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Hunting A Shadow (IC)

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Spring 2022 


They had all said she was crazy at the school. Oh no one had said it in so many words, but Neko knew what they meant when they spoke about transference and false memories; false memories when she knew what she had seen and heard, with eyes and ears better than most of them put together. But who could she tell? 


It was a thorny problem. While Danica was a good friend, the tortoise kami in human flesh was someone Neko talked about the future with - not the past. Owain was a good friend too, to whom she owed a debt she could never repay, but at the end of the day, Neko knew she couldn't add to his burden. Erik and Talya and Min were all fine people who had taken her in when they never had to, and truly seemed to want nothing in return for the boon - but in the end they were not like her. A year in the Hinomaru, maybe more, maybe less, and sometimes it defined her as much as being a girl from a village so isolated that it had only ever been "the village" to her people. And besides, they had babies to deal with now, and needed nothing from the past. 


And so it was that one Sunday night, when neither she nor Raina were on babysitting duty, Neko presented herself at the older girl's door with a firm knock. She'd been here before, mostly to talk about computers with Merlin, but today she had come just for herself, tail puffed behind her and ears pointed high, wearing a purple and red dress she'd found at the 'second-hand store.' 



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The knock on the door was weird. Raina counted herself as something of an expert on door knocks, at least of the Espadas variety. From a quick knuckle-brush against an open doorframe to a flurry of tiny pounding, each member of the expansive household had their own particular way of announcing themselves when they wanted attention. The firm "Do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and Savior" knock was therefore unexpected and frankly, weird. It was even enough to get Merlin to look away from Halo for almost three-quarters of a second before squeaking in outrage as someone tried to capture his flag. Raina stuck a finger in the book of poetry she was reading and rolled to sit up. "Yeah?" she called, not about to grant a threshold invite to a potential stranger. 

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Back in her village, Neko would have simply opened the door and announced her presence. But Americans had different ideas about privacy, she had learned at Claremont, and she certainly had no desire to catch Raina in her underclothes or whatever it was she wore around the house at this hour. "It is Neko," she said to the door, scratching absently with her left hand as she leaned close enough that she was sure Raina could hear her well but that no one else could. Still, there were so many little ears and eyes in this house, at least one who could see through her magic like paper. 


She considered her options, then smiled to herself as she remembered Raina's magic. "Kinkyū ni anata to hanasu tame ni," she said, repeating herself when Raina would have had time to cast her spell of tongues. "I need to speak with you." 

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"Okay, come on in," Raina replied, after a hasty spell got her translation magic up and running again. Merlin was a bit tart in his estimation of how polite it was to have conversations in a language he couldn't understand, but she pointed out that he was wearing headphones anyway and would only use a translation spell to watch Gintama without the subtitles. He grumbled but subsided when Neko walked in, returning his attention to the game. 


Raina didn't bother to get up from where she was sitting cross-legged on her bed, but she did dogear her book page and set it aside. "What's up?" Judging by the whole whippy-puff-tail thing Neko currently had going, she suspected this would probably not be a gossip session or fashion advice. 

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Neko normally sat cross-legged on the bed too; sometimes curling and stretching in ways that suggested she had a few more vertebrae than an average girl her size. But now she carefully closed the door and stalked around the room, her eyes down. 


"Raina, I..." She was visibly sweating on her forehead, and took a moment to pull out a flowery handkerchief and wipe it clean before she turned to face her friend directly. "I am going to tell you something. It is going to sound as if I have lost my wits, but I have not." She looked at Raina with her big, slightly yellowish eyes and said "I need to know that you will believe me, because no one else has." She said the last sentence in a hiss, jabbing at some invisible person with her finger. 

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Raina tilted her head to one side and watched as her agitated housemate did quick laps around the room. "I'm not going to give you a blank check for believing," she said frankly, "but I've seen a lot of really crazy stuff in the past few years. I believe a lot of stuff that sounds nuts just because it actually happened to me. How about I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on not being crazy and we'll go from there?" It was definitely not impossible that somebody who'd had the life Neko had might be more than a little unbalanced, sure, but a lot of superheroes lived basically their whole lives that way and got by. 

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"Thank you. Everyone at school, all the therapists, they said I was imagining things. One of them even said I had made an illusion to fool myself. Ha! As if I would not..." She shook her head, then crouched on the bed next to Raina. 


"You know at Christmas, when I was shopping with the other Claremont students, and we fought - we fought Hiroshima Shadow?" There had been other villains there too, as Raina remembered: but the connection there was an obvious one, even if Neko had been asleep when the atomic bombs had fallen on Japan. She had spent most of the rest of that week in her room at Claremont. 

"When I was in the Hinomaru, I was-I was just a girl from a village. The others were criminals, or...or degenerates," she said with venom. "The only real friend I had was a girl named Miko, who was from a small village like me. She could fly, and she could control the winds, and she was like me, just a little older. She wanted revenge on the Americans, because her parents died in Tokyo when the Americans attacked, but she just...she just wanted to end the war, so she could go home to her village and tend the shrine there. For her parents, you know?" There were tears in her eyes as she spoke, and they got worse as she went on. 


"She died in the war, right at the very end. She was - she was in Hiroshima on that day. She was in the air, and - and she must have been trying to stop the bomb!" The last words came in a rush before Neko began sobbing softly, unable to finish speaking. 

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"Okay, wait, hey, here..." Raina was not good with crying people, not good at all,  but she sensed that this situation would not be improved by shaking Neko and telling her to get hold of herself. Trying to unpack the wartime trauma of somebody who'd lost most of their friends in World War Two also seemed like a losing strategy, or at least one she herself was not equipped for. Instead she dug a packet of kleenex out of her desk drawer and put it in the distraught girl's hand. "Blow your nose and tell me what you saw," she ordered. "You fought Hiroshima Shadow? What happened then?" Over Neko's shoulder she could see Merlin, his attention engaged at last, starting to do some web searches. 

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It took Neko a little while to calm herself. For all the horrible things she had seen, things occasionally alluded to by Talya and some others who had come to the dojo, the cat-girl was usually far more reserved than this. When she was finally calm, eyes red and ears and tail drooping, she looked down at her hands, not quite able to meet Raina's eyes for a long moment. "We never really - really fought Hiroshima Shadow, because..." She licked her lips, then looked Raina in the eye. "Because when I heard Hiroshima Shadow speak, I recognized her voice. There were other voices in there, other powers, but the loudest voice was Miko. She - she is Hiroshima Shadow. I know she is, because when I called her name, she looked at me - and she flew away!" 


Raina had learned a little bit about Hiroshima Shadow at Claremont but history had never been her best subject. Actually abandoning his computer, Merlin chirped a soft reminder to her, just in case. Hiroshima Shadow had been around since at least the late 1940s, first active in Japan, then for the last few decades in the United States. The Shadow was, by all accounts, a furious, remorseless killer; the sort of inhuman, inhumane being that might not have survived this long if it wasn't so hard to contain or disperse it. 


"Everyone else who knew Miko Ishikawa is dead," Neko finished. "Or so old they can't hear anymore. But..." She pointed suddenly to the top of her head, to two curving, fleshy ears covered in white and brown fur. "I know what people sound like, even when they have been changed. I know." 

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