room.

“No, it’s not! Trust me, don’t hesitate. There’s no room for that. Just go in, all of you!”

The fatigue caught up to me, clamping onto my legs like the jaws of a hungry tiger. Petrified, I stood, wringing my hands and sniffling uncontrollably. A hundred years lived and I looked like a human baby.

“Kimiko-sama! Move!” Sagobe-san shouted. I whirled around as the footsteps approached us. A man rounded the bend and, in a frightening jolt of realization, I looked into his eyes. So many unspoken words that could never be described passed between us in that moment. Entity, myth, or human, our vibrations were the same in that instance. Then…

Sagobe-san shoved me into the room, jumping in herself and slamming the door behind her.
As I took in my surroundings, I realized suddenly that all the other members of the Masked Maidens that I had been with were nowhere in sight. The only person that I could see was right beside me – Kokona Sagobe, leader of the Kitsune sub-sector of the Masked Maidens. She dusted her hands off on her leather pants and looked at me.

“Are you alright? Not too spent after using your powers?” she asked between breaths. I put a shaky hand on her shoulder to steady myself and bent over, regaining my breath. As such, I didn’t notice the room slowly begin to morph and change. The walls rearranged themselves, and all of a sudden, the lights shuttered and flickered out. I yelped as my world was thrown into darkness.

“Sagobe-san? Are you still there? Where are you?” I shouted frantically. I jumped as I felt an arm around my back.

“Don’t worry, Kimiko-sama. I’m right here.”

“Where are the others?”

“Most likely up ahead. Hold onto my hand and don’t let go. We’re in Level 64 right now; I could tell based on the entrance. You won’t be able to use your fire powers too much here, since it might burn your surroundings.”

I grabbed ahold of Sagobe-san’s hand as she led the way through the darkness. I could feel clutter all around me, and the wood of my sandals crunches on various objects – wrappers, tinfoil, and other unidentified substances I really didn’t want to think about. We stepped gingerly around piles of furniture until we came across a hallway filled with dim white candles.

An elaborate carpet with golden floral patterns lead the way down the corridor, and in the distance I could see several silhouettes shifting back and forth like a writhing mass of shadow. My heart pounded in my chest – was that our group, or had we just encountered our enemies?

The silence was unnerving, and I preemptively turned invisible. Even in the darkness, I felt vulnerable. Sagobe-san guided me towards the throng, and as we grew closer I could pick out the outlines of masked individuals, some masks familiar faces that I recognized immediately. Kitsune masks and… Bauta masks?

“We’re here, order from the Madam herself,” one of the Bauta mask wearers whispered to Sagobe-san the moment we approached them.

“I’m sorry for putting you all through so much trouble,” Sagobe-san said tersely, dipping her head politely to then before joining the ranks of the Kitsune mask wearers behind the formation of Bauta mask wearers. I felt a pang of guilt – I should have said that, but Sagobe-san said it for me. Now I couldn’t take any of the blame for myself.

“It’s not a problem. Nobody could have predicted that the M.E.G. would put a tracker on their own files. I’m sure that the Madam understands, as we do,” the Bauta mask wearer stated, evidently the head of the group. He had a deep masculine voice, the voice of Rafael Lawson, the Bauta mask leader.

“Everyone has destroyed their devices, correct?” Sagobe-san asked as the atmosphere began to calm down. It was then I had the courage to remove my invisibility. Everyone nodded their heads, some more hesitantly than others. I could only imagine the memories and months, even years of stored data, destroyed as collateral for my mistake.

While the M.E.G. were comprised of regular people – those with no outstanding supernatural abilities or powers, they were dangerous in their own right due to their adaptability. I shuddered when I recalled the giant water container and the portable garden hose that shot down my fire. They had come prepared, and now that our cover was blown, we had lost the element of surprise. With their greater numbers, even with my control over the element of fire, we were put at a disadvantage. It was almost pathetic how a figure who was revered and respected, hailed as a powerful and fearsome beast back in Japan, was put on the run like some frightened animal.

When Sagobe-san stole the files from Base Alpha in Level 1, she brought back a copy of one particular file of interest: a file on me. Unbeknownst to myself and every other Masked Maiden, the M.E.G. was aware that I had been infiltrating their ranks in disguises, and had been secretly spying on me in retaliation. It was through this method, and the documentation of my first encounter with the M.E.G. when I first entered the Backrooms, that they were able to craft a plan to corner us. And so far, it was working flawlessly. The chances of us being able to escape unscathed were growing slimmer and slimmer, like the light at the end of a collapsing tunnel.

“We’ll keep you all safe,” Lawson-san told us in a rough, no-nonsense manner. He was already moving past the crowd to stand at the edges, facing the entrance to the corridor. “My team and I will take the front and rear ends and watch for any incoming meggies. Kokona, you know about Level 64, right? Focus on finding an exit. We should get out of here as soon as possible. This is a good level to stay in for too long.”

