“I am here to save the day!”

— Captain Chaos


Meet the Incompetents

Hunters do not arrive fully formed, in possession of all the skills and competencies they need to fulfil the Covenant’s mission successfully. There can be frustration when desire to get out and save the world exceeds the Covenant’s trust in someone’s ability to do just that.

Captain Chaos felt just such a frustration when he stole a file from the Mission Control Desk, where it was awaiting triage and assignment to a Hunter team. Along with Phil Nhiles the engineering student on a placement in Merlin’s workshop, and recent recruit James Burke, a chronologically-misplaced 17th century privateer, they took their provisional IDs and went hunting.

A black furry creature with pointy ears and a tailThe case was death by computer game. Phil managed to alienate every single person who could have offered them any useful information by insisting that his Covenant ID (provisional) meant he outranked anyone in a uniform. Regardless, with the help of police K9 Brutus and his handler Daisy  Fisher, they tracked the fae technomancer IRIDESSA to her factory, where she had some of the townspeople enthralled and carrying out the ritual to create enchanted USB sticks. These were distributed via pupils at the local school, with the help of Iridessa’s Black Phooka, who  was mimicking people the children trusted — imaginary friends, celebrities, YouTube stars, and anyone else who could influence them.

The team trapped Iridessa using a powerful electromagnet normally used for shifting machinery around the factory floor. Captain Chaos attempted to make her promise to leave and never return, which she refused on the basis that she could not promise not to do something if her Lady subsequently required it of her. She also said she would tell her Lady about the the affront to her person. Having dispatched Iridessa and freed the townsfolk, the team burned the rest of the USB sticks and closed down the factory.

An elf-like woman with cyberpunk stylingIf Iridessa is acting on the word of Queen Maedhbh, and her mission involved harming humans, this raises very serious questions about the Sìth queen’s attitude towards humans. Why would the Sìth do this, knowing that the Covenant would have to investigate? Or does something happen at the Mission Control Desk to protect them? When C sent the team to Abersky, it was with express instructions to verify and do nothing more (although the chances of the team she sent leaving well alone where slim to none). How is it that the Sìth can limit how far the Covenant pries into their affairs when it comes to how they interact with humans? And, if they are truly allies, why would they?


“Nothing good can ever come of lake monsters.”

— Hyacinth


Take Me Back To The River

Meet Unit 11. It’s an odd unit, for a Hunter squad. They’ve been on plenty of hunts, but this isn’t a fixed team. Their members are gleaned from other units, brought together for specific tasks. It means they don’t always work together, but, when they do, their collective skillset is tailor-made for the task at hand.

They’ve just been on a mission to Canada, to hunt a wendigo. They failed, allowing the wendigo and its enthusiastic host to escape across the Atlantic where, even now, another Hunter team is engaged trying to accomplish what they were unable to.

Two of their members are already on their way back to their regular units, recalled to new missions, leaving the other three brought in for this hunt to wend their weary way back to a Covenant base for debriefing before redeployment.

Cora Strayer is a Private Investigator by trade and works freelance taking photographs of cheating husbands and insurance fraudsters when she’s not deployed by the Covenant. She has pounded her fair share of streets, hung around more than her fair share of bars, and knows more than most about the weirder nooks and crannies of the internet.

Ananke, known as Ana, just Ana, is 90kg and two metres plus of solid muscle, with long, salt and pepper hair that reflects the colour of the fur she wears in her alternate form. Intense, amber eyes give an indication of her true nature. That and the noncommittal grunts comprising her normal form of communication.

Hyacinth is older than she looks, which is a sprightly 75 going on 90. Her long white hair and kind smile belie her advanced magical powers. Hyacinth is a frost witch.

They have been on the road for more than 24 hours already, travelling down from a tiny settlement called Strong Rock in the Northern Territories, and are now on the edge of the Okanaogan-Wanatchee National Forest, about 2 hours from Seattle, sitting in a tiny diner in a tiny town called Hollow Lake that serves as a dormitory for the rich. Those who don’t live in the vast McMansions nestled in the trees make a living from tourists; there is good fishing in these parts, and acres of wilderness in which the unwary can get lost.

