Raven perched in an oak tree outside Tamagawa station. Morning commuters were queuing up. He ruffled his feathers, wondering if Fox had been wrong about their destination. A small, nagging thought suggested that, perhaps, she had even been deliberately misleading and was plotting her escape while he sat here. More people passed through the station and there was still no sign of his quarry. Common crows were gathering around him, brooding in branches and on power lines. He took this as evidence that he was in the right place after all. When the crows erupted in a ruckus, he scanned the crowd emerging from the station and spotted Mei. He took wing and followed her towards the river, the crows taking flight and wheeling in the sky above him.
There was still no sign of Fox. Raven decided these crows could use her fur for nesting materials if things went wrong – well, any more wrong. Mei placed the doll holding his beloved Crow prisoner into a toy boat and launched it into the river. Seeing his chance, Raven went for broke and made a dive for the doll. The murder of crows above him screeched their approval. His talons closed on a bit of yarn hair that ripped off the doll, and he careened along the surface of the water fighting for altitude. A rock sailed past him and splashed into the river, thrown by a crow-hating onlooker. He regained altitude and circled back for another try.
A shrill whistle and a twist of reality nearby caught his attention. Raven aborted his next dive and glided downriver over the park. He spotted a Shinto priest who seemed more real than his surroundings. He was wearing a traditional white tunic over blue pants, and a tall, narrow black hat. Raven swooped in for a closer look and caught a glimpse of a red tail peaking out under the hem of the robe. The priest was wearing a silver fox paw and cherry blossoms on a leather cord around his neck.
Raven landed and assumed his aristocrat form. “About time you showed up.”
“Would you like a charm for good luck?” asked the priest. He held out a talisman made from white cloth, with red lettering on it.
“No, thank you.” Raven studied him over the top of his glasses. “Fox?”
The priest smiled slyly. “I’m here to offer purification for those in need.” He swatted Raven on the nose with a Shide wand. The zigzagged strips of paper rustled loudly.
Raven batted the wand away and said irritably, “While I have always questioned your sanity, I had rather thought you were slightly less crazy than this. Thank you for proving me wrong.”
The priest took him by the elbow and guided him toward the river. The dolls were floating around a bend in the river and into the waiting nets of young priests and shrine maidens. He said, “Could you help us, young man, as we gather the boats to take to the temple? We’ll burn them there. No sense in tangling up fisherman’s nets.”
“Ah.” Raven smiled. “I think a costume change is in order first. Crow would not approve of letting this coat become waterlogged.” Reality twisted, and he was dressed as a priest. He looked down at the simple tunic and pants. “Eh, not bad.” He didn’t sound convinced. “A bit on the dull side. And rather… white.”
“Just grab a net and haul,” said the priest.
Raven grabbed a handful of net. “I take back what I said about your fur.”
“What?” Fox’s brow furrowed.
“Oh, I was just thinking that those crows up there might be in need of nesting material. It is springtime.”
“That’s not funny…”
Fox’s retort was interrupted by a scream of “Fish!”, followed by a loud splash. The crowd along the bank was shouting and pointing as Mei bobbed in the river.
“Can you swim?” Fox asked Raven.
“Can you fly?”
“Fine. Just find Crow.” Fox tossed the hat aside, then dove into the water.
Raven dumped out the net onto the ground. He rummaged through the dolls and boats, frantically searching for the correct one. Several were tossed over his shoulder before he found a ragdoll dressed in a blue kimono. It was missing a lock of yarn hair. He breathed a sigh of relief and started to hug the soaking wet doll, then held it at arm’s length to wring it out. As he turned to leave, another doll caught his eye. It was stained and had a mess of knotted short hair, as if often launched from catapults. He picked it up with the vague notion of tormenting Fox with it.
copyright 2013, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved