The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume1 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Regarding the Slaughter
Part 1 (Jinnai Shinobu)
It was all over.
It was utterly and fundamentally over. There was not even the slightest hope. After all, there had never before been the slightest hint that someone like her would die!!
The urge to vomit rose up within me. The extreme red coloration made me feel dizzy.
Even so, I could not tear my eyes away from what lay before me. They were rooted to the spot. I pointlessly tried to not make the connection between the thick smell of rusted iron and the fact that I was in the same area as a corpse.
It was in front of me.
A neck that was twisted like an old rag. A female body missing a head. I recognized that person who even now had fresh blood gushing out of her. The corpse had its face crushed and was overall melted, so it was possible it was not actually her. However, that theory did not hold here. I simply recognized too many things about her.
I recognized the beautifully manicured fingers.
I recognized the smooth line of her back.
It matched the memories in my mind so perfectly I shuddered. I could not help but shudder. She was collapsed there limply…no, her entire body was twitching as the blood flowed out like a frog leg with electrodes attached.
I managed to squeeze a voice out of the depths of my dry throat.
I may have called her name because I was hoping for a response.
Even though she had no mouth. Even though she had no head.
My legs almost collapsed underneath me, but then I realized the redness gushing out was flowing toward me. When I thought it would touch me and sully me, strength reentered my legs. And then I realized something else. I felt it would sully me because it was coming from a corpse. I no longer even thought of it as being Hishigami Mai.
And with that realization, the fear that had been numbed over by the shock came flooding in all at once.
I would be killed.
I would be killed if I stayed there. This was a situation where a human on her level had been easily decapitated. A normal high school student like me did not stand a chance!!
I swung my arms around and ran away.
I had no idea what I was screaming. It didn’t matter what. I needed to get out. I needed to get out of the building. I ran through a long passageway.
But I stopped partway through.
My legs refused to move any further.
A single door lay before me. It was half open and a pure red color was splattered on the other side.
Dammit! What the hell!? Dammit!! That’s my uncle! He’s supposed to be a policeman! The symbol of this country’s power! Why…Why is his neck caught in a broken window frame and his legs severed!?
He was my relative, so I did not know whether I should run over crying even though he was so horribly damaged. But the fear held me back. I could not approach. There was something wrong about the situation. He had not died due to blood loss from his legs. He had suffocated with his neck caught in the window frame. It was clear someone had wanted him to slowly suffer as he died by setting a trap he could have escaped had he been able to use his legs at all.
That mystery-loving girl had been thrown on top of a gas burner in the kitchen and Madoka was swaying back and forth as she hung like a chandelier from the ceiling by a giant fishing hook meant for catching Pacific bluefin tuna. There was simply no hope. It did not matter who had done it. I could not imagine how this could all be summarized into an individual pursuing us. It simply seemed to me that the entire hotel was enveloped by some invisible power like some massive malice or grudge.
I was going to die.
I was definitely going to die.
I could not stop my erratic breathing. I could not put together a plan. I was next. In fact, I was the only one left. So who had done this? Was there any way I could escape? In fact…
How had it ended up like this?
Part 2 (Jinnai Shinobu)
As I was eating a popsicle on the porch of our Japanese house with a thatch roof that was only any use in the winter, my overall small granny called out to me.
“What is it, granny.”
“It’s a stray cat. I do not mind if it rests here, but I do not want it to start using our yard as its litter box. I tried to chase it away, but it didn’t do any good. Shinobu, could you do something about it?”
“…Granny. That isn’t a cat. It’s a Nekomata. It has two tails. Those things can be deadly, so be careful.”
Cat Youkai were not all that disliked as they were said to take vengeance for their masters, but those were romanticized tales. They had the power to kill people, so you really did have to be careful.
I put on my flip-flops and headed out to the large yard. I then cautiously approached the Nekomata that was curled up below a tree covered in rhinoceros beetles.
“Nekomata, what are you doing here?”
“Can’t you tell? Doing my best to put up with this midsummer heat. I suppose you humans wouldn’t understand with your year-round air conditioning.”
“You can cool down inside if you want, but please don’t use our yard as a litter box.”
“A lady like me would never do something like that. Anyway, that sounds nice. I was starting to feel a bit irritable, so a nice cold bath would be great. Once my mood has been refreshed, I will no longer have to worry about harming anyone.”
“You like baths? But you’re a cat.”
“I am a Nekomata.”
And so I headed for the bath with the Nekomata in my arms.
“This is quite the high-tech bath for such a rundown house.”
“My grandfather insisted we get it redone while we can because he says the house could be designated cultural property at any time. That’s why the kitchen, bathrooms, bath, heating, and cooling are all more advanced than everything else.”
I turned the faucet and cold water started filling the wash basin, but the Nekomata began to complain.
“It will be too cold with just that. Add in some hot water.”
“You sure are picky.”
“That’s too much hot water. It can’t be lukewarm. I want this to be refreshing.”
“Fine, fine,” I replied and stuck the Nekomata in the wash basin.
Despite all her complaints, she seemed to enjoy it. I could hear a lot of purring.
Suddenly, I noticed a flat-chested Yuki Onna peering in through the gap next to the sliding door to the bath. My dad had allowed her to live with us as long as she stayed away from anything related to brewing as the temperature for that had to be precisely controlled. (Incidentally, my mother just generally loved Youkai.)
“What isn’t fair?”
“That Youkai suddenly appears and you are already taking a bath with her? And yet I have not received an opportunity like that after all this work I put into solidifying a foundation…”
“Oh, you’re jealous. Not only is that unsightly, but you are way off the mark there,” commented the Nekomata.
“What!? Wait, does this even count? I mean, she’s a cat!!” I said.
“I am a Nekomata. I am as much a deadly Youkai as she is.”
Even if you’re in the same category, there’s still a huge difference!! And why is Yuki Onna-chan reaching for the obi to her kimono!? You’re clearly choosing the wrong person to compete with here!! Are you planning to stick your ass in the wash basin!?
And then came the glamorous Zashiki Warashi. She must have caught scent of my misfortune. The huge grin on her face made it obvious at a glance what she was after. It was a little unclear what this had to do with her being a Zashiki Warashi, but I was past caring.
“Hey, Zashiki Warashi! Hold that Yuki Onna back!”
“No fair, no fair☆”
“Why the hell are you reaching for your yukata’s obi!? Don’t strip nude just for a joke! It isn’t funny when you have a body as nice as that!!”
Part 3 (Hishigami Mai)
The countryside could be annoying with all the Youkai, but big cities were hardly perfect. They were so crowded and filled with unhealthy exhaust and chemicals despite the area being thoroughly altered for humans to live in. I could only imagine the people there enjoyed shaving away their own lifespan.
I entered a chain café and a police detective with a glum look on his face waved me over to a seat in the back. What he was doing counted as work, so I could only be jealous of how easy public servants had it.
Even so, he did seem a bit stiff in his movements due to the wounds from repeated shots from a hunting rifle.
But by “our” standards, that didn’t even count as being injured. Also, he received medical care paid for with the people’s tax money, so I still say they have it pretty easy.
“What are you drinking?”
“What does it matter? By the way…what’s with that outfit? A tank top and hot pants? Did you forget how old you are? You look like a complete idiot. You look like a university student that carelessly got in with a specialized entrance exam and then couldn’t keep up with the classes.”
“If a real idiot wore this, there would be no helping them, but it works as a handy bit of camouflage for those who aren’t idiots.”
“I see. So what did you want to talk about? Let’s get this over with quickly.”
“Oh, c’mon. At least let me complain about my troubles to you. I’ve had some pain-in-the-ass people set their sights on me lately which isn’t any fun. Oh, I know. Could you maybe help smooth things out with them?”
“With you, it’s bound to be your own damn fault. I hate that I can’t arrest someone like you. There are just too many holes in the police organization. So who has their sights on you? The PSIA?”
“MI6. The CIA. Oh, and the European Security Force.”
“That’s clearly well beyond what the Japanese police can deal with!! What the hell did you do!? No, wait…no!!”
“You wanna know? You do, don’t you? Well, I heard a system for making use of Succubi had been established in Europe, so I decided to go take a peek. The system was so poorly made it looked like an idiot had designed it. In fact, the officials who had contacted the Succubus were the ones being contr-…”
“Stop!! Please stop! I don’t want to end up being some poor victim after hearing something I shouldn’t have!!”
And I was just getting to the good part.
“Why do you two sisters always destroy the boundaries of common sense…?”
“Oh? I’ll admit I may do that, but I thought my little sister was a bit more normal.”
“What is normal about a minor that shows up at the crime scene of every mysterious murder? I’ve had a flood of complaints from the Lifestyle Safety Division. They keep telling me not to let a child see those things and to solve the cases on my own. …I don’t know how word of it reached them, but I’ve even received complaints from the riot police.”
“Why don’t you just go ahead and marry her?”
“Are you completely unfamiliar with the concept of context!? And do you have any idea what Japanese law is!?”
“Oh, right. About that sister of mine.”
“Again, context please…”
“She says to take a week of paid vacation starting today.”
“Why!? I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about!”
Well, that one wasn’t too surprising. My sister knew that was asking too much of him. That was why she had used me as an intermediary for the message.
“I have some tickets here. One for me, one for you, and one for my sister. That’s three in total. These tickets give us free lodging at a hotel in Fuuka Village, an Intellectual Village. You are headed there right away. Understand?”
“…I’ll keep this short. What happens if I just ignore you?”
“I will render you unconscious with this wet towel and stuff you in my travel bag. But then you won’t be able to call in to take a paid vacation, so you might lose your job.”
Part 4 (Jinnai Shinobu)
After dealing with the trouble in the bath, I retreated back to my room.
The air conditioner was running full blast within the room and for some reason the futon was spread out with the Zashiki Warashi lying in it.
“…What are you doing?”
“Don’t you think it’s unfair?” The Zashiki Warashi looked at me with a completely composed expression. “You caught a cold the other day, Shinobu. And who was it that nursed you back to health? For the most part, me. It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all. Don’t you think it’s unfair if you do not treat me kindly after I treated you so kindly?”
“…But you seemed happy enough wringing out the wet towel. I thought I might as well take you up on your offer.”
“You’re always so disagreeable, but you get so obedient when you’re sick. It’s like you revert to being a small child when you feel weak. I kind of like it. I’m starting to wish you had a cold year round. Heh heh… Heh heh heh heh heh.”
Don’t tell me this Youkai that is supposed to bring fortune to my household is always lazing around in an attempt to weaken me.
“But this is a completely different issue. To make things fair, you need to pay me back for my kindness. I want you to nurse me back to health too.”
“…You just thought the porridge you fed me looked good, didn’t you? And Youkai are damn hard to kill, so I doubt you can even catch a cold.”
“Oh, I didn’t overlook that. If you will recall, I took off my clothes and took a cold bath just a bit ago.”
“Eh!? You mean that was meant to be foreshadowing!?”
I decided it was best to play along, so I went to get a towel and a wash bath filled with water.
From inside the futon, the Zashiki Warashi said, “I want to eat some vanilla ice cream.”
“You seem healthy enough to me.”
“Blow on it for me.”
“That’s not how that works. That’s for hot foods.”
The Zashiki Warashi stubbornly refused to sit up, so I had to lift up and support her upper body while I carried the spoonful of dairy product to her mouth.
I had already finished my summer homework and had nothing else to do, so I didn’t really care. I just hoped the Yuki Onna wasn’t watching me with an odd look in her eyes again.
For some reason, the Zashiki Warashi turned the TV to an educational program.
She then said, “I think I’ll grow sick of this after half an hour.”
“I thought you might.”
“But since you seem to want to nurse me back to health so much, I’ll stick with it for the rest of the day.”
“And that’s not how being tsundere works.”
Then my beaten-up old cell phone with a broken camera lens started to ring.
The Zashiki Warashi looked a bit annoyed, but I had to give the phone priority.
It was from Madoka-san, my strange beauty of a classmate who lived in the Sanatorium.
“Shinobu-kun, let’s head to a hotel.”
“What is it, Madoka? Have your morals completely crumbled?”
“Ah ha ha ha ha. Sorry, but a whole group is going. I have an extra ticket, so I was wondering if you wanted to come along.”
…No, I think this is a pretty big deal even so. Are you sure they haven’t crumbled? Well, maybe she’s just taking the idea of the “student summer break” too lightly.
And on a different note, when did Madoka and I get so close???
“Where is this hotel? The beach? The mountains?”
“Somewhere far away.”
“Good enough for me. I’ll go convince my parents, so tell me where to meet you and when.”
I jotted down the necessary information and hung up. Convincing my parents…well, I doubted it would be easy, but I had to try. After all, this was a student summer break. I could feel unnecessary power welling up within me.
And then I noticed the Zashiki Warashi looking up at me from the futon like she wanted to say something.
“Shinobu, you still have a lot to learn about fairness. And so I want to go too.”
“I think she said she only had one extra ticket. And with a bourgeois like Madoka, I’m betting adding on an additional ticket would be ridiculously expensive.”
“Are you forgetting that Youkai are traditionally treated a lot like humans but there is no legal basis for that treatment?”
“I don’t follow.”
“I can stay there for free if you insist that I am your pet.”
…Doesn’t…the idea of being treated like that…make you sad?
I felt an intense urge to comment on that, but that Zashiki Warashi was probably just bored. The lead-in to the cold bath and nursing her back to health had been pretty forced. She obviously just wanted something exciting to happen.
But they said bad things would happen if a Zashiki Warashi abandoned your house. I decided it would be best to have her let off some steam before she truly got sick of our house and went off on some journey.
Part 5 (Kotemitsu Madoka)
I am the kind of person that does not believe in any of those ideas that says the fate of the entire planet has already been decided by Nostradamus, the Mayans, the Aztecs, or any other prophecies.
However, I do believe in small, fleeting bits of luck. In fact, anyone who has not felt something like that by their teenage years has already lost in some way. They will likely never make anything of themselves.
This is Madoka-san telling you this and I have around 30 billion Japanese yen, so you can trust me.
But even so, those small, fleeting bits of luck are usually something you cannot affect under your own power. Teenagers have a tendency to believe that the outcome of any sort of competition they are in is dependent on their own talent, effort, ideas, or some brilliant move of theirs, but they are wrong about that. Humans are complexly interrelated with others simply by being alive. And I am not trying to be reassuring when I say that. More often than not, that interrelation is a negative thing.
Learning to understand how others feel is not just some nice thing to do; it is the one and only secret technique to acquiring certain victory. There’s some famous quote about knowing your enemies and knowing yourself, but that is not quite accurate. What you need to know is the general flow of opinions and ideas whether they belong to your enemies, your allies, or even complete strangers.
Complete strangers will often affect the outcome without you even knowing it.
I am surrounded almost entirely by people that trip others up, people that grow envious of others, and people that rampage around based on nonsensical resentment or imagined victimhood. That is why I end up treating the rare innocent and good people like they are exceptionally precious.
“…Heh heh heh. Heh heh heh heh heh. You mustn’t underestimate a problem child, class president. To you, I may just be one address among your triple digit total of addresses, but to me, you are a highly valued comrade among my single digit total of addresses. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.”
“Madoka, you’re turning into the kind of pervert that only geniuses are allowed to be, so be careful.”
I was frightening Enbi who I had been speaking to over the phone.
Even after moving from the city, she had remained one of those few “innocent and good” people.
“So this trip is to an Intellectual Village called Fuuka Village?” I asked.
“Right, right. It’s centered around dairy farming, so it should be a wide open area. And it’s full of events that let you come into contact with animals.”
“I hear the cows and horses have their health more strictly managed than someone in a fitness club’s weight control program.”
But putting aside that idyllic vision (the residents of Intellectual Villages had digital values for things like “tranquility”), I was a bit worried since that mystery freak was so intent on going. Unfortunately, I knew that anything she was interested in had to do with human death.
Even so, she was still “innocent and good”, so it did not go so far as needing to actively avoid her.
“Enbi, there is one thing I need to know before we go. There are no well-known legends that have been told about Fuuka Village since the Edo period, are there?”
“Did you manage to find someone for that extra ticket?”
“There aren’t mysterious serial murders at set intervals, are there? The inn isn’t owned by a beautiful widow, is it? Office ladies don’t have a habit of heading to the hot springs in groups, do they?”
“And here I was worried that you wouldn’t be able to find any friends that are ‘more than friends’ after transferring away, Madoka.”
Part 6 (Jinnai Shinobu)
The day of the trip finally came.
One of the numerous downsides of an Intellectual Village was the relative lack of public transportation connecting to the outside world. This meant everyone heading out on a trip would naturally end up at the same station at the same time.
If I called it a train that never saw rush hour, people might imagine a vehicle of the bourgeoisie, but it was actually just a local line. Even if you counted the up and down tracks separately, the train only made 5 trips each day. …It seemed completely insane and I saw no way they could make a profit off of it.
By the time I arrived, the healthy and well-behaved Madoka-chan was wearing a white dress and an elegant hat. She was looking 150% as ephemeral as ever and sitting on a bench in the empty station (the station was not operated by robots or anything). When she spotted me and the Zashiki Warashi next to me, her eyes opened wide.
“I see someone with large breasts that I did not invite.’
“She’s my pet. She can wear a collar with a bell on it if it means she stays for free.”
“…Shinobu-kun. When did you get such full-fledged perverted tastes?”
“Don’t look at me. She’s the pervert that suggested it.”
Hmm. Come to think of it, I might be willing to wear a collar if it would save me a few hundred thousand yen.
“And let me be clear. I worked hard to keep the destruction of common sense contained to this level. All last night, I had to put up with a Yuki Onna and Nekomata shouting about how unfair this is.”
I had finally won out by saying it would be hard to bring deadly Youkai belonging to our house out of the Intellectual Village. The issue was a bit different for stray (?) ones as they could come and go as they please, but it had still worked. I had a sinking feeling that meant that Nekomata was planning to stay.
Meanwhile, Madoka gave me a puzzled look from the bench.
“(Hmm. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with the Zashiki Warashi coming, but adding an unexpected irregular character to the cast list is bringing us closer to the kind of situation Enbi likes so much. I hope this trip works out okay.)”
“Hey, Madoka. The train’s about to arrive. If we miss this, we’ll have to wait until nightfall.”
“You’re right. Worrying about it isn’t going to help. (Even if the kind of serial murders that Enbi likes do happen, it doesn’t matter as long as we don’t get wrapped up in them.)”
Madoka seemed to convince herself of something and then headed over to the ticket machine. The station supported the use of IC cards, but neither of us had one. We just bought everything we wanted over the internet, so we did not feel the need to leave the village very often.
I walked past a sign saying “Make sure not to bring in any outside pollen or germs!” and approached a different ticket machine.
The Zashiki Warashi gave a puzzled look while standing next to me.
“I see a kid’s ticket, but I can’t find the pet ticket.”
“…If you keep this joke going, you might end up stuffed inside an airplane’s cargo hold.”
Part 7 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Honestly, it isn’t normal for a mere police officer to take an entire week off at once. And since I was spending the time on a trip with a girl who always showed up at the scenes of mysterious murders and a woman who could single-handedly resolve cases the police could not handle, I felt like even the bare minimum of professional ethics was crumbling around me.