“Roger that,” Kokona said in reply, using an expression I had never heard before.

We were already beginning to move forward, and several of my Kitsune mask companions patted me reassuringly the back to prompt me forward. Still, I couldn’t help but hesitate. It took me a few moments to choke the words out, but I eventually managed.

“W-wait,” I stammered. “I’m sure you’ve heard about me; I’m Kimiko, the kitsune. You know what that is… right?”

I reached out to place my hand on what I thought was Lawson-san’s shoulder, but as he turned around, the candlelight glinting off the mask showed a different pattern. My cheeks flushed in embarrassment as the Bauta mask wearer analyzed me, looking me up and down. He shrugged without a word, turning to another figure who was approaching. This time, I could tell the approaching figure was Lawson-san. They exchanged a glance before Lawson-san spoke.

“You’ve done your part already,” he said, without any indication that he knew what those words meant to me. I had done my part, alright. My part in putting everyone in jeopardy.

“Listen. This is an enclosed, tight space. Unlike Level 2, which you just came from, these walls are flammable, and these rooms filled with all sorts of ignitable shit. Trust us when we say that we’ve got it covered. We can’t risk you burning down the entire level or something. Stay with the others, don’t get separated, and comply with the orders. That’s how you’ll stay safe. Let us handle this, it’s our job, after all.”

“Okay…” I said, my voice trailing off. I slunk back towards the rest of the group while turning my back away from the Bauta mask group. It was then that I heard the steady thrum of thunderous footsteps, and Lawson-san shouting. I didn’t stay long enough to hear what I said. The Kistune sub-sector was already on its feet. We tumbled through room after room as the M.E.G. followed in hot pursuit. There were yells and the sound of clanging metal, and the spears and daggers the Bauta mask sub-sector used in combat instantly swam to mind. In the dark, I couldn’t see the blood splattering on worn-out shirts and dusty pants, but the stench was unavoidable. I couldn’t contain my morbid curiosity. I snapped my fingers and a tiny bluish-green ember sprang to my fingertips. I peered around its dancing figure to see heavy silhouettes writhing in the darkness like a pit of snakes.

“What are you doing?” Sagobe-san exclaimed. “Kill it! Kill the fire; we can’t let them know where we are!”

The light from the flame illuminated the room just enough for me to see one of the Bauta mask wearers falling to the ground with a heavy thump that was quickly covered by the violent noise of the scuffle. From behind him, a M.E.G. operative pulled out the tip of her spear. I felt my blood turn to ice, chilling the fire and snuffing it out in an instant. The world went dark again, but even then, it was spinning. Fear shot through my body like a deadly poison, and I felt bile rising up and out of my throat.

That was already one person dead because of my hesitation. Why had I allowed the people back at Japan to elevate me and treat me like some respectable ethereal being? I was deserving of no praise. For all the power that I held at my fingertips, I was so cowardly that I would rather choose to run away and let weaker humans die in my name. For what? For me to run away again, and let the next line of my defenders fall down as corpses?

I reached out my arm, willing the fire back into my fingertips, but it wouldn’t come. I couldn’t bear to see the dead bodies that I had created. The sounds of the battle burned themselves into my memory. On weak, shaking legs, I turned and fled once more.

Upon turning the corner and heading through a shadowy doorway, I saw light up ahead, illuminating the people ahead of me like the sun peeking out during an eclipse. We wandered into a great library, with bookshelves as tall as two-story buildings rising like wooden skyscrapers of literature to the ceiling. A long purple carpet snaked down the hardwood floor, bisecting the library in two like the tongue of a great dragon. We shuffled single-file between the hulking walls of books, and as we moved along, I took a glance at the arrays of leatherbound spines. Each book’s title read in an unknown language, remnants of a nonexistent time period.

Just as we reached the halfway point to the elaborate double door at the end of the library, the doorway behind us flew open. M.E.G. agents swarmed into the room, and my stomach dropped when I saw the remains of people I could have befriended plastered on their sticky clothes. I should have known they stood no chance without me. Their numbers were simply too small – only about a dozen to fifty or more M.E.G agents.

“We don’t want to fight you,” one of the agents called out from across the room. “You didn’t have to attack us like that, but we have you outnumbered and will use force if we have to. Don’t make us do it. We need to know what you’re doing with all this valuable information, and why you’re acting so hostile to us. Who is behind all this? How many are in your organization? Answer our questions and you will remain unharmed.”

“You’ll never catch us!” Marcus yelled, shoving his way back to stare the M.E.G. agents in their eyes. “You already know who we are. You already know what our goals are. You don’t need us to tell you, because you know deep in your cold hearts what the shit you did to us would make any person want.”

The two M.E.G. agents on both sides of the enormous hole straightened the nozzle, and the man at the water tank twisted the valve. A frightening amount of scalding water shot at Marcus, knocking him to his feet in an instant. The M.E.G. agents turned off the hose as we gasped in panic. The bodies in front of my pressed back upon me in an effort to steer clear of the scalding water covering Marcus’ body.

