One - A Night For Mischief
"You bastard!" The sound of Mizumi's resonating slap drew the attention of all of the students waiting for the train at Hiroo Station. Some of the girls looked shocked, but the members of the Azabu High School Kendo Club all laughed, even thought there was nothing particularly funny about the situation.
Every boy at Azabu High School knew that the captain of the Kendo Club, Nura Rikuo, had a reputation for two-timing. He'd been seeing the same girl since Junior High - although he would never admit it. Some of the rumors said that it was an arranged marriage that he was trying to get out of. In any case, it was obvious that Mizumi had found out about the notorious "Tsurara-Chan". On more than one occasion, the shameless girl had appeared inside of the all boy's school, earning Rikuo a detention every time.
"Mizumi, it's not what you think!" Rikuo protested. When she scowled at him, he fell silent and only rubbed his cheek. It seemed fair, somehow, that she'd hit him hard enough to leave a mark. He had been lying to her, and as much as he liked the girl – he didn't have any intention of telling her the truth.
One of his oldest friends, Jiro, helped him to his feet. They'd first met in Junior High when another friend, Kiyotsugu, had started a yokai-hunting club dubbed the "Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol". Before both Rikuo and Jiro started at Azabu High School, Kiyotsugu had dropped out of school altogether to take a full-time job hosting a popular television show "Paranormal Experts".
Rikuo smiled slightly at the thought. If only anyone knew...
The six members of the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol – Kiyotsugu, Jiro, Natsumi, Saori, Kana, and Yura were probably the only High School students in the Tokyo area who knew that yokai were real.
They'd been in no small amount of danger following Kiyotsugu's leads, which were usually very good. Though he was not supernaturally gifted himself, he was a top-notch investigator and knew how to separate common hoaxes from genuine spirit activity. Still, as oblivious as he often was – most yokai probably would have left Kiyotsugu alone – if he hadn't always been in the company of Kana, Yura and Rikuo.
Kana attracted yokai because she was genuinely afraid of them and there were many malicious spirits who enjoyed harassing any human they could get a good scream out of.
Yura attracted yokai because she was an onmyoji, a demon-hunter trained from birth to track and exterminate malevolent yokai. Many demons considered terrifying or killing an onmyoji to be a noble accomplishment.
Rikuo attracted yokai because he was one.
"Oh, and give this back to that tramp!" Mizumi tossed a yellow angora scarf at Rikuo's feet and stomped away, followed by her giggling entourage.
Jiro picked up the scarf. "Does this belong to Oikawa-san?" He wondered, using Tsurara's assumed surname.
"You know I can't explain to Mizumi that Tsurara is my bodyguard," Rikuo admitted.
"I guess not," Jiro replied nervously. He gave Rikuo Tsurara's scarf. Though Jiro had known the truth about Rikuo and Tsurara's relationship for the past six years, the events that had driven all of the members of the Paranormal Patrol in different directions still weighed heavily upon him. It had seemed like fun at the time, chasing after crazy Kiyotsugu in his neverending quest to track down and film yokai... but the "fun" had all been before any of them knew the truth about Rikuo.
Though on the surface he appeared like any other High School student, a high achiever who was reluctant to break the rules and somewhat shy around girls – Rikuo was actually the Third Heir of the Nura Clan, a yokai Yakuza who controlled most of the Tokyo area. Since he'd taken the mantle of leadership from his grandfather at the yokai age of majority – thirteen, Rikuo had become frighteningly strong, even to the point where his old friend could see his yokai side during the day. Because he was mostly human, Rikuo was only able to use his formidable supernatural powers at night. That was the reason for his bodyguards. Depending on what business was going on with the Nura Clan, Rikuo regularly had two bodyguards and sometimes as many as six. Tsurara, the mysterious "fiance" who made so many other girls envious – was in reality Rikuo's subordinate, a kind of yokai known as a "Yuki Onna" or "Snow Maiden".
