When midterms were only two weeks away, a message came to my phone that rarely ever made a peep. The girl who taught me about the good luck charm.
She informed she found out the location of the dragon’s nail—or perhaps the dragon terminal.
Alongside the girls who carried them, the nails passed from hiding place to hiding place, rarely disappearing from circulation.
The hiding place changed every time, and while they were grounded in certain rules, the location was decided by whoever hid it. Once their problems were solved, if they didn’t pass the baton to the next hand, there was a curse (so they say) and information wasn’t so easy to gather.
But in such a well-kept system, there was just a single hole.
“Worn down nails are supposed to be offered up, but a lot of people don’t know about that. There are a lot of kids worried when theirs is damaged or breaks, so the posts come around now and again.”
The mail sent to me had a screenshot of a post attached.
A certain OP posed the question, “What do I do if the nail breaks?” From the message body, it seemed considerably serious, and I could tell it was a real question not out of pure curiosity.
The response came in no time. “You just have to offer it to the shrine,” it even identified the shrine’s location. If the OP was serious, they would surely make for the shrine within the next day, she deduced.
So after school, I pedaled my bike and made for the shrine in question. Even if it was in the same town, I got considerably lost, barely managing to find it before the darkness set in.
I compared the shrine before me to the map on my phone. No doubt about it.
The shrine was terribly small. With the image of a standard temple in my head, I felt rather let down.
The grounds were only around four meters across. There was no main office building, with the lined Tori gates all puny ones. The front gate and hall of prayer were one and the same, with the two Japanese gargoyles no larger than cats. The easily countable trees in the grove around it surrounded the main sanctum like a folding screen.
“And you’re supposed to hide it here.”
In the foundation supporting the main shrine, there was a portion where the stone was put together in a lattice pattern, with a crevice opened up in a blind spot. When I timidly reached my hand in, my finger brushed up against the texture of a seal case.
“It’s really there…”
I pulled it out and investigated it: the same item I’d seen at the infirmary and soba shop was contained. It was undoubtedly real. If I handed it to Ryouko, I’d have fulfilled my duty for the time being. But what sort of wish did that girl have to collect all of these?
Ever since that phone call, Ryouko had taken off from school.
My secret hadn’t been publicized yet. But that didn’t mean the situation was one to be relieved about, and as long as my secrets were being held, my stress continued perpetually.
“… Crap, I’m in a dead end no matter what.”
I gazed at the nail, my conscious muddled with whatever unsatisfying conclusion I might reach.
“Hey you! Hold it right there!”
The abrupt call severed my thoughts.
The individual who called out to me wore clothes that didn’t fit the place that, while small, was still a shrine. I casual hunting cap, a three-quarter-sleeve T, skinny jeans. His refined impression came from the ornaments covering up his neck and wrists just drab enough not to come off as flashy. He looked like he’d fit in more playing around the business district than visiting a shrine, but more than that off-sense, the stronger sensation was one of déjà vu.
“Haven’t I seen you before?” “You run the accessory store, don’t you?”
Our voices overlapped in timing and intent.
“I see… so you’re also chasing the charms.”
When a trace of night wind began to hang in the fall air, not a single child’s shadow graced the playground equipment of the park, where Kume-san and I occupied a bench meant for three. I meekly sipped at the canned coffee he treated me to as I explained my circumstance, covering up the deeper portions.
After he’d heard out my situation, Kume-san groaned a hmmmm, to himself as he thought.
“… While I’m sorry about your absent girlfriend, I’ll have to retrieve this one.”
The nail was in Kume-san’s hands. He had requested I hand over the one I’d obtained.
“Kume-san, how are you related to these charms?”
“Looks like I can’t keep silent after all you’ve told me…”
“Is it complicated?”
“No, it’s just, aside from my work, I take care of maintaining these good luck charms.”
“Maintaining charms? That’s something you don’t hear about often.”
When Kume-san laughed, he seemed just a little younger.
“You’re right. Though it’s half just a hobby. A few years ago, I was on the internet when I stumbled upon a story that the nails were enshrined… when I tried looking into it, they really were here.”
“That’s what I do. After that, I can give it to someone, or hide it somewhere and post about it on the net.”
That really is a trendy charm system. To think it even has a maintenance feature, what a mystery.
“Do you know who started all of this?”
“Couldn’t tell ya. But that’s how it goes with urban legends, don’t you think.”
“Hmm, then do you know how many nails there are in total?”
“I don’t know that either. I’m pretty sure there are more than ten. From time to time I see one at the shrine and know it’s one I’ve worked on before… but only occasionally.”
Then there was a long, long way to go to collect them all. Not that I knew how many Ryouko needed.
Kume-san took a glance at my wrist.
“I see you’re still wearing the watch I made.”
“Yep, I’ve taken a liking to it. My previous one was a nine-hundred-yen cheapo, so it’s a nice upgrade.”
Kume-san’s looks crumbled. He was the honest sword who smiled when praised.
“Thank you. It makes me happy to see what I’ve made be put to actual use.”
“You’re quite the creator.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Kume-san flapped his hand. He shied back. “I’m not that great. At most, a guy who does some crafts.”
His reactions were so interesting I almost laughed myself.
“So you’re not even a craftsman yet?”
“There’s a long way ahead of me. I’d like to try some large job someday.”
“I’m cheering you on.”
“Ah, right. Thanks,” Kume-san scratched his head.
“Then I should get going. I’ll try looking for another nail.”
Kume-san turned to a serious face. Rubbing his chin, he spent a while in deep thought.
“… I feel a bit sorry. You’re the one who acted on the info first, but you’re not getting any return.”
“It’s fine. I’m sure it’s in need of some maintenance. Those charms are interesting. You should keep them going.”
When I told him how I felt with no fabrication, Kume-san stared at my face.
“… Satou-kun, could you keep what I’m about to tell you a secret from the girls?”
The story Kume-san told me in exchange for the nail brought me the sort of shocker I got from reading a special feature in ‘Mu’.