Chapter 7: Tsunatou Inari Shrine
Tsurumi Minemoto glanced over at Suyin Zhou, who seemed to be thinking.
Although she was curious, Tsurumi didn’t feel the need to say anything. Suyin is the type to say exactly what she was thinking, after all.
“New Guy-kun, what is it that you think of him?”
Suyin’s sharp eyes flickered over and she stared steadily at Tsurumi.
“He is … I …”
Tsurumi frowned and tilted her head thinking. Since it happens all the time, Suyin didn’t mind it and distracted herself by flicking small pebbles at the tiny youkai that meandered near the walk.
After she sorted out her thoughts, Tsurumi said,
“… I saw him a few days ago, and thought he was a youkai, but after seeing him again, it seems like it’s different somehow.”
“That it is. He gives off a clearer sound, he does.”
Suyin agreed and nodded her head, although Tsurumi didn’t really understand her explanation.
It was like she understood it, but didn’t understand it… well.
“This morning too… here…”
Tsurumi stopped at one of the side paths that entered into the park, disappearing among the boughs of the wisteria. She had seen that boy walking towards the park, carrying something carefully, and had followed him secretly out of curiosity.
“Hm? Well, should we go in? It is a shortcut if we go northerly through the park.”
Suyin smiled as she encouraged Tsurumi to go on.
Wordlessly, Tsurumi led the way into the park.
Following an outer path, one that sometimes went under the wisteria and sometimes went out of it, she led Suyin to a small grassy patch lit in the sun.
“Ya, there is quite a few of them… nn? A bakeneko, it is?”
Basking around something that sat flat in the afternoon sun, many small youkai flitted about here and there, or just sat and napped.
“In… the morning there were more … normal animals, too…”
Although they were only small youkai, it was a bit worrying that there were so many. Even if they looked content and unlikely to cause harm … no one would enter a den of wolves even if their tails were wagging.
Although they are less dangerous than wolves. Especially for these two girls.
Tsurumi reached into her pocket, fumbling as she looked for something, but Suyin stepped ahead.
With careful, measured steps she approached the cluster of youkai, and from her throat a whistling sound with a low hiss sounded.
At that, all the small youkai stood, shook themselves, and then scattered.
“Kekeke, they are not so strong, so only a small irritation will drive them away.”
Tsurumi nodded. She had also thought the same, but Suyin had beaten her when it came to dealing with them.
Suyin stooped at the flat thing lying in the center of the grass.
“… It is a paper plate?”
Suyin picked it up, flipping it this way and that.
Yes, it was a paper plate. There was nothing particularly interesting about it.
“That guy … brought it. There was food on it. It is likely that it … was his offering to his ancestors? So he brought it here … to feed the animals with.”
“Wa! Is he a Buddha? Most people would just eat it, right?”
Although she gave off the hint of a carefree girl, Suyin was actually living from paycheck to paycheck, so that kind of luxury was beyond her comprehension.
“I don’t think … that is his intention…”
Tsurumi was a little troubled at that kind of assessment. Even though many people did this honoring of their ancestors, it wasn’t necessarily true that they were devout Buddhists. After all, there’s a reason for the saying, ‘Born as a Shinto, married as a Christian, buried as a Buddhist.’ And as for the disposing of the offerings, it was most common to eat or use them yourself, but compassionate people do exist, and it’s not all that uncommon for them to be set out for strays…
This was all milling around in Tsurumi’s mind as she struggled to think of how she should say that.
Noticing the gears cranking in Tsurumi’s head, Suyin quickly said,
“My apologies, I did not mean it that way. It was just a figure of speech. But that does not explain why there were so many youkai here. They do not need to eat human food, they don’t. Hm? No, wait.”
Suyin’s eyes glinted.
“It is because New Guy-kun made them that they are attracted to it? So he is a craftsman-type, despite having that kind of aura?”
Tsurumi just nodded silently in response to Suyin’s words.
A mysterious, clear-sounding laughter shook the trees and wisteria blossoms as Suyin laughed.
“Tai hao le! This is just too interesting!”
You know, I was kind of thinking it might be possible.
Living a normal life like a normal high schooler. Stop worrying about things that just give me wrinkles between my brows. Just laughing, having fun, studying…
Today was really fun. Even though there’s a disembodied voice talking to me once in a while, and a parade of tiny youkai who capered around, the school seems to reject youkai, and no one here knows about my reputation from before.
I met fun people, cute and dangerous girls (which is… good?), and now I have a guardian who cares about my wellbeing.
I really was just starting to think optimistically about coming to this town and starting a new life.
“Hm? Kousei, what’s up? You’re looking pale. Anemic?”
Higuchi looked over his shoulder at the me who has stopped dead in his tracks.
“Ah, no… that’s… … Where is the nearest shrine from here?”
Uwah, my voice doesn’t sound like myself at all, but right now I don’t have time to worry about that-!
“The nearest shrine? Uh… if you take a left at the building there, there should be…”
“My bad. I have to go-!”
I turn and run for it in the direction Higuchi pointed.
Behind me, I hear,
“Eh-! Kouse – wah!”
Higuchi gave a slight shriek, and I glance over my shoulder. Don’t tell me –
But THAT just brushed past Higuchi and Endo. Well, some people can sense THAT as just a wind or presence or something, so that was probably all that happened…
I’m relieved –
Shit! It’s definitely coming after me! This stupidly huge, sinister youkai!
And it’s fast!
“Oya? What’s going on now? Youkai? Is it a youkai?”
Like I have time to answer you!
I hit the small side street Higuchi had pointed out to take a left at a little too fast, and I almost fall over, nearly twisting my ankle.
“Haa, haa…What? The shrine isn’t-!”
It’s just another street, up a slight incline.
Mou, give me a break!
I can’t stop now, I’ll be eaten-!
I can’t do anything else but run.
“Damn smallfry, trying to take away my conversation partner-! Tch, the shrine is near you. This shrine, at least, I can sense, even if I’m like this.”
I don’t have the time or energy to say, ‘How can you tell’, ‘What do you mean by THIS shrine’, or ‘You’re only worried about losing your conversation partner?!’ I barely have time to even think it.
Other thoughts like, ‘How did it sense me?’ and ‘Why now?’ also flood through my head.
I grip the small protection charm in my pocket.
This charm, it should have warded the bigger youkai off completely. Even though this is the biggest and most terrifying one I’ve seen in months, even this youkai should have been avoided –
Ah, no, that man, whom I’m indebted to, said that it wouldn’t be effective forever… But why did it fail now?!
Don’t tell me the wards on the house, too-!
“Good, you’re headed in the right direction.”
What a relief. I don’t know how the voice knows, but it seems like there really is a shrine nearby. I guess I did just kind of run off while Higuchi was giving me directions…
My throat burns, and my calves protest at my reckless speed up this slope… Ah, a torii!
Aiming myself at the red torii stretched across the stairs, THWACK!
Ouch, I couldn’t slow down enough to turn, and ricocheted off the torii’s post.
I’m sorry, whichever kami-sama you are, please don’t curse me, it’s an emergency-!
Shit, after the slope, it’s stairs-! Kami-sama, I said please don’t curse me-!
Halfway up the stairs, I hear that sound. What’s it like… un. The sound those electronic, bug zapper things that fry bugs that get too close? It’s like that.
I stop, panting heavily and feeling a little faint from the tense exercise.
So even that kind of level of youkai was stopped immediately at the torii.
Now that I’m not running for my life… un. The area here feels different. Even from local shrines I had visited back where I had lived previously.
“…Un. I think he got eaten. Noooooo!”
“… Thanks … for that…”
“Fufu, of course I didn’t really think you got eaten. Your voice is resonating with that shrine’s Territory, after all. Although I’m not too happy about using it … ma, it saved my conversation partner, so I suppose I should just be happy.”
“Your… priorities… worry me.”
I’m gasping for breath between my words, but the shaky feeling I had from earlier is calming down.
Ah, it’s no good to keep standing here… let’s go up the stairs to the shrine. If it can’t see me, maybe that huge youkai will go away…
SOMETHING just flew by my face just now…! Eeeeh… Somehow I feel like the universe has just been waiting to mess with me again. I THOUGHT these past few days have been too normal-!
