My first course of action was to seek cooperation from all the members of the ComClub. Informing everyone that Kikyouin-san was after the swindler Tsuchimikado Senzou, I proposed we should help her out.
If I leave it to Kikyouin-san, I’d only be getting five thousand yen back, so I needed to do something to get myself involved with the case. The ComClub members gladly hopped aboard my proposal (though for some reason, Orino-san seemed a bit displeased).
And so on Saturday, when everyone’s schedule was open, the four of us hit the town to gather information. Of course, keeping it a secret from Kikyouin-san.
“By the way, Kurisu-chan, you’re brimming with energy today.”
Walking down a considerably flourishing shopping district, I spoke to Kurisu-chan walking beside me. Staying together would be terribly inefficient, so we went off in groups of two. The result of our only rock and paper rock paper scissors paired me with Kurisu-chan and Orino-san with Kagurai-senpai.
“Oh? You think so?”
“Yeah. Did something good happen to you?”
“Fu fu fu. Why you see!”
Tadaa, she said as she opened her bag and took out a single paper amulet.
“Kikyouin-senpai gave it to me! This had the ability to drive away all the wandering spirits around me!”
Umm, I wonder about that.
For example, when you’re staying at an inn and you see talismans stuck all over the scroll hanging on the wall, you don’t suddenly think, “Oh that’s good. There are talismans, so it’s safe.” The presence of cleansing talismans means there’s something to be cleansed away, a paradoxical proof of existence…
“Kurisu-chan, do you feel okay?”
“Yes! As long as I have this, I’m not afraid of any ghosts!”
[IMAGE OF KURISU HOLDING TALISMAN]
Well, she’s happy, so I guess it’s fine.
“But still, that Kikyouin-san, huh… when did you two start getting along?”
“Umm, it’s not like we’re on good terms… the truth is,”
According to Kurisu-chan, during yesterday’s lunch break, Kikyouin-san went out of her way to drop by the first years’ classroom and hand over the amulet.
‘I’m sorry for scaring you. You’ll be fine if you have this,’ she said. Hearing that, my mood took a turn for blue. In that ComClub ghost photo ruckus, Kurisu-chan truly was scared. Perhaps that had been weighing on Kikyouin-san’s mind.
“… Kikyouin-senpai’s a bit strong-willed and her mouth’s harsh, but she really is a good person.”
“You’re right, I think so too.”
I quietly nodded.
Weaving out way through the grounds, we continued our chat.
“But you know, Kurisu-chan when you like magic so much, you’re no good with ghosts? Didn’t you say magic borrowed the power of the spirits or something?”
“Spirits and ghosts are completely different.”
She puffed her cheeks suddenly, making a face as if she’d never thought she’d hear those words.
“Spirits are like the crystallization of the mana that resides in all of creation, the planet’s lifeforce. They’re formed when high-density mana takes on shape. While the majority of them don’t possess intellect, in extremely rare cases, there are spirits who possess higher intelligence than humans. But they’re not all amicable with humankind.”
I’m sure all this information from Kurisu-chan came from ‘Kurea’s Grand Adventure’. A slightly old epic fantasy, and a manga that had Kurisu-chan totally hooked.
“If you ask why a witch must recite an incantation, it is to establish contact with the spirits. This isn’t restricted to magic users, all human words possess an innate power. The weight of words, one might call it. An incantation uses a refined dictation to manifest the power of words to their greatest possible level, and by embedding one’s own magic into them, a contract is established with the spirits to–”
I cringed a bit from Kurisu-chan’s long-running ramble. Yeah. Generally speaking, I didn’t really care.
“Well magic, and spirits, and incantations, I don’t need theories on those difficult things.”
I shrugged my shoulders, my speech tinged with a wry laugh.
“That sort of thing kinda sounds behind the times.”
“Behind the times!?”
Kurisu-chan was inflicted with a shock greater than she could handle.
“The latest works on magic don’t have any of that stuff anymore. Works where magic can just do anything is the mainstream. I mean, it’s magic. No one’s chanting incantations anymore. I guess it just never gained popularity.”
“… I’m not working as a witch to be popular.”
As she said that, Kurisu-chan looked extremely sad.
To put together the results of our investigation, we headed for a nearby casual dinner.
… Or so we were supposed to.
“T-this magic is…!”