Hyacinth sips her tea as Cora mainlines coffee and Ana shovels her third helping of cherry pie into her mouth. None of them pays much attention to the diner, being tired and weary and disheartened by their recent failure. If they had, they would have seen the walls covered in photographs of anglers with fish, mostly catfish and largemouth bass, a few crappies and the odd bluegill. A Bigmouth Billy Bass hangs on the wall. Underneath it is a collection of sticky notes begging, pleading and otherwise demanding the replacement of the batteries. The diner sells I BILLY BASS t-shirts, although the number of notes suggests otherwise.

One of the town’s old-timers, a sturdy man in his late 60s wearing rumpled jeans and a checked shirt, is talking to the diner’s owner, currently the only one working there.

“My cousin Jed’s the coroner,” he says. “Never seen anythin’ like what happened to old Sam. His organs were plumb gone, Sandra, and not by any means he’s ever seen before.”

“I don’t believe it was a boating accident, Stu,” Sandra replies as she polishes a glass. “Old Sam knew what he was about. No way he’d have drowned fishing. He’s been fishing the waters round these parts for more than forty years.”

“Ayuh. They may be sayin’ he drowned so as not to scare the tourists. Some old guy forgets what he’s doin’, maybe goin’ a bit doolally in his old age, nothin’ to see here.”

Hyacinth stirs her tea. “That sounds like our kind of thing,” she says.

“It does,” Cora agrees.

“We shouldn’t get involved, though right?” She stares into her cup for a moment, as if scrying for a message from her future self. “I mean, we shouldn’t.”

She looks up at Ana. Ana shrugs.

“Might be nice to take a break from driving,” Cora says.

“Oh, who are we trying to kid? Of course we’re going to get involved.” She stands up, and her slender frame bends from veteran yoga teacher into frail old woman. She totters over to the counter, and says, “Excuse me dearie, did I hear you say that someone had died?”

The old guy turns to her while Sandra frowns. “Didja know ‘im?”

“Oh no, dearie. I’m just a little old lady who likes to hear the gossip. It keeps my mind active in my old age,” Hyacinth says, smiling sweetly.

At their table, Ana and Cora, who know Hyacinth’s capabilities, struggle not to choke at this harmless old granny act.

“Are you from the old country?” Stu asks.

“Why, that’s right dearie.”

“Say, my grandmother came from there. Maybe you know my great aunt. She was from Ed-in-borrow.” His forehead crinkles as he works his lips around the syllables.

“Oh really? What’s her name?”

“Shee-laaargh,” he says.

“Right enough, I do know a Sheila in Edinburgh,” Hyacinth says. “Small world, isn’t it?”

“It sure is!” Stu says, slapping his thigh, delighted. “Well, my cousin Jed is the coroner, and they might be saying it’s a boating accident, but I tell you, ma’am, Old Sam Voss knew that lake like he knew the back of his own hand, and he’s been fishing these parts for longer than Sandra here has been alive. He knew Mikleson’s Pond better’n anyone. There’s no way that was a boating accident.”

“No way,” Sandra agrees, leaning on the counter. She points to one of the photos on the wall. It shows a man in his 70s holding a catfish as big as he is. “That was just last year,” she says. “Brought that in all by his lonesome. He knew the water, and he knew his boat.”

“What a terrrrrible thing,” Hyacinth says, laying on the accent like it’s cement.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Does your cousin work here? It seems an awfy wee place to have a coroner.”

“No ma’am. They do the autopsies at St Lucille’s hospital, back at Monroe. That’s about 2 hours from here. He has an office at the police station, but he only does coronoring a coupla days a week. He also works part time at the vet and helps out at Tom’s Hardware of a weekend. It wasn’t his day to work yesterday. He only did it for Old Sam’s sake.”

