Questionable Days with Yokai
Things were happening a bit too quickly for Yasuo to keep up with. Akemi had returned and told him and Kitamura about there being four special magatama other than his own, that collecting them all would give them the power to swap their minds back, and how three yokai that each possessed a magatama would potentially arrive shortly. Then a wheel with a face showed up, and it was on fire for some reason, and it was depressed about losing a bunch of races(?), and then it randomly spit its magatama out at Kitamura, and then it... died? Maybe?
Kitamura stood up, glancing back and forth between the wheel creature and the yellow magatama resting in Yasuo's tea cup.
“Was that thing keeping the wheel monk alive?” she asked Akemi.
The otter bent her body far to the left. “I think it is a little more complicated than that. But he did give it up willingly, so I think—”
Kitamura grabbed Yasuo's tea cup, ran around the table to where the wheel creature lay, and dumped its contents directly into the yokai's slightly open mouth.
She took a couple steps back... which was a good idea, because a few seconds later a great burst of fire erupted from the yokai's face, nearly reaching the ceiling. The roaring pyre soon simmered down enough for the reignited wheel creature to prop itself back up again. It had returned to its normal self... if you could call perpetual self-combustion normal.
“Ya didn't have to do that,” the wheel said to Kitamura. “I said you three can have the magatama. Don'tcha want it?”
“Yes, but we don't need it if that means you'll die!” Kitamura said.
“I'm ready to go.”
“Why?” Kitamura raised her arms up. “Because you lost some race?”
Yasuo was surprised she was getting this worked up about it, but perhaps this was just how she was.
“Because I lost everything,” the wheel groaned. “Nothin' matters anymore.”
Kitamura looked over to Akemi with a troubled expression.
The otter squeaked and crawled across the table to face the wheel yokai directly. “You are a wheel monk, and can only live so long as you are on fire, correct?”
“Of course. And the fire is my very ambition.”
“I believe I understand what is going on then,” Akemi said to Kitamura and Yasuo. “A millenium or so ago, Mister Naoya here was given the magatama of ambition by Ichijo no Shunzai, because the wheel monk was deemed the most ambitious of yokai in this underground prison. Or at least, the most determined. His goal being, as you might guess, to become the fastest yokai in all history.”
“Not anymore,” muttered Naoya. “I'm nothin' but a loser. Years and years and years and years of struggling, of fighting, of believing... completely and utterly wasted.”
“I don't get it,” Kitamura said. “It looks like you're plenty fast as it is. It's not the end of the world if you're not the absolute best at something.”
Yasuo felt he understood where Naoya was coming from though. The wheel yokai's goal in life may seem pointless to others, but it meant the world to him. It was painful to work hard at something, to really give it your all — and still fail. Yasuo had never been able to become the kendo team captain, despite all his efforts. And similarly, at least in Yasuo's mind, he wasn't able to make things work out with his girlfriend Kokone.
There's probably no going back to either, Yasuo realized, if I don't manage to return to my own body before all this is over.
Akemi asked the wheel, “So I take it you have quit racing?”
“Yeah, I stopped for good maybe twenty years ago.”
“So if you truly have lost all your ambition... then chances are it is solely the power of the magatama that keeps you going.”
Yasuo wasn't sure what they were supposed to do then. They desperately needed that bead, but...
Kitamura snapped her finger. “Why don't we just help you get your ambition back then?”
“Not happenin', kid. Just accept my magatama and let me move on to whatever my next hell'll be.”
Akemi gave off a long squeak that sounded a bit forlorn. “If poor Naoya wishes to pass on, I suppose it best we respect his wishes. Perhaps he will get to reincarnate as a peregrine falcon.”
“No, I refuse!” Kitamura cried. “It sounds like Mister Wheel Monk just needs to win a race.” She turned to face him, and perhaps would have grabbed his shoulders if he had any (and if he wasn't on fire). “Would that be enough to get you revved up again? To get your inner fire as reignited as your outer fire?”
“It'll never happen. The kijikui's just too fast for me to keep up with. There's nothin' a couple-a ghost kids and a damn otter'll be able to do to change that.”
“You don't know that for sure. We can train you, and help you come up with a new strategy. Just give us a chance, and give yourself another chance. If you do, you'll finally get to beat that kijikui, Mister Wheel Monk. I promise it!”
Yasuo had no idea what a kijikui was, but he didn't think it was wise to be making a promise like this so readily. Like Naoya said, how were they going to be of any help to him? Were they going to shout a few platitudes, and then suddenly the wheel will start to spin itself faster and miraculously just barely manage to win the race?
Naoya gave a long and tired sigh, exhaling a small cloud of light smoke and sparkler-like fireworks. “Fine. Why not. There'll be a summer festival in a couple weeks, which is usually when we have all our biggest yearly contests down here. If I can win the race, then I'll probably have my ambition back and can go on livin', even without the magatama. I won't need it anymore, and I only promised to watch over it for a millennium.”
“And, theoretically speaking, what would you do if, against all likelihood, you fail to win?” Akemi asked.
“If I lose, I'm done,” Naoya said. “I'm spittin' out the magatama the moment I pass the finish line. And this time I'll be blowin' myself up, so no last second recoveries. Goin' out in a blaze of glory! Whoever finds the jewel can keep it.”
It sounded like no matter what the race's outcome would be then, Yasuo and Kitamura should be able to obtain this second magatama — and get one step closer to their goal of returning to their respective bodies. But two weeks? Yasuo did not want to be Kitamura for that long. And more significantly, he didn't want to be in a world full of monsters for that long. Some of them might be friendly enough, but he doubted they all would be.
Kitamura returned to her cushion and raised an arm in the air. “All right! Let's make sure we meet up every day until then, okay? We'll get you ready for that big race. And when you win, you're going to feel real foolish for ever doubting yourself!”
“I'm gonna need a
whoooole lot more saké,” Naoya said under his breath.
It was becoming something of a recurring theme, but Yasuo did not feel nearly as certain as Kitamura did about all this. Nobody succeeds at anything simply by believing hard enough, or even by working hard enough most of the time. Chances were fair that the kijikui yokai trained with all its might too, and had faith in itself. Right?
But perhaps it wasn't something he needed to worry over. They were soon going to get the magatama... And even if Naoya loses again, perhaps they could figure out some way to keep the wheel man from blowing himself up.
That still left three other magatama though...
A strong chill suddenly filled the room. Yasuo didn't feel a breeze, but if there was one it didn't make sense for it to be this brisk. He looked to the entrance of the restaurant and saw a young woman dressed in an elegant black kimono — one that not only had the extra-wide furisode sleeves, but a trailing hem that dragged along the floor a good ten centimeters or so. Her kimono's sash was a striking icy blue; and behind her head, clipped to the back of her long wavy black hair, there rested a large and elaborate snowflake-shaped hair ornament in that same shade of light blue.
“Is he here? Is he here?” she called out, sounding strangely... theatrical? The woman stepped forward, and that was the only step she needed to take because she slid the whole rest of the way across the restaurant, all the way to the table. There was a thin path of ice that had formed on the floor for her, Yasuo realized after the fact. Was this woman then...
“So nice to see you again, poor Fumi...” Akemi said. “...my favorite yuki onna.”
Yes, this was a fabled snow woman. Yasuo's general picture of a yuki onna was basically a femme fatale who seduced and killed poor saps up in the mountains during terrible winter snowstorms.
This woman was zealously grinning, clearly excited about something. The expression worried Yasuo, considering what he knew about this type of yokai... but if she did turn out to be bad news, perhaps she wouldn't target Yasuo? Perhaps she'd only go after Kitamura... Well, that wouldn't be good either.
