The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume1 Chapter 1
Chapter 1: Regarding Jinnai Shinobu
The large residence with a thatched roof looked more like the set for a period piece than somewhere anyone actually lived. As I opened the front door, my eyes met with a burglar young enough to still get away with being a freeter.
As my heart jumped up into my throat, I reached for the umbrella stand and grabbed a wooden sword that had been bought as a souvenir in Kyoto.
“What the hell happened to our home security!?”
I shouted out louder than necessary more to gain control of my panicking heart than anything. When I swung up the sword with relative seriousness, the burglar managed to unfreeze his body and move. His body readied to flee. With loud footsteps, he shot out onto the open porch and then into the unnecessarily large yard.
The burglar tripped over a stone in the yard and fell flat on his face. Wallets and an ornamental bear spilled out of the backpack he wore. He hesitated over whether he should pick them up, but he finally decided to give priority to flight.
My overall small granny must have finally noticed the ruckus because she headed out to the porch. She smelled of incense, so she must have been cleaning the Buddhist altar.
“What is it, Shinobu? Did a stray cat get in?”
“It was a burglar. Honestly, what happened to our house’s sensors?”
“Sorry. Your granny likes a nice breeze, so I had a window open. That shut off the switch.”
“No, I’m not blaming you. And when I say ‘sensors’, I’m not really talking about the security company either.”
“All the agricultural products in these Intellectual Villages are brand names, so we get so many thieves. I was left speechless when I heard a bunch of grapes costs 30,000 yen.”
“Yeah, but the junmai daiginjo dad and the others make in the facility out back is at least 50,000 yen a cup, right?”
The burglar had spilled his spoils across the yard, but granny checked inside to make sure nothing else was taken. Burglars had started to steal even the solar panels on the roof, so it could be a real pain.
Meanwhile, I put the Kyoto souvenir back in the umbrella stand and decided I might as well report it to the police with my smartphone. It likely wasn’t going to do any good. The village’s police stations were incredibly short on officers and they rarely answered the call from the 110 operator due to either listening to music with headphones during the day or sleeping at their posts at night. Also, they could hardly stand up to a real armed group of thieves. If people actually believed the police could do anything, they wouldn’t exactly pay the security companies so much out of their own pockets, now would they?
When I finished with that process that I had decided I “might as well” do, I walked across the wooden floor of the hallway and further back into the residence.
The thatched roof house had no redeeming value outside of its age, but it did have a few points in its favor.
One of those was the real Zashiki Warashi that lived inside.
“Honestly, isn’t it a Zashiki Warashi’s job to protect the house and keep this kind of thing from happening?” I muttered as I arrived at a door.
Without knocking on the sliding door (can you even knock on sliding doors?), I forcefully opened it and shouted at the top of my voice.
“You, Zashiki Warashi!! Quit slacking off and do your job!!”
But the Zashiki Warashi in question was not there.
After staring into the empty room for a second, I headed for a new destination. I knew where she likely was if she was not there. It was possible she was out (even if she was a Zashiki Warashi), but that was highly unlikely in the middle of a summer day as hot as this one. She would only bother to go out for a walk early in the morning or in the evening.
It may have been the case for all Zashiki Warashis, but there was one characteristic that the one in our house definitely had. Due to this characteristic, I knew one place that had either the highest or second highest appearance rate for her.
That place was my room.
“…That damn indoor Youkai.”
This time there was no reason to knock or say anything. I grabbed the handle of the sliding door to my room and forcefully slid it to the side.
“You’re getting careless, Zashiki Warashi. How the hell did you overlook a burglar!?”
The Zashiki Warashi that had entered my room without permission glanced over at me. She was a black-haired beauty that looked perfect in a red yukata. The Youkai’s body proportions were much too glamorous to be called a “child”.
She was wearing special goggles for a 3D movie.
She was holding a wireless controller and controlling a character displayed on the big screen.
For an instant…
Just an instant…
My body froze up despite the fact that I knew this was what Youkai were really like. A single word took control of my mind. On an impulse, I opened my mouth and shouted.
“Appearances!! You need to keep up appearances as a Youkai!! The culture of Youkai is part of this country’s traditional arts! Do you want to lose that!?”
“Yeah, but isn’t that idea of Youkai just taken from manga and anime? Youkai are supposed to blend into the background of each passing era. The idea of the ‘good old’ Youkai that fit into the ‘good old days’ is nothing more than a recent trend. There’s no real reason for us to stay exactly the same.”
“Yes, but a Zashiki Warashi is supposed to bring fortune to the house it lives in as well as drive out burglars and such.”
“I don’t wanna do that!!”
The glamorous Zashiki Warashi removed the goggles, took a pause in the video game, and then turned to face me while still sitting cross-legged.
The hem of her yukata was flipped up and the white of her thighs stabbed into my eyes, but she did not seem to mind.
“I would rather you didn’t shove all the battling onto us Zashiki Warashi! I am completely confident I would lose spectacularly to another Youkai and even to a human if they were Onmyouji class!!”
“This is the 21st century, so I doubt that profession even exists anymore. Also, if this was some Onmyou master thief or something else straight from a light novel, I think he would steal things in a more fantastical way, you damn Youkai.”
“Also, if I did more Zashiki Warashi-like things, wouldn’t you actually get mad at me?”
“You mean sneak into my futon and straddle me with no warning in the middle of the night?”
That was apparently a characteristic of all Zashiki Warashis, and it would have been fine if she looked like the stereotypical Zashiki Warashi. However, when it was done by one whose bust exceeded 90 cm, it was more than an adolescent boy knew how to deal with. Rather than feel lucky, I would feel a shock rush through my body like my heart was jumping up and breaking my ribs.
The dynamite body Zashiki Warashi was completely unaware of all this, so she casually changed the subject.
“More importantly, you went to the Sanatorium, didn’t you? The sweets shop is on the way. I assume you at least bought some popsicles on your way back. Can I count on at least that much?”
“Shut up. Huh? They’re gone… Oh, when I grabbed the wooden sword, I…”
I headed back to the front entrance, but not to treat the Zashiki Warashi. I simply did not want the popsicles I had bought to melt before anyone could eat them. The box of 10 popsicles was indeed lying on the floor. I had dropped them when I reached for the wooden sword to deal with the burglar.
I returned to the room with the Zashiki Warashi and she immediately pulled a soda-flavored popsicle from the box. I received no thanks whatsoever. However…
“Nnnn!! Air conditioning isn’t bad, but you just can’t beat cooling down from within.”
“Your smiles at times like this really do fit the ‘child’ part.”
She ignored my comment. As a Youkai who was as old as the house, she may have seen it as the nonsense of a human child.
“Speaking of the Sanatorium, did Madoka say anything troublesome?”
“…She’s more or less troublesome through and through, but she was extra troublesome today.”
“If it’s that bad, I think I’ll plug my ears right now.”
“No, you’re listening to this. I’m getting you involved in this even if I have to force you.”
The reason I had gone out into the heat during summer break was to head to a facility known as the Sanatorium so I could visit an acquaintance named Madoka.
However, Madoka did not have some horrible illness.
She was simply a classmate of mine.
As the old-fashioned word “sanatorium” suggests, it was simply meant to add to the atmosphere of the Intellectual Village just like the thatched roof of my house. The facility had nothing to do with tuberculosis, mental illness, or anything else medical. The Intellectual Village created a brand-name image of the “good old days”, and the Sanatorium was something like an attraction.
I had no idea why the rich would pay so much money just to be hospitalized there despite having nothing wrong with them. But then, taking a trial tour of the JSDF had become a popular means of dieting, so businesses had been created around providing strange ways of staying healthy.
Since it was targeted towards rich people with odd tastes, the price was of course ridiculously high.
My classmate Madoka-chan had a rich enough family, but she herself was a super high school girl who did day trading herself.
They must have been focusing on providing the expected image, because the waiting room had overly strict means of preventing escape installed in place.
“Hello, how are things outside?” Asked a girl in a thin surgical gown with a smile so lively I doubted anyone could be healthier than her.
“Peaceful…other than the off-season Yuki Onna I met at the bus stop. Y’know, I’m not going to have interesting things happen to me all the time.”
“But it’s summer break for students.”
“A perfectly healthy girl who chooses to hole up in this medical facility has no right to say that.”
“That doesn’t stop me from saying it,” said Madoka.
I was there simply because I was the class president. To be blunt, Madoka was a problem child. She did not get along well with her parents and she found no enjoyment in school. No actual abuse or bullying had occurred, but she was still definitely isolating herself.
Our homeroom teacher preferred to avoid all conflict, so the job of checking on her periodically had been thrust onto me even though it was summer break.
“Are you doing your homework?”
“That really has no impact from someone who hasn’t done his homework either.”
“I won’t deny that, but I’m just trying to start a conversation. If I don’t find something to talk about, the conversation isn’t going to last long. I’ve been looking after you since April and I still don’t even know what kind of food you like.”
“If we have nothing to talk about, I can teach you how to make money.”
“That’s the thing about you. You can make all the money you need on your own, so you never rely on anyone. And so you feel no need to meet anyone halfway. Is that why you’ve isolated yourself despite having no real reason to?”
“You say that, but what do you want me to do? Should I throw 30 billion yen into the train station trash just to get along with everyone? Or should I force troublesome tasks on others for the sake of communication even though I don’t need anything done? You know, something like ‘Hey, you over there. I’ll give you 5 billion yen, so use it to make double that.’ Actually, I think that would be enough to put a normal high school student in the mental hospital.”
“Yeah, probably,” I replied offhand.
Unfortunately, my role was merely to talk with Madoka, not to resolve her problems. Why would I go that far? It isn’t like class president is a paying job.
“By the way, some guys in suits have been walking around. Who are they? Did you hire some kind of service again?”
“They aren’t here for me. I haven’t lived that long yet.”
“They’re inheritance agents.” Madoka lightly waved her slender index finger around. “As you know, the Sanatorium focuses more on creating the right mood than on any actual function. The only people here are either health enthusiasts like me or old people who have gotten sick of making money in some filthy city so they simply want to live out their last days peacefully surrounded by the beauty of nature.”