“We’ve arrived, we’ve arrived. So this is the Intellectual Village known as Fuuka Village. It’s in a large plain just as I expected,” said the mystery freak as she threw her arms up into the air after shoving her travel bag into my arms.
When we left the small regional airport, we found a sight rare in Japan. A vast expanse of green stretched to the horizon, robbing us of any sense of distance. And not a single plant we could see was natural. It was all part of a pasture.
The mystery freak’s older sister shoved her bag into my arms as well and said, “I heard half of the dairy commercials you see are filmed here. It must be specifically designed to be picturesque.”
The regional airport was located right smack in the middle of the large plain, but we were not yet inside the Intellectual Village. We still had to head 20 to 30 kilometers down a road with no traffic lights before we would arrive at the hotel.
Fuuka Village was focused primarily on dairy production, so it was well-equipped in noise-reduction methods.
The area was quite cool for being in the middle of summer, but Enbi was only wearing a two-piece swimsuit, a miniskirt, and a hoodie. Basically, she looked like she belonged on the beach or in a club. Her sister was wearing a tank top and hot pants, so I started to wonder if it was something that ran in the family. But then…
“…No, she has her own issues that can’t be explained by her sister’s influence,” I commented.
“Were you just thinking something very rude about us?”
“Were you just thinking something very rude about us?”
With the two sisters both glaring at me, I averted my gaze as I started sweating a cold sweat.
Enbi pointed up into the sky and said, “I can see a lot of what look like ad balloons.”
“I bet those are cameras. They probably monitor the pasture and the moisture levels. This is a large area. Those UAVs that look like toy planes could do the same job, but they’re expensive, susceptible to strong gusts of wind, and their batteries don’t last long, so they aren’t perfect for everything.”
“The balloons are cheap, but they can’t make tight turns. The balloons might perform a general observation and a UAV is sent out if anything out of the ordinary is detected.”
But that was not what I was interested in.
“Can you finally explain this to me?”
“Why you forced me to use my vacation time to come out here. Dealing with just one of you sisters is bad enough, but nothing good can come of having the two of you together. What are you hiding from me?”
“Well, I tried out the neighborhood association lottery and…”
“Mystery freak, with you, that kind of beginning scares me all the more. Really, any kind of trip that has some kind of unnatural beginning scares me with you. What are you after?”
“Can you teach 3 or 4 kids to be proper members of society by the end of the day?”
“Not even a priest could manage that.”
Part 8 (Jinnai Shinobu)
Five hours. Five whole hours.
Even though we took a plane as a shortcut, that’s still way too long for a trip. I only just barely managed to survive thanks to the novelty of being on a plane for the first time, but it was well beyond the limit of what a mere student could withstand.
It was the afternoon by the time we arrived at the hotel.
Its overall coloration was red. That may have been because it was made primarily out of brick. The building was only about 3 stories tall. Its silhouette formed an upside down T-shape. A cylindrical building stood in the center and rectangular buildings stretched out from either side. The rectangular portions…that is, the parts that looked like school buildings were probably where our rooms were located.
“I guess there are a lot of different kinds of Intellectual Villages,” said my “pet” Zashiki Warashi as she looked up at the building.
It certainly was quite different from our thatch roofed house. Intellectual Villages did not try to accurately and faithfully reproduce the scenery from some specific year in history. Instead, they took the vague ideas people had of what a rural town was and dragged those imagined ideas out into reality. For that reason, the time period represented could be very different depending on the region.
“Beef and cow’s milk only really took off during the Meiji period, so they may be going for that format.”
Even so, I doubted what I saw was a faithful recreation of the Meiji period. As I already said, they focused on matching the vague ideas people had about rural areas.
Simply put, that had a way of making a stronger brand image.
As we gave our impressions of the building, Madoka spoke up.
“Let’s get inside.”
“I’m interested whether she passes as a pet or not.”
“Personally, I would say ‘worried’ rather than ‘interested’.”
After all, what were we supposed to do if it didn’t work? The hotel was surrounded by nothing but pastures as far as the eye could see. The only other constructions were gas stations and pay phones. The pastures surrounding the hotel were owned by four different farms and being able to pet the animals was one of the area’s draws. However, I had heard that the actual dairy facilities were 20 to 30 kilometers away. The farm workers were only around during the day, so the area would be completely abandoned save the hotel once night fell.
As a dairy Intellectual Village, it had to have thoroughbred bloodline development institutions and refrigerated facilities to preserve the genetic information of the brand-name meat as a countermeasure for infectious disease outbreaks. However, it seemed all of those facilities were located on the outer perimeter of the pastures along with the solar power plant.
“…Well, if that happens, sleeping outside will be the only option,” I commented.
“Can you really last an entire week outside, Shinobu?”
“Wait a second!! When did you swipe that ticket from me!?”
With a slight smile, the Zashiki Warashi gave off a silent pressure that told me to do my very best if I wanted to stay in the hotel.
Please, do your job and bring fortune to your household, you damn Youkai!!
The entrance to the hotel was in the cylindrical portion of the upside down T-shape. The exterior was primarily made of red brick, but the interior was mostly white. The walls and ceiling were both white. The floor was covered with a vividly colored carpet.
The counter was located in the back of the relatively small lobby. The wall behind the counter had a simple diagram of the hotel’s first floor on it. A worker in black slacks, a button-down shirt, and a vest stood behind the counter. This was the first checkpoint for me. The trip couldn’t even begin without succeeding here, so I needed to use all of my power and I kind of wanted some extra support from Madoka-san and her wealth.
“Hey, it’s Madoka. Did you just arrive?”
“Oh, so you did get here ahead of us, Enbi.”
Geh!? She’s already heading away!? And who the hell is that girl who looks like she only just started wearing a bra!?
“Hm? Is that thing over there in the lounge a Sunekosuri?”
“Don’t you run away, too!! We may be in the same boat here, but I was dragged into this! This is primarily about you!!”
Part 9 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Shinobu was waving his arms around while trying to make some kind of deal with the worker at the lobby counter. He had become quite eccentric since I had last seen him. It really did seem the entire trip was falling apart in some way, but that was not the main issue.
Why is she here?
Why is that horrible Zashiki Warashi here!?
“Hehh. You don’t often see a Zashiki Warashi just wandering around. And even adults can see her. Will my fortune with money increase if she approaches me?”
Mai sounded carefree enough about it, but I knew this Youkai was not that nice.
A Zashiki Warashi was supposed to bring fortune to a household while also playing childish pranks, but from what I knew of that one, she excelled at the prank side of things. I am not exaggerating when I say about half of my teenage years were completely ruined by her.
I had no idea how she had ended up here, but I knew I had to work to hide my presence as much as possible for the duration of the trip.
“Detective, that Zashiki Warashi is waving at you.”
I let out a scream that would make you go paler than a snuff video.
Th-that grin. She’s definitely planning something unthinkable again!! I still haven’t forgotten how you ended my first love by cutting away my swimsuit with scissors!!
Mai looked thoroughly irritated as she said, “You really do have talent when it comes to making Youkai hate you. The Sunekosuri hasn’t approached you once this whole time. I wonder if that complete negative reaction could be used in some way.”
“Th-that doesn’t happen because I want it to!!”
“It seems that boy who came with the Zashiki Warashi has a different but equally interesting nature, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I just want to go love on that Sunekosuri!!”
“Wait! Don’t leave me alone!!”
I tried to grab at her for safety, but the next thing I knew, I was lying collapsed on the ground.
Ahh! The Zashiki Warashi is headed this way out of boredom because Shinobu is focused on convincing that worker!! At this rate, she’ll fill the time by destroying everything I need to live a normal life in society!!
“Not good. My only option is to get to my room and hole up there!!”
When I frantically tried to grab my bag, a different hand reached in from the side.
It belonged to one of the hotel’s workers.
“I will carry that to your room for you if you like.”
I had to check the nameplate on the chest of the worker’s vest for the name.
Matsukai-san smiled and said, “I am at your service for the short time you are here.”
Part 10 (Jinnai Shinobu)
The hotel itself was fairly small, so naturally the room was not that large. Then again, it was a single.
But it was a Western style room, and that got me excited. It wasn’t that I had any real complaints with that thatch-roofed house, but it did lack some things.
The Zashiki Warashi approached the window and let out a strange voice that seemed a mixture of admiration and annoyance.
“There really isn’t anything as far as the eye can see. The only activity is seeing the animals. Once you get tired of that, you’re out of luck, aren’t you?”
“I’d say the bigger problem at the moment is why you’re in here with me when it’s a single.”
“I’m being treated as a pet. Of course they aren’t going to give me my own room.”
“…I still can’t believe they went along with that.”
It was possible her being a Zashiki Warashi worked to her advantage. Not that she would bring fortune to the hotel or anything.
I had managed to feign calmness up to that point, but it was about time for me to do something about my pounding heart. And it really was pounding!! When I accepted the invitation, I had assumed I was on a stable course straight down the Madoka route, but now that was all thrown into chaos by the sudden inclusion of the Indoor Youkai option. And really, no matter if anything actually happened or not, it would pretty much be a scandal for any public figure from the moment we entered the room together. The tabloids would be all over it!!
At that moment, the Zashiki Warashi’s nose twitched slightly.
“…I sense inappropriate thoughts.”
“Don’t be silly!! You’re just being too self-conscious, you good-for-nothing Zashiki Warashi! If this was made into a book, it would be designated for all ages!!”
“It means nothing to me if this room is a single and therefore has just the one bed and I’m alone in it with you and your massive tits, the gentle curve of your back, and the soft curves of your hips!!”
“The device I am about to attach to your fingertip is a polygraph sensor that sends an electric shock depending on your answer, so answer ‘true’ to every true-or-false question I ask you.”
“Ha ha ha. Like you actually have such a convenient-…wait, you do!? Why!? Wah! Wait, wait! I’ll confess, I’ll confess!! Teenage boys are thinking inappropriate thoughts about 80% of the time!! And doesn’t bringing pointless things like that just make your bag heavier!?”
“Do not underestimate modern online teaching materials and sites selling modern security goods. At any rate, Question 1: Your secret savings are hidden below a false bottom in your school bag.”
“That question has nothing to do with the situation!!”
“With your fragile mental defenses, I get the feeling your mind would collapse if I got straight to the point.”
“I get it, so stop physically attacking me with your words!!”
“Question 2: If possible, you want to have your way with both me and Madoka and your virgin mindset gives you the groundless confidence to imagine we would both come on to you.”
“Why would you head straight into it if you know it will destroy my mind!? A-and that’s just a mindset! That doesn’t mean I actually am one!!”
“Why do you look so shocked? D-do I seem that much like a virgin to you?”
“Y-you aren’t lying, are you?”
“If I was, that electrode would send a shock into my finger, right!? Actually…how much of a shock does it send!? What do you have in that box? It isn’t a car battery, is it!?”
“Qu-question 3: It was with Madoka.”
“No. She may have a cute face, but she’s too much of a bourgeois for me to find an opening. That’s why I thought this trip was such a great opportunity.”
“Question 4: Yuki Onna?”
“I’d be frozen to death the next morning, if I did that.”
“It wasn’t the Nekomata!! The format is just too different! Explain to me how that would even be possible!!”
Part 11 (Zashiki Warashi - Yukari)
Shinobu started sobbing while lying in the bed, so I had no choice but to leave the room to find something else to do. I had to wonder whether he had actually believed me about the stun gun polygraph. I don’t dislike high-tech gadgets, but that doesn’t mean I have any idea how to put one together. I can’t stand the smell of a soldering iron.
“Mutter mutter… But if Shinobu actually believed that, was he telling the truth when he said that…? Hmm…”
I couldn’t believe it.
I simply couldn’t believe it.
I didn’t particularly care about Shinobu, but I was a bit worried at how low my accuracy had fallen if I had missed something that major about my household as a Zashiki Warashi.
Then again, I had no proof that Shinobu was telling the truth. It was possible Shinobu had seen through my stun gun polygraph bluff and was having his own fun at my expense. I had no real proof one way or the other. It would be foolish to simply take Shinobu’s word for it.
Shinobu could be a bit of a show off.
I had no idea if a male version of pseudocyesis existed, but Shinobu certainly had the delusional power to pull it off.
“I need some time to cool down.”
When I wanted to have some fun, I would go have some fun.
I wasn’t going to find anyone in the hotel hallway, so I headed for the first floor lobby and the adjacent lounge where I was likely to find someone. I was technically considered a pet, so I really shouldn’t have been wandering around on my own. However, Shinobu was considered my owner, so he would be the one to get in trouble, not me. Having someone else to take the blame for your actions was a great way to put your mind at ease. In that way, my position as a pet was quite a nice one.
“You are a Zashiki Warashi, aren’t you?”
“And you are a Sunekosuri.”
“It must be nice. Not only are you beautiful overall, but you are one of the major Youkai. One of you is almost guaranteed to show up in any Youkai manga or Youkai movie.”
“Yes, but I do kind of wish I had an animal form. When filming a commercial, they always want a cute kitten or puppy.”
“But there is too much inflation in animal Youkai. A deadly one like the Nekomata can act as a mascot while still joining in the battles. And if they want a canine Youkai, they always choose the Inugami. There’s nothing left for a Sunekosuri.”
I was not so sure.
I had a feeling a mascot only worked when it was completely powerless.
“There is nothing I can do to defeat a Zashiki Warashi when it comes to impact. You’re both harmless and look like girls, so there is no more anyone could ask from you. And since you primarily bring fortune you fill the protagonist-side support role perfectly.”
“Nothing says a Zashiki Warashi has to be female and we are hardly innocent since we will predict fires. I wonder why the image of the girl Zashiki Warashi is so strong.”
“Being cute with a bit of venom hidden below the surface is perfect for entertainment. I am a Sunekosuri. All I do is rub up against shins. There is no room for drama there.”
“Didn’t the Sunekosuri come about from the fear of something being at your feet while walking along a path at night? Y’know, something like a poisonous snake. I would say that’s a much more standard origin than something like me.”
“Then I wish I at least had poison as an additional skill. I just rub up against people. The only way that can cause fear is by creeping people out when they think some strange fetishist is following them around.”
“Yet you’re still coming up and rubbing against my leg.”
“…It is a sad instinct,” he said as he continued rubbing and averted his gaze.
Hmm. This isn’t bad. Is it because he looks like a puppy? If I sat down in a luxurious chair and crossed one leg over the other, I would probably be filled with an incredible sense of superiority. Maybe I should try it with Shinobu sometime.
“Sunekosuri, have you gone out into the pastures to see the cows and horses and whatnot?”
“I gave up when the sheep mistook me for a sheepdog and ran away from me. What do you want to do?”
“I would rather eat some beef than see the living cows. Oh, some lamb would be nice too.”
“You can only get away with comments like that because you are a Zashiki Warashi. I’m jealous. With the way I look, people just assume I am a carnivore that wants to eat its prey.”
I continued to speak with the other Youkai for a while.
As the trip had no real objective, I had been prepared for this, but I was still bored all the same.
I was afraid it would be nothing but this until dinner.
I could only hope that Shinobu made a quick recovery.
Part 12 (Hishigami Enbi)
It wasn’t often that I got to enjoy a trip with the detective without anyone getting killed. Normally, I would chase after a murder and just happen to end up at the same crime scene as him, so it was hard to expect your usual love comedy scenes.
I may spend the entire year solving mysteries, but it wasn’t like I could not enjoy anything without a serious atmosphere. Like with everything, you needed a nice balance.
“This is my chance.”
I tossed my bag on the hotel room bed and headed right back out into the hallway. I then realized I had left my smartphone in the room, so I headed back into the room. When I returned to the hallway, I realized I had locked my cardkey in the room.
I used the interphone in the hallway to make my embarrassing confession to the front desk. The worker at the front desk headed up to retrieve my key.
My mind really was useless outside of my specialty. I was brilliant when it came to people’s deaths. And that only applied to deaths that still had some kind of mystery remaining.
My grades on school exams were not all that great and I was always getting flustered and confused as to what to do to make that detective fall for me. If a history question was needed to disarm a bomb, I could answer it immediately. If I had to seduce a man to gain a clue, I could eloquently pull it off as many times as necessary. But once the mode switched over, I was hopeless.
I know it is a problem, but I do not think it is all that rare a thing.
For example, someone who writes a blog post every day cannot write a novel. And someone who is treated as a god for their ability to compose poetry on the streets cannot write bestselling lyrics. It may all be types of “writing”, but a change in genre could change someone’s scores drastically.
The bias in my mental ability was nothing more than that.
And there were times when you had to attempt something even though you knew you were terrible at it.
“…Hmm. If only the hotel had a pool. Then I could easily seduce that detective.”
I had worn a swimsuit with a hoodie and miniskirt, but it had been a failure. If he viewed it as my normal clothes, it no longer seemed special. I had monitored his expression closely, but his perspiration and pupil dilation had been at normal levels. Things were not going well. People had a tendency to grow accustomed to things, but I was unsure how to achieve a greater impact.
I had to come up with a way to break out of that deadlock.
I thought while dashing down the hallway toward the detective’s room.
I gave up trying to come up with something 5 seconds after I began thinking.
“There’s no use in thinking about something you’re terrible at!”
I spotted the detective just as he stepped out of his door, possibly to head to the hotel’s shop. I started running towards him while stretching my arms up into the air and arching my back to put as much of a burden on the chest of my swimsuit as I could. (Mostly by pulling it upwards.)
“Hey there, detective! I’m willing to go as far as a swimsuit wardrobe malfunction!!”
“Are you mocking the Japanese police!?”
Part 13 (Jinnai Shinobu)
I couldn’t believe that damn Zashiki Warashi had brought such a horrible toy with her.
But I could hardly spend all my time sobbing in my room. Staying by myself was just too boring. We were on a trip to a sightseeing spot! I was in a resort hotel with my rich classmate and a huge-breasted Youkai!! And so I took action. I headed off to search for some kind of fun that was full of sleazy desire. In my current mood, I would certainly have tried to peek if the hotel had an open air bath. Unfortunately, it was a western hotel.
“I at least want to hug someone. If I let that be the opening move to set the mood for the trip, things are sure to escalate from there. It will be harder to get anything started in the second half of the trip once the standards have been set.”
I set the initial goal as low as I could to avoid crushing myself under self-created pressure. I opened the door to my room and headed out into the hallway. If I was going to find someone, it would either be in the lobby or the lounge. Or I could call Madoka down by cell phone.
While I was waiting for the elevator, someone exited a room on the same floor.
It was a woman wearing an eye-catching outfit.
There were probably fewer than 30 women in the world who could get away with wearing a tank top and hot pants after 20.
I then recognized who she was.
She had been with my uncle.
She was certainly beautiful, but I had a hard time coming up with a way to start a conversation with someone with as much of a mature aura as she had. Just like a middle school student and a high school student were completely different things, a high school student and a college student were completely different things. I got the feeling that the foundations of our thoughts were completely different. In fact, I felt like I would need a Hollywood celebrity level foundation to even think about approaching someone like her.
