Kojiki by Keith Yatsuhashi – Cover Reveal & Excerpt
Here on Fantasy-Faction we have hosted many a cover reveal. Of those covers a good deal of my personal favs have been from Angry Robot Books. Today’s reveal is no exception.
But before I get ahead of myself, why don’t we take a look at the summary for today’s novel: Kojiki by Keith Yatsuhashi.
Every civilization has its myths. Only one is true.
When eighteen-year-old Keiko Yamada’s father dies unexpectedly, he leaves behind a one way ticket to Japan, an unintelligible death poem about powerful Japanese spirits and their gigantic, beast-like Guardians, and the cryptic words: “Go to Japan in my place. Find the Gate. My camera will show you the way.”
Alone and afraid, Keiko travels to Tokyo, determined to fulfil her father’s dying wish. There, beneath glittering neon signs, her father’s death poem comes to life. Ancient spirits spring from the shadows. Chaos envelops the city, and as Keiko flees its burning streets, her guide, the beautiful Yui Akiko, makes a stunning confession – that she, Yui, is one of a handful of spirits left behind to defend the world against the most powerful among them: a once noble spirit now insane. Now Keiko must decide if she will honour her father’s heritage and take her rightful place among the gods.
This is Yatsuhashi’s debut novel, which was inspired by The Lord of the Rings, Hayao Miyazaki, and Toho’s Godzilla movies. The story is part anime, part Japanese spiritualism, with kickass characters and, my favorite part: dragons!
Sounds awesome right? Well wait to you see the cover!
I love the movement in this piece. The dragon is sailing down to the torii gate that leads from the dark mountain to the brightly lit city. But the woman at its center is barely moving. She is stepping with uncertainty through the same gate onto an empty street. The image seems to beg the question: which world is the more dangerous? The mystical forest? Or the modern city?
The cover artist, Thomas Walker, has done an amazing job and we are thrilled to share this brilliant work with you today. But that’s not all we have!
Angry Robot has also provided us with the first chapter of Kojiki, so you can get a sneak peek of the story today! And if you enjoy the excerpt, you can learn more about Kojiki on Keith Yatsuhashi’s website or follow him on Twitter @KeithYatsuhashi.
And now the first chapter of Kojkik. Enjoy!
– – –
Keiko Yamada lifted her battered thirty-five millimeter camera and held her breath. The metal casing was cool against her feverish cheeks and smooth enough to slip precariously in her sweaty fingers. She knew she’d never take a clear shot like this, not with shaking hands and pounding heart. Fortunately, she wasn’t here for the picture, not this one, and not the hundreds of others she could have taken but didn’t. She was here for something else entirely.
She exhaled and peered through the viewfinder. Maybe this time, she told herself. This time for sure. Tokyo’s glittering Ginza spread out before her like a sea of colored stars. The city was so foreign, so unlike her home in New York. Times Square certainly had its share of lights, but those were pale imitations of what now surrounded her. Here, twisted and interlocking neon tubes blazed like beacons, each pulse revealing a pastiche of corporate logos, Japanese characters, torii gates, and other unrecognizable images. It was a beautiful sight, just not the one she wanted.
Disappointed but still determined, she lowered the camera and scanned the street for yet another torii gate. Her late father had sent her to find one in particular, and for the first time since arriving in Japan, it felt close. She assumed he meant a torii like the spectacular floating one at Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima. Fifty-five feet tall and made of solid red-lacquered wood, the gate was as much a symbol of Japan as Mount Fuji. Keiko had seen it countless times on the internet, in pictures, and depicted on antiques in her father’s store. Finding something that iconic, even in a city as large as Tokyo, should be easy.
Only it wasn’t.
Torii gates were everywhere. Tall and lean, short and wide, they came in various shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. Some were made from wood, others from stone. All had the same basic shape: twin vertical pillars meeting a perpendicular crossbeam at the top. Keiko had pointed her camera at hundreds of torii without success. Instead of frustrating her, though, each failure – the current one included – hardened her resolve.
