After school the next day, I called Kikyouin-san to my house. I had to hand over what Orino-san entrusted to me. With a tendency to hate me, naturally Kikyouin-san was furiously opposed.
“Definitely not! ‘n wait, don’t talk to me. I seriously want nothin’ to do with you.”
“…! …… W-when do you want me there…”
So well, with the power of the magic words, it worked out some way or another.
… It’s occurred to me that this might be why her hate for me grows.
Regardless, Kikyouin-san came to my house.
“… So what do you want?”
Sitting on my sofa, folding her legs, she sipped at the tea I put out- making no attempt to hide her irritation as she glared at me. If I did anymore unnecessary stuff, I got the feeling something terrible would happen to my affection points, so I swiftly informed her of my business. I gently placed a single envelope on the table. Kikyouin-san took it in hand, gazing at it inquisitively.
“Open it up,”
I urged, so she reluctantly flipped it open.
“… T-this is.”
Her eyes opened wide.
Inside the envelope was the photo we took the other way. But it wasn’t a ghost photo. Kagurai-senpai had her legs, Orino-san had her arms, there were no ghosts next to Kurisu-chan, and I still had my head.
“Kagurai-senpai digitally corrected it,”
With her level of skill, this much was a midday snack.
While Kikyouin-san gazed perplexed at the picture, she eventually noticed the surprise on the back as well. The back side was a collection of messages.
‘Is this really all that was bothering you?’ said Kagurai-senpai.
‘I’m scared of ghosts, but I’m not scared of you,’ wrote Kurisu-chan.
‘If you want to join, just do it,’ from Orino-san.
‘Isn’t it about time you unblocked me?’ said I.
The ComClub’s messages to their new member candidate.
It wasn’t much. It just meant I wasn’t the only one worried about Kikyouin-san.
After staring at the photo a while, Kikyouin-san drew her eyebrows together worryingly.
“… And so what? You’ll go this far to make me a member? You all must really value that club room.”
“Yeaah, well, that’s part of it, but…”
“Everyone’s too kind, you know.’
Of course, the desire to make Kikyouin-san a club member was more or less calculated in, but the greatest reason was surely because they couldn’t leave her be.
In the end, those girls are all good people; like those heroes of justice that show up in manga and TV.
“… Hmph. So that club’s a gathering of nosy busybodies.”
“Right you are. So isn’t it perfect for you?”
“Whether you join the club or not is up to you. But we want to get along with you regardless..
It’s a hunch, really just a hunch, but I got the feelings those girls would be able to be her friends. Everyone has their own circumstances. Things they can’t say, and things they want to keep hidden. But that’s no reason not to be friends. Perhaps it’s precisely because we’re humans that can’t understand one another, that there are things we can understand.
“… I’ll consider it.”
She lightly muttered, before putting the picture away in her bag. Treating it extremely preciously. Looking on the scene, I felt warm. I couldn’t stop my grinning. Grin, grin, grin.
“What are you smiling about, it’s creep—mn?”
Kikyouin-san suddenly noticed something.
“Why do you have two of those urns?”
Her eyes locked onto the two urns that decorated the top of the shelf.
“Oh, I got it from someone the other day.”
I told her about our previous investigation. About how, when we were looking for people who bought urns, one of them got it for free, and it ended up in my hands for the time being.
“You mean someone got it free of charge…? This is getting more and more incomprehensible. That Tsuchimikado Senzou… what exactly is he trying to do?”
“Ah, that’s right. Since you’re here, do you want to see the results of our investigation?”
With everything going on, I had yet to show her. She’s here anyway, so let’s show her. I took out the town map and my notes I’d tucked away on the shelf and unfurled them on the table.
“Hmm. So you came in contact with the victims…”
“Come to think of it, how were you chasing Tsuchimikado-san anyways?”
“Using a search spell sequence, I chased after his spiritual energy. That’s the most efficient way to do it. But right now, he’s got a jamming sequence up and we’re playing cat and mouse. The way he can slip away means he must have a rough idea of where I am, though.”
A search sequence. Was it some sort of divination? To divine out the opponent’s location, some sort of amazing battle was going on.
“… Good grief, what sort of idiot said the Tsuchimikado third son was a failure? At the point he could fight on an even level with me, there’s no way he had no talent.”
Spitting out loathsome words, Kikyouin-san looked down over the map on the table.
The map showed where we had searched and marked out the locations of the house that fell victim. I thought I’d use police dramas as reference, and mark down the location of the crimes.
There were five black marks in total.
“Is there anything like a pattern…?”
I could see no uniformity in the victims or the amounts paid. I could only think he wandered at random, working his scams when he got in the mood.
“No clue… what’s that guy tryin’ to accomplish, repeating these shoddy scams… if he wanted to make a quick buck, there are plenty of other ways he coulda gone about it…”
“Yeah,” I groaned as I looked at the map again.
If this was a manga, it would probably end up that Tsuchimikado-san was using the whole town to draw a magic circle or something. For now, I tried proposing.
“Could he have been using the whole town to draw a giant magic circle? How about it?”
“Not possible. That’s the first thing I considered.”
So she thought about it. We’re kinda in sync here.
“A sehman five-pointed star being drawn to cover an entire city, it’s happened a few times in the past. But in that case, the cardinal points would have to be these urns, and if he wanted to do that, he wouldn’t do something as irresponsible as leave his customers to their own devices after the urns were sold.”