“He sounds like a very busy man.”

“Yes ma’am. He’s at the heart of our community. I don’t know what we’d do without him.”

“Thank you for indulging an old woman,” she tells him, patting his arm.

She turns to head back to her table and feels his hand slip something inside her pocket. “There’s line dancing at the big barn tonight,” he says hopefully.

“I don’t think we’ll be here that long, dear,” she says with a twinkle.

When she gets back to the table, she fishes in her pocket and finds a scrap of an order ticket with a telephone number written on it in spidery pencil.

“I was about to come and see if you needed rescuing,” Ana says.

“Och, he was fine,” Hyacinth replies.

“I suppose we need to go and find this coroner,” Cora says. “Maybe look at the body.”

“Might as well. Seems like a good place to start.”

“Let’s try at the police station then. He might be writing up reports, still.”

They finish their lunch and head out onto the street. Across the road is Gustav’s, which looks like a bar, and about 250m away they can see the police station sign outside a low, brown brick building with a flat roof.

When they enter the police station, a Deputy eyes them from behind the counter. Behind her is another uniformed officer, who is wearing a headset and sitting at a dispatch desk.

“Hello folks. Can I help you?”

“Possibly. We’re looking for the coroner. Jed, I think his name is,” Cora says.

“OK. And why would you be looking for the coroner, ma’am?”

“Well, we heard about the death and we think we might have seen something like it before,” Cora says.

Behind her, Ana and Hyacinth exchange a seriously? glance. They haven’t seen anything like this before — they haven’t even seen what this is in order to compare it — and the deputy here might not know this was anything other than a boating accident.

“What have you seen before?”

“The thing with the organs.”

“Ma’am, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are you a journalist or something? Because we don’t take kindly to those sorts of folk around here.”

Cora grits her teeth and approaches the counter. “Look. I’m a PI.” She holds up her ID. “I’ve been employed by a member of Mr. Voss’s family because they have reason to believe he was being blackmailed, and they think this might be murder. I just want to talk to the coroner so we can allay their suspicions.”

“Maybe should’ve led with that, Cora,” Ana mutters.

The Deputy brightens. “He was quite well off, you know, and it would not surprise me to hear he had a few skeletons in his closet. He’s not working today, so he’ll either be at the veterinarians over on Poplar Drive, or at Tom’s Hardware. He only works there at weekends, but they sell soda and tackle, so he hangs around there to swap fishing stories.”

“Thanks. Do you have a phone number, maybe?”

“I can give you the number of the hardware store. Jed doesn’t carry a cellphone.” She writes a number on a notepad and tears off the top sheet. “Here you go. You take care, folks.”

“Shall we give the store a ring?” Cora asks. “See if he’s there?”

Ana shrugs.

Before Cora can pull her phone from her pocket, the radio crackles and a voice spits, “We got another one. Over at Mikleson’s Pond again.”

The three hunters exchange a look.

“To the pond?” Cora asks.

“To the pond,” Hyacinth agrees.

When the team arrives at the Mikleson’s Pond — the tourist map on the board outside the hardware proved useful — there are two older men standing on the wooden jetty starring out at the water. The “pond” is a lake, perhaps a kilometre or more in length, and about 300m across at its widest. It is cold, deep and murky. Around 100m offshore, a white object bobs at the surface.

“Did you call the police?” Cora asks.

“Yeah,” one of them says. The body in the water rolls over, driven by the wind, or some unseen current, or internal settling. One arm flops into the water with a splash. The body is naked from the waist down, and the area of his rear seems… Disfigured somehow.

“Do you know who that is?” Cora asks.

“Could be Mac,” the other one says. “There’s a committee that takes samples of the lake water. Miklesons pay for it, after Pete was accused of dumping some shit in there. Would be about the right time of day for him, and that looks like his boat over there. He sometimes takes the time for a spot of fishing once he’s got his water.” He points with his scrunched-up cap to where a small wooden skiff noses gently against the reeds by an ornate Shinto shrine. “Can’t rightly say for sure. These eyes ain’t what they used to be.”

