The fair, gold pelted, jewel faced nine-tailed fox.
A demon fox who took on human forms, boasting golden fur and nine tails.
Recorded to have slipped into the various dynasties of India, China, and Japan, she boasted powers equal to the gods, the strongest demon fox in history.
She arrived in Japan around eight hundred years ago, taking the shape of a beautiful woman named Tamamo no Mae, slipping into the royal courts as the wife of former Emperor Toba.
But her true identity unraveled by onmyouji, she took flight. Afterwards, she appeared in Nasu perpetuating numerous evil deeds, but defeated before the army of eighty thousand men dispatched by Toba, she changed into the giant Sesshouseki.
“Tamamo no Mae is included in the ranks of the three great youkai of Japan. She’s a considerably famous monster.”
Once upon a time, Kai told me a story like that. Boasting a wide breadth of knowledge, whenever there was an opportunity, he would teach me various things; it’s just—whatever he told me, it was never about himself. Kai was consistent in that he never even tried to speak about himself.
“I see. I didn’t know about that. I thought the nine-tailed fox was something the author of Naruto thought up.”
“Haha. Well, I’m sure a lot of youths think that now. It’s not too rare for the parody to become more famous than the origin. The times are always changing.”
Kai spoke as if he had it all figured out. As if he had burned the changing times to heart time and again, he spoke in a profound tone.
“She’s a major youkai, so you can find as many legends and anecdotes as you want. And among them, one of them—tells that Tamamo no Mae had a daughter.”
“A daughter? When she’s a youkai, she can have a daughter?”
“It’s not strange for a youkai to have a daughter, is it? No matter what they do, it’s not strange: that’s what it means to be a youkai. For example, even if a Zashiki Warashi didn’t take on the form of a young boy, nothing would be strange.”
I guess he’s right, I assented.
After clearing his throat, Kai began narrating vividly.
“Once upon a time, there lived a fox, the strongest and vilest fox of them all.
She was Tamamo no Mae, who continued bringing calamity to the world of humans, but even she had a daughter.
Shortly after her daughter was born, Tamamo no Mae was captured by a certain onmyouji clan. To make sure she could never commit evil again, she was sealed deep within their family shrine. The clan also placed a seal on Tamamo no Mae’s daughter. The girl had naught but been born, so a single collar was enough to seal her. And after some time passed, the girl said this.
‘Just once is enough, Can we meet our mother?’
The onmyouji answered.
‘Then for the next thousand years, you shall serve our clan.’
And the daughter served the clan.
To meet a mother she had never met before, the daughter did the best that she could.
Phew, Kai let out a breath, “That’s a legend from around Kyoto,” he added on.
If you’re wondering why I’m remembering this, on the way home from school, at the Inari Shrine I thought I’d drop by to plead a bit with god, I spotted a single young girl staring face to face with the statue of a fox.
She turned at my voice. A straw hat, and gold hair. A white one piece. It was Kikyouin-san’s little sister Tama-chan.
“What, so it’s you, whelp.”
“What’s up, Tama-chan? Why are you in a place like this?”
“… Tama-chan… hmph. So be it.” While she grated her teeth, she made a sound with her nose as if she had given up. “We came to pay respect to the Inari god. The god here also serves as the god of these lands. This is our- fashionably late- move-in greetings.”
“I see, you have it rough.”
Letting it go with a smile, I mused that she had been influenced by Kikyouin-san after all.
“Are you alone today? What about your big sister?”
“If you want Yuzuki, she’s off chasing the Tsuchimikado whelp alone. ‘I’ll settle it by myself this time,’ apparently. So we don’t know the specifics. Good grief, is this what they call the rebellious phase…”
… Kikyouin-san’s being treated at a rebellious age by her little sister. How sad.
“Ah, that’s right. Tama-chan, there’s something I want to ask you…”
I swallowed my spit, hardening my resolve before asking.
“… Is it… true that you’ve changed Kikyouin-san’s diapers before…?”
“Yeah. We remember doing that.”
Tama-chan looked into the distance and easily nodded. So it was true… woah. All excuses were gone. I wanted it to be a lie.
“… Um, how long ago was it, specifically?”
“Well let’s see… it was when she was still a baby so… indeed. When you get past eight hundred, it all feels like just yesterday.”
How could it be… if had to be… yesterday, of all days.
Not some past mistake, or black history, it was an abnormal inclination that persisted into the present day…
“How nostalgic. We weren’t accustomed to it, so we had our share of troubles. When we got pee on our face, we really panicked for a minute there.”
