VOLUME INDEX



Cover © 2009 Del Borovic
Manga © 2009 Rebecca Gunter

 
 
 
 






“—to be fucking kidding me!”

Up until this point, the day had actually been going extremely well. Megan had invited Vex to the local Matsuri Festival on a day that Vex usually took off, and unlike her usual antisocial self, she accepted. After pressing extra fares into her previous week to make some extra cash, she decided to make a show of it and used the windfall to dress up for the occasion. Among her usual haunts she fount a thrift store that excelled at the phrase, “If it’s exotic we have it.”

Dressed in a smashing black kimono made of dripping, flourishing black silk and steel-toed boots she made her debut amidst the other cosplaying gaijin at the festival. Her arrival with a cat-eared Megan commanded every eye. In spite of the strange fit of the fabric, she found it interestingly free for motion, even if tight around the legs. Although, it had no pockets, so she added those by cheating and wearing a pair of baggy shorts underneath.

An equal number of patrons complimented her on the outfit as commented on her makeup. After visiting a multitude of small stalls that offered random gimcracks and flashy baubles of questionably Asian origins Megan and Vex repaired to the snack stands. There she found a packet of gummy worms to bite the heads off of and Megan got herself some chocolate ice-cream.

This moment found the ice-cream on the ground and Vex hitching the susomawashi hem of her kimono up in a most immodest fashion in order to get at her pockets. “How do you run in this thing?” she complained. “Oh fukkit.” Riiip!

Amid the stalls, pandemonium had hit full swing—something about a giant tentacled monstrosity blotting out the sun, flattening tents to the ground, and smashing rickety kiosks into flinders. The sudden shadowy eclipse cast everything in a subdued, halting half-light that made it difficult see from which direction the monster had emerged. Running at a break-neck full charge, Vex ignored her vision and instead hauled boots and brass knuckles in whatever direction the screaming seemed loudest.

Confused and terrified people rushed past her at every turn she took, giant black pseudopods writhed across the sky. While they appeared hazy and semi-substantial, one came down with a lumbering crash into a tent next to her as she turned a sharp corner, dodging fleeing Naruto and Inuyasha look-alikes as she did. Noting the people running in the opposite direction were slowing her down, she decided to change tactics.

Expecting that the tentacles all emanated from the same source, she jumped atop it. The flesh of the thing felt spongy underfoot, but sold enough to support her weight. The central body loomed up ahead, a giant bulbous mass with stalks protruding at odd angles from above each arm. Each stalk bore a watery orange eyeball about the size of a beach ball that turned and focused as the tentacles lashed about. Gaining speed with each step, she focused her will into the angelic runes on her knuckledusters. Behind her charge and momentum she threw the weight of her annoyance and frustration.

Splutch!The monster wobbled and screamed in a guttural warble like a beached whale choking on gelatin—a nauseating and fluid gurgle that bespoke anger and promised retribution.

Then she noticed it: a giant orange eyeball. It stared at her with wild shock and surprise. A predatory grin slashing across her face, she abruptly switched directions and went for it head-on. Tentacles lashed around her, pounding into the ground and the creatures own flesh trying to head her off; she dodged them, riding great rolling waves of flesh as they rippled through the monster’s body.

“This is my day off!” Vex screamed, vaulting into the air. Bright orange angelfire trailed behind her fist as she slammed steel and burning runes into the surprised wide-open eyeball. “I ripped my dress!” The other knuckleduster pummeled home bursting through the watery scrim of the creature’s eye and the entire creature shook with the impact.

Then a most stomach-wrenching and unfortunate thing happened: the beast shuddered in an eye-twisting manner and simply vanished. Without even the bulk of the monster to support her, she plummeted to the earth.

Vex landed heavily on the ground, half-kneeling, one hand to stabilize herself. Devastation radiated from her vantage. Fallen people were picking themselves up from the wreckage, broken and damaged stalls crunched as they fell over. A crowd of onlookers huddled amid the tents and kiosks that hadn’t taken the brunt of the attack, amid Taiko drummers and tousled looking rejects from bad Samurai fiction movies. Nobody moved a muscle as Vex rose, dusted herself off, and tried to take stock of her injuries.

Which, like the tentacled horror, she found pleasingly nonexistent.

A cat-eared girl broke away from the crowd and ran out to her. Megan still holding the cone-sans-ice-cream.

“What—?” Vex asked.

“I think that was a hentai tentacle monster.”

“Damn hentai monster ruining my day out.”

Sirens sang in the distance as together they walked away from the flattened area. Scattered cheers and applause followed. Out of breath from her encounter with the—whatever- the-hell-it-was—Vex stopped Megan when she found a chair standing free of a stall sporting a table covered with a multitude of bladed weapons.

Vex looked at them for a moment and then at the proprietor. “Where were you when I needed those?”

The vendor, a weedy thin man with goggle eyes and a silver apron showed her his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Sorry, ma’am, giant octopus monsters not in my contract. And neither are thieves. Right after that thing showed up one of my swords got taken.” He gestured to an empty spot on the table. “An expensive one too. That kid in the jeans and t-shirt wearing the crazy mask must have taken it.”

“They look like flimsy replicas,” Vex said.

The sword-seller shrugged. “These kids will buy anything. That one was a Samurai sword with a dragon breathing fire in the hilt and some scroll work and illuminated characters running up the blade…” He paused for a moment. “Come to think of it, I think that kid’s mask looked a lot like the sword hilt.”

“I’ve seen that mask before…” an old Japanese man in the booth across from the blademonger said. He was tiny and bent like a cricket, an effect only doubled by his balding head and chonmage topknot—he, like Vex, also wore a yukata kimono of indigo and white.

Vex started to roll her eyes when Megan touched her arm and shook her head. The old man continued.

“The fabled Samurai Warlord Hentaki Tai,” the gnarled old man opined. One twiggy finger, twisted and weathered like one of his Bonsai trees, pointed sagely at Vex. “Held a pact with oni and demons, forged into his armor and his sword, he called upon the very creatures in the depths of the ocean to siege his enemies. It is said that he wore the mask of a fire demon to frighten his foes in battle and drive them into madness.

“Three pieces his arsenal were—the mask, the sword, and his armor. With them he wielded the dark arts of his pact. And he was unstoppable—when he died, it is said the demons attempted to tear the elements asunder to free themselves, but failing to do so they spread flung them into the deepest ocean that they could rest without disturbance.”

The sword dealer made a twirling motion with his fingers near his ear. “He’s been telling wild stories to everyone who comes near his stall all day. The old guy is batty.”

The old man’s face pinched into a glare. “Young man, I’ll have you know that I’m a scholar of Feudal Japan, and that was the image of the terrible mask of Hentaki Tai. No replica—nor was your sword.”

“Alright,” Vex said. “So, some dude shows up wearing the mask. Summons a monster. Steals the sword?”

“Looks like you’ve got a case,” Megan said. “We just have to find a guy with poor fashion sense and into Japanese Samurai masks.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“By the way, Hentaki Tai’s armor is on display at the Phoenix Art Museum,” the old man said thoughtfully. “There’s an Asian exhibit showing right now.”

“Wow,” Megan said. “It’s just like in a manga!”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Vex said. She hung her head for a moment shaking it side to side. Then, after a weary moment, she pulled herself upright, squared her shoulders, and snugged her brass knuckles. “Alright. Let’s go check it out. Thank you.”

“Before you go… Would you like a Bonsai tree?”

“No.”


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