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 there 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 hide 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?”
The Sunekosuri trembled in fear.
Nevertheless, I swung the baby-sized rock down onto the head of the man with a camera hanging from his neck. He had been simple to spot with the suspicious mannerisms only a pro could spot.
“Okay, that’s 7 of them. I’d say this is a decent attempt to make it look like a large rock fell on him from that stone wall. Not a bad job at all. People really shine when they put in enough effort to work up a sweat.”
After disguising the circumstances, I took the poor victim’s cell phone and searched for personal information. Of course, if he was in the same situation as me, he would not have acquired any important data yet, and someone with any sense would not bring any private information to this sort of workplace.
Once I was done, I returned the phone to the corpse’s pocket and the Sunekosuri spoke up in a trembling voice.
“Wh-why…Why do people like you never try to work together to defeat the evil demon king?”
“Because we are all each other’s enemies.”
Plus, I had never before seen a boss of pure, unadulterated evil.
It was our job to kill them regardless.
“Not only can I not see what Akki Rasetsu is up to here, but I have to worry about another free agent stabbing me in the side. I need to complete some basic preparations before getting down to work.”
If possible, I would have liked to kill all of them, but I did not know how many of them there were. I had taken out a decent number, so I figured it was about time to turn towards Akki Rasetsu.
“U-umm, what are you going to do now?” The Sunekosuri looked up at me. “Unlike other Intellectual villages, Kyoto is gigantic. It seems it would be considerably harder to find an organization hiding here than in a small village.”
“It’s simple, it’s simple. I just have to find a starting point.”
I crouched down and wrapped an arm around the Sunekosuri to begin speaking privately.
I whispered, “Whether it’s a giant city or a small village, the first step is to gather the phone calls and emails being sent around. The technology used isn’t all that high level.”
“I-I see. But wouldn’t people like this encrypt their communications?”
“Of course. But would people making normal phone calls or sending normal emails use high level encryption? Think about it in reverse. The ones encrypting their communications are the first to suspect. If I start there, it shouldn’t be hard to run into Akki Rasetsu. But then,” I paused for a second, “Akki Rasetsu will know this. And so they will use encryption software to send decoy data all over the place. They can just use the programs for wangiri calls or spam emails to send out a whole bunch. They send out blank messages that would take hours to decrypt and have them endlessly loop through servers throughout the city.”
“Then how do you distinguish the real ones from the decoys?”
“I search on foot.”
I stuck my hand into the small pink handbag I was carrying over my shoulder.
The Sunekosuri must have been expecting a handgun because his entire body flinched.
“Huh? A video camera?”
“This alone isn’t enough to find Akki Rasetsu within the crowds.” I pressed a switch on the video camera to begin recording mode. “But when people acquire a fake name and identity, they must also prepare a new driver’s license. Those driver’s licenses have an IC chip in them. The IC chips give out information when brought near a certain device just like train passes at the automatic turnstiles at a subway station.”
The Sunekosuri still did not seem to understand, but I was wonderfully pretty in my willingness to patiently explain it all to him.
“If you up the output of the card reader next to a convenience store register, you can check the data on all the cards around you. I have a strengthened reader in my handbag.”
“So when I approach the target, it will suck out the information from the IC chip in their driver’s license. Ones that’s data has been illegally altered will leave traces of that in the code. If I find someone with that sort of suspicious license at one of the places sending out encrypted data, I have reason to be very suspicious of that person. Then again, it’s possible some group other than Akki Rasetsu is hiding here, so I will need to do some additional investigation afterwards.”
“W-will this really lead you to them so easily?”
“The strengthened reader can only read IC chips from a range of a meter. If I use the footage from the video camera along with the time the data was sucked out, I can probably narrow my target down to about 10 people. Then I just need to investigate those people. One of them will be the man using the false identity.”
To put it simply, I would be using the video camera and strengthened reader to search out someone working in some shady business.
And so I had to wander around Kyoto.
I spent over three hours going from Gion to Kawaramachi, cutting down Shijou Street, and finally walking around the Katsura Imperial Villa.
Everywhere I went was filled with tourists.
I wonder why foreigners like dressing up as samurai so much. If a Japanese person went to Europe and were asked if they wanted to dress up as a prince, I think they would refuse.
After gathering a certain amount of data, I boarded the subway and returned to the inn.
Just to be sure, I checked for bugs upon returning and then began comparing the video footage and the card data taken from passersby.
“Here, here, here, and here too. There are a lot of suspicious people in this city.”
“A-are they all from Akki Rasetsu?”
“Characteristic traces are left in the driver’s license IC chip data. The ones with the same traces are probably all from the same organization. Let’s see, let’s see, let’s see. There are 4 patterns here.”
“Kyoto really is a city of Youkai, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And that means plenty of shady organizations gather here.”
“How are you going to find Akki Rasetsu from this?”
“I’ll look into each of the 4 patterns. Okay, this is the encrypted communications data flying around near these suspicious people. I just have to decrypt it and…boom! Found it!!”
“H-how did you do that so easily?”
“If each email or phone call took hours to encrypt, they could never get any work done. Even if the security is strict to begin with, the people on the scene will soon find ways to simplify things to make them easier to use.”
Normally, this kind of simplified encrypted data would have numerical traps woven in that could never be solved such as pi. I had no idea how skilled these groups were, but the organizations based in Kyoto tended to do poorly when it came to intelligence issues.
I sifted through the data based on what I had found.
“Pattern 1 is a small revenge-for-hire group, Pattern 2 is a large criminal organization selling weapons, and Pattern 3 is an Urashima group that wishes to be taken to paradise.”
“So is it Pattern 4?”
“Yes, that’s Akki Rasetsu.”
I double-checked the faces of the people I had picked up with my video camera and compared them to the fake names and photos from the driver’s licenses. I then checked the lodging information at the inn to see if any rooms were rented out under those names.
Then all I had to do was cast my net across the inn’s phone lines and any nearby Wi-Fi routers to easily gather Akki Rasetsu’s encrypted communications data.
I headed out to take care of that work and returned to my room once I was done.
“Oh. I already found something.”
“Did you already find data related to Akki Rasetsu’s headquarters or the details of their project?”
“It’s nothing that great. These are just subcontractors, so they might not have been told all any of those details.”
As I spoke, I compiled the fragmentary information I had acquired from multiple phone calls and emails.
“It seems they are secretly monitoring a girl by the name of Amemura Ryuu. She’s clearly involved somehow with Akki Rasetsu’s project.”
“Do you know who this Amemura Ryuu girl is?”
“I’m checking on that now.” It was all going so well I felt like whistling. “She lives in Kyoto. She’s 11 years old. She’s female. She attends a local elementary school and her grades are above average. She has violin lessons on Wednesdays and dance lessons on Mondays and Fridays. No records of serious illness. She has slight atopic allergies and has issues with ticks. She has received the flu vaccine this year. She has a filling in one of her right back teeth from a cavity treatment. Her father is a stay at home dad and her mother is the secretary for the president of an assembly of small- to mid-sized corporations known as the United Hive. Her personality is shy and reserved but very curious. She has to think about it for a moment before agreeing to be someone’s friend.”
“H-how did you find all that information?”
“The residence registry, electronic medical records, and school grade reports are all kept in the cloud. If you have decent skills, you can gather all that information as easily as surfing the net.”
But that meant I had no way of determining things handled directly such as the amount of allowance she received.