Not that Tsurara didn't have feelings for Rikuo – Jiro simply doubted that Rikuo would ever notice.
Which was a shame, Jiro reasoned. Even knowing that Tsurara was a yokai, he'd had a crush on her for years – and she'd never once glanced in his direction.
"Are you going to study for that Chemistry test this weekend?" Jiro asked, trying to change the subject.
"Oh, probably," Rikuo replied, looking a little sheepish.
Jiro groaned. He'd had to work very hard to get into Azabu High School and was constantly afraid of doing poorly. Rikuo never seemed to crack a book and somehow passed every exam. It was monumentally unfair, but at the same time, Jiro couldn't remain angry at his old friend.
Rikuo had a lot of responsibilities, and even though most students from Azabu went on to University to earn degrees in law, science, or engineering – Rikuo did not have any choice as to what he would do when he finished school. In fact, his grandfather had been pressuring him to drop out since Junior High so that he could fully devote his attention to the business of running his Hyakki Yagyo.
Visions of the last time he'd witnessed the Night Parade in action sent an uncomfortable shiver down Jiro's spine. When there was trouble afoot, or on beautiful summer nights when a hint of mischief lingered in the air, Rikuo would assemble all of his yokai followers and lead them out for a hunt. Spheres of iridescent blue were-light illuminated their passage, although the yokai themselves were invisible until they wished to be seen. It was a beautiful, surreal world that the yokai inhabited – one that was all too easy to get lost in.
Still, Rikuo made every effort to remain part of the sunlit world. Jiro suspected it had something to do with a promise he'd made to Kana many years ago. Kana had been reluctant to join the Paranormal Patrol in the beginning. She had always been very afraid of supernatural things and had a knack for getting into trouble. Perhaps it had been a blessing in disguise when her father had gotten a promotion and moved his whole family to start a new office for his company in America.
None of the former members of the Paranormal Patrol had heard from Kana in years. Jiro avoided mentioning that he suspected it was because Kana had not taken well to discovering that her only "normal" friend, Rikuo, was actually a yokai – and not only that, but the commander of one of the most powerful Yakuza families in Japan.
Not that Jiro could blame her. Even when he wasn't trying to be terrifying, Rikuo was still a little scary. The sun was beginning to go down and already Jiro could see flecks of inhuman red in his friend's normally brown eyes.
"When is the train going to get here?" Rikuo muttered with impatience. During the day, he was usually very quiet, but as the sun went down it became obvious that his other side was taking hold. "Night Rikuo" was much more reckless, arrogant, and impatient than "Day Rikuo" ever was.
"It's delayed thirty minutes," Someone supplied, a girl with thick glasses who was playing with her phone. "Someone jumped on the tracks."
Jiro grimaced and Rikuo sighed heavily. "I'm not going to wait that long," he informed Jiro.
Rikuo unzipped his kendo bag and stuffed Tsurara's scarf inside. Jiro blinked in surprise as he caught sight of a familiar white wood scabbard. The actual sword hidden amongst Rikuo's usual kendo gear was a deadly weapon – Nenekimaru, the godslayer. The sword could not harm a human but spelled certain death for any yokai. Even a small cut would cause them to bleed off energy uncontrollably. The weapon had been shattered many years ago in Rikuo's first battle with the insane demi-god, Abe no Seimei. He'd been a child at the time by both human and yokai standards. Now seventeen, he was almost an adult in the human world.
But as Jiro saw it, Rikuo had already been an adult for a long time. In fact, the weight of his responsibilities was beginning to make him look old.
If Rikuo was carrying Nenekimaru to school, then whatever business the Nura Clan was embroiled in had to be serious indeed.
Jiro followed Rikuo to the top of the stairs, but there was no sign of him anywhere on the street. The sun was low enough in the sky that Jiro suspected Rikuo had probably just changed forms and disappeared.
He could literally do that – disappear. It was irritating.
Jiro heard the train pulling into the station and raced back down the stairs. "Wait!" He shouted. "Wait!"
