In The Fox-Witch's Wake, Pt2: Wolf Among Sheep




Chapter 6: A Cryptic Message

Two girls out of three laugh and cheer, fresh shrine charms dangling from their fingers and hands. Misaki skips ahead and twirls about to face Mizuka.

"Ne-ne, Mizuka-chan, an omamori for love? Still not giving up on Togai-kun?"

Mizuka snorts. "He was interested in me, then got snatched away by that no-good Saeko-san! At the speed it was, it's obvious she's using black magic on him. Therefore!" Mizuka thrusts her 'love' charm in the air, "I'll win him back with a little help from the Kamis!"

"Mizuka-chaaaan," Misaki tilts her head with pigtails drooping in tandem, "I don't think it works quite like that. What if that charm gets you someone else?"

The calmer student holds her charm to her lips. "But I don't really like other boys… Other than A-Star's hunks-"

"Mizuka-chan!" Misaki stamps her feet petulantly. "You need to lower your standards! You'll get no one at that rate!"

"Q-quiet! What about you, your omamori can't compete against make-up!"

Misaki giggles and strikes a pose, her 'beauty' charm swinging in her grasp.

"Makeup is skin-surface! Who cares if the other girls do all that, anyway? This will help shine my inner goodness out to improve my looks!"

Mizuka huffs. "Well… You should find someone now, once you become an idol it's impossible to find someone who won't love you just for your fame or money!"

Misaki flaps a hand casually. "Don't sweat it, don't sweat it!" She then tilts herself to Mizuka's side, looking to the silent figure behind them both. Mizuka spins about to join in.

"Hey, Honoka-chan, what about you?"

A silent, destitute girl stares hollowly ahead of them. Her own charm sits in the middle of her joined palms.

"…Honoka-san? Are you okay? You've become really quiet as of late."

"Yeah! Where's your 'Hero of Justice' act gone to?"


Honoka shudders, bringing herself to snap out of it.

"Please… don't worry about it, I'm fine! I'm just… A bit under the weather."

Misaki gives Honoka another few seconds of staring before falling upon Mizuka, grasping onto her shoulders and rocking her about. "Mizuka-chaaaaan! Honoka-chan's becoming booooring! Doshiyoooooo?1" Mizuka pats her back in sympathy.

"Ahaha, ha, ha… I apologize for the inconvenience." Honoka lowers her head once more, a mire of darkness surging back to drown her thoughts under pitch-black hopelessness.


Despite Mr. Oguchi's best efforts and even getting the police involved, it all came to nothing. 'Nothing to investigate', they said. 'No evidence to prosecute', they said. The doctor who initially diagnosed Honoka with evidence of sexual trauma claimed to have lost all documentation. Shoulders were shrugged everywhere. Then suddenly Mr. Oguchi was summoned to the principal's office, and is now put on leave. PE classes have been suspended and nobody knows if he is coming back.

There is no doubt: Saeko's parents buried it all away with their money and ties. Nothing changed in the end. The bullies and her alcohol-plied father continue to have their way with Honoka, and she is at her breaking point.

She stares once more at her omamori: bright red with gold thread and little pink sakuras machine-threaded in a corner, the kanji for 'Protection' woven across its surface. But it's not meant for her. She plans to leave it with her mother, then look to a way to end her own tormented life. Honoka remembers to laugh along with her friends, her voice coming out as hoarse gasps.

They cross a bridge meters above a babbling brook. Honoka's first thought was to gauge how shallow the waters were, that she could hopefully shatter her skull upon and die a swift and painless death. But suddenly from the road beyond:


"Wow!" Misaki rubs her ears. "Rude! What was that all about?!"

"I heard someone yell too! An accident, perhaps? It's close by, let's take a look!" Mizuka runs ahead of the group, gesturing for Honoka and Misaki to follow.

"Hey, hey, excuse me…" Mizuka pushes through the gathering crowd, clearing a path for Honoka and Misaki to squeeze their way through. "Coming through…"

"Why is everyone having their cameras out? What's going on?" Honoka wonders, looking about the absorbed looks of the other bystanders.


"Kitsune?" Honoka squeezes through the crowd, finally seeing what had caught everybody's attention.

A girl who fell to the road had just finished crawling to the side of a shady muscle car. She's only slightly older than the three, clad in a dirt-worn yukata. Her brown hair is a disheveled mess with the occasional leaf and twig tangled within.