The words of an old man falling into nostalgia had me trembling in fear. I thought my goosebumps were so high the skin all over my body might lift off. Pee, on her face…? Eeh? Yesterday… baby play… between sisters…
I frantically brushed away the concrete visual image that was about to be born in my head. I-t’s hopeless! She’s so abnormal I can’t keep up!
Don’t think. Don’t feel. You have to become insentient, me.
The realm of selflessness.
“… These days, Yuzuki only talks about you.”
As I began attaining unity with nature, Tama-chan spoke in a serious voice.
“Oh, Really?” That was a pleasant surprise. “What does she talk about?”
“Various things. But she always ends with the line, ‘He should go die in a ditch,’ tacked on.”
“… That so.”
Looks like she still hates me after all. I get the feeling she was so cruel that it had to be the work of some evil spirit.
Even so, evil spirits… ghosts, huh?
“What is it?”
“Since when did Kikyouin-san start saying she could see ghosts?”
“There’s no when to it, from the time she was born.”
I see, so from birth.
“So it’s not like she had some sort of trauma or something.”
“Hmph. We cannot say she suffered no trauma.”
As she said that, Tama-chan’s mouth curved. Unsuited of a young girl, a deep smile that let one feel the passage of many years.
“Yuzuki has talent, but a gift’s link to an easy path is never guaranteed. From a young age, she was suffering. Because she could see ghosts, those around her always treated her like she was uncanny. Even if it may be the fate of an onmyouji, ‘tis a pitiful sight.”
Kikyouin-san’s lonely eyes. As if she had no hopes to place on us, that attitude.
—Well, whether you believe me or not doesn’t really matter.
— It’s not like anyone will believe you, and even if they do, they’ll just find me creepy.
— When a photo’s taken of me, it always winds up like this.
I got the feeling I could understand her reasons just a bit.
I’m sure when she placed her hopes, they were betrayed.
That’s why she stopped hoping, and decided to accept it.
“The clincher was when she was eight. The game Kokkuri-san was gaining popularity with the kids.”
(TL: Basically, the Japanese equivalent of an Ouija board)
Kokkuri-san. I’ve played that one a few times before. In elementary school, everyone around me was doing it, so half for fun.
“Hah. There’s no greater length in the foolishness of human entertainment. That one’s a tried and true séance technique. If an amateur goes at it with superficial resolve, they’ll draw low-grade ghosts and cause all sorts of trouble.”
And so, Tama-chan scoffed.
“Yuzuki, she—struck her classmates playing Kokkuri-san.”
I was at a loss for words.
“You needn’t even ask us the result. Ever since, Yuzuki was looked at with fearful eyes; then on she lived on alone, nary a friend in sight.”
I didn’t know what to say.
It’s not like the people playing Kokkuri-san had any ill intent. Just like me, they were playing half-for fun. And yet, if they’re suddenly smacked, naturally they’d be irritated and find it creepy.
I could see how Kikyouin-san felt.
I really don’t believe in ghosts after all… but when it came to Kikyouin-san’s sincerity towards occult events, she had gotten it across more than enough in these past few days.
Maybe it’s precisely because she was who she was, that she couldn’t forgive it.
A game like Kokkuri-san that stimulated the ghosts for fun.
“Well, all we can say is that Yuzuki was in the wrong. From those who live in a different world, ‘tis a mistake to expect anything.”
Don’t say something so sad…
“… What’s with those eyes? Do you have something to say?”
Sharply narrowing her fox eyes, Tama-chan flared at me. Unable to say anything in return, I just looked at the floor.
“Whelp, you’d best not approach Yuzuki with superficial feelings. Yuzuki is accustomed to loneliness. If you interact with half-baked resolve, you’ll only confuse her. The strength to live on her own is also something she must learn.”
If she wanted immature lines, I had plenty in stock. Like friends are wonderful, or humans can’t live on their own. But placed under Tama-chan’s youkai-like pressure, I couldn’t say anything. I ended up thinking this wasn’t something an outsider should stick his mouth into.
“… Then what about you, Tama-chan?”
“Kikyouin-san has you, doesn’t she? She’s not alone at all.”
I thought I was pointing out something terribly obvious, and yet Tama-chan looked like she was taken by surprise. After thinking a while, “… I see. That’s right,” she said.
“So Yuzuki… had us.”
“Oh? So that was the fair, gold pelted jewel faced nine-tailed fox—Tamamo no Mae’s daughter. I see, even if she’s sealed with that collar, she’s got a lovely aura. I guess it’s a matter of refinement?”
After Tama-chan had gone home, a voice suddenly came from behind me.