“Looks like Mac’s butt,” his friend says.

“I ain’t never seen Mac’s butt look like that.”

“Looks like an elephant gone and stuck its trunk way up in there.”



Ana skulks off to have a sniff around. There is an oily, fishy odour hanging over the water, but there’s no way that Mac — if Mac it is — was killed elsewhere and dumped. At least, not here. When he got into his boat, he was alive. The rest of this side of the lake is made up of dense woods. This landing stage and the adjacent slipway is the only decent access. Across the other side, the Mikleson’s property is manicured grass, although if the boat has drifted that way, it seems unlikely the body would drift back in this direction.

Cora is asking about Mac’s boat’s name when Ana returns, shaking her head to indicate she didn’t find anything.

“Named it after his ex-wife, so he did,” one of the men says. “Judith.”

Police sirens break the eerie silence, faint but drawing closer fast.

“Let’s go,” Hyacinth says.

They pile back into the car and head back out onto the road. As they leave the track that leads down to the slip, they pass the Sherriff on his way down. He stares at them from behind mirrored aviators and says something into his radio.

They park outside the Mikleson’s gate, which is currently standing open. There is no sign of anyone on the property. There are lights on in the big house, but no cars on the drive, although with the triple garage there wouldn’t need to be. As they walk towards the boat boffing gently against the reeds, Ana flings her arm across her nose, amber eyes wild. “That stinks!” she growls. “And I’m not even using my wolf nose.”

The stench is all over the small boat, but there are no other traces within the boat itself. No blood or… other effluvium. A few bottles, both full and empty, roll around in shallow V of the keel.

They look around by the shrine. There aren’t any footprints, no sign of a scuffle. Nothing to indicate that the victim entered the water here, alive or dead. The shrine itself is a Suitengū. It looks well-cared for but has a sad air about it.

“Looks to me like something came up out of the water, grabbed him, then dragged him in,” Cora says.

“It’s a lake monster,” Hyacinth sighs. “Nothing good can ever come of lake monsters.”

They look across to the other side of the pond, where the Sherriff is on his radio, the blue lights of his car strobing behind him luridly.

Suddenly, a youth appears from behind the shrine. He’s perhaps 18 years of age, is at least part Japanese, and is completely startled to see them.

“You’re trespassing! ” he shouts.

“Oh, I’m sorry dearie. We got a bit lost,” Hyacinth says.

“This is private property. There’s a massive gate. I don’t see how you could accidentally trespass.”

“We’re from Scotland, and we have right to roam there,” Cora says. “We’re investigating the death.”

“Whuh… What death?”

“That man over there.” Cora points at the body still floating in the water like a miniature Moby Dick. “And the one yesterday.”

The boy turns white as a sheet and stumbles backwards several steps. “Oh no,” he whispers. “Oh no!”

And he turns and flees back to the house.

“Huh. That’s weird,” Cora says. “Maybe he’s got something to hide.”

“He’s just a kid!” Ana tells her. “You told him there was a dead body in his back garden.”

“Still. At that age he should think it’s cool and interesting, not terrifying.”

“You think we should go and talk to him?” Hyacinth asks.

“Nah. They’re retrieving the body over there. The coroner will be there. We should go and talk to him.”

They begin to head back to the car, but then Hyacinth stops. There is something about the shrine, some invisible energy catching her attention. There is a presence, and it might even be the shrine itself. It feels to her as if this shrine has been well loved, cared for and honoured, but not recently.

“Hang on. Before we go, I just want to take another look at this shrine.”

She walks up to it and kneels where someone paying their respects might kneel. Opening up her psychic shields, she invites whatever wanted her attention to give her a message. She sees a vision of an older Japanese woman bringing cucumbers to the shrine and laying them out as an offering.

