Chapter 6:

[Yasuo] — In Which We Spirit Ourselves Away

Questionable Days with Yokai


Yasuo and Kitamura stood off to the side of the inn Akemi took them to, waiting for her to return with word on whether or not they'd be allowed to stay there. She had been gone a while now... The plan was for the two of them to pretend they were wandering spirits, which were apparently not an uncommon sight down in the “underground prison.” Yasuo kept an eye out for monsters, wondering what they would do if one suddenly attacked. Maybe he needed to just not care at this point though... Maybe a swift beheading at the hands of some masked and straw-caped demon would be okay.Bookmark here

Kitamura eventually broke the silence. “So I was wondering... should we just go by each other's names for now?”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” Yasuo asked.Bookmark here

“Like, should you go by Risako Kitamura, and I go by Yasuo Mizutani.”Bookmark here

Yasuo had to think it over a moment to get what her point was. “Oh, because Risako is a girl's name, and Yasuo is a boy's name.” They didn't have androgynous names Kaoru or Misao.Bookmark here

“Right.”Bookmark here

“Maybe we ought to pick our own names? I'll be Sachie for now, how about that?”Bookmark here

“You had a name in mind already? And no way, I don't want to be a Sachie. Just stick with Risako.”Bookmark here

“Very well.” Yasuo thought this would get confusing, but maybe trying to remember all-new names for each other would be even more so. “By the way, this is yours.” He pulled a smartphone out from the small snug pocket of his small snug shorts and handed it over to Kitamura.Bookmark here

She turned it on and frowned. “Not much battery left.”Bookmark here

“I doubt we'll find an outlet to charge anything with down here.”Bookmark here

Kitamura tapped away at her phone. “My mom is probably already wigging out. I'll send her a message, just in case it magically goes through somehow.”Bookmark here

Yasuo wished he could have given it a shot too. His parents also would surely grow worried after a couple days without any word from him.Bookmark here

Kitamura turned off her phone and slipped it into her pants pocket. She then stuffed her hands in both pockets and smirked. “Wow, I could fit all sorts of stuff in here. How convenient!”Bookmark here

“You could have chosen to wear...” Yasuo lifted his loose parka thing enough to point out his ridiculously low-cut shorts. “...anything other than this.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, but it's summer, and I like to show off my legs.”Bookmark here

Yasuo considered a retort to give, but noticed there was somebody approaching them. He turned to face a tall woman wearing a dark purple kimono with ornate gold and silver designs on it (they appeared to be temari, intricately-embroidered handballs). She had her hair tied up with a bunch of long pins, which seemed to direct attention to her unusually sharp-looking eyes (the same shade of purple as her kimono, Yasuo observed).Bookmark here

There was an air of stately sophistication about her... Maybe it was the long thin pipe she delicately held in one hand? Beneath her other arm, pressed against her torso, she held what appeared to be a bundle of fabric. There was also a sheathed sword hanging in her light green sash, Yasuo noticed. He tensed up, not sure if it was already time to start running.Bookmark here

“I have managed to reserve you each a room,” the stranger said. Her voice was the exact same as Akemi's... so this woman must have been the otter's human form. “I paid the fees, but you will need to convince the owner of the inn that you are both yokai of some sort. So put these on; they will help you blend in better.”Bookmark here

She handed to Kitamura what appeared to be the apparel of a traditional samurai: a deep navy blue kimono, black pleated hakama trousers, and even a dark gray kataginu — a formal sort of vest with broad pointed shoulders. All of this, along with an undergarment, sash, and tabi socks.Bookmark here

“Should I ask how you got all this?” Kitamura asked.Bookmark here

“Merely borrowing them from a friend of a friend of a friend. Perhaps a few more of a friends, it matters not,” Akemi said. “Tonight you shall be the ghost of a samurai who died protecting an inn.”Bookmark here

“Oh, that sounds good! I'll act tough and... cool.” Kitamura struck a pose, punching the air a couple times.Bookmark here

