“Where have you been?” Old Mannesushi said, in a very, very quiet voice. When anyone is this quiet, you know they are very, very angry.
“Um, I went for a walk, in the woods.” I sputtered.
“For a week?”
“I was only gone for an hour…” I tailed off. There were puddles in the garden, it had rained - a lot. I must have been gone a long time.
“We have been looking for you. The contest is in an hour - you could have missed it. You need to prepare.”
“I think I’m ready, the snow monkey told me…” I wasn’t sure how to explain what had happened.
Mr. Mannesushi bowed to me and said, “You will be the ocean. That is good.”
I suddenly realized I was very hungry, “Let’s go, I’m ready!”
“Wait,” Mr. Mannesushi said, “There are things I must tell you. Your father looked into the developer who is trying to take over this reserve. It is what you might call a dummy company. Some interest, from outside of Japan, it is trying to take over. We cannot figure out who it is. But there are other nations that would destroy Japan and now you know that there is more to the snow monkeys than at first appears.”
“So, I study international affairs. I know things have been tense with China. Is this something they might do?”
“Your father said you studied international affairs. I am glad you are here with us. We do not think it is China. We and China are like two sumo wrestlers who are ancient rivals. We hate each other and fight as hard as we can. But China too has ancient magics. They know better than to toy with such deep things.”
“Hmmm. Russia has their hands full with the Ukraine, but I know you’ve tangled with them in the past.”
“No,” Old Mannesushi nodded, “They tried once. Baba Yaga’s hut tried to water-sky across the Sea of Japan. But we destroyed it with Harpoon missiles. Russia will not try that again. They are far behind in magics since then.”
“Well that only leaves North Korea, that I can think of. Are they strong in magic? Could they do something like this?”
“No, they lost all of their magic when the country divided. That is why the north is so poor and the south is so rich.”
“It isn’t because of the failures of embracing a centrally planned economy?”
Mr. Mannesushi looked at me, “There is what we can see and understand and then there is what is beyond. That is where there is magic. Like how you can go away for an hour and come back in a week.”
“You know, we always underestimate North Korea. With no money they’ve built nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles out of duct tape, paper-clips and moon-sand. I don’t know how this sacred magic stuff works, but I wouldn’t put anything past them. They might even have ostrich bombs!”
“Wait, what was that last thing you said?” Mannusushi asked abruptly.
“I was joking. Couple years ago, Kim Jong-il, you know the father of the current ruler, started building ostrich farms to revive the economy.”
“Ostriches…” Mannesushi muttered, “That must be it, they are ancient enemies to snow monkeys. It is North Korea plotting to destroy Japan. This is very serious. Now, anything can happen!”
As he said that, one of our other cousins ran into the garden. His face was white with terror. “Uncle, they are here! They, I don’t know how to explain! You must come quick, it is time to start!”
I followed them into the pagoda. It was large, but simply built of wood with paper walls. Then, we went into the basement and came upon a giant steel door. We went through it and what felt like miles of tunnels. Then we opened another giant steel door and entered an enormous underground arena. It was packed, but you’ve never been surrounded by so many people who, at the same time, are so very quiet.
Miyamoto Mannesushi whispered, “Many are ghosts. Some are living, but many are ghosts. If you fail, this will not only change Japan today and in the future, it will change the the past. The ancestors too are worried.”
I noticed a booth with curtains in the stands. Because of all the coverings, I couldn’t see if someone was inside. Miyamoto saw me looking at it, “That is the Imperial Booth. The Emperor himself is not here, it would raise too many suspicions. But a representative of the Imperial Household is in attendance.”
As I made my way to the arena I saw Pop, right in the middle at a table piled high with sushi. He had the biggest smile you've ever seen.
Then, the other team entered and our faces froze.
To be continued...