The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume2 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: ??? @ The One Who Covers Up a God
Part 1 (Jinnai Shinobu)
I need to head toward cover. I need to head toward somewhere with plenty of places to hide behind and protect myself.
Fleeing toward the mountain with that in mind may have been a mistake. I was being led toward an area with no people where illegal violence could be employed without issue.
What is going on?
How could this happen?
I was in the Intellectual Village known as Noukotsu Village. Packages involving Youkai would occasionally happen here, but it was still an easier place to live than the city. That remained true even if the rural scenery was faked by various types of technology.
I heard my uncle’s shout make its way through the gaps of the forest’s trees.
But I did not respond. I couldn’t!
Several people were tied up in this messed up situation, but each person’s survival was based on the same condition: To survive, you must kill one of the other participants. It was a simple, clear, and unavoidable rule. Both my uncle and myself had been closed in by that framework.
In other words…
My uncle and I were destined to try to kill each other.
And when it came down to pure violence, a normal high school student like me did not stand a chance against a professional police detective like my uncle. He likely outdid me in pure unarmed combat, but he might also have a handgun.
I could not trust anyone.
Given the situation, we could no longer work together.
I still did not want to kill my uncle and the others. My mind stubbornly worked to find a way to get around the rules, find a loophole, or otherwise reach a conclusion where no one had to die.
The true disaster that arrived was enough to make me forget all about the rest of the horrible situation.
“Shinobu!! Don’t go that way! She’s coming!!”
I had forgotten to wonder why my uncle would be calling for me in this situation of mutual suspicion. When I thought about it, letting the others know his position in this thick forest would only put him at a disadvantage.
And then something happened.
A sound exploded out from my body as if something solid had been knocked out of place.
I had been struck from behind. I tried to turn around, but my head would not turn like I told it to. I twisted my waist around while lying collapsed on the grassy-smelling dirt and managed to roll onto my back. Only then did I catch a glimpse of who had attacked me.
It was a woman with the sort of Japanese paper used for calligraphy forcibly pasted all over her body. She was like a monster created by spell words congealed into a human form. Something had been skillfully written on the Japanese paper with black ink, but the papers were so crumpled up to perfectly match the lines of the woman’s body that the words were distorted.
I could not read what was written on them.
I somehow managed to squeeze out a voice while barely breathing at all.
If that monster was taking part in this killing game where blood was washed away with blood, then it was much too obvious who would win in the end.
This paper-covered Hishigami Mai crouched down as if to peer at my face. Her hands reached out for my neck. I tried to twist my body around to escape, but I could no longer move properly.
She mercilessly brought her hands in as if to strangle a chicken.
And then my heart literally stopped beating.
Part 2 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
After finally getting a day off, I visited an indoor fishing pond that had opened in Ikebukuro. Even when I had lived in Noukotsu Village, I had preferred playing by the river instead of the mountain.
The fishing pond’s greatest feature was its large tank for migratory fish that functioned like a lazy river at a water park. The pond’s tagline was “the leisure spot where you can catch a bluefin tuna”. The tank ran through a donut-shaped circuit in a building the size of fair-sized aquarium and the customers paid to fish in it.
The reception area was one floor below and the inside of the tank could be seen through tempered glass. The tuna I could see swimming through it were only about 70 cm, but they still technically qualified as a small type of bluefin tuna.
According to the smiling receptionist girl, “If they were any larger than this, normal fishers would have difficulty catching them. Even if you are wearing gloves, there would be a danger of losing a finger to the line.”
Any tuna you caught would be prepared for you in the facility’s restaurant and (if you were willing to pay) you could still eat tuna if you did not catch one, so I had not eaten anything despite this being my day off. As I drank some vegetable juice to tide over my empty stomach, I rented a fairly thick fishing pole and some spear squid for bait and headed in for the challenge.
“What? Why are you here even on my day off, mystery freak? Don’t you know that people need to periodically perform maintenance on and refresh their minds?”
“Heh heh heh. Now I get a fishing pond date with you. …But what’s with that vegetable juice? Aren’t you drinking that as an excuse rather than for your health or its nutrients? Are you trying to look good?”
“Shut up. Let me enjoy my time alone.”
“C’mon, detective. They may be small, but these are bluefin tuna. Do you really think you can eat one all on your own if you catch it? Look around you. It’s nothing but families and couples.”
“Shut up! It really hurts if you point it out!! I didn’t expect it to be like this before I got here!! I thought fishing was a man’s pastime. How casual has it gotten!?”
“Oh, look at your pole, detective. Something’s tugging really hard.”
That was a fishing pond for you. I frantically grabbed the fishing pole that was beginning to bend like a bow. Of course, the reel was electric and had a specialized program installed and a young instructor lady came running over when she saw I had caught something, so I did not actually need any real strength or skill to battle the tuna.
As the instructor reached for the fishing pole from behind me and gave me some literally hands on advice, the mystery freak glared at her.
“This system is not suited for couples. I just hope I don’t hear any of the same rumors as from those parks and amusement parks with famous ponds.”
As I ignored her nonsense and battled the tuna (or rather, enjoyed a recreation of battling it), something huge burst from the surface of the water with a splashing noise.
“Hyah!?” shouted the instructor woman in surprise.
She grabbed onto me from behind for some reason and the look in the mystery freak’s eyes grew even sharper.
I was surprised too.
But not because I had caught an unexpectedly large tuna.
This was not even a fish.
Hanging from the line was a girl wearing a short kimono and hagoromo who looked like something from an ancient picture book.
“G-gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?” I cried out as if I had done something horrible.
The girl in question’s expression did not change despite having a thick fishing hook in her mouth with her entire weight pressing down on it. She remained perfectly expressionless.
“She isn’t bleeding? Wait, the hook isn’t even piercing her mouth?”
“Oh? She isn’t human,” said the mystery freak as if remembering something. “She’s a Youkai…or rather, a manmade Shikigami. I don’t know too much about that, so I couldn’t tell you how it works. But what I do know is she belongs to my sister. She’s the Deadly Dragon Princess.”
“She’s Mai’s?” I said in confusion.
The Deadly Dragon Princess gave little reaction. She simply swayed back and forth while hanging from the end of the fishing pole with the spear squid in her mouth. And for some reason she made the V-sign with both hands while still perfectly expressionless.
“But this is odd,” said the mystery freak.
“Everything about this is odd. I can’t think of a single thing about this that isn’t odd.”
“That’s not what I mean. My sister has a habit of saying she has 100% lost if she has to use the Deadly Dragon Princess.”
That monster woman said that?
I had never sensed the slightest weakness from Hishigami Mai, so I could not imagine her ever facing a situation she could not handle.
“It’s twue,” added the Deadly Dragon Princes while being dragged up onto land by the electric reel.
She had likely meant “true”, but she was talking while chewing on the squid.
It was raw and still had its guts inside, so she was quite the wild “person”.
Eventually, the Deadly Dragon Princess spat something out like used gum. It was the powerful hook used to land 200 kilogram tunas, but it had been horribly crushed.
“Detective, the hook is tied into a bow.”
“Now that’s a powerful kiss I want to avoid at all costs.”
The Deadly Dragon Princess ignored our exchange and spoke with the expression of someone following a program.
“Hishigami Mai has lost. I have been instructed to pass on an emergency message.”
“What are you supposed to tell us?”
“It is quite simple.” With no change of expression, the Deadly Dragon Princess grabbed another spear squid from the cooler I had rented. “After she lost to them, an organization known as Akki Rasetsu took control of Hishigami Mai’s physical body. She has become their puppet to use as a weapon. If you wish to save her, you must head to the Intellectual Village known as Noukotsu Village.”
I sighed and covered my face in my hands. While looking over at the Deadly Dragon Princess who was eating my squid without permission, the mystery freak revealed an unnecessary piece of trivia.
“That’s your hometown, isn’t it, detective?”
“Why do you know my personal information?”
Part 3 (???)
A certain rest stop was located near an ordinary rural city.
The area’s economy had fallen into a slump so the public transportation facilities such as buses and trains had declined. This naturally made private automobiles a necessity to live in the area. Nothing could be seen but long runway-like stretches of road that naturally obstructed travel and further stagnated the economy. The stereotypical cycle of decline had kicked in.
An old black foreign car was parked at one end of a parking lot large enough to hold a soccer match on. It was a famous car from the ‘60s known as a Hitman Tuxedo, but a car like that would violate the exhaust standards if it was used as is on public roads. For that reason, the inner workings had been remade into a sanitary hybrid car. This was another of the classics businesses that also gave new life to old houses. The president of the custom workshop had claimed it took a lot of doing to produce such a deep noise of exhaust from such a thin engine. He had said the experience made him feel like an expert craftsman of brass instruments.
A man and a woman sat within the car.
The woman had her hair tied to either side of her head and was wearing a pink camisole, hot pants, and jacket. She was named Saijou. The muscular man had a blonde pompadour, wore a tank top and work pants, and had his shirt wrapped around his waist. His name was Nanjou.
Saijou Ai and Nanjou Kakeru were the two new leaders of Akki Rasetsu after they had taken control of the organization from the old leaders.
A human sized piece of luggage was lying in the leg space of the backseat.
“Toujou-san is dead.”
“Yes, he is.”
One portion of the blue sky was blocked out by a long, narrow trail of smoke as if from a chimney. But in reality, this black smoke was coming from the remains of the prisoner transport vehicle carrying Toujou. It had been blown to smithereens while travelling along the highway.
They had not wanted to use something as flashy as a bomb in a country like Japan, but the vehicle had been armored. Anything that could be disguised as a natural accident would have no guarantee of killing their target.
While sitting in the left-side driver’s seat, Saijou nervously tapped her index finger on the steering wheel.
“And Houjou-san was hung from a tree after his project in Kyoto failed.”
“Does it really matter?”
“What do you mean?”
“Nature will decide the size of the organization. This is no different than how smaller groups of friends naturally form within a school. Those old idiots tried to expand the size of the organization to achieve their objectives, but they went too far. That causes internal rifts and makes it hard to come to agreement over anything. If you radicalize around a single objective, it is only natural for the organization to be automatically trimmed.”
“Eh? Then the same goes for Toujou-san and Houjou-san?”
“Both of those were accidents, but the organization would have grown more condensed either way. In fact, regulating the number of people will improve the purity of our focus on a single goal. …We had become fat and bloated like Hyakki Yakou. They have 100 members at the level of leaders alone, which is just stupid. And I hear not even a third of them can even use the occult.”
“I see,” said Saijou with a less than satisfied expression.
She did think a problem existed as far as the percentages were concerned, but that was still 30 people who could wield the occult on a level feared as a natural disaster and with an exclusive shrine constructed toward suppressing their power. Even by the standards of their field of work, having that many of such people gathered in one group was not normal.
But she changed the subject instead of pursuing that further.
“What should we do next?”
“Houjou was an idiot who couldn’t even protect himself, but he did give us an interesting report. He found some interesting Youkai we can use in the Intellectual Village known as Noukotsu Village.”
“I kind of liked Houjou-san.”
“Well, you both work in similar ways. Not to mention that you managed to make Hishigami Mai your own after picking her up injured in Kyoto. He was the one that did that damage, so you should at least thank him. Not that it has anything to do with me.” Nanjou looked in the rearview mirror to observe the backseat. “Speaking of which, is this really safe?”
“Mai-chan will be just fine. Her entire body is bound by Kosode no Te.”
“That’s a kimono Youkai that curses anyone who wears it, right?”
“Exactly. I made plenty of copies of one and attached them all over Mai-chan. The controller is running properly, so there is nothing to worry about.” Saijou casually turned the conversation back on track. “So what are we going to do? Should we head to that Intellectual Village Houjou-san visited?”
“Well, if we find the Youkai he spotted, we should be able to assemble what we have been hoping for.”
Saijou spread out a paper map to check on the location of Noukotsu Village. She did not use a convenient GPS system because she did not want a third party using it to track their location. This hybrid Hitman Tuxedo was not a rental car or stolen car she was willing to abandon.
“Oh, right,” said Saijou Ai as she looked at the map like a father reading the newspaper at the breakfast table.