Said Kurisu-chan as she dashed off somewhere, so I entered the restaurant alone.
Hah. That girl’s eighth-grade syndrome is serious.
Distressing over my underclassman’s future, I took a window seat and ordered a hamburger lunch set with orange juice. Opening my notebook, I took a look over the day’s investigation results.
By following the trail of eyewitness reports, we found two other people who were duped into buying urns. A college student living alone, and a housewife. Just like me, they were both scared with the line, “Your house is possessed by an evil spirit,” and ended up making a purchase.
But what bothered me was the amount.
One paid five hundred yen, the other paid a thousand.
They both said, “He just wouldn’t give up, and it wasn’t too expensive,” as the reason they bought the urn. That’s why their sense they had been ‘victims of fraud’ was considerably light. You could say they barely lost anything.
… Why am I the only one whose losses are on another level?
One hundred thousand yen… the hell’s with a hundred thousand, seriously…
I recalled an incredible fact, causing me to cry out. The customers’ eyes pierced into my all at once, but it wasn’t the time to care about that.
By the gods.
I just entered a restaurant without any money!
I had completely gotten unto my usual rhythm and placed an order, but at present, my entire life savings total two hundred yen… so if I came here with Kurisu-can, she’d end up paying for me. That was dangerous. I was able to avoid the pitiful shame of borrowing money from an underclassman, but this is still a huge pinch.
What do I do… the meals here easily go for seven hundred yen…
That’s right! I just have to cancel the order. I can still make it in time.
“Thank you for waiting. Here’s your hamburger set and orange juice.”
It came out.
Dammit, I came to a well-serviced well-managed shop.
… This is bad. Now that the food’s come out, it has become impossible to take back my order. This is a real pinch. A pinch that shoots right into the top five pinches of Kagoshima Akira’s life.
For the time being, I started eating (I mean, it would go cold) and thought up countermeasures. Roughly speaking, there was Plan A- dine and dash- and Plan B- give an honest apology.
Plan A’s a crime, and out of the question.
Plan B is… yeah. If this was a manga, they’d tell me to “Work off what you ate!” or something, and put my to washing dishes in the kitchen, but I doubt that will happen in reality. There’s a high probability they’d just get angry and call the police.
“… That’s right!”
Having finished off my hamburger set and downed my orange juice, I hit upon a brilliant strategy. I’m sure my brain was making good use of my sugar intake from the meal, no doubt about it. They often say a battle can’t be fought on an empty stomach.
Plan C: search for an acquaintance.
Search for an acquaintance, and borrow money from them.
With plates for eyes, I surveyed the area. The men and woman of all ages, inside the shop and out, I observed each and every soul. Search, you have to search.
I found one.
In the back of the store, setting up camp at a four-seat booth by his lonesome self, with a mountainous load of food on the table before him. Perhaps he took off his amigasa indoors, as he had it hanging over the staff he leaned against the table. His black monk robe and sandals were exactly the same as I’d seen before. I had heard the man’s name from Kikyouin-san.
The con man who tricked me.
Unable to stay where I was, I raced over to Tsuchimikado-san. But when I actually looked him in the face, my words wouldn’t come out. He was a slippery swindler. I had no idea how I was supposed to talk to him.
Looking at me,
In the middle of his meal, Tsuchimikado-san continued chewing as he tilted his head. After he washed down the contents of his mouth with a drink, he hit his hands together in enlightenment.
“Oh, right. I was wondering who it was, but you’re that young mister who fell hook line and sinker, and paid me one hundred thousand yen.”
Intimately, in a tone that made light of his opponent. It was only the second time I spoke to Tsuchimikado-san, but it was all too clear his manner of speech the first time was an act.
“Huh? What’s wrong, mister, clamming up now? Ah, could it be you still haven’t noticed you’ve been deceived? Then I really slipped up there. Spoiling the whole shebang.”
“… No, I noticed that one.”
“That so? Hmm, well, how should I put it, have a seat, why don’t you? Eat all you want. My treat. Though I say that, it’s all on your tab, really. Ha ha ha.”
Still silent, I took a seat.
What is it, this difficulty I’m facing.
When the one who tricked me appeared, Tsuchimikado-san showed no panic or fear. He held himself truly boldly. In the few seconds since we met, I got the feeling he had seized the lead. I knew I would be taken for another ride if I kept silently staring, so I high-handedly changed the topic.