Marcus was writhing in pain, clutching his face and emitting a sound that no human or animal should ever make. The distinct smell of almonds permeated the air around us.
“Cashew Water,” Sagobe-san muttered in contempt.

“Do you want us all to die?” a voice called out from behind me. “You’re going to attract every Lurker in the fucking level with all that water!”

Sure enough, as both groups stood facing each other, the sound of echoing footsteps coming from the left and right of us ricocheted against the dusty walls of books. A monstrous figure burst through an ancient cobweb wall, sending tendrils of white and yellow clinging to the nearest surface like frantic worms and maggots. Another one tore through the yellowed pages of books to the right and clutched at the air in front of us wildly with one of its many legs. Both the agents and the Maidens present screamed in horror as the awakened Lurkers swarmed us. The people in front of me made a desperate break for the exit, while the people behind me shoved and jostled me about trying to save themselves.

Soon enough, I was left facing the middle of the hallway, where the space in between the agents and I was quickly filled with the terrible forms of the aggravated creatures before me. The pained face of a human, skin worn like a deflated mask over a mass of writhing flesh atop the body of a ten-legged worm. Staring me in the eyes with its soulless broken retinas.

Marcus got to his feet, stumbling about and leaning on the bookshelves for support. He limped past me as I pushed him back. He fell to the ground and reached out his hand to grab mine, but he was already behind me and I was too focused on the Lurker ahead of me to notice.

Every inch of my body was trembling, my breath shaky and shallow. My body was nearly petrified – but I broke the spell by clenching my fist and furrowing my brow. Self-hate turned into anger, and anger turned into fire. I grit my teeth and tore out my blue flames from the air itself. The temperature in the room rose instantly, and the Lurkers before me cowered in sudden fear.

“Don’t be a hero, Kimiko!” Sagobe-san was saying, but I couldn’t hear her over the thrum of my superheated heartbeat. She wanted me to leave Marcus to die and run away myself. Even I wanted to leave Marcus to die and run away myself. But it was time I earned my status as a being to be respected. I had seen enough.

They’re afraid of light, I suddenly realized, as they reeled each time the flames pounced at their flammable worm-like bodies. Well, I’ll just fill the entire room with light, then.

I pressed my fingertips into the wooden frame of the bookshelf. The sparks flew instantly, leaping from my fingers as feasting on the wood. Pages and pages of unknown knowledge fell into the endless flickering jaws of my infernal beast, never to be discovered again. I heard yelps from behind the Lurkers, and knew that the M.E.G had seen the burning bookcases. I watched as the insatiable red-orange tongues tasted the flesh of the Lurkers, and winced as they emitted a high-pitched scream out of serrated mouths. Nevertheless, watching the horrific threat that jeopardized my companions only seconds earlier wither away and surrender to flame put a small glimmer of pride within my craven heart.

Satisfied with my work, I backed away from the scene as the bookshelves began to break apart and tumble upon one another like dominoes, now that their foundation had been eaten away. I scampered to the exit, and the last things that I saw were the skeletons of the bookcases’ frames crumpling to a burning heap of paper and wood, trapping the disintegrating corpses of Lurkers and M.E.G. members alike underneath. I turned, heaved open the great exit door, and left the room.

I felt the pride within me swell. I looked around at all the Maidens by my side as they caught their breath.

“Are they,” Sagobe-san began between breaths. “Still chasing us? What happened to the M.E.G.? What about those Lurkers?”

“I took care of them both,” I said with a smile. “All of them are gone now. We don’t have to worry anymore! I finally got my act together and used my powers to save people.”

“That’s incredible,” Sagobe-san said, sharing my smile. She lifted her mask and revealed a sincere, well-worn face. With a shock, I realized that I hadn’t ever seen her smile. It was a beautiful, precious image, and I instantly wished it to never fade. “I didn’t think you had it in you. Glad to see I was wrong. I suppose we’re all here because of you, then. We would have died in that enclosed environment if you hadn’t held back the Lurkers for us.”

“That’s… right,” I nodded. I felt a crowd gather around me, masks upon masks upon masks, all with smiling faces underneath. I looked from person to person, knowing their names and faces behind their masks. A community, people who treated me not as an object to be feared or respected from afar, but people who allowed me to be imperfect. People who would deal with my cowardice, despite disappointing their expectations of a hero. People who loved me, and people I loved back. I turned around, looking at each one with a surge of relief and affection. These people were all precious to me, more than anything I had experienced in Japan. But something was off.

There was one person missing. One person that I had absolutely forgotten about while I was so wrapped up in being a hero.

I whirled around in utter despair to stare at the door we had just come from as it dawned on me that I had just burned Marcus alive.

rating: +15+x
divider.png

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License