Yasuo did not find her display of confidence reassuring.Bookmark here

Akemi proceeded to hand Yasuo a red kimono with a delicate yellow flowers design, along with a wide light blue sash. It was the sort of kimono with extremely wide sleeves, very formal-looking.Bookmark here

“You shall be a zashiki-warashi,” Akemi said. “Be a pleasant little house spirit who will bring good fortune to the establishment.”Bookmark here

“I thought they were supposed to be like... three or five years old?” Yasuo asked. He wasn't a yokai expert, but he had a general idea of what a zashiki-warashi was like.Bookmark here

“They can be older,” Akemi said. “You are diminutive enough to pass for... a twelve-year-old.”Bookmark here

“No way!” It was Kitamura who took offense to this. “I do not look twelve.”Bookmark here

Akemi ignored her and instructed Yasuo, “Try to act as if you are ten or thereabouts.” She turned her head to take a long puff of her pipe, and slowly breathed out a thin trail of smoke.Bookmark here

“Right...” was all Yasuo was willing to say on the matter. The very notion of dressing up as a kokeshi doll-like “parlor child” and acting all cute and innocent... He was hard-pressed to imagine a more embarrassing scenario to ever have to live through.Bookmark here

Akemi instructed Yasuo and Kitamura to just change behind the building. Changing clothes together was awkward of course, but it seemed they were both tired enough to just go through with it for the sake of getting it over with as quickly as possible. There was also the fact that it wasn't like they had anything to hide from each other... Nothing they hadn't seen before. And as for their current bodies — well, there was no not being aware of each part of it, when you were perpetually existing with it.Bookmark here

Akemi ended up helping Yasuo with the kimono, which she called a furisode. On select occasions Yasuo had worn yukata and kimono before, but never one as elaborate as this. It was more complicated than Kitamura's outfit, which was somewhat similar to what Yasuo wore for kendo (minus the armor). The furisode was also more layered, and thus heavier and more irritating to wear on such a muggy night... but he was supposed to be a spirit, so he needed to act like the summer heat didn't bother him.Bookmark here

“Wow!” Kitamura exclaimed. “I look so cute in that!”Bookmark here

Yasuo glanced away, wishing he could keep himself from blushing. “It's not you wearing this.”Bookmark here

“But it looks like it. Here, if you mimic my actions, I can pretend I'm looking in a mirror.” She stepped to the left, then to the right, motioning her arms the opposite direction with each step.Bookmark here

Please... this isn't the time, Yasuo thought.Bookmark here

Akemi walked over to Kitamura and handed over the sword she had brought with her.Bookmark here

“You will have to make do with just a wakizashi,” Akemi said. “It was all I could acquire on short notice.”Bookmark here

Yasuo had to hope that whoever the otter “acquired” the short sword from wouldn't show up in a rage and attack Kitamura. Of course he didn't want her to get killed, but he also didn't want his body getting maimed while it was on loan.Bookmark here

Kitamura slid the sheathed sword in her sash at the left hip, and Yasuo helped her adjust the angle of it properly to look more authentic. Kitamura's (or rather, Yasuo's) hairstyle wasn't accurate for a samurai, but perhaps details like that could be overlooked if Kitamura puts on a convincing enough act.Bookmark here

“Best of luck to the both of you,” Akemi said. “I have my own home to go back to, but I will return here tomorrow to properly show you around the town and hopefully prepare a plan of action. Good night~”Bookmark here

“Wait, you're leaving us?” Kitamura yelled.Bookmark here

In the blink of an eye, Akemi transformed back into an otter and dashed off to the street, too quick for Kitamura to even attempt reaching down for her. There wasn't much time for Yasuo to notice, but it looked like even in her otter form, Akemi was now wearing a tiny kimono. It had the same style as the one she wore in her human form, but was adjusted to allow for nimble movement on all fours.Bookmark here

Yasuo was not a fan of this turn of events, but there wasn't much he could do about it. He could perhaps call out for Akemi and try searching for her, but it was probably safer to just go straight to the room the otter had reserved for him. He was going to have to convince the inn-keeper that he was a zashiki-warashi though...Bookmark here