“And what are those something-or-other agents here for?”
“I don’t really know. The reasons differ from person to person. Some do not want to give their family their inheritance. Some want to give their inheritance to their mistress rather than their wife. Some want to give everything to their grandchild while not leaving a single yen for their son.”
I can’t say what my expression was at that moment, but Madoka had a mischievous look in her eyes as she stared straight at me.
She had a way of livening up when it came to talk of money.
“All of them have their reasons for leaving their families and coming to the Sanatorium, so it isn’t surprising that these inheritance agents are so common here.”
“Being rich must be tough…” I muttered without thinking.
Merely by living in an Intellectual Village, I may have qualified as rich, but my allowance was no greater than that of a normal kid, so it never seemed that way to me.
“It could be a lot worse than that.” Madoka grinned. “A while ago, there was a rumor that anyone who entered a certain room here would die. A certain rich old man actually had his family enthusiastically try to throw him into that room.”
“Seriously. I thought it might have something to do with Youkai and a Package, but it must not since nothing ever came of it. Or maybe the assembly simply hadn’t been completed.”
I didn’t like the sound of the terms she used.
Feeling weary, I replied, “If you’re going to talk about dangerous things, at least keep it within the realm of things relating to my position as the class president…”
“What are you talking about? If you haven’t brought me any interesting stories, my only option is to laugh at your tragedy. So I’ll take this opportunity to tell you something.”
“Myahhhh myahhh!! I’m not listening!!
“You mentioned that you met an off-season Yuki Onna on the way, didn’t you? You’re probably in a lot of trouble thanks to that. Why is it that Youkai always seem to hide when the reporters for a spiritual TV show arrive, but they always show themselves at the worst possible time for you?”
“Don’t ask me!”
“Is there some kind of smell only Youkai can detect? Maybe it has something to do with the sake your family makes.”
“My old man treats that Zashiki Warashi like she’s some great king of fear he needs to tremble before while my uncle is known for only getting teased by her.”
“But the fact remains that they both have a high encounter rate with her, right? Just like with that Yuki Onna, you always seem to run across the ones that you could have easily gone without running across and that it is quite dangerous to meet.”
She seemed to be truly enjoying herself.
As if in contrast to my weariness, Madoka’s face lit up as she added, “What I was talking about before barely counts as dangerous compared to you and that Yuki Onna. But now that you’ve run across her, you’re likely already involved and nothing I say will change it.”
The red yukata-wearing Zashiki Warashi rolled over, opened a laptop lying on the tatami mats, and began browsing a video sharing site.
“I get it, I get it. Things took a dangerous turn and someone is trying to kill you. That has nothing to do with me. O-Ohhhhhh!! A panda videooooo!!”
“How cold-hearted can you be!?”
“I already told you not to expect any Youkai battles out of me. I’m basically a child, remember? I’m not suited toward ridiculous battles like the Shichinin Misaki or the Hyakki Yakou where they scatter curses everywhere and slaughter anyone they run across.”
“Surely there are other ways you can help! Also, that game system and that computer are mine! A Youkai can’t make a contract with the provider. If I die, you can’t access those video sharing sites!!”
It seemed that was the only aspect of this that bothered her. The adult-like Zashiki Warashi turned away from the video of a fluffy panda and faced me once more.
“So now you’re negotiating with Youkai. It’s disappointing how much of your innocence you’ve lost. You used to have such bright, pure eyes.”
“You need to stop trying to get by on seniority when you’re cornered.”
“You were cutest when I would give you a bath every day or when I would help you change in the pool changing room.”
“I said stop it!! We humans have no way to win when it comes to seniority!!”
“I really didn’t know what to do when you would grab onto my swimsuit and tug the entire time because you were afraid of getting lost. The problem was that you didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Kyaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!” I screamed as my soul was torn down from the inside.
She had had that glamorous body since before my grandfather was born. Those things seemed so risqué when I thought back on them!!
“So is someone really trying to kill you?”
“What’s the reason this time?” Asked the Zashiki Warashi as she rolled over and her pure white legs were exposed from the disheveled hem of her yukata. “You live in an Intellectual Village not a large city, so running into Youkai is not exactly rare. Especially for you, Shinobu. On that trip to the beach to swim, you got a love letter from a mermaid.”
“…Yeah, and afterwards I was almost dragged down to the bottom of the ocean.”
“Did you do anything to make that Yuki Onna try to haunt you and kill you? Like mentioning that story of a Yuki Onna sparing the man she married.”
“No.” I shook my head. “That’s not it.”
After what Madoka had told me, I was of course on my guard.
On the way back from the Sanatorium, I trudged down the mountain road because I was too cheap to pay for the bus fare. Due to thickly grown trees casting too much of a shadow, the area contained none of the solar panels that changed angle like sunflowers. Instead, a small waterway ran alongside the road with a great number of small hydroelectric water wheel generators running off of the natural water that was 300 yen a liter. Even something like that had been carefully calculated out with fluid mechanics to ensure the shape and width kept fallen leaves from clogging up the waterway.
I may have been on my guard, but I had overlooked one obvious fact. The mountain road was the only road back, so I would naturally pass by a certain bus stop near a sharp curve. And if the Yuki Onna I had met before was still standing there, I would of course run into her again.
“…I really am an idiot…”
“So we meet again. Hee hee hee… Perhaps this is destiny. So, how about you try marrying me?”
She looked to be around 13. She had long, pale blue hair and wore a pure white kimono that could easily be mistaken for burial clothes. An odd cracking noise of unknown origin seemed to come from the intentionally old-fashioned bus station bench. The plastic materials may have been undergoing some kind of change due to being frozen.
“…Yukinko was it?”
“I am a Yuki Onna. A Yuki Onna is the representative example of a beautiful Youkai. Please do not confuse a woman of deadly beauty such as myself with one of those brats that like to play with snow. Also, let’s get married.”
“A flat-chested Yuki Onna like you should probably just switch bodies with a certain large-breasted Zashiki Warashi I know.”
As I spoke, I could see a warning light flashing inside my head. I could also feel a definite change in temperature as I backed away from her.
Meeting a Yuki Onna could lead to death.
Unlike the Zashiki Warashi at my house, the Yuki Onna was a Youkai that had killing humans as a primary characteristic. Just as a Zashiki Warashi was known to climb into your futon in the middle of the night and straddle you, a Yuki Onna would kill someone simply because she was a Yuki Onna.
To be blunt, she was more dangerous than some ferocious pet an irresponsible owner had abandoned.
I sorted through a few conditions in my head.
Most people probably know the story of the Yuki Onna more on the level of a picture book or old story rather than as a Youkai tale. And that was the extent of my knowledge as well.
Two men were stranded on a snowy mountain in winter and a Yuki Onna killed the older man. She let the younger man go, but made him promise to never tell anyone what happened. Later, the man married a certain woman and ended up carelessly telling her the story of the Yuki Onna. However, it turned out the woman he married really was the Yuki Onna.
Looking at the story at face value makes the Yuki Onna look rather fickle, but if she had been planning to marry the younger man from the beginning, she actually seems much more meticulous. The story featured several promises both obvious and hidden. For example, if the younger man had married some other woman before the Yuki Onna appeared to him in disguise, she might have bared her fangs at him then.
Since old stories often have morals, one theory states that the Yuki Onna could represent the horrors of a mountain during winter and the marriage promise could represent proper mountain climbing knowledge. With the proper knowledge, a mountain can be enjoyably majestic, but it bares its fangs if you are careless.
But enough about explanations created by city scholars who have never seen a real Youkai.
The problem was that the existence that represented the horrors of a mountain during winter was leisurely sitting on a bench in front of me. Naturally, this was a situation where the conditions could possibly cause her to immediately bare her fangs at me.
I was in a dangerous position.
I decided the best way to avoid carelessly stepping on any landmines would be to not make any promises to her whatsoever. There were some Youkai that you would die from just by seeing it, so it could have been worse.
“…So why is a Yuki Onna like you out in this hot midsummer weather?”
“Will you promise to marry me if I tell you?”
“No, I won’t. And isn’t that rushing things a bit? You can barely even say we’ve met.”
That marriage request was likely a trigger that made her attack. She would ask anyone who met certain requirements to marry her. Any of those who agreed would be bound by promises and frozen to death. I could hardly take her seriously. She was taking marriage too lightly. It was light as air.
The little Yuki Onna looked at me with spiteful eyes.
“If you do not promise to marry me right here and now, I will make sure you die…”
“Geh!? You prepared two paths to attack!?”
If I don’t make that ridiculous promise, I’ll be killed, but if I do make it, she’ll bind me with promises and kill me? Could the characteristics of a Yuki Onna be any worse!?
“I-I’m a minor…”
“Only by human rules. According to Youkai rules, even a verbal promise is enough. So let us get married. Marriage now.”
“I like the human way!! And I don’t think I would last even a day if I was thrown out into the snowy plains you come from!!”
“Then promise to marry me as soon as you are of marrying age according to the Japanese Constitution.”
“Too bad! The Japanese Constitution does not recognize marriage between humans and Youkai, so it’ll never be possible!”
Customarily, Youkai were treated as something similar to humans, but there was no actual legal basis to that. They could not even sign a cell phone contract.
The Yuki Onna tilted her head to the side and said, “So you’re saying it can’t happen unless the Japanese Constitution is revised for some reason? Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.”
Geh. Not good. I doubt the law will change anytime soon, but I’m afraid of having her come after me in 50 years saying I’ve broken my promise. She’ll look exactly the same in 1000 years, so it’s completely possible.
“I won’t even discuss marrying someone whose name I don’t even know.”
“I am #58902385Ra4.”
Shit, she’s serious. That was her national registration number that no one uses anymore, wasn’t it!?
“B-but I also need to know at least one weakness of someone before I’ll discuss marrying them.”
“I do not like cicadas or concrete dams.”
“Take this! Min-min bomber!!”
I grabbed a cicada from a nearby tree and threw it at her. The Yuki Onna fell off the bus stop bench and ran off. I didn’t get a good look at her face, but I had a feeling she was crying.
Good thing she was an idiot.
That was one way of driving away a Youkai.
What mattered most was that I had managed not to promise her anything.
“I don’t remember hearing that Yuki Onna don’t like cicadas. Was that a personal weakness rather than one of the entire race?”
With a quizzical look on my face, I started back down the mountain road.
I had made it past the first threat after Madoka’s warning, so I can’t deny that I let my guard down a bit.
However, I would not have been able to avoid what came next even if I had been on my guard.
Immediately afterwards, someone suddenly shot me in the chest with a hunting rifle.
The Zashiki Warashi in the bright red yukata rolled over and her glossy hair spread out across the tatami mats.
With a bored look on her face, she said, “I call bullshit on that. If you really had been shot, you wouldn’t have come back home.”
“Okay, fine. I exaggerated a bit. I wasn’t actually shot through the heart.”
“You actually do well in school, but you don’t look like it at all, so try not to say things in such a stupid way.”’
Thanks to that, my nickname was “Intellectual Yakuza”.
“I don’t want to be called stupid by such a good-for-nothing Youkai. And nothing you say sounds remotely Youkai-like anymore. You should be saying things that sound like they are filled with significance and make you sound like you have vast experience from having lived since before the dawn of civilization, not checking the times of net concerts every day!”
“Oh? Would you rather have a debate regarding the range of random numbers X that relates to the frequency with which Youkai appear?”
“Don’t bring up one of the top 10 unsolved problems of the 21st century!! Also, you’re a Youkai, so doesn’t that give you too much of an advantage?”
“You’re saying I should know everything about Youkai just because I am one? How naïve. Shinobu, can you give me the random number range for the genes that determine if a human is male or female as well as explain when, where, and how those genes are expressed?”
“There are just things we don’t know. We just live as we are. Neither of us are scholars and we can live perfectly fine without knowing why we were born,” said the Zashiki Warashi with a thin smile. “Also, comments that sound full of significance or ancient experience are not really all that valuable. All of that only sounds so impressive because the differences between modern language and archaic language make things take longer to understand. That so-called significance is nothing more than what you see every day. If you said it in modern language, you would just be describing things everyone already knows. What value is there in forcing those things into old, formal language?”
I got the feeling the conversation would never make progress if I didn’t just give in there.
“…Can we get this conversation back on track?”
“I’d rather digress some more.”
“Why are you such a pain in the ass, you Zashiki Warashi!?”
“Oh, that’s another thing. I’d like to complain about being referred to simply as ‘Zashiki Warashi’. I don’t like how I was given a personal name and yet no one uses it. It feels like I have a stack of business cards that never grows any smaller.”
Don’t act like you know what you’re talking about when you’ve never worked for a business.
“What was your number again?”
“No, not the number string the government gave me. Did you forget my personal name is Yukari?”
“…Is it? Well, no point in remembering that. Zashiki Warashi gets the point across well enough.”
“What if there are two other Zashiki Warashi standing on either side of me?”
“In that case, good-for-nothing Zashiki Warashi or indoor Zashiki Warashi should work.”
Still smiling, the black-haired Zashiki Warashi that looked good in the bright red yukata fell silent.
And then she suddenly pinched my right nipple.
My entire body started to tremble.
Wh-what!? Is some unexplored door beginning to open!?
“…People’s names are important, aren’t they?”
“Wait, stop…Ayayaya, don’t twist!!”
“Ahh, ahh!! Yes, they certainly are, Yukari-sama!!”
With that strange approval, she finally removed her fingers from that protuberance of my body.
While trying to catch my breath I said, “C-can we…Can we finally…get back to the main topic?”
“I still want to digress some more…”
“No, thank you!! Let’s bring this back!! We’re backing up!!”
I had no idea how far off topic we would get if I let that Zashiki Warashi maintain control of the conversation any longer. Despite how I look, I try to be at least a bit on the S side of things! I had no intention of seeing those as two sides of the same coin and therefore developing in both directions, so my only option was to forcefully regain control.
“O-okay…How far did I get?”
“The difference in sensitivity between the right one and left one.”
“No!! Oh, I remember! I was shot by a hunting rifle!!”
That was when she had called bullshit.
“The truth of the matter is that someone really did fire one at me.”
“Who? The Yuki Onna?”
“Someone. I don’t know who, but a human. I was shot at by a human. Only a human would go to the effort of specifically using a hunting rifle. They were clearly being cautious of the laws.”
“I suppose. In this Intellectual Village where a bunch of grapes costs 30,000 yen, the extermination of harmful animals like crows and boars is an everyday event. It’s true that even if the gunshot of a hunting rifle is heard throughout the village, no one will think some dangerous incident has occurred.”
That was what made rural areas so scary.
Normally, people would assume something was horribly wrong just by hearing a gunshot. However, the norm here was a bit different. The fact that no one would be surprised to see someone wandering around with a gun makes you wonder if the village was even part of Japan.
“So who was it? Did you happen to catch the Chinese mafia burying a mutilated corpse?”
“They wouldn’t bury someone in an area where nature is so highly maintained.”
“Then who was it?” asked the Zashiki Warashi.
I sighed and then answered.
“An inheritance agent.”
My first thought upon hearing the gunshot of the hunting rifle was that someone was dealing with some dangerous animal. The sound hurt my ears meaning it was nearby, but I was in the mountain. A hunter working nearby was not too surprising.
It was some things other than the gunshot that seemed strange.
First of all, there was an electric car driving up the mountain road. Intellectual Village was an incarnation of the ecological and health booms, so that in itself was not too strange. However, it was unusual for the engine sound effect, meant to warn those who could not see it, to be deactivated. This meant it was approaching silently.
Second of all, the back window of the electric car was open and a man wearing a suit was leaning out and holding a hunting rifle. I had never heard of a hunter shooting from within a car, and someone pursuing a dangerous animal would not be wearing a suit. Hunters always walked through the mountains and wore bright orange vests. This was to reduce the danger of being confused for a bear and shot by a fellow hunter.
Third of all, a portion of the bus stop bench next to me shattered along with the gunshot.
The shot had not merely mistakenly gone my way.
The man was clearly aiming for me!
There was of course a reason I had been able to start moving before answering the questions that appeared in my mind.
This was because I could not properly imagine what kind of destruction a hunting rifle could do. Even if it had shattered a bench right in front of me, I could not imagine how much pain I would feel if it pierced my own flesh.
If it had been a knife or a metal bat, I would have been able to clearly imagine the pain and therefore would have frozen up in fear.
The hunting rifle’s power was simply so great that the silently approaching electric car seemed more intimidating. Since I felt the road was dangerous, I looked past the guardrail on the sharp curve of the mountain road and felt fear grab at my heart due to the 5 meter drop there.
The fact that the danger was so great actually gave me a way out.
I did not give a single thought to whether I could actually escape the hunting rifle by jumping from that small cliff.
Instead, I leaned over the guardrail simply in order to avoid the car headed my way.
I did not exactly jump.
I lost my balance and fell rolling down the 70 degree slope before I had a chance to mentally prepare myself.
My vision spun around and around and around.
Dull pain tore across my entire body.
My breathing stopped.
A stinging pain spread across every inch of my skin.
As I rolled down, I broke the branches of short thickets and the smell of the grass I was crushing gained a dark red iron-like scent to it. It didn’t feel like I had broken any bones, but I had no strength. My breathing was erratic. It reminded me of the body blow I had received in a punishment game once. I had overdone it. The pain and suffering was so great that I completely forgot about the hunting rifle and the electric car.
Reality was forced back into my mind by an explosive noise from overhead.
It was the sound of the double-barreled hunting rifle being fired once more.
You’re not letting me off the hook after I fell down a cliff!? I’m just a high school boy. I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would warrant going this far!!
At any rate, my only option is to find some cover and make a run for it!!
I dragged my aching body along and frantically started rustling through the underbrush and making my way between trees. That was when I realized it. If the man had taken time and aimed at me, he would have hit me. He had lost sight of me, and that previous shot had been to see if I would react.
I had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
The noise I made as I moved had to have given away my position.
I could feel myself paling, but what was done was done.
I guess I have no choice but to run to safety!!
The suited attacker would be hesitant to jump down from that height. However, he would eventually work up his resolve. I had to get as much distance as I could in that time.
Normally thinking, I could not escape from someone who had a hunting rifle by running. However, it was too soon to give up. The Type 32 from Yasuda Firearms the attacker was using was a shotgun. It was the same one the old man next door used. Compared to a standard rifle type, it had a short range. On top of that, the area was filled with high class Japanese cypress trees. The more distance I got, the denser the cover between us would be. From 40 to 50 meters would be the deadliest range. Once I made it 100 meters away, I would likely survive even if I was hit.
I may have been completely wrong about that.
That may have just been the mistaken reckoning of an amateur high school boy.
But whether I was wrong or not, that hopeful view kept me from freezing up.
I ran through the trees and trampled the underbrush while pulling out my cell phone. I could only hope for the bare minimum of functionality as even the lens of its camera was broken. (I had a smartphone too, but the Zashiki Warashi usually swiped it to use as a music player.) The nice thing about an Intellectual Village was that you got three bars of signal even in the mountains. For an instant, I was worried they could track me using it, but I decided it wasn’t worth worrying about. After all, the attacker was close enough to actually see me.
However, I did not call 110. Rescue would never make it in time. The ones who would take action first if I reported it would be the small police department in the village. Only one old man would be there at that time. If that old man was enough of an elite soldier to handle this situation, the people making high class fruits would not pay so much to hire armed security guards.
I made the call without hesitation.
My classmate answered with a voice lively enough to put the school sports teams to shame.
“What is it? Did you forget something?”
“Madoka-san. I have something I’d like to ask you!”
“I haven’t done the summer homework if that’s what it’s about.”
The thunderous roar of a gunshot rang out nearby. The dull sound of bark being ripped from trees continued afterwards. I ran on with the belief that my groundless, hopeful view was accurate. I had no choice but to believe it even if it was groundless. If I had let my fear catch up to me, I would have frozen up. And so I thought only about the convenient things that would allow me to survive. I fled. As I did so, I shouted into the phone half in desperation.
“You said meeting that Yuki Onna was dangerous!!”
“Well, you didn’t know anything about those inheritance agents being even more dangerous, did you!?”
“Wow, Shinobu-kun. So you’ve already figured that much out.”
“I’ll fucking kill you!! Why didn’t you tell me that from the beginning!?”
I heard the sound of flowing water and grimaced. If there was a river, the trees acting as my cover would thin out. The danger of being shot would increase. However, there was no stopping my legs. I knew it was dangerous, but I had no choice but to continue straight on.
Whether she knew my situation or not, Madoka’s voice was utterly indifferent as she said, “Eh? But I was hoping for a good story. It would’ve been a complete waste to tell you that beforehand.”
Thank you for the courage to live on☆
I’m gonna survive this no matter what so I can give you a good punch!!
“Inheritance agents advertise their services as ‘successfully transferring the client’s inheritance to the client’s person of choice regardless of the legal order’. I guess you could think of them as a group of lawyers that are a bit more active than most. I explained that much here at the Sanatorium.”
“They wouldn’t be carrying around a hunting rifle if they were a proper business! I’m guessing there’s some darker aspect to this!”
“The problem lies in their method of transferring the inheritance. Doing so while ignoring the legal order would normally be impossible. That means the client cannot give everything directly to their grandchild while skipping over their son. They know that would be stopped by the courts.”
The trees ended.
I stopped without thinking and found a small river and rocky riverside. Both together were about 30 meters across. However, I would not be able to keep up my usual pace across those hard rocks and in the water. But if I hung around, the attacker would catch up and shoot me.
“The clients first transfer their assets to the inheritance agent. This is a donation of assets rather than an inheritance. Sending it to some third person at that point is no different than a company giving it to a specific individual, so it can be given to a grandson or mistress or whoever else. The amount given is less due to a donation tax having to be paid twice. However, the inheritance agent can make back the amount lost through investments.”
“You mean like that day trading you love so much?”
“When it’s related to an Intellectual Village, they can also deal in high quality agriculture futures.”
The sound of someone moving through the underbrush and branches gradually approached.
I had no time to hesitate.
I knew it was dangerous, but I charged out onto the rocky river bank.
“If they succeeded in that, they wouldn’t be wandering around with a hunting rifle. So did their investments fail and now they’ve lost the assets they’re supposed to hand over?”
“No, they never had any intentions of giving those assets to the specified person. After being legally given those assets, they just keep them for themselves.”
“Then they’re just a bunch of con artists!!
“Exactly. However, they make hundreds of millions if not billions of yen per job. With that much money on the line, they’ll be willing to get rid of someone who has become inconvenient.”
I ran across the river bank covered in round rocks and then charged into the small river. The flow was stronger than I had expected. I continued forward while making sure my feet weren’t taken out from under me.
If that man with the hunting rifle from that corrupt lawyer group made his way out of the trees, it was almost certain he would shoot me in the back.
“Okay, I get that they have a reason to kill someone. But why me!? I don’t have any evidence of their dishonesty and I never chanced across anything incriminating!!”
I had seen those inheritance agents going back and forth within the Sanatorium, so had I seen anything dangerous there? I couldn’t think of anything. I couldn’t think of a single thing I could have seen that would warrant shooting me with a hunting rifle and disposing of my body somewhere.
“What?” replied Madoka.
“What’s the connection here?”
The water filling my shoes felt quite uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe that people in the cities put a 300 yen price tag on a liter of the stuff. Even so, I continued on. I made it across the small river and started running across the smooth stones once more.
“You said the Yuki Onna was dangerous, right? Is there some connection between her and the inheritance agents!?”
“That’s exactly what I was saying.”
A rustling came from a thicket on the other side of the clear stream from me.
At about the same moment, I made it across the rocky bank and charged into the trees of the forest.
I felt the gunshot reverberate in my stomach more than I heard it. Wild birds took flight all around me.
I had just barely made it.
But there was no guarantee I would make it next time.
Crossing the river had slowed my pace down by too much. I had somehow managed to hide in a thicket, but I was too close. The density of the trees around me was too low to act as proper cover.
A lead bullet would reach me.
However, I had a means of victory.
In the old days, rivers were often used as borders between lands. The simplest example is probably the borders of a prefecture or a city.
Private property was no exception.
And in an Intellectual Village where the agriculture was of such high quality that a bunch of grapes cost 30,000 yen, people made sure to have security networks that could protect their crops.
I only had to raise one hand.
The instant it was caught by the infrared sensor, something happened.
Something rose up in a straight line to block my path.
It was a wire security net with high voltage electricity running through it.
It was likely meant to keep out both dangerous animals and thieves. The beasts would continue on and be roasted, but a human would notice the danger and step back.
To make sure that the humans did not escape, a similar high voltage net rose up behind me on the rocky river bank. I was surrounded by the net walls.
I heard the slight static of speakers installed in the area being powered on.
They were most likely set to play a recording when the intruder was concluded to be human since nothing was “roasted”.
“Beyond this point is a mandarin orange orchard owned by Tanaka Farms. Entry of all unauthorized personnel is forbidden. Members of security are being dispatched, but Tanaka Farms is not liable for any harm done by the high voltage current before you. I repeat…”
I heard the sound of someone walking through a thicket.
The suited man carrying a hunting rifle appeared.
However, he had heard the announcement too. He had to know the unrelated security guards would be arriving before long. Even if he killed me there, he did not have time to retrieve the body and dispose of all traces of the crime.
We glared at each other for a few seconds.
Finally, the suited man slowly backed away while still aiming the hunting rifle at me. He then clicked his tongue and ran off.
It may have been due to being surrounded by those high voltage nets, but the cell phone connection had ended.
While waiting for rescue to arrive on that mountain, I muttered quietly to myself.
“…A Package, hm?”
The Zashiki Warashi in the bright red yukata spoke with her cheeks stuffed full of the ohagi my overall small granny had brought us.
“Fi’m funfry. (I’m hungry).”
“What kind of starving character are you? And could you actually listen to my story?”
“I wonder why people fall for scams,” she said in a tone that made it sound like a Youkai would never fall for one.
She then brought another ohagi to her mouth. She was still lying down, so it was rather rude.
“It’s so obvious that’s dangerous from the moment you have to hand your money over to someone else temporarily. It’s not like you can demand your money back after giving it to them.”
“The ideal situation for a con artist is not some proper method that no one would find suspicious. They prefer something that looks good at the time and seems worth it even if it is a bit risky. That bit is what clouds over people’s rational decision making ability.”
“So something like a chance at being one of the clever winners in life?”
“Or they say they’re giving you some special advice because you were one of the lucky few to be chosen.”
My words put an oddly bewitching smile on the Zashiki Warashi’s face.
“So the desire to give your inheritance to someone other than your proper family is an attractive enough opportunity to cloud people’s judgment?”
Admittedly, that left a bad taste in my mouth too, but I would have preferred she did not look at me like I was the representative of humanity’s evil intentions.
“But from what you’ve said, they’re just a group of con artists.”
“Yes, and from how smoothly Madoka was able to explain it all, people must be beginning to catch on to their M.O. It’s probably at the stage where people just need some proof.”
“It’s that Yuki Onna that Madoka mentioned that catches my interest,” she said. “Since you spotting her developed into that hunting rifle attack, that Yuki Onna must be an important factor to those inheritance agents. Which means…”
“Which means it might have something to do with a Package.”
After the middle-aged man who named himself the head of Tanaka Farms drove me in his electric-powered light truck to the sweets shop at the base of the mountain, I called Madoka at the Sanatorium once more.
“Ah ha! The connection ended so suddenly I thought you had died♪”
“Well, I’m glad you’re delighted enough to let your character blur like crazy. But prepare yourself, I’m gonna give you quite the spanking later.”
“I think your character is getting a bit blurred too, Shinobu-kun. Anyway, do you still need something?”
“It’s about these inheritance agents,” I said quickly. “If you knew they had something to do with that Yuki Onna, then I assume something must have happened in the Sanatorium. Tell me.”
“Hmm? I have a good idea about what’s going on, but I have no proof,” replied Madoka with no hesitation. “Remember how I told you there was a room here where anyone who stayed in it would die?”
“It was actually never determined which room that was. There are a few theories, but who knows which – if any – of them are correct.”
“But for a rumor like that to get started, something strange must have happened. Something that would suggest the involvement of a Yuki Onna.”
“Yes. It was nothing more than some old men and women getting frostbite in the middle of summer, though.”
“…Is that even possible?”
“You can ignore all ecological issues and freely set the air conditioning here and people are often bedridden, so yes. A cool breeze may have been blown onto one part of their skin continually for hours and hours. However, once it happened 4 or 5 times, something else was clearly going on. The Sanatorium is both an attraction and in the service industry. Having incidents like that continue would hurt the image of their brand, so it seems the workers were a bit panicked.”
“But this rumor calmed down.”
“Yes, but the cause was never actually determined. If this was being maliciously done by someone, they must have completely stopped.”
“And you think this was the inheritance agents?”
“They were already coming and going when the frostbite scares occurred, but I haven’t seen any clear link between them. However, the old men and women who got frostbite all had immense fortunes. They were certainly the type the inheritance agents would want to target.”
“One question. You said the inheritance agents were coming and going at the time of the frostbite scares. Were there any victims of their scam in the Sanatorium during that time?”
“You’re quite perceptive.” It sounded like Madoka was smiling on the other side of the phone. “There were no victims at the time. From what I could tell, they had approached a few tempting marks, but did not manage to get any money from them. …However, their scam grew quite bountiful once the frostbite scare had died down. I haven’t actually spoken with any of the victims though.”
“I knew it,” I muttered without thinking.
That left one possibility.
“The initial frostbite scares were tests for a Package. After they fine-tuned the power and the breadth of conditions, they began the real scam.”
“A Package…” said Madoka.
“A criminal system put together by humans using the characteristics and conditions of Youkai. It’s the stereotypical form for cases of spiritual harm.”