“’n wait, the fact there are two here means he’s already failed. He had no way of telling what’d happen to the other urns either. The buyers might toss or smash them.”
I said it as a joke, but she took it quite seriously.
“As I thought, thinking’s not going to get him everywhere. If we catch him, we can drag it outta him personally.”
“… You’re right. I’m sure Tsuchimikado-san was just walking around sightseeing.”
“Exactly. Walking all over the place like an idiot…?”
Her words stopped half-way.
Kikyouin-san touched a hand to her mouth, gazing at the map as if something had caught her up.
“… That’s right. Why was he wandering around the town, one end to another…… when he went all the way to the outskirts, yesterday he returned to this area…”
“Isn’t that… because Tsuchimikado-san’s a carefree person? He didn’t act with thorough planning, so he went back and forth all over town…”
“… Back and forth… meaning zigzagged?”
Still gazing at the map, Kikyouin-san began thinking with an overly serious face.
After around a minute of thought,
“… I’ve got it!”
She cried out.
“It’s uho, uho! God, why didn’t I notice it until now!? This is uho!”
“Uho! I finally get Tsuchimikado Senzou’s objective! He was doing the uho, the uho!”
In a mixture of the joy of figuring it out, and the irritation at never noticing before, she continued crying out with a conflicted face.
I was troubled how to respond.
Why was she suddenly shouting uho…
Did she start imitating a gorilla or something? Or could it be she learned from Tama-chan, and was trying to establish herself as a character with a verbal tic? Alright, as a friend, I must save Kikyouin-san from the path of evil.
“Now look here, Kikyouin-san. A character isn’t made by the way they speak–”
“Snap out of your idiocy and look at this!”
Rejecting my teachings of good will, Kikyouin-san raced her pen over the map.
“Uho is a walkin’ technique utilized by onmyouji. By stepping in a zigzag pattern, it brings about a purifying effect. Tsuchimikado is doing it on a super large scale.”
Once she finished drawing over the map, she slammed it down on the table.
On it, apart from the five points I drew in, she added another four.
“What are these four points?”
“It’s quite likely that Tsuchimikado sold his urns in those four places as well. That’s right, if it’s uho, that explains everythin’. Why the prices were cheap, and why someone got it for free, it’s because his objective wasn’t money, it was to ‘transfer the spell-imbued urns to another’… The reason he walked over town was because the order in which he sold them in was important…”
The five victims we looked into, and the extra four Kikyouin-san presumed. Those nine points linked in a zigzag to form a thorny path.
“I see… if he wanted to draw a circle, then his starting point would have to be his ending point, so he’d be easy to predict. But uho is different… he made ‘transferring a spell urn to another’ represent one step in uho…”
She grated her teeth in irritation.
“This is Tsuchimikado Senzou’s original craft based on the traditional system… dammit, it was a complete blind spot. I knew he wasn’t incompetent, but to think he had enough talent to devise a completely new technique…”
She muttered to herself as she stood, heading for the front door in hot haste.
“Wait a second, Kikyouin-san! What exactly is Tsuchimikado-san trying to do?”
“Tsuchimikado Senzou is—doing a clean sweep of all the youkai in this town.”
Turning to my voice, Kikyouin-san raised her voice in impatience.
A clean sweep of the youkai?
“Umm, I don’t really get it, but isn’t that a good thing?”
“… It’s not that simple. At the very least, there’s no way such a rough method will turn out well… whatever the case, I’m going to stop him!”
No more time to spare, Kikyouin-san leapt out, and I was left alone.
I did want to chase her, but even if I did follow, I doubted there was anything I could do. For some reason, that was the feeling I got.
But I’d believe in her and wait.
That was surely all I could do.
Do your best, Kikyouin-san.
As I entrusted my body weight to the sofa, narrowing my eyes to the brightness of the evening sun, absorbed in the cool act I put on, a low voice dragged my back to reality.
Before I noticed it, Tama-chan was sitting on the opposite sofa. She was sipping on the tea Kikyouin-san left behind.
Ah, that was a surprise. To suddenly be there as if that’s where she was supposed to be, that’s an appearing act on Kai’s level.
“Do you know where Yuzuki is?”
I told her she was just here, but not anymore.
“You just passed her by. Did you hear something from your big sister?”
“Nothing at all. This time, Yuzuki hasn’t told us a single thing,” Tama-chan made just a slightly lonely face. “Even if we want to chase, she’s making sure we can’t pick up her power. Hmph, just what is she thinking…”
“I see, you’re feeling lonely because your big sister kept you out of the loop.”
“Wha? W-wrong, fool! Who’s lonely!? We doth be a demon fox with eight hundred years under our belt.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. So that’s the setting you use when you play with your big sister.”
With these sorts of things, it’s cute when they’re still around her age, I thought as I reached my hand to pet her head, only for ‘something’ to smack me. For a moment, I picked up the sensation of an animal’s fluffy tail or something of the sort. Or perhaps not…
“Fool. Don’t touch us so easily… hm? This is…”
Tama-chan noticed the town map on the table.
“… This is uho, it is. It’s the first time we’re seeing one so large.”
“Oh, your big sister drew that.”