Nanjou Kakeru frowned and asked, “What?”
“You said those old men, Houjou-san, and Toujou-san were purged in the automatic adjustments to the optimal size for the organization, right?”
“What about it?”
“In that case, isn’t it a bit odd for Akki Rasetsu to have two leaders left? It seems to me just the Saijou group or just the Nanjou group would be enough.”
The sound of something soft being crushed exploded out within the car.
Saijou Ai pulled out a sleeping bag, stuffed a human-sized mass inside, and threw it into the backseat.
She then said, “It’s getting a bit crowded back there, but bear with it, Mai-chan.”
That famous ‘60s car called the Hitman Tuxedo let out its low rumbling one could feel in the gut as it left the rest stop’s large parking lot. The black foreign car smoothly began its journey to the Intellectual Village known as Noukotsu Village.
Part 4 (Jinnai Shinobu)
Noukotsu Village is a bit of an ominous name, isn’t it?
That thought about my hometown came to me thanks to a slightly belated summer greeting postcard. It had come via ridiculously expensive airmail.
Couldn’t they just send an email?
Oddly enough, the postcard was addressed to the Succubus rather than the Jinnai household. It just outright had “Succubus” written on it. And the sender was…unknown. It just had a weird string of numbers in that field.
At any rate, I made my way up to the attic and asked the micro bikini-wearing demon.
She smiled and replied, “It’s from an old friend. She’s an old demon, so she likes old systems. Of course this is an age where quantum computers could soon be a reality, so I’m amazed she thinks a simple numerical replacement for the letters would be enough to hide her true name. …But I wonder how she figured out I’m here.”
“Hm. So who is she?”
“Tselika Wien Alpha Chely-…wait, stop that! Asking for a demon’s name will not end well for you. This is no fairy tale!”
It seemed the world of demons had its own problems. There was no point in asking further, so I quickly changed the subject.
“So where is this picture from?”
“A place not far from Paris. They have some wonderful catacombs there…”
The Succubus looked spellbound with the idea, but I was not entirely sure what catacombs were.
After reading the text, she handed the postcard back to me in disinterest. I walked down the long hallway and to the western style living room where I found the glamorous Zashiki Warashi lying on the floor watching TV with the Yuki Onna. There was a TV in her room as well, but it was hard to resist the draw of this larger screen.
They seemed to be watching a rerun of a quiz show.
“The topic is Australia’s circular farms. These green plains look quite mysterious in the middle of the vast desert. Now for your question. What percentage of the world’s wheat is grown on them!? You have three possible answers and those of you at home can play along with your terrestrial digital remote controls!!”
I tossed the postcard into a postcard storage box no one used much anymore. As I did, the overall flat Yuki Onna spoke to me expressionlessly.
“Listen to this. They’re horrible. They’re all so horrible…”
“They have been using the remote to take part in the quiz game, but they won’t let me have a turn.”
“Isn’t this a rerun?”
“And that untidy Youkai lying there always says the answer right before the host does…”
“Like I said, it’s a rerun.”
But what fun is it to watch a quiz show if you know all the answers already?
“The answer is the biggest option: 25%! Surprising, isn’t it? But the people of Australia think it is not enough. There are a some problems such as cyclones and an outbreak of locusts, but with some help from Japanese technology…”
The Zashiki Warashi must have grown tired of teasing the Yuki Onna because she made me her new target.
“Shinobu, I want a popsicle.”
I had no choice but to take that indoor Youkai to the kitchen by rolling her along the floor like a metal drum tipped on its side. This did some interesting things to the hem and collar of her Yukata, but she did not seem to mind showing off that much skin.
She calmly said, “We just can’t win with numbers alone, can we?”
“Are you talking about Australia? They use large scale farming where the seeds are sown from an airplane. A country like this where you have a hard time finding land where the horizon is visible has no chance of winning. Due to the race for the lowest prices, the beef, rice, and onions in the gyudon you buy will probably all come from Australia.”
However, it was hard to manually manage such vast amounts of farmland, so I had heard they would rent a farming infrastructure with technicians included that used precision equipment made in Japan and Korea. This created a strange situation where the Japanese were importing crops grown by other Japanese in foreign countries.
After complaining that the Zashiki Warashi got a yogurt despite saying she had wanted a popsicle, my overall small granny entered the kitchen.
“What is it, granny?”
“I think there are more trees in the yard than usual.”
“I do not really understand, but it might be a Youkai.”
I was not sure what she meant, so I had her and the Zashiki Warashi wait in the kitchen while I headed for the yard.
I put on a pair of beach sandals and stepped off of the long porch.
“What is this giant tropical looking tree?”
There was indeed an extra tree. It was obviously a different type of plant from those around it and it was growing right in the middle of the small path between the parking spot and the yard, so it could not have been more in the way. Anyone would notice a tree growing here.
This out-of-place feeling and strange sense of caution I felt for an unfamiliar plant likely came from living in an Intellectual Village. Just as stocking a river with black bass could destroy the river’s ecosystem, a living thing that did not fit the village’s colors was a scary thing.
And then some cat-sized creature poked its head out from behind the mysterious tropical tree.
But the creature’s face was oddly stern.
“Good day. I am Shisa.”
“This Chinese banyan tree is Kijimuna. He is my friend.”
“Wait, wait! Let’s go through this one at a time. Is a Shisa even a Youkai? I thought the term Shisa referred to the statues themselves and not some creature they were modeled after. Y’know, like the Komainu at a Shinto shrine.”
It was also possible this was technically not a Shisa but a Tsukumogami of a Shisa statue, but I had no way of knowing which it was.
However, the Shisa did not seem the type to listen to what people said.
“I am from Okinawa, so I have never seen snow. I heard from some travelling Youkai that I could find a Yuki Onna if I came here. Have her make it snow.”
“Hey! What the hell happened to our household’s privacy!?”
“Here is some awamori as a gift. Give it to your parents. …It is not for children, okay?”
Having said that, the Shisa (?) jumped up onto the porch and entered the house without permission. He was so bold about it that I let it happen without thinking.
After being left behind, I looked up at that tree that was a type of mangrove.
“If you’re a proper Youkai, you won’t mess with the ecosystem of the normal plants around here…will you?”
The branches shook, making a rustling noise, but I did not know if that was a yes or no.
“At any rate, you’re kind of in the way here, so could you head further back in the yard while you wait?”
After more rustling, it began moving. But rather than walking on legs, the movement was more like all of its roots were snakes.
It may have gotten into a turf war with the Furutsubaki in the back of the yard because it began that odd rustling again. (By the way, the Furutsubaki would occasionally transform into a beautiful woman, but it was not the type that killed people. My Youkai-loving mom hand picked it up from somewhere.) But before I could focus on the two Youkai trees, I heard a commotion coming from the thatch-roof house.
In fact, the Yuki Onna ran out barefoot into the yard with Xs for eyes.
“Wh-what is this all of a sudden!? You’re making everything too hot!! I don’t know who you are, but I think we are horribly incompatible!!”
“I am Shisa.”
“I was not asking for your name!”
“I want to make an igloo. Make it snow.”
The Shisa (?) continued to not listen to anything anyone said as the Yuki Onna scurried over to cling to me.
“P-please do something about him!!” she begged me.
“Apparently, he’s never seen snow before, so he came here all the way from Okinawa. Can’t you at least make it snow for him?”
“Kh… By any chance do you have a fetish for being NTRed away from people? A-and an animal fetish…?”
It seemed the Yuki Onna had made an incredibly rude misunderstanding, but she was in no state to be corrected while she was being chased around by that symbol of summer. She was running around the yard with the hem of her white kimono trailing along the ground behind her.
If she really can’t stand being around him, I need to create a way for them to talk this out…
But as soon as I had that thought, my cell phone rang. This was a brand new model because my old one had broken after being soaked in water.
“Eh? What do you need, uncle?”
After a short exchange, I frowned.
“I see. So you’re on your way here?”
Part 5 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Unfortunately, there was no way I had any paid leave left.
However, the Shikigami sent by Hishigami Mai did not care in the slightest about the problems of a working man.
“Please begin searching for Hishigami Mai right away. If you do not, I will kill you,” said the Deadly Dragon Princess bluntly.
No matter how unreasonable this seemed, I had no chance if it came down to a competition of physical strength. And I could hardly go into work with that Deadly Dragon Princess tagging along 24/7. I was ultimately forced to lie and say my wounds from the Jinmensou case had reopened.
Of course, I didn’t have any paid sick days left either, so this was eating away at my already low pay.
At any rate, I travelled to Noukotsu Village.
As I stepped out onto the platform of the village’s one unmanned train station, I looked up at the midsummer sun and grimaced.
“…So I’ve come back here yet again.”
The first problem facing me was the combination of having a lot of luggage and the station’s lack of a bus stop or taxi loading area. However, I had called Shinobu ahead of time, so the real question was who would be sent to meet me. My older brother was a man who focused 100% on his work, so he would never leave his brewing facility. With any luck, my old man would come pick me up in his car, but…
“Well, there’s not much chance of that happening. I guess I’ll just walk to the house.”
“S-so I will finally get to greet your parents, detective!?”
“What are you doing here, mystery freak?”
The girl-shaped Deadly Dragon Princess was clinging to my back and silently eating some squid snacks, but I had not noticed Enbi until she had spoken to me on the platform. Had she tailed me like a true mystery freak?
She lightly waved her index finger back and forth and said, “For once, my sister is actually in a real pinch. This is actually more my issue than yours, detective.”
“Then do something about this Shikigami. And while you’re at it, how about you stay away from me too?”
But I was not even sure if the village even had an inn. Even if it did, I did not know if Enbi could afford it. That meant keeping her from traveling with me would force her to sleep on the streets. Forcing a teenage girl to do that for my own personal reasons went against everything I believed a police officer should be. And of course, thinking that way was falling right into the mystery freak’s trap.
As I held my head in one hand, I dragged my travel bag along and walked toward the ticket gate.
I was already feeling irritated when I heard the grating high-pitched voice of a female announcer coming from some TV.
“Blueprint of a Hit is on at Thursday at 7:00!! This week we will approach the secrets of Daikawara-san, the producer of the beautiful Onmyouji girls unit Seman Stars! We will reveal the trick to coming up with the group’s novel ideas such as the skillful blend of idols and spiritual mystique as well as the unique fan service of giving individual fortune tellings instead of a simple handshaking event! Don’t miss it!!”
I looked over to find the mystery freak had turned on the 1seg TV function of her cell phone.
“Wow, this is really is the middle of nowhere. There are almost no TV channels. All the commercial broadcasting is covered by a single local station.”
“You can order any show you want to watch over satellite or the internet.”
“What do you think of Seman Stars? Don’t you think Tarot Girls 22 is cuter?”
“There are too many of them, so I can’t keep track. Add in the backups and there are 56 of them, right?”
Sitting around at the empty station forever would do no one any good, so I began walking along the paved road with the Deadly Dragon Princess still clinging to my back. The mystery freak would stick with me whether I said anything or not, but I was having trouble deciding whether that was convenient or presumptuous.
The midsummer sun was so hot that I seriously began to wonder if it was not a mirage I was seeing and the road was really melting. Nevertheless, I continued to walk across the asphalt and toward my family home. The distance and heat must have been too much even for the mystery freak because she said nothing as we walked.
The Deadly Dragon Princess was clinging to my back and forcing her entire weight onto me, so my strength was being worn down quite quickly. It reminded me of poison damage in an RPG.
“Ahhh!! Detective, are there no cafes or family restaurants around here?”
“Give it up. This village only has a sweets shop. If you need a rest, there’s a bus stop with a roof not far up ahead.”
“This is horrible! Is this really part of Japan!?”
“I moved to the city to get away from this, so complain to someone else.”
As soon as we finally arrived at the bus stop, the mystery freak practically flung herself onto the bench but then started writhing around on top of that natural frying pan that had been heated by the sun.
“Your problem is that you’re the type of mystery freak whose brain stops working altogether when you don’t have a case to solve. Why couldn’t you at least guess that the angle of the sun can still let it reach the bench despite the roof?”
