The tunnel was dark and grimy. Fortunately, Hilde had a torch. And she’d just gotten new batteries for it.
It looked like a sewer, but it thankfully didn’t smell like one. It smelled more like a reptile enclosure. Likely from the kappa coming through. Not that Hilde was going to lean next to Taura and take a good long sniff in order to compare.
“I don’t get it,” Bianca said. “Why does something with this level of power need Taura’s people?”
Taura looked up at her. “You misunderstand. Trickster doesn’t need. Wants.”
They reached the end of the tube. There was a wide open space that looked like a stereotypical idyllic stream. Complete with large, lush fruit bearing trees and vegetation. Hilde noted several other tube entrances encircling the space.
“A magical space?” Hilde wondered.
Bianca nodded. “Yeah. I can feel the power behind it.”
“It’s almost like an exhibit, isn’t it?” Sakura asked.
“Right. It’s like it was designed just to house the kappa,” Bianca agreed.
“And they go to various areas through these tubes,” Hilde said. “The question is why? It can’t just be to have them jump out and scare people. It’s too much work. Besides, you could get more of a reaction from kappa sightings in Japan where people are more likely to recognise them.”
“It can be tough to figure out the motivations of beings at this level,” Bianca stated. “I’m sure you’re right and there is something to it but I couldn’t begin to guess what with the information we have now.”
“Guys, something’s wrong with Taura,” Sakura cried out.
Hilde and Bianca turned. The kappa was staring ahead, blankly. Hilde followed her gaze. There was nothing there.
She waved a hand in front of Taura’s eyes, trying to get a response.
The group was startled by the crack of thunder. A cloud rapidly formed over the stream, thunder crackling around it. Out of the cloud, a being emerged.
He had a long, dark beard, bushy eyebrows and a pronounced Roman nose. He was very tall, over two hundred fifteen centimetres tall. He looked almost human save for his eyes. They had ever shifting swirls of gold, grey and white encompassing the entire eyeball.
Taura knelt down, prostrating herself.
Bianca grasped Hilde’s hand, tightly. Hilde could feel her hand shaking but tried to take comfort in the contact.
“You must be the trickster we’ve been told about,” Hilde said. She could hear her own voice crack.
And what business does an ordinary human have in the company of a witch and a fairie? His voice boomed and seemed to come from everywhere at once. Speak quickly lest a flay you where you stand.
Bianca hurriedly positioned herself between Hilde and the Trickster. “My lover is a detective and we’ve taken on the case of finding Taura’s friends. That enough of an answer for you?”
You’re courageous to stand before me like this. Out of respect for your brave heart, I will allow you to give me your names.
“When asking for someone’s name, isn’t it customary to introduce yourself first?” Hilde asked. She knew it was a clichéd line, but the information could prove invaluable.
I have been called many names. But you may refer to me as Lord Susanoo.
“Hildegard Elizabeta Müller,” Hilde said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Bianca Hexe, likewise,” Bianca stated. She stayed between Susanoo and Hilde.
“I’m Sakura,” Sakura said.
“Now that we’re all introduced, perhaps we could persuade you to release Taura’s friends?” Hilde asked. “Surely, a being of your obvious power doesn’t need them.”
Perhaps not. But who are you to entreat a God? Susanoo’s voice boomed. Then again, this may be an opportune test. Very well, Hildegard Elizabeta Müller, companion to magical beings. I shall test you. Should you pass three trials, I shall order the kappa to return. Should you fail, we will have a penalty game.
“And if we refuse?” Bianca chimed in.
You misunderstand, Witch. These trials do not involve you. And refusal, is not an option. He gestured and Hilde was swallowed up by a mist, vanishing from Susanoo’s magical space.