She tried to think back to the weeks leading up to her father’s disappearance and apparent death, but her memories were a blur of tears and loneliness. Everything had seemed fine, right up until the day she came home to an empty house, a carefully placed note on the grand piano in the hall. Leaning forward, she recognized her father’s firm hand, and read:
I leave a dream of me behind
To protect sun and spirit
For they are the light of my soul
Dazed, she lunged for the phone and called the police. “It’s my father,” she said when the 911 operator came on the line. “He’s disappeared and… And… And he left a suicide note.” The operator asked a question that took Keiko’s numb head a minute to process. “Of course, I’m sure.” Keiko may not have learned as much about her Japanese heritage as her parents hoped for, but she knew a jisei – a traditional Japanese death poem – when she read one. Keiko’s father, Masato Yamada, was a dealer in Japan’s finest antiques and art; Keiko had sorted and displayed enough jisei to recognize one when she read it. Her father’s note was a jisei. No question.
Less than fifteen minutes later, a squad car pulled up to her house and parked on the street. Two officers climbed out. Keiko ushered the men inside, listened numbly to their basic questions, and somehow kept herself together when they said there was only so much they could do. Unless a disappearance involved children the police didn’t officially consider it suspicious until after a set amount of time. Masato Yamada hadn’t been gone nearly long enough for that.
Smiling sympathetically, the officers told her not to worry. Most of the time, the person turned up alive and well. They tipped their hats, handed her their cards, and went on their way. As soon as their car rolled down the street, Keiko snatched the poem from the piano. She crumpled the sheet and was about to hurl it at the wall when she noticed an envelope lying underneath. Heart pounding, she lifted the letter gingerly, turning the thick packet over in her hands. The back was blank, but on the front her father had written one simple word: Keiko.
Wide-eyed and trembling, Keiko tore at the paper, finding a Japanese passport bearing her name, an open one-way ticket from New York’s JFK International Airport to Narita, a booking with something called Ancestral Travel, and – curiously – a short personal note that read: Go to Japan in my place. Find the Gate. Your camera will show you the way.
That was three weeks ago – three weeks of planning and packing before arriving in Tokyo, camera in hand, to search for one gate in a thousand. In a hundred thousand. Keiko didn’t even know why. What was so important about a gate? Head shaking, she brought the camera back up to her eye, focused on yet another torii gate, this one in front of a makeshift shrine, and waited for… what? She had no idea, and that was part of the problem. A few seconds ticked by. The crowd swarmed in to block her view: commuters in business suits, a pretty woman with so many bags in her arms she could barely see, a teenager and his girlfriend, and a tall bald man who seemed to pause and glance in her direction before moving on. The look he shot her was strangely familiar, intimate even, enough for Keiko to keep her lens on him as he strode away.
His antiquated crimson robes were wildly out of place in the modern Ginza. They held her attention as much as his ageless face and the determined set of his shoulders. What was the odd white glow surrounding his body? A reflection? A trick of the light?
Keiko hoped so.
She considered going after him, but quickly stopped. Taking off after a stranger was never a good idea. Besides, she needed to get back to the tour group. She’d been gone a while – too long probably. If she didn’t hurry back, they’d leave her behind.
Stowing her camera, she sprinted through the crowd. A large, brightly lit building loomed in front of her, and she skidded to a stop before a department store window. Inside, kimono-clad mannequins held cell phones and tablets. Outside, a hundred faces passed by her, all Japanese. Her fellow Americans had moved on. They’d left her alone. Just like her father.
She cursed again, this time loudly. How could she have been so careless? Her first trip abroad and already lost. What would her father say? She didn’t know what he expected her to do here, but this certainly wasn’t it. She should have paid more attention to the time and not let that man pull her away. Not that she could do anything about it now, not unless she could roll back the minutes and choose a different path.
Frustrated, she checked her watch – another of her father’s gifts. Swiss, gold bezel, mother-of-pearl face, automatic movement. It was an antique, but it looked and ran like new. She was only a few minutes late, but it was enough.
A feeling of hopelessness washed over her. Looking for a handful of people in a crowd this big was out of the question. She might as well search for a goldfish in the ocean. Her phone? A good option, or would be if she’d activated its international roaming before leaving Manhattan. Her only chance was to head for the tour’s next stop and pray she reached it before they moved on again.
