The day began with light and ended with darkness, as do most days in this world. On this particular evening, the light came from the garish neon lights of the Akihabara Tokyo gaming district. The area was a veritable mecca for the Otaku, cosplay and gaming culture world wide which made it the perfect prowling spot for a young couple out for a night on the town.
Hansamu and Kireina loitered about in one of the few shadowy alcoves of the district, a small alleyway devoid of any neon advertisements, free of the catcalls of scantily clad young women plying the trade for the famous in-character “maid cafes”. One young woman in particular, clad in a frilly purple outfit drew their attention.
“How about her?” Kireina asked. She took a sip from a mango flavored bubble tea, lifting her vulpine Kunimitsu mask. She cringed as the straw brushed against the fresh, never-healing incisions along either end of her lips.
Hansamu ignored her query. “I told you not to use straws,” he scolded in a light, airy voice. He too was clad in a traditional white-slashed-red fox mask and he noted with some annoyance that it clashed rather harshly with his impeccable business suit and red/blue cape. He hated his appearance to be anything other than pristine. Yet another reason why he abhorred his usual “assignment.”
“But then I can’t do this,” his female companion smirked. She pursed her bleeding lips and blew into the straw causing a raucous eruption of bubbles.
“Charming,” he grinned in spite of himself. He took a moment to give Kireina a quick look over. Her multi colored hair, knee length skirt and mismatched leggings complemented the vast array of manga, anime and video game inspired buttons dotting her black jacket. The pair had met in the Other World, having crossed paths while instigating their traditional assignments. He scarcely believed in adages and folk sayings but in this case, opposites had truly attracted. On this night, she cuddled closer to him, the pair scouring the crowd. Their work was… unusual… but they both had reputations to uphold and legacies to maintain. This was the way of the StoryKeepers across the globe, a select few of their kind tasked by an enigmatic entity (whom they had yet to meet) with instigating and propagating those known as “urban legends” or “folktales”.
She snapped him out of his thoughts as she lowered her mask again. “Really though, she looks like a good candidate.” She gestured to the young woman once more. “Maybe tonight we can… try a little something different?”
Hansamu rolled his eyes. “You really want to go through with this, huh?” His answer was am enthusiastic nod. He relented. He was willing to try something new. Hansamu cleared his throat and said “Very well. Let’s give it a shot.”
Kireina squealed with joy and took a happy little jump. “OK, handsome, hold still!” She withdrew her ceremonial straight razor from her jacket pocket, lifted her beau’s mask and promptly slashed him a wet, bleeding Glasgow smile cut across both halves of his face. Hansamu grunted as blood spattered on his lapel. “Relax,” she said. “It’s a new look, a fashion statement.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered.
“Don’t be so grumpy,” she frowned. “Now go do your thing!” She gave a playful swat on the rump, handed him the razor and sent him on his way.
Hansamu nodded curtly, straightened his tie and paced out of the shadows. Kireina watched him leave, hands on hip. He really was uptight but she liked that about him. She liked portraying a bubbly, life-living yin to his cautious, quiet yang. In truth, she couldn’t believe she had convinced him to go along with her idea. Their assignments had indeed grown a bit dull recently but she had the brilliant idea to swap their duties for one night just to see how it felt. Just to spice things up a bit. Gotta stoke the embers to keep the flame going, y’know? She knew. And she knew he did too. She bit her lip nervously as he approached the Maid Cafe girl in the street.
“Hello, Master!” the young girl said cheerfully. The well dressed man in the Kuni mask approached her, a prospective new customer. He seemed like the type that would enjoy the purely non-physical fantasy of playing an authoritative figure to a young female restaurant waitress. She held out a brochure for her nearby cafe but the man ignored it.
“Why don’t you come in?” she asked, staying in character. “We’ll all tend to your very needs, sir! There’s lots of good food to satisfy your appetite!” It sounded like a dirty euphemism, but it was 100% accurate. the cafe with which she was employed was famous for their beautiful women and delicious cuisine. Curiously though, it seemed as though the well dressed man had no interest and he abruptly turned, heading back into the darkened street corner. She was not to be deterred.
“Master, won’t you come give our place a try?”
The man in the Kinu mask stopped and turned back around. The girl smiled and produced a pair of fluffy bunny ears attached to a headband. She popped one on her own head and gently placed one around the man’s mask, giggling all the while.
“There! Now we match! You look like a cute but strong animal!” she said.
Finally the man spoke. He took a deep breath. “Tell me, do I look attractive to you?” He spoke with a slightly undignified high pitched voice, quite the opposite from what she was expecting.
She decided to stay perfectly in character, for she was very devoted to her craft. “Of course, sir! You look very handsome! Your suit and your mask, they give you the appearance of royalty!”
“Hmm,” he replied. “How about now?” He yanked off his mask. The bunny ears went askew yet stayed upon his head. This silly and garish accessory combined with the voracious wet gash cleaving his face into horizontal halves had an instant effect on the poor girl. Her mind instantly thrust back to her childhood to tales her grandmother had told her. But in her recollection, this exact experience was supposed to come from a woman. Maybe he… maybe he was just playing a character, much as she was? He was surely cosplaying as the infamous Kuchisake, the “slit mouthed woman”. She squealed initially in fright but then recovered her composure. After all, she must be professional.
“Um…” she started.
“I see. Hesitation breeds uncertainty,” he spoke. Fantasy became a nightmarish reality as the slit mouthed man in the suit and silly ears grappled the young Maid. He raised his blade, neon light from the gaming store across the street glinting across it and blinding her temporarily with garish yellow brilliance. Her world disappeared in this ochre flash as the blade descended upon her.