“U-uuhhh… This is just cruel. There’s water so nearby yet I can’t drink it.”
“Huh? What is this doing in an Intellectual Village?” I muttered as I approached the object.
And that turned out to be a deadly mistake.
Part 6 (Jinnai Shinobu)
Despite emphasizing how soon he would be here over the phone, my uncle never arrived. I frowned and called him back a few times, but I couldn’t reach him.
“What is going on?”
Had he run into some kind of trouble?
Noukotsu Village had an extremely slow train schedule. Counting both directions, only 5 trains came through in a day. One of those should have arrived at the station already. If my uncle had been on that train, he should have arrived in the city by now.
“Hmm… Maybe I should go down to the station to check.”
I had hoped someone would go with me, but the Zashiki Warashi’s policy was to refuse to do anything that would be too much of a bother and the Yuki Onna did not want to head out into the hot sun. As I looked around in search of someone to rope into going with me, the Nekomata turned away from me.
Is this because of how Youkai naturally hate my uncle so much?
“Oh, that’s right. We’ve got a demon in addition to these Youkai.”
And so I headed up to the attic using the steep and narrow wooden stairs that were practically a ladder.
The house was quite large and the attic was not divided into individual rooms, so it contained a decent amount of space. However, it had a dank and stuffy impression due to not being a proper living space, so it was not a place I liked going to.
But Youkai and demons tended to like places humans found uncomfortable, so it was quite well liked by them.
“The answer is #3: 50 countries!! The worldwide agricultural revolution focused on Australia is known as the International Plantation Project. Vast land is used to grow the specialties of countries the world over, such as Brazilian coffee, French grapes, and German potatoes. The standard is to use circular farms, but some crops use a combination of perfectly enclosed plant factories and megasolar facilities…”
It seemed the Succubus was watching the same quiz show rerun the Yuki Onna had been. I could hear the voice of the announcer who was known as the trivia king.
While standing on that steep ladder-like staircase, I stuck my head into the square attic. For some reason, the Succubus was sitting with her legs spread in an M-shape as if waiting for me. If I had been careless, my face would have run right in the center point of the M.
“What are you doing?”
“Just watching TV. Why do you ask?”
It seemed that sitting like that was as natural to her as sitting in the seiza style or cross-legged. After I explained the situation, she rolled backwards with her legs still spread in an M-shape. The movement somehow reminded me of a dead cicada.
“Demons prefer the darkness and Succubi rule over the night and dreams!! Why would you ever think I would go on a healthy walk under the midsummer sun!?”
Apparently, my uncle’s nature worked long range and was just as effective on Western monsters as Eastern ones.
I ultimately had no choice but to head for the station alone.
As soon as I stepped outside, I was reminded just how unbearable the direct sunlight was. For an instant, I considered taking a page out of those Youkai’s book and turning right back into the house, but I managed to resist.
I borrowed the Zashiki Warashi’s electric stickboard and took off down the farm road that was barely wide enough for two light trucks to pass each other.
“There are no stores on the way, so there’s almost no chance he took a detour.”
I raced alongside rice paddies filled with rice plants swaying in the wind as I took the shortest route to the train station. Someone must have been hunting down some dangerous animal because I heard what sounded like gunshots coming from the mountain. The old man who lived next door would sometimes share some boar meat with us, so I did not find it to be an unpleasant sound.
I spotted something sparkling on the side of the road. I ignored it, but I saw something else reflecting the sunlight a bit further on. After spotting three or four similar objects, I started to think it was strange.
What are those things?
They were objects I had seen on TV.
“A cat-repellent water bottle?”
I stopped the electric stickboard to check. The label had been removed from the plastic bottle and it was filled with water. I had often seen them placed in front of urban houses on TV.
But they were rarely used in Intellectual Villages.
For one, there was no scientific or zoological evidence they worked. Also, filling a round plastic bottle with water allowed it to function like a lens. When placed under the sun, it could easily start a fire.
Intellectual Villages thoroughly regulated their environment with all sorts of technology, so they had ways of more efficiently and effectively keeping stray cats away.
After all, this was where a bunch of grapes cost 30 thousand yen. When you could almost say that money did grow on trees, you would never protect those trees with mere superstition.
“What is this doing here?”
In my confusion, I approached the cat-repellent water bottle to get a closer look.
“No, Shinobu!! If you approach that, you’ll be caught in it too!!”
There was nothing he could have done.
By the time I heard my uncle’s voice, I had already been caught in the Package.
Part 7 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Shit, shit, shit, shit!!
I had been so focused on being caught in the Package myself and searching for a way to escape this Youkai that I had been unable to stop a new sacrifice from appearing. And this was my nephew Shinobu. What rules did any supposed god use to run this world?
I frantically ran over to Shinobu but felt a dull pain run through my right ankle.
It felt like wooly caterpillars that a mere touch from would cause a rash had broken through the skin and burrowed into my body. It hurt, it itched, it was uncomfortable, and it filled me with revulsion. The negative feelings seemed enough to cover up the pure pain.
It was a string.
It was painfully clear that a spider’s web had burrowed inside me.
“Uncle, what is-…!?”
Shinobu trailed off as his face twisted in pain and he frantically crouched down to hold his right ankle with both hands. He was obviously experiencing the same symptoms as us.
I shouted into the distance.
“Mystery freak, there’s a water bottle over here too! We missed one!! Shinobu has been caught in the Package!!”
Hishigami Enbi and the Shikigami named the Deadly Dragon Princess approached. Those two, Shinobu, and I were the current group caught in the Package. If possible, I did not want anyone else to be added to that group, but…
“What is going on, uncle…?”
“It’s a Jorougumo. Someone has set up a Package using that deadly Youkai,” I replied in a bitter voice.
Once we had understood the details of the Package to a certain extent, we had started by gathering all of the water bottles set up around the village. Everyone who approached them would be caught inside the Package, but the mystery freak and I were already caught. Touching the bottles could not cause any more harm to us. We had hoped to retrieve them all before someone else fell victim to them, but that had not happened.
The mystery freak explained the situation to Shinobu.
“A Jorougumo is generally known as a Youkai that transforms into a beautiful woman during the day and sucks human blood as a giant spider at night. But this one seems to be a slightly different type. This is the Jorougumo said to appear at the Jouren Falls. The cat-repellent water bottles are a trap meant to apply the situation of ‘taking a rest next to the water’ to the target. Anyone who spends a certain amount of time near one of the bottles is designated a target. The bottles may even have actual water from the Jouren Falls inside.”
Simply passing by was no problem. However, if you stopped, the danger shot way up. We had not actually tested this, but the entire village would have been caught if the target simply had to approach within a certain distance.
“What exactly does this Youkai do?”
“It wraps its spider web around the ankle of any travelers resting near the waterfall and drags them into the waterfall basin to kill them. In the story, a traveler cut the web wrapped around his ankle and tied it around a tree stump to escape.”
Shinobu looked at me.
I shook my head and replied, “We’ve tried it. The web is invisible, but we can grab it. However, nothing happened even when we tried to tie it to the bus stop sign, the bench, or anything else. We even went to the mountain and found a stump, but that didn’t work either. We can remove it temporarily, but it reappears back around our ankle before long.”
Technically, it dug into our ankle in this Package instead of just around it.
“So they’ve altered that portion,” commented Shinobu.
The mystery freak sighed and said, “We don’t know who did this, but it is obvious what they are after. Either everyone caught dies or they must fight each other to the death. The person behind this wants us to make that ultimate choice.”
“What? I don’t know what the time limit for this is, but don’t we just have to find what has been designated the ‘stump’ and reattach the web to that?”
“The problem is what that ‘stump’ is,” I cut in. “The mystery freak wrapped her web around my ankle as a joke, but that was the only time it did not reappear on her. …It was kind of awkward, so she reattached it to her ankle.”
“…Wait. You’re kidding.”
“The bastard that assembled this Jorougumo Package has cruelly set the other participants as the ‘stump’.”
As a police officer, this situation made me click my tongue, but it would have been unfair not to explain it.
“In other words, we have two options. We can wait until our time is up and all die, or we can force our web onto another participant before our time is up. Those are the only two options.”
“I doubt there is a limit to the number of webs someone can have forced on them, so one death would be the best we can hope for,” added the mystery freak.
Naturally, no one wanted to be thrown into a deadly game of musical chairs.
That would decide who the sacrifice would be by a truly primitive method. In other words, all the participants would try to kill each other, forcing all the damage onto the weakest one.
Shinobu looked back down at his ankle and said, “By the way, how exactly will we be killed once our time is up?”
“We don’t know. Since the story is about being dragged into a waterfall basin, drowning or falling from a great height would make the most sense, but the Jorougumo is a bloodsucking Youkai. And since the stump was pulled from the ground and dragged into the basin, being crushed to death may also be possible.”
The only question was what the criminal wanted from this.
A rural area like an Intellectual Village had few main roads, so it would not be hard to catch someone in the Package by setting up the water bottles along those. However, it would be difficult to catch a specific target.
Was this nothing but indiscriminate murder?
Packages were developed by groups of dozens or even hundreds, so it seemed unlikely one would be built around the pleasure of an individual.
“I have a question,” said Hishigami Mai’s Shikigami all of a sudden. “A web has been attached to my ankle as well, but can this Jorougumo kill a Shikigami?”
“I’m not a specialist, so I couldn’t tell you,” replied the mystery freak. “But if this was assembled under the assumption that it would be killing humans, the damage set to drown or crush the victim might not be enough to kill you.”
“I agree. And with that settled…”
We all focused on the Deadly Dragon Princess.
The Shikigami then said, “All of you can attach your webs to me. That will allow you to escape this danger. Even if my core structure is destroyed, I can be remade if you manage to rescue Hishigami Mai.”
The last resort.
Once it was suggested, there was no point in rejecting it.
If time ran out with the webs still around all of our ankles, we would all die. The Package was put together to kill every last one of us. Denying that last resort would only increase the number of victims.
For that reason, the Deadly Dragon Princess’s view was not wrong.
It was not wrong.
“We can’t, uncle.” As expected, my nephew Shinobu spoke up. Even if it was being idealistic, I felt he should be proud of still being able to say that here. “There has to be another way! A Package is a much larger system than it appears, so there are a lot of gears that can be removed. If we can find one of those, we won’t have to make this choice like the criminal wants us to!!”
“But we have no way of knowing if we will succeed before time runs out. In fact, we do not even know the full scope of this Package. We have not even narrowed down who the suspects might be. If we begin gathering information now, we will never finish in time.” The mystery freak’s words stabbed at him coolly. “From the state of our ankles, the detective and I only have about 10 minutes left. The time limit meaning our deaths may be after that, but the web digging into our ankles will be too much for us soon. This strange itching is spreading so much it feels like my ankle is suffering necrosis.”
“Shinobu, don’t worry. The limit will clearly come for us first. If worst comes to worst, you can attach your web to one of us. You at least can survive this.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to say!!”
I knew that he was trying to correct a fundamental mistake.
But we did not have time.
“We of course want to do whatever we can too. But think about what could happen. We are the first wave and you are the second. If you wait around until the entire first wave is gone, you will be the only person left. Once that happens, you will have no one to attach your web to.”
Shinobu gritted his teeth and looked over at the Deadly Dragon Princess.
That monster looked like a slender girl.
“I will be fine,” she said to Shinobu expressionlessly. “No Youkai is used in my construction. I am a Shikigami designed from the ground up with organic material. If my physical body is destroyed, it can simply be exchanged for anoth-ghh.”
She misspoke at the end after biting her tongue.
Or so it seemed.
A slender and lithe arm pierced through the Deadly Dragon Princess’s back and out of the center of her chest.
Who did that?
When did they approach?
I belatedly realized that asking those obvious questions was getting my priorities out of order.
If what the Deadly Dragon Princess had said was accurate, she was a Shikigami, an artificial Youkai, created by Hishigami Mai.
Normal methods would never be enough to kill her, so how had a human killed her barehanded?
“According to my sister,” Hishigami Enbi’s lips trembled as she spoke, “the Deadly Dragon Princess is a model case for a potential enemy. She assumed she would be able to stand up to most any Youkai if she redesigned her own body so she could defeat it with a single punch.”