Reluctantly, she drew her map from her pocket. The Imperial Palace. It wasn’t far, a cab ride away at most. If she hurried, she’d just about make it. Quickly stuffing the map into her jacket, she darted off. A clump of people swarmed over the wide intersection ahead, slowing her. She turned left, looked right. Craning her neck, she gasped as the crimson-robed man reappeared a few feet away. He glanced at her as he walked, almost, she thought, as if leading her.
Desperate, she locked onto him, following his wraithlike gait through a mob she swore parted for him. They broke around him, flowed back in, and when they opened again, the man had disappeared.
Keiko wheeled about, abruptly stopping when she spotted a small torii gate rising from the sidewalk. A pair of imperious dragon statues stared back at her from either side of what looked like an alley. Fiery, red-golden scales encased the one on the left while its twin wore stunning sapphire blue. Both were small, no larger than the bag slung over her shoulder, but for some reason she couldn’t explain, they intimidated her. The camera she’d instinctively produced drooped in her hands.
She stood there as if frozen. Was this the gate? She wasn’t sure, and she didn’t know how to find out without further exploration. Indecision ripped through her. Charging ahead meant falling farther behind her tour. Could she risk it? Should she? A flash of crimson inside the alley drew her in. She inched a foot forward, and when a second flash came, this one appearing farther back, she sprang after it without thinking.
A few feet in, the cement walls on either side morphed into shimmering panels that reminded her of electrified fencing. They gave off minimal light, but the hairs on her arms lifted whenever she got too close. The air too had changed, no longer clean and fresh, it crackled as if dead – like a dried twig before a match.
Keiko cringed with each step. Coming here had been a mistake. If she turned around now, she could still make it to the Palace before the tour started. Yes. That’s it. Get back to the street. Go. Now!
As she backed away, a burst of red and yellow light erupted in the distance, followed swiftly by the smell of ash and burning embers. Her pulse thudded. She needed to leave. Already, darkness filled the passage behind, where less than a minute ago lights from passing cars flickered along the walls. Had she turned around? She didn’t think so, but she couldn’t tell which way led to the street.
The light reminded her of Ginza, so she went that way, increasing her pace, trying not to think about the sharply rising temperature or the trickle of sweat running between her shoulders. Not a fire, she told herself. Any number of things could account for the heat – a restaurant maybe or a bathhouse. Her guide, Yui Akiko, had said something about public baths. She should have paid more attention. Not that it mattered. This looked like the only way out. It was either this or the darkness.
She moved into a quick trot, arms pumping, camera bag jostling, her nondescript flats clicking loudly against… what? It wasn’t stone. Stone didn’t pulse and thrum like it was alive. She tried not to look, concentrating instead on the opening that miraculously appeared ahead of her. At five hundred feet, it seemed like a godsend; at two hundred, a little less. At fifty, she began to worry. Waves of blistering heat slammed into her like a hammer, and before she knew where she was, her feet skidded to a stop at the edge of a sprawling courtyard. Water spilled from a globe-shaped basin in the middle of the cavernous space. Overhead, delicate trusses of brilliant silver ran from the top of one columned wall to the other, creating a transparent ceiling of spidery lace. Beyond the walls, random tongues of liquid fire belched into a red-tinted sky.
Halfway between the fountain and the entrance, perhaps a thousand feet away or more, a man materialized out of the rippling air. He was taller and more muscular than the man she followed through Ginza, with eyes that blazed like bonfires – wild and unpredictable one minute, pensive yet angry the next. A stark contrast, she thought, to the boyishly handsome face around them. He inclined his head, his tawny hair whipping in a nonexistent breeze.
As if summoned, two huge serpentine forms appeared – red fire on his left, blue ice on the right. They towered over him, their heads tilted as if listening. Unconcerned, he strode forward, placed his palms against the air, and pushed.
Keiko trembled violently, her gaze locked on the distorted space between them. Ripples spread outward from his hands like a spoon bouncing against gelatin, and the creatures… the less she thought about them the better. Again, the man pushed the barrier, and again it held. Rage mottled his handsome face. He motioned the fiery serpent forward.
Keiko’s mind went numb. What the hell was this? She wanted to run, but couldn’t get her feet to move. In her last few seconds of consciousness, the extraordinary image of a young Japanese man pulling back the hands of some great clock filled her thoughts. Sweat painted his face, his determined expression reminding her of her late father.