“And this beloved daughter has a child’s cell phone with an alarm function. …GPS functionality can be both good and bad. If you steal the identification code, someone like me can determine her location.”
“Okay, let’s go make friends with Amemura Ryuu-chan who seems to be deeply related to this project.”
I left the inn and walked through the cityscape that seemed to turn the idea of Japan into nothing but a tourist attraction.
The foreigners in kimonos and ninja outfits stood out like sore thumbs as I walked along the unpaved road. I walked slowly and casually through the streets while obeying the traffic lights that were made to be quickly removed when a period drama was being filmed.
“But why has this Amemura Ryuu girl been marked by these shady people?”
“That is what we’re trying to find out. Youkai that only children can see are quite popular, so it might be related to that.”
But it seemed a bit odd that they had not abducted her if she was so deeply related to the project.
“Um, how are you going to approach her? She is a small child. She will probably treat adults like us as outsiders.”
“I have an idea. …But come to think of it, Sunekosuri, you could probably just run up to her given how you look.”
“Do not make fun of me! How can you say that about a dandy like me!?”
As we spoke, we approached within 50 meters of Amemura Ryuu-chan’s location. She was inside a children’s park that did not fit in with the period drama roads. Kyoto went to great lengths with its scenery, but it seemed they could not eliminate things like this and the traffic lights from before.
Just as I took one step into the park…
I felt an unpleasant feeling run down my spine. I could instinctually tell that something bad was about to happen. This was the same sort of premonition that anyone had, but oftentimes these situations were set up so it was too late by the time you felt that premonition.
“? What is it?”
“…Oh, I get it.”
The Sunekosuri was unable to understand the situation with his limited information.
Three or four children were gathered at a covered bench in the park. They were playing handheld game systems rather than on the playground equipment. I doubted kids these days would want to play out in the hot sun, so they had likely done so reluctantly to avoid their parents who always yelled at them for doing nothing but play video games.
The girl named Amemura Ryuu was not among them.
However, the kid’s cell phone GPS signal was still pointing to this park.
“Not good! Someone swapped out the ID code of the signal!”
I did not have time to check my surroundings.
An agile kick suddenly flew at my side.
The kick had not been intended to do damage; it had likely been meant to put pressure on my diaphragm to keep me from crying out and to knock me into a nearby thicket. Someone quickly moved to climb on top of me after I was knocked behind cover.
My hand instinctually reached for my boot.
I pulled out my small suppressor-equipped handgun.
Shit. By the time I grab this, I’ve 80% lost!!
As expected, the attacker swung up an arm before I could take aim with the handgun. Something long and narrow was held in that hand. I would have laughed out loud had it been a knife, but it was not. The object held between the index and middle finger was…
A magical charm!?
I pulled the trigger without aiming. I thought I would hit the attacker somewhere on the torso, but not even one of my three shots hit. Even at such close range, my arm was shaking too much to aim properly.
I could tell something was eating into my body.
This is…illness magic?
“Damn you. I had heard you disappeared after the coup d’etat in Hyakki Yakou, but what are you doing-…ghbgbh!?”
My mouth filled with dark red blood before I could finish speaking.
Not good. This deadly illness is beginning to spread throughout my entire body!!
This was just about the worst opponent for me. I could not defeat him in a head on fight. After all, he was the type powerful enough that the most difficult thing for him was keeping the damage of his attacks from spreading too far. And yet he had kicked me behind this thicket before attacking. He must not have wanted to do anything that stood out too much.
In that case…
I gathered strength in the hand holding my small suppressor-equipped handgun. However, aiming it at my attacker would do no good. As such, I held my arm out horizontally while lying on my back. I placed my arm along the ground to keep it from trembling, peered through the sight, and somehow managed to take aim.
I took aim at the forehead of the Sunekosuri nervously looking our way.
And I pulled the trigger.
The bullet struck the Sunekosuri in the face and he began writhing around on the ground.
He let out a scream as loud as a police car’s siren, but as a Youkai, he did not seem to have lost a single drop of blood.
That was the first I heard of the attacker’s voice.
The illness magic left my body. I stopped coughing up blood.
The attacker quickly moved away from me and tried to flee, but I used what weak strength I had left to grab his arm.
I would lose in a straight fight here, but I would never know when he might attack again if I let him go.
And so I needed to finish this. But by using some method other than violence.
Meanwhile, the children who had been playing handheld games approached the Sunekosuri.
“What is it? What is it?”
“Are you okay? Did someone draw eyebrows on you?”
“This isn’t a dog. I think it’s a Youkai.”
If the children saw us, we would kill them.
The Sunekosuri knew the etiquette of those like us, so he ran off in the opposite direction with tears in his eyes in order to draw the children’s attention.
Meanwhile, I spoke to the attacker.
He was one of the five most powerful official members of Hyakki Yakou.
He was the man known as the Illness Magic User.
“…Cough, cough. Were you the one who swapped out the GPS ID code?”
“What if I was?”
If he had decided to simply kill me, it would have all been over. I was truly grateful.
He was likely trying to work out if I had an ulterior motive just as I was of him.
When the gloomy Illness Magic was not wrapped around him, he could be seen wearing a black combat outfit like a SWAT member. He carried countless magic charms instead of countless magazines. He had been walking around dressed like that in Kyoto where cameras were everywhere, so it must not have seemed too strange to people. I wondered if people assumed it was some form of cosplay since this was a tourist area.
He had a muscular body and short hair that was easy to wash. However, his face was very gloomy. It made him look like he himself was wasting away due to some illness.
“So you set up this trap to hunt down anyone trying to find Amemura Ryuu. Who do you work for now? Hyakki Yakou? Or Akki Rasetsu?”
“I am a free agent.”
“So you knew the order came from Hyakki Yakou and decided to go along with the charade, is that it?”
He had sided with the rebel faction that had caused that coup d’etat because he had thought it was best for Hyakki Yakou as a whole. Even though the coup d’etat had failed, he was likely still working to help the organization.
And he had even tried to claim he had been acting out of logic rather than emotion.
Then again, I doubted the Illness Magic User would be allowed back into the organization so easily after what he had done.
He was probably trying to indirectly obey Hyakki Yakou’s orders by taking their jobs as a free agent.
He specialized in great destruction in a straight fight and he was loyal to a single organization through and through. He may have thought he was a samurai or something. He was heading down the path of the defeated samurai while I was more like a ninja, so we simply did not get along.
“So I take it your enemy is Akki Rasetsu. In that case, we have no reason to kill each other.”
“That is no reason to let you live either.”
“Stop it. Disposing of the body would be a pain. This has been going well so far, but that is only because those kids were so focused on their games they weren’t paying attention to their surroundings. After the Sunekosuri made such a racket, do you really think you can carry a body out without them noticing? And you were the one who got those children involved, I might add.”
I heard him click his tongue.
He really was the samurai type that always walked the proper path.
If it was me, I wouldn’t have hesitated to kill my enemy.
“Since you set your trap around her, am I right in assuming you are trying to find Akki Rasetsu’s headquarters from one of their agent’s hanging around her rather than from Amemura Ryuu-chan herself?”
“Someone who looks like me approaching a child would become a major incident.”
So he is aware how grim he looks.
He was, after all, a pure combat-obsessed idiot who would kill thousands or even tens of thousands to carry out his mission. He would cut out any waste or gentleness from his plans. Not even a soldier from a large criminal organization would be able to look him in the eye, much less a child.