Rikuo watched Jiro from his perch on top of a street lamp, smiling slightly. It was no surprise that everyone thought he was older than Jiro. The whole world seemed to confound Jiro, even the things that he could easily see – and affairs of the spirit realm were even more incomprehensible to him. The poor kid had a crush on Tsurara, never seeming to understand that she was a snow maiden, more than a hundred years old and well out of his league.
Rikuo watched the sun set. By leaping from rooftop to rooftop, he could be home well before the train reached his neighborhood station. Not having to wait for public transportation was one of the best things about being yokai. No human could imagine what it felt like to travel so quickly, not bound by anything so mundane as the laws of physics.
"Master?" A familiar voice whispered as Rikuo leapt to the nearest roof.
Rikuo glanced over his shoulder, not entirely surprised to see Sasami Tengu, one of his bodyguards. She usually traveled with both of her brothers. Though Rikuo could not see either of them, he suspected that Kurou and Tosaka were both nearby.
"Your grandfather has been asking for you," Sasami informed him.
"How is he?" Rikuo asked.
"My father won't say," Sasami admitted. "But the Supreme Commander's health is poor, and he won't stay in bed."
"I should head home then," Rikuo paused. "I was going to check in on Shoei tonight. Could you three do that for me?"
"Hey! How did you know we were here?" Tosaka demanded, appearing suddenly at Sasami's side.
"I'm your master for a reason," Rikuo smirked. "I wouldn't be very good at my job if you were capable of tricking me so easily."
"He has a point," Kurou agreed, tousling his brother's feathers. "We'll go to Shoei. You go home."
"Thanks!" Rikuo waved as the three Tengu flew away. They were very serious most of the time and probably didn't feel as though they needed any credit for obeying the orders they had been given. Still, Rikuo felt compelled to show his appreciation.
That's what makes me different, He reminded himself. I actually care.
When he arrived at home, Rikuo quickly changed out of his school clothes. His grandfather was very traditional and especially disliked seeing Rikuo's school uniform. It annoyed him that Rikuo refused to quit school and devote all of his time and energy to the business of running the Nura Clan.
The old man was in the courtyard near the kappa pond, sitting in the grass at the foot of the sakura tree which was covered in beautiful pink blossoms. Unlike every other sakura in Tokyo, the one on the grounds of the Nura Clan's house did not seem to know what season it was and persisted in blooming year round, a thing which caused many of the neighbors to wonder if the old mansion was haunted.
Of course, they had plenty of reason to be suspicious. At any given time, more than one hundred yokai of all shapes and sizes were in residence at the Nura house, which meant that inexplicable gusts of wind, doors and windows opening without warning and strange noises were commonplace.
Rikuo's grandfather, Nurarihyon, founder of the Nura Clan, was a pure-blooded yokai and well over four hundred years old. Though many yokai were truly immortal and never aged at all, the years had not been kind to Nurarihyon. Some suspected that it was because of a terrible curse laid by the nine-tails kitsune Hagemoro Gitsune, the same curse that prevented him from ever having any pure-blooded children or grandchildren to inherit his clan.
Rikuo's own father had been half human, though his mother was a princess who possessed magical powers. Rikuo himself was only one quarter yokai, not that it mattered. Rikuo had learned long ago the same lesson that his father had – that it was part of the yokai nature to consume and that although humans could become yokai through terrible emotional experiences, there was no way for a yokai to become human again.
"Where were you all day?" Nurarihyon demanded.
"The same place I go every day. School," Rikuo admitted truthfully.
"I wish you wouldn't waste your time there," Nurarihyon snorted.
"I know. But it's my time, and I'm going to waste it how I like," Rikuo paused. It seemed so recently that he had viewed his human side as unforgivable weakness that made him unfit to lead the Nura Clan and his Hyakki Yagyo. Now he was fighting to hold on to what was left of it. That was something his grandfather could never understand.