He looked over to Kitamura, who admittedly looked the part of a resolute swordsman rather nicely, save for her expression. She looked tense, but not in the right sort of way.Bookmark here

“Don't stress too much about it,” Yasuo said. “I don't think Akemi will abandon us for good.”Bookmark here

“I don't want to face the yokai in there all alone!”Bookmark here

“Hey, I'll be there too... And I don't think Akemi would leave us if this yokai is truly a threat.” That may have just been wishful thinking though.Bookmark here

“She didn't even tell us what kind of yokai it is...”Bookmark here

That would have been nice to know; one of them should have probably asked about that.Bookmark here

Yasuo remembered something else he had been meaning to ask about though. “Kitamura, while I'm thinking about it, could I get my necklace back from you? With the magatama on it.” He had already told her about how it was a memento from his grandfather, and that it was his good luck charm. Not that it had given him much good luck lately, but he just wanted to have something of his on him. Something to center him, to steady him perhaps.Bookmark here

“Oh, sure!” Kitamura took off the necklace and handed it over to Yasuo.Bookmark here

He put the necklace on and slipped it beneath his kimono. He had hoped to feel a sense of relief with it back on, but the magatama bead slid down and rested right between his... breasts. (Sigh.) It was kind of distracting, honestly. Yasuo considered pulling the necklace back up and just wearing it over his kimono, but Akemi had said the magatama was something special in this yokai realm. It seemed wisest to keep it hidden for now.Bookmark here

“All right, let's go,” Yasuo said, not feeling ready at all.Bookmark here

They decided to leave their anachronistic luggage and shoes hidden in the bushes behind the building for the time being.Bookmark here

The inn was a large wooden structure that looked similar to the mansion above ground, but not quite as big. It was much nicer-looking though, very clean and well-maintained. Yasuo and Kitamura walked around to a spacious overhanging porch, passed under the entrance's curtain, and found themselves in what looked to be a commodious old-style restaurant. All the long floor tables were empty, so they must have stopped serving dinner a while ago.Bookmark here

At a smaller square table in the back though, there sat an imposing figure: a large man with the head of a crow, and with long black wings sticking out from his back... Very obviously a yokai. Yasuo recognized it as a crow tengu. He didn't actually know much about them unfortunately, beyond images he had seen of them dressed either as violent warriors or as mountain ascetics. This crow tengu was dressed more simply in a dark green yukata with white stripes.Bookmark here

He stood up as soon as he saw Yasuo and Kitamura enter, and bowed. Even with this deep of a bow though, his head was still above Kitamura's.Bookmark here

“Welcome. I'm the inn-keeper Tsutomu. Are you two the wandering spirits Akemi told me about?”Bookmark here

The relaxed voice coming out of that dangerously jagged beak somehow sounded like a normal human's. From what Yasuo could tell by the yokai's half-exposed arms, the black and charcoal crow feathers didn't cover the entirety of his muscular body — but he did have sharp-looking claws at the end of his bony fingers. No matter how polite this inn-keeper might act, Yasuo couldn't let himself forget this was still a monster that could swoop towards him and slit his neck in about two seconds flat.Bookmark here

Yasuo wasn't sure if he should introduce himself first... and apparently Kitamura was wondering the same thing, because they glanced at each other a few times before they both clumsily gave a yes to the crow tengu. Yasuo bowed, and Kitamura followed. Kitamura stood straight again before Yasuo though.Bookmark here

“I am Ri... Yasuo Kita... Mizutani,” Kitamura said. “I, I died 400, 500... 400 years ago. A great battle in front of an inn. I treasured that inn, but it burned down in a fire. My grandfather's inn, that he built with his own two hands. So I've wandered the lands, searching, searching. For an inn with the same, the same grandeur. If ever a threat poses danger... If ever a dangerous threat imposes... If ever this inn is faced with a dangerous threat! I will! Defend it with my life! My ghost life!”Bookmark here