The woman must have been bored waiting for the elevator because she pulled out her cell phone.
“Have you been here long? This is my first day, but I’m already wondering what we can possibly do for an entire week after looking around the pastures.”
Betraying all of my expectations, she actually spoke to me.
I was happy to have someone as beautiful as her speak to me, but it also scared me a bit.
I couldn’t get a read on her, so I just safely nodded and agreed with her.
“Do you know if there is a casino somewhere nearby as a bonus stage?”
“I only just got here today, too.”
“I see. I guess I may be stuck just playing with the Sunekosuri. Oh, right. Have you seen this?”
The woman held her cell phone out toward me. The screen showed a low quality home video filmed with a small lens. I felt the urge to point out that there was no way I could have seen it before.
But what was it?
It looked like the back of an old tatami-filled room in Kyoto or something. It looked less like something from an agricultural village like my house and more like something befitting nobility. In the room was a girl of about 10 with black hair and wearing a kimono that looked about as expensive as a foreign car.
The girl did not seem used to being filmed, so she was blushing a deep red and waving her hands in front of her face.
“Hey, stop, hey! I do not particularly mind, but you cannot film inside the facility for security reasons…” said the girl.
“It isn’t on,” said another voice.
“You’re too self-conscious.”
“To be honest, I do not understand what you hope to gain by filming me, but I do not mind as long as you do it elsewhere.”
“Don’t be like that. You know very well this video won’t leave this device.”
“So you are filming?”
The woman looked very pleased with herself as she shoved the cell phone in my face.
“Don’t you think girls of about that age stimulate your protection instincts the most? They’re just so cute. If she was some hairy dirty old man, I would have abandoned them long ago. Then again, I don’t think I was that cute even as a kid. Maybe that’s why I like them so much.”
Personally, I was not old enough to think kids were cute. I was more interested in older girls. Each individual part of the girl in the video was fine, but she gave me an overall unsteady appearance because the balance of the parts seemed somehow off. Maybe because she was still in the process of growing. Still, she was definitely better than a baby.
At any rate…
I was more surprised to learn such a young woman had a daughter of about 10.
“Well, it’s not like she’s actually related to me in any way.”
“Then what the hell is that video about!?”
“It’s like a good luck charm. When I think about the fact that some kid young enough to call science class ‘life environment studies’ is desperately trying to hold together an organization, I’m willing to put up with a few unreasonable demands.”
With that final incomprehensible comment, the woman got onto the elevator that had arrived.
I watched the elevator leave and then suddenly realized something.
“Wait, I was waiting for the elevator too!!”
Part 14 (Hishigami Mai)
I had a habit of eating dinner early. But then, my life cycle had me eating the equivalent of a late-night snack instead of breakfast. I still had to eat three meals a day, but my job did not exactly allow me to wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night.
This meant I was not eating at the same time as my little sister and the detective, so I was eating alone. Well, it was also my duty as the older sister to not disturb those two. Really, they should just hurry up and get married.
I arrived at the hotel restaurant right when they began serving dinner, so I was the only customer.
The food listed on the menu was quite expensive, but the ticket I was staying with came with free meals. I ordered a light course that featured a rare veal steak. I did not order an alcoholic drink. I did enjoy drinking, but I preferred to do so at a specialty bar. You couldn’t just get a bit intoxicated with your dinner. That was like ordering the curry rice at a beachside restaurant and assuming you were suddenly an expert in Indian food.
The food wasn’t bad.
It was a small hotel, but it was a sightseeing spot in an Intellectual Village, so it had more workers than necessary. Not only did the ticket eliminate the ridiculously expensive lodging fees and meal expenses, but we did not have to pay their labor costs either.
After finishing off the dessert, I wiped my mouth with my napkin and called over a nearby worker.
“Hey, I have a question.”
“What might that be?”
“Is there a newspaper vending machine anywhere around here?”
“If you contact the front desk, you can get a newspaper sent to your room each morning. You can choose from 3 national papers and 2 in English.”
“That should do it. Does it cost extra?”
“It is included in the room fee.”
“…Then I’d be losing out if I didn’t order one.”
“Is that all?”
“Oh, right. One more thing. It’s not that big a deal, but…Matsukai-san…”
I read the workers name from the nameplate on his chest.
“What is it?”
“Do you mind telling me your full name?”
“It is Matsukai Hiroshi.”
So I run across that name here, too. And you didn’t even hesitate to tell me. But you see, I killed a scholar with that exact same name just the other day.
Of course, since it had been used as a fake name, it was not that unusual a name. It was possible this was just some poor normal person who just so happened to have the same name.
Or perhaps he was connected with that Matsukai Hiroshi and he gave the name so readily so that I would hesitate for that exact reason.
“What an unusual name.”
“It is unusual in this area at least. That name is an endangered species.”
“I do not see how the two names would be that unusual to see together.”
“So,” I said quietly with a grin. “Can you see the Deadly Dragon Princess yet?”
You idiot. You could at least hide your reaction better than that.
He must have realized his mistake as soon as he made it. He frantically recomposed his expression, but it was too late. It did not matter whether he could see the Deadly Dragon Princess or not. Or rather, I had not even pulled it up from the water using the summoning medium, so there was no way he could see it. What mattered was that he had reacted to the term “Deadly Dragon Princess”. He had felt true fear upon hearing it. Any normal person would have simply been confused.
I reached for the decorative fork in the center of the table and the man naming himself Matsukai Hiroshi slowly reached around to his back. He had abandoned his “role” without losing the smile.
I could sense no clear killer intent.
The restaurant music playing in the background seemed to fill the atmosphere.
He clearly knew that killer intent would only provide a hint to an enemy if you doubted it would intimidate them.
This was going to be fun.
At the very least, he would likely put up more of a fight than the previous Matsukai-san. If he pulled out a handgun, he would rank at about a B, but I could find myself in a bit of a gamble if he pulled out something a little more interesting. I decided it would be safest to end this with my first move. The only question was whether I could do so with only a knife and fork.
The atmosphere filling the room was destroyed by a few footsteps coming from the entrance to the restaurant.
Oh, shit. Not good.
Some normal people had arrived…no, they were my little sister’s friends. Kotemitsu Madoka, Jinnai Shinobu, and the Zashiki Warashi. Even if I had never spoken with someone, there were plenty of ways to learn their names.
“Beef. I want to eat some beef on the first day at least.”
“…Aren’t you being a bit merciless after seeing that idyllic scenery?”
Meanwhile. Matsukai Hiroshi-san took a slow step backwards while still smiling and with one hand still reaching around behind him. Using his eyes, he told me to postpone things for the moment.
He assured me we could continue this later.
I see, I see, I see.
So that’s the way you think.
I decided to give him an answer. With a tiny movement the others would not pick up on, I nodded in Matsukai Hiroshi’s direction.
He slowly nodded back and took another step backwards.
In the next instant, I made my move despite the witnesses.
Part 15 (Jinnai Shinobu)
It happened suddenly.
It took me a few seconds to understand what had happened before my eyes.
By the time my mind managed to comprehend the situation, the worker named Matsukai had already been knocked to the ground and had a silver fork stabbed into the side of his neck. It wasn’t as dangerous a weapon as a knife or icepick, but it was clearly sticking into a very dangerous place.
“Wh-wha-what!? What the hell are you doing!?”
“Don’t get so excited, boy. This has nothing to do with you.”
It was only then that I heard the clatter of the chair the woman had been sitting in hitting the floor. Everything from standing up from the chair to finishing the attack had been done in a single motion. She was fast. Overwhelmingly fast. Was she a cheetah or something!?
The woman gave us no further attention and looked down at Matsukai-san who still had the fork stabbing into his neck.
“Okay, Matsukai Hiroshi Mark 2. What are you doing out here in the country? Since you’re using that name, I assume you aren’t simply constructing a Package. How is Saishi Kajin related to this? In fact, are they still around?”
“Speak to me. Give me some communication please. I made sure you had enough strength left to do that. If I move my wrist like I’m twirling pasta around the fork, I can rip your nerves and artery to shreds. I am Hishigami Mai. Do you really think you can keep silent in front of me?”
For some reason, Matsukai-san was smiling even while being asked those nonsensical questions. It was possible they were not nonsensical to him.
In the next instant, Matsukai-san’s body jerked like he had a high voltage electric current running through him and dark red blood flowed from his mouth.
“D-did you kill him!?”
“He had some means of committing suicide. It wasn’t the almond-smelling method, though.”
The woman clicked her tongue, pulled out the deadly fork, and wrapped a nearby napkin around it. She may have been trying to take the evidence with her. I was completely dumbfounded by the entire situation and could not take my eyes off of Matsukai-san as he lay motionless on the ground.
Could he still be saved?
I saw things like CPR in dramas and movies a lot, but…
“No, don’t even try it. I told you he had a means prepared, didn’t I? If you kiss him now, you’ll just end up with bloody foam coming from your mouth too.”
The situation was shocking enough, but the woman’s atmosphere was even more frightening.
She was used to this.
Her expression made it clear this was not the first time she had seen a dead body. In fact, she looked like she had created as many dead bodies as a normal person had received cardboard boxes from things bought online and plastic bags from convenience stores. She was not normal. A simple murderer would have been bad enough, but she was 2 or 3 levels beyond that.
My tongue trembled.
As it twisted around in my mouth, I just barely managed to get the words out.
I thought she was asking why she should do what I say.
But I was wrong.
“Why do you think you have any control here?”
She understood something about the fear I was feeling. It was wrapped around me and holding me in place, but she accepted it as normal.
“They say curiosity killed the cat, but a sense of justice can destroy nations. I have experienced it, so I know what I am talking about. I am not saying it is necessarily bad, but don’t let it control you. That can have worse results than a kid with a handgun tucked into his pants.”
The woman took a step toward me.
She crushed my pathetic warning underfoot.
She crossed a certain line.
I moved backwards like I was being magnetically repelled by her. I then turned around so I could bring the Zashiki Warashi and Madoka with me to-…
“Th-they’re gone!? Those two…!!”
They had likely already fled the restaurant. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t even work up anger at the fact that they had abandoned me. Instead, I was relieved that burden had been removed from me. My legs got tangled up underneath me and I half-ran, half-tripped out of the restaurant.
When I entered the hallway, I spotted the Zashiki Warashi and Madoka standing a bit away.
“You didn’t run away!?”
“What are you talking about, Shinobu? You’re the one that wouldn’t respond when we called out to you.”
The whole time?
How long did that last? Seconds? Minutes?
And when did it start? When the fear and abnormality of that woman wrapped around me? Or from the moment I had saw that worker get stabbed?
When I thought about it like that, I realized I should probably be thankful that they waited around that long when a murderer could be coming at any moment.
Madoka called out to me with her face horribly pale.
“Wh-what do we do now?”
“A room! You two get to one of the hotel rooms! Madoka, you stay with the Zashiki Warashi! She may not be deadly, but she’s still a Youkai. She isn’t easy to kill!!”
I doubted that girl in the red yukata would be any good in a fight and that nonstandard woman seemed like she could kill even a deadly Youkai without difficulty, so that hardly put my mind at ease. I couldn’t come up with a plan and attack her from some gap or blind spot. The fear that woman gave me seemed to utterly destroy the very assumptions and environment required to put together a strategy.
For some reason, the Zashiki Warashi puffed her chest out with pride and said, “Do not expect anything from me in a battle.”
“I’m not planning to fight either. I doubt I could put up any kind of a fight. I need to call the police. Either that or tell the other workers what happened. I just need to pass this off to some larger power. She’s locked on to us because we were the only witnesses. You need to stay holed up in a room until I can pass this off to someone else!!”
I heard footsteps.
They were coming from the restaurant.
They were not hurried footsteps. However, they were confident footsteps. They seemed to say she would catch up to us and kill us no matter what we did. Those calm footsteps seemed to tell me all our efforts would be futile.
“Go!!” I shouted and then ran down the hallway in the opposite direction of the Zashiki Warashi and Madoka.
I tried to make my footsteps as loud as possible to keep the woman’s focus on me rather than them.
Anyone. It didn’t matter who. I had to let as many people as possible know what had happened. I needed to rob that woman of her control of the situation with pure numbers. If all of the hotel’s workers knew about the crime, her actions would be severely restricted. If the police arrived, she would have even more trouble.
This hotel was in an Intellectual Village sightseeing spot, so it had a large number of workers for the size of the facility. As I headed for the elevator hall, I happened across a female worker who was pushing a cart to carry a room service meal somewhere.
Her nameplate read Matsukai.
“Wait, listen! The police!! Call the police right away!!”
“She’s…!! She’s coming!! You can’t stay here! You don’t have time to wait for the elevator! Use the emergency stairs!!”
“If you are having trouble, I may be able to help you. Is something the matter?”
No! You don’t understand!!
The situation had gone well beyond that. It had shifted 2 gears up from that. But how was I supposed to explain how crazy this has gotten? A strange woman had attacked a worker with bestial speed and stabbed him with a fork. The worker had then committed suicide with some kind of poison. I barely believed it myself and I had seen it happen. The very best reaction I could expect was for her to head to the restaurant to see what happened.
And what would happen then?
That would just add another dead body to the pile. How much time had passed since the first death? What was going on in the restaurant now? Had a waiter or chef noticed anything was wrong? If they had…what would that woman do?
Would she just run away?
I couldn’t imagine she would. I prayed it wasn’t true, but that restaurant might have been turned into an ocean of blood.
I couldn’t wait for them to switch into the proper gear to deal with the situation. The police. It would be fastest to directly contact the people who made a living dealing with this kind of situation.
I frantically pulled out my cell phone with its broken camera lens.
I didn’t receive a dial tone or even a message saying I had no signal. The only situation I knew of that would cause that was a widespread power outage caused by a lightning strike, but…
Was this just a coincidence?
“Does the hotel have a phone!?”
“Does the hotel have a landline phone!? Is there a public phone around here!?”
“Oh…u-umm… The front desk on the first floor has-….”
Before she had even finished, I turned around and ran for the emergency staircase. It was dangerous to leave that female worker alone, but I had to call the police to the hotel as quickly as possible. And even if I had stayed to protect her, I doubted I could have bought her even a few seconds of time.
But it was no good.
When I arrived on the first floor, I picked up the public phone’s receiver, but heard no dial tone. I could see nothing wrong or broken about the phone itself, so something on a larger scale was likely broken.
Since I could not contact them, I was forced to head directly to the police station.
But I was in the dairy Intellectual Village known as Fuuka Village.
For 20 to 30 kilometers around the hotel there was nothing but pastures. There was no way I could travel that distance on foot.
By car then?
I of course had no license, but I knew an automatic was the same as a go-kart. It had an accelerator and a brake. I would be travelling down a straight and flat road with no traffic lights, so I guessed I could probably make it.
It didn’t matter what I had to do.
I would break the window and destroy the connector in the keyhole if I had to.
I just had to get a car and get out of there.
I ran out of the hotel and headed around to the back. A number of electric cars were parked there, but I could not tell if they belonged to the workers or to other guests. It didn’t matter. But could I really leave the Zashiki Warashi and Madoka in the hotel? The hotel was about 3 stories tall. If I shouted, I guessed I could have them escape through the window and meet me. They could tie the curtains and use them as a rope to climb down.
“…What the hell…?”
What I saw when I got closer to the parking lot left me speechless.
Flat tires. Every single car in the parking lot had flat tires. Every single tire on every single car had been punctured. The sight of all those flat tires pounded an exceedingly simple form of despair into my mind.
I can’t escape?
Is this hotel like a desert island on land?
But something did not make sense. That woman may have been a monster, but could she really have done all that on her own? When had the phones stopped working? When had every single car tire been punctured? If she had begun to isolate the hotel only after killing the worker named Matsukai in the restaurant, she would have had to carry out multiple large scale jobs in an exceedingly short time. Could she really have done it on her own?
That was not a major issue.
There was a simple solution.
That woman just needed accomplices.
I looked over at the great plain that was dissolving into the darkness. If I was up against multiple people or even an organization, they would not want us to contact the outside or to run away.
If I just headed out blindly into the darkness of the night, would they do nothing and let me go?
I did not know how many people I was dealing with, but wasn’t it possible they already had the entire area surrounded?
That plain stretched on and on with no witnesses to be found. If they began pursuing me along there, they could take their time and make sure they killed me.
That entire idea could have been nothing but a delusion.
It could have been nothing but the misguided fears of an amateur high school boy.
But since I had nothing to base my decision on, I could not get rid of that unease. I could not head into that darkness without hesitation.
But what else could I do?
I had no car. It was too dangerous to slowly continue on foot. But that woman was inside the hotel. The entire area seemed covered with death. How had I not noticed it before?
Since I could not call in help from outside, that was my only option. It would take time to get the workers and guests to switch gears, but our only option was to take back control of the situation with numbers!
But was that even possible for a collection of amateurs? Would the group only fall into more and more of a panic the more people we gathered?
I had forgotten one important factor.
“Uncle Uchimaku is a police officer.”
The power of the police was one of an organization, so I had a feeling there was only so much my uncle alone could do. But surely a police officer would be able to bring the workers and guests together into a group easier than a high school student.
He just had to prevent everyone else from panicking.
If we could come together as a group and get a proper grasp of the danger, that woman would not be able to fight back.
Part 16 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
I was only heading to the restaurant because I was hungry, but I could tell something was wrong before even setting foot inside. What was this smell that cleanly rid me of all hunger? Why, nothing other than the stench of fresh blood!!
As she walked next to me, the mystery freak’s nose twitched like she had caught the scent of some soup.
“This could be bad. I just hope no one we know was involved.”
To my shock, Hishigami Mai exited the restaurant.
“Oh, you two seem to be getting along well.”
“It’s my sister. And here I was hoping no one we know was involved.”
“Sorry about that. By the way, did you see a high school boy pass through here? One with blond hair, a delinquent look to the eyes, and a false atmosphere of overall incompetence.”
“…You mean Shinobu?” My eyebrows twitched. “What the hell happened in the restaurant!? That strong a stench of blood isn’t normal!!”
“You can take a peek if you like, but you probably wouldn’t find it too interesting since you don’t care about the dead. Also, that would be straying even further from the proper path, Mr. Dead-End Police Job.”
“You should probably stay out too, Enbi. This is probably on a scale you can’t handle and it isn’t in your area of expertise.”
“Is that stench of blood coming from someone we know?”
“Okay then. What are you going to do, detective?”
Neither of the two sisters meant any harm, but they were shaking the very meaning of my existence.
I doubted a proper police officer like me could control even the mystery freak. And if I got involved in something the older sister was involved in, I would probably end up playing the role of the pitiful victim.
“I am a police officer.”
“This is outside your jurisdiction and you took leave, so you have no authority here.”
“That may be, but I can’t just turn my back on this!!”
I grabbed Mai’s shoulder, pushed her out of the way, and took a step into the restaurant.
I immediately regretted it.
Was it a few seconds? A few dozen seconds?
I had no idea how long I remained frozen in place.
Time certainly passed and I was certainly aware of my surroundings.
The scene before me burned into my mind and would not leave. The incident itself was in a category that should have been more peaceful than something like arson, but it gave me a much more vivid impression. Yes, vivid. Bright. I was supposed to be someone who detested crime, but I almost felt impressed by the skill involved.