Most striking of all was her animal features: Each of her four tails bristle and quiver individually from the blast of the car horn, the girl grimacing in pain as she tenderly and furiously rubs throbbing animal ears rising from the top of her head.

The window of the car lowers, and a punk who's clearly from out of town thrusts his furious mug out of it. Honoka shivers. During her violations, she overheard Chiaki and Kirie casually mention 'older siblings' taking an interest in 'setting up shop' in Takachiho. Is this man one of them?

"Oi woman! Are you crazy?" The gangster lowers his sunglasses, glaring at the girl he blasted his car horn towards at point-blank range.

"…The hell?" His face scrunches in confusion, then mocking disdain. "You do look crazy! Hwoooiek-PTUH!" The fox girl yelps as she tucks her tail to the side, barely dodging a gob of spit.

"Take those freaking animal ears and tails off and don't stand in the middle of the road, you stupid crazy woman!" The gangster waves at her mockingly then rolls his tinted window back up, heading back to whatever shady business he's due for. As if to announce his obnoxious presence towards the whole world, the gangster slams on the pedal while in neutral.


The fox girl gets up. She quietly dusts her lap.

VROOOOOOOO- The car thrusts forwards, speeding away.

The fox girl snaps a hand out towards it, and in that moment the world stopped being normal.

The wind and its drifting leaves suddenly drop to a still about her, as if the natural flow of nature itself were viciously strangled. Birds who ignored the initial commotion now scatter from the trees en-masse. A choking aura surrounds the kitsune as she draws out her dark powers without restraint; Closer bystanders gag and reach towards their itchy necks and collars, the crowd instinctively backing away from her. The car unexpectedly swerves and skids across the road, its driver losing control.


She clenches her clawing hand into a tight fist.


With that burst tire the car advances to a scraping spin of metal-upon-tarmac. It finally comes to a crashing halt with the shrieking din of crunching metal and splintering glass. Steam hisses from a burst-open hood, what's left of the car wrapped about a bent lamp post and partly caving a house's wall in. Beyond the steam, no sound could be heard from within the car.


The kitsune remains immobile, taking cold satisfaction in what she had just done. She slowly, gradually wobbles from tiredness, straightening back up to rub her ears and tails to stay awake. She straightens her drooping head as something clicks in her tired mind. The fox spirit turns around in a circle to finally take in the crowd of humans that had formed around her, having snapped tens of videos and hundreds of photos by now on their phones. It finally dawns on her that she should not have been standing out in the open with her supernatural features exposed.

One sharp hiss. That was all it took for the tension within the crowd to snap and pandemonium to break loose. Bystanders screaming and panicking, tripping over one another, and in the stampede she leaps away and into the spaces between cornershops.

"Mizuka! Where are you going!" Honoka whimpers and chases after her friends, more afraid of the sea of strangers behind her than the otherwordly fox her foolhardy friend recklessly chases after.

"Why aren't YOU enthusiastic about this?" Honoka is taken aback, Mizuka continuing to run ahead. "Fighting back against bad guys! Isn't that the sort of stuff you're into, Honoka?" Honoka bites her lip at the mention of her former self.

"Yeah!" Misaki huffs, lagging behind the duo. "It's not as if that guy was innocent, either! Though a crash is a bit too much… She looks like she needs help! Maybe she'll help us with our issues!"


"That way!" Mizuka turns around a corner, slowing to a stop.

The fox girl just ran into a glass door, the impact being enough to knock her already-unsteady lights out. Her tongue lolls by the side and her breath slowly hisses out as she shrinks, slowly, gradually reverting to an unconscious four-tailed fox…

Honoka rubs her tired eyes as she enters the school, a forgettable face in a sea of faces.

All night she huddled by the corner of her bed, staying far from the windows and worriedly glancing at the bedroom door she began to barricade once more; Originally to keep her father out, now in some desperate hope of keeping these strangers at bay. Beams of light continuously arced across her walls as unmarked vehicles kept driving past Moriyaki Grocery store, even past 1am. It's almost as if they were sending her a message:

"We know."

Honoka's thoughts return to the waking world before her shoe locker. Its coat of paint remains clean from not having been vandalized in months… Not since a few death threats were scrawled on it after Saeko got hospitalized. But a few hurtful messages are the least of her worries.