I told her everything I heard from Kikyouin-san (I didn’t understand it myself, so I told her exactly how I heard it). Once she finished listening, “Hmph,” Tama-chan rung her nose disinterestedly.
“I see. So this is why the town’s youkai were so boisterous. That Tsuchimikado whelp’s thought up something stupid. But to come up with a new technique… we never thought he was such a talented onmyouji.”
She spoke in an unchildlike cynical tone.
“No matter, the most this spell will do is weaken the town youkai. Does he plan to weaken them and hunt them down one by one…? But with such forceful means… hmph. Whatever shall be. Oy, whelp.”
She looked up at me with her fox eyes.
“Take us where Yuzuki is.”
“No I apologize, but I don’t know where Kikyouin-san went.”
“Here,” Tama-chan pointed at the map. It was a point smack dab in the center of the formation called uho. “This is the heart of uho. At the end of the ceremony, the practitioner will have to be here. The Tsuchimikado whelp is here. Therefore, Yuzuki must have headed there as well.”
That place was a few kilometers walking distance from my house. A natural park. Far from former-Gentle Breeze park, instead of playground equipment, it was a spot for one to enjoy a playful walk through the woods.
“We can get there alone, but if we use any power, Yuzuki might notice.”
Meaning she wanted to secretly tail her big sister to surprise her. Is that what she meant?
As we got closer to the natural park, there were fewer and fewer people around. “A crowd clearing barrier. Well, as long as you’re with us, it shouldn’t be a problem. Mind it not, keep going whelp,” Tama-chan muttered something incomprehensible, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with our current situation. As we walked weaving our way between the trees, we came out into an open space. A large surface covered in turf, it was the sort of open space that made me want to play frisbee with a dog.
“…! Hide yourself, whelp.”
Right before I could step into the opening, Tama-chan grasped my head. With physical strength unthinkable of a child, no a human, she forcefully dragged me into a nearby thicket.
“They’ll notice if we get any closer. Let us watch from here.”
As I followed Tama-chan’s line of sight, I found Tsuchimikado-san and Kikyouin-san. Tsuchimikado-san’s hand gripped his khakkhara, and whenever he lowered it, it would let out a clear jangling sound. I wasn’t sure when she had time to change, but Kikyouin-san was in her onmyouji costume. She spread out charms in both hands like folding fans.
They both seemed exhausted, their shoulders rising with each breath.
“Don’t get in my way! Kikyouin laaasssyyy!”
“Settle down already! Tsuchimikado third son!”
The two howled.
One tore through the air with his staff, the other stroked the air with her charms.
There were around ten meters between them. At the half-way point—a strange sound. Only there, as if the density of the atmosphere thickened, I felt a strange off-sensation.
“Hmm. Yuzuki has the slight advantage in battle. It seems the Tsuchimikado whelp has the higher spiritual power, but right now, he’s pouring it into the uho. Hmph. Whatever the case, it looks like it was a lie when they said Tsuchimikado Senzou was a blockhead. Did he play the jester at the main house?”
Tama-chan hiding with me started an extremely appropriate-sounding commentary. She was like the announcer character from a shounen manga.
“You know, Tama-chan…”
Can you say it so I can understand? Why are those two dancing? Is it a ritual of reunion passed down in the family for generations? I wanted to ask this and that, but,
“What humans and youkai seek is coexistence! Why can’t you get that!?”
Kikyouin-san’s scream made me direct my attention elsewhere.
“Onmyouji exist as the balancers. I can’t feel a hint of pride as an onmyouji from your plan! To sweep away the youkai, there’s no way that will go down well!”
“… Hah. No one thinks it’ll go well the first time. So I will repeat it, again and again, raise the precision, and perfect the technique.”
“Whatever the case, it’s a mistake! Standing between human and youkai, becoming the link between them’s what it means to be an onmyouji!”
“An answer straight from the textbooks. You must be an honor student.”
Spinning his staff, Tsuchimikado-san gave a belittling laugh.
“And then what? You going to prance back home with your head high, dealing only with the rich who come to you, eh? Are you, lassy?”
“I hated the Tsuchimikados from the start. Detested them. They’re a house that prospers, sellin’ favors to the country’s big shots. All the troublesome exterminations ‘re pushed to the branch families, while they lay cockily on their backs, made me wanna vomit. You had your troubles too, right? You’re not the ‘clan possessed by the kitsune’ for nothing.”
Kikyouin-san furrowed her brow and bit her lip. Tama-chan beside me also made an unpleasant, sorrowful, conflicted face.
“That’s why I left the house. And I was surprised. The people of this country, they’re knowledge on apparitions is way too faint. Did you know there are loads of people out there who don’t even know which direction the demon gate is?”
“… And what about it? Are you telling me you wandered to protect people from youkai-related troubles? You’re telling me you played at being some sort of hero of justice?”
“That’s right. Somethin’ wrong about that?”
At the answer he breathed as if it were natural, Kikyouin-san lost her words.
“Is there something wrong about doin’ your best for the people ‘n the world, unbeknownst to all? Lassy.”
There’s no way that’s wrong.
I thought so too. Likely Kikyouin-san as well, she could no longer connect her next utterance.
“I’ve chosen to see youkai as evil. That might be a mistake, but as long as the humans find happiness from it, I don’t mind.”