A cash card that can draw out an unlimited amount of money. A knife that can kill any number of people without the criminal ever getting caught.
Normally thinking, those items were impossibilities that could never exist in reality. However, that sort of thing could be achieved by cleverly mixing in the powers of those who were not normal.
The specific item seen on the surface was just the tip of the iceberg.
When the large gears of a Youkai and a criminal organization came together to form a massive perfect crime system, it was known as a Package.
Think of items like the Uchide no Kozuchi seen in old stories or the bullets created with demonic powers spoken of in a famous opera. Now, imagine such things could be put together as “items without form” as a means of committing fraud.
The worst part was that the Youkai used to put it together had no idea they were committing crimes or causing people problems.
A Yuki Onna would kill you if you spoke of being spared and would then disguise herself as a woman and marry you. A group of con men would very much want the use of that compulsion through promises. And since she would kill anyone who told, they had a means of avoiding anyone taking legal action against them.
The real problem was that the Yuki Onna’s promises revolved around the idea of marriage.
If they were free to switch out the marriage part, they could use it to force any kind of unfair financial contract on people.
“How did they get the people to make the promise?” I groaned. “Those frostbite scares must have been due to the promises failing. Or perhaps the people refused to promise. They might have been bringing the Yuki Onna directly into the Sanatorium at that time. But the inheritance agents must have thought of a different way of handling it once the frostbite scares suddenly stopped.”
“Are you about to ask me if I can think of anything likely?”
“Oh, you’re an esper!”
“Sorry, but I can’t think of anything!”
I felt like crushing my cell phone in my grip, but my vision of the situation was not clear enough to know exactly what I wanted her to find. It may have been wrong of me to expect any results from Madoka when I could not even give her proper instructions.
I had no choice.
“I think I’ll head back to the Sanatorium. Will I make it in time for standard visiting hours?”
“Wait, wait. Shinobu-kun, weren’t you targeted by a hunting rifle?”
“That’s why I want to end this as quickly as possible. I’d rather not still have one of those targeting me while I walk down a dark path at night.”
“I see. Well, you’ll likely get here in time. If there are any problems, I can use my status as a regular customer to vouch for you. Also, you should probably use the bus next time. And not one that stops at every stop. One of the expensive nonstop ones. If you don’t have to stop on that mountain road, you’ll be at less risk. That won’t completely eliminate the risk of attack, though.”
“I’ll do that. …Actually, are you safe there?”
“The Sanatorium is filled with the wealthy, so its security is top notch. And if things are dangerous here, you’ll be attacked before you leave.”
“Thanks for that unpleasant bit of evidence.”
I ended the call.
This was not just a group of con men that targeted old people. With the situation growing more and more dangerous, I wearily turned around and headed back along the mountain road I had just come down from.
I was heading right back into the clutches of death.
Packages had one major problem.
“Bon bobon bon bobobobon bonsai!”
“Don’t lose interest, Zashiki Warashi!! My story isn’t over yet!!”
As she ignored me, the Zashiki Warashi hummed, adjusted the position of the ultraviolet light emitting a bluish-white light, and used a dropper to add nutrients to a clear pot filled with a watery substance. A bonsai itself did match the yukata-wearing Youkai, but the overall SF feel to it all did not match at all.
Incidentally, I have my suspicions that this hobby of hers is why my grandfather has taken such a liking to her despite her being utterly worthless.
“Well, the farther along you get, the less it seems to concern me. How about you just submit this to one of those online question sites?”
“I just can’t trust the know-it-alls that write answers to those things…”
And don’t get off topic.
Can you keep ignoring me when I bring out these puppy dog eyes?
“…Wh-what’s wrong, Shinobu? You’ve got the same look in your eyes as a snake eyeing its prey. Have your sexual urges as a teenager finally gotten the better of you?”
“Enough of this. Can we please just get back to my story?”
“Hmm. So this Package gets people to transfer ownership of their assets by using the promises of a Yuki Onna?” The Zashiki Warashi in the bright red yukata finally turned back to me after finishing with her SF bonsai. “If they’ve developed this into a Package, are these inheritance agents ultimately after you-know-what?”
“Since they’re still coming and going to and from the Sanatorium even after some suspicions, it’s entirely possible.”
“Exporting the Package…”
A Package was a criminal plan put together by humans and constructed from the special characteristics and conditions of Youkai. Once one was established, the plan and methodology could be sold as a product. It was the same as how a method of fraud would spread throughout the country.
Naturally, society would grow distorted if these things spread.
This would go well beyond just the Sanatorium.
This was different from someone owning the one and only Uchide no Kozuchi. Packages merely used the powers of Youkai and were created by humans. As long as the person had the desire to complete one and the techniques and materials needed to construct it, anyone could create it. For better or for worse.
“It seems the inheritance agents have already ripped off some wealthy old folks. They’ve made a killing. They may be at the stage where they are planning to sell their Package to an even larger criminal organization in order to change their identities and disappear.”
During the frostbite scares, the inheritance agents had started to fail in their scam and that exposed them to a serious risk. That had likely not been part of their plan. It was possible their ultimate objective had already shifted from “make tons of money” to “escape safely”.
“If a flaw is found in their Package after they sell it, the large criminal organization could very well try to hunt them down. They might be staying at the Sanatorium despite the risk so they can continue to carefully debug it,” said the Zashiki Warashi.
“It’s also possible the large criminal organization sent them to the Sanatorium to assemble the Package in the first place…No, that’s unlikely. If it had all just been testing, they wouldn’t have had to target actual rich people.”
“Hmm. So the inheritance agents thought it was possible you had noticed the connection between the scams at the Sanatorium and the Yuki Onna, so they came to get rid of you. They wouldn’t want any interference that could alter the essentials of their Package before they complete it.”
“…This is sounding more and more dangerous. Now we have some large criminal organization involved too. From the way this sounds, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about a nighttime shootout at a wharf.”
“I know, right?”
“And a deadly Yuki Onna is involved, too. Since the marks they can’t get money from are getting frozen to death, they might be able to cause an intentional failure and use the Yuki Onna offensively. This is a combination of an organization, guns, and the supernatural. I wonder if the local police can handle this.”
“That’s why I’m consulting you, you good-for-nothing Zashiki Warashi. Honestly, why did I have to meet that Yuki Onna at the worst possible time?”
“If you have some huge battle awaiting you, there’s no place for me there. Bon bobon bobobobobon bonsai!”
“I told you not to lose interest!!”
I used an electric bus to return to the Sanatorium.
The men in suits were busy preparing their scam inside and they looked shocked to see me. However, the armed guards directly hired by the wealthy occupants of the Sanatorium would act if the men pulled out a hunting rifle there. They trembled, but they were unable to do anything to me as I passed by them.
I met up with my classmate once more in that waiting room that had strict security that was not visible at first glance.
“You mentioned divulging the details of the Package using the Yuki Onna, but what exactly are you going to investigate? Just so you know, it will be difficult to ask anyone here questions. The Sanatorium is like a hotel for the eccentric and wealthy, so no one speaks with their neighbors. My word only has any sway over the workers here, so don’t count on me being able to do anything.”
“I don’t think I’ll need that.” I shook my hand in the air. “The main gist of this Package has to do with promises. If you tell anyone she spared you, she’ll kill you, but she also disguises herself as a woman and comes to marry you. They use that double setup to get people to transfer their assets over.”
The marriage in this context did not refer to a legal state that required a marriage registration. It was a verbal promise of marriage that acted as the Yuki Onna’s trigger to attack. In other words, it was not the marriage itself that was important. It was the promise of marriage. For that reason, the marriage that seemed at the center of it all could be replaced with something else.
“It sounds ideal, doesn’t it? After setting up a defensive line by preventing the person from telling anyone about the group of con artists, they close in with their ridiculous deal. And if you refuse, you receive a penalty. By cleverly altering the characteristics and conditions of a Yuki Onna, they can create a model case of massive fraud that will never come to light.”
“But wouldn’t that lead to a lot of people dying?” I frowned. “If they just tell people they will have complete control over their assets and insist there is nothing fishy about it, anyone who agreed would have to be quite an idiot. Anyone with half a brain would find it suspicious. And it seems the inheritance agents did fail initially.”
“But if you refuse to promise, you get killed, right? Then…”
“Then you would expect some people to have refused and died. Some people would not believe that a Yuki Onna was really involved.”
“Ah,” said Madoka suddenly.
She must have realized something.
“The frostbite scares,” I said. “Most likely, they originally either used the Yuki Onna directly or the agents brought the deal directly to the old people. And they failed. The old people very nearly died from the penalty. It seems they managed to avoid any deaths by messing with the characteristics and conditions of the Yuki Onna to a certain extent, but it was still too powerful.”
“And so the inheritance agents gave up on that method.”
“They began to use a method of getting people to make the promise that would not raise any questions. If you don’t feel any hesitation to make the promise, the old people need not die due to the penalty. That initial entrance is the problem. After the marks are caught in the Yuki Onna’s promise, the agents are free to do as they please.”
“Is there a way to do that?” Madoka seemed skeptical. “The inheritance agents clearly aren’t all that skilled at talking people into things. Even with the Yuki Onna involved, they managed to screw this up during those frostbite scares. No matter how much help a poor talker gets, they’re never going to be perfect.”
“True. That’s why they don’t do it through talk. The targets don’t even know they’ve made the promise.”
“I saw this method in a Package I ran across before.” I paused for a second. “You can make someone promise something by hiding it amid the user agreement for free software. No one reads it, but you can’t use the software unless you agree. The promise is hidden in the long text.”
“You don’t mean…”
“You have one here, right?” I looked around. “The Sanatorium must have a resident agreement. Do you remember looking through it? If they added a clause in it to have people make a promise with some strange Youkai, it would be too convenient for these people.”
Apparently, the original resident agreement was kept at the Sanatorium’s front desk. Madoka may have had no influence with the other residents, but she had enough pull with the workers to allow me to look through that telephone book-like resident agreement.
–While Party A is using the facilities managed by Party B, Party A is obligated to always disclose and explain any objects brought within the facilities.
