MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
My name is Scherezade Rezvani, Lieutenant, U.S. Army, and craftsperson. Like my namesake, I have a story to tell. Unlike hers, my story ends with a funeral.
But like my namesake’s, my story begins with a wedding, the marriage of craftpersons Major Michael Endicott, U.S. Army, and Commander Grace Marlow, Royal Navy. Endicott had met Marlow while we’d been fighting the evil Roderick Morton. My husband, Dale of the not-evil Mortons, was Michael’s best man. Just a couple of years before, that friendship would have been unimaginable.
Endicott and Marlow planned on marrying in a small church in Yokohama. We three Americans were stuck in Japan because, in his fall, Roderick had managed to pull down with him a good section of the craft world, so in the U.S. we would at best have been under house arrest along with many other practitioners in the service. Marlow’s situation was more ambiguous. MI13 wanted someone minding us, and she gave them reports to keep them content.
Before the wedding, I’d dismantled a doomsday machine at the Yasukuni Shrine and dispelled the Japanese war dead. As a domo arigato, the Japanese craft servicepeople had ceased shadowing us around Tokyo, so as far as they were concerned we could stay or leave Japan as we chose. On the one hand, I felt pretty pleased with myself for having done what no one else in the world could do. On the other, I was homesick and exhausted, and yet I still had more work.
What work? I was Marlow’s matron of honor (well, matron of “honour,” as Grace’s invites had that Brit spelling). In the craft world, my role wasn’t just organizing the bachelorette party. Maid or matron of honor meant security.
I couldn’t complain. All my life I’d been a fan of science fiction and fantasy, and now I was part of something that was like both. But bodyguard at a wedding wasn’t in the usual epic job descriptions. My pregnancy didn’t grant me leave from this or combat. According to Dale’s lore, “Nature likes to take care of her craft children so much that you’ll be tougher to kill now more than ever.” But he added, “Please be careful anyway.”
So, as part of security, I took the subway to Shinjuku to scope out the honeymoon accommodations. Shinjuku Station was the world’s busiest, and the first to have the official packers to push people in, so for comfort I waited until after the evening rush.
* * *
I loved my friends, but I really wished they could have put off their happy event. The timing wasn’t their fault. Here was our sitrep: Dale had recently discovered that his real mother was Sphinx, one of the greatest oracles ever. This meant Dale gave us a bit of screening when we were with him, which was how we’d been able to avoid the farsight of Roderick and others.
However, from the moment Michael and Grace had gotten engaged, it’d been like we had precog RFID chips implanted. A craft wedding was always significant, but a union across borders of two major Families was far too important for Dale’s presence to confuse the farseers. Wherever we went, they would see Endicott’s and Marlow’s trajectories toward their marriage, and they could pinpoint us for attack. This was bad now, and potentially fatal when we had to leave Japan.
That left another possibility: why not go into a bunker somewhere? A secure undisclosed location wasn’t the most romantic destination wedding or honeymoon, but the security sure would be easier.
The answer came mostly from our old frenemy, Eddy Edwards, director of the Peepshow at Langley. When he hadn’t been putting us in harm’s way, Eddy had helped us survive and had made our escape to Japan possible. A few weeks ago, he’d managed to send us his files on prospective guests along with a message: “Bunker strategy has greater than 90 percent chance of failure.” He hadn’t said why. Perhaps, even given recent events, practitioners wouldn’t try anything as outrageously magical in public as they would against an isolated place. Or maybe a bunker just lengthened the period of vulnerability to when the couple exited their concrete honeymoon suite.
Or maybe, and most dangerously, we could no longer trust some of our Japanese hosts, and the more isolated our position, the more easily they’d be able to betray us.
In any case, this wedding had to be open to craft witnesses because an attempt (like Dale’s father’s) to hide the lineage and likely powers of prospective offspring was frowned upon, often with extreme prejudice. All those stories about inviting the bad witch to the ritual were a bit of Emily Post for the magical world.
For Dale and my wedding, it’d been enough to notify H-ring, though we also had General Attucks as a witness. But this international wedding across two different services had to be open to all craft witnesses, potential enemies too, or its closed doors would be considered a diplomatic affront and a license to mischief. It seemed the whole craft world was planning to show, though most would only attend the reception.
This openness went with a traditional truce for the duration of the ceremony and reception. This truce would expire—I had trouble wrapping my brain around this—at the moment of consummation during the wedding night. Sure, Endicott and Grace had done the deed, but they hadn’t formally consummated as spouses. Unpleasant prior experiences helped enforce the truce. From the night before the wedding until formal consummation, the karmic penalty of killing either spouse would be particularly severe, probably involving impotence and chronic repulsive illness. Dale said this was just an evolutionary feature of the craft, while Endicott and Marlow seemed to regard it as a sign of the divine.