Reflexes conditioned into her compel Honoka to subtly look to her sides, trying to spot any suspicious senior students loitering around waiting for a reaction regarding their latest prank. Nobody aside from normal students stowing their own shoes and gossiping away.

Easing up a little she tilts her torso and raises a leg, snagging her finger against the back of her shoe to slide it off. She repeats this on the other side. With each shoe hanging from her left hand's index and middle finger, she reaches up to the locker… Pauses… And opens it.

No pranks. But there's a letter sitting neatly where her shoes should be. What's in there this time? Glitter? Flour? Centipedes? A fake love letter that will lead to another bully ambush?

There's writing on it… Honoka cautiously picks it up and reads.





She looks about left and right once more, seeing nobody observing her. She pockets the letter in a hurry and rushes straight to homeroom.


"Wuh-?" The snoozing classmate is lifted up by her armpits and pulled out of the class.

"What is it, Honoka-san?" Mizuka blearily rubs her eyes. "Lots of lights outside my house last night-"

Honoka sticks a finger to her mouth and hushes Mizuka.

"Hey, are you both alright?" Misaki sticks her head past the classroom doorway.

"Oh! Um," Honoka stumbles, "We're… looking for a way to repay you for the parfaits from yesterday! It's supposed to be a surprise," She jabs Mizuka in the ribs with her elbow, "Right, Mizuka?"

"Oh…?" Mizuka jolts into wakefulness, "Oh! Yeah! You wouldn't like ruined surprises, right?"

Misaki gasps. "Oh! Sorry! I won't listen, promise!" She leans back into the class, and the two could hear her happily skipping back to her desk.

"Okay, Honoka-san, this had better be important."

Honoka waves the mysterious envelope at Mizuka. She reads the envelope, rubs her eyes, re-reads the envelope, and quietens down. Honoka peels it open, producing a single letter written in curt and formal handwriting:

To you, who yet remembers the truth:

There is an ominous undertaking sweeping across our town.

For whatever reason, intruders from outside desire a nefarious goal: To violate the sanctity of our minds, forcibly altering our perceptions and memories to conform to a new 'truth'.

Their powers may supersede local authority. Their reach extends deeper than we can imagine.

Nobody is safe. Assume they watch us all through our phones all day long.

We must gather in secret, in a place beyond their ever-searching eyes and ears.

Meet me at the point upon the map within today's evening, and I shall lead us to this place where we can plan our fight back in earnest.

Bring another who is aware of the conspiracy, but remain wary of those who have been made to forget.

"'Fight back'? But we're just students, what can we possibly do against secret agents?!"

"The back of the message… Look at this map." Honoka flips the page over. "Whoever wrote this wants us to come here."

"It's not safe, Honoka-Wait a moment, isn't being alarmed supposed to be your thing?" Honoka hushes Mizuka, pointing to the rectangular bulge in her skirt pocket. Mizuka covers her mouth and nods vigorously in understanding. She rushes into class and back out, having stashed her phone far from the conversation.

"This is mad, Honoka! We don't know who wrote this, what if it's a trap those 'men in black' set up?"

"We still have to check, Mizuka. It's better than nothing. We have to find others who also know of these strangers… Strength in numbers, right?"

Despite these words Honoka herself trembles slightly, an act that was not lost on Mizuka.

"Honoka… If you say so, then we should still come prepared. Just in case." Mizuka pauses. "You know, like a, a kendo-"

"Don't say it!" Honoka suppresses herself from shrieking out loud, then covers her mouth frantically. "I-I-"

"What made you suddenly change and quit Kendo overnight?" Mizuka glares in concerned suspicion. She sighs, giving up. "Fine. But still, you'll have to tell me about it one day."

Honoka averts her eyes, returning to the main topic. "…We'll do what the map says. Here, it's telling us to turn right of school, slide down the riverbank and… walk through Aobao river. Under the bridge?"

Mizuka nods. "There's a log under the bridge that collapsed across from last year's storms. I think it's possible to walk across that log while the river's shrunk from the summer heat. It's not safe but it beats getting spotted by one of those white vans that may be crossing the bridge at the same time." She takes closer look, tracing a finger at the point of getting back up from the opposite riverbank.

