Mishio's Return, Chapter 2: A Whole New World

Chapter 2: A Whole New World

Three days since Mishio-No-Sae fled the cave and left everyone else behind, running without rest. Two days she raided nests for eggs and ate any meager little thing she could catch. One day of tripping and stumbling, a cloud over her mind and a weight over her eyes. Yet Mishio forces herself to get back up over and over as she desperately looks for someone, anyone who could help. She finally breaks past the treeline and falls on her knees.

Fields as far as her tired eyes could see. Mishio rubs the fatigue back and shivers in the chilly breeze. Pressing her muddied feet on the wide black path before her, she feels the sun's warmth trapped within its surface and continues to walk. Mishio sees a farmer in unfamiliar trappings, tending to the rice down the road.

"Oi… Human." The farmer looked up, his own wrinkled brow blinking repeatedly in astonishment at the disheveled mess of leaves, twigs and shoddy robes that stood before him. "Tell me… Tell me where I can find help. Now."

"Help? Do you a mean… a shrine?" Mishio fluffed her ears and rubbed her eyes. She knows she's forgotten to do something, but the last few days had been so tumultuous that all she could think of was Hakishi's last words to prioritize finding help above all else.

"…I guess. Hurry up." There had to be another Kitsune or Yōkai around the shrine who could help… Shrine dwellers always helped. It was always their schtick.

Mishio swooned slightly with fatigue, her mind burning in its demand for sleep.

"Oh. The… the biggest one here is Ama-No-Iwato shrine. Keep going down the road and turn right at the post office."

"You had better be correct… My thanks." Mishio broke into a run to force herself back to a semblance of wakefulness.

"Wait! Miss Fox, are you sure you should be-" Mishio didn't care what that farmer had to say, his voice already fading in the distance.

Mishio continued running under ragged breaths, her bare feet pressing into the warmth of the wide black path. The buildings she passed through looked different somehow. Too squarish. No longer made of wood. Daubed in all manners of colours. Not a single roof made of thatch. Flashing lights and bright colourful letterings. The people she ran past all looked so different too, dressed in a much more bizzare mix of simpler and colourful garbs rather than the yukatas she was accustomed to seeing. She slowed down and looked left and right.

Why does everything look so different?

But more importantly: How much time had-?

Mishio's scattered thoughts were jarred back to reality as a blasting shriek rang out behind her, causing her to stumble once more and fall down on the wide solid black path that she had been running on. Mishio cringes and presses down on her ears, massaging away the ache that had pierced her hearing. She looks behind her as a growling sound grew to a roar, gasping in fear at the rumbling abomination threatening to crush her underfoot.

Mishio gets on her back and crawls to the side as some sort of… horseless metal carriage pulled up past her, a deep growl echoing within its belly. A glossy black panel shrinks down the side of the carriage, revealing the scowl of an irate man.

"Oi woman! Are you crazy?" He lowers his blackened visors to glare at Mishio. "…The hell? You do look crazy!" The man hocks his throat and spits out, the goblet splattering a foot away from Mishio's side as she jerks at the sound of impact.

"Take those freaking animal ears and tails off and don't stand in the middle of the road, you stupid crazy woman!" The glass pane raises back up as the man revs the belly of the metal beast, its growling intensifying. Mishio slowly brings herself to her feet as the wheels of the carriage rapidly turn, sending the metal box forward… before it shrieks and slides across the road, smashing into a tall metal pole with a thunderous crash of buckling metal and shattered glass.

Mishio smiled darkly, and lowers a hand that had curled in a cursing move.

Mishio blinks and rubs her tired eyes once more. Her thoughts turned to something that man had said - 'animals ears and tails'? She reaches up and feels her fox ears standing at full attention. She looks back and checks her tails - all four of them, present and accounted for. Then she turns around in a circle, and it slowly dawned on Mishio that quite a few humans have been fixated at her for the past while, flashing bright lights from their little slabs towards her.

