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Blood and Cherry Blossoms


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Little Kyoto, The West End, Freedom City

14th April 2022, Butsumetsu
This little slice of Japan in Freedom city, if not the oldest it was close, was particularly quiet today as among the more superstitious it was the unluckiest of days. For on this day the Buddha had died and hence nothing important should be embarked upon.

 

The day had definitely been unlucky for poor Mr Chishio who had been found dead in the courtyard of his home, under the shadow of an ancient Cherry Tree. With nothing suspicious about the death, the man was quite old after all (and no one ever remembered seeing him as a young man), he’d been carted away to the morgue.

 

Someone knew something was amiss however...

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Mr Chishio had been dead well before Betsy had already met the man over several decades ago. A Jiangshi who had gently enshrined himself into this little Japanese community, taking only the little he needed to survive and returning much more to the community.

 

He’d been the first vampire that any angry young(ish) Betsy had discovered thinking they needed to be wiped from this planet. The jiangshi had gently explained that he wished her no harm and spent time convincing her that supernatural creature were just as human as everyone else. His gently humour had won her over (Mr Bloody indeed!) and it started her on a path that led to her becoming the woman she was today.

 

When his letter had arrived asking for her help she had dropped everything to travel back to Freedom City, but apparently arriving to late. It was all to suspicious that he’d happened to die right at this moment so Betsy was determined to discover the truth.

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Nearby, on a bench outside the Japanese-American Cultural Center, a crowd had begun to gather, mostly old people and their caretakers. Betsy might have passed the sight by if not for the young woman sitting cross-legged in front of the crowd. Dressed in a kimono and carrying a shamisen, she spoke to the crowd in Japanese, then said in accented English. "Hello. Mr. Koshiro," she said with a nod towards the older gentleman who must have been with the center, "has brought me here to play for you. Please give him donations in box. My name is Neko. This is a work song, from farmers in fields." 

 

And then, strumming the strings of her instrument, the girl began to sing, an old song about how the tycoon was a devil from hell, who took not grain but blood from his workers, her voice full of rich, ancient sadness that sounded much older than her years. 

 

The girl was no ordinary girl. Betsy could see what the crowd seemed not to see; the fluffy white brown hair that looked more animal than human, the curling white tail that hung low behind her, twitching occasionally, and the big, yellowish eyes. This was a catgirl all right! 

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  • Tiffany Korta changed the title to Blood and Cherry Blossoms

The Immutable Betsy Brooks
Betsy was examining the roots of the tree when the dulcet tones sounded out from the culture center across the way. Being a sort of expert on such things back at Vibora Bay she often just stumbled on preternatural beings almost daily. Then again this was Freedom City that was packed to the gills with the strange and bizarre. Still a Kaibyō so close to the former home of a jiangshi was at least worth a look, and someone who seems to know the locals mundane and maybe otherwise.

 

She sauntered over to the center, taking time to drop a note in the collection, before siding over to Mr Koshiro, she vaguely recalled a drunken night of karaoke with the man last time she’d visited.

 

“Konnichiwa Koshiro-san...” she was still on the earlier courses of her ArcheTalk Japanese “... could you introduce me to the young lady?”

 

Best to take this slow and steady, didn’t want to cause a scene whilst trying to find her feet here.
 

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An ear flicked Betsy's way, but otherwise the girl finished with her songs, her talent real but untrained. She rose and bowed smoothly to the gentle applause of the elderly audience, hooking her shamisen up over her shoulder as she did so. Her smile for Betsy was blandly proper as Koshiro said "Oh, ah, yes! This is Neko Musume; a student from Tokushima here for high school. She knows traditional music that some of us have only read about." Koshiro didn't seem to see anything unusual about a girl with cat-ears that were obviously attached to her head; and no sign of human ones underneath brown and white hair that looked more like a Japanese maneki-neko than any normal cat. 