“However, you have found no useful information, so you’ve been forced to continue laying traps, right? I’d say there is no way of approaching Akki Rasetsu’s project other than making contact with Amemura Ryuu-chan.”
“Are you saying you can manage that?”
“I’m an expert at that. Just watch. I don’t like being indebted to anyone, so I’ll share my information with you just this once to make up for sparing my life here.”
I reflected sunlight off the body of my cell phone to give a sign to the Sunekosuri and then I left the children’s park.
Walking with the Illness Magic User would make me stand out, but I had no choice. I bought a wide-brimmed cowboy hat from a nearby souvenir shop and put it on.
“…What are you doing?”
“I’m Hatman, you idiot. Most security cameras are located above. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat like this will at least keep my face from being recorded.”
The Illness Magic User’s magic charms did not fall under the Swords and Firearms Control Law, so he had no reason to be afraid of police questioning. Also, that samurai would face anyone head on, so he never tried to hide who he was. But the situation seemed quite fatal to a scout and spy like myself!!
As we walked, the Sunekosuri approached while weaving between people’s legs in the crowd.
Ahh, if he can head for us that directly, we must really stand out. Sob.
“H-how could you do that!? How could you suddenly shoot a person in the head with a real bullet!? That is completely unacceptable!! Woof woof!!”
“Shoot ‘a person’ in the head? …But you’re a dog, right? Well, a canine Youkai.”
“Is that really the first thing you have to say!?”
“Sorry. I’ll listen to all your complaints in the inn’s bath.”
“Please don’t! And you aren’t sorry at all, are you!? Anyway, how far have things progressed?”
“Hishigami Mai-chan has leveled up! Illness Magic User-chan looks like he wants to join your party!!”
“Eh? I thought he had deserted Hyakki Yakou? Have you already made up with him?”
The instant the Sunekosuri asked that puzzled question, the Illness Magic User gave him one hell of a glare. The canine Youkai cowered down and began trembling.
“C’mon, stop that. Don’t scare such a pretty Youkai.”
“You shot me in the face!!”
“Can we get to the topic at hand?” asked the Illness Magic User disinterestedly. “To approach Akki Rasetsu’s project, we must approach Amemura Ryuu. But she is a minor who views someone even 1 year older as an outsider due to the school year system. She is also quite wary. How do we approach her?”
“We just have to satisfy a few conditions. You can just relax and watch a pro at work.”
No matter how pleasant a smile one put on or how unthreatening a voice one used, a child would be cautious of someone who spoke to them when they were alone. Trying to draw emotionally closer to the child in that state would always end in failure.
But that could be used in reverse.
That wall of caution would not function if one spoke to the child when they are not alone. This does not mean to try it when they are with their friends or other people on their same level, but when they are near someone they feel is stronger such as a parent or teacher.
I used the proper GPS signal to locate Amemura Ryuu-chan who had a large ribbon-shaped pin in her hair, wore a frilly skirt, and otherwise made me want to fall in love with her. I waited for her to begin speaking with her stay at home dad of a father who was sprinkling water in front of their row house type of home. Then I remotely switched on the alarm of her kid’s cell phone.
A high-pitched buzzer began ringing, but it could not be turned off manually as I had control of the program.
“Wah!? Huh? Um…dad… It won’t…”
“Let me see it, Ryuu-chan. Odd. It’s supposed to stop when you press on the string’s stopper.”
I took action while they were worried about the public nuisance they were causing.
While still a short distance from where the ground was wet with the water the father had been sprinkling, I spoke to the father and daughter whose guard had been lowered.
“Oh, what’s the matter? I hear an alarm going off, so were you robbed? You should probably report it.”
“Ah, no, that isn’t it. It seems my daughter accidentally pulled the string and now the alarm won’t turn off.”
“Are you not too good with electronics? Could I see it for a moment?”
I held out my hand while still at a distance and Amemura Ryuu-chan’s father approached me to hand me the cell phone. I would not approach them. A child’s personal space was much larger than adults realized.
But this easily resolved that problem.
I was a criminal, so this much is to be expected.
“Here, it’s off. It looks like it wasn’t the string but the alarm that automatically starts due to too great an impact. That’s why the alarm would not stop even after putting the string back in place. You needed to open it up and stop the program.”
“…I see. I should probably actually read the manual.”
“That is probably a good idea as far as the emergency functions are concerned. …Here you go, young lady.”
I ultimately spoke to Amemura Ryuu-chan rather than her father as I held out the phone.
She looked back and forth between me and her father’s face a few times, but then…
“Ryuu-chan, say thank you.”
Pushed on by her father, Amemura Ryuu-chan timidly reached out to take the phone I was holding out. Her small hand grabbed the plastic body of the phone.
Good. Primary communication complete.
I had solved a problem of hers and had been certified “safe” by someone she considered stronger than herself. I had even made physical contact between our hands in addition to the verbal contact.
It had been the same as a child timidly approaching a large pet dog at a friend’s house.
She now knew it would not bite.
If she saw the dog again while walking along the street, she would not be afraid to approach it.
I smiled at the father and said, “I will be going then.”
“Oh, thank you very much.”
…No, thank you for helping me with my job.
“Goodbye to you too, young lady.”
When I waved goodbye with one hand, Amemura Ryuu-chan waved back while hiding behind her father.
That had gone well.
So well I was a bit worried about her future.
After completing my preparations there, I left the Amemura residence and met back up with my companions. When I did, both the Sunekosuri and the Illness Magic User spoke up.
“You are just like a kidnapper.”
“It scares me that you have a successful formula for that. How many times did you have to try it before perfecting that?”
Oh, come on.
My job begins with earning the trust of people regardless of sex, age, nationality, or religion. It isn’t like I specialize in children.
“Now then, tomorrow I will make contact with Amemura Ryuu-chan herself outside of the home. I wasn’t able to give her my name, so I want to act before she forgets me. Illness Magic User, you defeated a few members of Akki Rasetsu to gather information, right? Is there anything particular I should ask about?”
“Her family’s past.”
“You think this might be related to an Inugami or other Youkai that resides in a bloodline? Wouldn’t it be faster to search out a family tree?”
“I researched her bloodline, but found nothing suspicious. Or rather, nothing more than the small things you can find if you follow any family tree back far enough. She lacked anything decisive. I am hoping for something else related to the fate of the family.”
“The fate of the family?”
“I am wondering if anything special happened to the family in the past such as in the Rokubu Goroshi story.”
While some Youkai were referred to as “residing in the bloodline”, it did not mean the bloodline itself possessed a special base sequence. It was simply that good or evil fates earned by past actions had a tendency to stick with a bloodline. The direct bloodline between parent and child was the simplest link.
However, that kind of fate could be passed on to people not related by blood such as between a master and servant samurai, monks training at the same temple, or people who entered a forbidden zone during a test of courage. If one focused too much on bloodlines, one could receive a negative influence from an unexpected route, so it was best to be careful.
At any rate…
“If that’s what this is about, I’m not sure we would learn anything from the girl. It might be faster to trick the information out of the father.”
“Then do that if necessary.”
“Fine, fine. Oh, right. Illness Magic User, can you handle electronics? You managed to mess with Amemura Ryuu-chan’s GPS, right?”
“Then you investigate the mother while I go with the daughter. You would just have to wait for me to produce results otherwise, right?”