“Yui!” he shouted in an eerily familiar tone. “Come now, Yui! Come quickly!”
Yui Akiko staggered to a halt in the middle of a busy sidewalk. “Masato?” she whispered. Important people had a way of flashing through her head at odd times – Masato most of all. This time was different. It felt real. She shook her head at the impossibility. Masato was gone, had been for over a century.
An uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu washed over her. She looked back at her group and frowned. The roll! She needed to call the roll. Hadn’t she done that already? A department store window spread down the street to her right, and she quickly shepherded the tour out of the pedestrian traffic, queued it up in front of the glass, and started to count.
“Keiko,” she panted when she reached the end of the line. “Where’s Keiko? Has anyone seen her?” Her normally breezy voice had slipped into the more comfortable tenor of command, clipped and decisive.
An older man in a tweed sport coat pushed his way forward with his obscenely young wife in tow. “I haven’t seen her since we left that big intersection back there.” He pointed down the street. “She said she wanted to take some pictures.”
Yui struggled to keep her composure. “Tetsuo.” She turned from the man and rounded on her assistant, a young, perpetually startled-looking student from Tokyo University. “Get the group moving again. We can’t be late for the Palace.” He started to protest, but Yui’s steely glare silenced him. “We have a tight schedule to keep,” she told him briskly, speaking in English for the tour’s benefit. “I’m going back to look for Keiko. She can’t be that far behind, a few blocks at most.”
She snatched up her purse and pushed her way through the crowd. Keiko and her damn camera, she should have known. Every time she turned around, Keiko stopped and pointed the thing at whatever took her fancy – doors, bridges, and most especially torii gates. Yui needed to separate Keiko from that little metal box. And soon. It was probably the only way to keep her under control.
Yui snorted at the thought and hurried up to Ginza Crossing. Impatiently, she looked left, gauged the traffic, and was about to dart across the wide street when she glimpsed Keiko a block or so to her right.
Despite her Japanese features, Keiko was easy enough to spot. Petite, she wore her short dark hair in a bob with layers that were all the rage in New York. The hair – like her expression – was uniquely whimsical. No Japanese could mimic that. Keiko might have Japanese features, but everything else about her was decidedly foreign, right down to the clothes she insisted on wearing to the Palace. Formality required a skirt and jacket. Isn’t that what she’d said? The girl was odd, even for an American.
A cluster of pedestrians crossed in front of Yui, and she hurried forward, determined not to lose sight of Keiko now that she’d found her. Her luck held. Keiko stood a few yards away, examining the front of an ordinary granite building along Harumi-dori. The camera was out, of course, but strangely, she didn’t use it.
Again, the crowd closed in, and this time, Yui zigzagged through it. She kept her eyes glued on Keiko, saw her move closer to the wall, pause, and then disappear completely.
No! Yui thought. It can’t be! A thousand possibilities screamed through her head, and, as usual, she settled on the worst of them.
She ran a hand over her mouth and stopped in front of the building, hoping to find some sign of Keiko. As she drew closer, her dread increased. The wall remained solid and forbidding without seam or crease or opening. A flash of headlights illuminated something on the ground. Hands trembling, Yui looked down. There, where building met sidewalk, the top loop of a camera strap protruded from the bricks at her feet.
Yui stood motionless for several long seconds. Cars raced up and down Chuo-dori as they did every day. Pedestrians went about their business as if nothing strange had happened. They didn’t know what Yui did, what Keiko’s disappearance meant to them. To the whole world.
As if in a dream, Yui pulled a phone from her belt holster and dialed. Her heart pounded through the delay of a signal traveling thousands of miles across the globe. A man answered, and she released her breath. She gathered herself and spoke deliberately.
“It’s Yui.” She fought to keep her voice steady. “It’s begun.”
Keiko’s eyes snapped open. How long had she been out? Minutes? Hours? Long enough for the tour to finish up at the Palace, probably. Long enough for that man to catch her. She dug her heels into the ground and bicycled until her back bumped against the wall, looking left, glancing right. A faint flickering at the far end drew her attention, and she turned her head toward it. Ginza? Was it possible? Dubious, she squinted at the light, measuring the distance.