“Cucumbers?” she says to herself. She looks up towards the house. If this was an active shrine, it’s possible there is another in the house. Maybe she can make better contact there.

“Change of plan,” she says. “We’re going to the house.”

Cora digs her heels in. “No, we should go and talk to the coroner.”

“And ask him what? His professional opinion on what does that to someone’s rear end and lives in lakes?”

Cora scowls. “We should talk to him. See if he can tells us more about the body than we already know.”

“You do that if you want,” Hyacinth replies. “I’m going to the house.”

“So we split up? Is that wise?”

Ana rolls her eyes and heads towards the house.

“Well fine,” Cora snaps. “I guess we’ll split up, then.” She strides away, back down the drive, as Hyacinth follows Ana.

At the house, the front door is open. Inside is a vast, open entrance hall with a grand staircase directly ahead. To the right of the staircase, a passageway leads towards the back of the house and ends in a dimly lit area. Hyacinth can see what appears to be the hoped-for family shrine at the end. To the right is an open set of double doors leading into a huge study/lounge, and to the left a series of doors, only one of which is open. That one leads to a dining room. The walls are covered in Balinese masks, there is antique Chinese porcelain on a display stand, and, in the study, they can see a full suit of Japanese Gusoku armour standing watch. Ana’s werewolf ears can hear a faint thud of drums and hissing treble indicating someone upstairs is listening to music. She indicates there is someone up there with a slight nod of her head.

Hyacinth wanders down the corridor to look at the kamidana, Ana prowling silently behind her. At first, it seems like an ordinary family shrine, and this one is in regular use; there are small bowls of rice and fruit, and a porcelain mizutama for water. As she draws near, she is overcome by a sense of loss, betrayal, hurt, homesickness, and hunger that whirls around her in a vortex that seems to be sucking her back to the lake. Shaken, she stumbles into Ana in her hurry to get away.

“That’s no good. I can’t seem to reach the old lady here. We’re going to have to talk to the kid.”

They head back to the foyer.

“Coo-eee!” Hyacinth calls[1]. “Hello-ooooo! Are you there? You seemed very upset and we just wanted to make sure you were all right!”

After a few moments, they hear footsteps on carpet, and the young man leans over the banister to look at them.

“I called my parents,” he says. He has been crying. “They’re on their way.”

“That’s good,” Hyacinth tells him. “You seem to have got a terrible fright. I’m Hyacinth, and this is Ana. What’s your name?”


“Is that your shrine, down by the lake, Takahiro? Is that why you were there?”

“No, it was my grandmother’s, really. I mean, my mom had my dad build it for her when she came over here from Japan. My mom practises Shinto, but she uses the one in the house, mostly, especially after Baba died.”

“Did she die recently?”

“Yes. Just last week.” He begins to come down the stairs, one step at a time, dragging his feet. “I like to go down there because I feel like she’s still there, even though it’s by the lake.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Hyacinth says kindly. “Were you close to your grandmother?”

“Yes. I used to go to Japan with her in the summer, and she would show me all the places where she lived and worked and tell me stories about Japanese folkore, about the yōkai. She always told me I should stay away from the water, even though the shrine was there.”

“Why did she tell you that?”

“Because monsters live in the water, she said.”

Hyacinth and Ana exchange a quick glance.

“Is that why you ran away? Because you were scared of the monsters?”

Takahiro nods. He doesn’t look like a university student any more. His demeanour is that of a scared little boy.

“What kind of monsters would live in the water?”

“She said there could be kappa in the water. Wait. Is that what killed those people? Is there a kappa in the lake?”

“Well, we don’t know,” Hyacinth replies. “Maybe.”

Ana is already texting the Covenant to ask for any information on kappa.

“You should go,” Takahiro says. “My parents will be here soon, and if they find you, they will call the police.”

Ana leans close to Hyacinth. “He has a point.”

“That’s very good advice. Thank you,” Hyacinth says.

Takahiro runs back up the stairs, and the two Hunters make a rapid exit.