The old man sipped his sake. Out of the corner of his eye, Rikuo could see several of his grandfather's most loyal subordinates watching him from inside the house. When he realized that Rikuo had seen him, Hitosume Nyudo shoved Mokugyo Daruma out of the way and closed the screen so quickly that he almost caught Karasu Tengu in it. The little Tengu squawked in protest and then quickly composed himself.
"Come drink with me, Rikuo," Nurarihyon motioned for Kejoro to pour him another sake. Rikuo sat down in the grass across from his grandfather.
"You wanted to see me, old man?" He asked. "Why?"
"No reason. I'm getting old, that's all. Sentimental. You're seventeen now. I would like to see you get married before I die. But your mother says you're no good with girls," Nurarihyon teased.
"Mizumi broke up with me today," Rikuo grimaced.
"Four-hundred years ago, I would have told you to go kidnap yourself a princess. But these days, it's not that easy. At least find a good woman like your mother. I've always liked her, despite the fact that she's useless when it comes to housework," Nurarihyon laughed.
"Isn't that why we let all of the little yokai live here? To keep my mother from breaking every plate in the kitchen?" Rikuo suggested.
"Yes, of course," Nurarihyon sighed. He smoked his pipe and stared up at the moon. "You're a fine young man, and you'll do well by this clan."
"And I'll have you to ask for advice," Rikuo added. "You're not dying yet, old man, so don't try to convince me that you are."
"All right, I'm not dying yet. But I am leaving," Nurarihyon slowly stood.
"Where are you going?" Rikuo demanded. He tried not to sound as fearful as he felt. It was no secret that his grandfather was in poor health. Maybe, like an old dog, he was trying to find somewhere to die.
"One last adventure. It would take too long to explain," Nurarihyon supplied.
"At least take a bodyguard with you..." Rikuo began. He fell silent as his grandfather held up his hand.
"No," He paused, taking a deep breath and gazing up at the moon. "My, it's a nice night for mischief, don't you think?"
Rikuo nodded. He could feel it himself – it was what the yokai called a "hot blooded night", a night for perfect for causing trouble. Of course, as leader of the Nura Clan, Rikuo had laid down some laws about harming humans, but he knew better than anyone that forbidding yokai to play tricks and cause Fear was altogether impossible.
Fear was everything to yokai, and more importantly – it was the very emblem of the Nura Clan.
He struggled with that desire himself. Though it had been embarrassing to explain when Kana had discovered his identity, he'd thoroughly enjoyed sweeping her off of her feet and dragging her out for midnight games at the local yokai teahouses and bars run by Bake-Neko and his cohorts. It was very, very enjoyable to have someone awed by his presence.
How had those Kyoto yokai put it, so many years ago? He liked causing "fireworks". Yes, that was it! Though needless cruelty was something he would not tolerate, an occasional long night of sake-fueled gambling with bewildered mortals who would remember nothing in the morning was perfectly acceptable from his perspective.
With no further words for his grandson, Nurarihyon faded into the darkness. A shower of plum blossoms caught by the wind followed his departure and for the briefest of moments, Rikuo thought he could see the old man's shadow hopping the wall and disappearing down the street.
There was no use in following him. He had taught Rikuo virtually everything he knew – and had four hundred years of experience besides.
Rikuo stood and smiled slightly. An inspired idea had just occurred to him.
"Where did the Supreme Commander go?" Mokugyo Daruma wondered, peeking out of the house for the second time.
"I've no idea," Rikuo admitted.
"But he didn't take any of his bodyguards with him!" Karasu Tengu groaned. "Oh, Supreme Commander!" He cried out, flying in the direction that Nurarihyon had disappeared. "Wait! Wait for me!"
"I wish I could say I was surprised by this," Another retainer of the clan, Gyuki, admitted, appearing in the doorway behind Mokugyo Daruma and Hitosume Nyudo. "But this is a very fine night. Even the Supreme Commander cannot resist its lure."