The most likely candidate for who had destroyed the Shikigami in a single strike was…
“Hishigami Mai!?” shouted all three of us almost in unison.
The attacker pulled her slender arm out from the Deadly Dragon Princess’s back and casually tossed the wreckage to the side. The Deadly Dragon Princess had said she would be fine if she was destroyed, but I had no way of knowing how true that was.
And I could not even focus on her battered form.
Every nerve in my body refused to let me look away from the attacker.
The attacker was indeed Hishigami Mai. I recognized the bloody arm and the hair that had been damaged by direct sunlight. However, I had never seen that look on her face. And half of her body was covered.
Covered in what, you ask?
Covered in Japanese paper used for calligraphy. Or perhaps you would call them magic charms. At any rate, about half of her body was covered with Japanese paper with strange writing on it. We had not exchanged a single word, but it was obvious that Mai was not her usual self. It was possible she could not even hear us. She looked like spell words congealed into a human form.
The Jorougumo Package had been unbeatable enough already.
And now the trump card we could use as a last resort had been destroyed.
Plus the enemy that now faced us was the worst possible enemy I could think of.
“We can’t win,” I calmly analyzed. Neither Shinobu nor the mystery freak attempted to argue. “Don’t try to fight her!! Our top priority is finding a way to escape this Jorougumo Package!!”
To make sure we were not all killed at once, we ran off in three different directions.
Hishigami Mai would likely pursue one of us.
This was like a game of musical chairs.
If we wanted to survive, we had to choose at least one person to die.
A much more direct, obvious, and horrible choice than the Jorougumo Package had presented itself.
Part 8 (Jinnai Shinobu)
In the end, I was cornered before I had been able to resolve anything.
This was Hishigami Mai.
She was the worst possible person I could think of to have as an enemy. I had run toward the mountain to get away from her.
But that may have been a mistake.
Then again, there may not have been a correct answer when it came to confronting that monster of a woman.
My uncle called from somewhere.
He must have run after me because he was worried about me. Or so I thought at first. Doubt came soon after.
The final trump card that had existed ever since my uncle and that twintailed girl were caught in the Package was now gone. That Youkai(?) known as the Deadly Dragon Princess could no longer be given all of our webs. To escape the Package before the time limit, my uncle, the twintailed girl, and I had to force our Jorougumo web onto one of the others.
It was possible he had changed his plan.
My uncle and the twintailed girl had fallen into the Jorougumo Package before I had. That of course meant they had less time than me. They might want to force their webs onto me “for the moment” since I had more time.
If we then found a new way out of the Package, that was fine.
But what if we did not find one?
Once all the webs had been temporarily forced onto me, the only option would be my death.
I did not respond to my uncle’s cry. I couldn’t!
I could not decide whether I should hold my breath and stay where I was or run off at full speed despite the noise it would make. When it came down to pure violence, a normal high school student like me did not stand a chance against a professional police detective like my uncle. And he might also have a handgun.
If he shot me in the leg, my options would drop considerably.
I can’t risk agreeing to my uncle’s compromise.
But just as I thought that….
“Shinobu!! Don’t go that way! She’s coming!!”
I had grown so lost in my suspicions that it took me too long to realize what my uncle meant. And my enemy did not overlook that mistake.
A sound exploded out from my body as if something solid had been knocked out of place.
I could not turn my head around to check behind me, much less continue standing. The best I could manage was twisting my waist around as I collapsed to the grassy-smelling dirt.
Only once I was lying on my back did I catch a glimpse of who had attacked me.
It was that monster of a woman who had half her body covered in Japanese paper or magic charms.
Somehow, she did not seem all there. It looked like she was sleepwalking.
She gave no response.
She crouched down as if to peer at my face and her hands reached out for my neck. I tried to twist my body around to escape, but I could no longer move properly.
She showed no mercy.
She brought her hands in as if to strangle a chicken.
And then my heart truly did stop beating.
Part 9 (???)
Something out of place was mixed into the gentle atmosphere of Noukotsu Village. Saijou Ai hummed as she looked at her cell phone and leaned against the side of her black luxury car known as a Hitman Tuxedo.
The text on the screen was short, but absolute and accurate.
“Jinnai Shinobu: Confirmed dead.”
“Uchimaku Hayabusa: Confirmed dead.”
“Hishigami Enbi: Confirmed dead.”
The possibility was incredibly low, but it was possible Hishigami Mai could have left Saijou’s control and was now sending false information. However, that may have been worrying too much. And Saijou Ai held the core of the Jorougumo Package.
She wore a glove that appeared to be made of a thin silk.
Technically, it was spider silk woven into the form of a glove using the same techniques used for making violin strings.
It had originally been made along with the Jorougumo Package for a perverted nouveau riche old man who wanted to play the gamemaster in a killing game. The spider web glove that stuck to the palm reacted to the emotional disturbance of the game participants and reproduced them as virtual feelings. Basically, it let the wearer “feel” the death agonies of the players.
The perverted old man had absolutely loved the idea of holding people’s invisible souls in his hand, but he had ended up taking part in the game as a player after he failed to pay the fairly expensive rental price.
At any rate, the glove could be used to check on the progress of the Package by seeing who was dead and who was still alive. The Jorougumo would continue hunting its target until that target was dead.
All feeling had left the glove.
It was receiving no response from any of the players.
The arrival of the three emails had matched perfectly with the disappearance of the feeling.
This confirmed that Hishigami Mai was still under Saijou Ai’s control and she had quickly killed every player, including her own sister.
“Really, it could have been anyone,” muttered Saijou Ai casually.
She had merely needed to cause a commotion within Noukotsu Village. That had been the point of the Jorougumo Package that forced people to kill each other, and that had been the point of Hishigami Mai.
She had actually wanted to get more people involved and use the Jorougumo Package to alter the atmosphere of the entire village, but this was enough. A diversion was meant to be abandoned anyway. As long as the true objective was achieved in the meantime, everything would work out in the end.
Her specialty was not sneaking deep into enemy ranks like a ninja from the Sengoku period. She instead created a flashy commotion and moved along in its shadow. Houjou and Toujou had often said she was like a stun grenade, but they were dead now.
Someone approached slowly as if sleepwalking.
Hishigami Mai looked to be in a horrible state with half of her body covered in magical charms that looked like Japanese paper. Technically, they were not charms but Youkai represented in textual form. Saijou Ai was well known among certain enthusiasts as a calligrapher who created nothing but ominous works.
Her methods were similar to Houjou’s as he sealed power within Youkai art. It was said that kanji had been originally created by simplifying pictures, so this was not too surprising.
She had created hundreds of Youkai curses which were now robbing Hishigami Mai of control of her body.
The blood splattered on Hishigami Mai’s body symbolized how far she had fallen.
That was the blood of those who had once been her companions or family.
This further confirmed what the emails and the Jorougumo glove had said.
She had shown no mercy.
She had slaughtered all of them and returned to Saijou Ai.
Saijou’s commands were absolute.
No matter how much of an expert Hishigami Mai was, she could not escape this curse.
Saijou waved at her.
“Are you done?”
“I swiped them while you were having your fun, Mai-chan.”
Something banged on the inside of the Hitman Tuxedo’s trunk. Two Youkai that had been living in Noukotsu Village were contained inside.
“An Umbrella Obake and a Lantern Obake. …I doubt many people in Japan know just how important these Youkai are, but Youkai that have no set purpose are quite rare and are quite valuable.”
There was a Youkai known as Nurarihyon.
This Youkai was known as the leader of every Youkai in Japan. However, that characteristic had mostly been created by humans.
It had originally been a type of ocean Youkai, but no one had known what it did.
And it could be freely remade into almost anything because its role was not decided.
In other words…
Depending on the situation, the Umbrella Obake and Lantern Obake could be remade in the same way.
They could be remade into a controller that could command any Youkai in Japan.
“And on top of that, the Umbrella Obake and Lantern Obake are Tsukumogami. They are the type of Youkai that gain power the longer they are kept as possessions. That means I can make them change in convenient ways if I arrange their surrounding environment correctly. You could view it like a storehouse for wine or cheese.”
The Hitman Tuxedo’s trunk had already been remodeled for that purpose. The Umbrella Obake and Lantern Obake stored within would likely become Youkai controllers in about half a year.
Once a single trivial problem was dealt with, that is.
“Mai-chan, may I ask one last task of you?”
“Ask me anything.”
“A child named Yonesaki Hiro lives in this Intellectual Village. Kill him. The Umbrella Obake and Lantern Obake only have value as neutral Youkai that hold no purpose, but it seems they have taken on the role of protecting their family. The purity of the final product should rise if that is completely destroyed before the assembly begins.”
“Understood,” she easily and readily replied.
Her killing techniques were valuable enough for Hyakki Yakou to frequently hire her. If she obeyed this command and used those techniques to their fullest, it was obvious what would become of Yonesaki Hiro.
Once Yonesaki Hiro was killed by Hishigami Mai and they escaped from Noukotsu Village with the Umbrella Obake and Lantern Obake, Saijou’s objective would be complete.
The ultimate objective of Akki Rasetsu – which was now only Saijou Ai – was to perfectly fuse a human and a Youkai. She wished to obtain a physical body that was not bound by a lifespan and could ignore the laws and systems of the human world. However, she needed to create a controller to safely and surely gather plenty of sample Youkai. It was the bare minimum to ensure she was not killed by her own prey.
“I will be going then.”
“Finish this quickly.”
Saijou Ai did not make a habit of seeing puppets off.
She turned away from the pathetic loser and began thinking about her upcoming path to success.
Hishigami Mai’s slender arm mercilessly stabbed into Saijou Ai’s side.
Part 10 (Hishigami Mai)
I heard an odd voice.
What was it she found so confusing? The fact that a giant hole had just been opened in her side or the fact that the slender arm of a lady could do that?
Or was it that I, Hishigami Mai, was not under her control?
“B-bghh!? Cough cough!! Wh-why!? Ngh…bheh!?”
You don’t even hear noises like that when cleaning bath pipes.
“Saijou-chan, was it? Y’see, I thought there was something beyond Houjou in Kyoto. I figured I would hear plenty of information if I purposefully let myself be taken into the enemy ranks. I’m disappointed at how little depth I found. A controller for all Youkai? Transplanting an Umbrella Obake and Lantern Obake into the Nurarihyon method? That’s much too shallow. If this is all that’s left of Akki Rasetsu, I feel sorry for the old leaders you went to the trouble of purging.”
I had of course made sure to tie up the loose ends before enacting this plan. I had sent the Sunekosuri to tell the Illness Magic User to help the Amemura family move to a new home.
“I had expected you to easily believe I had been defeated as long as I released my precious Deadly Dragon Princess to help out…but to be honest, this was too easy. If you’re going to control my body, at least test it out with some sexual harassment.”
C’mon, I’m going to the effort of explaining it to you.
Don’t pass out yet. You have to hear me out.
“B-bfhh!! Cough cough!! Gygybh!! Hhy? Why? Y-you were…byhbh!? My Kosode no Te…were perfect…!!”
“Yes, yes. The Kosode no Te. That’s a kimono Youkai that curses the wearer, right? Even if curses are difficult to avoid or defend against, it is relatively easy to deflect them into a different direction. Surely you know that the foundation of curse countermeasures is to deflect them back at the user, right? I was so covered in this Japanese paper that I was able to send the curses at each other, causing them to cancel out each other’s effects.”
“So of course, I was never obeying your orders from the beginning. Yes, I stopped Jinnai Shinobu-kun’s heart. The same with the detective and my sister. …But I resuscitated them after exactly 20 seconds. The Jorougumo Package excludes anyone who dies. And it does not track what happens to people who have been excluded.”
Thank you for falling for this so wonderfully.
But you can never survive in this world if that is all you have.
“If you really want to kill me, you either have to place the routes of the curses so I cannot calculate them or send in an overwhelming amount of curses like the Illness Magic User does. Get it now?”
“Bshbh!? Grgrh!! Gbhghchghrhbhjfbhfhjbhchbhrhfjdhcyehfhgyfjchhdfy!!!???”