I should have worked up a resistance to this type of thing.
It was my job to confront this type of thing.
I was so used to it that a corpse with severed limbs stuffed into a metal drum only made me comment on the effort that had to have gone into it.
Yet I found this to be on a whole other level.
The world a few steps in front of me was filled with a fascination that seemed to overcome reality.
“You were right to stop there.”
Mai, the person who had likely created what I was seeing, grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back. Whether due to her strength or my lack of ability to resist, she easily pulled me out of the restaurant.
“Someone who knows a bit of kendo is more easily fascinated by techniques and skill than a complete amateur. You need to be careful.”
Meanwhile, Enbi the mystery freak displayed her usual ability to neutralize any strangeness when it came to dealing with corpses. She seemed as calm as if nothing had happened as she walked up near the much too vivid corpse, crouched down, and began making various observations.
She spun a large magnifying glass around in one hand, but she never really used it to look at anything. It may have been similar to how people would fiddle with their cell phone when they had nothing else to do with their hands.
Enbi seemed to come to a conclusion from the complexion of the corpse’s face and the foam around its mouth.
“Fugu. It’s easy enough to get your hands on, but it isn’t the best option for suicide. You can see he was putting up with a lot of pain by how his nails have dug into his palms. It must not have been fun to know that was hidden in your tooth.”
“A painful death must have doubled as the penalty for failing his mission.”
“His mission, hm? …I don’t like the sound of that. It makes it sound like a war is being fought in this peaceful country.”
“That’s why I said this isn’t the place for you, little sister. This isn’t a simple murder.”
The sisters’ conversation seemed to be coming from a long distance away.
As my thoughts cut in and out intermittently, I finally opened my mouth to speak.
“How was…Shinobu involved…in this?”
“He saw it.”
“He’s just a kid in high school!! He shouldn’t be getting involved in this kind of thing. There’s nothing he can do about it! There’s no value in eliminating him for-…!!”
“Make no mistake. I am not looking for him in order to silence him. But it does seem he had some involvement in all of this from the beginning. His involvement did not begin with witnessing my actions here.”
“It has already begun, detective. That is why I have begun to take action. And now Jinnai Shinobu-kun is wandering in the darkness while completely oblivious to what is really going on. He needs to understand what is happening before he runs across a pitfall.”
“Um, what did that worker named Matsukai do…?”
“Matsukai Hiroshi. But that isn’t the name of their organization or anything.”
I did not particularly want to know more, but it seemed Hishigami Mai had begun a conflict with some force that Matsukai Hiroshi was a part of.
Her point seemed to be that, even if she had no intention of harming Shinobu, the opposing force that Matsukai Hiroshi belonged to might.
And how did Shinobu fit into it all?
From what Mai had said, it didn’t seem he had simply stumbled upon the crime scene.
“Can I ask you one thing?”
“That’s up to you to decide.”
“Does this have to do with Youkai?”
“A Package would be my little sister’s territory,” said Hishigami Mai simply. “If it requires my involvement, it is guaranteed to be something more than that.”
As if it was nothing, she broke down one of the mental pillars supporting me. I could not imagine what kind of world that woman lived in. Even Packages using Youkai often proved difficult for the modern Japanese police to handle. We could neither kill nor arrest a deadly Youkai. The most we could manage was arresting the human criminals using those Youkai. What kind of a world did she live in and with what kinds of things did she fight?
That abnormal mystery freak was more used to this kind of situation than me and had no problem being around that corpse. She jotted something down using the memo function of her smartphone that had a leather memo pad cover.
While doing so, she asked her sister, “What are you going to do?”
“Naturally, I am going to do something about this situation. First, I need to check on the scale of this incident. I’m interested how they handled the real hotel workers. Did they forge a resume so Matsukai Hiroshi alone could infiltrate the hotel or have all of the workers been switched out with fakes? …Well, I get the feeling it will be the more severe answer.”
“What should we do?”
“Think for yourself. To be blunt, the risk does not change much either way. The violence we are going to see here is not something you can protect yourself from with nothing but the lock on your hotel room door, but you might get caught in the crossfire if you stick with me.”
“Then I’ll stay with you. What about you, detective?”
“Don’t worry about honor or convenience. There is no absolutely safe place. Decide for yourself what to do with your life,” said Enbi.
I could feel sweat pouring from my body.
The Japanese police could not even handle a standard Package. Yet these sisters were setting foot in territory well beyond that. What could a single police officer without the support of the rest of the police hope to do in a situation like that? It would be too naïve to assume I could shine a light on the darkness. My tiny point of light would just be swallowed up by the darkness.
“Shinobu is out there. Odds are good he will end up heading deeper into this before we do. I can’t back down until I find him. It doesn’t matter if I can act as a police officer or not.”
For some reason, Mai began to grin when she heard that.
“Oh, so that’s the power of the state.”
“If you were saying that for a girl rather than your nephew, you could make a decent protagonist.”
“I don’t need to be one. I’m fine with being a police detective stuck in a dead end job, so let’s get the story moving. Where are we headed?”
“Follow me,” said Mai.
We followed her through the hotel. As we did, I noticed something odd. There was no noise. The hotel was covered in silence. It was even quieter than hotels normally were. It was complete and utter silence. I felt like we were walking through an old abandoned building. Humans created a certain level of noise simply by being in the area. That noise was missing.
“With Matsukai Hiroshi’s cover blown, the others may have decided there is no point in continuing their act.”
“So all the workers are working with that Matsukai guy?”
“Yes, but those workers probably aren’t the actual hotel staff.”
We arrived at the front desk on the first floor. No one was there. However, Mai and Enbi were looking at something else. It was the large diagram of the hotel set up behind the front desk.
“If this was all set up from the beginning and they took some large-scale preparations, where do you think they would hide the unneeded hotel workers?” said Mai.
“They might have already taken the bodies elsewhere,” pointed out Enbi.
“It’s entirely possible, but even that would not get rid of every trace. They had no reason to get rid of everything. If they were going to go around erasing every trace including fingerprints and bloodstains, it would be simpler to quickly build an entirely new hotel. And that would make sure they didn’t miss anything.”
“The boiler room.”
Mai frowned and Enbi explained further.
“There were probably somewhere between 50 and 100 workers, right? If they were going to carry the bodies out, it would be difficult to do so as is. Not only is there the simple size issue, but if they got pulled over for a random drunk driving check, that would be the end for them. It would be safer to transport the bodies after changing their form. If you get pulled over for speeding or drunk driving, they aren’t going to check the composition of the ash in a bag of fertilizer.”
“Even in this large plain, they couldn’t exactly have burned them outdoors. I suppose it would be safest if they could get the needed firepower indoors.”
“It’s possible they filled a bathtub with powerful acid, but transporting that dangerous liquid here would be a risk in and of itself. Also, you can’t just dump the entire body in there like in movies. If you try to dissolve too much at once, the chemical reaction grows too violent and the acid scatters everywhere and it creates a lot of smoke. It would be way too much of a pain to chop that many people up and dissolve them bit by bit. I say burning them to ashes would have been their safest method.”
Safest. It made me shudder to imagine it, but this was a world where that kind of thing was normal. I couldn’t allow myself to be swallowed up by it. I had to preserve my sense of myself. I had stepped into this territory of my own will.
The diagram had the entrance to the boiler room labeled with the warning color meaning it was off limits. It looked like we had to head down a staircase to the basement. We headed for that staff-only area and approached that staircase.
The entrance to the staircase was sealed with a thick door.
Mai opened the metal door and then…
I heard someone shout. I frantically turned around and spotted Shinobu running around a corner of the hallway. He seemed unharmed. But before I could breathe a sigh of relief, the situation took a strange turn. Shinobu glared at Mai as he approached.
“Get away from her!! Don’t even think about trying to arrest her. The way she killed that guy wasn’t normal at all!!”
Shinobu was mistaken about something. But it was not whether Mai was good or bad that he was mistaken about. It was that he had any chance of stopping Mai even if he made clever enough decisions.
In the end, Shinobu grabbed a fire extinguisher.
I could not blame him for trying to defend himself, but it only made the situation worse.
It was unclear if Shinobu actually had it in him to attack her.
Either way, Mai did not hesitate. When someone who may or may not be an enemy approached you like that, it was obvious how you should deal with the situation.
In the next instant, something happened.
Due to my police training, I knew a bit of judo and kendo, but I could not keep up with what happened. This was partially due to the pure speed with which the actions were taken, but the types of actions were also well beyond what I expected.
That was the first thing Mai said. Her voice sounded completely relaxed. She spoke when she looked in the direction she had thrown Shinobu. I looked over as well…and then I shouted out.
He flew through the door leading to the boiler room.
My nephew’s body fell down the staircase and into the darkness.
Part 17 (Jinnai Shinobu)
My head spun. I could not tell up from down. I could see a cold, concrete wall in my dim vision. Where was I? A flickering fluorescent light illuminated a wide area filled with pipes and a steel-box-like device about the size of a small storage room. At first glance, I couldn’t figure out what it was for, but the pipes had analog meters on them. The paint was peeling and I saw rust in places, so the area looked quite different from the rest of the hotel. It looked like something from an old factory or prison.
I had fallen down the stairs.
By the time I realized that, I also realized my hand on the floor was touching something sticky.
At first I thought my head had split open, but it wasn’t blood on my fingers.
It was something black and oil-like.
“What…is this place…?”
I glanced around despite my hazy vision, but then heard footsteps.
They were coming from above.
Was someone coming down the staircase?
I frantically tried to move away from the stairs, but I felt intense pain the instant I tried to use my muscles. None of my bones seemed broken, but I needed time before I could move. I did not think the pain would go away anytime soon, but I wanted time to get used to it.
While I lay almost unmoving on the floor, a voice spoke from up the stairs.
“Okay, I really didn’t expect for that to happen. Sorry about that. But I need to make sure we’re safe before I check your injuries. Just stay there for now.”
What are you talking about? Check my injuries? Safe? You’re the one that caused all this.
I wanted to say that out loud, but I could not get the words out because a pain throbbed in my head at irregular intervals. Meanwhile, the woman made it down the stairs. The instant her feet touched the cold floor, I felt a chill run down my spine and pain exploded within me, but the woman unexpectedly walked right around me. It looked no different from someone walking around a puddle along the road.
“So this is the boiler room. Wow, this is horrible. We don’t exactly need to check for a luminol reaction.”
Boiler? No, wait. Luminol? Isn’t that what you use to check for bloodstains? You just need to rub it with a cloth to get a reaction.
The woman headed further into the darkness that the half-functioning fluorescent light could not completely do away with.
“This must be the inspection opening for maintenance. It’s a decent size. You could probably fit a human inside. Oh, there’s even some hair left over.”
I decided to not worry about my questions and to focus on moving...but first I needed to grow accustomed to the pain. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I could tell this was a much too dangerous place to be. That woman herself was dangerous, but her words were filled with a dangerous atmosphere. Who was the real enemy here? Was it someone other than that woman? Or was that woman involved in it all?
I tried to move.
…And it worked.
Either the emergency situation had dulled my senses or my mind was simply growing duller overall. Either way, the sharp pain that had been stabbing into my head changed into something more feverish. The fact that my body’s SOS signals were dulling was not exactly a good thing, but I could hardly be picky at the moment. I pressed my hands against the floor and lifted my upper body up into a kneeling position.
I then moved toward the staircase.
I didn’t care what it took. It was too dangerous to stay where I was. I headed for the staircase.
I placed a hand against the wall and stood the rest of the way up. I turned around, but that woman seemed to still be checking things out deeper within the boiler room. I headed up the staircase on shaky legs. I moved slowly. I made sure to make as little noise as possible. It may have been safer to crawl up the stairs on all fours. That was how much my vision was shaking.
The woman did not pursue me.
Had she still not noticed me or was she letting me go?
I couldn’t tell. My mind was not clear enough to determine her intentions and possibly use them against her. I didn’t care if it was the bed in my hotel room or the futon in my home. I just wanted to get back up to ground level and find somewhere to sleep.
I then arrived at the 1st floor.
But I realized something was wrong.
It was quiet. Too quiet. This was the silence of a room after a TV showing a variety program filled with high-pitched laughter was suddenly switched off. That silence made me realize again that I was the only one in the room. Silence, silence, silence. Something was missing. Something important was missing. The hotel was wrapped in an unnatural silence that could not be achieved simply by holding your breath and staying still.
Where had they gone?
“All of the hotel workers were replaced. They have all disappeared now that we found out. That is why everything feels so unnaturally silent.”
All of a sudden, the woman was standing next to me.
I had no idea when she had come up the stairs.
But that was not the most pressing issue on my mind.
Another issue was more important than how that woman had gotten within a meter of me.
“Where are they?”
“My uncle and that girl were here before! I’m asking you where they are!”
“They probably went to find a first aid kit after seeing what happened to you.”
Something wasn’t adding up. I couldn’t figure out if she was playing dumb or not. But it didn’t matter. I ran away from the woman and down the hotel hallway.
I had to find them first.
They had to be around here somewhere!
An unrealistic possibility floated up in the back of my mind: What if they had simply disappeared as if swallowed up by the silence and I could not find them no matter what I did?
But that nightmarish possibility did not come true.
Unfortunately, what I did find was much, much worse.
Part 18 (Jinnai Shinobu)
Time seemed to be torn into pieces. Or maybe it was my memories. Either way, the timeline of events was in complete disarray. When I tried to remember it later, it seemed all mixed up. Every individual scene was burned vividly into my mind, but I could not reconstruct the order in which I saw them.
The scenes were more than just images.
An oppressive stench of blood hanging in the air. A burnt taste mixed in with the air when I breathed. A noise that hurt my ears. A sticky, melting feeling. It was all in the past, but whenever it periodically came back to me, I was inundated by layer after layer of sensations.
It all felt crazy.
The middle-school-aged girl who had been with my uncle was in the restaurant kitchen. No, she was collapsed within it. Collapsed on top of the gas stovetop. I could hear a noise that sounded like Chinese food being prepared. Her cute face was burnt black beyond recognition, the slender lines of her body had been fused with her clothing, and almost everything else about her was just horribly wrong as well. Only her right arm hanging down had escaped the flames. Their relative normalcy made the rest of her seem that much more horrible.
Who had done that to her?
I had no time to think.
Kotemitsu Madoka was hanging within the hotel lobby. She was hanging down from the ceiling like a chandelier. I could hear a creaking noise as she swayed back and forth at the perfect height to hide a triangular-shaped diagram on the back wall of the lobby. At first, I thought she had been hanged, so I wondered if it was possible to save her. But I was wrong. She was hanging from a thick hook meant to catch Pacific bluefin tuna weighing over 200 kilograms. It was hooked into her upper jaw just as it was designed to. I could not see where the tip of the hook went, but it was obvious not enough room was left in her head for its proper contents. Her eyes. Both eyeballs were bulging out to an unbelievable degree. It looked like they were being pushed out from inside. Her face had been destroyed. It was much too tragic a fate for a teenage girl.
Had that woman done this?
But was it even possible? It was much too complex. She had been too far away. At the very least, that girl with my uncle had been alive when that woman had knocked me down the stairs. She had come down the stairs after me almost immediately afterwards.
I headed off to search for that woman. Perhaps I was trying to find the truth. Perhaps I was trying to run away from the reality of those corpses. I didn’t care. That woman had to have more information than I did. She had to. Whether she was the cause of all this or not, she had to know more than a high school student like me.
I had to find her and get her to tell me what she knew.
That was my plan.
When I returned to the entrance to the boiler room, the door was half open for some reason. I peered inside and saw that woman collapsed halfway down the stairs. She was lying on her back. She had no head. It did not look like her head had been severed with a sharp blade. The wound looked odd. It made me imagine someone trying to pull off the head of a toy doll, failing, and being forced to twist the neck around until it finally gave way. When I saw her arms and legs continuing to spasm, I felt a bit relieved because I mistakenly thought she might still be alive. But then it hit me.
How could she be alive if she has no head?
How could she be alive with all that blood gushing from the wound?
When I realized her limbs were merely writhing around on their own due to the rapid blood loss, I finally accepted that she was dead. I accepted it. But…what did that mean?
Wasn’t that woman supposed to hold the truth of the situation?
Wasn’t she supposed to either be the source of it all or at the very least be the closest person I knew to the core of it all?
Either way, she was the least normal of the people I knew.
However, she was not the very top.
…What can I hope to do?
That fundamental question came to mind. It didn’t matter if I knew the truth or not. If I knew a typhoon was about to hit landfall, could I do anything to change its path? I was nothing but a high school student. There was nothing I could do but hang up a Teru Teru Bouzu. It was possible someone with real authority might be able to send out a bomber to disseminate special chemicals into the air to physically change the atmospheric pressure, but that was nothing but a fantasy for someone like me. It was just a story. It had nothing to do with the reality I had to face. I wasn’t in a position to even know if there was anything that could be done, much less whether a specific method was possible.
Only those in pursuit needed to know the truth.
And I did not stand in that position.
I could not hope to do anything with the information. And any information I did get was less likely to give me a detailed view of the situation than it was to narrow my field of vision and keep me from being able to keep track of the entire situation.
It was possible the best term for my position was “victim”.
By the time I found my uncle, all my senses had numbed over. He was in one of the guest rooms. I had no idea if it had been his room or not. Both of his legs had been severed, and his neck was awkwardly caught on a broken window frame. He had been slowly and gradually strangled to death. A normal hanging provided a quick death from pressure on the carotid artery and the destruction of the cervical vertebrae, but he had not been so lucky. His had been a painful death. He would have been able to ensure a slight passage for breath by supporting his body on the ends of his severed legs which would have earned him 10 to 15 minutes of painful struggling…but I had lost the calm needed to figure even that much out.
My mind was beginning to break down.
I could feel it happening.
The number of murders and bodies alone should have left some kind of hint, but I could figure nothing out. Even if there was some clue to be found, that was a job for a detective. The lack of any source of information was so sudden that I could not even begin to think about looking for any further hint.
What had happened to the other guests?
What had happened to the other workers?
I was not calm enough to think through all of those questions. My breathing grew erratic. My mind was not functioning properly.
Utter annihilation. Complete slaughter. How much time has passed since the incident in the restaurant? I’ve lived for about a decade and a half. If pitfalls of this magnitude exist in life, how did I manage to live as long as I have?
“Something’s sticking in the back of my mind. …What is it?”
Where had I felt that feeling before? I sensed something odd about the string of words that had passed through my head.
How much time? …No, that isn’t it. Restaurant? …No, not that either. Oh, right. My overall impression of the situation.
Those terms were not accurate. And not simply because I had survived. Someone else had escaped. This was not utter annihilation nor was it a complete slaughter. At the very last, there was someone else I had not checked on yet.
“…The Zashiki Warashi…?
The cracks of that odd feeling spread. Things were not adding up. It was not simply that the Zashiki Warashi was not present. For example, I could not remember the order in which the tragedies had happened. What about the blood? Had it started drying as time passed? That should tell me in what order the bodies had been made. And yet I still had no idea. Hadn’t every scene been dripping with blood like something from a movie or a drama?