Kitamura ended this speech with an attempt to draw out her sword, but she grabbed the scabbard and pulled the whole sword and scabbard together out from her sash. The still-sheathed weapon flopped down to the tatami floor, and Kitamura just stood there staring down at it, frozen in time. Yasuo could only guess what cool pose Kitamura had intended, but honestly it was probably for the best that she didn't brandish the wakizashi in front of the inn-keeper.Bookmark here

...Who looked entirely nonplussed. “Well, I can see why you died in battle, at least.”Bookmark here

Yasuo wasn't sure if the crow tengu actually bought a single thing about the story at all, but maybe he just took Kitamura for an incredibly incompetent samurai ghost. He had to try and salvage this.Bookmark here

“Mizutani was a samurai, but he's also... an aspiring rakugo comedian! Risako thinks he's very funny!” Yasuo said, trying to sound as cute as possible. “Risako is Risako Kitamura, a zashiki-warashi. Prepare for lots of good fortune, Mister Crow Tengu. Risako will make sure your amaaaazing inn will get lots of moneys!” Yasuo smiled and winked, leaning forward and holding up a hand to the side of his face like an idol singer girl would.Bookmark here

Yasuo felt like he held that pose for an eternity and a half, just waiting for the yokai to respond. Sweat poured down his face, and it took the entirety of his self-control to keep from shaking.Bookmark here

I'm sorry, Mister Crow Tengu. Feel free to just kill me now, if you'd like.Bookmark here

Finally the crow tengu started laughing. Or cawing, more like. “Well, technically I am earning some more money thanks to you, since Akemi paid for your stay here. How about I show you two to your rooms.”Bookmark here

The rooms were more or less what Yasuo expected from a traditional inn. Tatami straw mat flooring, and sliding latticed paper-covered doors for access to either the inside hallway or the outside deck. There was enough room for them to lie down in, but not much else.Bookmark here

After the crow tengu left them, they decided to go back out to get their luggage and exchange suitcases, since it wasn't like their old clothes were going to fit them anymore. They picked out what things they wanted to keep with them first though.Bookmark here

“I'm just amazed we got through all this unscathed,” Kitamura said. “We encountered a dangerous yokai, and didn't get killed! Nice job on playing your role, by the way.” Her stomach growled loudly. “Ah, I wish the restaurant could have still been open... But I'm tired enough that I'll probably just fall right asleep anyways.”Bookmark here

Yasuo was exhausted too. He wasn't so sure they were in the clear with the crow tengu, but at least it seemed like they could get some sleep. He just wished the pain in his leg would go away.Bookmark here

“I guess we'll figure out what to do next tomorrow then,” Yasuo said. “Good night, Kitamura.”Bookmark here

They separated, each to their own little room. Yasuo rolled out the cotton futon provided for him and laid out the thin summer blanket and tiny pillow (which was strangely filled with... beans? seeds?). This arrangement wasn't going to be as comfortable as modern bedding, but it would have to do.Bookmark here

What am I supposed to sleep in though? he wondered. No way he was going to wear this excessive kimono all night; his whole futon would get drenched in sweat.Bookmark here

Yasuo's door slid open, and Kitamura peeked her head in. “By the way, don't do anything weird with my body tonight... okay?”Bookmark here

“Right. Of course.”Bookmark here

“...You know what I mean by anything weird, right?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“What do I mean?”Bookmark here

“You want me to say it?”Bookmark here

“I guess you don't have to.”Bookmark here

“Good night.”Bookmark here

“Good night...” But she didn't leave. She stood there, just frowning at the floor. “You can tell me to not do anything weird with your body either.”Bookmark here

“I won't ask you to make a promise you can't keep.”Bookmark here

“Hey! I'm, I'm not some kind of a... p-pervert!”Bookmark here

“Is that so. Good night then, Kitamura.” Yasuo pushed her out of his room and slid the door shut.Bookmark here

“I mean it!” Kitamura said from outside the door. “I won't do anything weird!”Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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