“Those were some horrible curses and they have been running nonstop this whole time. The excess power has been building up like a bowstring being drawn. Let’s just say it won’t even leave behind a corpse.”
I began removing the cheap magic charms attached to my body while paying no heed to Saijou-chan who had been sucked up down to the last drop of blood.
Wait, this is bad. If I take these off, I’ll be naked. Um…Let’s see. Oh. There’s a blanket in the backseat of this ugly car. A gun too.
It’s Hishigami Mai-san’s turn now.
My job would have been so much easier if defeating a smalltime villain like her was enough to bring an end to this incident.
Part 11 (Hishigami Mai)
I retrieved the Deadly Dragon Princess Shikigami I had released as decoy information needed to convince the enemy I had really lost. I then returned her to her “original world”.
Hmm, I did a nice job of destroying her. I need to make sure to fix her later.
From what I had caught a glimpse of while pretending to be controlled, it seemed that Shikigami had taken a liking to that detective. I had commanded her to stick with him, but she had gone farther than that. It was possible he had lured her in with her favorite food.
I had already resuscitated the detective, my sister, and Jinnai Shinobu-kun, so their lives were not in danger.
They arrived wanting an explanation, but I still had other things to do. I opened the trunk to Saijou-chan’s ugly foreign car.
Inside I found…
Ohh, what’s this!? They’re so cute!!
“Bwahh!! Wh-what is going on!? Why would you suddenly lock us in here!?”
“It is too hot in here! Especially with this Umbrella in here too!! …Wait. Who are you? Wh-why are your eyes glittering as you stare at us!?”
The Umbrella and Lantern who each had a single comical eye were shouting about something or other.
Oh, how wonderful.
It’s the same as with that Sunekosuri. It scares me how I lose all self control when I see these cute harmless Youkai.
As I watched the Umbrella and Lantern hurry back to their home, I said, “Now then. Time for the real problem.”
“What? I thought you defeated the person behind this. Did they get away???”
People sometimes made that mistake when I did not even leave a corpse behind.
But that was not the issue here.
“I pretended to have my body controlled to enter the organization named Akki Rasetsu. From what I saw and heard, it seems they were being supported by someone.”
“You mean like a patron?” asked my sister.
“No, nothing so well-defined. More like someone who was observing Saijou from afar and secretly eliminated any dangerous elements that might have gotten in Akki Rasetsu’s way. Akki Rasetsu probably had no idea this was happening.”
I doubted a group too dimwitted to notice the threat I posed could have detected “them”.
The detective frowned and said, “What does this ‘someone’ want to do?”
“I don’t know, but they definitely thought Akki Rasetsu’s project would benefit them. They snuck in this far for some clear objective, so they are not going to remain silent now. To be blunt, they will likely attack this Intellectual Village in place of Akki Rasetsu.” I glanced around the area. “Northeast, west, and south-southwest. Somewhere between 700 and 1000 meters away. I sense a few people watching us.”
Jinnai Shinobu narrowed his eyes and stared into the distance to answer his question, but that careless action only made me sigh.
“It’s no use trying to see them from here. If you turn such obvious focus in their direction, they will hide. And if you do spot them, they might blow a hole right through the center of your body with a sniper rifle, so be careful.”
“Do you have any guesses as to who they are?” asked my sister.
“They seem like soldiers to me. From the way the unit is deployed and the way they hide themselves, I would guess SAS. I could narrow it down further if I could intercept their transmissions.”
Jinnai Shinobu looked confused.
“What’s SAS? Some kind of space defense force?”
“They are a British unit. However, they are seen as the standard for special forces, so plenty of other countries emulate them. They even have official lectures for the troops of countries allied with England, so this alone is not enough to know what organization is behind this.”
Of course, this was connected to the occult, so it was unlikely that this SAS-style special forces unit would be our only enemy. My guess was this enemy was on the level of an entire nation and so they could freely use special forces to support their project.
The detective sighed and said, “What are they doing here? If we figure out who they are and learn what they are after, could we use that to fight them off?”
“That is what I’m about to try.”
With that offhanded comment, I pulled out a device that looked like a cross between a cell phone and a radio.
It was my usual satellite phone.
My little sister frowned and said, “Who are you going to contact with that?”
“Hyakki Yakou, of course. They have the most information of this sort.”
Part 12 (???)
Hafuri, the girl of about ten who was the current head of Hyakki Yakou, sighed when she answered the phone. The tearoom in the flying wing cruising at an altitude of 9000 meters was still enough for that slight movement of air to be seen as a definite flow in the room’s atmosphere.
“I had thought it was odd for it to be suggested to destroy the living environment of Noukotsu Village by disseminating hydrogen sulfide and making it look like a volcanic eruption. It seemed too forceful to simply put an end to Akki Rasetsu’s project to take control of any Youkai in Japan. I did not like the idea of slaughtering those innocent villagers when it is our role to protect them.”
“That means a few of the 100 officers that took part in the meeting may have realized who is hidden behind this incident.”
“Do you have any guesses who that might be? It should be someone who can freely use SAS-style special forces.”
“A witch most likely,” replied Hafuri.
“That’s what I thought. That is the most likely option for a foreign force. The real question is what type of witch is it?”
“Not a European or American one. They would have no reason to attack Japan. They confiscated most of our documents when we lost the war long ago. With all that detailed information, they would have no reason to sneak in and try to steal any data now.”
“So it’s a witch from somewhere else?”
“Witches have scattered all over the world, but we can narrow it down quite a bit since she is using SAS-style special forces. …And there just so happens to be one major country not in Europe or America with special forces based on the SAS.”
Hafuri scratched her chin with the same small hand holding the phone receiver. The main problem was that some of the 100 officers knew about this. And that they had brought forward that ridiculous plan to destroy the Intellectual Village in response.
“The 100 officers may have chosen a rather forceful method of eliminating this person behind Akki Rasetsu,” she said.
“No, we need to assume the worst goes much deeper than that.”
“What do you mean?
“Hyakki Yakou’s meetings with the 100 officers are not contained to the flying wing, right? They use the internet and speak without showing their face. That prevents others from influencing their opinion, right?”
“Then it is possible some of the real officers have already been killed and replaced with someone else entirely. Perhaps they are the ones behind Akki Rasetsu and they are having Hyakki Yakou take action to ensure their plan progresses smoothly. You lost a lot of the commanders in the confusion of that coup d’etat recently and had to replace them, so it wouldn’t have been that hard to take advantage of the situation.”
“True.” Hafuri gave a slight nod. “We have special software that can remove their anonymous state. The 100 officers do not know about it. We will use it to investigate this.”
“This is a group that uses decoys on top of decoys to hide their identity, so that alone may not be enough.”
“Then what do you say we should do?”
“Lay a much flashier trap. I’ll help you with that.”
“What should we do first?”
“For now, approve the plan to destroy Noukotsu Village. I’ll fill you in on the rest after you do.”
Part 13 (Jinnai Shinobu)
We left the foreign car used by the person from an underground group called Akki Rasetsu and walked back to my thatch-roof house. It seemed the Hishigami sisters intended to use it as their home base for the moment. Mai was only wearing a blanket for some reason, so she borrowed a yukata. The way she wore it still did not leave much to the imagination, though.
Just as I was hoping everything was settled, Hishigami Mai told us something unbelievable.
“What!? You had her give the go ahead for a project to slaughter everyone in the village!?”
“Don’t get so upset. This is a trap. We can’t fight back until we uncover the enemy. We must be defeated if we want to eliminate every enemy from this Intellectual Village, right? You just have to turn a blind eye to the slight risks involved.”
“So who is this enemy?”
“A witch strongly influenced by western methods. Probably an Australian one.”
“Why would someone like that do this? Is she trying to steal brand name fruit seeds from the Intellectual Village?”
“What they want is something more occult,” replied Hishigami Mai offhandedly.
She then grabbed the remote control for the television at one end of the Japanese-style living room and turned it on. She changed the channel to an afternoon talk show.
“Australia’s circular farms are having a large effect on the grains market, but recent cyclones and an outbreak of locusts has caused serious damage to their wheat crop. This has caused unrest to spread through the futures market and…”
“Come to think of it, they were talking about this on the quiz show rerun the Yuki Onna was watching. What about it?” I asked.
“Natural disasters and outbreaks of pests are stereotypical forms for divine punishment. Even Japan’s ancient documents record several such incidents. With these incidents causing great damage in Australia, it is not too surprising that some have decided to put together a countermeasure.”
“What does that have to do with Japan?”
“Australia is part of the new world just like America. But that is technically just what the Europeans decided to call it after they destroyed the cultures that already existed there. This of course angered the native god of the slighted land. This situation could easily lead to natural disasters, but the Australian government that ignored the older culture for so long has no idea how to pacify this god. After all, they have no scriptures to act as a manual.” Hishigami Mai spun the TV remote around in her hand. “Akki Rasetsu, the organization I was dealing with, was looking for a method to control Youkai and gods. This Australian witch may have thought she could use that, but I think that was just a digression. Her true goal lies elsewhere.”
“It’s simple. Witches worship demons to borrow their power. …So what exactly are demons? There are two types: the pure species of demons and the altered forms of gods from other religions that have been registered as ‘evil gods’ by the world’s largest religion which uses the cross as its symbol. Witch rituals come from those old religions as well. In that case…”
Nothing she was saying really clicked in my mind.
The expression on my face must have made that clear.
Hishigami Mai winked and gave me a further hint.
“They are especially skilled at twisting polytheistic religions. And what structure is created by the gods of this country?”
“You don’t mean…”
“It’s a stereotypical situation. A witch that wishes to use a god for her own purposes would find Shinto or Buddhism to be almost irresistible. That said, the process of turning a god into a usable demon does weaken the god a fair bit.”
“So this witch’s group wants to reconstruct a god of this country into the form known as a ‘demon’? So this is just like a Package where people build a Youkai into a system that makes use of one of that Youkai’s properties?”
“Exactly. That is why they want to slaughter everyone in the Intellectual Village by disseminating hydrogen sulfide disguised as volcanic gases. The most common reason for the downfall of gods the world over is the destruction of the land they rule over. By devastating an area of land within Japan, the witch’s group can affect the god in that area.”
“…But is it really that easy?”
“Old gods will naturally change into fairies and Youkai with the passage of the era. And that is especially true for polytheistic gods. That is why gods are enshrined in large temples and shrines to ensure they do not change form. But regardless of how difficult the method is, these are still gods we are talking about. They are the largest pillars supporting their cultures. If they fall, it could even cause damage to diplomatic relations.” Hishigami Mai shrugged. “Once a god has been turned into a demon, it can be used to suppress the old god wreaking havoc in Australia out of anger. …That will simply cause even more friction with the ancient culture, but the government only wants to protect the current system of society from further economic damage. They feel this is worth the risk. If they did not feel the situation was that dire, I doubt they would have ever contacted this witch in the first place.”
“That explains the government’s reasons. What about the witch?”
“The witch has something else to gain from this. And we can use that as a trap.”
Part 14 (Hishigami Mai)
This village would soon become a battlefield.
However, the flow of time in the thatch-roof house felt so slow you would never have guessed it. A Zashiki Warashi with excessively large breasts was flying a small toy modeled after an autogyro around the room to chase after a Yuki Onna who was running all over the place to avoid it. A Keseran Pasaran that looked like a white furball was floating around near the ceiling. It was curiously trying to approach the autogyro, but it could not keep up with the toy’s speed.
The scene made it seem ridiculous to bring up the terms “Hyakki Yakou” or “agent”.
What I saw before me was likely something I could never obtain as long as I immediately chose brute force as a means of resolving Youkai-related problems.
But then I spotted a familiar face among the Youkai.
The Youkai seemed to notice me as well and walked over. It was a white Nekomata that was overflowing with elegance.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’d rather know why you are here. Is this the territory of a former ace of Inga Ouhou?”
Inga Ouhou had been a revenge group with three Itako leading it. They would give form to the residual thoughts of the dead to hear their voices and punish their murderers. I believe the organization came about due to displeasure with the current laws that disallowed Youkai testimony or evidence obtained via paranormal means from use in court. …But then the three Itako had started accepting money to freely alter what the dead told them. At that point, they became nothing more than an assassin group.
