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The villagers of Tanmen are worried about strange and sometimes terrifying creatures. Our traveling reporter sheds some light on the conflict between the military and the so-called "Yokai".
Art and story by A.F.
I was in Tanmen for the last two weeks. Normally, for many tourists the Tanmen society seems to be quite secretive, even if they always act with extreme politeness and courtesy towards foreign. One can pass years and years just studying their most open and common traditions, but the more private aspects about their culture can be tremendously difficult to even aboard.
This isn't my first time in Tanmen, I have visited with several diplomatic groups before, even as a personal companion of many envoys, and even if those positions have proven to be quite useful to me to get access to several Tanmen secrets, there is one of them than I particularly find intriguing; the Yokai.
To be honest, at the beginning I thought than those creatures were just part of the Tanmen's folklore, just part one the many legends that people around the world tell to each other. But at this point, I'm a person who has always considered than legends are not lies, but stories about real facts than have been distorted through time, so even in a society like Tanmen, in which technology is reaching great advancement, legends are still remaining as a way to stablish historical and cultural values through a social narrative.
However, I have to add than despite Tanmen's technological advancement, the society is still being highly traditional in terms of their political and social structures).
So Tanmen's legends are not just those epic stories that anyone can hear in places like Sholdor, or those weird tales of Benduti.
So, in those days, I considered that the Yokai were legends, describing, with the common veil of secrecy and mysticism of the legends, the organizations and origins of the secret ninja societies and clans that have existed in Tanmen for centuries, after all, great part of the Yokai stories suggest these creatures have the magical abilities to disappear and to contort themselves into the most difficult hideouts, the exact abilities that ninjas seek to improve.
However, what is important to note, is that inside the ninja clans, the Yokai are believed to be real creatures, capable to do what the ninjas just want to copy. Besides, in contradistinction with other Tanmen traditions, the stories and legends about the Yokai are openly shared with strangers. People of several villages, even if they remained suspicious of the tourist, generally changed their mood when the Yokai stories started to be told.
Since my first visit to Tanmen, I have been quite interested in the Yokai, of course considered them, as I said, to be just legends… however, during this last visit I was a witness of a quite strange event.
It was late in the night when the people started to walk outside the hostel where I’m being hosted (the village in which I’m staying is a town of a quite respected size in the border of the mountain, I have stayed here before, so the place is not completely unknown to me and some people are used to see me here, so I’m not a complete stranger to them), the tumult increased rapidly, so my curiosity overcame my own laziness and in the end I took a robe and joined to the crowd.
At first I had little, if any, real interest in the situation, in fact I had no idea of what's going on, but after a couple of minutes I found one of my friends from the village.
“What’s going on?” I calmly asked him. His response, however, surprised me enough to force me to run faster than everyone else.
“A Yokai,” he said, “the police has a Yokai in the station.”
The news spread quickly and in just twenty minutes the whole town was aware of it. Apparently, a Yokai was captured that night.
Thanks to the gossips (I have to say that the Tanmen people are good at passing information when they want to do it), I discovered than the “creature” (I’m not sure if still naming him a “creature” is okay) was victim of one of the traps that some Tanmen kids put in some areas to catch each other, and apparently to maintain their ninja training meanwhile they play with other kids in the area.
These traps are harmless and easy to break, I was a victim of a couple of them in the past, so I was surprised by the thought than a magical being could be trapped by one of them but when I arrived to the police station I could understand how this happened.
I have a couple of friends in there, so I could reach the interior of the police station rather easily and get directly to the cell where the Yokai was locked, and I have to say that my first impression was bordering on disbelief. In front of me there was a small being, so slender and frail that I thought it was just a kid. One of the children of the ninja clans that often train at night.
But among all those common traits I initially saw, there were strange aspects that I couldn't fully explain.
The “subject” as the police referred to him, was covered in some kind of tight clothes, it was similar to the clothes that some ninjas use, which cover almost their entire bodies. But the “Yokai” suit was quite different in particular details.
As I could see, there weren't any seams on it, and when he moved, there were no folds either. Besides, the clothes had some shine. The suit was so well adapted to his body that for a second I thought he was just using body paint, but a quick revision discarded this idea immediately.
Beside the suit, he was wrapped with a combination of straps, all of them made with a material I have never seen, it looked like some kind of fabric, but it was light and extremely durable. The “subject” was in possession of several strange thing stored inside the many pockets on these straps.
I wasn’t capable to see them all, but among the “devices” he had, there was some kind of “electric dart-thrower”. The Tanmen have some sort of advanced alchemy (which they call “chemistry”) that allows them to produce small but powerful “hand cannons”, capable to throw metal pieces with great power, however the “Yokai” device wasn’t made of metal and it was almost weightless.
