The rusty old pipe outside my bedroom window creaked dangerously as I inched my way down. Grandfather’s words were still ringing in my ears. I was born the Kanda Onmyouji, and I would die as one. My fate was sealed hours after my birth when my hair turned the red of blood from thousands of monsters, slain by my ancestors, the curse they put on the one who inherited the full scope of the Kanda powers.
But I was so done with that. If I couldn’t be anything but an Onmyouji, at the very least I was going to be one who couldn’t be scolded by an old man who had never been a practitioner, who would probably wet his pants the minute he came face-to-face with a youkai. That meant I had to take care of this goddamn vendetta, and I was doing this tonight.
Stepping out into the quiet streets, I could feel my blood slow to a crawl as every nerve expanded and opened. I could actually hear my heart pounding in my ears, a slow, rhythmic thumping. There was something in the air tonight. There was a harsh bite of winter cold in the air even though it was summer and there were no sounds anywhere. No traffic, people, animals, not even insects. It was like the world was holding its breath, waiting for the night to end.
I imagined that back in Heian era, nights in Kyoto would be much the same, with families closing their doors and running for shelter once the night fell. Eyes squeezed shut and ears covered in effort to be ignorant of any and all sounds that came from outside. The people then had been aware, in a visceral sense that modern technology had brunted the edge off – they knew that sounds wasn’t in their imagination and strangely-shaped shadows were not tricks of the light. They heard but didn’t acknowledge voices that sounded as if they had been dragged out from the bottom of the ocean must be ignored; and they saw but wouldn’t look at the bony fingers dragging over doors and appendages that lapped at the wooden surface. They knew better.
For a youkai, the Parade was an anticipated event, a chance to cause misery like no other. Once able to cause fear by a mere suggestion, technology had put a significant damper on people’s beliefs and doubts rose about all the legends that were now used like campfire horror stories. The lack of belief, the lack of fear, meant youkai were no longer feared as they once were and that was a hard thing to accept.
But the Parade was different. In such a large group, one couldn’t help but feel the power it brought, enough that humans had no choice but to bow down even if they couldn’t explain it. There were the monstrous ones, without face or bone, the large giants that lumbered past trees and into the sky, there were the small ones who lived only on fear and imagination, and by far the worst, were the ones with the mask of human faces, who hid behind smiles and masks and attacked when they were least suspected. Together they gathered, the glut of power and greed and darkness that could make even the most ignorant of people turn away, although they would never be able to explain why.