I couldn’t really tell what Tsuchimikado-san was trying to do
But he did have a single conviction that made his core. For the sake of all humans. For the happiness of people he would never know. Throwing away his pride, going as far as scamming, there was something he wanted to accomplish.
Receiving Tsuchimikado-san’s eyes that gave off his conviction,
After a while of silence, Kikyouin-san finally opened her mouth.
“I don’t give a damn about your circumstances. ‘n wait. To be real blunt here, I was never real interested in an onmyouji’s pride, or the family teachin’s. It all reeked of old age, like a history drama. I’m honestly sick of them.”
Haah, she took an exaggerated sigh, languidly continuing on.
“Well, no matter what we do, in the end, we can only stand on the human’s side. The way you think ain’t bad. There are more youkai out there that bring harm to humans than not, so even if you indiscriminately slaughter them, look at the whole, and you’ll wind up with a positive.”
“… Oh? What’s this, lassy. So you do get it. You tellin’ me you’ll lend this poor soul a hand?”
“Stuuupid. Why would I want to do something like that… I don’t have a grand goal or just cause like you. Justice? I don’t intend to say something that reeks of hypocrisy—but you see,”
Kikyouin-san spoke. Her sarcastic smile vanished, her eyes filled with resolve.
“If you finish your new technique in this town, you’ll be botherin’ my family. So I’ll oppose you, and I’ll stop you. That’s all there is to it.”
Kikyouin-san’s family. Was she talking about Tama-chan?
If Tsuchimikado-san completed his uho (which I still didn’t really get) would something inconvenient happen to Tama-chan.
“… Hmph, that brat. She’s learned how to speak… Hmm? What’s wrong, whelp?”
“No, I just thought you looked happy.”
“Hah!? We’re not happy in the slightest!”
Yeah, she really is cute, Tama-chan.
As I was deeply impressed by the cuteness of a young girl, Tsuchimikado-san clanged his staff down.
“Yeah, yeah, I see. Come to think of it, the Kikyouin House is keeping a single preposterous monster on board. Hah. Don’t lead me on, lassy. You coulda just started with that.”
His words gradually increased in weight. Tsuchimikado-san’s frivolous atmosphere gradually weightened, grew thicker.
“Good grief. Ever think of making a main house from your branch family? Taking applications?”
“If that makes you skulk home, I wouldn’t mind considering it.”
“That’s a no go. Well, let’s get this battle going, eh? Kikyouin Yuzuki.”
“Don’t look down on me too hard, Tsuchimikado Senzou.”
For a few seconds, the two glared at one another. Neither side made a move.
Another few seconds. Simultanousely kicking the ground, they moved at once.
And then—a few minutes.
The two continued their battle.
When pantomime was supposed to be the more practical expression, why did I want to express it as a ‘battle’? The air shook, the earth tremored, charms flew, the staff chimed, and at the end of a fierce clash of invisible somethings.
The one standing was Kikyouin-san.
“… God dammit.”
Face flat on the grass, Tsuchimikado-san loathsomely spat it out.
According to commentator Tama-chan.
“As I thought, the deciding factor was the power that Tsuchimikado whelp was dividing off to his new technique. Hmm. In spellcasting, the most important part is the prep work. Yuzuki prepared solely to stop Tsuchimikado and chose her spells and equipment for that purpose, so you could say her victory was inevitable.”
Though I didn’t really get it.
“For now, is it over?”
“If it is, that was a letdown. We had no reason to worry and come out to see her… for someone capable of devising a new technique, we thought it would be difficult for Yuzuki alone, but…”
Despite what she said, Tama-chan really did come out of worry. She’s a girl who cares for her big sister.
Kikyouin-san approached a Tsuchimikado-san who was out of power and unable to stand. With uneasy steps, she showed she was considerably worn herself.
“For now, we’ll be good if I seal you off, right? As long as I don’t let you into that area under the large tree with the sehman star carved out, the last step of the uho won’t be completed.”
She looked at a tree in the distance before looking back to Tsuchimikado-san at her feet.
“What are you goin’ ta do? If you swear you’ll never do it again, I’ll keep quiet to the main house. I’ll let you off.”
Her tone was light as if to imply, though I don’t care either way.
… I know I shouldn’t be saying it at a time like this, but Kikyouin-san’s completely forgotten about me, hasn’t she. She said she’d get back five thousand yen.
“… Keh. You’re strong, lassy. As expected of that Kikyouin House’s eldest daughter…”
Without getting up, Tsuchimikado-san simply continued to loathsomely spit words.
I’m sure he was just being a sore loser. Cynicism without any point or meaning.
“I expected no less of the clan who deceived the lone daughter of Tamamono Mae and worked her to the bone.”
There was no meaning to his words.
“Why, you’re the ones who slaughtered the fair gold pelted jewel faced nine tailed fox, yet you boldly make use of her daughter. No, no, I must tip my had to our branch family.”
She didn’t deny.
“Even if it’s something the house started generations ago, that doesn’t change that we continue deceiving Tamane-sama to this day… I do think it’s bad. Tamane-san still believes…”
A masochistic smile plastered on her mouth, Kikyouin-san responded to Tsuchimikado-san.
“… What could they be talking about, Tama-ch–!”
A shiver ran down my spine.
Tama-chan was making an unthinkable face.
Her wide open fox eyes. In their depths, I couldn’t sense the slightest strand of light. Unthinkable for the face of a young girl, nay a human, an expressionlessness with an inhuman coldness.