In her single-minded goal to find help for the others, Mishio had forgotten to disguise her kitsune traits.

Oh, no. Mishio speeds off down an alleyway behind her. Need somewhere to hide. Anywhere. Inside a building, perhaps, away from all these chasers!

No, no nonono-I'm not, I'm not supposed to be standing out here! Not among humans like- BAM! flew the fox-girl facefirst into an open doorway seemingly warded off by some kind of hard, invisible wall. Mishio falls back on the floor, the willpower to maintain her consciousness absolutely knocked out as her vision finally fades to dark, tongue lolling out of her gaping mouth.

Not like this…

Mishio's eyes slowly open as she shifts and twitches, crinkling the grey letter-filled papers lining the box she was within. She blinks blearily to a few more shuttering sounds coming from one of those strange little handheld slabs.

"She's awake! Are you… are you really a…?" Mishio glared at the three girls squatting before her, clad in the same white dress with a black skirt, and some sort of red ribbon coming down their neck. She sniffs the air then shifts back into her humanoid form, causing the box to burst apart at its seams. The girls shriek with excited surprise.

Mishio yawns nonchalantly and stretches, inspecting her surroundings. She's in another alleyway. To her right is an exit with a large tree. To her left is an open pathway with more metal carriages resting by the sides. She hears sizzling close by and smells the fragrance of oil-drizzled food, and her mouth begins moistening.

"She changed!"

"Where…" Mishio's voice got drowned out in the squealing.

"She changed from a fox to a woman! She really is-"

"Shut up! You're all so noisy." Mishio clears her throat, rises to her full height and assumes an intimidating tone over the three.

"Humans. Where am I?" As on cue, the girl with wavy hair raised her hand to reply.

"Kitsune-san, we found you in the alleyway and hid you in another before everyone else caught you. You've been asleep for a day. I'm Mizuka!" Judging by their excited reactions, Mishio's attempt at intimidation wasn't even noticed. She gave up and deflated with a sigh.

"Honoka." The plain girl with the neck-length straight hair raises a hand, then adjusts her spectacles.

"Misaki!" A bubbly girl skipping in the air, her oddly curled tresses bouncing off her shoulders. Mishio turned her own face to roll her eyes at the exuberant display.

Mishio reaches up her head only to remember she had changed her ears to a human set. Moving her hand down and affirming said ear's location, she promptly jams a pinky in and twists it about in irritation, scowling all the way.

Why do humans always have such same-sounding names?

"…Mishio." The schoolgirls look at each other in excitement, as if this could be the start of some kind of fantastical adventure.

"Humans. Take me to the shrine. I want to speak to the spirit there."

"There is a spirit there?" Mishio was taken aback by the bluntness of Mizuka's response.

"…There isn't?"

"Well, you are the very first spirit we've ever seen!" Mishio thinks hard. She couldn't afford to move about the town freely now that she's attracted attention. She comes up with a compromise.

"That shrine offers charms, yes? Do you have any?" The schoolgirls nod enthusiastically. "Show me." As on cue, the three girls drop their colourful Omamori onto Mishio's waiting hands.

Mishio turns over the cloth talismans, carefully gazing into their embroidered surfaces and giving them a quick sniff, reading the wording upon each.

'Love'. 'Protection'. 'Beauty'. And yet, not a single whiff of power wafted from those charms. Mishio's expression visibly soured.

Either there was no spirit, or whoever's at that shrine is a useless freeloader. Most likely the former.

"…So I'm the only one around these parts?"

"It seems like it!"

"So you've never even seen another spirit."

"No!"

"Not even a Kitsune?"

"You're the very first!"

"…Are there any stories of other Kitsunes being seen doing anything?"

"…No?" Mishio sighed, her back slapping against the alley wall as she slides down to her knees in defeat.

"Are you okay, Mishio-san?"