“The mother?” asked the Sunekosuri in confusion.
I nodded and said, “To be honest, there is no way to look into the father as he’s a stay at home dad. But the mother brings in the money for the Amemura household, so she’ll definitely leave data behind in her job. You can look into that.”
“She works as the secretary for the president of United Hive, correct? If I recall, her name is Tenkyuu. I did a basic investigation, but I found no data that seemed related to Youkai.”
“Dig deeper. She works for United Hive. They gathered together the small- to mid-sized factories that support Japan’s cutting edge technology, created a centralized structure for those factories’ patents, and make tons of money as a point of contact for them with influence as a single giant entity on the level of the biggest corporations in the world. They deal with tons of patents, so their digital defenses will be greater than average. There’s definitely something below the surface.”
“Understood. I will keep at it until I at least find some secret account files.”
With our general plans set, I had nothing left to do that day.
I had worked up quite a sweat on the first day, so I decided to have some fun in the open-air bath with the lovely Sunekosuri-chan.
The next day, I killed time in the inn with the Sunekosuri until evening. The Sunekosuri’s eyes opened wide when he saw the overall extravagant food, but it seemed the food was not made from Intellectual Village ingredients. Then again, a traditional Japanese meal where everything from the water to the rice was produced in Intellectual Villages would likely cost 2 million yen a person.
It was a bit strange how the Japanese could not afford to eat what was the pride of Japan.
It may have been used as a means of acquiring foreign currencies.
“Sunekosuri, it’s about time we headed out. Let’s begin our attack on Amemura Ryuu-chan.”
“Eh? You know she’s going to leave her house? But this is the middle of summer break.”
“She has her extracurricular lessons year round. She lives in a scenery protection zone where cars are banned from entry, so her father is unlikely to take her to and from those lessons. And even if he does, I can create an excuse to separate them.”
We once more walked through the streets of Kyoto that looked straight out of a period drama. I knew where Amemura Ryuu-chan’s lessons were held, so I headed there. To disguise myself as a tourist, I peered into souvenir shops, ate dango while embracing the Sunekosuri, and had even more fun with the Sunekosuri while heading to our destination.
Then my decoy cell phone rang.
The call was from the Illness Magic User I had exchanged numbers with the day before.
“I have found information related to Tenkyuu at United Hive.”
“United Hive is a collection of small- to mid-sized factories in Kansai that even create industrial technologies related to satellites, right?” asked the Sunekosuri. “I’ve heard they have successfully negotiated to use a foreign country’s launch site to launch small satellites made with their own independent technology.”
“At first glance, that appears to be going well, but they are having problems behind the scenes,” explained the Illness Magic User. “Their business related to the satellite itself has been a success, but they were badly burned when they tried to go further and create their own rocket technology. It seems a powerful rival group has interfered by claiming they plan to use the rockets as missiles.”
“But Amemura Ryuu-chan’s mother is only the president’s secretary right? If she ends her contract and distances herself, she does not need to worry going down with them. She technically works for an employment agency, so it doesn’t matter to her if the company with her contract fails. If she is skilled, she should be able to find a new job easily enough.”
“I do not know if it was in hopes of making money or if she wanted to gain the favor of the president, but it seems Tenkyuu bought the corporation’s stock in addition to her normal secretary duties. Now that this other group is interfering with the development of the rocket engine, she is in trouble. …Simply put, the Amemura family is in a lot of debt.”
“And that’s where Akki Rasetsu comes in.”
“Eh? So is the Amemura family working with Akki Rasetsu?” asked the Sunekosuri.
“They may not know the details of the project, but they likely know they’re doing something,” I replied. “They probably do realize they are helping assemble a Youkai-related Package, though.”
They likely felt it was on the level of stealing credit card information.
But unfortunately for them…
The scope of the Package had to be much greater than that for people like us to be sent in.
“Well, I had a feeling there was more to this since the Amemura family had not been abducted despite being deeply related to the project.”
“It would be simpler to abduct them than to approach them to make a deal. Why would they do it this way?” asked the Illness Magic User.
“Because they wanted to finish this quietly. That’s also why they came to Kyoto to hide a tree in the forest.” I turned towards the Sunekosuri who was the representative of Hyakki Yakou who we were truly working for. “By the way, do you think slaughtering the Amemura family would suffice to destroy Akki Rasetsu’s project?”
“Y-you can’t do that!! They are normal people who have nothing to do with us! If you get them involved in that way, I will directly go to my higher ups to see that you are not paid!! Woof woof!!”
“That’s what I thought. We don’t know what makes the Amemura family useful. If it ends up being a talent 1 in 100 people have, they could use a different candidate to continue their project. It’s also possible killing the Amemura family acts as a trigger to activate the project.”
In other words, it was possible they were intentionally being left alive so they could be killed at the proper time.
And that would of course be kept a secret to the Amemura family who thought they were simply helping.
“Should I search for more information related to United Hive?” asked the Illness Magic User.
“No, I doubt you would find anything more anyway. Tenkyuu does not seem directly related to the Youkai. I am about to contact Amemura Ryuu-chan, so just wait for my report.”
I ended the connection and stuck my cell phone in the pocket of my hot pants before turning a corner.
At the same moment, Amemura Ryuu-chan exited a building after finishing her dance lesson.
I put on a soft smile that would leave others in my business speechless and raised a hand.
“Oh, so we meet again, young lady.”
It seemed Amemura Ryuu-chan was quite fond of the Sunekosuri. A rather large bag that likely contained her sportswear for her dance lessons hung down from her shoulder as she walked next to me and held the canine Youkai in both arms. It was a lovely image. Everything about it was cute.
I had to use Amemura Ryuu-chan to learn what Youkai it was Akki Rasetsu was working with. The Illness Magic User seemed to think it was related to the past of the Amemura family.
I started with a casual opening question.
“By the way, have you ever done that thing?”
“Y’know, the thing at the Bon festival where you stab chopsticks into eggplants, cucumbers, and such to create animals.”
At first glance, things like that and traditions related to visiting the graves or household Buddhist altars of one’s ancestors seemed the same for every family. However, those things were actually packed full of small local rules. You could tell where someone was from just by seeing how they stood up the incense stick. Also, amateurs did not understand the importance of anything related to the occult, so they would usually tell you without hiding anything.
Amemura Ryuu-chan shook her head and gave an explosive reply.
“We don’t do that at my house.”
“Oh? Do you not do that kind of thing anymore?”
“We never did it. It’s a family rule. We aren’t supposed to prepare to meet our ancestors even during the Bon festival because it will make a monk come.”
A monk, you say?
“But you do go visit your grandfather’s house, right?”
“Yeah. We go there to visit our family’s grave. I don’t really get it, though. I don’t know what temple the grave is at.”
“My grandfather’s house was on the beach. There would be a ton of jellyfish every year, but there was nothing to do there but swim.”
“Oh, mine too. My grandfather likes to go fishing, but I like to swim more.”
Oh, she went along with my leading comments easily enough.
So her grandfather’s house is on the beach.
Does that mean that monk she mentioned is it?
“Is your grandfather a fisherman?”
“No. He was a ferry captain. My uncle is a ship captain too.”
We had made it to the Amemura family house, so I took the Sunekosuri back from the girl and parted ways with her.
I pulled out my decoy cell phone and called the Illness Magic User.
“It’s definitely an Umibouzu.”