But the moment after consummation, the newlyweds were fair game. A lot of farsight would be focused on that moment, so we couldn’t do much to conceal the site. If we were in the home country of the bride or groom, the wedding night might be in their Family house. Here, we could only work on our defense and hope that it would be enough.
Also, despite tradition and curses, we still couldn’t rely on the peace holding during the ceremony and reception. Too many people had reasons to harm those at the altar, and the unusual number and importance of the guests would attract persons and governments with scores to settle. We would have ninja ushers and body armor for all.
* * *
Shinjuku was pretty cool. It was the only part of Tokyo that fully met my William Gibson and Blade Runner–induced expectations of what an Asian City of the Future should be like, with the appropriate skyscrapers to go with the giant electronic billboards. Earthquakes kept the rest of Tokyo’s skyline smaller, with more open and green spaces, but Shinjuku had solid bedrock beneath it to build up on. Maybe Shanghai did the sci-fi cityscape better, but I doubted I’d ever see it in person—China was not safe for American craftspeople.
From the subway station, I walked into the district called Kabukicho. I could have read a book by the brightly lit signs. All the urban entertainments were here, though like too many things in Japan, they favored the boys. But pachinko didn’t favor gender. The rattle, roar, and lightning of a pachinko parlor competed with some looping musical track that sounded like an interrupted dance. Pachinko was pinball without any control and played for money, only I felt and saw that some people with very weak craft were trying to skew in their favor the random movements of the balls. The craft radiated out and made me a little tipsy.
I passed bars, some of which I couldn’t see into from the street, but I could hear them. Since my supposedly delicate condition began, my senses had been doing odd, sensitive, and synesthetic things, and I was hearing as much craft as I saw. These Kabukicho bars had a song like a siren’s call, a craft that fed on alcoholism, and their cute beckoning porcelain cats seemed evil. I didn’t have any trouble resisting. Should I thank an Islamic upbringing or the bun in the oven for that?
Mundane noises behind me—a pair of drunken Japanese men were trailing and making offers with an edge of threat. “You come with us,” they said. So gross. Not sure if this was bad English or just the way they did pick-ups around here. Their hands reached out to grab me.
“No,” I said. “If you bother me anymore, I will hurt you.”
The men scrammed for easier prey. Such threats might not work on a rapey American, but they sometimes did wonders in Tokyo.
In the narrow street, the ridiculous Cadillacs of Yakuza were completely illegally parked. A woman in chilly-looking Japanese schoolgirl fetishwear ran giggling down an alley. Few people, but the way was thick with ghosts: women and men killed in sexual violence or fire-bombed people with their burning houses. As I approached, most of the ghosts parted and fled, sensing what I was. Some lingered, a question on their faces, perhaps longing to leave this plane. I considered dispelling them. This wasn’t my country, and I was still tired from the dispellations at Yasukuni and Roderick’s bunker in Virginia, but it might be a good deed.
Still thinking on it, I turned right, and I felt a flash of warmth in my belly. In the middle of the narrow street, oblivious to the foot and other traffic, a dog faced me—I mean a literal dog, and not some Japanese mercenary equivalent of a Gideon. The animal looked distinctly Japanese in the way a canine in their comic books would, don’t ask me to explain how. I think it was at least part Akita, but crossed with bigger breeds, with a red-on-white coat and perfect erect triangle ears—all the way forward and ready for action. The beast growled at me through bared teeth, like I was a terminator. Even in the wonderful world of craft, this was weird. Other dogs liked me fine, and there weren’t many homeless animals or people in this part of Tokyo.
“I’m not going to eat you,” I said.
The dog turned and loped away. But I didn’t think I’d persuaded it. I walked on.
A presence, behind me—I turned to face the new threat. Two women stood there, each wearing a bodycon dress more appropriate for this party district than my urban combat leather, though a bit chilly for the street. I recognized one of them—just my luck. “Kaguya-san,” I said. She’d been the perfect hostess during our stay in her country, even inviting me to train with her ninja friends, but I couldn’t warm to her. I’d never been jealous before in my life, but Dale’s history with her had gotten under my skin.
Other presences were here, unseen, but I felt them anyway. “I thought watching us was going to be difficult, ne?”
Kaguya-san had a pained expression. Oh my, I’ve forced her to be direct.
“Our position towards your government regarding your departure—that will be soon, eh?”
“Yes, soon,” I said. The honeymoon would indeed be over.
“Our position on your departure has nothing to do with your security while you are here. This wedding is important, and everyone will be watching, including us.”