A roar sounds out from behind me… ehhhh.
In front of me, a stern-faced, slender older man in a hakama stood, a hand outstretched and finger pointed in my direction. His hair is pulled pack in a low ponytail.
… Human, right?
I want to believe it. And not just because I don’t want to run anymore.
I’m pretty sure that large youkai just went poof and disintegrated into a thousand pieces…! I’m pretty sure that this man was the one who did it…!
I’d like to keep my body in one piece, you know?!
The sudden fearing-for-my life has made me completely forget about the fact that I felt like my lungs were going to burst and that my legs feel like jelly.
My legs are now quivering for a different reason…
“… My apologies. Are you a … guest?”
The stern-faced man lowers his hand as he asks that question.
Something about his intonation makes me nervous, but I can only stammer,
“Y-yes, I just moved into the area and thought I should make my offerings…”
I try to keep my voice from shaking, but – why is he still staring at me like thaaaat!
With a face like he doesn’t believe me in the slightest, the man steps to one side to let me pass.
Phew… the tension goes out a little, and my body complains again as I walk up the stairs. I’m relieved he isn’t going to push for anything more…
But right when I pass him, he says,
“It was lucky for you to have decided to stop by at that time. There’s no knowing what kind of malicious influences you could have gotten caught up in.”
Ah… cold sweat is starting to flow down my face again. Don’t tell me he knows…!
“I-is that so? I don’t really know about that sort of thing, hahaha…”
I try to keep going up the steps.
“Hm… so you’re saying you know nothing about youkai or yuurei, especially the one down there.”
“E-eh? Youkai and yuurei exist? I’ve never seen any around. If there was one down there, that’s pretty scary.”
It really was. It was TERRIFYING.
The man’s brows furrow and he leans in, saying,
“You. It’s ludicrous to think that such a coincidence-“
“Fushimi-san! Jeez! Stop harassing our guests!”
Aaaah, loli miko-sama, thank you for your timing!
A small girl with a short bob and tiny tufts of hair for pigtails stands at the top of the steps, scolding the older man.
He steps back with a frown.
The girl stomped her foot.
You could almost see the sound effects as she snappily flung her hand out and pointed at the stern-faced man.
“Don’t you think that, just because you took over this shrine of Inari from Grandpa, that I’ll let you just do whatever you want! I don’t care if you’re from the main shrine, if you’re here, you’re going to treat our guests how we’ve always been treating them!”
Eeeeh… What’s this tsun-without-dere situation, here?
Whatever you say, if this is a love-comedy, this is definitely OUT. She’s definitely under 10, and this man, er, Fushimi-san, has to be in his late 30s.
I’m really glad I manage to keep this stupid comedic narration in my head.
“… Even if that’s the case, I am not merely presiding over this shrine, Yui-san. I do have a duty to protect –“
“Guu… Just wait, I’m going to take back this shrine from you-!”
“And how are you going to do that? You lose focus immediately in your training, and you’re too young to take the national exam. If you put more effort-“
“Just wait! I’ll do it! I’ll get a kitsune familiar, and I’ll take back the shrine from you-!”
“And where exactly will you find a kitsune – Yui-san!”
The girl sticks her tongue out at Fushimi-san and runs off.
Uwah. Fushimi-san, you’re the type of guy who’s not good at talking with children, aren’t you? I think he was actually trying to encourage her, but… un. It came out all wrong, Fushimi-san.
Watching her run off, he just sighs and holds a hand up to his temple.
I can’t help but ask, “I-is that going to be okay?”
Fushimi-san shoots me a glare.
“What do you mean? I’m sorry, but this is a private matter for the shrine.”
Uwah… but, I’m really worried, you know? It’s the elders’ responsibility to temper the rash behavior of the younger, right?
“No, well… I don’t really understand the situation, but is it really okay for her to try to become a kitsune-tsukai? That isn’t the realm of Inari anymore, I think… ”
If I’m not wrong, becoming a kitsune-tsukai, that is, a fox youkai user, should be in the realm of the Manifested Izuna… Not that I’m one to nitpick, but if her goal is to take over this shrine, which is a shrine for Inari… right? But maybe there are things I don’t know about.