"I… I don't know…" On cue, Mishio's starved belly growled. "I think… I need food." Honoka reaches down a plastic bag and brings out a light-gold bun.

"Can you take manju? We didn't know what you could eat in particular-" Mishio swipes the bun straight out of Honoka's hand and crams it straight down her mouth. Her eyes widen at the explosion of flavour, the richly-scented pork and brown gravy flooding her taste buds. She chews ravenously, feeling the crisp hardness of the bun's golden shell contrast against its fluffy interior. Within mere seconds, the bun was completely gone.

"More. Anything. MORE." Mishio grabs at the bag and rams more of its contents down her gullet. Down goes a block of cheese, down goes the dried fish, down goes the crackers, down goes the strawberries and down goes the other manju bun filled with red bean paste. Mishio pulls out a strange rectangular block of hardened paper, and almost brings her fangs down on it.

"Ah! Mishio-san, don't bite that one! Let me help…" Misaki tears the translucent attachment from the side of the block and splits it open to pull out a plastic tube. She jams the jagged edge of the tube down a little metallic circle on one end of the block and presents it upright to Mishio, a little bead of pinkish milk emerging from the tube.

"It's a drink, not a food! Here, suck through the straw." Mishio's mind blissfully swoons in the sweet creamy taste of strawberry milk. Within seconds, the entire carton gets emptied. Mishio leans back against the wall and sighs in contentment, Honoka filling the empty bag with the litter of torn packaging.

"…By the way, what date is it?"

"2019!"

Mishio pats her stomach and blinks blankly. "I have no idea what that means, human."

"Well, Mishio-san, do you remember what the calendar was before you slept?" Mishio sighed and scratched her head.

"Eeeh… Anno… I think there was… Last I heard some new human recently became Emperor? And apparently his father was still alive? Ninjō or Ningō or however it sounded."

"Eeeh? Mishio-san! It sounds like you've been away for a long time! Let me look it up!" Misaki falls to a crouch, rapidly tapping away on her strange little device. Those things seem to be everywhere in the hands of humans. Mishio notices a little rabbit figurine tethered to Misaki's own object, dancing about in the air with each tap.

"What exactly are you doing… human? What exactly is that thing all of you possess and keep staring into?" Misaki giggles madly and shows off the opposite face of the slab. Mishio's eyes widen as she stares into a glowing screen, words and pictures flying across its brightened surface. Misaki's thumb drifts across a rune at the bottom of the phone, and that display of text shrinks away to reveal a vibrant display of symbols and colours before a background picture of Misaki making gestures with what seem to be her friends.

"It's a smartphone! It can tell you everything you need to know, it lets you keep in touch with family and friends, no matter how far away they are, it lets you play games and watch videos…" Misaki brings the phone back to her face and resumes her search. Mishio briefly glances down, crestfallen. If fox ears were out, they would be drooping at the mention of family. She looks up again and tries to distract herself.

"Smartphone? How do I get one?" The girls giggle at Mishio's naivete.

"Sorry, Mishio-san! We can't really help, these cost a lot of money to buy! And then there are many other things you still need to do before it can do these things, such as getting a SIM card, subscribing to a plan, paying the monthly bills…"

Mizuka's voice drifts as she notices Mishio's vacant expression, indicative that her words went in one ear and came out the other. "…Sorry?"

"I… Nevermind that for now." Misaki gasps and shows her phone screen once more to Mishio, revealing a portrait of a human Emperor from long ago.

"Mishio-san! The closest Emperor that fits your description is Emperor Ninkō! At the time he became Emperor…! You've been away for-" Mishio's hand flies straight up to Misaki's face, slapping her mouth shut. Misaki lets off a muffled squeak.

"On second thoughts! Nevermind that. Just… Just show me everything that's changed." Mishio pushed away that sense of dread welling inside of her. Was Shiomi really out there all along, never trapped within the cave? And if so, just how long could Shiomi have been without her? Without anyone? She didn't want to know… not yet.