The Nekomata’s master had been killed due to that cheating despite being a top member of Inga Ouhou. When I had been sent in to resolve some issues Hyakki Yakou was having with them, the two of us had destroyed the entire organization in just over two weeks.
I was left with one primary question.
“You have enough power to destroy an entire organization, so are you not going to use that power to help Jinnai Shinobu-kun?”
“I try not to rely on my power too much. My direct power is no more than that of a Doberman. I merely have the added bonus of being able to transform into the person I bite to death.”
That was why she did not fight her enemies head on. Instead, she would sneak into a group of enemies and slowly cause more and more victims. Her strategy was perfect for destroying a large organization from within by spreading doubt and suspicion. I quite liked her means of fighting.
“But the strength of a Doberman seems reliable enough for a normal high school student who can only arm himself with a bat or box cutter. Plus, blades and handguns are not enough to kill you.”
“There was a recent commotion in which a small lost boy fell into a flood control reservoir. He is the kind of idiot who jumped right into the water to search for that boy, but he still had no intention of involving the Yuki Onna or myself.”
“But it does not seem he has some admirable goal in it such as preventing any danger from approaching his ‘family’. He has no problem running to the Zashiki Warashi for help. …Basically, it is an issue of degree. If he asked a deadly Youkai like the Yuki Onna or me for help, things would get a bit messy. And once things get messy, there is no guarantee it can be neatly cleaned up.” Despite looking like a cat, the Nekomata formed an obvious smile as she spoke. “His reasons are nothing more than the irrational stubbornness of a child, but that does not mean it is always okay to make such a mess by sending in something like me. That is the way I see it. And so I will remain the cute pet that soothes the family. I will fool no one and I will kill no one. Understand?”
Having said that, the Nekomata walked off somewhere else. On her way, she chased after the light of a pen-shaped laser pointer Jinnai Shinobu was holding. She gave several cat punches to an empty wall.
I meaninglessly felt as if I had lost. I thought I had met a fellow killer for the first time in a while, but now I felt like I had spotted an old classmate pushing a stroller with her husband.
I grabbed a broom leaning against the wall, walked out into the hallway, and banged the handle against the ceiling partially to release my anger.
“Hey!! I know the Succubus from the European Security Force is up there!! If you want to live, start cooperating!!”
I then heard a lot of banging that was clearly not coming from the broom. It almost seemed like the attic was shaking.
You idiot. Did you really think Hyakki Yakou didn’t know you were here? The young lady has only been overlooking you out of respect for Jinnai Shinobu who did so much to quell Hyakki Yakou’s internal strife at that hotel in Fuuka Village.
The best thing to use against a western witch was a western demon.
With the final piece gathered, it was finally time to set the trap and settle this.
Part 15 (Jinnai Shinobu)
The final battle began smoothly.
It began with a comment by the glamorous Zashiki Warashi who was walking around using my smartphone as a music player as usual.
“Shinobu, you just got an email about an active volcano warning. Do you know what that means?”
“…That’s it!! That’s the camouflage warning on the notification network!!”
Even if it was only a decoy warning to make the hydrogen sulfide look like volcanic gases, it was a complete joke. They had obviously timed it so no one would make it out in time even with a car. And if we did move faster than expected, the SAS-style special forces would obviously do something to handle it.
Hishigami Mai brought her large satellite phone to her ear.
“This is going just as expected. Young lady, you’re flying right over us, right? Jump down at the last second before the hydrogen sulfide is disseminated!!”
I walked out to the thatch-roof house’s porch, put on my beach sandals, and walked out into the large yard. I looked up into the blue sky and spotted a large V-shaped passenger plane called a flying wing. Several smaller planes were flying around it to protect it.
Something was dropped from the flying wing.
At first I thought it was a bomb, but it was not. It was a girl wearing a kimono and a parachute.
Hishigami Mai had run outside with me and she now shouted into the satellite phone.
“Okay, good! Any member of Hyakki Yakou that puts the bloodline first will work to protect your life no matter what. In other words, they will do whatever they can to stop the hydrogen sulfide plan so you will not be killed. But the members of the Australian witch’s group mixed into the 100 officers will not care about that. The ones who insist on continuing with the plan are our enemies. Have all of them restrained!!”
I heard a low rumbling noise.
It did not belong to a gasoline engine. It was the engine sound effect added to electric cars as a safety measure.
It came from my grandfather’s light truck, but my uncle was the one sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Hey! The truck’s ready!!”
“Understood. Everyone get in!! The witch’s group will have noticed the young lady floating down. She is the leader of Japan’s largest Youkai organization. Plus, she has plenty of information from ancient books. I don’t know where the witch’s group is hiding in the village, but they will jump at the chance to take her hostage. They will definitely want some of Hyakki Yakou’s documents as supplementary material for their project to control a god!!”
I was worried, so I spoke up without thinking.
“Hey!! What exactly is a witch!?”
“Instead of using a Package that builds a Youkai’s power into a system, they bring a portion of a demon’s power into themselves. While a Youkai might be able to handle one, a witch’s powers are incredibly effective against humans. And as much of an oddity as I may be, I have not left the category of a ‘human’. In a direct fight, we would probably be fairly evenly matched.”
As I said before, my uncle was sitting in the light truck’s driver’s seat. The twintailed girl was in the passenger seat. Those were the only two seats, so Hishigami Mai and I climbed into the back of the truck.
“Okay, let’s end this. Let’s crush the witch’s group that will have gotten greedy and gathered at the young lady’s landing spot!!”
Part 16 (Jinnai Shinobu)
My uncle drove the electric truck down the narrow farm road with rice paddies on either side. The twintailed girl in the passenger seat followed the path of the parachute with binoculars.
“Oh, dear. …She’s being blown away! She’s going to end up on the mountain at this rate, detective!!”
“That’s better than landing on a private farm. If she gets caught on one of the high voltage nets to keep out intruders, it’s all over.”
It was all I could manage to hunker down enough so as not to be thrown out of the truck as it bounced around.
Hishigami Mai seemed perfectly calm next to me. She hummed while pulling a handgun with a suppressor out from the chest of her yukata.
“Hey, can we really handle this entire witch’s group at once like this?”
“Leave it to me. If I am right, they will almost certainly fall for this trap. They are an annoying force to handle head on, but as long as…you do not…face them…head…on…”
I frowned as I started having difficulty hearing her.
I then smelled a sweet aroma.
And just as the light truck turned onto the mountain road to pursue the parachute…
I suddenly lost all feeling from my surroundings.
The next thing I knew, I was wrapped in some kind of fog. I looked around while standing. And then something else occurred to me. Why was I standing? I had been hunkered down in the back of the truck to make sure I was not thrown out.
Where was I?
Had I been dragged out of that truck racing along well above the speed limit?
Who had managed that without harming me at all?
“It is a simple magic circle. It is not even worth calling a barrier,” said a female voice. “Now, if you were able to predict I would head toward an even better target if one appeared, why did you not realize I would change my target again if one even more important than Hyakki Yakou’s leader showed up?
You can’t mean…
“This was all to attack me!?”
I was not given enough time to take action based on the caution welling up in my chest.
Something moved with tremendous speed, ripped apart the thick fog, and forcefully grabbed my collar.
Yes. This “something” had a hand and five fingers with which to grab at me.
I was lifted up. My legs dangled down in midair. It may have just been the excessive thickness of the fog, but that motion was all it took for the ground to disappear from view below me.
However, the sight that lay before me was so strange that I did not particularly care about being lifted up.
What had grabbed me was a giant tree.
However, it had countless arms stretching out in place of branches, hands blooming in place of flowers, long, narrow legs wriggling along the ground in place of roots, and smooth woman’s skin in place of bark.
Someone was leaning up against the creepy trunk that curved like a woman’s waist.
This person was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman wearing a simple shirt, a miniskirt, and a raincoat despite the weather. The look in her eyes was hidden by the wide brim of her hat. The various individual items could be bought anywhere, but the silhouette they all created together reminded me of an existence I had seen in picture books.
Namely, a witch.
“Horrible, isn’t it? I’m sure you understand the general situation, but unlike European witches, we live in an environment that makes using traditional demons difficult. I had no choice but to take the methods used to turn old gods into evil gods and use them to turn a Japanese Youkai into a demon. That was enough to force some magic out of it.”
“This is…a Youkai…?”
I could feel my face stiffening as I looked at the grotesque tree before me. I had lived in this Intellectual Village for a long time, but I had never seen a monster like this. Nor had I ever heard of one from my grandparents.
But the blonde-haired, blue-eyed witch smoothly said, “Yes. Haven’t you heard of a Furutsubaki?”
“That’s a Japanese camellia tree that has built up great power over the years. They can transform into a girl, but they don’t turn into something this messed up!!”
“No, they don’t. Japanese Packages simply borrow the skills of Youkai, but Western witches distort the physical body of their object of worship into something else entirely. We give them a form much easier for a human to use.”
“About what? What is needed to efficiently control an existence that exceeds humanity is not flexible negotiation skills or plentiful offerings. You need to remake their hardware into a form that must do what a human tells it to.”
An unpleasant feeling ran down my spine.
I had subconsciously decided Packages that assisted in crimes were horrible, but this went well beyond that. This was the same as deciding to give someone 20 eyeballs in order to more efficiently extract tears from them. Just how much suffering and humiliation did one endure while having one’s face and form twisted in order to wring out every last drop of power?
This was the symbol of a culture.
This was overwriting and covering up a paranormal existence.
Was this why witches had been shunned throughout history?
Even as that lifelike arm grabbed at my collar so tightly I had trouble breathing, I forced out a few words.
“Why are you…targeting me…?”
“I said I prepared this because I had no other choice, remember? It all comes down to that. I do not care about the economic damage the Australian government is so concerned about. I want to make a contract with a powerful being and borrow its power. I was originally planning to turn an old god into a demon and borrow that, but I found something much more interesting in this Intellectual Village. Something even more interesting than a manual on turning gods into demons or the leader of Hyakki Yakou.”
I immediately thought of the secret base in the attic.
This witch was actually after…
“A Succubus. She is a traditional European demon. Compared to a forcibly distorted local god, she is much more certain and holds much less danger of causing any problems with my rituals. Would you choose the genuine item or an emulation? That is what this comes down to.”
“Then why didn’t you directly target our house? As soon as Hishigami Mai left, you could have easily abducted the Succubus!!”
“No, that wouldn’t work. Remember when that Succubus arrived? She used a delivery service, right?”
“How do you know that?”
“I have some of my people in the highest levels of Hyakki Yakou.”
I was not sure that totally explained it, but it was possible Hyakki Yakou really did know everything that had happened.
“The package label functioned as a sort of contract. The package was sent to Jinnai Shinobu, so the Succubus inside became your possession. But you could say that was the same as her taking you hostage. If anyone wants to damage or abduct the Succubus, they must first kill you. She predicted that Hyakki Yakou’s leader would be unable to eliminate the normal person who she owed a debt to thanks to the coup d’etat, so she used that condition as a shield.”
That goddamn demon!! I’m seriously going to punch her after this is over!!
“Anyway, you are in the way of any new contract with that Succubus, so I need you to die. I will retrieve the Succubus afterwards. And of course, I will slaughter anyone who gets in my way.”
Not good, not good!!
I had been worried ever since someone like this entered the Intellectual Village, but now she was targeting my house.
But what could I do? That creepy “branch” was still holding me up in the air by my collar. Was there anything a normal high school boy armed with only his wits could hope to do against a witch who Hishigami Mai had said she would be evenly matched against?
Her eyes were covered by the wide brim of her hat, but the witch’s lips twisted into a smile.
“Oh, and do not think Hishigami Mai will come to save you. The magic circle isolates this space. I mixed in the oil of the Furutsubaki to pour demonic power into a ceremony that defines the scope of a temple using incense, but it should be enough. At the very least, no one will be able to break in for 12 hours and it has been made so no one will even notice anyway.”