“Fine. Could I have some time alone with the site? All your ninjas make it difficult to see.”
To her credit, Kaguya-san didn’t act surprised by my observation or try to deny it. She simply made a small gesture, and I felt the ninja presences fade. The other woman drew closer to Kaguya-san and whispered into her ear. Except, no, it was a man. Or again, maybe not. Ninjas had always been a bit flexible on gender.
Kaguya-san’s gaze returned to me. “You spoke to the dog?”
“Yes. What’s its problem?”
“Cemetery dog,” she said. “Stay away from him.”
“OK,” I said, though I didn’t understand.
Kaguya-san gestured at her colleague. “This is my friend. You may call her Mama Suji. She is known here and in Shinjuku Ni-chome.” That was the neighboring district that catered to LGBT Tokyo. “So she’ll be on duty for the wedding night. You may trust her. Good night, Rezvani-san.”
A tickle at the back of my mind. “Wait,” I said. Dale had told me to listen carefully when Japanese craftspeople spoke and hear all the things they weren’t saying. “Do you mean there are some I shouldn’t trust?”
Kaguya-san smiled sadly and nodded. “I may have been mistaken in trying to speak for all in my nation’s service. Your husband will understand. Good night, Rezvani-san.”
In a blink, she and Mama Suji were gone. No smoke or other mundane ninja tricks, just gone. Good. I’d heard what I’d needed and really dreaded to know: a faction in Kaguya-san’s organization was hostile to us.
In another blink, another presence: Madeline, robed like the bodhisattva of mercilessness, eyes with the slightest hint of the Japanese. She was part of the Left-Hand Morton collective spiritual entity, but I still considered her as an individual and very much in charge of that mass of ghosts.
She said, “You could, you know.”
I bit. “I could what?”
“Kill her. She seems tough, but you could take her. We could help.”
Remembering some Morton history, I said, “You were never good about the host and guest relationship, were you?”
“We’re Mortons,” she spat. “Not Oikumene.” She faded back into the ether.
This was the typical Madeline mix of helpful cruelty, aristocratic pride, and modern language. I sometimes forgot that she wasn’t like Roderick had been; since her birth in the late 1700s, she’d been in many bodies and many roles, and she’d always kept contemporary enough in speech and manner not to draw suspicion. She also seemed to enjoy her own code-switching.
Her more evil twin Roderick hadn’t had as much opportunity to adapt. Like a Left-Hand cautionary tale, he’d been stuck to his own flesh for two centuries, and most of that as a rotting head, until I’d fucked up and freed his spirit to cause global mischief. I’d made up for my mistake by assisting in his exorcism and banishment to some hellworld, where no solitary spirit could survive the all-consuming, demonic mass-consciousness of the dead. Always cheered me up to think of that.
I strode on through Kabukicho, and in a few steps I could see the love hotel, the one with “Supai” or “Spy” in incongruous flashing neon on a long sign running up the side of the building. The love hotel had been Dale’s idea, but I’d agreed. He’d said that it wasn’t just a place for the illicit, but for anyone seeking a romantic getaway in space-starved Tokyo. Like many love hotels, this one had rooms with individual themes, but here all the themes related to spies. A ninja suite, a Mata Hari boudoir, a Casanova room with a view, an Austin Powers groove pad, and three different James Bond options. We got them the Fleming. It came with many devices that would have made Q blush.
Given what Marlow had told me about her family history, the Bond connection was a little creepy, and I’d said so. But Dale had said, “Grace will love it, and Mike will be too nervous to complain.” I agreed about Endicott’s nerves. He was a tough veteran of many craft fights, but his Puritan background and dedication to duty hadn’t allowed for much romance in his life.
The problem with hotel rooms was that they usually didn’t allow for much defense in depth. A typical room had only one entrance—good—but that was the only exit as well—bad. The Fleming room however had a “secret” door which connected it to the Austin Powers room, for those who wanted their spies swinging. That wouldn’t be us for all sorts of personal, professional, and supernatural reasons, but it was ideal for our defensive strategy.
We had already scoped out some of the physical issues; I was here for the metaphysical. Dale hadn’t been wild about me coming here alone, but having him around might distract me while I was using my new sensitivity. “OK, see what you can see,” he’d said. I took the elevator up and stood in the hallway outside the rooms. I closed my eyes, and opened my senses.
First, I heard the buzz of Kabukicho’s magic in full. So much wanting, so many wills trying to bend reality their way without inhibition. Though mundanes might only have fleeting sparks of craft, a little craft multiplied by such numbers has an impressive force.