“Umm, give me back my money.”
“No way. I already used quite a bit of it, anyway.”
He said without any apologetics and gave a jovial laugh.
“T-then give me back whatever you have left of it. I’m begging you, Tsuchimikado-san.”
As he reached out for a sandwich, Tsuchimikado-san dubiously furrowed his brow.
“Now why do you know my name?”
“An acquaintance told me.”
“Hmm. Could that person be a little lassy called Kikyouin Yuzuki?”
I blankly raised my head.
“By yer face, looks like I hit the mark.”
… Apparently, my face is easy to read. I knew there was no point in hiding it, so I honestly admitted.
“That’s right. But how could you tell?”
“I hear that girl’s been on my tail lately. I was wondering how she found out, but I see, so it was through you.”
It seems Tsuchimikado-san really was Kikyouin-san’s acquaintance.
“’n so, mister, what’s yer connection with the eldest daughter of the Kikyouins? Did you put in a request ‘r something?”
“Oh no, she’s my classmate in high school. She transferred in the other day.”
“Transfer? Ah, oh I see, I see. That crazy training they do, sending you all over the place. I was sent to Hokkaido you know. How nostalgic.”
I forcefully changed the topic. If I didn’t, it didn’t look like I could ever grasp control of the conversation?
“Why are you out here conning people? Kikyouin-san said you ran away from home, but are you running low on money, so you don’t have a choice?”
“Well I’ll be. So you even know that much. She really is a talker, the Kikyouin eldest.”
Not particularly perturbed, Tsuchimikado-san went on.
“Well, that’s right. I’m currently in the process of my grand escape. Couldn’t bear all the nagging back home.”
“Are you alright? Isn’t your family worried?”
“No way, no way. No one there gives a lick about me. Big brothers one and two are super talented, super skilled. As long as they’re there, doesn’t look like there’ll be a problem with the family business. And I’m also doing good for myself; humans, you know, they’re at their best when they’re free.”
He didn’t sound like he was talking tough.
Like he was satisfied with his current self—the self that ran away from home. That was the sort of air he gave.
“Hey. No matter how cool you make it sound, there’s not much you can say when you’re pulling scams.”
“I started scamming when I came to this town. ‘n wait, you were my first cherished victim. Congrats.”
“It’s an honor I’d love to shred up. But after coming to this town…? Then what were you doing before that?”
Said Tsuchimikado-san. Horribly short, and definitively.
“Right. Was out helping people troubled by ghosts and youkai. Goes without saying, I wasn’t running a charity, mind you. I can’t live on dust.”
He got money helping people hurt by ghosts.
Wasn’t that the same was what he was doing now?
That’s what you call phony exorcism scam, right?
I mean… ghosts don’t exist in the world.
“I get what you want to say.”
While I didn’t say it aloud, it seems it came out on my face again.
“That’s right, they’re the same. From your side, I guess swindlers and onmyouji are one and the same…”
Narrowing his eyes, he gave a troubled laugh.
At the time, his air… was the lonesome air of someone who realized something, it reminded me a bit of Kikyouin-san. With contempt for we who lived in a different world, yet with envy all the same.
“Back home, all the requests came from people who understood, well I guess there’s no use saying it to you. It’s the path I chose… now then, guess it’s time I go.”
He declared and stood from his seat. Pulling down his amigasa, he took his khakkhara in hand, passing by my side. His large back looked extremely lonely to me.
So to that back, I,
“Hold it right there!”
Put in a retort, grasping the sleeve of his robe with all my might.
“The money for this! The bill! Don’t you dare nonchalantly push it onto me.”
That was dangerous. I was almost about to be dragged along by. I was about to have to enact Plan C again.
“Don’t click your tongue at me! Thanks to you, I’m flat broke!”
“Fine, got it, got it.”
He painstakingly said, as he took a brown envelope from his breast pocket and tossed it at me. It was the envelope I had handed one hundred thousand yen to him in the other day.
“E-eh? This is…”
“There’s seventy thousand yen left. Use that to pay the check. Sorry, but I can’t return what’s been used up. I stayed in a hotel these past two days.”
I reflexively asked. Even if it had dwindled to seventy thousand, I was supposed to be happy my money came back, and yet I tossed over the question.