“E… eh? H-huh?”
By the time I noticed it, Tama-chan had vanished. I timidly surveyed the area, only to find her standing right beside Kikyouin-san and Tsuchimikado-san.
When I thought she had disappeared, she was already somewhere else.
Like a ghost, like a youkai, the movements of an apparition.
“… Yuzuki. Is that true?”
Tama-chan said. In a low, low voice.
Noticing the existence of the young girl, the exhausted two were taken aback.
Kikyouin-san’s voice was shaking. Her face was as pale as a corpse. She had likely never expected Tama-chan to be here.
“… So that’s it. That’s why you decided to do everything without relying on us this time around. Was it because the enemy was the Tsuchimikado third son who knew the truth?”
“So mother is—dead.”
Tama-chan looked up at the sky. As if her soul was being sucked away, a face without a sense of life.
“… What a farce. So all this time, mothers enemies were leading us by the nose. For over eight hundred years, solely to meet our mother, we endured…” She touched the necklace hanging at her chest. “We even put on something so boorish for them… what part of it, what part was supposed to be family…”
Her necklace began to grate.
“Tamane-sama! Cease this at once! If you force off that necklace–”
Her heartbroken scream thundered out. Not taking her hands from her necklace, she gripped it with brute force. Perhaps from that, the nails of her small hands peeled, her skin tore. Even so, Tama-chan wouldn’t take her hands off the necklace.
“We won’t believe another word from your mouth! Won’t believe a thing! How dare you, how dare you, how dare you, how dare you, how dare you… aaAAAAAAAAAH–!”
The neckless fell at Tama-chan’s feet.
It was the fox.
The cry of a fox.
It sounded like an animal’s cry, and an animal crying as well.
Cold. It felt almost as if the temperature sank around ten degrees. And yet, an ominous sweat began to ooze all over my body.
Tama-chan took a step forward.
Her straw hat shot off, while the back portion of her one piece swayed up violently.
The next moment, as if hit by a blast wave, Kikyouin-san and Tsuchimikado-san were sent rolling a few meters over the grass.
Tama-chan didn’t say a word. She simply stared at the two with cold eyes.
“What monstrous power… my body is frozen, it won’t move… so this is Tamane… I can’t even stand before her…”
As Tsuchimikado-san said, the two had already used up their strength couldn’t move. With an absolute, overwhelming force before their eyes, it seems they couldn’t move a single muscle.
[IMAGE OF TAMA-CHAN FLOATING WITH NINE TAILS AND DEAD EYES]
“Please, Tamane-sama!” Kikyouin-san said from the ground, “Listen to me! Please!”
“It’s pointless, lassy. That fox’s been completely eaten up by her own power. She’s been sealed so long, what’s built up is exploding out… haha… this blasted tongue of mine. I’m sorry about this, Kikyouin lassy.”
Irnoring the apology from Tsuchimikado-san who had given up on everything, Kikyouin-san called out wholeheartedly. The name of her family.
Quietly. Tama-chan lifted her hand.
With that alone, the sky above her darkened as boisterous rain began coming down.
“… Oy, oy, for real? Even the heavens are at her beck and whim…”
The black clouds began to rumble.
“T-that technique… it can’t be.”
“What, you know something a bout it!?”
“… I heard about it before. Around a hundred years ago, when Tamane-sama accompanied the Kikyouin-san head of five generations ago to china, the Heavenly Lord of Universal Transformation Whose Voice of Thunder Resonates from the Origin of the Nine Heavens granted her the boon of thunder…”
(TL: Also known as Leizu or Leizun, but they spell out his full title in the source text)
“The Heavenly Lord of Universal Transformation Whose Voice of Thunder Resonates from the Origin of the Nine Heavens? That’s the strongest god of thunder Daoism has to offer… hey now, why does she have to have something so exaggerated, that little fox… ack, I see, come to think of it, Tamamo no Mae got to Japan after going through India and China. Is it through that connection… ”
“Tamane-sama’s special technique—《Nine Thunder Play》. If she drops that, this whole area’ll be incinerated in a flash…”
“That’s on another level… no, another class… man can’t go up against the power of gods.”
Still face to the ground, the two exchanged unmotivated words. The colors of despair surfacing on their faces gradually grew thicker.
At that moment, the phone in my pocket vibrated.
I took it out to see it was a call from Kai.
‘Akira, what’s going on… this youkai power filling the air belongs to the nine-tails. Wasn’t Tamane supposed to be sealed with her collar…’
For now, I explained whatever I knew.
There Kai gave a large sigh.
‘《Nine Thunder Play》… That’s Tamamo no Mae’s technique. To think her daughter was trained it as well… and this flash rain is the prologue, eh. Good grief. When it rains it pours… Akira.’
In a serious voice I’d never heard before, Kai went on.
“Call Orino Shiori-san.”
I tilted my head.
Why was Orino-san coming out here.
‘Tsuchimikado Senzou and Kikyouin Yuzuki… it will be impossible for those two to stop the power of the nine tails. No, I doubt there’s an onmyouji who can stop a rampaging fox, even in Kyoto. But… Orino Shiori. If it’s her… with her unreasonable ‘power’ that directly interfered with a shikigami, just maybe…’
I recalled the events of a few days ago.