“K-Kai… ah, you surprised me there.”
When I turned, my childhood friend gave a graceful smile. The word elusive described him perfectly. As long as I knew him, he was always suddenly appearing and suddenly disappearing.
“Kai. What do you mean Tama-chan’s the nine tailed fox?”
“Mn? Ah, no, no. I just said she has beautiful hair like the nine-tailed fox.”
What a strange way to praise her.
From there, in order to fulfil my initial objective of prayer, I stood at the offertory box with Kai. Inserting a ten yen coin (I could finally use money), I shook the bell left and right, and clapped my hands twice.
“What did you wish for, Akira?”
I thought a bit,
“For world peace,”
And lied. I kept my wish for Tsukimikado-san to be captured as a secret.
“I see. That’s a wonderfully good wish.”
Kai said with a cynical smile.
“So what did you really wish for? What do you want from the depths of your heart right now?”
He really says some insightful bullshit.
It was as if he could see through to the innermost thoughts even I didn’t understand.
“… I was wondering what to do about Kikyouin-san.”
I said, beaten by his persistence. After hearing this and that from Tama-chan, I was oblivious once more. I would probably never understand the darkness Kikyouin-san carried for the rest of my life. That was something for her alone, and something only she could understand.
In that case, what was I to do?
What was I capable of?
“You may not have noticed it, but you’re a surprisingly good guy, you know,”
His voice was gentle and clear.
“A good guy… a virtuous human can generally do anything, and it’ll turn out fine. If you do what you want the way you want it, generally speaking, someone will be happy.”
“Of course, there are exceptions. There are people who miss the path precisely from their virtue, and idiots who misunderstand themselves as virtuous. But Akira, you’re different.”
“I’ve been watching you long enough. So—I can tell.”
As he said that, his smile was bitter and sweet, mysterious and captivating, and while it wasn’t by much, I couldn’t think it belonged to a human.
“It’s not like everything’s over just because you’ve failed. Whether it be human relations or anything else, there’s barely anything in this world that truly can’t be taken back, you know?”
So Akira, he looked straight at me.
“Just do what you want how you want to do it. If you fail, then you can try again then.”
Gray hair close to white, and gray kinagashi close to black.
As if to steal color from the worlds… a monochrome with no clear black or white.
I felt like I might be entranced by my childhood friend clad in a dubious air.
“If you fail, just try again, however many times it takes.”
I got the feeling a huge weight was lifted from my minds. Kai’s words had a strange power, seeping deep into the crevices of my mind.
Was this the weight of words Kurisu-chan was talking about?
“Thank you,” I said.
“Don’t mind it,” he laughed.
No matter how Kikyouin-san tried to avoid me, we were in the same class. Her blocking my calls still left me with ample opportunities to talk to her. Lunch break the next day, after she arrived late and took classes from the third period, I called her out behind the gym. It was something of payback for the day she transferred. First, to start the conversation, I asked why she was late.
“I fought with Tsuchimikado Senzou. He got away.”
Kikyouin-san said and shrugged his shoulders. Because Tsuchimikado-san was on the outskirts of town, she was late to school it seems. Tsuchimikado-san had walked all around town, selling his pots. He was quite an active conman.
“You don’t have to fall behind in schoolwork for my sake…”
“It ain’t for your sake.”
She said irksomely, clicking her tongue.
… “It’s not like I did it for you or anything”, could be called the representative line of all tsunderes, but I couldn’t feel the slightest hint of dere from the girl before me.
“So in the end, what did you call me out here for?”
“Umm, first off, can you unblock me?”
“… Yeah. Then that’s fine. Let’s get into it.”
Somehow reinforcing my heart on the edge of collapse, I told her about our investigation. Everyone in the ComClub searched around town, and looked into the fraud. As expected, Kikyouin-san made a blatantly displeased face.
“… I said it, didn’t I? An amateur shouldn’t be stickin’ his head where it doesn’t belong.”
“I thought it would be the slightest bit helpful.”
“How stupid. Know the phrase misplaced kindness?”
Her smile was topped off with sarcasm. Looking down on me from top to bottom, a mean-spirited smile. But I didn’t let it slip by. In her eyes of contempt, the slight color of loneliness that surfaced.
After a breath, I spoke.
“You’re putting on the mean act to make sure we’re not dragged into trouble, right?”
“Tsuchimikado-san’s objective is unknown, and no one knows what’s going on, so you thrust us away to protect us.”
“… No idea what you’re sayin’. How positive can ya be?”
Could her attitude that thrust others away be the flip side of kindness? That’s why I thought. I heard from Tama-chan about the Kokkuri-san.