I mean, for a swindler to return the money he cheated off of me…
“I’ll be out of this town in a bit, so could you let me off, mister?”
“Cuz it’ll all be over soon”
Over? What will?
Did he mean his scam?
“Well then mister. If fate has it, let’s meet again somewhere.”
He threw his words to the win, this time leaving the diner for real.
For some reason, I wasn’t able to stand. Give me back the rest of it, or at least say sorry, there were supposed to be plenty of things he had yet to say, but unable to say a word, I just saw off Tstuchimikado-san’s back.
By the time the sun was about to set, Kurisu-chan returned, and we gathered at the fountain in front of the station. The Kagurai-Orino team managed to get into contact with three additional victims. A housewife, a salaryman living alone, and a freelancer. The price of the thankful urn was once again varied.
Twelve hundred yen. Eight hundred yen. And… zero yen.
“Zero yen? There was someone who got it for free?”
Sitting cross-legged on the rim of the fountain, Kagurai-senpai gave a slight nod..
“It seems the freelancer didn’t intend to fork over a single yen, but after he declined again and again, Tsuchimikado Senzou said, ‘then you can have it for free, please just take it,’ apparently.”
“He said he thought he didn’t really mind if it was free,” Orino-san added on. “And that if we wanted it, we could have it, so I accepted it just in case.”
“What? You accepted it?”
I took the urn from Orino-san and inspected it closely.
It was the same. Exactly the same as the one I bought. There was a star mark on the bottom and a complicated pattern inside. Tsuchimikado-san likely bought them en masse from the hundred yen shop, drew stars and sold out.
But I never thought there’d be a free one.
Even if it was a hundred yen urn, he’d still end up in the minus if he gave it for free. In the first place, excluding my hundred thousand yen, his prices were wholly two cheap.
To commit fraud… given the risks of committing a crime, his returns were far too small.
… It’ll all be over soon.
What was Tsuchimikado-san even trying to do?
“.. Hey, Kagoshima. Is this really a case of fraud.”
Kagurai-senpai sounded a little bored.
“No matter how you look at it, the damages are too minimal. I don’t want to paraphrase a case by its losses, but it’s far too small-scale for that.”
“… Right,” Kurisu-chan agreed. “No one seemed particularly troubled. That they’d been scammed or deceived, there wasn’t anyone who really felt that way.”
I held the same opinion.
All the victims apart from me hardly felt they’d been deceived. They’d either bought some cheap junk or a lucky charm at best. They knew what they were getting into when they made the purchase.
“A scam is only a scam with victims. If the ones in question don’t think they’ve been tricked, then there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“I agree with Kagurai-senpai.”
The motivation of the two who didn’t know I was a victim blatantly fell. Well, naturally. As far as they could tell, the greatest damage was twelve hundred yen.
On top of that, no one was bothered.
No one was asking to be saved.
To these two with strong senses of justice, perhaps that was more important than anything. Seeing their reactions, only Orino-san who knew I’d been tricked looked a little pitiful.
“B-but it could be that the damages are just low for now, and there’s a possibility the sum might start growing–”
“No, it’s fine, Orino-san.”
Holding out my hand, I held her back.
“… Kagoshima-kun. Are you sure?”
“Yeah. It’s kinda, just whatever.”
And, “I’m sorry I had you all waste your Saturday,” I apologized to everyone.
I didn’t say I had coincidentally met up with Tsuchimikado-san.
If I did, there might be some progress in the situation, but I didn’t feel the motivation to.
I got the feeling the incident took place in a different world from these three.
I doubted anything would come of me saying it.
No one apart from Kikyouin-san could resolve this case.
“I’ll inform Kikyouin-san of the results of our investigation. I don’t know if there’s any point to it, but I don’t want it to be wasted.”
Taking the urn I received as part of the investigation back home, I made a call to Orino-san. In order to tell her about Tsuchimikado-san, and about how he returned seventy thousand yen to me. For now, I told her not to worry.
Next, I called Kikyouin-san. We exchanged numbers the day she came to my house.
About today’s investigation, the present situation, how she was doing chasing down Tsuchimikado-san. There were plenty of things I wanted to say and ask.
She blocked me.
Hugging my legs as I sat on the sofa, I held back some tears.