As the name suggests, it was a giant Youkai that appears in the sea. Most theories suggested they were created by the gathering of regretful souls in an area filled with a large number of drowning deaths in the past.
Living beings had souls, but they were difficult to handle. At the very least, they could not be easily removed such as with an organ transplant and they could not be replaced with something artificial either.
I felt the concept was a bit similar to quantum cryptography.
The mass of information definitely existed, but if someone forcibly tried to observe or touch it, it would transform into “something else”. That made it almost impossible to use or intentionally alter the information source of the soul when it was in its pure form. That was something only a god could manage.
Of course, Western demons used contracts written on parchment to remove human souls, but I don’t really know how that works. If they could perfectly control an act of god like that, I doubt they would be content simply being known as demons regardless of whether they are a pure species or if they can’t fully use that power and are looked down on by evil gods.
But I digress.
I was talking about the driving force that keeps living beings moving.
Directly interfering with it was difficult. The instant someone touched it, the information would change. However, it could still be used even after it transformed into “something else”. When those remnants gathered and took on a new form, they would create a certain type of Youkai.
One example was the Shichinin Misaki that let the oldest victim finally rest in peace once a new victim arrived.
Another was the Funa Yuurei that would sink a ship if not given a bottomless water ladle.
However, those should not be seen as having any real connection with the original human. A living fish and fish meat were two different things and a human did not gain the will of the fish upon eating fish meat. In the same way, that which became a Youkai did not care what its raw materials were.
“By the way, the Illness Magic User is an exception among exceptions. He has a single soul and is still a living human being, but he uses magical charms to give his own hateful grudges strong directionality in the form of illness magic. In our business, you need to borrow the power of a Youkai or demon to produce effects above a certain level, but he creates those curses solely with his own power. He’s quite the monster. He might be on the same level as that noble’s grudge that shook up Kyoto during the Heian period.”
Upon returning to the inn, I explained that to the Sunekosuri.
I had modified my own body, but it was still based on the power of the Shikigami known as the Deadly Dragon Princess. He was truly an oddity in his ability to produce paranormal phenomena without relying on a Youkai in any way.
“But to constantly produce enough hatred to give form to those curses, his organs must be a mess from the intense stress. When he was in Hyakki Yakou he would reduce that with the help of incense, but I wonder what he does now.”
While embracing a massager like a body pillow and vibrating slightly, the Sunekosuri stuck out his long tongue and said, “An Umibouzu, is it? From what I have heard, they are not much different from a Funa Yuurei. I have heard it is merely an issue of regional differences in what form the drowning dead take when they change.”
“More or less.”
“So this is a giant Youkai that frequently appears in areas of the sea where lots of people have drowned? So what about the area Amemura Ryuu-chan’s grandfather works in?”
“I checked it out. His house is on the coast at the northern side of Kyoto. Thirty years ago, a powerful typhoon sunk a bunch of ships there. Her grandfather was working there at the time, so that fate must have become intertwined with his own.”
Of course, you could find some sort of great disaster or accident in most areas of ocean if you went back 50 or 100 years.
“So preparing to meet their ancestors calls in the Umibouzu,” said the Sunekosuri sounding a bit downhearted while embracing the massager. “The ones who died in the accidents did nothing wrong, so it’s a sad story.”
“That’s how it is with those Youkai. The materials may be the thoughts of the dead after their souls have been transformed like a destroyed piece of quantum cryptography, but the Youkai created is something completely different from the original people. If the created Youkai is a deadly one, they will not hesitate to bare their fangs against a lover of one of the humans before death. The rules will have already been overwritten.”
What was Akki Rasetsu hoping to do with this Umibouzu?
The next thing to investigate was…
“Where is this Umibouzu?” asked the Sunekosuri. “It’s an ocean Youkai, so Amemura Ryuu-chan’s grandfather’s house or the surrounding area seems the most suspicious.”
“Wait, wait. If it just has to be ocean water, the fish tanks at a sushi restaurant might qualify. Technology has come a long way in this age. We should probably expand our search to include aquariums and ocean water pools.”
“And whatever Akki Rasetsu’s ultimate objective is, they’ve located themselves in the center of Kyoto to ‘hide a tree in the forest’.” It wouldn’t make sense for it to be so far from their headquarters. That would be the same as leaving the tree outside the forest.”
“S-so do you have any idea what area might be suspicious?”
“The dance classroom.” I raised a finger. “The exterior is made to fit the period look of the city, but the inside has a full complement of fitness facilities. And that includes an indoor pool.”
These days, dance lessons were given in PE class for elementary and middle schoolers. Kids sure had it tough. How did they see dance lessons at that age where they began seriously wondering how the standard subjects in school would help them as adults?
But something had caught my attention while watching the girl.
“Amemura Ryuu-chan had a bag while leaving the dance classroom, remember? It was too large to simply hold her dancewear. She may have had a swimsuit in there as well so she could play in the pool after her dance lesson. Faithfully attending lessons in this heat has to be tough. The dance classroom might provide that ‘free service’ to prevent children from skipping.”
“Then has someone switched the pool water with ocean water? B-but anyone would be able to tell if they tasted it. And it would sting people’s eyes.”
“Then they just have to do it with water no one will ever get in their mouth,” I replied casually. “For example, the water in the sterilization tub the kids enter up to their shoulders in before entering the pool. Anyone with any sense will keep their delicate face out of it. And even if someone does taste it by accident, they don’t know how powerful disinfectant is supposed to taste. Even if it tastes quite salty, they would probably just think that is how it must taste.”
“For most of the swimmers, that ocean water would be neither harmful nor helpful…"
“But Amemura Ryuu-chan would be different because of her family’s fate with the Umibouzu. Whenever she periodically uses the pool and enters the sterilization tub beforehand, she stimulates the Umibouzu. It’s the same as using her biometrics to open a lock restricted to a specific user. And it is all according to Akki Rasetsu’s project.”
“You said Amemura Ryuu-chan’s mother is cooperating with Akki Rasetsu to escape her debt, right? How does that tie in?”
“She probably set the days Amemura Ryuu-chan goes to her lessons and ensures that she goes to the dance classroom without skipping. And of course, they make sure the mother does not know what is truly going on. They might have another guiding agent in the dance classroom who ensures the girl always plays in the pool after the dance lesson.”
The dance classroom itself held no danger. There would be no problem if the mother told someone the days of the week her daughter went to dance lessons and no one would find it odd she made sure her daughter always went. It may have been an odd command, but the parents would have no problem if they were told to ensure their daughter was not involved by keeping her schedule the same as before.
If someone was paying money, they would be gaining something worth the money spent.
“So that means…”
“We need to investigate that dance classroom’s facility and instructor.”
And so I took action in the middle of the night.
I met up with the Illness Magic User in the darkness of the night and we headed for the dance classroom’s building.
The building was about the size of a gym and was three stories tall. It was still made to match the period setting in its looks, so it was almost laughable. The inside was likely crammed full of cutting edge fitness equipment.
After we circled the building to check on the situation, I tapped the Illness Magic User on the shoulder and said, “As today’s guest, you need to charge in and wipe them out.”
“Why do I need to do what you say?”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. But if you don’t do anything here, you won’t get another time to shine. It would be insulting if you asked me to split the reward 50/50 after that.”
The Illness Magic User sighed, stopped hiding, and walked boldly up to the front entrance. It seemed the idea of sneaking in never even occurred to him. He kicked in the door and set foot inside the building while a home security alarm rang.