–While Party A is using the facilities managed by Party B, Party B will do its best to care for Party A’s possessions. However, this is an endeavor, not an obligation. As such, any loss of or damage to Part A’s possessions while using the facilities managed by Party B do not produce any liability for Party B whatsoever.
–While Party A is using the facilities managed by Party B, Party A is obligated to treat appropriately the equipment and fixtures managed by Party B. If Party A is negligent in this obligation and Party B’s equipment or fixtures experience damage, Party A must compensate for the entire cost of repairs or replacement.
“…Why are legal agreements and contracts always written with such stiff language?”
“It’s so you’ll miss what it means while skimming through it. Look, how is this fair? If a resident’s wallet is lost, the institution isn’t responsible, but if something in here is damaged, the resident has to pay for it.”
“But I don’t see any sign of anything related to the Yuki Onna.”
The part saying “any loss of or damage to Party A’s possessions while using the facilities managed by Party B do not produce any liability for Party B whatsoever” was certainly unfair, but it lacked something that would be needed for the Yuki Onna to take the target’s assets.
“Did we misread it?”
“No…” I thought for a bit. “Even if they rewrote the entire original here at the front desk, that would cause everyone in the Sanatorium to fall under the Yuki Onna scam. And that includes you, Madoka. However, I haven’t heard anything about them making that much money.”
“So you’re saying the Sanatorium resident agreement theory was a dead end?”
“They have to have resident agreements other than this one. This place is a “sanatorium” in name only. It’s actually a hotel for strange, eccentric people.”
At the time of the frostbite scares, the inheritance agents had changed their methods rather than continuing on. They must not have wanted the panic to spread any further than it had to. Even if it would make a lot of money, the possibility of drawing suspicion from the police would grow if they dragged the entire Sanatorium into it. As such, success had not seemed likely. It was almost as if the group of con artists had recoiled from the possibility that, if worse came to worst, everyone in the Sanatorium could have ended up frozen to death.
That was why the inheritance agents had worked to contain any damages that they might create.
Their promises would be ones that only affected their specific target.
They would use a resident agreement that they could narrow down to affect only one person.
“Do the rooms here contain a booklet that introduces the Sanatorium to newcomers? Instructions on using room service or the internet might be included in it. If a file like that exists, it probably includes a copy of the resident agreement.”
“Come to think of it…”
“Also, that simplified resident agreement doesn’t need to be signed or stamped with your seal. Usually, you automatically agree to its conditions just by entering the room.”
When I entered Madoka’s room, there was indeed a thick binder on a small table. As expected, the introduction to the Sanatorium included a simplified version of the resident agreement.
“If all rooms have one of these binders, they could switch out the binder in the room of their target.”
“We can’t check other resident’s rooms though.”
“Are there any rooms left empty after an unnatural departure? If you tell anyone you were spared, she kills you. Afterwards, she disguises herself as a woman and comes to marry you. Even with the Yuki Onna’s double setup, nothing is stopping people from leaving without telling anyone anything.”
“I might be able to get permission from a worker to check an empty room.”
Madoka asked a passing female worker who unlocked an empty room for us. (I had to wonder just how much pull my classmate held in that place.) We then stepped inside.
“It’s possible we were trapped in a labyrinth of promises the instant we set foot in this room. We need to be careful.”
“I will, but this is a Yuki Onna, right? I am a woman myself, after all.”
“The attack trigger just uses the word marriage, but it seems to actually be rather vague, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps. But the resident agreement in the room only applies to the person that signed a lease for the room with the facility’s owner, so it has nothing to do with us.”
I hoped she was right, but it was possible the group of con artists had changed the contents up quite a bit. It was entirely possible common knowledge did not apply.
I reached for the binder and checked within.
The text designed to make you want to go to sleep continued identically to the one at the front desk for a bit, but I started to notice some things that seemed out of place.
Since the font was identical, it was hard to tell, but there were some clauses added in that I had not seen in the one at the front desk.
“This mentions a Party C in addition to the Party A and Party B.”
“Is that the Yuki Onna?”
“It might be the inheritance agents.”
The text was already written so as to make it hard to understand, but the fraud group had added further trickery on top of that. The text almost seemed to get all mixed up in my head, but I somehow managed grasp the meaning.
–While Party A is using the facilities managed by Party B, Party A must always respect Party A’s relationship with Party C.
–Party C views the relationship with Party A as being revised to one of transferring all financial assets.
–Party A’s losses shall be social losses and Party C must carry out all punishments through financial actions.
–As Party C cannot legally enter into a financial contract, the aforementioned financial actions shall be carried out by the inheritance agents in her place.
“Here we go. I guess the term ‘relationship’ takes the place of marriage. It is true that the order of inheritance for assets changes when two people get married, but…”
“This part about losses probably changes the Yuki Onna’s penalty of death to one of social death through losing all of one’s money.”
“And they use the fact that Youkai can’t even sign a cell phone contract to transfer all the money over to the inheritance agents.”
The resident using the room containing the modified binder would automatically become married to the Yuki Onna. The target’s assets would become jointly owned by the target and the Yuki Onna. This essentially meant she had taken all of the target’s money.
Also, if the target refused or tried to discuss it with someone else, they would receive a financial punishment severe enough to give them a social “death”.
Either way, a large amount of money was given to the Yuki Onna. However, the Yuki Onna could not open a bank account, so the inheritance agents would take control of the inheritance in her place.
In the end, the fraud group would have all the money.
Just with the presence of the binder, the promise was made, so the Yuki Onna’s power could be used without her actually being there.
I wondered if the Yuki Onna even understood what the current version of the Package was.
“Oh? So the target loses his inheritance whether this succeeds or fails? Then there might be some people who decide to sacrifice themselves in order to reveal what is going on.”
“The penalty is merely said to be financial, it doesn’t specify an amount. If it succeeds, the target will have all their assets taken, but if it fails and they are punished, they might end up with a severe debt.”
If the financial punishment was severe enough to lead to the black market loans of a large criminal organization, that would fit the description of a social death.
That was a situation more frightening to humans than freezing to death on a winter mountain.
“Well, that pretty much settles it.”
“But do we have any real proof that Party C refers to the Yuki Onna?”
“I think so.”
I pointed toward one piece of text in the thick binder.
–Party C dislikes the summer, so she hates cicadas which are a symbol of the aforementioned season.
“Hm? I need to set something to record. They’re showing the Chronograph of Hell late tonight, and I don’t want to miss it.”
“Do it in your own room!! I’m recording a foreign drama, so don’t hog the tuner!!”
“…Well, it sounds like you found out how the Yuki Onna’s Package worked. At this rate, it doesn’t seem like you need me at all.”
“Do you actually want to help despite all the complaining you do…?”
This one may be a pain in the ass, but does the Zashiki Warashi race as a whole want to help out their households? In that case, is her mind tsun but her instincts are dere?
Despite those hopeful thoughts of mine…
“No, I want to know why you’ve forced me to listen to all this. I could have used this time to get my character from Level 7 to Level 8.”
“I had a feeling that was it, you indoor Youkai. If you don’t listen to me, I’ll send all the game systems to Madoka’s place so you can’t play with them, dammit.”
She clung to me and looked like she was about to cry.
That Youkai needed entertainment as much as she did water or oxygen.
“But those inheritance agents were trying to export their Package to a large criminal organization in order to get help in escaping, right? Would they really leave you alone while you were trying to uncover their methods?”
“That’s the thing.” I leaned forward. “That was the biggest problem in the end.”
“It’s ironic how greedy humans can be much more frightening than Youkai.”
“In both Rokubu Goroshi and Yonaki Ishi, the villain is a human drowning in greed. In fact, Youkai and the supernatural only really come into play in order to give an ending to the story of some horrible person.”
“If karma worked as well as it does in old stories, the world would be a much nicer place,” said the Zashiki Warashi uninterestedly. “So I take it the inheritance agents finally took action.”
“Yes, they did.”
A chill ran down my spine.
I knew being frightened would not change the situation, but feelings had a way of not being controlled by reason.
The most obvious example of something that gave people such irrational fear was Youkai like the Zashiki Warashi or the Yuki Onna.
I was faced with human greed that would even use that fear to make a profit.
“I was in a pinch. I was in a real pinch.”
“It’s a shame that high schoolers these days have such a limited vocabulary.”
I had a very bad feeling about something.
The feeling had no specific basis and I could hardly put together a countermeasure from a simple premonition, so that statement was relatively meaningless. However, it was something like being carried towards an incinerator on a slowly moving conveyer belt. The fact that you were not going to be killed immediately made the whole thing feel all the more uncomfortable.
When we left the empty room after checking the binder, Madoka frowned and gave voice to the reason behind my unease.
“…The inheritance agents are gone.”
The situation was advancing.
Just like with cancer, it was too late by the time the pain came to the surface.
A young female worker was jogging down the passageway toward us.
“Hey. What is it?”
Kotemitsu Madoka looked toward the female worker when her family name was called.
“I have some news that might concern your visitor.”
“Did something happen?”
“The bus that heads from here to the base of the mountain got a flat tire, so it will likely be running late.”
So that’s how we’re doing this?
“Given the distance, you can likely make it to the base of the mountain by sunset on foot, but if you have plans, one of the workers can take you by car.”
“Wait, wait. Could you please give me a second to think about this?”
I politely cut off the female worker, grabbed Madoka’s hand, and pulled her a bit away. There, we began speaking in private.
“That had to have been the inheritance agents. They’re planning to have me ‘accidentally’ shot by a hunting rifle on my way back. That’s why they took out the bus to eliminate that hole in their plan.”
“How about you take the workers up on their offer?”
“They’d just shoot the worker too. They’ve decided to be a bit bolder in their methods. Madoka, how many inheritance agents were there coming and going to and from here?”
“Hm? I don’t remember exactly, but I think there were 10 to 20 of them.”
“Then we need to assume they might surround me while all armed with hunting rifles. The mountain road is the only path back. They can just scatter broken glass over the road to stop the car and then shoot it until it’s nothing but scrap metal.”