I began to head back the way I had come.
I wanted to check to see if what I had seen was still in the same place
Someone struck me roughly on the right shoulder.
I thought someone behind me was trying to stop me.
But I was wrong.
“Hey, are you all right?”
That female voice came from directly in front of me.
The voice belonged to that woman who should have been dead.
Part 19 (Jinnai Shinobu)
Just as the feeling that something was not quite right grew too powerful to ignore, I sensed something that destroyed the unnatural silence. It was a noise. The noise of a human being other than myself. That noise had returned. It was faint and the hotel as a whole was still wrapped in silence, but I could sense another living being nearby.
At first, it came from directly in front of me.
The woman who had stabbed Matsukai-san in the restaurant was peering at my face.
“What did you see? You weren’t bewitched or something, were you?”
Bewitched. When I heard that term that was usually seen in fairy tales, I started to question why I had not thought of that possibility before. When faced with an unrealistic phenomenon, wasn’t it likely some kind of unrealistic existence was involved?
In other words…
“I thought you died in the boiler room…”
“So you did see something.”
It looked like the woman was about to ask me for details, but she suddenly stopped.
She stopped because of another noise.
Just a moment before, noise had brought me calm, but this noise was unpleasant. It continued at even intervals, so it had to be something like footsteps.
However, it was completely different from any footsteps I had ever heard before.
It sounded like someone crushing rotten fish underfoot.
Something liquefied was slowly approaching.
But from where?
I could hear the noise coming from beyond the slight darkness left by the dim lighting, but I could not tell what was causing it. And why was the lighting so dim? It may have been night, but a hotel hallway should have been more properly lit. What was this blindness that seemed to be oozing across the area?
I never saw her pull it out, but the woman now had an automatic pistol that fit within her palm. Its small size seemed a waste with the plastic-bottle-sized suppressor attached.
I had never before seen a real gun other than a hunting rifle, but I doubted she would be pulling out a toy at a time like this.
“This really isn’t good. It took me this long to grasp what was truly going on. …By the way, do you know what this is, boy?”
“I’m not obsessed with guns, so I can’t recognize a specific handgun.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
It was then that I finally noticed something.
Despite her calm expression, I could see sweat on her brow.
That woman was sweating nervously.
“If I have to rely on this, I have 80% lost already. I may be a bit biased, but I would say I am quite useful. I am at least useful enough to frequently receive jobs from Hyakki Yakou. But that doesn’t mean I am invincible or that there is no one more powerful than me. There are people I would lose to.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I think one such dangerous person is about to appear here. This is very, very bad. This goes beyond an evil spirit. That bastard summons up illness magic like calling in an aerial bombing via GPS. I would say this is on the same level as some noble’s grudge that can destroy an entire city. This isn’t a force you use to target individuals…”
I did not understand the entire second half of what she said. She may not have gathered her thoughts properly. This person and situation had caused that woman to fall into such great confusion. At first, I thought this was a continuation of that possible illusion of unknown origin, so I started to panic.
The woman tossed me something while staring into the slight darkness.
A radio? A cell phone? No, this is…
“It’s a satellite phone. They aren’t very common in Japan, but surely you’ve seen them in movies and foreign dramas. You can make calls without using the local cell phone towers.”
“Are you telling me to call the police?”
“I sincerely hope this is a situation small enough for them to handle. But I doubt it is.” She still did not look in my direction. “0015. That will unlock it. Then it works just like a normal cell phone. You have to enter the country code at the start, but you don’t have to worry about it as long as you use one of the numbers in memory. …One of the numbers is registered under the name ‘Hyakki Yakou’. Once you call them, all the characters involved will finally be gathered.”
“Characters involved…? What do you mean!? What is happening in this hotel!? Why did you stab Matsukai-san!? What was that strange illusion I saw!? I can’t tell what is real anymore!!”
“The scale of this incident is much larger than just this hotel!”
“Just go. If you saw what I can guess you saw, you are probably the only one who can resolve this incident. It is only you, the amateur, that can do this; not me, the expert! I don’t like it, but I have to leave my life in your hands!!”
“Wait. Wait! I don’t understand. What happened to my uncle and that other girl!? What about Madoka!?”
“The detective and my little sister have already fled! That is why I am in such a bind here. I haven’t seen Kotemitsu Madoka. But the things you saw have probably not yet happened!!”
The wet footsteps approached another step.
The noise did not sound at all human to me.
The woman seemed to overreact.
“Go!! If you stay here, you will undoubtedly die. Not even I will last long. So use that satellite phone to its fullest! As I said before, you are probably the only one who can!!”
I didn’t understand what was going on, but I gave in to my desire to flee from those strange footsteps. The woman stayed where she was. It wasn’t normal to be able to stand up to that. Was courage really the right term for the source of her willpower?
The woman remained while I ran down the hallway. I fled.
If what I had seen before was an illusion, then Madoka, my uncle, and that other girl would still be alive. I decided to check their rooms. And I had to check on the Zashiki Warashi.
As I ran, I thought about what that illusion could have been.
In all likelihood, it had to do with a Youkai. But I could not figure out what Youkai it could have been related to. And had it really been nothing but an illusion?
If so, that was fine.
A mental illusion that you entered at some unknown point was certainly frightening, but it was not hopeless.
But there was another possibility…
“If that was a vision of the future, this could hardly be worse…”
And there were Youkai that could do that. For example, the Kudan. The Kudan was a dangerous Youkai with the head of a human and the body of a cow that did nothing but predict people’s deaths. If this was a Package using one of those, I could not ignore that illusion.
And that woman had mentioned something about illness magic that could probably kill all of us at the predicted time.
I could not quite figure out what advantage the illusion gave, but it had to have taken a fair amount of preparation to cause that mysterious phenomenon. They would not have set it all up for no reason. They had some objective. If I could figure out what that was, I would likely find the key to unlocking the mysteries of this incident.
With that key, I could figure out who would gain the most from it.
And I could figure out what Youkai was being used.
I realized something upon reaching the front desk of the hotel.
I may have figured out a one portion of the enemy’s identity.
I knew of a Youkai that would hint at a dangerous future.
I knew of a Youkai that could change how it appeared to humans.
Part 20 (Zashiki Warashi - Yukari)
Due to that strange woman going nuts in the restaurant, I still had not eaten dinner. My annoyance was growing. Madoka had not said anything for a while. She may have been worried about Shinobu, but I could not be sure because Zashiki Warashi unfortunately did not have the ability to read minds.
Someone started knocking violently on the door. Was it Shinobu? He had given me the key, so he had no way to open the door. I looked through the peephole and spotted someone unexpected. It was Uchimaku Hayabusa. He had some girl I did not recognize with him. The Sunekosuri from before stood at the girl’s feet. He had called it a sad instinct, but I had a feeling his personal preferences played a part in it. At any rate, it was strange indeed for Uchimaku Hayabusa to come to me. Then again, it might have been Shinobu he was looking for.
I cracked the door open with the door guard still closed.
As expected, Uchimaku Hayabusa’s entire body jumped in shock when he saw my face through the gap. But he did not stop there. He spoke to me like something was pushing him forward.
“Are you okay?”
“You say that like something dangerous is going on.”
I had an idea what it might be.
After all, I had witnessed a man getting stabbed in the restaurant.
The girl cut in.
“You arrived with Madoka, right? Do you know where she is? She wasn’t in her room.”
“She’s in here with me.”
“Shinobu…hasn’t come by yet, has he?”
“I haven’t seen him since he went off to contact the police. Since he isn’t back, he must not have had much luck.”
“Because he saw a murder.”
“Dammit, Mai. Has she still not released Shinobu?”
“Hey,” I cut in. “You seem quite used to this kind of odd situation.”
“Well, I am a police detective.”
“Not you. The girl next to you.”
“Unfortunately, I am even more used to being around corpses than the detective.”
The Sunekosuri at her feet jumped in shock when he heard those easily-spoken words. He continued to rub up against her slender legs, so in a way, he did have guts.
Something was bothering me, so I asked about it.
“So is this incident related to Youkai?”
“Um, well…maybe. Just the other day, the detective and I were caught in the middle of a Package on Zashou Island that used Funa Yuurei.”
“What about the Sunekosuri?”
“Eh!? M-me? I haven’t done anything!! It was all Hishigami Mai-san’s doing!! It’s her fault that I had to live through that nightmare and couldn’t return to HQ! And just when I think I can rest here in Fuuka Village, we run into them again!!”
And then you add in Shinobu, Madoka, and me.
I hadn’t realized it at first, but their oddly casual acceptance of this strange situation was bringing me a gradual understanding of what was going on. If a normal person saw a murder, they would fall into a confused panic. It was not normal for them to even be able to put their thoughts in order. So when they were faced with something beyond that, they should have had their hands full simply trying not to be swept away by the nonsensical phenomena occurring before their eyes. And yet these people were different. Everyone gathered here had experienced some incident related to Youkai recently.
And I was a last-minute inclusion as a pet.
If some third party had predicted that far, it had to be an organization with quite a powerful backbone. When I had demanded to go along, Shinobu did not even have his ticket yet. He had merely mentioned the term “ticket”. Intentionally drawing out that feeling of jealousy from within me would have been much more difficult to set up than the little tricks they had to pull regarding the hotel itself. And if they had guided every person here in a similar manner, their skill could almost be called a curse.
To freely control things to that extent, the scope of this incident had to stretch farther than just this hotel. At the very least, it had to cover all of Japan.
What was this third party planning to do by gathering people who had dealt with incidents related to Youkai?
Part 21 (Jinnai Shinobu)
While I waited for the elevator in the elevator hall, I messed with the satellite phone the woman had given me.
Its antenna was extremely thick and the body was unrefined. It looked more like a large radio transceiver than it did a cell phone. 0015. After I entered the number she had told me would unlock it, I could tell it was quite easy to use. You could make calls and send emails. That was it. It did not even have a memo function. However, she must have been the type to delete any kind of records because the mailbox was empty.
I opened the address book and found a few numbers.
None of the names looked like names of people. Nor did they look like the names of corporations. They looked more like names of groups or organizations, but I did not recognize any of them.
I moved the cursor to one of them.
The name for the number was Hyakki Yakou.
The last of the “characters involved”.
Even with this satellite phone, I doubted I could contact them repeatedly. If they hung up, it would likely all be over. It all came down to the first call. If they thought I was of little consequence, this last thin strand of hope would disappear.
I had never met this person (?) listed as Hyakki Yakou.
If I had some connection with someone I had never met, I could only think of one place that connection could come from.
It did not necessarily stay in one place. It had no clear owner. The possibility of having it leave you was always there. And since it was well known what happened in such a possibility, the odds of that possibility could not be all that low.
And so it was entirely possible Hyakki Yakou and I had a connection there.
I brought my thumb to the call button.
But I pressed it in the end.
It did not ring. It likely would have normally, but someone on the other end picked up before it had a chance
“Hello,” said someone who sounded like an elementary school girl.
However, her voice had a gracefulness unbefitting of that age.
I had never met her, but I felt like I had heard the voice before…and then I realized I had heard that same voice in a cell phone home video not long before.
“You need not pretend to be Hishigami Mai. I already know that phone has left her possession.”
Was it simply that she had seen it happen? Or had she set this all up so it would happen?
“I know how we are connected.”
“Is that all you wish to discuss?”
“The Zashiki Warashi,” I said.
I decided to get straight to the point rather than trying any tricks.
I guessed the sudden shock of that knowledge would provide the most impact.
“A Zashiki Warashi is a Youkai that protects a specific house, but there is no guarantee they will stay in one place. After all, it is well known that a household a Zashiki Warashi leaves will decline. I have no idea what house she…Yukari used to be in. I just assumed she had always been in mine. But it is possible she used to be with yours.”
“Is that a problem?”
“I know what it is that happened to me just a bit ago. It makes perfect sense. A Zashiki Warashi has the following abilities: 1. Adults cannot see them. 2. They provide ominous predictions of fires or other dangers to their household.”
Then again, my grandparents could see our Zashiki Warashi without issue and I had never heard anything about her predicting a fire.
That was an issue with our specific Zashiki Warashi. Those facts held true for the species as a whole.
“They can rewrite the information people see and they provide information on coming dangers. …That fits perfectly with the illusion I saw. What happened in this hotel? If what the woman who gave me this phone said is true, all of the workers here have been switched out with fakes. You created a Package to acquire that Zashiki Warashi, didn’t you?”
“Is that all you know?”
“I am asking if that is the extent of your knowledge. If so, I am sorry to say that I see no reason why I must continue this conversation.”
“If luring the Zashiki Warashi to this hotel was your top priority…”
I thought hard while I spoke.
But it was not enough.
I had my hands full already, but if I did not gather my hand quickly, I would lose the thin thread of hope that was the phone call.
“The lodging ticket for this hotel came to me via Madoka. That seems odd. Surely you had some way of giving one directly to the Zashiki Warashi.”
“I am sorry to say that-…”
“It seems odd that you would use such a roundabout method. For one thing, it means you had the precision to know for a fact she would announce she was going along as a pet. But that isn’t the only reason. If you can control people with that precision, you should have been able to lure the Zashiki Warashi to the hotel without bringing Madoka and me along too. And that means,” I paused for a second. “You purposefully brought Madoka and me here. Our inclusion was unrelated to the Zashiki Warashi.”
In my mind, I wondered if that was enough. However, I did not have time to think everything through carefully. If I fell silent, the girl would hang up. But I still felt like I was onto something.
“And that makes me suspicious of the guests other than Madoka and me. Is it just a coincidence that they are here too? Is there perhaps some kind of common thread between all of our inclusions? There is little in common between Madoka and me. Assuming we were not chosen for being in the same class in the same school, I can think of only one other possibility. …We were both involved in the Youkai incident at the Sanatorium.”
“Are you suggesting the other guests are also deeply related to Packages or Youkai?”
“I have no proof, but I could gather it if need be.”
“What could we possibly want from gathering all of you in one place?”
“You gathered a group of people who had overcome some incident involving Youkai and then caused a bizarre phenomenon centered on that Zashiki Warashi.”
Other than its precision, I could not immediately see any monetary value in that bizarre phenomenon.
But that was not the point.
The actual phenomenon did not matter. Something that gave it added value existed within the hotel.
“Here is what you are doing. You want to envelop the entire hotel in the Zashiki Warashi Package, and then easily defeat and kill us. That would be a success for you. I suppose it’s an issue of flexibility. By showing that this Package is something like an unavoidable black hole that swallows up even people who have dealt with various different kinds of incidents, you give your Package a valuable brand name image.”
It was the same as an Intellectual Village that strengthened the brand name image of their crops by using cutting edge technology to create the clean image of a rural area.
Hyakki Yakou was doing the same.
They had put together this plan to raise the value of their Youkai products.
What I did not know was whether they were actually in the business of buying and selling or if they were establishing manufacturing techniques and researching means of application.
“…So you have worked that much out,” said the girl.
“Indeed I have.”
“But I still see little meaning in continuing this conversation. You have not completely changed my mind. This may be useful to you, but I see no value in it for me.”
“Don’t be so quick to decide that. That woman gave me this satellite phone. She could have tried to negotiate with you or threaten you, but she didn’t. She handed this last thin thread of hope to me. Why do you think that is?”
“Because it is my house’s Zashiki Warashi at the core of this incident. I am the point of contact here. I have no intention of claiming I own her and she may have been in your household at one point. But I am probably the one with the strongest connection to her at this point in time. It isn’t you.”
“Do you think you can interfere with our assembly using that connection?”
“Do you think I can’t?”
That was of course a bluff. I did not have that ability and this “connection” was not something tangible. I had no idea how valuable a thing it was. Also, I doubted this enemy would actually take a high school student’s words seriously.
While my personal actions were one thing, I doubted that girl could ignore what that woman did.
And she had given the satellite phone to me.
“…We need a revival,” said the girl.
“For the most part, the organization actually taking action in the hotel is Saishi Kajin, not Hyakki Yakou. Does the name Matsukai Hiroshi sound familiar? They were absorbed into Hyakki Yakou the other day. We had to weaken them during the incident in Ubasute Village to do so. However, it was still not enough. We are still far from being revived. We need more than that.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The house a Zashiki Warashi leaves will decline. That is exactly right. It took hundreds of years, but that is what happened to Hyakki Yakou. That is why we put together a plan to recover her as quickly as possible. She is not a new acquisition. We are merely taking back what we once lost. But even if we compensate for our lost power with her, it will not be enough to stop the decline. Hyakki Yakou has already begun to collapse. That is why we must use everything we have to raise the value of the Zashiki Warashi’s power.”
“Answer me!! What are you talking about!?”
“If you actually knew what you were talking about, what I said should have been enough. If that was not enough for you, I will count you as a secure asset.”
Don’t let her shake your resolve.
“That woman was fighting with someone other than the Zashiki Warashi. Did you send them?”
“He is one of our top 5. He is one of Hyakki Yakou’s few pure spell users. That alone is a sign of our decline, but he is enough to defeat Hishigami Mai. This is another secure asset. Even if she defeats him, he will take her out in the process. The Zashiki Warashi will not be destroyed before this can truly begin.”
I was understanding less and less of what she was talking about. And the girl’s tone of voice was plainly changing as well. The longer she continued speaking, the shallowness of my knowledge grew more evident.
I knew very little of what was going on.
The household or organization known as Hyakki Yakou had begun to decline. One of the reasons for that was that the Zashiki Warashi had left them. They wished to retrieve that Zashiki Warashi to prevent further decline.
But that was not enough to know how to stop their plan.
She was shaking my resolve, but I had nothing to shake her resolve with.
What did that girl say?
And what did that woman say before we parted? She said she frequently receives jobs from Hyakki Yakou, right?
“It is my duty to bring about the revival of Hyakki Yakou,” said the girl.
Her words were icy.
She knew I had no trump card and would soon hang up.
“I will not shy away from sacrifice to do so. We absorbed Saishi Kajin, we will retrieve the Zashiki Warashi…and you all will be crushed underfoot to play the role of fertilizer. Sorry, but you cannot overturn this. I see nothing at your disposal that would allow that.”
“Can I say one thing before you hang up?”
“What would that be?”
An amateur student like me had no hopes of victory when it came to Youkai or underground society.
I had to change my strategy.
I had to use some method where a student like me was superior.
“Young lady, you may be an expert when it comes to Youkai, but you don’t like your science classes much, do you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s just…I’d rather not die in some plan thought up by an idiot who can’t do math. I was hoping you would deny it. If I’m going to die, can’t it at least be in some plan thought up by a genius!?”
“What…? Oh, I had heard that it used to be called science class. We call it ‘life environment studies’, and I like it just fine. Combining traditional science with history into one class was a decent idea, wasn’t it? Then again, I just learn from the textbooks. I am homeschooled.”
I could not help but laugh.
I had been afraid my acting wouldn’t be good enough to fool her.
“Did they still call it ‘life environment studies’ when they were talking about curriculum reform, getting rid of the more relaxed schedules, and maybe even going to school on weekends for more class time? I thought they changed it back to just science class then.”
The girl fell silent.
