The inari scopes out her surroundings as you head down a paved path. This must be the furthest from the shrine she’s been in centuries. Slowly the rustic surroundings begin to become slightly more modern, with lampposts and steel fences blocking of rocky crevices that surround the path. She seems enthralled with the lights, stopping every few minutes to stare at them in wonder.
Eventually the forest of bamboo clears out and you reach the car park. It consists of only a dozen or so spaces, and it’s clearly been neglected by the local authorities. Your car is the only one present, a rental from the nearest city. It’s a small hatchback.
“What is this?” the Inari asks as she approaches the white vehicle. You pull out your key and unlock the doors, the indicators flashing. She yelps and backs away as the locks click open. She looks to you for guidance, guidance that you can’t exactly offer. Instead you approach the driver side door and pull it open before slipping inside.
The Inari pokes her head into the open door and looks at the interior. “There are chairs inside this?” she asks again.
“It’s a car. We can use it to get to town. Go to the other side and get in.”
She nods and pull away allowing you to shut the door. She dawdles in place for a moment before loudly clacking her way to the other side. She stares at it for a moment, before reaching down and pulling on the handle, nearly tumbling over as it opens with little resistance. Hand placed on her chest, she lowers her head down and squeezes into the other seat.
That can’t be comfortable in that kimono. She spends a minute adjusting her clothing so she can sit comfortably. Her white ears just brush the top of the cabin. She folds them over to avoid the feeling of the felt. She leans over and pulls the door shut. You give her a moment to get used to the car, you don’t want to rush her into new things after all.
She reaches out a delicate hand and brushes her hand over the dashboard of the car. “What material could this be? I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“You know what? I’m not sure either,” you respond, failing to conjure up the name in your own mind. “Now, this next part might startle you a little.”
She nods with a serene expression. “Do not worry human. I am unshaken, even in the face of such strange technology.”
You doubt it. Pushing the key into the ignition, the dashboard lights up. The inari stares intently. You twist and the engine comes to life. The Inari jumps, before looking around the interior frantically as if looking for a bomb.
“Don’t worry, that’s just the sound of the engine.”
“Not really, if you want aggressive you want to see a bigger car.”
“They get bigger?”
“Cars? A bit. But if you really want big you need to see a truck or a bus.”
“I know nothing of such things.”
“Well, that’s why you’re coming with right? To see the world, and your town.”
She nods, her expression calming. “I appreciate your assistance human. If only I could repay such kindness.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not going out of my way by doing this.”
You release the hand break and put the car into gear. “This looks like a very complicated process.”
“You get used to it. And you never forget how to do it. Basically, the faster we go the further I need to push that stick. I can control our speed using these pedals down here, and I can steer it with this wheel.”
“You are in control? What manner of thing is this?”
You sigh, “You see what I mean? A lot’s changed. And I don’t just want to leave you up there in that shrine, because who knows when somebody else will come around and help.”
You slowly begin to reverse, the Inari shuffles, clearly not used to the sensation.
“I-I wish the see this world. If what you say is true, perhaps my guidance is better seen away from my shrine.”
“Maybe. A nine tailed Inari is very rare these days.”
“Ah, you noticed? I worked very hard to earn my tails.”
Well, for one thing you know it’s based on spirit energy, but somehow you doubt this timid woman spent her time with any men at all.
“How did you earn then?”
You pull out of the car park and onto the road towards the town. The scenery around here is very nice, with rolling trees and towering hills. The Inari seems very taken with the outside world suddenly. It seems to have distanced her from the sensation of travelling by car, although you are going slower for her sake.
“My divinity comes from the faith of my people. I assist them in as many ways as I am able, I offer advice, guidance, an ever-present ear to the needs of the town. And in return they grant me greater magical power.”
It seems you were correct. Inari aren’t exactly revered as gods anymore. This woman is a relic of an older time for sure. She remains silent as the mountains and tree begin to flatten out into the farmland that surrounds the town. There is seldom a face to be seen tending to the fields, the agriculture business here has mostly dried up.
Eventually the pass your first building. The town is unique for having a combination of old and new architecture. Traditional Japanese styling placed next to modern concrete blocks. Although none of the buildings in the town are that well maintained anyway. Many of the older people living here can’t look after themselves, never mind their homes and places of work.
The Inari is visibly more comfortable now that she’s in the town proper, perhaps there’s something here that she recognizes? You come to a stop outside your hotel, a small place with only a few rooms. The owner is looking to retire soon, but was happy to put you up for a few days while you go about your business.
“What is this place?” the Inari asks.
“It’s a hotel. I’m staying here while I’m in town.”
The Inari stays silent, but can’t hide the blood flowing to her cheeks. Even still, despite her dirty thoughts she manages to remain just as indifferent as she has been for the past hour or so. You open the car door and step out into the open air. As the Inari closes the door you lock it behind you.
“What form of magic allows you to do that?”
“It’s not magic,” you hold up the car key for her to see, “you just press this button and it locks the doors for you.”
The Inari stares blankly.
“You don’t get it, do you?”
She shakes her head.
“It doesn’t matter.”
You enter the lobby area of the hotel, which is just the old couple’s living room with some extra chairs in it. On the left wall is an old TV playing some bargain program, the old man sat in the chair watching raptly. The old woman who runs the place, Yoko, smiles as you enter and bow in greeting. The Inari peeks from behind your back, Yoko tilts her head at the new visitor.
“Good morning,” she greets you both.
The Inari steps out from behind you and bows too. Yoko gasps as she finally takes notice of the large bushy tails coming from the base of her spine. She struggles to find words to say before you intervene.
“I… found her at the shrine.”
“Yumeko!” she shouts, leaping from her place with agility that is normally beyond her. She closes in quickly and circles the Inari with rapturous joy.
“Your name is Yumeko?” you ask.
“Yumeko” nods. “Yes, I recognize that name.”
“I never thought I’d see the day! My grandparents used to talk about you, I never thought that I’d actually get to meet you!” Yoko gushes, reaching out and clasping Yumeko’s hand in her own. Yumeko seems a bit off put by the contact.
“I convinced her to come down from her hiding spot. But she doesn’t seem to remember much. I thought that maybe I could get her used to the outside world.”
“But she’s an enshrined maiden,” Yoko scolds you, “they’re meant to protect their home shrines you know.”
“There’s not much point when nobody goes there anymore. I know somebody who found an enshrined maiden and helped her out, so why shouldn’t I?”
Yoko bites her wrinkled lip and shakes her head, before sighing. “I suppose there isn’t much to be done now.”
“I’m sorry to ask, but could you let her stay? I’m not sure where to take her.”
Yoko nods, “Of course! It’s only right that the town’s people repay her kindness in some way.”
“Thank you for your generosity ma’am,” Yumeko says politely, before bowing again.
“Now, no more of that. And who are you calling ma’am? You’re older than I am!” she laughs. “Come along Miss Yumeko, I’ll show you to your room.”
The two women head to the stairs and ascend to the upper floor, where the rooms are located. You look over to Yoko’s husband, who’s still engrossed with his program. However, glancing back he notices that Yoko is now missing.
“Huh, where’d Yoko go?”
“Showing a nine tailed Inari her room.”
He squints his eyes at you before shaking his head in disbelief.
“You’re a funny kid.”
He glues his eyes back to the screen. Rolling your eyes you head to the stairs and squeeze into your own cramped room. What the hell are you going to do with her?