“…How about you call in a helicopter?”
That was a rich investor for you. She thought about things on a completely different scale.
However, I shook my head.
“If one of their hunting rifles is an actual rifle rather than a shotgun, that won’t work. That would be enough to shoot through the glass or plate of a civilian helicopter.”
Intellectual Villages had plenty of advantages, but they had their inconveniences as well.
For example, the number of police officers was exceedingly low.
There was no big district police station or anything. The village just had one small station. Also, anyone there would not answer calls during the day due to listening to music with headphones and would be asleep once the sun set. The 30,000 yen bunches of grapes were enough to make any thief’s eyes shine in delight, so the police situation was pathetic. As such, Intellectual Villages relied on hired armed security guards to keep the peace rather than the country’s policemen. (Although those armed security guards did commit crimes themselves sometimes.)
Madoka was aware of that, so she said, “Then wouldn’t it be safest to stay here in the Sanatorium? The inheritance agents have set up a trap in the mountain. Isn’t that because they do not have enough force to take on the armed guards protecting the Sanatorium?”
I appreciated her suggestion.
I really did, but…
“If nothing was done about them, I might have ended up being targeted by the Yuki Onna’s Package as well. The Sanatorium is filled with the wealthy. Everyone here has hired armed guards to protect them. If all of those guards were gathered, the inheritance agents wouldn’t be able to touch you.”
“Yeah…but I doubt that will happen.” I tilted my head to the side as I thought. “Your group might help, Madoka, but I doubt the armed guards hired by the others would go along with it. Letting me stay here would bring the risk of a criminal group attacking with hunting rifles, so they’d probably just throw me out of the Sanatorium.”
It was their job to protect their client, so they would not hesitate there.
Also, there was a difference between the number of guards hired by Madoka and the sum total of guards hired by all the others. If they came into conflict, the others would win. It was possible my only options would end up being leaving the Sanatorium on my own or having all the guards gang up on me and throw me out.
“Then what if I send a few of my guards with you?”
“Would those salarymen really go along with something outside their contract like that? And even if they agreed, they would be up against 10-20 people. If all of those are armed with hunting rifles, things would not look good for us. Even if I managed to get down the mountain thanks to them, I would rather not have it be at the cost of a few people sinking into pools of blood.”
This was not just an issue of simple justice or morality.
Once a colleague had died thanks to their client’s ridiculous request, even Madoka’s guards might gang up on me. They were not government officials or the allies of the country’s citizens. If they were thrown into an unreasonable situation, it was possible they would resort to unreasonable means.
“Then what are you going to do? When you were attacked before, you only just barely managed to escape.”
“…Yes. I’m just a loser in the end. I was thrashing about in a panicked flight from a single man armed with a hunting rifle. This is hopeless. This isn’t some light novel. I can’t wait for an opportunity and counterattack. It just won’t work. Merely surviving would be worth a Guinness World Record.”
“Don’t get that distant look in your eyes. You’re going to be attacked by 10-20 of them at once this time, right? That isn’t a situation where you can just run through the trees and escape.”
I could not stay in the Sanatorium.
If I headed out into the mountain, I would be attacked by a group of 10-20 con artists armed with hunting rifles.
I had to get safely down off the mountain somehow, but this was as hopeless as playing a game of soccer against a team of 11 on your own. I would just end up being surrounded. This was not a situation I could get out of with a clever plan or technique.
And even if I made it safely off the mountain, could I return to a safe summer break?
I know I keep saying this, but they were armed with hunting rifles.
I did not want to spend the rest of my life hiding in fear of attack and it was entirely possible they would find out where I lived and attack my home. It was clear as day what my fate would be if they charged into my house in their outdoor shoes and carrying those dangerous weapons.
I wanted to survive.
I wanted to get back to my safe everyday life.
To do that, I would need to do more than get off the mountain without the inheritance agents finding me.
“…I guess I need to see this through to the end.”
“Madoka, you said you could ask favors of the workers here but not the other residents, right?”
“Y-yes. We’re all on the same level. This is like a hotel, so there is no sense of a ‘neighborhood’. No one will even answer a knock on the door.”
“That’s fine.” I took the binder that held the simplified resident agreement from Madoka. “Could you ask a favor of the workers? I can’t pay them, but ask them if I can stay in the empty room this binder was in.”
“That could be difficult.”
“Tell them a group of thieves will attack with hunting rifles if they don’t let me.”
“I’ll do my best,” said Madoka. “But a completely empty room might be too much. It would be a bit easier to get them to allow another person to stay in my room.”
“No, your room won’t cut it. To break out of this situation, I need to dive straight into the maelstrom.”
“Also, with the investing you do, you must have various business related tools, right? Surely you don’t do it all on the computer. I’d like to borrow one of those analog tools.”
It was not late at night.
Nor had all of nature in the area died out.
The summer was chokingly hot. The trees and underbrush gave off a thick green smell. The sunbeams leaking through the gaps in the trees covering the sky were bright enough to be called healthy. The high-pitched sound of cicadas was loud enough to drown out the rustling of the wind through the branches.
The scene was perfect for a memory from a child’s picture diary.
This was the rural image that Intellectual Villages used as an attraction.
However, the situation I was in changed that world into a cruel one. That may have been how the world looked to someone heading to a cliff in order to commit suicide. I did not have the calm to spare to be moved by the scenery spreading out before me. I could only view the visuals as visual information.
I tried to concentrate and I tried to pay close attention.
However, I ended up taking in even less information than usual.
Each step I took was heavy.
I felt the invisible object known as my soul being worn down.
Even if I had had an accurate map, I would probably have gotten lost in that state of mind. And I would have no idea if the map I had was accurate or not. Should I follow that sense of danger within me? Should I ignore it because it would send me to my own destruction? Would I overlook some danger because I was too afraid of heading to my own destruction? The options circled around in my mind in an infinite loop. Before I knew it, that loop left me uncertain about any criteria on which to base a decision. It was like I had been turned into a robotic human that could not take any complex actions.
I had no idea what I was thinking.
I could not sort out my thoughts.
I could not tell if my thoughts were coming from my true feelings or if they were due to me being led astray by fear.
Ten to twenty men armed with hunting rifles lay hidden within the mountain.
Running across even one of them would put my life in danger. Fighting back against them was a dream within a dream. Even if I immediately turned around and ran, my odds of survival were probably less than 10%. In fact, I would likely just get shot while I froze up in indecision over whether to fight or run.
And even if I did survive, the inheritance agent would contact the others and have me surrounded in no time at all. If that happened, there was no saving me. Even if the mountain was a large area, there were only so many areas and routes people could easily pass through. With 10-20 people, they could cover all of those routes with some left over.
When would they come?
Where would they come from?
Even if I had had no other choice, I intensely regretted leaving the Sanatorium. I didn’t care anymore. I was fine with having those armed guards gang up on me. I just wanted to take refuge in a safe building.
Just when I was about to turn back the way I had come, the hunting rifle attack began.
A great scream rang out, destroying the peace of nature.
At that time, an inheritance agent named Hanazono felt a tremendous pressure in his stomach. He was hiding in a thicket, standing guard along the zigzagging mountain road. He held a double-barrel hunting rifle in his hands. The heat of midsummer had soaked the inside of his suit with sweat and his face looked like it had been sprayed with water. His own heavy breathing rang loud in his ears. Each and every leaf of the thicket touching his cheeks tore at his concentration. He was filled with so much fear and regret that he felt faint.
He could see the high school boy that was his target.
He pressed the hunting rifle’s stock against his shoulder to stop it from shaking. However, his entire body was shaking.
He was not afraid of the boy.
He was afraid of having to shoot another human being.
The inheritance agents had all gathered in order to make easy money.
However, the next thing they had known, this was the situation they were stuck in.
Murder was going too far astray.
They had clearly gone beyond the risk they had been willing to take. Whenever he had seen stories about robbers who had ended up killing their target on the news, he had wondered why those people did not use their heads. He would never have taken part in this criminal plan if he had known it would end with someone dead. He should have stuck with fraud he could pull off over the phone.
He felt like a sugoroku piece moving forward against his own will.
However, he would lose everything if he did not shoot.
Hanazono assumed their leader, Shironaka, had prepared the hunting rifles to ensure they would act. With a knife or a metal bat, they would have hesitated. The fact that they just had to move their index finger helped to distance their minds from the fact that they were stabbing through or smashing human flesh.
If that kid had not interfered they could have ended everything so well.
It might have been going too far to take his life.
However, they could hardly just let him go and enjoy his life.
Just one finger.
He just had to move his index finger.
That kid had done something worth that much.
The bullet would hit on its own. What happened after he pulled the trigger was none of his business.
If the kid died, it was his own fault.
Hanazono took one deep breath.
He brought his index finger to the hunting rifle’s trigger and stared through the sight like he had seen in movies.
He just needed some momentum.
He could ride that momentum and squeeze his index finger.
However, a gunshot did not ring out.
The stock did not strike his shoulder from the shock of firing and a lead bullet was not fired.
Had his finger not moved? Had his muscles frozen in place out of anxiety?
With those questions in mind, Hanazono looked away from the sight and at his index finger. He saw something truly strange there.
His index finger had changed to a much darker color.
The portion of the finger from the 2nd joint on crumbled like dried paper clay and fell to the ground.
Someone who had experienced misfortune while mountain climbing in the winter might have witnessed something similar.
It was severe frostbite.
“Gyah gyah gyah gyah!? Gyah gyah gyah gyah gyah gyah gyah!!”
However, Hanazono’s life was not filled with such diverse experiences.
As if his senses had finally caught up with the strange phenomenon, he swung his right arm around in intense pain. Repeated sounds of something dry cracking could be heard. Half his palm and three of his fingers came clean off and flew through the air.
(What is going on!?)
He heard the rustling sound of something moving in a thicket. Was one of his comrades hidden nearby targeting the high school boy in his place? Or had they come to save him? That was what Hanazono thought, but he was wrong. When the familiar face of Murokawa emerged, he was writhing in intense pain and terror. The left half of his face had changed color. It had become a reddish-purple and one of his ears was missing.