The day I was showered with glass, and Orino-san rushed to help Kikyouin-san.
Kai had gazed at Orino-san curiously.
I had definitely seen a girl making an expression as if she was frightened by her own power.
‘It’s on you, Akira. This is a race against time.’
That was an entreating voice. I kept the phone to my ear as I looked around. A sky crowded with black clouds. What continued to fall from them, the rain that drummed against the ground. Looking up at the sky with hollow eyes, Tamane-chan chanting something like a spell, Tsuchimikado-san and Kikyouin-san who could only look on. After I had a grasp of the whole situation, I said this.
“I won’t. I’m sure Orino-san is busy.”
‘… Ey? H-hey, Akira.’
“And wait, I’m hanging up. It’s coming down hard, so I have to get back fast.”
‘Wait a second, Akira! Aki–’
I one-sidedly hung up and tucked the phone in my pocket. Standing up from the ticket, I began walking. Leisurely, at my usual pace, I wandered up to Tsuchimikado-san and Kikyouin-san.
What’s everyone even doing?
I totally feel like I’ve been left behind.
“… Hey now mister, what are you doing here… no, ‘n wait, why can you walk normally through this idiotically powerful maelstrom of dark energy…? Is the punchline gonna be that you were actually an amazing spirit medium or something?”
“Wrong… This guy has absolutely zero spiritual sense, so he just doesn’t feel any of it… He doesn’t get just how amazin’ of a feat he’s pulling off right now…”
The two of them lifted only their heads, directing the eyes of someone looking at a rare lifeform at me.
“Kikyouin-san. I haven’t the sightest idea what you’re doing, but the weather’s taken a bad turn, so we should be getting home. Ah, Tsuchimikado-san. We can talk the specifics when we get inside.”
At my commonsensical proposal, the two exchanged a look and sighed.
“… Hey, I’m beggin’ you, just go off somewhere. I don’t want to deal with you right now. If you value your life, I recommend you get out of this town.”
Though I doubt you’ll make it in time, Kikyouin faintly added on.
In her eyes was… resignation.
With a face that had given up on anything, she faintly gazed at Tama-chan.
“Right, right, Tama-chan. It’ll be bad if she catches a cold. I have to hurry and get her back.”
I started towards the nine-year-old girl. But Kikyouin-san grabbed my ankles, making me feel like I would fall over.
“Wait right there! What are you thinkin’!? If you approach her right now, you won’t get off scot free. You’ve got no spiritual sense, so you might not be able to tell, but… that’s the same as having your sense of pain dulled with anesthetic. If you get any closer, you really will be in danger…”
“Danger? How so?”
“Ah, god! Just shut up and listen to what I have to say! Right now, Tamane-sama’s lost herself and been consumed by her–”
“There’s no way Tama-chan could be dangerous.”
“… And I’m telling you,”
“She’s your little sister. So of course she’s a good girl.”
“She’s your precious family, isn’t she?”
I just said what was plainly obvious.
“… Haha. Ahaha… hahahahaha.”
And yet Kikyouin-san started to laugh and cry.
“Ahaha. Maan, how idiotic. Really, what even are you…”
She said, as she took out a charm from her breast pocket and handed it to me.
“That one lets me synchronize my spirit with Tamane-sama to boost my—wait, it’s pointless explaining anything to you For now, could you just give that to Tamane-sama for me?”
“Yeah? I can do that.”
“Thanks… I’m leavin’ it to you.”
Yeah, I nodded and started off.
With one of her hands still directed at the sky, Tama-chan’s eyes were out of focus.
Another few meters–
My knees gave way. Power drained from my whole body as I collapsed over the grass. Because my head slammed straight down, my mouth was infiltrated by damp foliage, and as I was spitting the taste from my mouth…
I vomited. As if my stomach had turned inside out, it expelled everything inside.
Huh? I wonder what happened.
I kinda feel extremely sick…
“Oy! He’s really in for it!” Tsuchimikado-san screamed from behind. “Zero spiritual sense means he has zero resistance, right? If he touches such power from up close, then no matter who he is…”
Following on, I heard Kikyouin-san’s voice as well.
“Sorry! On second thought, give it up! You don’t have to give her the charm! Just run!”
Her desperate voice went on.
“Run away, Kagoshima! Kagoshima Akira!”
That was the first time she called me by name.
Kikyouin-san actually knows my name…
I felt overjoyed, I wiped my mouth and stood.
I walked again.
From behind, stop! I told you to run, dammit! I heard various voices, but I ignored them and walked towards Tama-chan.
Even so, I really feel sick… I’m nauseous, I’ve got a terrible headache, my legs are shaking, and my vision’s hazy.
This is a cold. Yeah, I’m sure it’s a cold. The rain must’ve chilled my body.
I get the feeling my symptoms are getting worse, the closer I get to Tama-chan, but, well, that must be my imagination.
I continued walking.
With every step, an abnormal malaise raced through my body, but even so, I just kinda didn’t want to stop.
“… Tama… chan…”
It was becoming hard to move my mouth. I couldn’t enunciate properly. Perhaps that’s why Tama-chan wasn’t reacting to my voice at all. Her eyes that had lost their light simply stared at the clouds burying up the sky.
“… The rain’s… getting stronger… at this rate, Tama-ch..an, you’ll cat…ch a cold like me…”
I finally reached her side.