I then began speaking again to cut off her next excuse.
“And even the textbooks a homeschooled elementary school student would use will match the categories of the official curriculum. Once the schools stop calling it ‘life environment studies’, they would start making textbooks just for science. Wait…or would they? Which would it be?”
To be honest, a high school student like me had no idea how things worked for an elementary school student.
No matter how much knowledge someone gathered, there were things that only someone who was actually that age would know. And yet the person on the other end of the phone remained silent. They may have had extensive knowledge, but their confidence had been shaken by a student like me.
And that meant…
My guess had been right.
With the confidence that gave me, I took the plunge.
“How about you end this act. It’s no fun now that I’ve figured it out.”
“Was that not enough? You’re embarrassing yourself, so how about you start acting your age.”
I said it.
It was a natural question to come up with given everything that had happened. Was the person I was talking to actually the person that woman had wanted me to contact with the satellite phone?
To be blunt, wasn’t it possible she had been switched out with an imposter just like the hotel workers?
“Ha ha ha.”
I heard laughter. The voice was the same. It was the voice of a lovely young girl. But something about the tone of the voice had changed. The tone was that of a rude and vulgar man.
“Ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
“Enough pretending. It’s not like I can see you through the phone.”
“What tipped you off? That science vs. life environment studies business had to have only been the final push. You must have some more fundamental proof,” said the girl (?) while she gradually corrected the emotions hidden behind the words.
My answer was simple.
“That woman said she frequently receives jobs from Hyakki Yakou. And yet she did not hesitate to stab that worker from Saishi Kajin…Matsukai-san was it? That makes no sense if they had already been taken in by Hyakki Yakou. At the very least, she wouldn’t kill him on sight like that.”
“That is not proof. So all you really had was speculation.”
She did not explain what the fault in my reasoning was. Perhaps I did not have a proper understanding of the organization of Hyakki Yakou or of that that woman’s actions.
“But I will admit that you have seen through this farther than expected. Hyakki Yakou has split. One side is the Kaikoku faction that compromises and allows those outside the organization to take jobs in order to preserve order, and the other side is the Sakoku faction that will abandon order in order to strengthen the organization and keep everything within the organization. The actual ‘removal’ did not begin until about a week ago, so it is unknown if Hishigami Mai is aware of the situation as she was working in Europe at the time.”
One side was trying to protect order and the other was trying to destroy it.
From the situation, it seemed clear to me which one was our enemy.
In the ideal democracy, the majority did not have power robbed from them.
“For something you planned, you certainly are talking about it like it doesn’t matter.”
“What, do you want me to be more triumphant and to brag about it? Gwa ha ha ha ha. All we did was purge the incompetent leaders.”
“…I see. You saw crushing them as such a natural move that it does not even excite you and you do not feel any need to explain yourself. Are you even aware what you did qualifies as a coup d’etat?”
In a way, this was even more dangerous than a hackneyed demon king.
Didn’t I hear someone say that a sense of justice can destroy nations?
“What happened to the real Hyakki Yakou? What happened to that girl?”
“I am part of the real Hyakki Yakou. Have you ever heard the story of the Tanuki of Kachi-Kachi Mountain that killed an old lady and took on her form?”
“Just kidding. Things did not go that well. But even though we split, it was not an even split. One side is much larger than the other. And we absorbed Saishi Kajin to expand even further.”
“So you joined with an external group despite insisting on the purity of the organization?”
“We overwrote them. We merely gave them a chance for a religious conversion. Discord only occurs when differing systems are built into the organization. If they are completely remade before we use them, no rejection reaction occurs. The main principle required is a unified format.”
She was speaking with absolute confidence, but something about it seemed off to me.
Something about that ideology did not feel right.
It was like someone talking about a specific genre while not understanding any of the details of that genre. It was the same as how people would broadly describe matcha or red bean paste as tasting like Wagashi.
The Sakoku faction wanted to preserve purity by cutting off the normal flow of information and distribution, so would they actually carry out a plan that took in an external organization?
Was this girl (?) really part of the Sakoku faction?
In fact, was she even part of Hyakki Yakou?
Just as terrorist groups received support from powerful nations during the Cold War, it was possible she had merely been given her objective by whoever was truly behind the incident and that she actually had another objective of her own.
I had no idea what that might be, but I felt it would be prudent to keep that fact in mind.
Whether she had realized what I was speculating or not, the girl began to speak about what may have been related to her objective.
“The remnants of the old leaders abandoned their flying wing and have found somewhere to hide on land, but it is only a matter of time before they are found. They needed that wing to continually flee. It is self-evident what will happen if they stay in one place.”
According to her, Saishi Kajin had been overwritten by Hyakki Yakou and absorbed, but it was still possible that process had actually been begun by Saishi Kajin. Or perhaps both sides had complexly interweaving plans and they were both using the other for their own ends.
This was worse than simply not being able to negotiate. The person that woman had been expecting me to contact wasn’t even there, so the conversation could not even begin.
“Is keeping anything new out of the organization really that important?”
“If you were told to try living as a nudist for 24 hours starting tomorrow, would you simply nod and agree?”
Had this girl had checkmate from the very beginning?
Was the scope of the incident much larger than that woman had thought?
“Why did you choose this hotel?”
“For one, because its layout was easy to work into our plan. But that is really of little consequence. What truly mattered was Kotemitsu Madoka. We wanted to gather every single one of the characters we needed, but we had to stick to the formalities to lure her in. This hotel gave her peace of mind. If we had created a brand new hotel for this, she would have been too suspicious to get anywhere near it. …That did mean we had to do some horrible things to the original workers. That made this quite expensive.”
Her tone made it clear it was of little consequence to her.
Even if all of us were wiped out in the process of assembling this Zashiki Warashi Package, she would likely not even bat an eye.
“But it was not a major issue since almost everything has gone according to plan. Actually, some things have gone better than planned if you look at it in the right way. Circumstance has worked in our favor.”
“Human greed can be a frightening thing. We had initially determined it would be impossible to have complete information control. That satellite phone is a good example. That was why we simply had to accept the possibility of you calling the police in. Since we were creating bizarre phenomena that would swallow up people who had overcome other Packages, we figured the police would just be swallowed up as well.”
“Wait. So the flat tires on the cars and the phones not working wasn’t Hyakki Yakou’s doing!?”
“Thanks to that, it looks like the precision of our Zashiki Warashi assembly will increase. It isn’t an entirely good thing on our part, but…it doesn’t really matter. It will give us greater results in the end.” The girl paused for a second before saying, “And if you were not aware of that, then you truly do not have a proper understanding of this situation.”
The connection cut off.
I reached for the redial button without thinking, but did not press it. I knew trying to call again would be hopeless. She had said she “knew” what we were doing. Unless I did something that drew the interest of the current Hyakki Yakou, she would not answer the phone again.
“Hyakki Yakou isn’t the only enemy. Not all of the characters are accounted for yet.”
The flat tires.
The nonfunctioning phones.
“Just how many enemies do we have here…?”
Part 22 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
I first noticed that something wasn’t adding up when we decided to pool our information in the Zashiki Warashi’s room.
The Zashiki Warashi and Shinobu’s classmate Kotemitsu Madoka both gave the same story.
Shinobu had gone off somewhere to call the police. And since he had not yet returned, he must not have had much luck. They guessed the phones were not working.
“Mine works,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“My cell phone has a proper signal.”
It was possible Shinobu had lied to them and had gone off to do something else. But it seemed that was not the case. Kotemitsu pulled out her phone to check.
“Mine doesn’t. It has no signal.”
“Detective, neither does my smartphone. Maybe it’s because we have different carriers. I don’t even have a signal for the flat-rate calls using wi-fi.”
I had a bad feeling about what this meant.
I had a good idea what could be causing it. Besides the carrier, there was one other obvious difference between my phone and theirs.
I was a police officer.
To prevent important information from getting blocked by congested phone lines in emergencies, there was a system to artificially restrict those phone lines. Cell phones owned by the police, firefighters, EMTs, the JSDF, and government workers had a different designation that was allowed through while that system was active.
And in that case…
The people cutting off communications to isolate the hotel had to be…
“It can’t be…”
I pressed the call button on my cell phone. I simply pressed the call button without entering a number. When the system was being restricted, the places that could be called were also restricted.
And someone answered.
“It connected,” I said.
“Is that enough for you to figure out who I am?” asked the person on the other end.
“If my phone works, this must not be a JSDF format communications restriction. My phone’s designation would only get through with the police format. And only the riot police have the authority to activate that system. So you must be…”
“That level of information isn’t enough to determine who I am. Of course, you could always try to back trace this number or analyze my voice print.”
“Why?” The question naturally spilled out of my mouth. “This is a high level system within the police. Why would someone high enough to use it be aiding criminals!?”
“I’m sure you know exactly why.”
“You are the one that has seen this collapse of law and order the closest. All sorts of crimes being committed in this country can no longer be dealt with by the police. And those exceptions are growing. The very people who are committing crimes that must be punished are living among us as if they are on the side of justice.”
For an instant, I had no idea what he meant.
But then it hit me.
“Are you talking about the Hishigami sisters?”
“Our country is facing a crisis by allowing them to go free. People who know only a fraction of what they do are looking up to them and thinking they can do the same. These people have begun to appear and claim to be bounty hunters. But they are not very effective. They claim they are ‘investigating’ in order to justify stalking or explain away all sorts of destructive actions. Before long, they will likely decide who is guilty without carrying out a proper investigation and then carry out vigilante justice. We must put an end to this.”
“Is it really so obvious that these people are being influenced by them?”
“You are an excellent example.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Why are you in that hotel? Did you just decide to suddenly take 7 days of leave for fun? Would you normally let yourself do that as a government official? And yet there you are. You decided there was nothing you could do to stop it since the Hishigami sisters were involved, didn’t you? That kind of oddity is not isolated to just you.”
“But how will you fill in the gap this leaves? I will admit that those sisters don’t exactly walk the straight and narrow, but they do achieve results when it comes to cases involving Youkai. In fact, it is impossible for the current system of the Japanese police to actually destroy a Package. All we can manage is to arrest the human criminals using the Package. It is very nearly impossible for us to do anything about the deadly Youkai at the core of the case.”
That was why a Package would cause more and more damage once it was established. It would spread from person to person like new method of phone fraud.
“Unfortunately, we need the Hishigami sisters. We do not have the ability to overcome those things,” I continued.
“But that is no reason to turn a blind eye to the Hishigami sisters.”
He responded immediately.
He did not hesitate even for an instant.
“Our duty as the Japanese police is to stop crimes before they occur within this country and to solve cases that have already occurred. The circumstances do not matter. Even if the Hishigami sisters knew the sole way of stopping an asteroid that was on a collision course with earth, we would have no choice but to immediately arrest them if they broke the law. That is our duty as the police.”
“…So you aren’t giving this any thought at all?”
“It is because you think too much that you give into them so easily.”
“So you have nothing to fill the gap left by the Hishigami sisters!? You know the victims of Youkai-related incidents in the country will skyrocket, but you’re still going to eliminate the Hishigami sisters just because you resent them for butting into the police’s turf!?”
“We do not think we can accomplish this via normal methods. It would be very difficult to reliably eliminate the Hishigami sisters with the means available to us.”
He isn’t listening to me at all.
“But the circumstances have turned in our favor. To be honest, having an organization like that operating within the country is a major problem, but we will deal with them later. The Hishigami sisters take priority. For now, we just have to carefully interfere with a conflict between different aspects of the occult.”
“And to do this, you have no problem with killing living human beings and leaving other human beings to possibly die in the future?”
“So what if I am?”
“Then you are one of the criminals that I detest.”
I received no reply.
The connection suddenly cut off. I tried to dial a few emergency numbers, but I could no longer connect. My number must have been removed from the communications restriction system.
“Get away from the window. It will probably be difficult to leave this hotel.” I simply gave my conclusions to the others in the room. “This hotel is probably surrounded by riot police. Not only is there some incident related to dangerous Youkai being carried out here, but some others have come here to use it to their advantage.”
Part 23 (Jinnai Shinobu)
I rode the elevator to the 3rd floor. As the door opened, the satellite phone received a call.
It was from a different number than I had called before.
But when I answered, I heard the same girl’s voice.
“…Ksshh…Is this…Hishigami Mai-san…ksshh…?”
She doesn’t know who has the phone?
That must mean…
“Are you the real from Hyakki Yakou?”
“Who are you…ksshh..? No, that does not matter. If that phone has left Hishigami Mai’s possession, does that mean she has lost?”
I could not deny the possibility that this was the same girl (?) from before messing with me. But I could see no reason for her to do that. She had said she knew what I was doing. I didn’t see what information she would need to put on another act to get out of me.
“She gave me the phone herself. She is fighting somewhere, but I don’t know the details. What was it she said she was fighting? ...Illness Magic, I think.”
“That member of the top 5? That is not a good matchup. It isn’t a matter of power. She is horribly incompatible with that opponent.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Nothing…ksshh. No matter who you are, I doubt you can stand up to someone she cannot. This may sound coldhearted, but I think I need to change my plan.”
I did not like abandoning her, but it was true I couldn’t exactly turn around and help that woman.
“You must have some connection with the hotel. Either a worker or a guest. Ksshh…The Package prepared by someone claiming to be from the Sakoku faction covers the entire hotel, so I assume you are a guest if you are still there.”
The way she referred to the enemy seemed needlessly roundabout.
Had this girl also noticed something off about them?
“I am a guest. I was lured here with a free lodging ticket.”
“Then you are one of the survivors of a Youkai incident. Someone there should have a deep connection with the Zashiki Warashi in the hotel. Please contact that person. That is the only way to bring this to an end.”
And there it was.
If this girl was the same one as before, that would have been the bluff she was most worried about. My ability to interfere with the Zashiki Warashi at the core of their plan. She probably thought the odds were exceedingly low but still impossible to ignore.
To find a way to stop it, she had to get the information out of me.
The girl from Hyakki Yakou that carried out that coup d’etat had said she knew the situation here, but she could very well want to preemptively eliminate a risk.
Even if this girl was who she claimed to be, she was still a member of Hyakki Yakou.
I had no idea why she had called the satellite phone. She may have had her own objective and interests that were different from the Sakoku faction’s.
And she might need the Zashiki Warashi to do it.
Either way, I had to tread carefully from here on out. So carefully that I had to hide even the fact that I was treading carefully.
“I know Hyakki Yakou is trying to retrieve the Zashiki Warashi,” I said.
“I doubt doing so has any real merit.”
“But they were saying they would be revived if the Zashiki Warashi is brought back.”
“A household does not decline because a Zashiki Warashi left. The Zashiki Warashi leaves because the household is declining. …Ksshh… That is why you often hear that misfortune falls on a household once its Zashiki Warashi leaves, but you never hear of a Zashiki Warashi coming back. Unless the people of the household solve the underlying problem in their household, fortune will not return to them.”
“So the cause is within Hyakki Yakou?”
“That should be obvious since you have been wrapped up in our issues.”
“If you aren’t after the Zashiki Warashi, what do you want us to do?”
“The only way to bring this to an end is to search out the details of the enemy’s Package and destroy it.”
“How will that bring this to an end?” I was unsure if I was succeeding in drawing information out of her, but I continued speaking anyway. “We may be able to escape from this hotel, but won’t Hyakki Yakou keep trying to acquire the Zashiki Warashi? I have no idea where you people are. Wouldn’t we be left trembling in fear of another attack with no way to fight back?”
“Why would you?”
“If you only just so happened to meet the Zashiki Warashi here in the hotel…ksshh…why are you so worried about her continuing to be targeted once she leaves the hotel?”
That had not been the proper reaction for a normal guest who could just leave all this mess upon escaping the hotel. It had been the reaction of someone who would be staying with the Zashiki Warashi after escaping the hotel.
If this was the same girl as before putting on another act, then she had known who I was from the beginning.
But if this was the real girl and she was planning to use the Zashiki Warashi in some plan, it would be better if she did not know I had a connection to the Zashiki Warashi.
I needed something.
I needed anything that could explain away that reaction!!
“D-do you promise not to tell anyone?”
“Ksshh…Tell anyone what?”
“…It was love at first sight…”
My whisper elicited a strange shout from the phone.
The girl then lowered her voice to match my whisper.
“Oh…um…Hyakki Yakou has a few records of…um…unions between humans and Youkai. Ksshh…So it is not impossible…”
Why did this have to head in that direction?
Well, whatever. I managed to fool her.
“How will getting rid of the Zashiki Warashi Package solve the fundamental problem? The person behind all this is comfortably watching everything from well out of our reach, right?”
“No,” said the girl decisively. “The environment surrounding you…ksshhh…spreads much farther than you think. Ksshh…And the same goes for the person claiming to be from the Sakoku faction who is circling above the Pacific Ocean.”
“They…ksshhh…have not realized it yet. They do not know how far it spread…ksshhh…after they pulled the trigger. Kssshhh…If they did, they would never have left that there with so little defense…ksshh. Ksshh…Even though it is a necessary part of the Zashiki Warashi Package, they…kkkkkkssssssssshhhhhhhhhh!!”
“Hey, what’s wrong? I can’t hear you. What do you mean by ‘that’!?”
The static grew so loud I had to move the satellite phone away from my ear. When I hesitantly brought it back to my ear, all I could hear was the dial tone. The screen displayed a message saying the connection had been lost.
Had the Hyakki Yakou coup d’etat group interfered?
Or had something happened to the girl directly?
“…That got me nowhere.”
I had not been able to receive whatever crucial hint that girl had. Then again, I had no way of telling whether she was telling the truth or if she was putting on an act for her own ends.
At any rate, my only option was to meet up with the Zashiki Warashi.
If that indoor Youkai was a crucial part of the Package at the core of it all, meeting up with her would likely help me figure something out.
I returned to my room and knocked on the door.
For an instant, the thought of no one answering or kicking down the door and finding a bloody scene passed through my mind, but luckily, the door opened after a slight delay. The person who opened the door must have checked through the peep hole first.
My uncle was the one who opened the door.
“Shinobu, you’re okay.”
“I want to put an end to this. Is the Zashiki Warashi there?”
My uncle headed back into the room. I followed him in. The Zashiki Warashi…was there. She was sitting on the single bed. Madoka was sitting on the floor. A girl whose name I did not know was there was well. And curled up at the Zashiki Warashi’s feet was…
What? …A dog? No, a Sunekosuri?
“Zashiki Warashi, I need to speak with you.”
“If it’s a confession of love, wait until Christmas Eve. I’m steadily making progress on a merciless, decisive, and hilarious plan for that.”
“Damn you!! There are some things you don’t joke about!!”
She had been showing some signs of dere recently, but it looked like I needed to dig a bit deeper into that. Especially with that cold bath and nursing her back to health from before!!
“…So, Shinobu. What do you want to talk about?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but then froze in place.
The girl (?) from the Sakoku faction of Hyakki Yakou had said she “knew” what was happening here. I had no idea how she “knew”, but wouldn’t I be putting unnecessary risk on everyone in that room if I told them the core of the issue?
And the danger did not end if we escaped the hotel.
This held the danger of having that organization constantly targeting us for the rest of our lives.