"Whoever made this map is undoubtedly a local. I didn't even know some of these shortcuts!"

"That settles it, then." Honoka closes the letter and pockets it. "We'll head there after classes."

Morning gives way to afternoon, which next gives way to the early evening. Misaki skips her way back home alone this day, convinced her well-meaning friends are clumsily stumbling their way across restaurants and cafes to return the favour to her, the one who's the best at this sort of thing. Good food or not, she happily thinks to herself, it's the thought that counts!

She couldn't be any further from the truth. By now Honoka and Mizuka have traveled far enough that their shoes have dried from treading the river. They weave through trees and cautiously step through underbush, following the vague instructions of the guide…

"Why did I have to wear long socks today?" Mizuka complains. "I'll be pulling grass seeds out of them for the next week-Wait a moment!" Mizuka grabs Honoka by the shoulder, snapping her out of staring into the map. She points to the clearing outside of the bushes, just shy of entering Nakayamajoseki camping grounds.

"Honoka! It's him! It's Togai-kun!"

She’s right. He calmly sits on a log stool with legs crossed, reading a book without any care in the world. Without even looking, he knew; he snaps the book shut and walks over to where they hide.

"Sarada-san, Matsuoka-san." He speaks in a low voice, "Are you both all that is coming?"

"I-It looks like it." Mizuka stammers, old feelings for her year's resident handsome boy coming back to the fore.

Togai checks his watch. "Then the situation is worse than I thought. We have to hurry, but also be quiet about it."

"You sent invites out to others?"

"Yes. A few others. No response, but it can't be helped. Fewer numbers allow us to move more silently, if it is a consolation. Let us go, before the strangers notice something is amiss-" He freezes, and snaps his head back to the clearing.

"…Did you hear that?" Togai leaps into the bushes with alarming speed.

"They're here." True to his warning, the distant silhouette of a white van was slowly making its way to the campgrounds.

Togai snaps back towards the two girls, glaring intensely. Honoka frantically flails the letter about.

"We followed the instructions on the map correctly, we never went anywhere close to the roads!"

The boy calmly raises a hand. "Of that I have no doubt. However…" He lowers his hand, reaching an outstretched palm towards the girls.

"Phones, now."

Honoka and Mizuka look towards each other in alarm. Honoka turns to Togai. "I left mine at school! The letter said not to trust them!" She turns back to Mizuka, flustering more and more by the second under the combined stares.

"Y… Yes! I have my phone, but I did not turn on GPS, so how-!"

"Matsuoka-san, now is not the time. Phone, please." She reluctantly reaches into her bag, taking out her strawberry-pink phone and placing it in Togai's palm.

He nods in acknowledgement "Thank you. Now…" He sets the phone upon the grass, and bids the girls to run after him between the bushes along the clearing's edge. With ample time to find a distant set of bushes to observe from, they huddle down closely, with Mizuka firmly in the middle between Togai and Honoka.

The van comes into a stop meters before the forest's edge. The three watch through leaves as a side door opens and a heavily-covered plainclothes agent steps out. He takes one last peer into a handheld device and holsters it, enters the bushes where the three were moments earlier… And walks out with Mizuka's phone in hand.

"My phone! How did he know?!"

"Matsuoka-san. The police can track our phones at all times with unlimited scope even if GPS is switched off. Now imagine what these mysterious people could possibly do."

The agent takes his device out again, and holds it to Mizuka's phone.

"What's he doing now? Why is he holding that thing to my phone? No way, he got through my password?!"

"Like I said."

"He's going through my everything!"

"That's the least of your worries, Matsuoka-san. I'm sure they know everything by now."

The agent looks left and right, naturally questioning of this phone's suspicious placement. He speaks into his collar, puts the phone into a zip-bag, and reenters the departing van.

Mizuka reaches out feebly. "My phone…"

"Now you understand the gravity of the situation." Togai rises to a crouch, bidding the two to follow him. "We must move, our lives are at risk."

Honoka objects: "But they're not killing us…"

Togai freezes mid-pace, slowly turning to face Honoka with a chilling gaze. "Won't, or not yet? Can you be so sure they won't come to that point?" Before she can object, he continues to move. "I know a safe place, far from their eyes and ears…"

A short walk up the hill, past the local landmark of Taro's Grave and back downhill, Mizuka and Honoka find themselves before an abandoned metal shed trapped in land partially reclaimed by the forest. Togai pulls the rickety door open.