I handed over the charm I got from Kikyouin-san as I spoke.
“Lets get you home, Tama-chan.”
The charm touched her small hand.
Sparks scattered in my brain, an immense image streamed into my head—
From the moment what we could call self began to sprout, the collar was around our neck. Apparently, someone of the Kikyouin house stuck it on shortly after we were born.
Our mother, the fair gold-pelted jewel faced nine tailed fox is sealed in the Kikyouin family shrine. That’s what they would always tell us.
Therefore, we devoted ourself to serving the Kikyouin House.
It was all to meet mother. To see what sort of face our mother would make.
And yet to our stagnant time of servitude, a change came to us no more than two decades ago.
“Tamane-sama. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
The then-head of the Kikyouin House, Kikyouin Kaede called out to us. As long as long as you turned a blind eye to her terrible personality, Kaede was a talented onmyouji, and at the time, the one who dragged us around was mainly Kaede.
“Say what? You want us to look after a baby!?”
“Yes. My daughter who was born the other day, I was thinking I’d get you to look after her. As the head of the Kikyouin House, I’ll have to go around the country, starting now.”
“We refuse! Why must we do such a thing!?”
“Is that so… what a shame. Well, let’s see. It really was asking the impossible for a youkai such as you to look after a human child. You can’t do what you can’t do.”
“I’m sorry for asking the impossible. It seems I expected too much from you. What a real shame. What to do, what to do. I guess I’ll hire a babysitter or something.”
“We will do it! We’ll raise her we say! To we who carry the blood of nine tails, there is no impossible!”
… Oh, what the malicious smile Kaede made at the time. But back then, we never were the wiser.
By the time I gained awareness, Tamane-sama was there. When I got home from school, the one who played with me was Tamane-sama, and the one who taught me charms was Tamane-sama.
Because I didn’t have any close friends.
“What’s wrong, Yuzuki? You’re not concentrating. You’ve returned to your habit of veering your body right in the third step of the uho. If you’re not motivated, stop it right there.”
I was around ten, perhaps. I was practicing charms in the mansion garden.
As Tamane-sama said, at the time, I wasn’t able to concentrate at all.
“… At school, everyone was playing Kokkuri-san…”
I told her everything that happened at school. About how I snapped and laid hands on the classmates playing Kokkuri-san at school.
And… about how everyone was looking at me coldly now.
Having heard the story, Tamane-sama gave a disinterested snort.
“Don’t seek understanding, Yuzuki. It’s a waste to put home in a human without spiritual sense. Furnish your body with the ability to live alone. Your mother, and her mother, and the mother before that learned and lived strong.”
“… But I’m lonely alone. Mother rarely comes home…”
“Ah, don’t cry… good grief, you don’t take after Kaede in the slightest. When she was around your age, she was saying, ‘Aren’t I loved by the gods?’ and happily prancing around… umm, l-look. Do you want to stop training and play kendama? Or perhaps hacky sack?”
She began to panic, yet awkward as she was, she called out gentle words. Whenever I started crying, Tamane-sama would always cheer me up like that. With that alone, my heart would feel a lot lighter.
“Uuu… then I wanna do playstation… let’s play PES.”
“… We don’t want to. We don’t know what you see in that box.”
Well, she was no good at video games, but I loved Tamane-sama.
Maybe Yuzuki was five.
While we were sipping tea on the mansion porch, Yuzuki came over with a smile. Back then, Yuzuki was a girl who smiled a lot. It must have been because she hadn’t yet understood her own fate.
“Hey, hey. Tamane-sama. That necklace is reaally pretty.”
As she said that with an innocent smile, we returned some ample cynicism.
“Hmph. We could do without it. Because of it, our youkai power has fallen below a tenth of what it should be, and we can’t even use that power without the Kikyouin House’s permission. It is no different from the collar you’d place on a dog or cat.”
“Then Tamane-sama, you don’t like having it on? If you don’t like it, you can just take it off.”
“If we could do that, we’d be a much happier fox. If a youkai like us touches it, we won’t get off unscathed.”
“Really? Then I’ll take it off for you?”
Before we could even say what? the collar necklace fell with a clink. The detestable collar binding us to this house—was off.
“Okay. There you go, Tamane-sama!”
A smile we would go as far as to call radiant made us hesitate. There was no longer anything binding us. We were free, with this, we would no longer be put to slave labor by Kaede, or have to look after Yuzuki.
Using all the power at our disposal, we could destroy the Tsuchimikado House and the Kikyouins, all the other famed houses around, we could save our sealed mother, and return to the world of the youkai by her side. And yet—
“… Put it back.”
We said. We ended up saying.
“Eh? Why, Tamane-sama…”
“We’re telling to hurry and put it back! Hurry, before we change our mind!”
While her body shook in shock from our rage, Yuzuki did what she was told, and put the accursed collar back around our neck.
“I’m sorry, Tamane-sama…”
“… So, that’s our line. We’re sorry for shouting at you.”
Yeah… that’s right.
On that day, we had chosen to be kept as a pet.
More than a mother whose face we didn’t know, we were far more fearful of losing our ‘now’ with Yuzuki.
There’s no way I would ever forget it. It was the day I greeted my tenth birthday.
“Yuzuki. The time has come to tell you the truth of the Kikyouin Clan.”