Meanwhile, Cora has taken the car and driven back to the other side of the lake. When she arrives, the Sherriff has already arranged for a RIB, and a rescue team are out on the lake trying to recover the body. It’s a grim sight. She parks on the track, as there isn’t any room by the slipway, and spots the coroner when she gets out. He’s already suited up in white coveralls, and is waiting for the body to be brought ashore.

“Hi!” she says, holding out her hand for a handshake.

The coroner looks at her hand and then looks at his own, gloved hands. “I’m about to look at a crime scene,” he says.

“Right. Sorry. I should have thought.”

“Can I help you?”

“Well, we heard about the deaths, and we have seen something like this before so we thought we might be able to help if we could just see—”

“Do you know the victim? Are you a journalist?” He scowls at her. “I heard someone had been asking questions. Dan! I think you need to talk to this woman.”

The Sherriff looks round and spots Cora. He says something to one of the other officers then walks over.

“Can we help you, ma’am?” he asks, popping the cover off his holster.

“Right, well, as I was saying to… Jed, isn’t it? Jed here, we’ve seen this kind of thing before—”

“You’ve seen boating accidents before?”

“No, I mean weird deaths. We’ve seen weird deaths—”

“Who is we?”

“My colleagues and I.”

“And where are they?”

“They’re over there, investigating the boat.” Cora waves to the other side of the lake.

“You mean contaminating my crime scene?”

“No, why would they—”

“I think I’ve heard enough. I think it’s time you accompanied me back to the station and we find out exactly who you are and what you think you are doing.”

“On what charge?” Cora demands, furious.

“On any damn charge I feel like! We’ll start with obstructing an investigation, contaminating a crime scene—”

“You can’t arrest me for looking around.”

“Do you have a press pass?”

“No. I don’t need one.”

“This is America, ma’am. If you’re snooping around a crime scene, you definitely do.” He takes out his handcuffs. “I’ll thank you to accompany me back to the station. That’s not a request.”

At the police station, he hands Cora over to his Deputy. “Here, Lillian. Stick her in a room, check out her ID. Keeper her here until you hear from me. I’ve got to get back to the pond.”

Deputy Carlson takes Cora back to an interview room. “ID, please.” Cora hands over her PI licence. “Anything else in your pockets you want to tell me about?”

“No,” Cora says.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I left my gun in the car.”

Deputy Carlson decides to treat this as misplaced sarcasm and locks Cora in the interview room.

A phone screen. Cora says "Shit guys, I only gone and got myself arrested." Ana replies, "You did what? Idiot"

Because every mission carries the risk of injury, death, or temporal, spatial or dimensional displacement, every hunter carries their own set of car keys for assigned vehicles. As Ana unlocks the car, the Sherriff approaches.

“Ladies. Is this your car?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Hyacinth replies.

“Do you have a friend with you? About yay high, feisty, been snooping around talking about missing organs?”

“Oh yes! Thank goodness you found her!” Hyacinth replies, giving him the full ham and cheese. “She is obsessed with true crime shows and fancies herself something of an investigator. Completely harmless, really, but she will go off and get herself into trouble.”

“I see. A fantasist. We used to get plenty of those in the city, not really used to them out here. I took her to the station and had Deputy Carlson hold her in an interview room, more to stop her getting herself into any more trouble than she was in already. I’ll radio ahead and say you’re going to pick her up. You’re not staying, are you?”

“Oh no. We were just stretching our legs. Taking a break in a really long drive.”

“Okay, great. I mean, normally I’d love for you folks to stay and enjoy our hospitality, but…”

“Quite right. We’ll just get out of your hair.”

He rubs his thinning blonde pate. “She isn’t supposed to be on any medication or anything?”

“No, nothing like that. She’s just a handful!”

“Great. Okay. Well, take care.”

On the way over to the police station, a document arrives from the Covenant archives.


