Make me a lawbender
Saved from the chill and heat
— Vienna Teng, “Landsailor”
KoInu-chan reached out of the camera’s frame and grabbed the pillow shaped like the Earth. She smiled at the off-camera friend who had given it to her and straightened, holding the globe in the crook of one arm. With the other she gave the peace sign.
“Thank you, friends!” she said, and yellow ribbons flapped with her un-feigned delight. “So many of you sent in such great photos!”
She puckered her lips (light tan edged with darker tan and sparkles individually placed by one of her makeup friends) and turned the peace sign into a pointing finger, which she used to poke the pillow. The tiny dog painted on her nail loomed over Western Europe. “There’s ZiZi in Paris…” She paused, giving a signal for her editor friends to come in later and add the picture of a girl in frilly skirts in front of the Eiffel Tower.
“…and One-Million-Hugs in Dubai,” KoInu-chan pointed to the next spot on the globe: a girl in front of the Burj Al Arab giving the peace-sign, showing off her wrist with its bracelet of braided pandanus fiber.
KoInu-chan gave her camera the peace sign again. The friend behind the camera couldn’t help but return the gesture, and KoInu-chan’s own bracelet, the original bracelet, glowed with warm contentment. If she concentrated, she could feel a tiny shiver of fear here, the barest pulse of anger there, and which meant that most of KoInu-chan’s friends around the world really were happy.
“I love you guys!” She blurted, then got back on script. “Especially 4ever_Nayeevie in Wisconsin, USA. Cute name, by the way!”
She spoke in Japanese, confident that her many friends around the world would caption her videos. She trusted them to do the job perfectly.
“…and KawaiGami95 in Para, Brazil.” A very important friend, that one. KoInu-chan turned the globe upside-down. “…and Ubuntu-Starlight in Johannesburg…”
Each name brought its own spark of light to the bracelet, reminding her that these names were real people, and they were really happy. Except…
“Ubuntu-Starlight, don’t be afraid.” There was another cold shiver, stronger this time as KoInu-chan spoke directly to her friend in South Africa. “That person who hurt you, she was really just scared that you would hurt her first. Show her she can trust you and you’ll turn from enemies to friends!”
KoInu-chan put her arms around the pillow. “Having friends all over the world is just so wonderful!” She squeezed.
KoInu-chan’s real name was Wada Junko, but she thought “KoInu-chan” was much cuter, and all of her friends agreed. More and more friends, every day! That’s why she could smile so honestly for the camera. Because it meant more and more people cared about you, and fewer and fewer could ever want to hurt you.
KoInu-chan blinked back happy tears and put her finger to the corner of her mouth. She tilted her head and locked eyes (ringed with pink) to the camera. “You know, it used to be that people like us had to choose between loosing their innocence or letting other people take advantage of us. But now that we have each other, we can stay innocent forever!” That wasn’t in the script, but KoInu-chan couldn’t help herself. She spoke from the heart. Her director friend behind the camera didn’t seem to mind the digression.
“Thank you all so, so much. I really mean it. And to show you I mean it, I’m asking you to please give your friendship bracelet to someone else. Someone you really care about, or maybe want to care about you?” She put her whole body into the wink she gave the camera. “Then send me a message with your address and I’ll send you another bracelet. I never run out!”
She held up her own: a simple braid of golden-yellow plant fiber. “Take a picture of yourself wearing a KoInu-chan friendship bracelet in front of one of your city’s landmarks. #koinuchannakama! We’ll spread over the world and give it a big hug!”
Another squeeze of the pillow. The director made a wrap gesture.
“Thank you for watching my video! Please like and subscribe.”
KoInu-chan’s smile didn’t fade as she her friends with the camera, mic, and lights turned their machines off, nor when she exchanged congratulations and encouragement with the director and the makeup and wardrobe friends. Even the friend who brought lunch! Putting together a good show needed a lot of good people, and you couldn’t get good people without a good show. A Catch 22, one of the boys called that, but the other said, no, if you looked at it right, it was a feedback loop.
Oh, the boys. It hurt KoInu-chan that she had to part from her friends to send the boys her status update. By the time she’d gone to her room and opened her safe and gotten out and turned on the special phone and composed a message in English, she wasn’t smiling any more. This was probably the worst part of her day, being alone. But the boys said KoInu-chan’s friends weren’t allowed to translate for her, or know that the special phone existed, or even just keep her company while she used it.
That just showed how little the boys understood friendship. KoInu-chan wished she could show them, but the bracelets didn’t work on the boys. Sometimes, she worried about that.
She worried a lot about the boys, actually. They pushed KoInu-chan around, and probably didn’t have her best interests in mind, but without them she wouldn’t have nearly as many friends as she needed to take over the world. The Vods had told her to take over the world and The Vods were a real god!
Their plans were going well. All was in readiness to move against Leão.
Move. That meant attack. KoInu-chan shivered. The boys were so mean, so narrow. Were all people like that, before they became KoInu-chan’s friends? It was getting hard to remember.
KoInu-chan signed off and touched the Collar of Peli, always faintly warm on her wrist. It was called a “collar” even though it wasn’t around her neck – that wouldn’t match today’s outfit. She quickly unwound the bracelet, then unwound it again. In that magical way it had, the Collar of Peli doubled in length without losing any width.
KoInu-chan separated half of the pandanus fibers, then half of the half, and half of that again until she had 32 bundles, which she began to braid. The first one went back on her wrist when it was finished. The others would go to her new friends. Soon, everyone would have a bracelet like hers and nobody would push anybody around. Nobody would want to. The thought was very soothing.