In one smooth and effortless motion she gracefully sat down on a cushion to the wheel monk's left, and across from Kitamura. Up closer, Yasuo could now see that the pattern on her kimono was that of gently falling snow... but it was actually moving across the fabric. And though a kimono generally played down a woman's figure, this one could only do so much to hide the yuki onna's sightly and shapely curves. She had frigid-pale skin and frosted-blue eyes, but everything about her still seemed soft and inviting.
“Where is he?” the yuki onna asked Akemi. “I want to see him. We need to get married!” The way she spoke, it sounded like she was reciting poetry up on some stage.
“He is not here,” the otter said. “My condolences, Fumi. But he disappeared about a thousand years ago, you should know this.”
The yuki onna's ecstatic grin turned into the deepest of frowns. There wasn't a transition between the two expressions; it was instantaneous.
At the same time, the room became significantly colder. Yasuo shivered, and he instinctively bunched up his shoulders. A couple other parts of his new body also reacted to the sudden drop in temperature; Yasuo was not a fan of that. He did not fully grasp what was upsetting the yuki onna so much, but he feared she was about to turn the whole building into a block of ice.
“Hey,” the wheel monk Naoya snarled. “Don't make me haveta actually exert myself to stay alive.” His flames had almost died down once more, but were now sputtering back to life. Presumably that was thanks in part to the magatama in his head-stomach.
The kitsune arrived with another plate of saké bottles, and poured some of the rice wine into a thin saucer for the yuki onna. She downed it in one gulp, then groaned loudly. She motioned as if to slam the saucer against the table, but stopped at the last moment and set it down silently and tenderly. Yasuo wasn't sure how much of this was performative, and how much of it was just... she's not all there.
“I can't believe it...” the yuki onna said, sounding on the verge of tears. “The otter got me all excited for nothing. I thought you finally had good news for me, Akemi. Every day I search high and low, far and wide, but still my beloved remains hidden from my sight!” She placed one arm over her eyes, and raised her other arm forward. “Oh, my Hikoboshi! Your Orihime needs you! When will this eternal year pass, and at last we see one another again? When will the magpies descend to form us a bridge, so we may cross the river of stars, and we can finally embrace?” She hugged herself tight.
Kitamura spoke up. “By Hikoboshi, I'm betting you're referring to... Ichijo no Shunzai?” The thousand years Akemi specified was the clue for that, Yasuo presumed.
“Yes! The very same!” the yuki onna exclaimed, grinning madly once more. “My beloved, my darling, my one and only!”
The room had warmed back up somewhat. The kitsune Eisuke served more tea for Yasuo (giving him a new cup) and Kitamura, poured some saké in a tiny saucer for Akemi, and tossed another bottle of it for the wheel monk to chew on before returning to his kitchen.
“Sorry if I'm not following everything correctly, Miss Yuki Onna,” Kitamura said, “but is Ichijo no Shunzai... still alive?”
Without having to get up — without having to move a muscle — the snow woman slid around the table and up right against Kitamura, who leaned far enough to the side to nearly knock her head into Yasuo's.
“That would be so awful, I can't even bear to imagine it,” the yuki onna said. In the blink of an eye, she was then kneeling behind Kitamura, leaning in so her ample bosom was pressed against Kitamura's back, her arms draped in front of Kitamura's neck.
Kitamura went stiff as a corpse, or maybe a wooden board. She looked like she wanted to squirm away, but was too paralyzed to do anything more than shudder slightly. Kitamura may have been immune to the yuki onna's feminine wiles, but she wasn't immune to hypothermia.
The yuki onna whispered into Kitamura's ear. “One day I will be reunited with my truest of true loves, but until then... perhaps I could use a false love or two... Anything to keep me from going crazy...”
Yasuo wanted to get this yokai (who totally was crazy already, for the record) as far away from Kitamura as possible, but he couldn't think of a way to do so that didn't end with him getting impaled by an icicle or something. The wheel monk was just watching the proceedings absent-mindedly, while Akemi focused on lapping up saké from her saucer. Yasuo turned back to the yuki onna... and noticed that in the center of the her giant snowflake hairpiece was a blue jewel.