 

"I learned from my grandmother," said Neko, ears pointed and tail twitching behind her. Her nose twitched slightly as she looked up at Betsy. "Greetings, Madame Brooks." She knew how to talk to English people. She remembered the way Englishmen died and wondered, not for the first time when meeting strangers, especially ones that carried themselves with true power, if she'd been recognized. 

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The Immutable Betsy Brooks

Betsy wasn’t one to beat around the bush when it came to dealing with people, she could be downright rude if the situation arose. But in her line of business you sometime needed someone to cut through the crap and get to the point. But this was a little different, she didn’t want to bulldoze through a community and cause a fuss for nothing. She could be subtle where needed.

 

Please to meet you, I’m Betsy Brooks.” her accent was one of those cut glass British ones, with just a slight edge behind it “If it’s not to much trouble I’d like to talk to in private about something you might be able to help with?”

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Neko had been in situations like this before; and she'd been warned about the nature of possibly superpowered strangers in Freedom City in particular. A private place turned out to be just inside the community center, right next to a transparent glass window that showed the elders outside watching a small troupe of young people perform a traditional dance. Once inside, Neko folded her hands before her and eyed Betsy again, her gaze yellow and ears folded back on top of her head. "I am a stranger here," she said, tail twitching behind her. "but I am not alone." As she spoke, Betsy became conscious of the fact that they weren't alone inside the mostly deserted room. There were cats; cats on the empty chairs inside, cats lurking behind the television, cats of various shapes and sizes and all watching her with gleaming eyes. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Immutable Betsy Brooks

Betsy had been doing this long enough that she was expecting something like this, but she still felt the need to express her feelings on such thing.

 

“Oh for *** sake!” she moved her hand towards her jacket “It’s okay I don’t plan to go hand to paw with your friends, I had a nasty encounter with a Cat-sìth once.”

 

Showing she carried no weapon, she got out her PI license to show to the young Neko.

 

“I’m a private investigator who deals mostly in preternatural personages… and does everything here have to always be so dramatic?”

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Neko stared at Betsy with big eyes and ears flat against the top of her head, an expression mirrored by all the watching cats, relaxing a little once she saw the ID. She started to say "I don't know anything about that" when Betsy finished speaking; her usual way of responding to English statements that didn't make no sense, until she finished processing all of her words. 

 

"Private investigator. Sam Spade. Maltese Falcon?" she said out loud as she remembered. 

 

As the film rattled to a halt, silence fell in the barracks. "What did the film teach you, children?" 

 

Miko, ever-ready, raised her hand and earned a nod from the Katana. Neko had hardly been able to process what was happening; so many people together in one place, all of them speaking a foreign language. But she'd managed to puzzle out who Sam Spade was; a lone force of righteousness amid a city wrapped in vice. 

 

"Americans are all criminals or liars," said the girl frankly, "and greedy treasure-seekers to boot..." 

 

Neko blinked away the memories and added "You are very big and strong. I am just a girl alone." The cats seemed to prove that a lie. "What are you investigating?" 

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The Immutable Betsy Brooks

Some might have missed it because of her bluster, or just her great hair, but she was actually a good detective. And she could see in Neko’s eye’s that there was more going on than what she was saying. But one problem at a time was her motto, at least right at the moment.

“Bollocks, to all that you’ve been hanging around with the spandex crowd to much!”

 

She lent against a nearby table, after gently moving one of the kitty mob out of the way.

 

“A good friend of mine, who lived across the way…” she gestured towards the house “.. and I could use the help of someone with your senses…” she put her hand on top of her head miming cat ears “… and can talk to and understand the locals.”

 

<”Speak Japanese badly”> which indeed she did.

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Neko wrinkled her nose briefly once she'd pieced together the woman's Japanese. "Yes. I speak English okay." She hesitated, thinking about what she knew about the dead demon in the neighborhood. "I know about him. But I can help. I am not from here. But I can talk to them. My Japanese is very - old and country. I am like a...Japanese hillbilly," she said, remembering the phrase Raina had used. 

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