"It's not much, but this is the safest place for us to discuss the recent events."

Mizuka takes a nervous step forwards, peers in, and walks in. Togai looks to a mortified Honoka, whose legs have frozen before the sight of another shed.

"Sarada-san…" He speaks in a calm and soothing voice, "I assure you that nobody else is coming. It is just the three of us. Us, and nobody else."

Against her trepidations, Honoka steps in after Mizuka.

"It's hot!" Mizuka sighs, having unsuccessfully attempted to open a window. She flops down onto one of three folding chairs, fanning her face.

"I anticipated your complaints. Apologies…" Togai pulls a tarp off a cooler box and opens it, revealing an array of carton drinks drowned in cool, cool ice. He grabs one and punctures it with the straw, handing it over to a grateful Mizuka. He offers another to Honoka.

"N-no, thank you." Honoka pulls out her own flask of water and drinks from there. Togai nods in understanding, punctures the carton and takes a sip himself.

Honoka notices several empty cans of coffee drinks by the cooler. "Miyata-kun, you've been here a while?"

Togai pauses for a moment, and nods. "I've been gathering my thoughts in here, far from their eyes and ears. Thoughts of… Why they would be here."

Honoka blinks as her nose takes in the smell of drying coffee drinks, her mind briefly brushing against darker memories of numerous opened cans and the wafting stench of alcohol.

Why do all the coffee cans look and smell to be freshly opened and drunk within the day?

Togai looks out to the window. "It's all to do with the local legend of the Fox-Witch, isn't it? It all started with her."

Honoka nods, her confusion swept aside by concrete thoughts for now. "Yes, it's related to Mish… Kitsune-san."

Mizuka chips in. "Yeah! They're going all over town, going up to everyone to ask a question."

Togai looks up and out of the window. "Do you believe in the Fox-Witch of Takachiho?" He turns around, noting their expressions. "Don't be surprised; after all, they asked me that question too."

"You told them you did not, and they left you alone?"

"On the contrary. I told them that I fully believed."

"Then how did you escape the black box?"

"On the contrary. I did not."

"But how? How do you still remember?"

"That's what I would like to know myself. Fortunately," Togai clasps his hands behind his back and turns about to face the girls. "It was easy enough to act the fool and let them think their job was done. It wasn't hard either; They were in a hurry to inspect everyone else."

Togai turns away once more and slowly raises his arms out into the air, as if to grasp at invisible objects floating before him. "Matsuoka-san, Sarada-san. I saw things within that box. Things that hid within the light that felt to be reaching into my head, looking for specific possessions of our minds… Memories. To take away, it seems. After all, is that not what happened to Yukimori-san?"

"Misaki!" Honoka gasped. "You knew?"

"I was there when she cried for help."

Honoka gasped. "But that means-!"

"I was there when you were caught, Sarada-san. I was there when you, by luck, made the light shine in their faces."

"The sounds! The falling trash cans that the agents ran off to investigate-"

"Yes." Togai deeply bowed his head. "It was me. They were addled enough, evading their pursuit was not an issue."

"T-Thank you…" Honoka held a hand close to her chest, looking away from her savior.

"Back to the topic at hand: That brings me to my main belief - not hard to deduce, really - that these people must be working behind the scenes, with government collusion or consent to hide another world from ours. As it is, we three are easily the only ones left who remember the misdeeds of the Fox-Witch of Takachiho."

Honoka looked left and right. Mizuka seemed to be nodding off. Was Togai-kun really that boring? Her eyes scan the contents of the old shed; empty except for the drink cooler and three seats, one unused by Togai who walks about to supplement his recollections with his gestures.

…If he expected more, why are there only three chairs?

Honoka readjusts her seat, inching herself an inch closer to the doorway. "You talk about the Kitsune, Miyata-kun, but do you actually believe in her?"

Togai gives a solemn look, holding a hand to his chest. "Doubtless that I am a believer. For I too, have met the Fox-Witch of Takachiho. Would you like to know the story?"

Honoka adjusts her seat once more. Another inch closer to the exit. "I suppose… Go ahead."

Togai nodded and raised his arms once more, supplementing his recollections with emphasized, if not grandiose gestures.

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