KoInu-chan hissed against the Collar’s sudden cold. Not the brief shiver of one of her friends worrying about someone snubbing them, or even the bite of mortal danger (fortunately very rare). This blast of cold felt…important. It felt the way things did when the boys were involved.
“I told them to take care of my friends,” KoInu-chan grumbled as she put down the last braid and grasped her own. She closed her eyes. “I’m going to give them a talking to…”
But when KoInu-chan opened her eyes, she didn’t see either of the boys. She saw the back of a seat on an airplane.
KoInu-chan could feel the plane rock under her. The air was thin and smelled of people and some kind of foreign food. Indian? And from the seat in front of her, a woman’s voice said, in English, “War.”
That’s what had scared KoInu-chan’s friend, a Peace Corps volunteer named…Blanche, from…San Diego, now on her way to Kabul. Blanche spoke native English, which meant that now, so did KoInu-chan, and she recognized the “war” woman’s accent as Jamaican. KoInu-chan recognized the woman’s power, like the mist off of a block of dry ice.
“What do you mean war?” asked another woman, also in English, also frigid with magic. Blanche thought her accent might be Balkan. She had a friend in the Balkans. KoInu-chan leaned forward to listen better.
“You don’t think you’re the first to wield that tablet?” asked the Jamaican woman. “There was a war. A war where people were killed.”
“People like us?” asked the Balkan.
“The Warriors of Reden and Vesht on one side, the Warrior of Vod on the other, not to mention countless civilians.”
KoInu-chan licked Blanche’s lips nervously, wishing there were other friends on this plane. The boys had told her about the war, and why they had fought. Why KoInu-chan should fight too. But they hadn’t told her that the previous Warrior of Vod had been killed. How many friends had he had? Not enough, clearly.
“We all fell back,” said the Jamaican. The boys had told KoInu-chan about a Jamaican woman, hadn’t they? An enemy. “I had hoped to die of old age before those demons chose new fools for their games,” she said. “God damn it all to hell, what am I to do now?”
“We should work together,” said the other woman immediately. “We can make a plan to fight the gods, and stop them from making this sort of chaos in the world.”
“That is almost exactly what the last Warrior of Reden said to me,” said the enemy. What was her name? Something like Jody Foster? Anne of Green Gables? Jody Ann, that was it. Warrior of…what was she the warrior of?
“With the mistakes of last time, we can understand a better way to fight this time,” the Warrior of Reden pressed.
“No, no,” said Jody Ann. “I’ve sworn off all that nonsense. Leave me out of it.”
A pause, probably while the Warrior of Reden consulted her tablet.
“Stop looking at that thing!” said Jody Ann. Which one was her god?
“I’m vulnerable,” said the Balkan woman. “I don’t know how to protect myself. Can you at least tell me what to do next?”
A grumpy sigh from Jody Ann. “The last Warrior of Reden was also manipulative as hell. I suppose I can give you Betinha’s telephone number. On the condition that you swear you won’t drag me into this!”
Blanche’s skin went all goose-pimply. KoInu-chan knew who Betinha Leão was, oh yes. She had to tell the boys about this. The wielder of the Staff of Wang Lingguan would soon be in contact with the wielder of the Tablet of Gilgamesh and, oh goodness, who was Jody Ann? What other weapons had been on the wrong side of the war? Not the staff, not the cap or the cloak…
Blanche’s eyes widened with KoInu-chan’s sudden fear. The Mirror of Amaterasu!
A hand snaked out from the between the seats and grabbed Blanche’s wrist.
“No, no,” said KoInu-chan. “What are you doing? Who are you?” But she could see the light from between the seats, the old woman’s face as she glared through the hole in the Mirror of Amaterasu.
“You can’t fool me, bubu,” growled Jody Ann.
“We can be friends,” pleaded KoInu-chan. Oh no! Jody Ann’s hand was on her bracelet. Her bracelet! “Please, we can all be friends.”
“No,” said Jody Ann, “we cannot.”
“How do I find out what’s going on?” asked the other woman, then, “Oh no. Oh my God. Please, missus, you must — ”
“I know what I must do,” said Jody Ann, and pulled the bracelet off Blanche’s wrist.
Pain exploded in KoInu-chan’s heart. Separation. Loss. Like the severing of a limb. The death of a dream.
She collapsed to the floor of her room in Shinjuku, choking back a scream, holding her aching wrist. She had lost a friend.
“KoInu-chan, are you all right?” A voice from outside the door. Her friends had felt her pain. They wanted to help her, and KoInu-chan wanted to be helped, but…
“Just a minute!” she called. “I’m all right, just give me a minute, all right?”
She squeezed the collar so hard it hurt. Those bitches. How dare they attack one of hers?
KoInu-chan’s teeth ground together as she flexed her fingers against the pandanus fibers, searching in Kabul. There were friends there. Not as many as in Islamabad, but no big city could be entirely dark to her. “There are enemies at the airport,” she told them, Collar cold under her fingers. “Let’s make sure they don’t hurt any of us. They’ll never hurt any of us again!”
Her friends responded, and KoInu-chan’s heart slowed as the Collar of Pelli warmed back up. She breathed. She would be all right. Everyone would be all right, once these enemies were dealt with. KoInu-chan would make sure of it. She would be right there with her friends, behind their eyes, under their skin.
Just as soon as she made another call on the special phone.