Restless, mind full of old gruesome photographs and passionless typed reports, I left my house, coffee thrumming in my veins along with the sharp clarity of hunting. As the darkness of the streets passed me by, I considered.
The tracking teams couldn't find where the aswang had gone. Murray was positive it was still in the city, but he was wary about pinpointing the location, and with good reason; too many clairvoyants get themselves dead when they push it. He's one of the best viewers the Cayce Foundation has, and he's an old man I'd like to see get older.
The other reports from the airport didn't give me anything to go on, though I'd have someone run a deep background check on the man who had the jar, because I'd discovered what it was.
Akiko told me about talismans meant to detect some of the Indonesian creatures, many of which can readily pass for humans. In going over the old files from the 1920 berbalang incident, I found references that the jar was just such a thing. The oil and herbs inside were supposed to boil in the presence of an aswang. There was an attempt to make one in Los Angeles in 1960, but it failed to work and cost the would-be hunter his life.
That aswang had taken photos of what was left and mailed it back to us.
Had the man on the plane been hunting the aswang? If so, where did he come from? Did he only know at the last minute, or was he afraid to try anything on the plane? The SFO team hadn't found anything on his person that could have been a weapon against it... at least, that we know of.
As I walked, I spent some time comprising a plan for the quarantine team to follow up on. It was pretty standard for handling a dangerous and intelligent supernatural target, but it would have to do until my own investigations turned up something. It would include a few about some of the habits the creature is likely to have; large purchases of vinegar, preference to reside near burial grounds and/or hospitals, attempts to secure a position in society, likely found on higher elevations at night such as rooftops (if not flying), probably easier to find during the day.
Aswangs preferred to feed at night.
That was one thing Cagliostro never figured out; why was it that the supernatural was always so intimately connected to night?
Pausing in my walk, I looked up at the buildings, listening, letting the city breath around me as it slept. She was hunting out there, but like most predators of her sort, she'd be culling the herd, lurking in the forgotten rooms and alleys of the city, preying on the forgotten and invisible people who scratched out a living there.
I knew those places. There was desperation and cunning in the broken buildings, where life was a matter of survival just three or four blocks away from high-rent high-rises. I could walk freely there, and I have, many times, encountering the monsters that made prey of people simply looking for a good life.
Sometimes, I found the supernatural monsters too.
But not tonight. Tonight I didn't have enough of a trail, and I needed others to finish their work so I could truly get started on mine.
Continuing my stroll, I found myself stepping into more questions, but some of these were familiar ground. Part of the reason I felt distant from humanity was simply that they were so intensely concerned about the supernatural (or curious or thrilled or afraid of) as some horrifying unknowable entity that must be dealt with somehow, and yet they never really looked at the issues they caused themselves, the poisons of society which, in many cases, the supernatural fattened themselves upon.
The Great Fire in London was a lesson few actually learned from. The fuel of poverty, corruption and fear, sparked by the emergence of one single minor demon. (A real demon. Whatever the tabloids say, a real demon has only been loosed here seven times in history, and every time, it was due to human error.)
Finally coming up to Akiko's door, I got out my keys, and cleared my mind. We had an agreement; I didn't take work into her house, and neither did she. It was a place to rest, to let the tension drain. I carefully undid the locks, stepped in and got rid of my shoes, and then very nearly tripped over something on the ground.
Coiling outward from her bedroom, looping over the couch past the foyer and into the kitchen, it was like a perfectly smooth, soft-looking white serpent wider than my arm, but I knew exactly what it was.
With a sigh, I stepped over it, and walked into the kitchen, where Akiko's head was idly bobbing against the ceiling, supported by the endless coil of her neck.
She'd left her bedroom door open again, and like most nights, her head went wandering. Her neck can stretch well over thirty feet, and I was thankful she had the kitchen window locked.
I peered up at her, mouthing the ceiling, with 'nee-chan muttering things in Japanese, and then turned around, stepping over her neck again and walking into the dim bedroom, where I could make out her body laying on her side, ghostly in its white bathrobe. She must have gotten back from the club, took a brief shower and went straight to sleep.
Strolling over, I sat down, picked up one of her dainty feet, and gave it a slight tickle. She kicked once, I kept on, and then with a rush of air, her neck retracted like a titanic bull-whip so that her face was glaring at mine from about an inch away, looking bleary and annoyed.
I looked back, smiled a bit and pointed at the door.
"You left it open again."
She sighed, and her hair looped around in a single cord to touch my face. "Then get up and shut it, and come to bed. I'm tired."