The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume2 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Hishigami Mai @ Copied Ill Will
It was hot.
It was the end of August, so it really should have been a bit cooler. Not even my highly revealing outfit of a white tank top and hot pants was enough to combat the heat. And the heat of the sun seemed to increase as if to say it was just getting started. Long hair was very annoying in this kind of weather. I had it bound up, but I had a powerful urge to just cut it all off.
You couldn’t take the urban heat island effect lightly.
But I was a working member of society, so I couldn’t exactly head to Hokkaido for fun. I’ll leave what kind of society I mean to your imagination.
In a large city hardened with asphalt and concrete, no one was surprised to see a mirage after consecutive hot, sunny days. I approached a large vehicle parked below an overpass in that gray and wavering city. I then tapped lightly on its body with the back of my right hand.
When you hear the term “RV”, how large of a vehicle do you picture in your head?
Well, I doubt many people would say “the size of a large tour bus”, but that was exactly how gigantic the one in front of me was.
Or perhaps it was more accurate to say the entire interior of a tour bus had been removed and all the devices needed to live one’s life had been installed.
“Hey, hey, Mai-san. Long time no see. Come on in.”
The front door opened automatically using compressed air and the small man in the driver’s seat spoke to me. He was wearing the stereotypical indoor outfit of a T-shirt and shorts. Thanks to solar panels and a giant battery, the vehicle had the air conditioning on 24/7, so it should have been cool enough regardless.
I walked up the three or four steps into the vehicle and looked around.
It had a bed, a table, a couch, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a TV. Oh, and a gas stovetop, oven, and bathroom as well. The amount of furniture had increased since the last time I had been there. Why did an RV have a washer and dryer in it?
“You’re insane to spend 30 million yen on this thing.”
“Didn’t you know, Mai-san? There’s an asteroid coming. It’s going to get real close real soon. If you think of yourself as the earth, it’s going to pass right in front of your nose. It’ll be quite the spectacle. If you truly hope to survive, you’ll need more than some emergency food and flashlights. I’ve spent all this money to save my own life.”
That may be the case, but you’re forgetting the scale of the earth and the asteroid. Even scraping right by my nose is farther away than Japan is from Brazil.
The small man’s nostrils flared as he said, “Really, it comes down to food. Food is most important. In the cargo space down below, I’ve made a baby leaf factory using ultraviolet lights and a moisture circulation device. It’s a masterpiece! Every week, I have a drum-full of leaves to eat. I’ll never starve. I can survive for 100 years without issue using this system.”
“Only a rabbit could survive off of that.”
“You’d think so, right? But you’re wrong. Chickens. I’m raising chickens, too. They lay eggs every day, so I have no shortage of animal protein. Plus, I can eat their meat too. As long as I plan it out so I don’t eat too much chicken meat and allow a tenth of the eggs to hatch into chicks, I’ll have no problems! Amazing, isn’t it? Isn’t my system just plain amazing!?”
He was an annoying man.
But the fact that someone with such a horrible lack of sociability could survive as a free agent without relying on the power of an organization showed just how skilled he was at his job.
To switch the flow of the conversation, I said, “Now then, Supplier.”
“What is it, Mai-san?”
“I need money. Either hand over all of your money or introduce me to a job.”
Those who did not understand my situation would often refer to me as the Deadly Dragon Princess of Hyakki Yakou, but I was actually a free agent just like this man. Hyakki Yakou was my usual client because it was Japan’s largest organization in my field, but I did not exclusively take jobs from them.
I did like the young lady at the top of that organization, but I had to accept jobs from elsewhere to maintain the proper balance. Otherwise, I risked binding myself too closely to the one organization.
Leaving clear signs of your neutrality could be a real pain in the ass.
The Supplier was aware of those issues, so he replied without showing any real change to his expression.
“I see. Then I have a good one for you. How about taking a trip to Kyoto?”
“Yes, Kyoto. One of the few cities of over a million where humans coexist with Youkai thanks to thoroughly maintaining the environment. I have an order asking for someone to go crush some idiots who are acting in secret there.”
As the Supplier had said, Kyoto was a unique place in both Japan and perhaps even worldwide. But the one problem with sticking to the old ways too much was an inability to deal with modern circumstances and social problems.
That city contained a large number of Youkai and a large number of humans.
In other words, it was filled with easy marks for Youkai-related Packages.
“Well, anything’s fine by me. Who are these idiots?”
“That organization numbers in the thousands. Isn’t that a little much for me to slaughter on my own?”