"A fine night indeed!" Mokugyo Daruma agreed. "Now where are you off to, Master Rikuo?" He wondered.
Rikuo glanced casually over his shoulder with a slight smirk. "Follow me and you'll see."
The Night Parade of One Hundred Demon danced above Tokyo. Rikuo enjoyed the beautiful view, riding on the head of an accommodating little dragon who'd joined his Hyakki Yagyo somewhere near Shibuya Station. The experience of seeing the city from above was something he could not put into words. Like Kana had been, Mizumi was fearful of all things supernatural and would never feel the peace he felt up in the sky – only the awe and fear that overwhelmed most mere mortals. He could never have explained his Night World to her in any way that she could understand. Maybe it was best that she'd broken up with him.
"Master Rikuo!" A familiar voice called out as yet another late-comer joined the Hyakki Yagyo. Surrounded by a flurry of snowflakes and her entourage of little crystal faeries, Tsurara came bounding up to Rikuo's side.
"Oh Tsurara?" Rikuo casually produced her angora scarf. "I believe this belongs to you?"
She flushed as he wrapped it around her neck. Of course, being a snow maiden she couldn't really blush but her skin did look slightly less frosty than usual.
"I feel ridiculous," She admitted. "This is part of my human disguise."
The yellow scarf certainly stood out against her silvery kimono, but she kept it on anyway.
Tsurara hopped up on the dragon's neck behind Rikuo and gazed out over the city with a smile on her face.
"This is a perfect night for mischief!" She whispered.
"I know," Rikuo agreed.
The dragon made a little noise. It was done being Rikuo's mount and had found the pond it wished to go soak in. Rikuo and Tsurara leapt down from its back and onto a cloud, treading softly as if over the surface of the water. It was the magic of the Night Parade that kept them aloft in the sky, walking a silver road of fog filled with all of the stars of the Milky Way.
"So where are we going, Master Rikuo?" A little yokai, Natto Kozo demanded, racing up to the front of the Hyakki Yagyo with his usual cohorts.
"Well, I heard that Kiyosagi is filming an episode of his "Paranormal Experts" show at a haunted house tonight," Rikuo explained. He pointed down to the house in question where two vans full of camera men and special equipment were already parked outside.
"I don't sense any Fear coming from that house," a yokai observed. "I don't think it's really haunted."
Rikuo grinned broadly. "It is now."
Realizing what their master was proposing, the yokai all gathered around Rikuo to hear his plan.
"Now you all know the rules. No hurting anyone!" He ordered. "But the first one to send Kiyosagi running out the front door gets a special prize."
"What kind of prize?" Awashima demanded. The brash Tonno yokai had moved into the Nura Clan's main house several years ago for reasons that he/she never cared to explain. Rikuo was grateful for his/her help, although that didn't change the fact that he/she was usually a pain.
"A kiss from Yuki Onna!" One of the yokai suggested.
"A kiss!" Another agreed.
"Uwaaaaaiii!" Tsurara gasped, looking absolutely mortified. "Master Rikuo!"
"Don't worry. Now that he really hunts yokai for a living, Kiyosagi is much tougher than he used to be. No one will win this easily," Rikuo reassured her.
"Well, what about us women?" Kejoro demanded with her hands on her hips. "If one of us should win, there should be a prize for us!"
"I don't want to be the prize!" Tsurara wailed.
"I'll kiss the winner!" The assassin-monk, Kurotabo, winked.
"You're no prize!" Kejoro slapped the back of his head and the smug smile disappeared from his face.
"We'll just see who wins and I'll think of something appropriate," Rikuo decided. "Now on the count of three... let's teach these humans why they shouldn't go around looking for us in the middle of the night! One, two!"
Rikuo did not make it to three. On the count of two, all of the yokai were racing down to the house, eager to find the best hiding place to scare Kiyotsugu.
Rikuo rolled his eyes. Some things never changed, and yokai would always find a way to cheat – even at the simplest of games.