A kappa (河童, river-child), is an amphibious yōkai demon whose native habitat is the inland waterways of Japan. They are typically green, resembling an unfortunate coupling between a turtle and a human (and there are rumours that suggest this is the original source, but these are little more than idle speculation in the absence of further evidence), with webbed hands and feet and a carapace on their backs. A depression on their heads, the sara, retains water. If this is damaged, or the water is lost, the kappa is severely weakened. Some kappa don a small metal cap to protect against such mishap.

Kappa can swim as fast as any fish, unlike their Chelonic counterparts, and emit a faintly fishy smell. Some accounts state that their arms are connected to each other through their torso, and can slide from one side to the other, presumably to lengthen the reach on the favoured side. They enjoy cucumbers and love to engage in sumo wrestling. Their actions range from the comparatively minor, such as looking up women’s kimonos, to the kind of malevolent activity that bring them to the attention of the Covenant’s Hunter Division: drowning people and animals, kidnapping children, sexual assault and the age-old favourite of consuming human flesh.

Once a kappa has turned maneater, it is said they assault humans in water and remove an organ referred to as the shirikodama from  their victim’s anus.

The document goes on at some length, and includes some rather graphic images, which Hyacinth shows Ana once they have parked outside the police station.

“So that’s why she had cucumbers!” Hyacinth exclaims. “Right. I know what we have to do. We need to grab Cora, then we need to go to the shop and buy some cucumbers and aubergines.”

“Eggplant,” Ana grunts.

Cora almost snatches her ID from Deputy Carlson when she is released from the interview room.

“Thank you ma’ams,” Carlson says to the other two. “You have a nice day, now.”

“I saw the email,” Cora says. “I had a nice time reading it while I was stuck in that stupid room. So the kid came up with the goods, did he?”

“We need to decide whether to kill it  or just make it promise to behave itself,” Hyacinth says. “If the family could be persuaded to start feeding it cucumbers again, then it should be all right. Maybe we can persuade the lad to talk to his granny’s ghost and get her to tell him how to do it.”

“People can’t be trusted,” Cora says. “They’re unreliable. And stupid. They’ll forget, and then more people will die. We’re better just killing it.”

Ana offers a noncommittal grunt.

“Well. Let’s see what happens when we get there. It might not even be a kappa,” Hyacinth says.

They stop in the grocer’s and buy half a dozen cucumbers and a couple of aubergines.

“Funny. We haven’t had anyone buy that many cucumbers since old Mrs Tanigawa passed away,” the shopkeeper says. “Can I get you folks anything else?”

“Just some chocolate,” Hyacinth tells him. “I fancy something sweet.”

The gates are still open when they get back to the Miklesons’ property. This time they drive straight in. No point wasting time. There are two cars on the drive outside the house, and the front door is open. Ana sniffs the air through the open window. She wasn’t sure before, nostrils full of kappa stench as they were, but she is now. There are stables here, probably around the back of the house.

At the shrine, they find part of a cucumber. The oily, fishy scent is stronger than ever.

“Do you think Takahiro was trying to feed it?”

“I have a horrible feeling it’s worse than that,” Ana says, sniffing. At that moment they hear a woman start screaming Takahiro’s name.

“Oh dear. I think that settles the question of what to do,” Hyacinth says, seeing a trainer floating on the lake surface.

They lay the cucumbers down at the shrine and take a couple of steps back. Within moments, the water swirls in the lake and a green, scaly creature with a shell on its back emerges from the water. It looks like a Galapagos giant tortoise grew human sized arms and legs, with humanoid hands and feet, and went to live in a muddy puddle. Ana bows to the creature, and it bows back, but there’s a problem.

This kappa is wearing a metal cap.

It waddles over to the cucumbers and wolfs them down, the beak snapping great chunks off them.

Cora pulls her gun. “I’m going to shoot that damn cap off its head!” she exclaims.

“And then what?” Hyacinth asks. “It’s not likely to bow to you if you’ve shot it.”