“That isn’t something I want to hear from the princess who caused enough infighting to destroy Inga Ouhou which was three times the size.” The Supplier grinned. “Also, you don’t need to completely annihilate them. Akki Rasetsu is earning quite a bit of hatred in their attempts to expand their range of business. If you give them a good blow or two and destroy their income cycle, those around them will finish them off.”
“And is that cycle in Kyoto?”
“It seems they’ve started some huge project. This project shows no concern for morals or human life yet they’ve started it in the middle of a city of over a million. The leaders of Akki Rasetsu will gather to inspect the project soon. That is when you should crush them.”
“Have they bet the fate of the organization on this?”
“Seems that way. Crushing either the leaders or project will be enough to fulfill the order. Of course, you’ll get a special bonus if you crush both. Will you take it?”
“I might as well. I assume you have confirmed the client’s ability to pay.”
“Yes. If I didn’t check, you and the others would track down the identity of the client.”
“Then I’ll take the job.”
“One warning,” said the Supplier. “It seems this job is a race to the finish. I discovered this while making sure the client would be able to pay. It seems middlemen besides me have been given this order as well. If you don’t get their first, you might not get paid.”
“That contradicts what you said.”
“If that happens, take it up with them. It has nothing to do with me. You can always get pissed, attack the client’s mansion in the middle of the night, and break through the door of their vault.”
“I see.” I thought for a bit. “I suppose if I find any other free agents like me in Kyoto, I’ll crush them too. If I spot them on the battlefield, I have no real reason to let them live.”
“…It’s times like this that I’m damn glad I’m on your side, Mai-san.”
When did I ever say I was on your side?
“I’ll be going then. Don’t count on a souvenir.”
I waved my hand and headed for the exit of that end of the century RV made from a tour bus.
But then the Supplier said, “Is a job really all you need? If necessary, I can prepare you some Buddhist equipment or sacred treasures.”
“I don’t like that sort of thing. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent more money than this bus cost on my own skin.”
“Really? That’s too bad. I have some good bargains like some sacred sake from the Jinnai Brewery. It was originally meant to be dedicated at the Ise Grand Shrine. It has yet to be given the color of a specific god, so it has quite a few uses.”
“I’d rather drink that than use it as a weapon.”
And so I boarded a bullet train and headed to Kyoto. A linear motor train ran along the same route, but I did not want to deal with the grand opening fair. In my business, the convenient transportation methods that had declined in use were best.
I had a mid-sized inn in Gion lined up for temporary lodging.
But there was something I had to do before switching from the ZR Kyoto Station to the subway station.
“Suuuneeekooosuuuriii-chaaan☆ What the hell are you doing here?”
“E-eeeeeeee!? Y-you already spotted me tailing you!? Ah…no…I mean…!!”
A small canine Youkai called a Sunekosuri had his entire body twitching.
He was a cute species of Youkai that could do nothing but rub up against people’s legs, but he was still an official member of Hyakki Yakou.
“Well, I have to catch a train, so come with me. We can continue talking on the subway.”
“U-um, you aren’t mad?”
“Prepare yourself for tonight. We’re going to have fun in the mixed bath.”
We boarded a subway train and headed for Gion.
I asked the Sunekosuri about the situation while on the train.
“Since a member of Hyakki Yakou is tailing me, can I assume this order comes from them?”
“Akki Rasetsu is an eyesore, but that is not enough justification to crush them. If Hyakki Yakou tried to force that through as a reason to attack, they would be attacked and criticized in turn. That is why they went through free agent middlemen to crush Akki Rasetsu without anyone knowing Hyakki Yakou was involved.”
I leaned up against the train wall.
“I assume the young lady at the top of Hyakki Yakou disapproved of this method. She does not punish based on suspicion. If she did not have enough evidence to punish an evil, she would have a thorough search carried out. And if that was not enough but the evil needed to be defeated nonetheless, she would battle that evil honestly no matter how much blame it brought on her. That young lady prefers pure and immature methods like that. So what idiot is naming himself as a representative for Hyakki Yakou? I assume it is one of her aides who act like her regents or educators or something.”
“Ah wah wah wah wah wah,” said the flustered Sunekosuri.
But that canine Youkai was like a salaryman member of the organization, so blaming him would get me nowhere.
Whatever idiot was behind this had been the one to set it up so the payment was first come first serve and so the free agents would start killing each other. I would need to make an extra stop to “punish” that idiot afterwards.
Meanwhile, the train arrived at the Gion subway station.