I decided to tell as few people as possible.
“Let’s leave the room first.”
The Zashiki Warashi and I left the room.
Before we began speaking, the Zashiki Warashi grimaced.
“I have a bit of a headache.”
“Even though you’re a Youkai? I thought you couldn’t be hurt by normal methods.”
“I am not immune to things like heatstroke.”
“Come to think of it, that Yuki Onna has seemed a bit dizzy after taking a bath lately.”
“It might just be that time of the month.”
“Unfortunately, I do not think that’s it.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
“I want to ask about where you were before coming to my house.”
The Zashiki Warashi leaned up against the hallway wall, pressed her index finger to her temple, and sighed.
“I get the feeling you aren’t going to be satisfied if I just tell you I was protecting some other household.”
“The term Hyakki Yakou has come up. Does it ring any bells?”
“Shinobu.” The Zashiki Warashi quickly called my name before continuing. “In all seriousness, you might die. Even if you make use of the information I have and escape this hotel, you have no hope after that. I know staying here and not doing anything isn’t an option either, but you should think long and hard about how you plan to resolve this.”
“The very fact that I know the term Hyakki Yakou shows I’ve already gotten involved. Holding back now out of fear isn’t going to get us out of this.”
With that response, I showed I had resigned myself to this.
And I continued.
“So if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all out. I will completely crush the enemy. I want to get back to my normal life after leaving this hotel, and I can’t do that if I hesitate to take a running start. I will jump to the other side of the cliff. If I chicken out, I will fall. The odds of success are not good to begin with, but I need a full running start to have any chance of survival.”
The Zashiki Warashi tilted her head in puzzlement.
Her long hair covered her face so I could not see it.
“Hyakki Yakou,” she whispered. And then she continued. “Hyakki Yakou has been involved in all sorts of things for a long time. And it seems one of those things involved Zashiki Warashi. Since it is in my nature to wander from house to house, I had assumed I had just happened to end up with Hyakki Yakou. But it turned out I was wrong.”
“…You mean they influenced what house you chose?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that it was odd. I still do not know what exactly happened, what they were after, or even if they succeeded or not. That is the level Hyakki Yakou has reached. The millennium-old established theories that humans cannot kill Youkai and that humans cannot understand what Youkai are thinking do not apply to that group.”
Was the true threat humans or Youkai?
Or could Hyakki Yakou even be counted as humans?
“A Zashiki Warashi moves from house to house based on the rise and fall of the households, but after I saw a portion of the things going on there, I decided to leave of my own will for the first time. …I essentially ran away, but that may show that Hyakki Yakou’s methods were imperfect. Or perhaps they were already headed down the path of destruction at that point.”
“Was it after that that you came to my house?”
“That was about 150 years ago. I had some difficulties because places for Youkai like me were decreasing rapidly thanks to the end of Edo period. I certainly never expected for those places to make a comeback in the name of ‘Intellectual Villages’.”
“And Hyakki Yakou never tried to take you back?”
“There is no point in it.”
She makes it sound so simple…but wait. That isn’t what I heard.
“When a Zashiki Warashi like me leaves a household, it declines. At the very least, Hyakki Yakou had to have some internal trouble at the time. The stronger the household, the greater the chaos. And as I said, Hyakki Yakou was involved in many dangerous things, so there was a danger of causing a chain reaction that would destroy them utterly.”
“But Hyakki Yakou didn’t collapse. They still exist today.”
“Since I had left by that point, I can only speculate, but they probably did some insane things to get back the power they lost. It was a twisted place to begin with, but I get the feeling they have become even more twisted now.”
“What are you basing this speculation on?”
“From stories I have heard from Youkai passing by the house. Also…they are using everything they have to retrieve a Zashiki Warashi that has already left them. Hyakki Yakou must have transformed into something else if they do not realize the reasoning behind that is flawed.”
“…You knew what they are trying to do?”
“From the moment you uttered the term Hyakki Yakou, Shinobu.”
The Zashiki Warashi let out a deep sigh.
Either her headache was getting worse or the problem we were facing had her worried.
“Shinobu, you said Hyakki Yakou is at the core of this. And if they are after me, Yukari, specifically rather than any old Zashiki Warashi, that has to be their aim. If their plan simply needed a Zashiki Warashi, they should have targeted one they had no previous connections to. It’s an issue of purity. I don’t know if it’s due to the good fortune or if it’s some spiritual thing, but Zashiki Warashi are welcomed in this day and age. And they are not exactly rare. I can see no good reason for them to specifically target me.”
“It ‘seems’ like Hyakki Yakou has undergone a split after a coup d’etat. But it only ‘seems’ that way. It might not be true,” I warned. “It also ‘seems’ this rampage is thanks to that. According to the group that ‘seems’ to want to bring an end to the coup d’etat, we need to figure out how this Zashiki Warashi Package works to resolve this problem. Since it ‘seems’ you are the one it’s built around, do you have any ideas or hunches?”
“That’s a lot of ‘seems’.”
“What do you think they could gain by lying about all that?”
“I don’t know.” The Zashiki Warashi seemed to be the type to not give much thought to things she did not immediately know. “Oftentimes, the Youkai a Package is built around is completely unaware of it. And in this case, Hyakki Yakou is behind it. They will have meticulously arranged the environment. It’s a miracle I am even feeling this headache.”
“…So it isn’t going to be that easy.”
“But if they have built a Package around me to create some kind of bizarre phenomenon, it would probably be related to a house or building.”
“So you’re saying the hotel itself is a part of the Package?”
“Not necessarily. Basically, they have to prepare something that perfectly corresponds to it and use that. It would be similar to magic that that uses a doll to harm a human. It could be a model of the hotel or a diagram of its layout. There should be plenty if we look. Unlike the old days, this age is quite convenient.”
Didn’t I see something like that?
That girl said something about the core of this Package being in the hotel. Not an illustration or a piece of art, but something functional and crucial to the Package. Where had I seen it?
“The diagram. The diagram of the hotel on the wall behind the front desk!!”
Part 24 (Zashiki Warashi - Yukari)
The diagram of the hotel?
Hotel diagrams had to be all over the place. For example, on the inside of every room’s door. If I recalled correctly, they provided escape routes for guests in the case of different disasters. They were not required by law to be posted there, but it seemed to be standard.
And other than those escape route maps, oftentimes other diagrams would be posted to show the way to the restaurant and other services.
Those diagrams did not need to be perfectly accurate. For example, the escape route maps only needed to show the way to the emergency exits. It could omit portions of a long hallway and things like that. Diagrams and maps that were precisely made would probably be rare.
“The diagram at the front desk?”
“That’s right. A huge diagram was hanging on the wall behind it. If something that corresponds to the hotel is being used as a part of the Package, it has to be that.”
“But you have no idea how many hotel diagrams there are in the building. What about the escape route maps or guide maps? There might be a diagram in the pamphlets. What makes you so sure the diagram at the front desk is the one?”
“I think Hyakki Yakou knows a lot of things about this situation that we can’t see. And it probably goes even beyond what I am imagining.” Shinobu grinned as he headed for the elevator hall. “But there is one thing not even Hyakki Yakou can see. I was affected by the Zashiki Warashi Package. And that Package shows you an ominous future. And that is why a complete amateur like me knows something Hyakki Yakou does not.”
“You saw something in the future?”
“I noticed something that seemed odd and it might be the true crux of this issue.”
“So you’re saying anything good that happens from here on out is thanks to me.”
“I would rather bow down to Hyakki Yakou than say that.”
We rode the elevator down to the first floor. No workers were at the front desk when we arrived. And sure enough, a giant decorative diagram of the hotel’s first floor covered the wall behind it. It looked like someone had framed a wooden board covered with paper.
When I drew closer, I noticed something was splattered here and there on the diagram. I could see red dots of what looked like blood. It may have corresponded to what was happening in the hotel.
It would be too naïve to think breaking that diagram would resolve the situation. That was like trying to stop a precise time bomb with a karate chop.
All the more so since this Package had been assembled by Hyakki Yakou.
“So what drew your attention to this diagram?”
“In the prediction the Package gave me, this was not the diagram I saw,” said Shinobu. “I didn’t take much notice of it at the time since I was finding corpse after corpse of people I knew, but I remembered it once I had calmed down and thought back on it. The diagram hanging here was not this one.”
Shinobu climbed over the front desk and headed for the back wall. He reached for the large diagram that seemed to be covering some kind of painting and removed it.
And behind it was…
“This is a diagram of our house,” said Shinobu.
That’s right. It was a diagram of the Japanese-style thatch roof house that I currently protected.
So is this what Shinobu saw in that vision?
But it turned out that was not right either.
“This isn’t what I saw either.”
He then removed that diagram. And below it was a third one. This one I had a feeling Shinobu did not recognize. Most likely, none of the hotel’s guests would recognize it. Of all the people here, I was probably the only one who knew what it was.
“…That’s Hyakki Yakou’s old headquarters.”
“So it’s going backwards. Zashiki Warashi, this is your history. If I removed this one, I would probably find the diagram of the house you protected before it. And when we go forward through history, the diagram on top was for this hotel. Do you see what that means?”
“They are trying to move me from your house to this hotel?”
“I have no idea if they can make you do it against your will, but given what Hyakki Yakou wants, that is likely their ultimate objective. You might be stripped from our house when you are completely drawn into the Package.”
“So you noticed?” Shinobu spoke slowly as if rearranging the information in his head on the fly. “You are a Youkai that wanders from house to house. And you are thought to control the fortune of the house you currently reside in. But that isn’t accurate. The house a Zashiki Warashi leaves will decline. Even after the Zashiki Warashi has abandoned a house, the Zashiki Warashi’s effects remain. In other words, you are still directly having a negative effect on Hyakki Yakou. I have no idea where Hyakki Yakou’s headquarters are, but if we have something that can directly interfere with you, then we can attack Hyakki Yakou’s headquarters no matter where they might be. Just like they tried to interfere by putting these red dots on the hotel diagram.”
His reasoning may have been sound.
When based in the laws of Youkai rather than the laws of physics, his reasoning may have been sound.
“That won’t work.”
“That will not work here. We do not have enough here to strike back against Hyakki Yakou.”
I knew of a fatal weakness in Shinobu’s escape plan.
“Hyakki Yakou’s headquarters were lost long ago. It was the thanks they got for making too many enemies. They are likely using some completely other place for their headquarters now. In other words, you will not find the heart of Hyakki Yakou by heading back into the past. Hyakki Yakou’s heart lies in the future, so it is out of our reach. Most likely, Hyakki Yakou plans to transfer me to this hotel and then hang a diagram of their new headquarters over the hotel diagram to transfer me there!”
I did not look at Shinobu’s face when I told him that. I had a guess what his expression would be, but I did not look. After all, if that was the only hope we had and if that was the trump card Shinobu and the one who gave him the information had, then the only fate left for us was…
- Why is…
My consciousness began to break apart. It was coming from the right of the front desk. The hallway leading away was now wrapped in a dim darkness. The lights were still on, but it was now too dark to see far back into it and the area was wrapped in a clearly odd atmosphere. I was a Youkai so I could not be killed easily, but what I saw there made even me tremble. It felt ominous. I was fearful. I had felt this feeling before. I knew it well after the time I had spent in that place.
An existence even more deviant than a simple deadly Youkai.
The woman who had stabbed a man with a fork had maintained her camouflage even after taking action. That was frightening enough, but this was on a completely different level. This was a mass of fear that gave one a new idea of what “pure” fear was.
As sweat soaked my body, I heard a simple electronic tone. It was as if someone had been waiting for that moment. It was coming from the object in Shinobu’s hand that looked like an unrefined cell phone. Shinobu must have had an idea who it was from because he looked nervous as he answered it.
I heard a young girl’s voice come from the device.
But was it really a girl speaking?
“I see you have made it to the core of this issue.”
“Thanks to you.”
“You probably have only a few minutes until the Illness Magic user reaches you. I do not care what you do until then, but you cannot reach me no matter what you do to those diagrams.”
“So I take it destroying the hotel diagram will not destroy the Package.”
“If you do that, you will only cause the hotel to come crumbling down with you inside. But the frame is sturdy and the glass is bulletproof, so destroying it would prove difficult.”
“What if I destroyed the diagram of Hyakki Yakou’s old mansion?”
“That mansion burned to the ground long ago. It is possible you might damage some unrelated building that has been built on the land since, but it will not reach me.”
That was right.
The final piece of the puzzle was not in the hotel.
Shinobu needed the diagram of Hyakki Yakou’s current headquarters. But it was not here. Once the Zashiki Warashi…that is to say, me…was fully drawn into the Package, my residence would transfer to the hotel. Then they just had to hang up the new diagram to complete their plan. And Hyakki Yakou had no reason to bring that final diagram here at this stage.
“I just have one last question,” said Shinobu.
His tone of voice cut through my fear and made me frown. It did not match the situation. He seemed to have some hope left.
“In your Zashiki Warashi Package, you take the abilities of a Zashiki Warashi to keep adults from seeing her and to inform people of coming fires or other dangers to the household, and you have rebuilt them so that they will show people images of ominous predictions of death, right?”
“Yes. Due to the circumstances, we can only show them. We cannot see them as well. However, that tragedy of yours is set in stone. Whatever you saw, it had to have been an ill omen.”
“And it was. The current situation is at a high enough difficulty level that even that woman’s safety is unclear. This has been made so anyone would lose no matter what they do. So I believe what I saw in that vision. If I do not stop this, it will definitely happen. But that wasn’t my question,” said Shinobu. “Does this Package of yours only work once?”
“The hotel diagram is only of the first floor. And I didn’t see any illusions like that after heading into the elevator. What I want to know is: will I be forced to see that prediction again and again as long as I stay on the first floor of the hotel?”
I could not figure out what Shinobu was getting at.
I could not see how seeing horrible visions over and over would help him escape this crisis.
Despite the present danger of a Hyakki Yakou member approaching, I focused on Shinobu.
“Dammit. It’s all twisted around. I can’t figure out the order of events. It’s just like back then. The Zashiki Warashi prediction is coming again.”
“What good does that do you?” asked the girl over the phone. “What help can you get by seeing a future that you cannot avoid? As I said, you cannot stop us with just the diagrams in that hotel. You are missing one crucial piece. What do you hope to accomplish?”
“It wasn’t this one,” cut in Shinobu.
The force behind his words did not merely bring him to the same level as this person from Hyakki Yakou. It brought control of the conversation to him.
“The diagram I saw in the vision wasn’t of the hotel. But it wasn’t the diagram of Hyakki Yakou’s old mansion either.”
“The diagram I saw was for a special V-shaped passenger jet called a flying wing! After it was all over, that diagram was placed over the others! That final piece may not exist here now, but it will be there in the future. And I saw the future!!”
The pen used when checking in was sitting on the front desk.
Shinobu snatched it up and brought the tip directly to the surface of the front desk.
“I only know the broad details right now. I can’t make a detailed diagram right now. But if I see that scene again, I will acquire your weakness! By drawing it on the desk, I can bring the diagram of that flying wing back to the present!!”
“!! The Illness Magic!!”
I distinctly felt something approaching through the dim darkness spreading through the hallway. But something held it back. It was being stopped by something.
Is someone standing up to that monster!?
“You said this hotel would collapse if I destroyed the hotel diagram! And you said a new building constructed on the same land might be destroyed if I destroyed the diagram of Hyakki Yakou’s old mansion. So if I have the diagram for that flying wing, I can make your airplane break apart in midair!!”
The girl was shouting something, but Shinobu did not seem to be listening.
His body lurched forward.
His eyes were following something that was very clearly not there.
Part 25 (Jinnai Shinobu)
I once more faced that tragedy that I had never wanted to see again.
Part 26 (Jinnai Shinobu)
I had returned. I had returned to that place. I had returned to that time. It was such a horrific scene that I could feel sweat unnaturally pouring from my body, but I did not have time to care. I gripped the pen and faced the front desk.
I had to finish before this fresh fear left me.
I had to drag that flying wing diagram from the future and into the present!!
“That is impossible…” I could hear the girl’s voice coming from the satellite phone. “Even if you have the information from the diagram, an amateur cannot draw it well enough free-hand! You do not have the time needed for that!! One of our top 5, the Illness Magic user, will reach you soon. You will be eaten into and destroyed before you can finish!!”
“Hey, just to be sure: you drove the proper owners of that thing out and no one but the Sakoku faction of Hyakki Yakou is onboard, right? The real girl ran away somewhere, right?”
“What are you-…?”
“Also, I hope you’re flying over the ocean right now. I would really like to end this without getting any innocent people involved. I heard you were circling around above the Pacific Ocean, so hopefully that was accurate.”
“Illness Magic, the contents of the prediction do not matter. Eliminate the uncertain factor right now!!”
“Will that tragic future finally arrive or will I put a stop to everything here? Let’s see who is faster, young lady.”
The tip of the pen raced across the desk.
At the same time, I noticed a strange black spot appear on the end of one of the fingers on my right hand. It spread in no time at all. This was the Illness Magic. This was what managed to defeat that monstrous woman. At first, I felt no pain, but I then felt something rising up from the depths of my stomach. I was unable to keep it down and it spewed out all at once.
“Cough cough!! Cough cough!!”
It was not vomit.
I had never eaten anything that red!
The Zashiki Warashi shouted something, but I could not make out her words over a tremendous ringing in my ears. My sense of balance ceased to function properly. But it did not matter. It did not matter what happened. All that mattered was that I had to force that weakness to appear in the present!
As silent changes assaulted my body, I focused everything I had on my right hand. I moved it quickly but accurately. To draw that answer that existed only in my memories into the real world, I had to keep my unnatural headache and feeling of intoxication from wiping it from my memory. I had to get as close as possible to the full picture of that flying wing!!
I could feel a straining noise. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from my bones, my muscles, or my internal organs. An unpleasant sweat flowed from my entire body and I felt such a chill that I lost all sense of temperature. My legs grew unsteady beneath me and I felt like I was standing on the deck of a rocking boat. I could not stop the blood from coming out of my mouth. It was coming out so quickly I thought an entire organ was going to come up with it. My right hand shook. My strength on the pen faded. The pen fell from my hand. My final weapon slipped from my grasp.
“It is over,” said whoever it was that used that girl’s voice. “You had a chance, but you simply do not have the skill. Hyakki Yakou’s Illness Magic user is reliable. He is so reliable that counting on his success is not a gamble. That is the difference between a pro and an amateur. Your trump card is not enough to overcome his reliability. No matter what.”
“…Not…necessarily…” I forced out the words while primarily focused on catching gasps of air through all the blood. “I do not need the pen.”
“Did you really think I could draw an accurate enough diagram by free-hand? Keep in mind, I’m just a high school student. I’m not an Itako and I cannot use automatic writing. There’s no way I could actually pull that off. And…”
As I spoke, I pulled out my true final weapon from where it was tucked into the Zashiki Warashi’s obi.
It technically belonged to me, but the Zashiki Warashi always used it as a music player.
“The 21st century is quite convenient. You can acquire an accurate diagram without drawing it out free-hand.”
“You don’t mean… A smartphone…no, the digital camera!!”