And instead throwing rough metal pieces through explosions, it launched two tiny metal wires at great speed to an objective before sending a small but painful electric wave.
How do I know that? Well, when the “subject” devices were revised, one of the police agents accidentally activated the dart-thrower to one of his partners, nothing severe occurred, but at that moment all were frightened when we saw the man collapsing in to the floor, shaking.
However, the most important thing was the “subject's” features. As I said, he looked like a child, but even if his face was quite soft, his expression was tough looking, besides his hair was silver and his eyes were blue, something completely uncommon in Tanmen.
As I managed to discover, when the subject was captured, he was wearing some sort of a mask than resembled a “spider-like” face, however, during the discussion at the station, there was this other theory that the Yokai can actually manipulate people's sight in order to appear like humans, and that the “mask” was actually his real head (the two “theories”, however, didn’t convince me, not then, not now).
Now, his attitude was serious, and after several questions he just replied with the same strange answer.
“Shiro. Sargent. ID number 1001110” (I was lucky to keep a notebook in the robe. Just in case).
I think “Shiro” means “white”, something I consider fitting with the “subject's” hair color and general aspects, however, this is just my own impression. Besides, I noted that even if the voice of the “subject” was soft, there was a notable roughness on it, as if he was older than he looked.
As the night continued, everybody was invited to get back to their houses, or in my case, to the hostel. All the people obeyed, even if some wanted to stay, so I have learned that in Tanmen, invitations are nothing more than polite orders.
The Tanmen society is quite orderly and even if they are still quite far from being like Itlan's “automatons”, they are tremendously disciplined and quite respectful of their authorities, so there weren’t any complains meanwhile the crowd dispersed.
In the morning, I rapidly put my clothes on and ran to the police station, where to my satisfaction I found the “Yokai” to be still there.
I was told that the “subject” was trying to escape the whole night, so the police was forced to tie him up. To their surprise, the “subject” was incredibly agile and quick, but also equally weak, so after the initial troubles to hold him, he was easily subdued.
When I entered to the station, the “Yokai” immediately stared at me, as if I was just as strange to him as he was to me. I had the intention to approach him with some questions, but in that moment a couple of officers entered the station. They resembled regular police agents, however, their uniforms were all black and because of their complexion, slender but athletic, I could infer they were the government's agents (normally selected from the ninja clans).
I was given a sign to remain quiet, so I did (the government's agents aren’t the kind of men you want to bother).
The agents then ordered the police chief to open the “subject's” gate and, to my surprise, they approached him and put their right hands, fingers straightened with the palms facing the floor, next to their foreheads, and held that gesture until the “subject” did the same. I suspect that was some kind of a salute, used by the Yokai.
Then the government's agents escorted the “subject” to the back of the building, where a carriage was waiting for them. The last thing I could see from my position was the three of them entering the carriage before it started moving in the direction of the capital and then disappeared from sight.
I looked at those present, but all of them were equally surprised, so we all stood in silence.
The following hours I spent in the hostel, arranging my stuff with the idea to go to the capital in order to investigate more about the event, but as soon as I left my room I bumped into a police officer waiting for me in the hall. He was a friend of mine, so my initial surprise quickly wore off, but as I approached him, he suddenly grabbed my arm and forced me back into my room.
I asked him what was the issue, and he told me that it was better for me to stay away from this case (apparently, he is quite aware of my curiosity), and just before I could say a word, he handed a note to me, which I opened at once. To my surprise, the whole case was just closed. The “subject's” identity, the nature of the event, all the strange devices, all was just ignored, and the Tanmen government declared than the incident was “irrelevant”.
I was shocked, I have to say. The whole thing was just “closed” by the government and I know that once the Tanmen government takes a decision, it's final. So, my travel was cancelled even before it began. However, I accepted that. I had more places to visit, and this case was good enough for my notes just because of the mystery around it.
So, I wasn’t bothered, however, my friend then took a piece of paper from his jacket and put it in the bed before he opened the door and said goodbye to me.
At first I wanted to catch him up, but I stopped and grabbed what he had left. Among Tanmen's technological marvels there is a box than can absorb light and put images into paper; these boxes are expensive, but the Tanmen government has the habit to use them in several public services, which include police activities. For my joy and surprise, the police station in this village had one of them, and they used it to “capture images” of the subjects they catch.
So, perhaps the incident is now “closed”, but thanks to the friendship, or police corruption (ha!), there is a piece of evidence that it truly happened. A tiny image than perhaps is going to remain in the notes of a commonly drunk traveler.
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