Hansamu made sure to catch the bleeding victim and dragged her swiftly back into the alley, red spreading swiftly and staining his suit even more. He was breathing heavily, not so much from exertion (as his lungs hadn’t functioned in quite some time) but more so from exhilaration.
Kireina had watched the whole scenario and she leaped for joy as he returned to her side. “Babe, that was brilliant!” she yelled happily and threw her arms around him.
He embraced her back. “That really was… exciting! How did I perform?”
“That was wonderful, very satisfying,” she responded. She batted her eyes at him from beneath her mask. She reached up, straightened his tie, brushed off some blood, readjusted his bunny ears and gave him a kiss from within the cold, plastic mask. “You’re keeping those ears on for the rest of the night, by the way.”
“I figured as much,” Hansamu said. “Very well, now it is your turn.”
He removed his cape and draped it around her small shoulders.
“Oooh, I’m so excited!” she said. “What do I do first??”
“Well, first we…need to go to the toilet.”
“Luckily I know the particulars of your assignment, or I’d think you were bring crude,” she teased.
Moments later, the pair stood outside a public restroom. A young man raced past, bags of merchandise shaking about in his rush. Hansamu gestured towards him.
“What, the men’s room?” she asked.
He nodded in confirmation. “This is the one I usually haunt. I always prepare it in advance, so you should be good to go.”
She was bold and therefore did not hesitate. However, she asked him to indulge in her quirk for want of sanitation: “Hold my drink, please.” No chance in Other World that she’d bring an open drink into a restroom.
Kireina sauntered inside, locking the door behind her. The young man had found his salvation yet, for the sake of her etiquette minded beau, she decided to not focus on the various sounds and smells emerging behind closed stall doors. She swept Hansamu’s cape around her, lipped her bleeding lips, removed her mask and pressed her cheek against the door. Within the stall, the young man sighed in relief and quickly followed with a wail of dismay.
“Everything OK in there?” she asked, attempting to masculinize her voice.
“Dammit, no!” the boy groaned. “Some asshole used up all the TP in here…”
Hansamu was right, he had prepared. She was grateful for that. Time for phase two. The young man in the stall had a choice to make and she secretly hoped he’d choose one option over the other.”
“Don’t worry friend, ” she said. “I have some right here. We have red paper or blue. Which would you prefer?”
“What?” came the reply. “Why does it matter? Why are there different colors?”
Kireina paused. She had expected to hear shuddering breath and weeping from that very query alone. He must not be familiar with the Aka Manto legend that Hansamu was assigned to reenact night after night. She thought swiftly for an appropriate response: “Uh, we’re testing out a new product. Special color coded TP for… various needs.”
“Whatever, man, just give me, uh, blue.”
She cursed silently. Her blade would be not have its thirst slaked any further on this evening. Yet she was entitled to preserve the legacy of this legend and so, with all due professionalism, she kicked the door open. The young man inside reacted several ways: first surprise (“Wait, are you a chick?)”, then embarrasment (“Get the hell out of here!”) and then with a strangled cry (“Hrggurk!”). The final cry came from Kireina sweeping the cape over his head with a swift flourish.
The boy thrashed around wildly. In blind panic, he struck the plunger for the toilet, sending the mess into the sewage abyss and behind her mask, Kireina offered a silent thanks. She whipped the cape off her shoulders and tightened it around the man. She slammed his head across the porcelain, shattering it with a gunshot crack. As she dunked the cape enshrouded victim into the thankfully-clean water, she remembered to recite the traditional poem:
“Make a choice, please use your voice. Red loses blood, blue loses air. So choose your death, it’s only fair.”
The struggling came to a stop. She untangled the sopping cape and wadded it into a ball, adjusting her mask in the process. She took a deep breath and sauntered out of the stall, leaving the body to be discovered at a later time. Frightened whispers would spread that the Aka Manto spirit had come calling again and the legend would continue to dance across the souls of the living, a viral tale incubating with the malleable flesh of society.
Kireina made sure to wash her hands before leaving. Bacteria was no longer a concern to her but still… just, gross.
If one were to take a moment from the hustle and bustle of the Akihabara district on this night, they might spy two individuals talking and laughing off the beaten path. A tall man in a sopping wet cape, red speckled yet otherwise impeccable suit. A young woman in a bright and eclectic outfit, dripping water despite the clear night. Both are excited, gesturing wildly. Both are wearing Kinu fox masks for some reason and oddly enough, the man is wearing bunny ears. He must have just left a Maid Cafe, yet why didn’t she have any souvenir ears? Maybe he was getting his jollies from interacting with the sexily dressed girls in the restaurant without her knowing.
No wait. These two. They seem worlds apart but there’s something captivating about their presence with one another. As they hug it’s evident that there’s something fiercely unspoken between them. Yet it comes to light as they lift their masks and kiss deeply. If you were to look closer, you could have sworn that both of them had large gashes across their mouth, no doubt devoted fan to the Kuchisake Slit Mouth legend. But then, it’s probably just a trick of the light. Akihabara is very busy and loud and it’s easy to get disoriented here.
In fact, that’s probably what happened. After all, the couple isn’t even there anymore. Were they ever there to begin with? A pair of bunny ears and a half consumed cup of bubble tea are the only evidence. You’d be sure that these will go unnoticed amidst the scores of Otaku, cosplayers, maid girls and gaming fans patrolling the neon lit cityscape.
From within the harsh artificial light, the darkness recedes and it takes with it the enigmatic pair of Hansamu and Kireina, a relationship renewed with blood, death and legend and stronger than ever before.
We within the Collective implore you to educate your minds on the legacies of our epic Story Keepers, those who would propagate the darkest tales of society. Witness within the particulars of the tales that Hansamu and Kireina are tasked with continuing forevermore…