"Well… To start off, we can give you our old magazines and newspapers. How does that sound?" Honoka hands Mishio a magazine. Mishio squints at the colourful pages and sweeps her fingers across the smooth surfaces. So much colour! Such clean and immaculate lines! How much ink went into these pages? How much time does it take to craft such a thing?

"Huh." She notices the water bowl adjacent to her ruined box and dips the edge of the magazine into it.

"Mishio-san! Don't get the pages wet or it could tear easily!"

"You're not concerned the ink won't run?" Mishio stares at the wrinkling page as the water drips off. "…What? The ink is not leaking out?! Impossible!"

Mishio grabs a handful of newspaper and does the same. The letters remain firmly latched unto the soggy surface. Amazing! Mishio thrusts the newspaper up to her face, scanning the text.

The letters haven't changed too much. Everything is still fairly readable, even if she doesn't know what a "stock percentage" or "hard disks swiped" or "free expression exhibition" or "consumption tax hike" is. A new sense of dread wells up in Mishio as she gulps nervously, instinctively understanding that she sits on the tip of an iceberg where it comes to understanding how much the world has changed.

"Mishio-san? We need to go, but if you'd like to keep reading we can get you more to read, and a bigger box, and more food, but since we're helping you… we'd like it if you could help us back!" Mishio lowers the newspaper and sees 3 shining pairs of eyes staring back at her. She sighs in unsurprised exasperation.

"Yeah, yeah, I don't really have much of a choice. I'm grateful for your assistance so far, I'm in your debt, this-and-that, so-and-so1… So what is it? What do you want?" Anything but magical blessings.

"We want… Magical blessings!"

"Tch!" I knew it. "Well alright. Spit it out! What do you three want exactly?"

Mizuka claps her hands and jumps. "I'll start! I want, I wish for my classmate, Togai-Kun. to… to…"

"She's in love with him and wants to win him over from Saeko-san, the school diva!"

"Misaki-san! I-I do not! I mean, please don't just say it out like that-!"

"Ahahahaha! She nearly got to date him, but then that diva swooped in and fluttered her eyelashes and stole him away!"

Mishio rolls her eyes at the childish display of squealing and flailing limbs before her.

"Fine, I'll see what I can do. You! Next." Misaki breaks off from her slap-fight with Mizuka and skips up to Mishio.

"Could you please make me be the prettiest one in my class? All the other girls in the class always look better with their snuck-in makeup, it's not fair!"

Mishio squints, rolling her eyes even harder.

"Eh… Wish granted." Mishio turns to the quiet Honoka. "Your turn." Honoka shoos the other two girls towards the alley-end opening up to the roadside before approaching Mishio in hushed tones.

"I… The protection charm, that one is mine. But it doesn't actually work, does it?" Mishio raises an eyebrow. This human seems a tad unusually withdrawn compared to the rest.

"No. It doesn't." Honoka nods, quietly rolls up her sleeves and unbuttons her shirt. Mishio's gaze narrows coldly at the array of blue and brown throbs lining Honoka's upper arms and chest.

"I see… Can you please, make it all stop?" Honoka lifts her skirt next, and Mishio's gaze lowers to the line of bruises running up Honoka's inner thighs.

Mishio looks to the left, seeing Mizuka and Misaki giggling over their phones. She looks back to Honoka. "How many humans are behind this?"

"Boys and girls… Saeko's circle. And even my, my-" Mishio raises a hand and halts Honoka's almost-sobbing.

"Enough spoken. Can you give me a few days to look around? I'd like to make sure." Honoka nods and quickly does up her sleeve and shirt. She rejoins the other two outside as Mishio hears their voices die off in the distance.

"Honoka-chan! What secret wish did you ask Mishio to give? Another secret crush like me?!"

"I called dibs on being the prettiest!"

"Ahaha, it's nothing…"


Mishio whistles away at the latest copy of the newspapers (nicked from the nearby convenience store), slurping on another carton of sweet drink while frowning at yet another gigantic image slathered across an entire page, promoting yet another rectangular blocky phone-thing.

Apples and blackberries! Why do these humans name these things after fruit? I don't get it.

"Mishio-san! What did you do?!" Mishio looks up and sees herself being stared down by those 3 girls once more.

"Hrm?" Mizuka's hand reaches down and tugs on the newspaper, baring the front page article towards Mishio's face:

ROAD CLOSURE DUE TO HEAD-ON COLLISION IN TAKACHIHO

Mishio blinks. "…Oh. What of it?"

"Mishio-san! Read further!" Mizuka's finger underlines the finer details in that same article:

…high speed head-on collision between two cars, between an overcrowded group of seven school students driving without a valid ID and a Mr. Sasaki who was driving while under the influence. Identities of the students cannot be disclosed due to their underage status…

"So what if their metal boxes hit each other?" Misaki's finger continues to underline the rest of the article:

…airlifted to Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital. While doctors have declined to comment, conditions of all victims have been reported to be extensive and severe, with front seat passengers critically entered into the ICU due to extreme injuries. Miss Sarada, the extramartial companion of Mr. Sasaki and the only one to escape the collision miraculously unscathed despite being another front-seat passenger, has chosen not to comment…

"Ho! Looks like I've still got it." Mishio's poor choice of words shocked Misaki and Mizuka.

"Mishio-san! You really were going to kill those people?!"

"Eeh? I did everything that was expected of me. Also, why aren't you wearing the same dresses?"

Misaki jumps repeatedly, with agitation in her step. "School's closed! Everyone in my class… they caught chickenpox! Everyone except me! Did you do that too?"

Mishio smirks at a job well done. "Yes! Harmless enough, they'll recover soon, and now you are the prettiest one in your class. Celebrate!"

"That's not what I meant when I asked for that…!" Misaki's agitated outburst is interrupted as Mizuka takes over, nervously putting a hand upon Misaki's shoulder and pulling her away.

"The car crash. Was that-was that your doing too?"

"That was also me! I heard your rival Saeko was in one of those things? Now she's out of the way and your Togai-kun is back in your-"

"No! He's just… He just went back to me smiling and joking as if it was another normal day, as if Saeko-san didn't exist… He didn't care about what happened to her! I-I don't like that, it scares me."

"Well then. You've learned that the boy you were attracted to is a cold-blooded psychopath. Time to move on and find someone nicer."

"That's besides the point! Everyone in there, you… You would kill them?!" Mishio calmly fixed her gaze towards Mizuka, who recoiled slightly.

"I don't generally aim to kill. But if it had to come to that, I wouldn't hesitate, nor would I regret it."

Misaki's legs begin to quiver as the realization dawned upon her. "M-Mishio-san… we only wanted to ask for kind blessings and luck. But you're not actually that kind of kitsune… are you?"

I'm sorry. Excuse me? Mishio's brow curled in irritation. She closes her eyes, and sighs very loudly.

"Blessings and luck! Blessings and luck! All this talk about blessings and luck, always wanting and expecting the good things in life! What kind of fox do I look to you?"

The two normally energetic girls back off in genuine fear as a noticeably menacing aura surrounds the fox woman who slowly rises before them.

"It seems you humans have forgotten. Let me refresh your memory. There are two types of Kitsune."

Mishio brings up her hand, and raises a finger. "First: The type who bind themselves to a shrine, can't leave it, and cast all the good spells to humans who deserve it." She then slowly raises another finger. "Then, there are the ones who don't live in a shrine, and instead cast all the curses on humans who deserve it."

Mishio lowers her hands, and glares once more towards the two girls that had just been haranguing her.

"So tell me: Do I look like I'm squatting anywhere close to a shrine?" Mizuka and Misaki hug each other and squeak, but after a moment of silence look back up to see Mishio crouched in the corner, chewing away on a bun.