“I didn’t really need to go this far to kill a single amateur, but I want to keep this information away from Hishigami Mai until I have secured the Succubus. I am not going to take my time and kill you over 12 hours, so do not worry.”
“That’s not what I meant,” I muttered. “If this is really so secure, then who is that behind you?”
The witch looked confused and turned around.
And she found…
Part 17 (Succubus)
Now then, time for the true protagonist to make an appearance.
Oh, nice. Not bad getting western black magic to run this well using a Japanese Youkai.
Then again, it’s a bit like seeing an American’s idea of a ninja boy.
The witch leaning up against the hideous tree frowned when she saw me.
“…How did you get here?”
“Is it really that surprising? Isolating a space using incense sounds good and all, but you basically used the exact same structure as a ceremonial ground for summoning a demon. None of this does a single thing to keep a demon out. I didn’t even have to try.”
“So you know what I am about to do?”
“Let’s just say I came here because I knew.”
My master, Jinnai Shinobu-chan, then began kicking his legs around and shouting while being held in midair by the Furutsubaki’s branch.
“Stop!! Don’t worry about me! Apparently she’s more powerful than Hishigami Mai!! You came to my house to escape from people like that, right? Then don’t try to fight her!!”
I had not expected him to try to cover for me. It almost made me feel sorry for binding him with that contract as insurance against Hyakki Yakou.
He seemed to have overlooked the fact that I had never said I was there to save him.
“So, Miss Witch. When do you plan on making this new contract?”
“Eh…?” said a surprised voice.
It did not belong to the witch; it was my master’s.
“As soon as I kill him.”
“Then I suggest you do so quickly. You should not underestimate Hyakki Yakou’s tracking skills. I do not know what route you plan to use, but you do not want your way back to Australia to be blocked, do you?”
“…You have no attachment to him?”
“This was just a temporary home. Blending into a culture that actually has witches should make things a lot easier. If I have a chance to leave the country, I need to take it. Especially now that Hyakki Yakou and Hishigami Mai have reached this village. That is what I truly think.”
My master looked so dumbfounded he may have forgotten he was dangling in midair and having trouble breathing.
As a demon, it was quite an exciting expression to see.
“What...? Eh? Why…?”
“Did you think we were family? Come on now, master. You may know I am Succubus, but you do not actually know my personal name.”
“That is an important factor in making contracts, so that is not surprising. A demon will not reveal her name unless she truly trusts someone,” added the witch as if to rub salt in the wound.
“Miss Witch, Miss Witch. If you know your history of the witch hunts, you should be fairly suspicious of any wonderful opportunity that practically falls in your lap.”
“I will prove to you that I am telling the truth. I will kill him myself.”
With the sound of a bat being swung, my master was thrown to my feet. He began coughing, but more confusion could be seen in his eyes than suffering.
But that did not change what I had to do.
“How about a riddle, master? Question 1: What is this in my hand?”
“I am glad your family likes its alcohol so much. I was surprised they drink both eastern and western varieties. Now, Question 2: What will happen if I stab it into your gut?”
Well, I doubt many people would be able to calmly answer that question.
Luckily, he was able to see the answer firsthand.
I stabbed it right in.
Part 18 (Jinnai Shinobu)
“Cough!? Cough!! Cough cough!! Cough cough cough!?”
“Now then. As there is no saving him, let’s hurry up and make this contract. Do you have everything prepared?”
The ice pick sticking out of my body seemed to cause my brain to numb over more than it did fill me with pain.
The difference between what I thought my body should look like and what I saw before my eyes caused a fundamental error in my thought process.
I’m going to die?
I’m going to die so simply and easily?
“Do not worry about that. More importantly, there is one piece of information I must know first: Your true name. To form a contract with you, I must know your personal name. Simply knowing you belong to the Succubus species is not enough.”
“Hm. About that,” said the Succubus with a troubled expression.
She was no longer looking at me. She was acting like I was not even there, like I was no longer human. The way I had been cast aside like a piece of rotting meat told me all too well what my fate would be.
“Unlike in Hollywood movies, demons are not free to be as evil as they wish. I cannot reveal my name in this situation. My contract with my temporary master, Jinnai Shinobu, still remains.”
“Even though you stabbed him in the gut?”
“Yes, even though.” The western European Succubus shrugged. “Making a contract with a demon is like walking across a dangerous tightrope. The slightest opening in your method of using the demon can easily lead to the demon killing you.”
“And that is what happened here?”
“However, if a demon betrays their old master and reveals the information needed to create a new contract despite the old contract still existing, they will simply be breaking the old contract. I have no pretext for acting freely, so I will be unable to remain in this world if I disobey those rules.”
“That boy has been fatally wounded. Can’t we just wait until he dies?”
“The contract between a human and a demon does not end upon the human’s death. After all, the demon is usually trying to obtain the human’s soul after death.”
“Then how can I make the new contract? I need your name to perform the ritual.”
“It is simple.” The Succubus raised her index finger. “I am afraid of breaking my contract by teaching you my name. However, it is often shown in fairy tales that demons are weakened when a human learns their name against their wishes.”
“What do you mean?”
“I stabbed Jinnai Shinobu to act as bait. Some Youkai act automatically upon sensing danger to their family. Not that anything can be done now that he has been fatally wounded.”
Some sort of form slowly appeared beyond the extremely thick fog.
It was a glamorous female Zashiki Warashi with long black hair and a red yukata.
She held some small piece of paper in her hand.
It was the summer greeting postcard that had come by airmail.
The witch frowned.
“A demon like you is one thing, but how did this Japanese Youkai enter my magic circle?”
“My name is connected to me. If she travelled along the line connecting it to me, she can travel through this fog.”
The Zashiki Warashi looked different from normal.
I had never seen that good-for-nothing Youkai looking quite so expressionless.
“Where is Shinobu?”
“It is too late.”
“Then maybe I should just hold onto this.”
“We can just take it. Go ahead, Miss Witch.”
With the sound of a whip cracking, one of the Furutsubaki’s arm-like branches shot through the air and snatched the postcard from the Zashiki Warashi’s hand.
The witch looked down at the white, heavily-decorated writing.
What? But that’s…
“Hm. A simple numerical replacement.”
“So have you stolen a look at my name? Then let us get this contract over with. What will you do about the temple for the ceremony?”
“We can use this. Not the Furutsubaki itself though. It is said a wooden pestle or mallet can transform into a human form. A lot can be done with the oil of the tree.”
“Oh? So you didn’t just scatter it around as incense to create this ceremonial ground. You also drank it to remake your body.”
“What is needed to summon a demon and make a contract is a temple to draw a set flow of power into, a protective circle for the witch, and a summoning circle to call in and fix the target in place.”
“What were you going to use for that last one?”
“A pocket watch?”
“It can also be used as machine oil.”
“This does not seem to have anything to do with time. Do its gears create a precise combination of circles that you pass the Youkai’s…no, the demon’s power through with the oil?” continued the Succubus.
I had no idea how dangerous the amount of blood I had lost was.
“Then let us begin.”
“Do we need a written contract?”
“No, with this much preparation, a verbal contract should be enough. And it would be a pain to calculate out all the values while writing it out in the alphabet. More importantly, are you sure you want to make a contract with me?”
“Why would I not?”
“A Succubus may be a traditional demon, but we are not all that powerful.”
“If I recklessly tried for something beyond my ability, I would simply destroy myself. You should know that better than anyone.”
“I see. Fine, then.”
“Yes, let’s get started.”
My consciousness wavered.
A ringing in my ears exploded in my head every so often like the crashing of waves. I could not hear their voices properly.
No obvious light or noise exploded out.
No pentagrams or hexagrams appeared.
It simply felt like the situation had begun to roll down a hill. I felt a “flow” that no one would be able to stop once it started. Some sinister power seemed to be pushing us in that direction.
“This is a story from 1403 in a small walled city that relied on trade,” said the Succubus suddenly. She was not looking at me. I could not tell if she was trying to speak to me. “My old master was a court scholar who produced high-class horses for royals and nobles. …He had originally been a magician that more broadly worked with living creatures and their souls, but he was required to produce more obvious results in order to earn a living.” The Succubus spoke amid the fog, amid the ceremonial ground created by the witch. “My old master specialized in getting animals to breed. One day, the king came to him with a request. He wanted a means of treating infertility. Whether the king left behind an heir or not could directly influence the rise or fall of nations in that time, so it was a major issue.” The Succubus spoke amid that sweet aroma, amid the spell-chanting of that witch who had built a protective magic circle throughout her entire body by taking the oil of that Japanese camellia tree into her own body. “My old master tried every method available to him, but none of those ‘normal’ methods were of any use. He had nowhere left to turn. That was when he learned that an Incubus and a Succubus are actually the same existence and the Incubus attacks women using the sperm taken by the Succubus. He attempted to use that as a means of resolving the king’s troubles. …And he was taken to be executed two weeks later.” The Succubus spoke as that dark ritual continued, as she claimed victory using that pocket watch given the power of the Furutsubaki in the form of machine oil. “Officially, he was blamed for borrowing the power of a demon, but…in reality, it had more to do with certain influential groups that did not want the king to have an heir. And so my old master was burned at the stake. I was unsure what to do, so as an emergency measure, I stored just his soul in my womb to prevent it from deteriorating.”
That was her reason. A simple high school student like me had no way of knowing if it was possible or not. Was it possible because she was a Succubus that ruled over dreams and mating? Or was it possible because of the skills and knowledge of this “old master” she spoke of?
I still did not know what result this “reason” would produce.
That lack of knowledge disturbed me.
She had taken control of the international European agency known as the European Security Force, she had picked a fight with Hyakki Yakou, and now she was trying to make a comeback in Australia. To go that far, the Succubus had to have some sort of powerful vision for the future within her.
And one step of her plan was about to come to an end.
The contract between demon and witch was about to be completed.
“For the above reasons, the veil of great ignorance shall occasionally prove that the door of unknown possibilities stands open. By intentionally twisting the structure of a former goddess of fertility and the shrine maidens that followed her, I shall connect a twisted power to myself. The witch Marguerite Steinhols and the demon Tselika Wien Alpha Chelydia Lumidrier now enter into an honest connection that crosses this honest world.”
The instant she stood on that new stage, the Succubus narrowed her eyes with deep emotion.
She then muttered a few words to me where I lay collapsed on the ground.
“Well, it may be hopeless for a demon to hope to be right…but was this perhaps wrong of me?”
“…How should I know?” I spat back, but I was not sure if I actually managed to get the words out.
Normally after being betrayed and surprised like this, more resentful words would well up within me, but surprisingly, nothing came.
“That isn’t something you should ask me,” I said. “But if you felt any hesitation toward accepting this, maybe you should try a different method next time.”
I did not know how she had interpreted my words, but it seemed the Succubus smiled slightly.
The upper body of the witch who had given the name Marguerite Steinhols suddenly lurched forward.
With her body doubled over, the witch brought her right hand to her mouth. A dark red liquid spilled from between her fingers.
“Wh-what? The ritual did not fail. I completed the contract with the demon. So what went wrong…!?”
“Hm, I wonder what it could have been?” said the Succubus.
The witch looked over at her and then her body froze in place. A smile filled with much more obvious evil than before could now be seen on the Succubus’s face.
It was as if she was looking at some prey she had caught in a trap.
“The ice pick… That’s it! The ice pick! Unlike a normal blade, the wound is small. You could easily stab it into him without hitting any organs or arteries!! That means you-…!!”
“Of course. I am my master’s pawn. Really, you should have noticed something was up when I left the ice pick inside him. I did that to make sure he did not bleed too much.”
“So you decided to stay with your temporary household. Ghbh!? But the contract was a success. Did you forget that I can now order you to finish off Jinnai Shinobu!?”
The witch swung her right hand and completed a complex and detailed motion with her fingers.
“Looks that way.”
“It can’t be… Was there some defect in the ritual? No, the ritual itself succeeded. I can feel I have entered into a contract with a demon!! So why do I have no connection with you!? What demon am I connected to!?”
“As you know, you need a demon’s true name to enter into a contract with it.” The Succubus clapped her hands together in front of her face and tilted her head. She continued speaking with that mocking gesture and a mocking smile. “But do you have any way to check if that is actually my name?”