I tasted the radiant infrared of the district’s sex magic, the by-product of more immediate heat, synergistically shared. My little bite wasn’t a Left-Hand action, because the energy was freely given. It made me slightly horny.
But only slightly, because beyond Kabukicho was a colder craft. I felt their eyes upon the spot where I stood. Minute by minute, the strength of their regard grew—not one craftsperson or even one service, but too many farsights for me to count. They were looking here and ahead to the moment of consummation, when a blast of sex energy would radiate out from Michael and Grace, when all those watchers could smite or witness the smiting. In my warm coat, I shivered as if naked and alone. “Enough,” I said, and I opened my eyes.
The wedding was days away, but I had to tell myself to keep calm as I left the Spy Hotel.
Above me in the narrow space between Shinjuku’s buildings, the starless dark beyond reminded me of horrors past. Still shivering from the stress of the world’s regard, I went back to my husband.
* * *
With our short lease up in Moto-Akasaka, we’d all moved into the Okura, a grand hotel from the build-up for the 1964 Olympics. The place had an odd institutional feel, with corridors that never seemed well-lit and an expensive restaurant dominated by the strange, flat taste of Japanese-Italian dishes. Dale could afford it; he used one of the Family overseas accounts for us, and I assumed Marlow or Endicott was doing something similar. Nobody was making serious efforts to cut off our cash. The Pentagon’s lips said they wanted us back home ASAP, but their actions suggested otherwise. By staying here, we kept things simple for H-ring.
But I was homesick for the States. While Dale was out on a much needed run to “work off some stress,” I called my parents on Skype, hoping for comfort. I was badly mistaken. My parents’ eyes had the tired and hard look they used to get when I broke curfew as a teenager. As with high school, they immediately started in with questions: “Why are you still in Japan?”
“I’m fine, thanks, how are you?”
But they didn’t let up. More questions, like why was I letting my hair grow out? (That one was easy—I didn’t want to deal with a foreign hair stylist.) But the others involved craft secrets that they could never know. Dale and my friends came from practitioner Families that went back hundreds of years; I was the first craftsperson in my line (though my mom’s sense of when I was trying to hide stuff from her seemed a little uncanny). H-ring was insanely protective of the craft secrets, and telling my parents anything about magic might put my life and theirs at risk.
Only one way I could think of to make my parents stop their inquisition: “I’m pregnant.”
As if I’d worked some mind-controlling craft on them, they became perfectly happy idiots. More annoying questions followed, but at least I could answer them honestly. Yes, Dale was thrilled. No, we couldn’t come home yet; we were staying for our friend Michael’s wedding.
“Wedding?” That brought on a renewed inquisition, though less frenzied. Good thing they didn’t know too many details. While in Ukraine, Endicott had lost an eye and had basically risen from the dead. So in Islamic apocalyptic thinking, by working with Endicott, it might appear I was serving the Dajjal, our one-eyed equivalent of the Antichrist. What would my family make of that?
“Come home soon,” said my parents, bringing me around full circle. What could I say? We couldn’t go home yet, and we weren’t sure where we could go next. But we didn’t need Kaguya-san’s warning to know that we had to go anyway, and soon. With the possible exception of Endicott, in Japan we couldn’t replace as much craft as was seeping out of us, and we were slowly but steadily losing our internal reserves of power. We’d already been here too long.
* * *
I had time for one more ninja sparring session before the wedding. Kaguya-san showed, and I tried being friendly as I worked through my forms. “So, what are your books?”
“My books?” she asked.
“You know—Dale and Michael have their Poe and Hawthorne. Grace cuts a rainbow-colored swath through Brit lit. You?”
“Our training tries to silence the words in our heads, bad or good.”
“Aw, come on.”
She nodded, relenting. “Not books, but plays. Plays of magic, ghosts, and revenge.”
Great. I’d seen some of those plays, and they were bloodier than Hamlet with half the sense. But now for my more immediate question. I stopped wheeling my arms and legs about. “You haven’t told us your plan yet to secure the sites. We need to know.”
She smiled the way the Japanese do when they’re about to tell you something unpleasant. “We will secure all entrances and approaches. Beyond that, I will not tell you any plans. When the time comes, we will communicate; we will improvise. I have at least five scenarios in my head, and I won’t discuss any of them. I advise you to do the same, ne?”
Not this BS again. “That’ll just confuse us, and it won’t stop the hostile farsight.”
“You’ve felt it, eh? Every eye in the world is on the picture of the honeymoon. The only way to win is to draw a master’s stroke of uncertainty across it. You did it before against better oracles. Do it once more.”
Easy for her to say. We had payment due on those runs of the table, and the house would always win in the end.
Copyright © 2017 by Tom Doyle