In the next instant, a deep darkness seeped out from every window in the building.
The Sunekosuri’s entire body jumped slightly.
“Wah…wah wah! Wah wah wah wah wah!! I-is all of that illness magic!?”
“There’s no escape for anyone inside.”
An unrelated security guard might be inside too, so he would start at a level which would only knock them unconscious. But once he had checked everyone inside, he would increase it to a truly deadly illness.
That’s how it was with that combat-obsessed idiot.
He practically announced that it was harder for him to limit the damage done.
“It’s about time we made our move.”
“Eh? But the Illness Magic User is still inside. If we go in there, we’d be caught in the middle of it.”
“We’re not going in,” I said while circling around behind the building. “This may indeed be a base for Akki Rasetsu. But can we say for sure the entire project is contained here? Is it possible they have other bases or hideouts? Where are their VIPs? Attacking this place might not be enough to cut Akki Rasetsu’s Achilles tendon.”
“Th-then what are you going to do?”
“Look over there.” I guided the Sunekosuri’s gaze while holding him in my arms. “There it is. A large truck with a silent electric engine. A dangerous vehicle on a dark night.”
“Huh? But aren’t vehicles banned here in order to preserve the look of Kyoto?”
“Generally, yes. But a city of over a million can’t function like that. A few vehicles are allowed an exception at specific times. Any work that would destroy the atmosphere is done in the middle of the night so no one will see it.”
And Akki Rasetsu had prepared transportation in one of those.
The Illness Magic User was on a rampage within the building and it was obvious they were trying to transport something out.
“Look, look, look. The backdoor opened and they brought something out... What is that? A metal tank?”
“It’s bigger than a refrigerator. It takes five of them to carry it.”
“I guess they’re trying to escape with the ‘trick’ set up in the pump room.”
I had concluded they were luring Amemura Ryuu-chan into the building’s indoor pool so she would touch the “ocean water” at set intervals. That would provide the proper stimulus to the “monk” that was likely a type of Umibouzu. That meant they might be transporting the small pressure tank for the sterilization tub.
In other words…
The “monk” was contained within that tank.
“What are you going to do now?” asked the Sunekosuri.
“Simply stealing that won’t bring this to an end. I want to know where they’re taking it. That will likely be Akki Rasetsu’s most important base. That tank will be joining other things they don’t want destroyed and people they don’t want killed.”
Just as everyone would head to the emergency staircase when the fire alarm rang, a sudden attack would put people on guard for simultaneous attacks from multiple direction while evacuating the most important items and people to a safe place
If I followed them, I would be led straight to the location in which the enemy had gathered all of their weak points.
“Th-then you are going to tail that truck?”
“That would be the normal method, but I don’t have a vehicle of my own. I’d like to attach a tracking device.”
“…It does not look like you will be able to sneak close to it. There are five men carrying the metal tank and six got out of the truck.”
“Then I’ll have to approach without sneaking,” I said offhandedly while pulling my video camera out of my handbag.
“What are you doing?”
“People working in the underworld of society don’t like to stand out. I’ll use that against them.”
I attached a random cable to the video camera, stuck the other end of the cable into my handbag, and approached the large truck.
They quickly spotted me and tried to stick a hand into their pockets, but I shouted out before they could.
“Attack☆Late Night Dinner!!”
“Okay okay. Today, I’ve come all the way to Gion in Kyoto! What an age we live in. Even an amateur like me can easily make an internet broadcast TV show just by using [email protected]! Okay, now it’s time for the usual live broadcast interview!! Truck drivers like this always know the best places to eat.”
“Wait, wait!! What do you think you are doing!?” frantically protested one of the men.
He protested peacefully.
If he pulled a handgun out here, he would be making his world debut holding it.
“You have to ask? This is a net show. It’s broadcast live worldwide. My equipment is a bit small though because my budget isn’t very big.”
“No, wait. We are…um…in the middle of work right now. We aren’t allowed to do this kind of thing. Surely even you are banned from working a different job while at work. So…”
“Okay, thank you very much.”
After approaching close enough, I tossed aside the video camera and grabbed the man’s arm. I then twisted his elbow around and upwards, swiped a suppressor-equipped handgun from within the man’s shirt, and killed all of his Akki Rasetsu comrades with it.
Oh, that was louder than I expected.
The nightmare lasted only 5 seconds.
When caught by surprise like that, all they could do was stand still.
“Wh-what are you-…Hot!?”
“Oh, sorry, sorry. Did I touch you with the barrel when it was hot from the gas? While I’m at it, I’ll apologize for something else, too. I lied about the worldwide broadcasting, so don’t worry.”
I grabbed the collar of the one remaining man and slammed his back against the side of the large truck.
I then pressed the barrel against his forehead.
“Now, how about you tell me everything you know? What is this? What are you doing with it?”
“Ha ha… I’m just a subcontractor. I don’t know any of the details.”
I thought you’d say that.
I aimed the gun lower and fired a single shot into the man’s right thigh.
I of course made sure to stop up the throat I was grabbing at through his collar to keep him from crying out.
“Gh…mgh!? Cough cough!!”
“Next, I will remove the suppressor and fire it from within your hand so it leaves gunshot residue. The gunshot will make sure the nearby residents come running out. I will run off and leave the gun here. The gun that killed your comrades will remain and you cannot run off with that leg. Whether you’re found guilty or not, your face will probably be on the front page of newspapers across the nation. You will make an enemy of not just Akki Rasetsu but the entire occult industry that wishes to remain hidden. Do you really think the bars of a prison cell will be enough to protect you then?”
“…I-I don’t know much. I’m telling the truth about that!”
“Tell me what you know.”
“Generation after generation, the Amemura family has worked as sailors. The tradition goes back as far as the Heian period. And the family has a tradition of letting the bodies of their dead wash into the ocean from their ships. They stopped doing that in recent times, but the Amemura bloodline is still strongly linked with the ocean around Kyoto.”
“So this ‘monk’ isn’t an Umibouzu?”
“Technically, we don’t even know if it is a Youkai. It is closer to a vague family guardian deity. But large accidents have happened in that ocean a few times. The unrelated people who drowned there were incorporated in with their ancestors. That may have given it properties similar to an Umibouzu.”
Then what is Akki Rasetsu’s true goal in stimulating this ‘monk’ using Amemura Ryuu-chan?
Suddenly, the building’s backdoor slammed open.
I tossed the man aside and fired several shots at the back door while beginning to run. Once the magazine was empty, I threw away the handgun, picked up the video camera I had dropped, and fled as quickly as I could.
Several gunshots quieted by suppressors rang out behind me.
Not good, not good, not good!!
I frantically moved my legs and leapt behind cover while the Sunekosuri approached from a different route.
“Honestly, what are you doing!?” he shouted.
“I did what I needed to do. It’s time to disappear.”
“Eh? But what about that truck? It’s going to leave!!”
“I said I was going to attach a tracking device, remember?” I raised my index finger as the Sunekosuri froze in place. “If I had simply attached a tracking device underneath the vehicle, they would have found it right away. That is why I made the Akki Rasetsu courier think I was approaching to ask how the Amemura family is related to all this. That was a decoy objective. If they are satisfied they know why I was there, they will not think about looking for a tracking device. Okay?”
“Now let’s lose our Akki Rasetsu pursuers without slaughtering them. I want them to think I frantically ran off after being interrupted in the middle of gathering information. Once they feel safe once more, I can return and catch them off guard.”