I was sitting on my knees in the room with the wooden floor. Across, my mother was sitting the same way. It was rare to see mother so serious, I remember it well.
“Tamane-sama’s mother… the fair gold pelted jewel faced nine tailed fox is already dead.”
I was at a loss for words.
Tamane-sama was always speaking proudly of her mother. Always talking about how she would one day meet her mother sealed away.
“T-that can’t be… mother! That means we’re deceiving Tamane-sama…”
“That’s right. We of the Kikyouin House are deceiving Tamane-sama.”
Mother nodded as If it was the most natural thing in the world.
“Eight hundred years ago, the progenitor of our Kikyouin House slayed Tamamo no Mae. But to do that, they used the dirty tactic of taking her newborn only daughter hostage.”
Tamane was held hostage?
A newborn, before she could even open her eyes?
“Well, when you think of Tamamo no Mae’s casualty count, perhaps there was nothing else to be done. That Tamamo no Mae did some crazy things back in the day—now then.”
Reverting her normal tone back to the serious one, mother went on.
“Ever since that time, we of the Kikyouin House were cursed. The ‘Clan possessed by the fox’. You’ve at least heard the rumors, right? By Tamamo no Mae’s curse, our clan can only birth female children, and on top of that, with each successive generation, the color of our hair comes closer to gold… the color of Tamamo no Mae’s pelt.”
With not a word in my head, I looked at my hair anew. So that was the reason my hair color was so close to Tamane-sama’s.
“The reason the curse ends at that, is because Tamamo no Mae’s daughter Tamane is tied to our house. While Tamane is employed by our household, we can stop the progression of the curse.”
I see, I was starting to accept it. So that’s why the Kikyouin House of long, long ago lied to Tamane-sama that Tamamo no Mae was still alive. They could conveniently get Tamane-sama to submit to the house and stay with it.
“But ya know, Yuzuki… oy, Yuzuki.”
Mama returned to her usual tone again.
“I, see, I don’t think this Is a curse, I’m thinkin’ it might just be love.”
“A mother’s love. I’m sure Tamamo no Mae wanted to protect ‘er daughter. That’s why she placed this here curse on us. To make sure we onmyouji could never kill her, this sort of spell.”
Breaking out of her stiff sitting position, she ruffled up her gold hair.
The same color as… my gold hair.
Near the same color as Tamane-sama’s gold hair.
“Well, even if it’s true, ya know? It doesn’t feel right to hide it, right? Don’t you feel the same?”
“That’s, true. I do…”
“That’s why I… had Tamane-sama raise you.”
I was taken aback. I wasn’t able to swallow down the meaning behind the words coming out of her mouth.
“Insteada trickin’ her, I want Tamane-sama to cooperate with us because she wants to. And once that happens, Tamamo no Mae’s curse will break someday. That’s why I think.”
“… Then mother, you used me?”
“I believed in you. That my daughter’d definitely be fine.”
“It didn’t work out for me. I could be Tamane-sama’s partner, but I couldn’t become her family. So ya see, Yuzuki. I’m handin’ it off to you. You’ve got to properly raise our house’s adorable pet.”
I was so amazed I couldn’t say a thing.
As expected of mother. Whether it’s her own daughter or not, she made use of anything she could get her hands on. That being the case, I didn’t hold the slightest grudge against her for it. I mean, thanks to mother, I was able to live with Tamane-sama. I was able to get a gentle big sister.
When my consciousness returned, I felt the sensation of wet grass on my back. It seems I had collapsed face up at some point in time. When I lifted my eyelids, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, a radiant blue entering my eyes.
The rain had stopped, it seems.
I wonder what those visions were. It seemed like tales of Kikyouin-san and Tama-chan’s past, but since Tama-chan’s form hadn’t changed in the slightest from how she looked now, there’s no way that could be.
Yeah, just a dream I guess.
Even so, for me to lose consciousness just like that… it looks like I ended up catching a full-blown cold. I should hurry home, warm up, and get some sleep.
… Huh? But I don’t feel sick at all anymore. No fever, no nausea, my head was strangely clear. My body was heavy, but I felt great.
For some reason, really great.
Came a faint voice.
Unsteadily dragging her body up, Kikyouin-san started walking. At her destination lay Tama-chan.
Life had returned to her eyes as she gazed at her big sister with an anxious face.
“In the many years you’ve lived, I’m sure the time you spent with me really was no more than a trivial instant. But I’ve been with you from the moment I was born. Every bit of my time was spent together with you…”
At those words, Tama-chan closed her eyes.
As if she was processing a great many things, she made a grave expression.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me… from now on, whatever I have to do to repent–”
“… It’s fine, Yuzuki.”
Tama-chan said with her eyes still closed. Her stiffly shut tears let a line of tears fall.
“Don’t say a thing. You don’t have to say anything.”
When she opened her eyes, they were turned to the ground. Her fox eyes were trained on the necklace littering the ground.
“Hey, Yuzuki. It looks like our necklace fell off.”
“Will you put it back on again?”
“… Of course.”
With the strong nod of someone holding back tears, Kikyouin-san retrieved the necklace. Circling around to Tama-chan’s back, she wrapped it around her neck with gentle hands.
As I watched that series of events, my chest grew warmer.
Kikyouin Yuzuki and Kikyouin Tamane.
They really are close sisters.
[IMAGE OF AFOREMENTIONED SCENE]