“So you have a magatama as well,” Yasuo said. “Just like Naoya here.”
Still smiling seductively, the yuki onna let go of Kitamura and slid back to her cushion. She then caused a thin icicle to extend from the giant snowflake's center, the magatama hanging from its tip. The icicle curved as it grew, and within a second it reached the yuki onna's open hand. She held the magatama out for all to see.
“The magatama of love. My beloved asked me to keep this safe, at least for a thousand years. And so I have. But now, perhaps it is time? Perhaps it is time I pass it on to a worthy successor. My beloved told me there would come a time... when I would need to do. Just. That.” Some sentences she spoke at a higher pitch, some at a lower one. It wasn't quite singing exactly, but it was very close at times.
Kitamura seemed to be recovering, now that the sexy lady was off her back. But what said sexy lady was saying now, Yasuo needed her to elaborate on.
“How would you determine a worthy successor?” he asked.
“I would only be willing to pass it on to one with a love so pure, a love so powerful, a love so grand, that it would make even my heart melt!”
Kitamura leaned forward, resting an arm atop the table. “You're willing to give it up then?”
“I think so. Yes, I think so. But I want to be moved. I want to be mesemerized. I want my breath taken away. I want a taste of what I will feel in my heart when I am at last reunited with my first and my last: the onmyoji without equal, the unpralleled Ichijo no Shunzai. So let me sing praises of a love that transcends time! I want to bear witness to the closest of companions, the sweetest of sweethearts, the fondest fiancé and fiancée, the most devoted Tokubei and Ohatsu!”
“Is that how it's got to be...” Kitamura said. She glanced over to Yasuo and raised an eyebrow that probably denoted either confusion or trepidation. She looked back to the yuki onna, who was still posing dramatically, and then back to Yasuo. She winked.
Yasuo had no idea what was going on, but he already didn't feel great about it. Being winked at by his own likeness certainly didn't help. He picked up his tea cup and took a long sip.
Kitamura cleared her throat. “Well that's wonderful to hear, Miss Yuki Onna. Because you see...” She leaned over to Yasuo and placed an arm around his shoulders, then pulled him in close to her. “Everything you said just now describes me and... Risako perfectly! We are the world's #1 couple.”
Yasuo violently sputtered out his tea and stammered, “Wh-wh-what? We are not.”
“Ah, she's, she's so modest,” Kitamura said with a crooked smile. She dug her toe into Yasuo's ankle. “We really are sweetbirds though, I mean lovehearts, and the ice magatama would make the perfect honeymoon gift. Don't you think so... dear Risako?”
Honeymoon? She really didn't think this through...
Yasuo forced himself to smile. He didn't like this plan of Kitamura's much at all, but at this point it seemed he had to just roll with it. “Oh... yes.” He slid one hand behind Kitamura's back, placed a hand on her chest, and rested his head against her shoulder. “I love Yasuo... a whole lot.”
“Oh, I didn't realize!” the yuki onna said, folding her arms. “It didn't look like you were lovers to me until just now... And if I'm being perfectly honest, I still have a shadow or two of a doubt.”
They couldn't convince her... But that wasn't surprising. This was not something they had planned out at all. If they wanted to—
Kitamura placed a hand under Yasuo's chin and tilted his head back a little. He looked up at Kitamura, confused.
Wait, is she thinking of...?
Kitamura stared fixedly into Yasuo's eyes and whispered. “I know one way... we could show, could show our love.”
Wait... what are you doing? You're not...?
Yasuo went stiff as a corpse, or maybe a wooden board.
Kitamura placed her lips on Yasuo's lips. But those were Yasuo's lips... and his lips were Kitamura's. It wasn't his first kiss, but it was probably Kitamura's.
But it was also his first kiss as Kitamura.
And it was with himself...
What he wanted.