The kappa has finished the cucumbers and is eyeing up Hyacinth. She looks like she won’t put up much of a fight.

Hyacinth takes out her ritual knife, preparing to use her ice magic. Ana yelps and retreats from the silver. Cora bows to it, to distract it. It bows back, but is back onto Hyacinth almost immediately.

“Fiddlesticks,” Hyacinth says, fumbling to put her knife away. She does the best she can without it, but the kappa has already grabbed her ankle and started dragging her towards the lake, and it throws her gesture awry.

“Give me your knife!” Cora yells, and Hyacinth tosses her the blade. The PI rushes in and tries to pry the metal cap off. The kappa hisses, a guttural sound that comes with the stench of old meat on the creature’s breath. It releases Hyacinth and slides back into the lake.

“I guess I’ll be wrestling, then,” Ana says. “Just keep that damn knife away.”

As Cora tosses the knife to a safe distance, Ana takes up a Sumo stance and slaps her thighs. The kappa does likewise. A second later, they hurl themselves at each other. It wraps itself around her legs and torso and launches backwards into the lake, taking her with it.

She is surrounded by swirling, noisy water. It floods her ears, her nostrils. It blinds her. She can’t breathe. She tries to get her fingertips under the metal cap, but she keeps her nails short in human form, and can’t get any purchase. 

On the lakeside, Hyacinth makes a complicated gesture and speaks some words in an inhuman tongue. A wall of ice springs up at the lakeside, trapping the kappa and Ana in a small cofferdam barely big enough to hold them.

Ana feels the cold and gets her feet under her. She drives upwards, heaving both herself and the kappa back onto the grass. “Stables!” she pants. “Behind the house!” Then, snarling, she shudders. Fur ripples across her body, and her limbs contort.

Ana makes for a very large wolf.

Hyacinth hurries to the lake edge and freezes the entire surface, turning it into an ice rink. Ana twists round and snaps her jaws shut around the kappa’s leg. It retaliates, biting into her left hindquarters with its sharp, horny beak. Hyacinth tries blasting it. The spell bounces off its shell, but distracts it enough for Ana to break free from its grip. She starts dragging it towards the stables with her three good legs.

Hyacinth lays an ice track, and Ana pulls the kappa along as easily as if it were a hockey puck.

Cora comes running from the stables, a horseshoe in each hand. Mrs. Tanigawa had been foresighted enough to make sure there were proper iron ones, and now Cora attacks the kappa, hitting it around the head with one of the horsehoes.

It extends its very long neck and rips into the soft underside of her arm with its beak. Immediately, she hits it with the other horseshoe, and it bites her on that arm, as well. She drops to the ground, bleeding horrifically from torn arteries.

Ana lets go of the kappa, and Hyacinth pours all her magical power into an intense icy blast that she directs at the kappa’s head. The metal cap freezes, and then the water in its sara freezes, expanding and popping the cap off. A solid block of ice falls onto the grass.

As Hyacinth rushes to give Cora first aid, Ana grabs the kappa by the head in her immense jaws. She whips it from side to side, ragdolling it like a dog with a rabbit-flavoured toy, smashing it against the ice and the horseshoes and anything else hard she can find.

It doesn’t last long.

Hyacinth’s healing spell gutters like a candle that has run out of wick and fails. She uses her socks to bind the wounds. Cora is going to need medical attention, but she’s as tough as old boots and that will hold her until they can get help from a Covenant medical team.

In the distance, they can hear police sirens.

“Come on,” says Hyacinth. “Let’s get out of here. I don’t fancy trying to explain this.”

Ana picks up a piece of the carapace in her teeth, shakes herself, then limps back to the car, still in wolf form.

Hyacinth realises Ana has been rolling in kappa stink.

“Thanks a lot for that, you skanky beast,” she says, helping Cora to the car.

They’re going to have to drive the rest of the way with the windows down, she can tell.


[1] The universal signal for I am a sweet old lady who means you no harm