In the mountains of the old capital, hidden among the oppressive great cedars was an old shrine. There were no stars in the sky that peeked through the trees enveloping the premises. Nothing but a pale blue moon scowling down.
No sign of human life. While the grounds weren’t overgrown, the stagnant air was far too pure. The line that concealed it from the outside world, a field of study that had advanced forward while these lands stood still would call it a barrier.
An old woman lay in the shrine office. No color in his wrinkled face, the techniques passed down to her let her know this was her time of death. She lay on the futon, all preparations in place. The old woman knew there was no other use she had for these techniques. As a godslaying lineage, one may call that happiness.
There was a single woman by the old one’s pillow, sitting with her knees together. This one was a stone’s throw away from forty, yet her lovely features wouldn’t have one believe so. She was once a godslaying priestess, as the old woman had been in her days of youth.
The woman’s name was Sumire, she was now no more than a mother to a daughter called Suzuran.
“… Daughter of mine… you’ve grown too accustomed to that dress of yours.”
The old woman sneered with a faint voice. She chastised her, this was unbefitting of the Nagoyakawa. Or perhaps she was amazed. This woman would not look out of place in the slightest in the outside world.
A faintly tinted, thin frilled blouse, and a similar long skirt. The barrette that fastened her hair had no ornamentation. As a mother with a high school daughter, she wasn’t embarrassing to look at, but from the old woman’s point of view, this had to be a dark comedy. And for Sumire as well, having lived so long in the normal world, she had gotten to seeing this obstinate old woman as a comedy herself.
“Mother. You don’t wish to meet with Suzuran?”
“Is that daughter of yours doing well?”
So much so it was hard to believe she had inherited the slightest drop of this old woman’s blood. The old one didn’t so much as smirk at the smile remembering her child brought to Sumire’s face.
“Then explain it all to her once I am dead. When you already have a successor, I won’t let the likes of you take the name of family head for a second time. Appoint Suzuran as the head.”
“… Mother, that is…”
It was to prevent that from happening that Sumira had once cast away her child. When Suzuran’s eyes had yet to even open, she left her at an orphanage under the cold winter sky.
“The Nagoyakawa cursed blood? But what exactly came of you running away from it. You know full well where Suzuran is right now.”
It amounted to nothing. No matter how Sumire avoided it, Suzuran was now closely tied to the world of darkness. It was none other than her Nagoyakawa blood and the power therein that would not permit it.
“Right, Sumire? You should understand now.”
After a passage of more than ten years, when she finally looked upon her own child once more. Sumire remembered the words the young Iori House head said.
If you run off the path where you can only advance, that’s where evil lays.
“But as the palace noted three months ago, the Nagoyakawa have already lost their true purpose.”
“… So I heard.”
“Then there is no need to seclude her in this shrine. You are both to impart unto her every last technique and make Suzuran the head. Whether that is for the better or the worse, it is up to her to decide. But to fold before evil is the one thing you shall not permit. The Nagoyakawa power is far too strong. That is what I passed the techniques to you for.”
At that moment, a voice came from the girl who may or may not have been waiting in the corner of the room.
Ceremonial haori and hakama. Her black hair bound with a red sash had not a single uneven strand. Her eyes were deep as if not even the sun would reach their depths.
“Are you saying I am not fit to succeed you as head?”
The shrine maiden girl said so in a quiet, contained tone.
“I told you. You are both to impart every last technique and make Suzuran head. But, of course. If that proves not enough, then Suiren. You are to kill Suzuran and become head.”
The shrine maiden coldly said, before sinking back into the darkness. Like a lifeless doll.
“Sumire. The Nagoyakawa power must never yield to the wicked.”
Regardless of whether they could control it or not, whether they wielded it unconsciously or consciously… the Nagoyakawa blood was too strong. More than enough to tempt in the outside masses. That dark trend would then transfer to Suzuran’s child, and the child after that. It was for that reason that the Nagoyakawa would stifle their breath, sealed away in a mountain shrine of their own accord.
If they were to leave and make it outside, they would require the bare minimum power to protect themselves. So the girl herself wouldn’t run away from it. Wouldn’t lose. If she was to lose and be used by evil… for all she thought of her own child, Sumira gave a resolved nod.
“Yes. Very well.”
Upon hearing that, the old woman gazing beyond the heavens narrowed her eyes.
“… I see. Your words have lifted a great weight from my shoulders. Suiren. Apart from what I have just told you, you would do well to follow what this one says.”