Rikuo waited for the Paranormal Experts camera crew to begin assembling their equipment in the courtyard of the old house. He already knew that Kiyotsugu would be the last one out of the van, gathering up all of his supplies. When Rikuo and Kiyotsugu were in Junior High going on missions for the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol, Kiyotsugu had been thoroughly clueless. He'd outfitted himself with silly gadgets purchased online until their mutual friend Yura, who was herself a professional exorcist, had gotten him some genuine yokai protection.
Kiyotsugu didn't have the innate talent necessary to become a real yokai hunter, but a few prayer strips and some holy water went a long way, at least where most smaller yokai were concerned.
Rikuo landed effortlessly on his feet just behind his friend. He parried the prayer strip Kiyotsugu flung at him with the hilt of his sword, not even drawing the weapon.
"Nice try, amateur," he laughed.
"Rikuo-sama?" Kiyotsugu blinked in surprise. Since learning Rikuo's true identity, he had always accorded him a ridiculous amount of respect. Then again, maybe it wasn't so ridiculous when one considered that Kiyotsugu was currently making his living chasing down yokai. Being friends with the leader of the Nura Clan was probably the only thing that kept him from losing his head.
"I haven't seen you in a long time. I suppose you're going to try to keep me out of that house?" Kiyotsugu guessed. Several times previously, when Kiyotsugu had been about to get into something over his head, Rikuo had made an appearance. Neither of them wanted a repeat of the "Great Ape Scare" that had thrown all of Kanto in an uproar two years ago.
"Not at all," Rikuo shook his head. "Be my guest."
Kiyotsugu paused, as if he suspected Rikuo knew more than he was saying. "Say, while you're here – we want to do a show about that haunted power plant in Shikoku. Do you know anything about what's in there?"
"I haven't heard anything about a haunted power plant," Rikuo admitted.
"Well, it's going to be our one-hundredth episode so we want to make it a good one. There have been some stories on my message board of people who go in there getting killed in pretty grisly ways. I have four special guests signed up already to be part of the tour group!" Kiyotsugu grinned. "I wanted to ask if you would come along too."
"It would be silly for me to go along on a yokai hunt, Kiyotsugu," Rikuo reminded him.
"But it won't be the same without you! Come on, Natsumi and Saori already agreed. I talked to Jiro this afternoon – and he's up for it too," Kiyosagi replied.
"A reunion of the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol?" Rikuo observed. "But without Yura and Kana..."
"Yura's coming in from Kyoto. In fact, she's the one who told me about the power plant in the first place. I would have invited Kana, but... well, I don't know her address in America. I suppose it's too far to expect her to come just for some television show she's probably never seen," Kiyotsugu admitted. He glanced at his watch. "Uh, it's almost time for me to start the tour. I'd better get in there."
"Have fun," Rikuo waved.
"That place is swarming with yokai just waiting to scare me, isn't it?" Kiyotsugu observed dryly.
"I promised a prize to the member of my Hyakki Yagyo who could chase you out the front door," Rikuo smirked.
"You're so petty," Kiyotsugu observed.
"I am yokai. There's a certain satisfaction in seeing humans screaming and running. But don't worry. The rules are – no one gets hurt," Rikuo explained.
"I wish I had as much faith in your demons as you do," Kiyotsugu sighed in defeat.
"You don't think they'll go against my orders?" Rikuo raised an eyebrow.
"Definitely not," Kiyotsugu agreed, glancing warily at Rikuo's deadly sword. "So are you in for the power plant tour?"
"I'm in," Rikuo agreed. "And if there are any yokai in there who really have been killing humans, they'd better be prepared to face the Lord of Pandemonium."
Without another word, he vanished. Kiyotsugu thought for certain that he could hear the sound of Rikuo's wooden sandals going up the front steps of the old house.
Rikuo-sama is going to hide in there somewhere and scare the crap out of me. Kiyotsugu grimaced.
Then he smiled. He wouldn't have it any other way.