No matter how far you are from your target, there is nothing to be afraid of as long as you know where it is. I ran around the streets of Gion to lose the pursuers from Akki Rasetsu and then took a very roundabout route to the location indicted by the tracking device. Upon arriving, I saw a thick forest and the roof of a building.
“Found it, found it. It looks like an ancient mansion that was designated a Tangible Cultural Property.”
“It does look like something that could be on the same list as Kinkaku-ji or Ginkaku-ji.”
Not only was it a large Japanese-style estate, but it seemed to include a small forest with it. It looked like someone could become stranded within the grounds of the residence. The fact that something like this could exist in the middle of a city was why one could never underestimate Kyoto.
“It seems they have also hired exclusive firefighters in the name of keeping this precious cultural asset from being damaged. That means they have the right to temporarily hold off any requests for emergency services.”
“That would definitely be ideal for running a secret project. But is the person who owns the mansion involved with Akki Rasetsu?”
“I don’t know. Amemura Ryuu-chan’s family was dragged into it with money, so this may be the same.”
“…Debt? But this is such a large estate.”
“Which means it takes money to maintain it. Plus they will get less monetary aid as a lot needs to be done related to the Intellectual Village as well. The culture needs to be preserved, so it cannot be remodeled to be more energy efficient. Even the smallest scratch requires an expert craftsman to repair. Being designated a cultural asset can be quite a bother.”
The location of the tracking device told me the large truck had already entered the grounds.
“How are you going to sneak in? Even I can tell they have guards all over the place.”
“With this many people on one side of the grounds, there must be over 100 of them in all. But that also tells us they are protecting something important enough to warrant that.”
Movies often had scenes of attaché cases being transported while handcuffed to someone’s wrist. In reality, that would only tell everyone to attack you because you are carrying something valuable. This was the same.
I pulled out a radio.
“? Are you calling in the Illness Magic User?”
“If he learned I was using him back there, he would attack me in anger. That isn’t what I’m doing.” I shook my index finger. “Now, Sunekosuri-kun. You saw how large that truck was, right? Did they really need all that space when the metal tank was only a bit larger than a refrigerator?”
“Huh? Now that you mention it…”
“That extra space was for shock absorbing equipment. In other words, the contents of that metal tank need to be kept in a delicate state. It likely contains the ‘monk’ after it was altered with Amemura Ryuu-chan’s help.”
“You still don’t get it? I attached a tracking device to the bottom of that truck. It would have been a waste to only attach a tracking device when I had the chance. I also added something a little more fun.”
“Y-you don’t mean…”
It seemed the Sunekosuri had caught on, so I replied with a full-faced grin.
“I do. I attached a remote-controlled bomb.”
I felt a blast resound in my gut as an orange pillar of fire burst into the air from within the estate grounds.
“I just detonated a bomb directly below that ‘monk’ that needed to be treated delicately. Whatever happens now, it isn’t going to be good for Akki Rasetsu. While the guards are focused on that, I can sneak in.”
“H-have you completely forgotten all of this is supposed to be kept hidden!? You just woke up half of Kyoto with that blast! Everyone is going to focus on this area!!”
“As I said before, the owner of an important cultural asset has powerful authority on his own land. Any nearby onlookers as well as the police and firefighters will be held back for a while. We don’t have to worry about anyone seeing us fight.”
While holding the Sunekosuri in my arms, I slipped into the ancient estate’s grounds. The area was surrounded by bamboo thickets. Static ran through my radio every once in a while. Someone was communicating within 10 meters of me. Quite a few someones in fact.
But they were not in their usual positions.
It may have been small, but a route had opened up that I could slip in unnoticed through.
I ran through the bamboo thicket while ensuring I made no noise.
Finally, the important cultural asset came into view.
Overall, it was shaped like a hollow square with one side missing. A few large buildings were connected by covered pathways. The yard was neither dirt nor grass; it was completely covered with small tightly packed stones. It even had a pond filled with koi that might have cost millions of yen each.
In a large open space in front of the main entrance, something was burning.
It must have been the large truck I had blown up.
But that was not the main problem.
Something else was illuminated by the flames.
It looked like a small elderly man. It was only about 130 cm tall. It looked like a human had been crumpled up so it was condensed into a single point.
Its shadow stretched out oddly far. The effects of the flames were not enough to explain it. The shadow stretched for dozens of…no, it might have been over 100 meters. It looked as if the crumpled old man’s essence was leaking out in the form of a shadow.
“It’s the ‘monk’. But…dammit. I still don’t know what skill that Youkai has.”
People were collapsed around it. They were likely the skilled agents of Akki Rasetsu…so how had they been defeated?
“What is it?”
“The true form of the ‘monk’ is large enough to cast that shadow. The small old man we can see is probably the true oddity. It might be some sort of illusion or an interface for humans to contact it.”
“So this ‘monk’ is actually over 100 meters tall, but we just can’t see it?”
“It simply stepped on the annoying bugs gathered around it. What happened here is quite simple.”
But in that case, it would be hard to find a means of defeating it.
Just as an ant could not defeat a human, a human would have a hard time defeating that ‘monk’.
That didn’t mean it was impossible, though.
“Wh-what are you going to do now?”
“Getting into a fight with that thing would be pointless. I’ll move around it and enter the mansion. Akki Rasetsu’s important items and VIPs will have been evacuated to there. Wiping all of them out comes first.”
We circled around widely through the yard and to one of the outside pathways. We headed along it to sneak into one of the large buildings.
But a voice called out before we could.
It belonged to a young man.
“There’s no need for you to do that. It’s already over.”
I turned around and found someone standing along the connecting pathway. A man wearing a samue smiled thinly. I suddenly became intensely aware of the handgun hidden in my boot.
When I begin relying on this, I’ve already 80% lost.
This man contained something that made me think that.
I could instinctually tell.
“What is already over?”
“You took too long, so we ended up killing the leaders of Akki Rasetsu ourselves. To tell the truth, we were hoping to get some help from the likes of you.”
“A-a-are you from Akki Rasetsu!?” asked the Sunekosuri.
“Yes? But they complained too much despite never doing anything themselves. After ending so many projects prematurely, we couldn’t help but get angry. We discussed it and decided the organization needed to be handed over to the next generation.”
“They’re all inside. You can have their heads. You can claim you did it. In fact, it would be problematic for us if you don’t.”
I clicked my tongue.
What would happen to my reward in this case?
What if an assassin entered his target’s hideout only to find the target had committed suicide?
You didn’t often hear about that ending with him getting paid. The client would find some fault in it and turn him away.
“You lured us in to kill the leaders that were in your way.”
“So was the project using Amemura Ryuu-chan a decoy?”
“No, it didn’t go that far. That project was about 5th on the priority list. It would have been great had it succeeded, but it could be abandoned if something better came along.”
“What were you even trying to access with that?” I frowned. “”That ‘monk’ is not simply an Umibouzu. It is a guardian deity of the Amemura family created from the vague idea of their ‘ancestors’. It changed form due to the effects of a major accident at sea, but the essence you wanted to contact was…”
“That’s right. The guardian deity side,” readily affirmed the man in the samue. “If you follow the Amemura family back far enough, you will reach the naval forces of the Heian period. But skilled military commanders of that time would occasionally become targets of religious beliefs. People did not want to be haunted by them.”