"Mmm… This nikuman is really good. You both, get me another! And you. The one named Honoka. I'm not done talking. Stay here." As the other two girls gladly hurry off, Honoka takes a few slow steps to Mishio as she sits back down in her box… In her human form. Mishio continues chewing away as Honoka looks down in awkward silence.

"I was actually about to go for the drunk at that moment, you know? Didn't know that little bit of sickness would've closed your school, giving your other tormentors free time to ride around and run into him." Mishio continues chewing as Honoka looks away.

"So… Did I get everyone?"

"Yes, but… You didn't have to go that far-" Mishio pops the remaining half of the bun out of her mouth and waves it threateningly at Honoka.

"Oh, don't start on me like those other two did! Remember when I asked for time to look around?" Honoka nodded. "Good, because I saw everything I needed to in that time. They were worse than the humans I used to deal with!"

Honoka looked at Mishio with the nervousness of someone with something to hide. "Mishio-san…! When you say everything, did you-"

"Yes, including what happened in your bedroom and the school shed." Honoka's throat seized as she tried not to scream at the fresh memories.

"They won't be coming back if ever, or if they do they'll be too broken to do all the things they did to you. Oh! By the way, I took the time and made this little gift for you." Mishio rifles through her box's newspaper lining and tosses out a little object to Honoka. The student looks at it - a plain Omamori, made of paper. On it is a single word:

'Suffer'.

"I had to scrounge around the shops for some of the materials to make this. Anyone gives you trouble while you have this thing on? It will give trouble back." Honoka looks at the cursed talisman smouldering malevolently upon her palm, then back to the fox girl nonchalantly shoving the last piece of bun into her mouth.

"But why, Mishio? Why would you go to these lengths?"

"I'm glad you asked! Normally I'd be going after humans like those on my own volition without your asking, but… Well… In your case, you reminded me of someone." Mishio pauses her muffled speech to swallow, before looking up.

"I had… have a sister. She's out there somewhere. A crybaby, you know? Always such a pushover, always apologizes even when she's not in the wrong. I've always scolded her to stand up for herself. But sometimes in life, there are those truly unlucky few who find themselves truly trapped in a dark little spot and can't pull out of that personal hell on one's own. Wouldn't you know of that, Honoka?"

Honoka looked away once more. "Thank you…"

"Don't mention it. Just doing what the old geezers said I was always born to do… Mostly because I always kept skipping out on those how-to-be-a-nice-fox lessons my sister always went to. Take it from me, human; break free of your passivity and learn to stand on your own. I don't think you'll get another second chance like this." Honoka's thanks hovers on the tip of her throat, only for her heartfelt gratitude to be thrown off by Mishio's excited waving towards the other two girls rushing back with more food.


"What do we have now?" Stepan, supervisor of the Verification Department, adjusts his tie: A quirk of his own body language indicating the anticipation of finally getting something worthwhile done.

A bowl-cut intern by the name of Martin types a little more then swivels the monitor, showing Stepan a slew of translated Japanese articles and forum posts. "Japan. Southern island. Rumours saying a "fox witch" has set up shop in the town of Takachiho. There's some pics of her, apparently."

"You sure this isn't some cosplaying anime thing?" Stepan sips his coffee and squints at the photos of a disheveled girl with bits of leaves and twigs in her hair, along with a pair of fox ears and four tails. "What if this was just some viral marketing for some latest Japanese cartoon?"

"Well… This girl apparently caused a car crash shortly before this picture was taken. There's another car crash that happened a week from then."

"Could be coincidence, Martin. Wait a second… This town, zoom out a bit. This is close to the coordinates for that cave. 257. You think this could be an escapee?"

"It's quite possible, considering the distance of Takachiho to RPC-257."

"Escalate this to Surveillance department, then. I'll get the spindoctors to wash this all away."


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