In the year 2020, Honoré Lechasseur and Emily Blandish find themselves thrown into a mystery as an ice spirit wreaks havoc during the Kyoto’s Gion Festival, and a haunted funhouse proves to contain more than just paper lanterns and wax dummies.
But what does all this have to do with the elegant owner of the Hide and Chic fashion chain… and to the legendary Japanese fox-spirits, the Kitsune?
Part mystery, part detective story, part dark fantasy, part science fiction… original adventures in time and space.
Mitsuo Noguchi, who served in a Japanese POW camp during World War II, is trying to atone for the crimes of his past. To this end, he tracks down Honoré and gives him a watch that once belonged to one of Honoré’s fellow soldiers, Don Payton, who died in Noguchi’s camp and left no other next of kin. The watch gives Honoré a vision of future disaster, and he and Emily leap forward to Kyoto, Japan in the year 2020 in an attempt to avert catastrophe. There, they see a manifestation of the legendary Yuki-Onna, or Snow Maiden, during the Gion Festival, and use a stream of water from one of the parade’s fire engines to freeze her in a block of ice before she can kill innocent bystanders in the crowd by freezing them to death. In the process, they meet journalist Hideki Mochizuka, who tells them that the “Snow Maiden” was in fact a maiko who was mysteriously transformed after donning a kimono from a prestigious new boutique; there have been many such bizarre deaths and transformations recently, and Mochizuka believes that they are all connected to the clothing from Hide and Chic.
Mochizuka takes Honoré and Emily to Tokyo, where Honoré is unnerved by the glass and plastic city that has replaced the old world he knows; Emily, however, is fascinated, and buys herself a combination mobile phone and digital camera. Meanwhile, Mochizuka uses his contacts to get tickets to a fashion show at the Hide and Chic offices in Aoyama. Honoré is unable to read the timeline of the designer, Ikari, who appears unnerved by their conversation and yet offers them free samples of her clothing. Honoré and Emily take the clothing but choose not to wear it; instead, having sensed something odd in the air around the nearby shrine to the Fox Goddess, they investigate reports of urban foxes near the Hanayashiki Amusement Park. There, Emily falls foul of a mysterious fortune teller and is transported back in time, where a creature that resembles Honoré tries to interrogate her; however, she realises that this is not the real Honoré, and as she flees, blindfolded samurai attack the creature and take it prisoner.
Unable to find Emily, Honoré and Mochizuka wait for the park to close and then break back in to investigate rumours of evil spirits in the funfair’s haunted house, or obakeyashiki. Beneath the floorboards, Honoré finds a pulsing, organic hair-like mass, but he and Mochizuka are forced to flee when the paper lanterns begin spitting fire at them. They are also attacked by a shape-shifter that briefly takes Emily’s form, but manage to escape. The confused Honoré seeks guidance from the priest Akihiri, Mitsuo’s son, who tells him that the kitsune, or fox spirits, are capricious tricksters bound to codes of honour that only They fully understand. Akihiri also reminds Honoré of a koan that Mitsuo had asked him: if the rabbit could speak, what would it say?
Lost in the forest, Emily is rescued from two cruel young samurai by Judaya Kochiki, a ronin who lives in a village between the fiefdoms of Lords Kaishun and Nazaeyamon. Kochiki tells her that the spoiled young Nazaeyamon has decided that he is a living god and has declared war on the kitsune, claiming that they are trespassing on his divine territory. When Kochiki’s daughter fell mysteriously ill, Nazaeyamon announced that she had been replaced by a kitsune changeling and had her executed; it then turned out that she had been pregnant with another court retainer’s child, and Nazaeyamon banished Kochiki in disgrace. Nazaeyamon’s samurai then arrive in the village to investigate Emily’s arrival, and take her to Nazaeyamon’s palace despite Kochiki’s protests. There, she discovers that he has captured Mamori, the kitsune who tried to interrogate her upon her arrival. Despite her fear, Emily binds the injured kitsune’s wrist, and the grateful Mamori tells Emily that her clan has retreated beyond the “Black Wall” in order to escape from Nazaeyamon.
Honoré examines the clothing from Hide and Chic and discovers that the pulsing, living hair from the obakeyashiki has been woven into the lining; whatever the substance is, Ikari has distributed it across the city, spreading chaos and fear with it. Honoré and Mochizuka return to the funfair to investigate further, and on the way, Mochizuka reveals that the obakeyashiki was built atop the remains of a zoo that burned during the earthquake of 1923, killing all of the animals. When they arrive, they find Ikari waiting for them; she is the brood-mother of the White Claw Kitsune clan, who fled from the past to escape a madman only to find a dead world that had walled itself off from the spirits. Ikari seeks to punish humanity for losing its way; having prepared the way with her monstrous fashions, she now releases the angry animal spirits from beneath the obakeyashiki, unleashing the disaster Honoré had come to stop.
Nazaeyamon has Emily brought before him to explain how her mobile phone works, and she shows him the images of the funfair that she recorded in the future. While he is caught off guard by the noise and chaos on the tiny screen, she puts a knife to his throat — and when his bodyguards try to summon help, they are cut down by Kochiki, who has finally tired of Nazaeyamon’s arrogance and has come to kill him. He now does so, and thanks Emily for showing him that change will overwhelm him unless he causes that change on his own terms. Emily and Kochiki release Mamori, who explains that Ikari recognised Emily as a time-traveller and sent her back through the Black Wall for interrogation; Mamori now takes Emily back to the year 2020 to find out what Ikari has been doing there.
The animal spirits have taken the form of the hakutaku, a spirit of vengeance that will destroy the entire city of Tokyo. Reunited with Emily, Honoré recalls Noguchi’s koan, and realises: if the rabbit could speak, it would say nothing that humans could understand, because the rabbit does not think as humans do. While Mamori distracts the triumphant Ikari, Honoré dons one of the Hide and Chic gift clothes, transforms into an otter spirit, and tackles Ikari, pinning her. He then forces her to realise that she’s become obsessed with violence and revenge, and is cruelly torturing and toying with innocent victims; in other words, she’s acting like a human, not a kitsune. Ikari agrees to abandon Japan and use her people’s science to find a new world on which they can live in peace. The hakutaku disperses, and Mochizuka promises to write a story for his magazine blaming the bizarre incidents on terrorists using nerve gas. Emily and Honoré return home, having averted the disaster that they had foreseen.