“You need more explanation?” He shrugged. “To put it simply, this is a means of controlling a low-ranked god. The ‘monk’ may have fallen to the position of a Youkai, but it can be rebooted back to its position as a low-ranked god if a certain type of power is injected into it. …If a formula for that process can be determined, we will be able to freely change gears between Youkai and god. And that means we can drop gods down to the position of Youkai as well.”
So the elderly leaders of Akki Rasetsu were trying to hold these people back.
Hyakki Yakou was the top ranked organization in this business, so why did they focus on Youkai rather than gods? There was a good reason for it.
These people had gotten so lost in their lust for power that they had lost sight of the risks.
“The original objective of Akki Rasetsu was to rearrange humans into being Youkai. Basically, it was just another form of the common desire to be immortal. The mainstream method is to transform one’s physical body using the properties of Youkai that are attached to a specific person such as an Inugami or a Jinmensou. But my methods are different.”
I waited for the proper timing of the conversation.
I then grabbed my suppressor-equipped handgun from my boot and fired repeatedly.
But I received the result I had expected.
Without changing his expression in the slightest, the man in the samue pulled a long obi-like scrap of paper from his pocket and used it to deflect the bullets.
The long, long piece of paper spread out around the man like a bird’s feathers.
“If you attach a Youkai to a human, they will not perfectly fuse together. To remake the human, you must directly alter the human. I am researching the power needed for that. If there is a power that can raise a Youkai up to the position of a god, what would happen if you injected it into a human? Isn’t it exciting to think what would be created?”
“That isn’t a magic charm. …It’s a scroll? Is it some sort of scripture?”
“Yes. It’s just a hanging scroll. I am a Youkai artist. My name is Houjou Touji. I am fairly well-known, so maybe you have heard of me? I am an artist who mass produces Youkai art that creates sinister curses.”
“I see. Art depicting Youkai or ghosts will possess strange power in and of itself. So that is your specialty. You thought you could give power to humans in the same way you give power to those scraps of paper.”
“More or less. It wasn’t easy. I had to secure my arsenal while pretending to obey the leaders in their mainstream idea of using a Shichinin Misaki.”
“In that case, why don’t you just carve a tattoo into your back?”
“I tried that. Too many of the samples destroyed themselves while wielding the Youkai’s power. When it got bad enough, some of them even tore off the skin of their back and fled out the window.”
…Is that a Yuki Onna on that hanging scroll?
I had no idea what level of reproduction that created, but that was a deadly Youkai I wanted nothing to do with.
“Well, that’s more or less the situation. We leaked information to call in assassins from across the country that could take the blame. Akki Rasetsu’s leaders have already been killed. I have nothing left to do in Kyoto. I will give the credit to you. You can lie to your client and receive your reward. Any other questions?”
“Do you really think I’ll let you leave?”
“That’s what I thought.”
The man in the samue who named himself Houjou stuck a hand in his pocket.
He scattered countless small scraps of paper like confetti.
They ignored the flow of the wind as they freely danced around.
“The sort of oddity that can be drawn out by human hands can be mass produced as much as needed.”
…Are these photos?
And all of them show a Yuki Onna.
“You often hear that people meet a horrible fate if they handle spirit photography too roughly, right?”
“You’re quite the talented man. So you can do it with a camera too?”
“Yes, but the accuracy drops even further. Oh, but don’t think just anyone can do this. Getting the exposure, focus, and angle just right is not easy. Just a picture showing the Youkai is not enough. You have to use the camera artistically.”
Even if they were crude replicas, this was approximately 200 objects with the same power as a Yuki Onna.
And on top of that, nothing said Houjou had no other tricks up his sleeve. It was possible he had travelled around Japan and drawn or photographed Youkai with even more dangerous powers.
What if he attacked simultaneously with all of those?
“Now, how about we begin? If you made it this far, I assume you are no normal human. I cannot deny that I feel like seeing whether you are worthy of being drawn by my paintbrush.”
Could he be on the same level as the Illness Magic User? How did someone like this escape the notice of Hyakki Yakou? That organization must be falling into disorder in a lot of different ways.
Now, what to do?
“Feel free to come at me. But do not forget that you will meet a horrible fate if you treat these mysterious photographs and paintings too roughly and destroy them.”
Not only did they cause harm, but it seemed the curse would double if you resisted and destroyed them.
It was quite an excellent means of attack.
Without thinking, I reached for the Deadly Dragon Princess. Pulling it out was the proof that I had 100% lost.
An odd vibration came from the ground.
It wasn’t an earthquake.
It was the footsteps of some giant existence.
Houjou and I simultaneously looked over at the source of the noise. A depression about the size of a small pond had been made in the large yard covered in small stones.
That unknown thing with its invisible form had taken a step towards us.
It spoke with a roaring voice.
“…I will help you.”
“Why would you be obligated to do that?’
“…I have always been the one who protects the Amemura family. It is obvious they plan to harm the Amemura family.”
While Akki Rasetsu had achieved their objective and would soon leave Kyoto, it was possible they would eliminate the Amemura family to tie up all loose ends in that project.
“I have no problem taking your help, but do I really look like a good person to you?”
“…I have no time to worry about the good or evil of individuals. I must combat an even greater evil in order to defeat the ones who will harm the Amemura family.”
“Either way’s fine with me.”
And in response to this…
The man in the samue, Houjou Touji, did not change his expression at all.
With the same thin smile plastered on his face, he said, “My gallery is quite full. I doubt the interference of a Youkai or two will change anything. And I have no reason to hesitate in eliminating the remnants of a project we have already abandoned.”
“So he says. What’ll you do?” I asked.
“…I will bear all of the sins for destroying the artwork. The curse affects only the one who destroys them. I will bear all of it, leaving you free. And that will eliminate all of that young man’s weapons.”
“He has 200 deadly ones around him right now. Do you have any idea how much pain you will experience receiving the death agonies of all of them? The idea that Youkai cannot be killed by normal means no longer holds in our world.”
“…If I must die along with him, then so be it. As long as you remain, you can finish off this young man once he is unarmed. I am contained in the framework of the Amemura family’s ancestors, so I will naturally appear once more after enough generations of the family pass. My individual disappearance here is no real problem to the Amemura family.”
“Let me be blunt. Amemura Ryuu-chan only sees you as a scary monster. She does not visit the family grave or Buddhist altar. You may have been originally created from their ancestors, but you are now a collection of the remnants left over after some souls were destroyed like a piece of quantum cryptography. In other words, you are not truly connected to Amemura Ryuu-chan through her ancestors. You are merely a Youkai that has taken on that role. Do you still feel an obligation to destroy yourself to protect them?”
“…Did you think I was doing this in hopes of being thanked? As long as I can protect the Amemura family, that is all that matters.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
Who would have thought someone as straightforward as this would have his time to shine in this world?
“You are a true hero. Stick to that path and I will take care of everything afterwards,” I said.
“…I thank you.”
“No, thank you.”
Ever so slightly…
Houjou’s smile stiffened.
“You can’t do it,” he said.
“My gallery is full! A single Youkai can never take on the burden of it all!!”
“That is not for you to decide. That is up to the willpower of the sort of ancestral guardian deity that can be found in any family.”
His smile stiffened further.
“We” took a large step forward knowing full well what that stiffening meant.
It’s time to settle this, you bastard.
- 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.
- Umibouzu literally means Sea Monk
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