Marguerite looked down at the postcard in her hand.
She was double checking the string of numbers on it representing a name.
“Unlike the side with the picture, the side of the summer greeting postcard with the writing is heavily decorated, right?” The Zashiki Warashi finally spoke up to answer this simple question. “I covered it with quick-drying glue and sprayed flour on it. I then rewrote the original text but with the sender and receiver fields reversed. Surely you are smart enough to understand what that means.”
“You were tricked into thinking another demon’s name was mine. That is what happened. The real question is whether a witch who thought a Succubus would be a nice, safe option will be able to control a great demon that just barely did not rank on the level of a demon that symbolizes one of the seven deadly sins.”
She let out a tremendous cry.
And then a rumbling noise drowned out even that cry.
I doubted it was just due to my hazy mind that I did not know what was happening. I focused my entire mind on averting my gaze from something I must not see. I could instinctually tell this was something I was not meant to see. I was so weak I did not want anyone or anything to view me as an enemy, so the great intimidating atmosphere that ruled the entire area for a short while almost seemed a blessing.
Something had failed.
And as a result, something had happened to the witch.
Finally, I suddenly realized I was lying face up on the midsummer mountain road. The fog was gone. The witch who had produced the fog was also gone. Everything was back to normal. Everything except for an old Japanese camellia tree growing unnaturally above the asphalt.
The Zashiki Warashi and Succubus stood nearby.
Those members of the occult had easily deceived that witch who had fully used the intellect that was a human’s greatest weapon.
While leaning up against the Japanese camellia tree, the Succubus smiled and said, “She is not dead. Demons wish to make human souls their personal possessions, so we make sure not to destroy those souls. Of course, she will probably be begging for her life after spending 5 minutes in the same place as that monster.”
“Are you asking why I saved you?” said that demon so readily so as to not let me imagine just what was whirling around within her heart. “That is what I asked about before. With my goal so close at hand, was it wrong of me to do this?”
Part 19 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
The parachute fell and a kimono-wearing girl of about 10 was caught in the tree branches. We brought her into the back of the light truck and fled as quickly as we could. However, the SAS-style special forces Mai had mentioned never came. I had no idea what was happening.
At some point, Shinobu had disappeared from the back of the truck. I was extremely worried about him, but Mai just kept saying I would know where he was soon enough.
It seemed she had used him in one of those traps or conspiracies she loved so much, but that only made me more worried.
Currently, Mai was talking with someone over her satellite phone.
“Yes, yes. Oh, so it worked? Right, right. So you haven’t killed them. Then get the names of the rest of the witch’s group from them. Once we have that list, we will overlook you as promised. Your wanted status within Hyakki Yakou will be removed.”
I glanced into the rearview mirror and asked, “Who are you talking with?”
“You don’t want to know,” said the mystery freak from the passenger seat.
After hanging up, Mai began speaking with the girl of about 10.
“What about the special forces acting on the witch’s behalf?”
“Hyakki Yakou controls the sky here. We have eight Generation 4.5 and Generation 5 fighters. They are multirole fighters, so they can easily attack ground targets. I doubt even a pro can stand up to them with only rifles and shoulder-fired missiles. They should quickly retreat across the mountain.”
“We should have the witch’s list before long. We can use that to at least handle anyone within Japan.”
“The ones that have taken root in Australia will be harder to eliminate, but we will apply as much pressure as we can.”
“This has worn down Hyakki Yakou’s 100 officers once more. Why don’t you use that to force it through?”
“Conflicts between organizations are not that simple. But I suppose all we need to do is prepare a situation in which the Australian government will abandon the witch’s group.”
“Do you have any ideas how to do that?”
“Australia’s large scale circular farms are having problems with cyclones and insect outbreaks, so what if we help them properly pacify this god? Instead of trying to turn a god into a demon, we can help them honor and revere the god.”
“I see. Once they have another way, the government will lose any reason to cover for the witch.”
“An excessive supply lowers the value of things. We call this the North Wind and the Sun method.”
This girl who was talking about things just as dangerous as Hishigami Mai was frightening me to the point of feeling chilled, but who was she?
“Don’t worry about it,” said Hishigami Mai when she saw me glancing nervously in their direction. “This is all over. Once we return to that thatch-roof house, everyone can go back to their peaceful everyday lives.”
Part 20 (Jinnai Shinobu)
If only it really could have ended there.
Unfortunately, the world was not that kind.
I had vodka splashed on my stomach and a huge piece of gauze wrapped around it. After receiving that love-filled Succubus-style first aid, I somehow made it back home.
The Nekomata immediately said, “Your father wishes to speak with you. I think he wants to lecture you.”
While I was receiving that lecture (that included a fist or two), it seemed the situation continued to develop. My uncle, the twintailed girl, Hishigami Mai, and the kimono-wearing girl had used a large transport helicopter prepared by Hyakki Yakou to quickly leave Noukotsu Village.
“They said a helicopter is the most relaxing.”
“S-so what? I don’t see how that could be true.”
Also, that kimono-wearing girl and Hishigami Mai were one thing, but why had my uncle left on the helicopter prepared by Hyakki Yakou? I guessed he must have been very busy with his work.
That evening, I chased around the Succubus a bit after she said going to the hospital would do nothing to help. I then had that Okinawa-born thing call out to me from the yard.
“I am Shisa.”
“Hm? What happened to your friend? That Kijimuna thing.”
“He is fighting with the Furutsubaki over his place in the yard. I was surprised when a second Furutsubaki suddenly appeared.”
Well, it would have been a nuisance if it had stayed on that asphalt mountain road.
I followed the Shisa’s gaze and expected to find some trees moving around violently, but instead found three small kimono-wearing children fighting. It seemed to be a traditional competition to see whose Youkai transformation ability was the best.
“I had the Yuki Onna make it snow and made a snowman and igloo. I have no regrets. If I do not return soon, my family may grow worried.”
“I see. They aren’t going to think the decoration on their house’s roof was stolen, are they?”
The Shisa ignored my worries and called out to the Kijimuna still fighting in the yard. The Youkai ran over to the Shisa while still in the form of a small child.
The Shisa said, “Goodbye. Visit us if you are ever in Okinawa.”
I watched the Shisa and Kijimuna walk away. With the sunset behind them, it was a somehow lonely scene.
The Succubus (now wearing a T-shirt) called out from behind me.
“Having somewhere to return to sure is nice.”
“You may be trying to make it sound nostalgic, but I don’t want to let something as dangerous as you back into the European Security Force.”
“Heh heh heh. I will take that to mean you want me all to yourself.”
We chatted as we returned to the Japanese-style living room.
“Are you really okay with this?” I asked.
“Well…I’m glad you saved me, but didn’t you want a large country filled with plenty of witches where you could do whatever you wanted?”
“Given their situation, it was not a very attractive invitation.”
“Come to think of it, I understand how the witch’s group knew you were here due to having people inside Hyakki Yakou, but how did you know what was going on in Australia? You’ve been in the attic the whole time.”
“Oh, that. I am the demon that controlled the European Security Force. I constructed a defensive network for any potential enemies from various areas of the world: North America, South America, the Far East, Eastern Europe, etc. In the process, I had them investigate Australia because it holds the most influence in Oceania. …Anyway, due to various circumstances, Europe and North America have no reason to want the occult techniques of Japan, so I figured it was probably Australia this time.”
“Hm. So why was it not an attractive invitation?”
“They had taken on various burdens to make up for how far they had fallen behind.” The Succubus waved her arrow-shaped tail back and forth. “For example, this witch used a Furutsubaki she had turned into a demon. But where did she get the Youkai?”
“Eh? Once she arrived in Japan, I would assume.”
“She would not have made it in time. Remaking a paranormal existence may sound simple enough, but even at the quickest, it takes three years. If she had been hiding in Japan that long, Hyakki Yakou would have noticed.”
“But Japanese Youkai can only be found in Japan.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” The Succubus grinned. “Have you heard of the International Plantation Project that uses circular farms and plant factories in Australia’s deserts? It’s famous enough to even be used on quiz shows.”
“I saw it on that rerun you and the Yuki Onna were watching. What about it?”
“Each individual farm has a special environment prepared for it so that it can produce the special crops of another country, but that is just a front. Preparing a special environment sounds innocent enough, but what if that ‘environment’ included aspects of the occult?”
“You don’t mean…”
“Just think of them as the occult version of Chinatown or Little Tokyo. The Furutsubaki was likely forcibly brought over from Japan to be replanted and then grown on one of those farms in the desert. They make a farm for each Youkai or fairy and regulate the environment specifically for them. …Although, this occasionally causes some bugs and they transform into some strange UMA or crop circle.” The Succubus gave a simple smile. “It seems Hyakki Yakou mistakenly viewed the natural disasters as the anger of the land’s god, but that is not what is happening. Gathering convenient parts of the occult such as fairies, Youkai, and spirits from around the world and preparing a spiritual foundation for them has created conflicts and repeated accidental activations that have ultimately led to the natural disasters.”
This was not the same as a carefully-regulated Intellectual Village. That was artificial land that Youkai would find uncomfortable. When I imagined those circular farms spread out across the desert, it gave me a horribly cramped impression.
“That country’s government wanted the blessings of sacred land, but their techniques could not keep up with their desires. This was like something unpleasant beginning to live in a church or temple that had fallen into disarray due to lack of maintenance.”
An inescapable prison.
A demon that could not leave the magic circle that summoned it.
That was what the idea made me think of.
“For a demon like me, it may have been like inviting me into a birdcage. I would have a decent living environment and plenty of food, but nothing else. Now do you see why it did not sound like much fun? With that little freedom, I doubt I would have a chance to achieve my goal. …But with such a heavy blow to their grains market and the failure of the witch’s project, their government will likely run crying to Hyakki Yakou to quickly fix it all for them.”
Had what the Succubus said after stabbing me with the ice pick been true? Or had that been nothing more than another act to ensure the witch named Marguerite Steinhols let down her guard?
If she was going to deceive that witch, couldn’t it have been after killing me? For example, she could have pretended to go to Australia but disappeared after leaving Japan. After escaping Hyakki Yakou, she could have created a new kingdom like the European Security Force.
“Do you find it strange?”
As a demon, she may have been good at noticing negative emotions because the Succubus seemed to have read my doubts from my expression alone.
She then said, “My old master spoke a few words just before he was burned at the stake. I am merely obeying them.”
“What did he say?”
“I will keep that a secret. It is not often you find something more important than a contract.” The Succubus grinned. “Well, I just wanted to lay the trap at the time, but it would have left a bad taste in my mouth if I killed you after those words.”
At that point, the glamorous Zashiki Warashi entered the room. She must have been playing video games in my room because she still had the 3D goggles on.
“Everything has smelled very Western today.”
“Oh, is that so? Well, whether Japanese, Chinese, or Western, it can kill me just the same.”
“I was talking about dinner. Something seemed off, so I peeked into the kitchen. As usual, your mother has been stirring a pot for hours creating some kind of sauce.”
“Not good!! That isn’t Western; it’s a new invention! And her inventions have never turned out well!!”
“…Yes. And I think she has started to suspect she has left the path leading to a success. But she seems to be desperately hoping she can fix it by adding more seasonings. I am going to force my way past this even if I have to insist that I will simply make myself a sandwich for dinner.”
“Simply? I can’t even imagine you making a sandwich, you good-for-nothing Youkai. And from what you’ve said, she has grown desperate to not waste all the effort she’s put into this. I doubt she’ll listen to what we say when she gets this stubborn.”
“In a case like this, it is more effective to place out the proper ingredients without the target noticing and wait for the target to notice on her own. Now then, leave this to the demon who specializes in temptation.”
And so a human, a Youkai, and a demon began putting together a strategy to avoid that night’s crisis.
It may have seemed a complete waste, but we did not see it that way. No matter who it was putting their heads together, an “incident” of this level was just perfect.
Those gigantic incidents we had been dealing with before were what did not belong.
- Noukotsu refers to the process of placing someone’s cremated remains into a funerary urn.
- In Japan, putting out filled plastic water bottles is thought to keep stray cats away.
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