Finally, a gunshot rang out.
However, it was not aimed at the high school boy. It had been an accidental discharge. Someone had accidentally fired their rifle. Hayashida came out from within a thicket and onto the road. His right arm broke into multiple pieces and joined the ruined scrap metal on the road. Had it been the explosive force of the bullet being fired? Or had it been purely the effects of the frostbite? It was unclear which had caused him to lose his arm.
It was not just Hanazono.
The same thing was happening across the mountain.
Hanazono had fallen into a state of complete panic, but he finally noticed that the high school boy was holding a single binder.
Hanazono had seen an old police drama where a thick manga magazine had been used in place of a bulletproof vest, but it was clear the boy had not brought the binder for that purpose.
The inheritance agents recognized the binder.
It contained the altered version of the resident agreement put in the target’s room in their Package fraud that used the characteristics and conditions of the Yuki Onna.
“If you’re trying to manipulate a Youkai, you probably shouldn’t leave the core of your control out where anyone can get at it.”
The boy opened it.
He opened it to the page that should have held their rearranged conditions.
However, there were a few extra lines written in sloppy handwriting that Hanazono and the others did not recognize.
–Party C will ensure the safety of Jinnai Shinobu. In order to carry out the previous clause, Party C is obligated to use all of her power.
–Party C may attack preemptively while making use of her power. Upon confirming anyone or anything intending to attack in such a way that will have a negative effect on Jinnai Shinobu’s safety, Party C shall eliminate them. No consent is required to carry out enforcement of this clause.
And next to each piece of added text was a small red mark giving color to the otherwise black and white page of text.
A seal had been stamped in red ink.
To be more specific, it was a correction seal.
That mark was used to indicate that changes to a contract were made with the acknowledgment of the one agreeing to the contract.
They had been taken out because they tried to shoot.
Everyone who had tried to shoot had been taken out.
The additional clauses were almost too easy to understand. And their meaning was simply overwhelming. Even if they had gathered dozens or even hundreds of people, their entire force would have been neutralized just by targeting that high school boy.
(He took control of the Package we assembled!?)
And then winter arrived.
The Youkai that symbolized the severity of nature and the rejection of the intense cold appeared amid the green of nature.
The gates of hell opened.
The high school boy tapped his own shoulder with the spine of the binder and spoke out to the men in the area.
“This is the deadly being you prepared. I’m sure you’re well aware just how dangerous she is. I’d rather not have anyone hurt more than necessary.”
“What are you doing, you idiots! Hanazono, Hayashida!! This is what we prepared the safety for!!” The voice of their leader, Shironaka, came from the cell phone Hanazono had dropped. “The cicadas!! I’ll bring out the insect cage! If we can get that monster out of here, we can silence that kid!!”
Shironaka charged out from a thicket.
In one hand, he held the type of small insect cage children used. Normally, using that as a weapon would seem like nothing more than a bad joke. However, in the situation Hanazono and the others had assembled, it was a protective charm with almost absolute effects.
It froze over.
The insect cage frosted over in white and cracked. Next, the cicadas inside and Shironaka’s hand holding the insect cage were wrapped in the frost.
Severe frostbite changed the color of his skin, the consistency of his flesh slowly twisted, and then the location of his fingernails clearly moved out of place.
The intense pain made Shironaka try to clench his fingers, but his fingers broke off in the next instant.
“Byah byah!? Th-they came off!! What!? They came off! They’re gone!?”
Shironaka seemed more frightened of the absurdity of that situation that should never have happened than bothered by the pain. The high school boy then opened the binder to another page.
On that page, it read:
–P̶a̶r̶t̶y̶ ̶C̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶l̶i̶k̶e̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶u̶m̶m̶e̶r̶,̶ ̶s̶o̶ ̶s̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶a̶t̶e̶s̶ ̶c̶i̶c̶a̶d̶a̶s̶ ̶w̶h̶i̶c̶h̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶s̶y̶m̶b̶o̶l̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶f̶o̶r̶e̶m̶e̶n̶t̶i̶o̶n̶e̶d̶ ̶s̶e̶a̶s̶o̶n̶.
It had been removed.
The sole safety Hanazono and the others had prepared was gone.
Now they had no way to stop the Yuki Onna.
No one could stop her!!
“Of course I changed what you had put in there. If I had used the alterations you had made as is, I would have had all my assets taken. Before reassembling it how I wanted it, I made sure to get rid of the clauses I didn’t need. Why wouldn’t I?”
The high school boy closed the binder, tapped it against his shoulder again, and smiled.
“Now then. Will she have to deal with all of you, or will you give up on your own? I’ll leave that decision to you.”
The Zashiki Warashi frowned.
“Oh? The point of view of that flashback scene changed partway through. Was that some kind of bug?”
“It’s not a bug. After those attempted murderers put their hands in the air and surrendered, I gathered some information from them.”
“Well, it sounds like that was all wrapped up nicely. It seems to me that there isn’t anything left you need to discuss with me.”
“There is, you idiot. In fact, the most dangerous thing of all is still out there. The Yuki Onna.”
“Is that simplified resident agreement still in effect? So are you going to live the rest of your life with that Yuki Onna auto-guard on?”
“I made sure to add a part saying the effects of the altered clauses go out of effect in three hours after the change, so that’s not a problem. But the thing is…” I scratched at my head. “It seems that Yuki Onna sees me as a target by default without needing that resident agreement’s conditions. That’s why she asked me to marry her at the bus stop in an attempt to kill me. If I don’t deal with that quickly, I could end up trapped by all her questions.”
“It must be tough being a popular guy.”
“The Yuki Onna’s marriage promise is clearly just a means of killing the target more quickly. And the double preparation shortens the process even further. Asking someone to marry her is like a magic spell to her.”
“Oh? So you’re saying Youkai can’t have human feelings of love?”
“Well, you aren’t human.”
At that point, my overall small granny knocked at the door. She had been checking to see if the burglar had stolen anything, but the size of the household made that take some time. I had a feeling she had stopped to make some ohagi at some point, but it still would have taken some time.
“Shinobu, about that burglar.”
“Did you find something missing?”
“No, the opposite. It’s very strange. We have something extra.”
My granny handed me a single binder.
It was the thick binder I thought I had sent back to the Sanatorium via bike courier.
“Oh, no…” I muttered.
He wasn’t a burglar at all!! Did some idiot from those inheritance agents manage to get away!? And now he came back in the very, very end with some pain in the ass revenge!!
The resident agreement in the binder had a dog-eared page.
A ball-point pen and a correction seal had been used to add a single clause.
–Party C shall return to the owner.
I heard a sound like a crack running through the building. It was the sound of something freezing. The local environment was changing with the coming of something horrible. A chill ran down my spine.
That was no metaphor or psychological state.
The physical temperature in the room dropped.
I heard a voice from behind me.
A frail girl’s voice.
“…Let’s get married…”
O-oh, shit. Oh, shit! Oh, shit!! Oh, shit!!! Oh, shit!!!!
This was a real Youkai that had easily defeated 20 men armed with hunting rifles. And the cicada weakness the inheritance agents had prepared was gone. There was no way I could defeat her now. If she sealed my escape with promise after promise both explicit and implicit, I would eventually screw up. I had no intention of becoming a character from an old story!
“Th-that’s right! Zashiki Warashi-sama!! The time has finally come for you to display your power as a true Youkai that protects her house and household…wait, she’s gone!! She’s completely disappeared!!”
The good-for-nothing Youkai in the bright red yukata had vanished into thin air at some point.
I doubted my granny would be of any help, so I had to do something myself. Luckily, I had the binder that could interfere with the Yuki Onna’s characteristics and conditions. I could use it.
–Party C shall return to the owner.
Should I draw two lines through it to erase it? No. The Yuki Onna is already here and she seemed to want to kill me from the beginning. Even if I get rid of the irregular conditions and bring her back to her original state, she’ll just come and kill me like normal.
If I was going to do something, it had to be adding something.
If I added some text identifying “the owner” as the person who brought the binder to the Jinnai household, I could change the Yuki Onna’s target. That would also eliminate the threat of having one of the inheritance agents get away, so it was two birds with one stone. I still had the correction seal I had borrowed from Madoka in my pocket. All I had to do was…!!
“A-a-a p-p-p-pen!! I need a pen! Where is one! Shit!!”
The temperature of the room dropped drastically. It wasn’t quite as cold as a refrigerator, but it was close. I could see the leaves of the Zashiki Warashi’s SF bonsai changing color where she had left it on the floor. I had no time. I frantically reached for the pen holder on my desk.
My fingertips struck the cylindrical pen holder.
The pen holder tilted to the side.
And all the writing implements inside scattered across the tatami mats. Just when I was about to the grab the pen I needed, they rolled out of my reach.
Part 14 (3rd person)
The Thirty Six Stratagems cannot compare to simply running away. Simply fleeing from problems you cannot handle was the key to a long life. And I had been telling him from the beginning that he would be out of luck if he was expecting me to have any kind of strange special powers.
Honestly, how is a mere Zashiki Warashi supposed to defeat something as deadly as that?
Does he think I’m the queen of the sitting room world and I have some kind of ultimate hidden skill?
“Hey, Zashiki Warashi. Want some barley tea?”
On the porch that was over 20 meters long, an old man playing tsumeshogi invited me over. I took a cup filled with a cold drink. This old man loved board games like go and shogi, but he did not like it when they were recreated with computers. I honestly did not understand why. For tsumeshogi it was easier to have the AI take care of the opponent’s moves and it saved you the time of setting up the pieces. It seemed this old man loved things to be the same as they were in the old days. He had a hard time of it when even Youkai were hoping for modern changes.
Well, I have no intention of finding fault with someone else’s interests and tastes.
That goes for both humans and Youkai.
“She seemed to like him when they first met and then he freed her from that Package. It isn’t too surprising that she would get serious about it.”
“What are you talking about?” asked the old man.
“Hee hee hee. Love is a risky thing.”
- Min-min is the Japanese onomatopoeia for a cicada.
- The Zashiki of Zashiki Warashi means “sitting room”.
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