She despaired for the great many and gave up on being accepted. But at the same time, could it be she reached a decision? In order to avoid harming uninvolved people, to be alone.
“You’re really annoying… you, and your friends in your club… just leave me alone. It’s not like any of you people understand a thing.”
She glared sharply at me. With sad eyes as if she didn’t expect a thing.
“I don’t need any friends. It’s pointless to make ‘em. I’ll only ever be able to reach an understandin’ with people who live in the same world as me.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s right.”
I said it lightly, purposely refraining from reading the mood. Perhaps that hit a nerve, as Kikyouin-san raised her voice.
“In that case…”
“But just because we can’t understand each other, that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
That was surely addressed at myself. I had a few friends. For example, an upperclassman. For example, a classmate. For example an underclassman girl. And for example, my childhood friend.
They were all dear friends. But if you asked me if I knew everything about them, the answer was no. More so, I’m sure there was more I didn’t know. I’m sure there were more things I wanted to know. But, even so, that didn’t change that they were precious existences to me.
“You’re thinking too hard about it. Friends are just the people you go, hey why don’t we get along, to. Laugh together in the fun times, and that makes you friends.”
“… I see. What light friendship. When we don’t know a thing about one another, you say we’re friends?”
“How much you understand one another isn’t really important. It’s far more important how much you treasure one another.”
“… What’s with that…”
Kikyouin-san hung her head, her eyes loitering around the ground.
“Then there’s no point in making a friend like that… they won’t be of any use at all.”
“Yeah, well, let’s see… for example, I’m absolutely no use at all. Even if you’re troubled, I don’t think I can help you.”
“Now look at that. When you can’t do a thing, you talk like–”
“I can’t do anything, but I can cheer you on.”
“I’ll tell you to do your best. Is that not enough.”
Kikyouin-san closed her eyes in silence. Her bangs fell over her face, so I couldn’t tell her expression. In the end, the path I chose was to support Kikyouin-san. Her opinion that an amateur shouldn’t stick his head where it doesn’t belong was right. No matter how one works outside their expertise… how someone from a different world tries, it’s pointless.
So I’ll support her.
Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart.
Like the villagers who can only wait for the hero to defeat the demon lord and come home.
“Do your best, Kikyouin-san. If it’s you, I’m sure you’ll be able to take in Tsuchimikado-san. I believe in you.”
She still wouldn’t raise her face. Her mouth was sealed shut. The silence fell, making it all seem a bit awkward. Alright, it’s about time for me to break out the big guns.
“Umm, and so. Today, I prepared a present for you.”
“While I say I’m supporting you, it sounds like a lie if it’s just in words.”
I said, as I took a paper bag from my bag.
It was Kagoshima Akira’s present for troubled times strategy.
“… Hmm. Winning me over with gifts, your thoughts are so simple.”
While she spoke harshly, she accepted the present relatively obediently. I’m sure there are no girls out there who wouldn’t delight at receiving a present.
Making a slight smile, Kikyouin-san pulled the contents from the paper bag.
The diaper I bought her.
Her expression froze over. With the diaper in hand, half out of the bag, she stopped moving as if time itself had stopped.
“No matter how much of a pervert you are, I’m your ally.”
Yeah, a perfect strategy if I do say so myself. I made sure to call her out behind the gym so no one would have to find out about her hobby.
“Use that and enjoy your baby play with Tama-chan to your heart’s content. Well, it’s a fetish I can’t understand, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
Kikyouin-san was still frozen. I wonder why, could it be she was so happy she was overcome with emotion? Was she doing her best to hold in her tears?
I wonder what it is, this feeling that I messed it up at the end of the end?
When I was just one step away, I got the feeling I had ruined everything.
“… What’s wrong, Kikyouin-san? Ah, could it be you prefer Moony over Pampers? I’m sorry. I hesitated over it, but…”
The next instant, Kikyouin-san finally moved.
She moved quietly, fearsomely, faster than the speed of sound. By the time I noticed it, she had disappeared from my field of vision.
Lightly, my body floated into the air. It took a few seconds before I realized she had swept my feet.
A dark voice that seemed to resound from the depths of hell.
At the edge of my rolling field of vision, I saw Kikyouin-san wrapping paper talismans around her own hands. It was like boxing tape, but to me, it looked more like knuckle dusters for some reason.
“Mother’s signature—charm punch.”
An upper that could take the world exploded through my body. As if she had borrowed the power of the five elements to strengthen it, a fearsome fist.
In my fading consciousness, I learned regret. I knew I should’ve bought Moony.