The girl answered with the coldness of thin ice.
“And Suiren, forgive this pitiful old hag…”
With that slightly delayed reply, the old woman indeed gave one breath of relief. After which.
“… Sumire. I am glad I got to meet you at the end.”
“Yes. I could say the same, mother.”
Once Sumire had finished speaking, the old woman quietly closed her eyes. She didn’t breath again.
Touching her fingers to the cold wooden floor, Sumire lowered her head. She lifted up the body and walked outside. After laying her body down in the tomb that had been prepared. Sumire curled her fingers into position and chanted.
A blue hellfire summoned forth from the unknown enveloped the body in an instant, an old woman to charcoal, charcoal to ash, ash to dust. A human form returned to the earth in the blink of an eye.
To Engoku, the fiery pits of hell. This was a technique to have evil fall. It had been decided long ago that was what would be done with a Nagoyakawa’s remains. Surely someone, everyone had noticed. That the Nagoyakawa were an accursed bloodline deserving of such a fate. At least Sumire thought so as she watched the remaining flames disappear to leave her in darkness.
She did not find it strange that her tears weren’t flowing. There were far too many painful memories between her and the old woman. And more important than that, there was much to come.
By the time she noticed it, the shrine maiden girl was there.
“I shall descend to the common world after closing the shrine.”
“… Got it. I’ll be waiting for you, Suiren.”
Walking through the grounds that had lost the last trace of life, Sumire returned to the car she had kept waiting. A woman in a black pantsuit spoke up.
“Welcome back, Sumire. So what did the previous head want to talk about? If you don’t think they’ll hold you back, I’ll put in a word to the imperial house for what it’s worth…”
This sociable woman’s name was Hasebe Shouka. Head of the Mighty Blade Hasebe House, a godslaying branch.
“The previous head has passed.”
Sumire said as she climbed aboard the back seat. From the drivers’ seat, Shouka held her breath and peeked into the back mirror.
“Ah… that was rude of me. Then does that mean I should be treating you as the head from—?”
She cut in just as Sumire was humbling herself.
“No. The new head of the Nagoyakawa House will be my daughter, Suzuran.”
There was a time that Suzuran was an abandoned child. That’s why, more than a daddy’s girl or a mommy’s girl, if she had to say, she was her brother’s girl. Of course, not a brother connected by blood.
There was a terribly kind older brother back at the orphanage. Could it be he himself had no family, or was he just helping out the director? She was young so she didn’t remember. Suzuran simply called him brother and walked behind him so she didn’t remember his name either.
But he was quite a bit more mature than her other siblings (though his age was yet another unknown) and she remembered he was very nice to her.
Suzuran tried saying it in her sleep. Tonight, her mother had left for Kyoto and she was home alone. Was that why she was seeing a dream of so long ago?
“Suzuran, when you grow up, what do you want to be?”
The sunny yard of the orphanage. At her brother’s question, there she was; twiddling her fingers, thinking and thinking but getting nowhere at all.
“Yeah… the director is definitely a good person.”
Her brother looked troubled. It wasn’t good to trouble him.
“Then a big brother?”
“Hahaha. Suzuran’s a girl, so you would be a big sister.”
Hey, thought Suzuran. By the look of it, aren’t I around four or five? I’m starting to think big brother’s questions are a little too hard. Or maybe not.
For the time being, she thought.
“Umm… well you see. Suzuran, you know…?”
Now what did she say? In the end, she was getting the feeling it was something like princess. Something like that. The dream was sudden. Her young self was led away by the hand. It was time to part. Suzuran was being led away by her first foster parent. She was happy about that, but she didn’t like not being able to see everyone anymore.
She clung to her brother sobbing.
“… It’s alright. I’ll come for you someday.”
Her brother said and she was a little relieved. Even so, she wailed and wailed and the small Suzuran left the orphanage. That did happen, sometime.
When her eyes open, Suzuran came to the realization she was sixteen now. She breathed a sigh of relief. It was still dark outside the room. A hot summer night. Noticing she had thrown all her limbs out from under the light blanket, she came to the conclusion princess was pushing it.
(… I’ll come for you, eh…)
Even if he was just saying it to put her at ease. What if he really would come for her after so long? Wouldn’t that be terribly romantic?
No, no, that good brother would be a good uncle by now. But suppose that was the old Ferriol or something… she grinned.
As she thought, Suzuran fell asleep.
Her arms and legs still as sloppily thrown out as ever.
Princess was impossible.