Uwaah. When did I become this kind of occult otaku? Visions of me becoming like the FujiTana Combo and annoying people pass in front of my eyes, and I shudder in horror.
Fushimi-san sighs again, saying,
“If it’s one of Inari’s messengers, then … But you are correct. She shouldn’t think that contracting anything should be okay.”
Nonono, are you just going to leave it at that?
“Um… well, I mean … kitsune are … notorious for being tricksters, right? Isn’t it dangerous to let her make contracts with things she can’t guess their intentions to?
The stern-faced Fushimi-san scratches the back of his head with a frustrated grimace.
“Just leave her be. A 7-year-old who couldn’t sit still and fell over after her legs fell asleep during her initial training won’t have enough focus to find, let alone make a contract, with a youkai.”
He says this with a grumpy, but somehow worried, look.
Un. It’s difficult to be an outsider, but still involved with the family problems, isn’t that right, Fushimi-san?
Suddenly, he switches his line of vision to me.
“Although, I remember you saying you didn’t think youkai exist…”
Fushimi-san lowered his sharp gaze and sighed.
“Well, you seem harmless enough. It’s unforgivable to bring any unpure thing to the shrine purposefully, by the way.”
Uuu… His disjointed line of thought indicates that he totally suspects me… I’m not sure of what, but he totally suspects me!
But, well, at least he’s not pursuing the matter further.
I finish climbing the stairs, wreathed in trees, and see the shrine’s compound for the first time.
Ah, amidst the red torii are many statues of foxes. That’s right, this shrine really is a shrine of Inari, huh? This one’s a pretty big shrine. All the buildings and stages are pretty expansive…
Because Fushimi-san is watching from behind (well, I don’t know if he’s watching, but he was following me up the steps, anyway), I make VERY sure to walk on the edge of the path and to bow before passing under the torii.
At the purification basin, I make VERY sure to rinse my left hand, then my right hand, and then pour some of the water from the ladle into my left hand, rinse my mouth and make sure to spit it outside of the fountain, then finally I tilt the ladle so that the water left rinses ladle’s handle. Yosh.
Let’s see, the official method at the offertory box is bow, offer, ring the bell, bow twice, clap, pray, bow.
That’s right, I should try to do ALL of it VERY properly. Fushimi-san seems like the type who would glare at you disapprovingly if you didn’t do it right… Even though most people don’t do it right.
Heck, I didn’t even know half of this in my past life.
But, well, knowing about it in this life is an investment in my lifespan, though. Since youkai are real, I can’t rule out the blessings from the kami-sama -! Thinking that, I learned early on about the PROPER etiquette at shrines.
Un, as for the offering today … 1000 yen. That’s right, a bill-!
I did just crash into the torii and lead a malicious youkai all the way to the gate, as well as irritate the head priest … un. Even though I’m only a student, if just saying, “I’m sorry” fixed everything, there wouldn’t be any need for police. I shouldn’t skimp on this, ne.
Ah. After I bowed twice, I hear an approving, “Hm…” from behind me.
Geh, he really was watching me-! Please let your practitioners pray in peace, Fushimi-sama! It’s hard to focus like this, Fushimi-sama!
Kami-sama, I’m sorry, please don’t curse me-! I’d like to just live my life quietly, if it’s possible!
Un. Let’s go find out where all the little road-side shrines without resident priests are later, for future emergencies.
<a/n: Umu. It might seem strange that Kousei is diligently setting out food for strays, since it doesn’t seem intrinsic to his nature. And it isn’t. Don’t mind it too much for now, we’ll leave that for later.
As for the shrine etiquette… Please keep in mind this is another world and don’t use it as a blatant example. Things like bowing at the torii and the way to pray at the offering box, although it may have been in practice at one time, there’s no guarantee it’s still exactly the same today, so if you’re going to a shinto shrine, it would be better to do your own research.
Just for those wondering, ‘Tai hao le’ just means, ‘That’s too good!’
Eh… Fushimi and Yui, were you supposed to show up this early in the story…?>