“I saw an accurate diagram of the flying wing hanging here in that tragic future. So naturally you must have a copy prepared somewhere in the hotel, right?”
“Illness Magic… Fall back, Illness Magic!!”
“That’s right. The Illness Magic. That diagram is the cornerstone of your plan. You cannot allow it to be altered or damaged in the slightest, so you would leave it with the strongest person you had. You didn’t want it getting destroyed before the plan was complete! That made things simple for me. I had to make the Illness Magic user rush things so the boss character carrying the flying wing’s diagram would let his guard down! I had to get him to come forward and step into the danger zone!!”
Of course, I was just a high school student.
No matter how much I made him rush things, I could never hope to win against someone who sounded like they belonged in an RPG like this Illness Magic user. I would likely be unable to make him falter for even an instant. I would only end up transformed into some gruesome corpse.
Someone else was there.
When I had started to draw the decoy diagram, the Illness Magic user had oddly stopped moving when he started to come to stop me. It had been as if something was preventing him from approaching. There was definitely something there. It was that monstrous woman who seemed more suited to appearing in an RPG than your average Youkai. She was the only one who could stand up to that Illness Magic user.
And so I just had to shout.
“You don’t have to defeat him… Just snatch it away from hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!”
I heard an odd rumble in response.
The dim darkness filling the hallway wavered unnaturally and I glimpsed something white.
It was a large sheet of paper that had likely been rolled up.
It was a diagram.
A diagram of a flying wing.
A diagram of Hyakki Yakou’s headquarters.
It quickly disappeared into the dim darkness like it was a ship sinking into the ocean at night. But before it did, I had held out the lens of my smartphone and the phone sent out several quick flashes of light. I took an accurate photograph of the diagram.
I lightly tossed the smartphone toward the wall behind the front desk and the long headphone cords wrapped around the fixture meant to hang the frame from.
“All I need is an accurate diagram hanging against this wall. It doesn’t have to be the copy the Illness Magic user has, right?”
“I’ve created your weakness,” I said slowly to make sure.
That smartphone had been expensive and I was unsure how much longer my backup phone would last, but it had to be done.
The girl was at a loss for words. A complete loss for words. She had constantly had control of the situation as the leader of a group that neither human nor Youkai could hope to oppose, and yet she was at a loss for words.
That told me all I needed to know.
The enemy’s reaction when seeing my actions told me more than my own actions had.
It was time for me to finish things.
“Fall down to the depths of the earth, Hyakki Yakou!!”
I swung the heavy satellite phone as hard as I could and slammed the bottom of the device into my own smartphone. The second device was completely smashed. Or more accurately, the flying wing diagram displayed on the screen was completely smashed.
I heard violent static come from the satellite phone.
And I doubted it was simply due to the impact breaking the phone.
Part 27 (Hishigami Mai)
“Cough!? Cough cough cough!! Cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough!?”
Ugh, I thought I was going to die.
But something must have happened since the “invasion” had ended before the Illness Magic could destroy me from the inside out. I placed my hands on the floor and coughed up a pool of blood, but that was all. That was the end of it. It looked like the Illness Magic had left my body.
In the very end, that kid had made things easier for himself. I had just meant for him to do his best free-hand to draw the flying wing diagram out of his vision of the future. But thanks to him, I had been forced to directly steal the diagram from that monster.
The dim darkness faded away slightly.
I forced open the one eye that I could not see out of thanks to the blood flowing over it, and called out into the remaining dim darkness.
“You aren’t going to continue this?”
“I see no reason to.”
“You could kill me to take revenge.”
“I act based on reason, not emotion.”
“I have to ask. What caused you all to so hurriedly throw together this coup d’etat?”
“MI6, the CIA, and the European Security Force.”
…Dammit. So that’s it.
I had forgotten about that.
“So the people putting together a system to use Succubi in Europe had you that scared? I looked into it, but it was a failure. I believe I even sent in a report.”
“The system itself may have failed, but the network built up around that failure still created a community built around the Succubus. The officials in control of the plan were completely charmed by her. Depending on how you look at it, this is an even greater threat. A demon has built this up using the power of a human organization.”
I see. That is very true.
“But in that case…” I said.
“Couldn’t you interpret this infighting within Hyakki Yakou as having been caused by that Succubus? Just like our movements were controlled with those hotel lodging tickets. …And it must have been done cleverly enough to keep any of you from catching on.”
“This new community would have a plethora of reasons to want the old Hyakki Yakou to be crushed.”
“I suppose you could see it that way.”
“Where are you going?”
“My priorities have changed. It seems there is someone else I must defeat.”
And that was it.
The dim darkness completely disappeared now. The hallway was now illuminated like a normal hotel hallway. I could see clearly all the way to the wall at the end of the hallway. It looked like the Illness Magic user had truly left.
Not that he would be able to simply leave with no trouble.
He surely understood that and that may have been why he decided to leave me be and find an escape route as quickly as possible. Or perhaps he was looking for something of enough value to get Hyakki Yakou to forgive him.
“Are you okay!?”
Jinnai Shinobu came running over with the Zashiki Warashi with him. He must have received a bit of the effects of that Illness Magic. For someone with no defenses, he had done well to withstand its effects mentally. It was possible he had what it would take to thoroughly remodel his body like mine.
“…N-not so much. If this incident continues any longer, I might seriously be in trouble.”
“I settled things with Hyakki Yakou. Their coup d’etat is over. The real girl will probably deal with the rest.”
“That isn’t the end of it.”
I had a feeling it would come to this. Don’t claim it’s over when you haven’t done anything to deal with that!!
“Hey, Jinnai Shinobu-kun. What did you see in your vision of the future? Were you spewing blood everywhere and dying after being attacked by some strange form of the occult?”
“You weren’t, were you? If you had, you would have been more cautious about dealing with the Illness Magic user. I don’t know what you saw, but it was more of a collection of different deaths, wasn’t it?”
“But I avoided that future, so the present will be different, right? …Right? Are you saying that future is still going to happen!?”
“The riot police…” muttered the Zashiki Warashi. “Uchimaku Hayabusa mentioned it. A portion of the riot police are surrounding this hotel and cutting off all communications in order to assassinate the Hishigami sisters who keep butting into the police’s turf. They are waiting for an opportunity to interfere and eliminate those sisters that they cannot normally handle.”
“Tch. Jinnai Shinobu-kun, does that match what you saw?”
“Not really… What I saw didn’t seem at all related to Youkai either though. It was more like…something from a splatter film. It didn’t look like something carried out by an expert marksman, that’s for sure.”
“The riot police can get away with it more easily by making it look that way. They probably secretly secured a serial killer to take the fall for it. …It’s possible the deaths in the prediction were actually caused by the Illness Magic user, but the corpses were later altered to look more gruesome. That would be why you saw it as something caused by a serial killer.”
Either way, this was bad.
Thanks to the Illness Magic user, Jinnai Shinobu and I could not move. The detective…well, he could not handle this on his own. He would be overwhelmed by a group like the riot police. My little sister was the intellectual type, so it was out of the question to ask her to fight. Kotemitsu Madoka was an unknown factor, but she probably would have played a bigger role during the issue with Hyakki Yakou if she was at all useful.
That left the Zashiki Warashi and Sunekosuri as our biggest hopes since they could not be killed easily.
“Zashiki Warashi, do you think you can handle this?”
“Do not expect any kind of battling or action from me. And I refuse to act as a shield either.”
“That’s what I expected. And I really doubt I can expect anything out of the Sunekosuri.”
A Youkai’s testimony could not be used in court, so even if the riot police found they could not kill the Zashiki Warashi and the Sunekosuri, they would just ignore them and head into the hotel to slaughter the rest of us. That meant our situation could be summed up with the word “bad”. I did not want to die yet and I did not want to get my little sister involved in all this.
“Jinnai Shinobu-kun. Where is the satellite phone I lent you?”
“It’s mostly broken.”
From the look of the phone he handed me, he had certainly not treated it as one should treat a borrowed item. If we survived this, I decided I would send him a bill.
I checked over it and discovered it could still make calls.
That was fortunate.
It was finally time for the final character to redeem herself.
“Young lady,” I said into the phone.
“What is it?”
“I assume you have noticed that the situation has been resolved. While I would rather not have you steal Jinnai Shinobu-kun’s victory, I have a request for you if you have retrieved command of Hyakki Yakou.”
“Tell me what you need.”
“Take care of the riot police outside.”
Those magic words showed their effects quite quickly.
Part 28 (Jinnai Shinobu)
That had been a terrible trip.
I hadn’t had time to try to get it on with Madoka, the Zashiki Warashi seemed to be planning some kind of unpleasant surprise for Christmas Eve (I had a feeling she was going to make some announcement I would be unable to refuse despite knowing it was a trap), I had never gotten a chance to approach that mystery freak girl, and her older sister had been too frightening to approach!!
And yet with Hyakki Yakou and that Illness Magic user, I had way too many opportunities to come into contact with things I did not want to!! And even now that I had returned to my thatch roof house, I did not feel comfortable at all!! I had no idea when that kind of threat was going to appear again!!
So much bad had happened and yet no good had happened whatsoever.
The moment the Zashiki Warashi returned to her own territory, she folded one of the living room cushions in half and used it as a pillow.
“It’s only when I get back that I remember how boring it is here,” she said.
“Don’t just lie around. Help me carry in this luggage.”
“I doubt it would help with this boredom, so I’ll pass.”
In the end, I was forced to carry in her luggage as well as my own. While I did so, the flat-chested Yuki Onna and the Nekomata ran out from farther in the house.
I was right. That Nekomata won over my granny so she can stay here.
“…Do you have a souvenir for me? …If not, let’s get married…”
“I heard they have a local melon-flavored pet food there.”
Eh? How can they possibly expect a souvenir?
Those two may not have known, but it was a miracle I was even alive.
Maybe that whole incident would have been easier if I had brought along those legitimately deadly Youkai…
But the group in Hyakki Yakou that carried out the coup d’etat had probably guided us such that it didn’t turn out that way.
“Shinobu,” said the Zashiki Warashi as she pressed a massager belonging to my mother against her calf. (By the way, god, does it mean I have a dirty mind if the sight of a girl holding an electric massager gets my heart racing?) “Do not try to use Youkai to solve all of your problems. That would set you on the path to becoming like the people you saw.”
She may have been right.
That woman, Hyakki Yakou, and the Illness Magic user.
All of them probably began with nothing more than a thought similar to mine. In most old stories, fortune given by some strange person or creature only gave you happiness if you were unaware of it.
Shita-Kiri Suzume, Hanasaka Jii-san, Tsuru no Ongaeshi, and Kobutori Jii-san.
You could benefit from those things, but it would turn to tragedy if you got greedy.
“Happiness comes to the honest” was not just a nice saying.
It was a coldhearted sign telling you those that did not know right from wrong would get their comeuppance. The people I had met may not have received any kind of obvious punishment, but that just showed how far from the normal path they had strayed.
I did not want to become like them.
It did not matter if doing so would give me the power to stand at the center of the issue.
I would rather stay on the outskirts of the issue to the very end.
“Then again, Shinobu, all that would happen if you were honest is I could have more fun teasing you. …But you aren’t bad when you are like that. How about you go back to being a baby, Shinobu?”
I was not dealing with a Buddha like in the story of the Kasajizou. I was dealing with Youkai. If you were hoping for any kind of favor, you would only receive harsh retaliation. If you were trying to subjugate them, they would provide an overwhelming counterattack. If you tried to act indifferent, they would come to you. If you tried to accept them naturally, they would have no qualms about tricking you.
I could not use them.
If I forgot to show them the proper respect, they would snap at me.
And yet when they occasionally decided to help someone on a whim, they could save someone who had only run across them by chance.
“…I wonder if there is any way to just get along with Youkai.”
“That would certainly make this easier.”
Suddenly, my overall small granny walked in.
“What is it, granny?”
“A package arrived for you. It is too heavy for me to carry in.”
“??? Zashiki Warashi, did you order something on the internet again?”
“I bought a folding bicycle on your account.”
“Why were you using my computer for that!? O-oh, no! My credit is going to plummet!!”
“But I would think a folding bicycle would be fairly light. It shouldn’t be too heavy to carry.”
I headed for the front door and found a giant cardboard box. The Zashiki Warashi was right about one thing: it didn’t look like it was a folding bicycle. It was much too big for that. The box was large enough for a fair-sized washing machine.
And it was not a box from an online shopping site.
“Did my uncle send me something? Does it have a label anywhere?”
I looked closely at the top of the box.
With a loud ripping noise, the top of the cardboard box tore open from the inside. Something shot out of the box and struck me on the chin.
The world spun and my sense of balance was thrown out of order. I thought it was some kind of overly enthusiastic jack-in-the-box, but it was not. When I took a step back while holding my chin with one hand, I could see what had struck me.
It was a head.
It seemed a woman had been hiding in the cardboard box and her upper body had shot up out of the box.
“Ahh, I’m exhausted. Hm? Huh? I can’t get out… Well, I don’t need the box anymore. I’ll just rip it apart.”
“Wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait!!”
“You look like you’re wondering why something shaped like a human was packed into this box.”
“That’s not the main issue here!”
“But there are some things in this world that look like humans but are not humans.”
“That isn’t it either!! In fact, I know that all too well since I already have 3 Youkai living here!!”
“…Then why do you look so confused?”
The “thing” tilted her head in puzzlement and I pointed at that glamorous beauty.
“You have spiraling goat horns on your head, bat wings on your back, and a pointed tail!!”
“I don’t think I could be any more stereotypical of a demon.”
“We already had our hands full with Japanese monsters!! We don’t need you suddenly expanding the setting with a Western one right at the end!!”
Also, I was shocked to see my granny was only grinning in amusement at this Succubus’s arrival!!
“My specific race is Succubus. I make sure to evolve daily to match the needs of the current age. As proof, I am wearing the classic of the sexy swimsuits, the micro bikini. But I can switch over to a PE outfit or a maid uniform depending on your personal tastes. Your options are endless!!”
As my veins protruded on my temple, the Zashiki Warashi whispered to me.
“Shinobu, if you just accept this and everything it implies, you will probably die.”
“Yes, it would be too much to manage… But I suppose it was too convenient for only the Japanese islands to be full of these strange exceptions. It does make sense…but isn’t this the kind of thing Hyakki Yakou is supposed to deal with!?”
“I’m actually on the run from Hyakki Yakou. Using the desires of some officials in Europe, I was about to take control of an international agency in the EU when I was defeated. They were really playing dirty. They sent Illness Magic in to take advantage of a weakness to the historic bubonic plague.”
“Stop, stop!! Not only is that probably full of information that will put my life at risk to hear, but I can’t possibly comprehend it all at once like that!! It’s all too sudden!!”
“Have you heard of an organization called Saishi Kajin?”
“I think they came up in the issue related to Hyakki Yakou. Weren’t they absorbed by Hyakki Yakou?”
“It was an art research group made up of strange people who were working to create the ultimate beauty. The ultimate beauty they wanted to create would surpass the barriers of time period and cultural region. They intended to have this beauty sit on a throne as an empress while they devoted themselves to her.”
“Oh, you’re a quick one! I think I can expect great things from you, master!! Just between you and me, that sounds a lot like the community based around desire that sprang up around a Succubus in Europe!!”
“That was your organization!? Also, don’t call me master! It affects me more than I’d like to admit! So you had your organization be enemies of Hyakki Yakou and then be absorbed by them to affect their balance of power? So the one behind that coup d’etat was…!?”
“I come from Western European culture, so I of course had nothing to do with the creation of that purely Japanese organization. But Saishi Kajin failed to create the beauty they wanted. I will admit to showing them a bit of a dream while they were so disheartened, though.”
So you took over that empty shell of an organization!?
If that European community, or whatever it was, had also been quietly causing trouble for Hyakki Yakou, then she had put pressure on them from both within the country and without!
She had slipped through the darkness and gaps in large but not overly powerful organizations to freely draw out the power they had. I was not accustomed to Western monsters, but that way of thinking may have made her a lot more dangerous than the straightforward methods of Hyakki Yakou.
“…Wait? Th-then was the person claiming to control the Sakoku faction of Hyakki Yakou…”
She had been in the form of a girl.
She had acted on the desire for political power.
She had robbed a large organization of its calm and then taken control.
And I had sensed something off about the girl (?) claiming to be from the Sakoku faction while I had spoken to over the satellite phone.
She had spoken in general terms as if she did not understand the details of Hyakki Yakou.
It was as if someone from outside of Japan had been speaking of things within Japan based on secondhand knowledge.
Could it be?
“W-wait a second!! So was that leader of the Sakoku faction you too!?”
“No, no. That’s reading too much into it. I can’t split into two like a planarian. If I could do that, I wouldn’t have to run away like this. In Europe, I created a community based around desire, the European Security Force, and went around winning over high officials from allied nations. That was one of those officials.”
“You’re still the one behind it!!”
“Yeah, but Hyakki Yakou was the one that interfered first. One of them came to see what I was doing, so I decided to check them out. They looked weak enough, so I gave the order to work our way in deeper. I pulled out too late and ended up being utterly defeated, though. It really is a bad idea to underestimate your enemy.”
Despite having caused such mayhem, the Succubus spoke about it like it was nothing. It made my skin crawl.
She controlled pure desire.
She took the complex human psyche and took control of the very base.
For that reason, she had the ability to swallow up the various systems made by man, whether they were an individual’s personality or the very institution of society.
When I thought about that, it sent a chill down my spine.
I was feeling a danger signal that my instincts would not let me ignore.
“Anyway, I was a character involved in all of this, so how about you reach out a loving hand to help me. More specifically, Hyakki Yakou proved more of a threat than I thought and I can’t seem to escape them, so shelter me here☆”
“No! Don’t say that like it’s nothing! If they find out you’ve come here, I’ll be in danger too!! And why did you choose my house!?”
“Well, my network in Europe, the European Security Force, was attacked and destroyed by Hyakki Yakou.”
“That left only my connections in Japan, but I lost control of Saishi Kajin when they were absorbed by Hyakki Yakou. They were only meant as a disposable organization anyway.”
“So the only connections left to me were the people involved in that incident.”
“And of those people, you seemed to have the weakest defenses.”
She has no real plan! She has no guarantee of having escaped!! And if Hyakki Yakou attacks here, we’ll be wiped out too!
I did have two deadly Youkai and a Zashiki Warashi, but that group seemed like they could lightly toss aside all standard knowledge about Youkai, not to mention humans. To be blunt, I saw no way we could win!!
I started imagining I could hear sounds like scraping claws coming from all the shadows in the gaps between the walls and furniture, behind pillars, and in the hole for smoke to escape from the Japanese fireplace. Meanwhile, the cause of my fears, the Succubus, was doing nothing but smiling.
“And so I’ll be moving in☆”
Whether you wanted it or not, “they” would come.
And they brought either fortune or disaster with them.
It was looking like things were going to be very bad indeed if I did not quickly find a way to get along with them.
- Kaikoku means “open country” and Sakoku means “locked country”. Sakoku primarily refers to the extreme isolationist policies of Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate with Kaikoku being the opposite.
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