Battling Creatures from Japanese Mythology? No Problem for This Fictional Heroine



An excerpt from the first volume in John Paul Catton’s Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy introduces us to Reiko Bergman, a 17-year-old girl whose Tokyo life is turned upside down when she stumbles upon a gateway between the present day and the dark mists of Japanese folklore.

By John Paul Catton

I stared at my homework and the notebook open on my desk, but all I could see was the darkness crawling over Hideaki’s face.

He’d been acting weird since that day in Yanaka, I thought. What was the connection? What did I really know about Yanaka Cemetery?

I blew out a big puff of air, ruffling my bangs. I closed the notebooks and threw them down on the rug, enjoying the slap they made when they hit the floor. I booted up my laptop and Googled “Yanaka Cemetery.” After a while, the ancient history and urban legends started to come up. Sure enough, it had a reputation as being haunted, mainly by the ghost of the swordsmith Shinkai Kanemune. It had an otherworldly atmosphere, the reports said; it was one of the places where the walls between this world and the spirit world were thin and easily broken.

Also, it was a place sacred to the Tengu.

The Tengu were creatures that went back a long way in Japan. They were part of the Yokai – the supernatural creatures that made up the fantastic menagerie of Japanese mythology. The name was derived from Tengoku Kui, meaning the Dogs of Heaven, and they were a ferocious mix of bird and human. There were traditionally two kinds, the humanoid Hanadaka-Tengu with their elaborate costumes, red faces and long Pinocchio noses, and the Karasu-Tengu, more birdlike and much scarier with their cruel beaks and huge crow-like wings. Both of them were beasties you didn’t want to mess with.

Just as well they didn’t exist.

While I’d been reading this, the display had dimmed. I pressed the button to lighten the screen, but it didn’t make any difference. My eyes, I thought, they’re getting tired. I shouldn’t force myself to keep reading. But I still had that homework to do . . .

It was alive. I knew, somehow, it was alive.

At the corner of my eyes, the shadows hardened and deepened. I switched on the lamp next to my bed. It didn’t seem to make any difference to the sudden gloom. I rubbed my eyes, sat back in my chair . . .

And that’s when I saw it. Huge, alien, revolting, and in my room. A swirling, undulating, mass of tentacles floating above me, covering the ceiling, its arms writhing and looping around each other and around the central featureless blob that was its head.

It was alive. I knew, somehow, it was alive.

The pane of glass in the bedroom window flashed electric blue and a woman suddenly leaped down onto my carpet, standing right in front of me, a blurred image in a long kimono, a striking and ferocious face, long black hair.

The woman stood over me, holding a long staff upright. The staff was tipped with a crystal blade that shone with a deep, smoldering light, slicing through the darkness congesting the bedroom air.

She shouted something that didn’t even sound like words. I saw the nest of tentacles heave and twist like they were in pain. The woman shouted again, and thrust the staff upwards until it almost touched the ceiling. The creature gave off a loud hissing sound, and then it began to shrink, like water being sucked down a drain, its tentacles writhing faster and faster as it got smaller. Finally, it shot sideways to a crack in the plaster between the ceiling and the floor, and like a wisp of smoke, it was gone. It left nothing behind but a faint smell of raw garbage.

The light in my bedroom suddenly flicked back to its former brightness. There was an empty, ringing hush, like the sound of someone holding their breath. The disgusting thing had disappeared – but the woman still stood, solid and real, in the middle of my bedroom.

“Wait!” I called. “What’s going on? You break in to our house looking like some kind of cosplay fanatic and just interrogate me, I mean, who are you? Where are you from?”

“Wh-wh-what was that?” I finally stammered.

“It is one of a race of beings known as the Tenjoname.” The woman’s voice was cool, clear and assured. The voice of someone who knew what they were talking about. Even floating octopus things that crept into a person’s house at night.

“And who are you?” was my next question.

“I am Gyouten Sama-no-kami Sasaki-no-Ason Chiyoko, from the nation of Yamataikoku.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to process all that.

“And you are?”

“Reiko. You’re in my house, you know. Well, my grandparents’ house. What are you doing here?”

“Looking for that. I followed it across this city.”

I swallowed. I felt faint as I lowered myself into my chair. “So what was that – thing – doing in my room?”

“It is an assassin. It drains the light from its chosen area and uses the darkness to strangle its victim.”

“Oh, I see,” I said lamely. I was trying to speak in a normal voice, but everything came out creaky and high-pitched.

“I have not much time,” the woman said. “Tell me exactly what you were doing when the Tenjoname attacked.”

“Reading this.” I turned the computer screen around so she could see it.

“Tengoku Kui,” I heard her mutter to herself. “Of course.” She turned her attention to me again. “The Tenjoname followed you home. Where had you been before this?”

“A f-friend’s house,” I stammered.

“Did anything happen at your friend’s house? Anything unusual?”

So I told her what had happened to Hideaki. Then I suddenly realized what she reminded me of. She was dressed like a Miko, one of the ladies who sell charms and talismans in the shrines. She wasn’t wearing a kimono, but a quilted green and black robe over black pants, sandals on her feet. The robe was covered with a design of highly detailed interlocking wheels. A chain of gold and silver amulets glittered at her neck.


After my explanation stammered to a halt, she bowed, nodded and turned towards the window. “I understand the situation, and it is more serious than I thought. I must leave. The Tenjoname will not trouble you again: do not fear.”

“Wait!” I called. “What’s going on? You break in to our house looking like some kind of cosplay fanatic and just interrogate me, I mean, who are you? Where are you from?”

“At the moment, I am the only one who can help your friend Hideaki,” she said in a voice that made me shut up and sit down again. “Now go back to your textbooks, forget about me and forget about the Tenjoname. Tell no one what you saw.”

I heard the sound of a door sliding open on its runners downstairs. “Reiko?” Sure enough, here came Grandma’s voice. “Reiko, have you got a friend up there?”

The woman coiled herself to spring, like a cat, and jumped towards the window. Her body, with the hair and the dress flowing behind her, made contact with the glass and went through it, like it was water, and she disappeared, ripples trembling out to the edges of the windowpane.

“You can’t do that,” I remember saying to myself. “That’s just … wrong.”

My hands were shaking. Maybe I’d fallen asleep browsing the Net: I pinched myself. Sure enough, it hurt, and the room stayed the way it was, the weird shimmering on the windowpane slowly fading away.

“Reiko!” came the voice again, up a few degrees of petulance.

I ran over to the door and pulled it open. “Sorry,” I yelled downstairs. “Did I disturb you?”

“I thought I heard two voices,” Grandma called, sounding a bit puzzled.

So the woman wasn’t a hallucination! “No, just me. I was listening to … a voice memo. I recorded myself dictating the term papers, you see. It’s a new smartphone feature. For students.”

“You can use cell phones for anything these days,” she chuckled, and then I heard the door slide shut again.

Yeah, right, I thought. What I should use the cell phone for is to call the hospital for the terminally whacko and ask them to come and take me away.

To find out more about Voice of the Sword and the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy, visit Excalibur Books.

Main Image: mandygreer/Flickr (CC)



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