Her camera lay on the ground a few feet away and, pulse racing, she lunged for it. The strap seemed caught on something, but it came free with a tug. The rest of her things had fallen and scattered, and as she hurried to gather them – a cache of film, two zoom lenses, a flash, her phone, wallet, and passport – a loud crack rocketed down the passage.
Keiko jumped. Tremors ran through her body; her legs felt weak. Eyes wide, she stared into the gloom, not wanting to see, unable to look away. A second ticked by, and then another. Shadows moved in the alley, advancing too quickly for her to recognize anything until it was right on top of her. Then – to her relief – Yui’s lithe figure took shape, hurried over, and dropped to one knee.
The young guide’s silky black hair had fallen partially out of the silver comb she used to keep it off her flawless face, but her blue suit and accenting red-and-white scarf remained as pristine as ever. Large chestnut-colored eyes studied Keiko, their golden flecks glinting in the darkness.
“You gave us quite a scare.” Yui’s expression softened. “Tokyo is the safest city in the world, but things do happen.” Her voice was light and melodic, and her accented English added an exotic touch. This close, she looked no more than a year or so older than Keiko, her skin porcelain smooth, her lips as pink as cherry blossoms.
Beyond her, the shimmering walls had given way to gray cement, the strange ground once again pavement.
“You… You came back for me?” The rational voice in Keiko’s head said it was Yui’s job to look after her, but after weeks of tragedy, this small act seemed like a great kindness.
Yui smiled gently. “This city is large, confusing, and very crowded. It’s easy to get lost here.”
Keiko looked away and pushed her hair behind her ears. “I didn’t exactly get lost. Not at first.”
“That’s how it always happens.” Yui took Keiko’s hand, patted it, and helped her to her feet. Despite Yui’s calm exterior, the muscles just beneath her skin felt tight, tense. She tilted her head, a frown marring her otherwise smooth brow. “I’d be interested to know why you wandered off. Did you see something… something we can add to the tour, perhaps?” She said it lightly, but her expression was too intent for casual interest.
An uneasy feeling crawled up Keiko’s back like a multi-legged insect. “No. At least… I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” Yui repeated, raising an eyebrow.
“I’ve been through a lot lately. I guess it finally caught up with me.” The alley had returned to normal, and – now that Keiko had company – she thought she understood what had happened to her. “I sort of panicked when I realized I was alone. I didn’t know what to do, so when this man showed up, I just followed him.” She fanned her hands helplessly.
“A man. You followed a strange man in a city you don’t know?”
Keiko shrugged. “I know it was stupid, but like I said, I was desperate. Besides, he looked like he belonged at the Palace. You know – tall, bald, dressed like a monk. I thought, maybe, he’d lead me there.” She let out a long breath and lowered her head. “I followed him to an alley, but he disappeared before I got there. I think I passed out after that. Stress, you know? Jet lag, maybe. I dreamed the strangest things.”
A look of alarm crossed Yui’s face. “What things?” she whispered.
“You don’t want to know.” Keiko rolled her eyes. “Crazy stuff. Stereotypes. I was in a courtyard – or a temple surrounded by fire. A man was there too – big, maybe seven feet tall with burning eyes.” She hesitated, licked her lips. “He… umm. He had these creatures with him. Dragons, I think. One red, one blue.”
Yui flinched. She seized Keiko by the wrist and dragged her from the wall. “We have to go. Now!”
Even in heels, Yui ran amazingly fast. Ahead, an opening rushed up to meet them, another long rectangular slash in the dark. Outside, cars zipped up and down a wide street, briefly illuminating a steady stream of people. The familiar sounds of a bustling city filled Keiko’s ears. A fresh sea breeze brushed against her face, and a strange tingling sensation coursed through her body, leaving her breathless.
She looked up to find Ginza once again sparkling around her. To her left, a row of red-lacquered torii gates leered at her from a side street, and though she knew they were harmless, she shivered at the sight of them.
Kojiki is due out in North America on August 2, 2016 and in the UK on August 4, 2016. It will also be available as a DRM-Free Epub & Mobi ebook from The Robot Trading Company on August 2nd. You can learn more about Kojiki on Keith Yatsuhashi’s website or follow him on Twitter @KeithYatsuhashi.