The Sunekosuri and I stepped out onto the subway platform, passed through the automatic turnstile, climbed the stairs, and exited into the city.
“Wow. This is like an explosion of Kyoto.”
The administrative district in which the ZR Kyoto Station was located was lined with modern buildings, but the donut-shaped urban area not far away was completely cut off from the flow of time. The height and color of the buildings were restricted and it was filled with nothing but old wooden buildings. The roads were not paved and cars and bikes were banned from anywhere but the main roads. Police officers riding horses and rickshaws carrying tourists were a common sight.
“You can tell immediately this is one of the three biggest locations for filming period dramas. It looks like the kimono renting business is booming here.”
“They also have tons of forests and thickets. This place is really crowded.”
Despite being a city of over a million, thick forests of maple trees and thickets of bamboo could be found not far from the road. This was Kyoto. Thanks to the thorough maintenance of the environment, plenty of Youkai could be found wandering around. It was quite obvious a large portion of the income in this area was from sightseeing.
“But why are the maple and ginkgo trees changing color already? It’s still the end of August.”
“The pamphlets all say Kyoto is a city dyed in red, yellow, and green, right? They have various methods to make that a reality. For this, they use some sort of technology to make the natural trees mistake the timing for changing color.”
I entered the inn I had reserved a room in under a false name and was led to my room. I checked for cameras and bugs before assembling a few tools of the trade.
“Okay, it’s about time I crushed Akki Rasetsu.”
“The job was to either put a stop to their important project or assassinate the leaders coming to inspect it. Which will you be doing?”
“I’ll decide that once I check on the situation. I’ll go with whichever is easier.” I rubbed the back of the Sunekosuri that was politely sitting on a cushion. “Now then, Sunekosuri-kun. What do you think Akki Rasetsu is trying to do in Kyoto?”
“Eh? Well, if they came to Kyoto it must be something they can only do here, right? And Kyoto is one of the prime areas for Youkai. Even Hyakki Yakou’s structure takes it into account. The guidebook said the city was designed based on the principles of feng shui. So it must be something they need that sort of environment for, right? In that case…”
“Hah hah hah.” I gave a wooden monotone laugh. “Incorrect.”
“C’mon, Sunekosuri-kun. You think they’re in Kyoto to do something they can only do in Kyoto? That would make their conspiracy too obvious. Doing that would be as self-destructive as streaking nude in front of the National Diet Building. I don’t know what they’re planning, but Akki Rasetsu has begun a project large enough to catch Hyakki Yakou’s attention. This is important enough for them to bet their organization on and for all of the leaders to visit. In other words, this is something they do not want to be stopped no matter what. Do you really think they would choose a setup that would be so easy to see through?”
“Th-then why would Akki Rasetsu go out of their way to go to Kyoto?”
“Think about it the other way around. Kyoto is a rare city that has both over a million people and countless Youkai. Bizarre phenomena that would stand out elsewhere will get buried under everything else in this city. The best place to hid e a tree is in the forest, right? Akki Rasetsu’s project probably has little to do with Kyoto itself.”
So if you are hoping for this story to have me solve the mystery while going around to all the Kyoto sightseeing spots, eating tons of delicious local food, and providing steamy fanservice scenes at a hot spring, you should give up right this instant.
But to be honest…
I really would love to be able to mix work with pleasure like that.
“D-do you know what exactly is happening here?”
“No. They’ve set this up as a labyrinth that is incomprehensible at first glance, so I have to dig deeper before I can actually learn anything,” I said offhandedly. “And so I need to think up a way of tracking down a member of Akki Rasetsu even if it’s just someone running errands. By the way, how much do you know about all this, Sunekosuri?”
“I-I am not part of the group that knows what is going on. I was simply asked to monitor the free agents to ensure none of them went beyond what Hyakki Yakou wishes. I am supposed to call in a combat member if anything happens.”
That’s about what I had expected.
With Hyakki Rasetsu and the free agents, Kyoto was currently filled with abnormal people. The standard idea that Youkai could not be killed by normal means could no longer be counted on. The question was whether the Sunekosuri understood that risk or not.
To be blunt, his odds of returning safely to Hyakki Yakou would have been much lower had I not called out to him first.
“Th-then you will be starting by pursuing some member of Akki Rasetsu operating in Kyoto? What exactly will be your first move?”
“Well,” I cracked my neck. “How about I begin by killing all of the other free agents competing for this job?”
- Akki Rasetsu is a Japanese phrase referring to a man-eating monster or demon.
- Inga Ouhou is a Japanese phrase referring to karma or one’s just deserts.
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