Questionable Days with Yokai
Not long after Shuhei and all the other kappa departed, Naoya the wheel monk and Fumi the yuki onna took their leave too. This was the first time in ages Eisuke had ever seen all three of the wardens gathered together... It had also been a long time since he had last seen Akemi the otter, too.
And, of course, it had been a very, very long time since he had been around living humans.
It perhaps wasn't polite to eavesdrop, but Eisuke couldn't help having excellent hearing. Though he was in the kitchen for most of it, his fox ears caught every word of the conversations that ensued at that motley table of yokai and humans. And what interesting conversations they were!
At one point it looked like Shuhei was going to get violent (not surprising), and Eisuke was about to rush over to try calming the big kappa down — but the human boy had already taken matters into his own hands. Nobody in the hidden world messed with the three wardens, especially Shuhei. So that was an exciting development.
Even more intriguing was the fact the human girl had the legendary fifth magatama... But Eisuke wondered, if the boy was the descendant of Ichijo no Shunzai, then why did the girl have the magatama? A kitsune can't help but be curious. He wanted to find out more about these two humans.
How did they find this hidden world? What did they intend to use the five magatama for? Did they even have a chance of finding the lost fourth one? Why were the three wardens willing to hand over their magatama at all? Eisuke would probably need to know more concerning their relationship with Ichijo no Shunzai better, and he would probably need to work out what Akemi was hoping to get out of all this.
After Akemi finished eating her fish, she told the humans to follow her and she’d show them around town. The humans were going to be down here for at least a couple weeks, so it made sense for them to get familiar with this underground prison. Unlike all the yokai down here though (excepting Akemi), the humans would be able to leave this place once they got what they came here for.
The humans stood up from their cushions, and the boy helped adjust the top of the girl’s disheveled yukata. Perhaps she had been too worked-up over everything to have noticed.
Once her yukata was fixed, the girl walked over to where Eisuke stood behind his kitchen counter, and gave a polite bow. “Sorry for the trouble today, Mister Eisuke. And thanks for the food, it was delicious.”
“Just Eisuke is fine. And you’re very welcome... Risako. Ask me for a meal anytime during your stay here, and I’ll gladly prepare it for you.”
The girl Risako thanked him again, then joined Akemi and the boy Yasuo near the entrance. Eisuke carefully watched the two humans leave. They didn’t embrace or hold hands, or even walk out side-by-side. Not very lover-like, especially right after going through a fearful experience together.
It was just as the yuki onna said, there was something off about these two humans.
He wanted to find out what that was. He wanted to know everything about them. Because Eisuke... Because Eisuke...
Eisuke ░▒░▒░▒░ humans so very, very much.
Once all the guests were out, Eisuke got to work cleaning the table. The head hancho kappa spilled a bunch of his dish blood, and all the yuki onna's melted ice needed to be wiped up too. Fortunately the wheel monk didn't break anything. Eisuke especially appreciated Naoya's consideration in not leaving any burn marks anywhere. It was almost enough to make Eisuke hope the wheel monk would win his meaningless race... Almost. Honestly, he'd prefer to see Naoya lose and explode — partly because Naoya is such a miserable lout, and partly because explosions are entertaining to watch just in general. There would be fireworks at the summer festival, sure. But a fire eruption would be so much better.
Also Eisuke just liked Naoya's rival, Hoshi the kijikui, a lot better. No matter how Eisuke prepared her pheasant, she always ate it happily. She was a good listener, always remembered everyone's name and birthday, and never drank too much (and was a cheerful drunk, not a sad one like Naoya). And despite being a giant snail-looking monster, she never left a mess for Eisuke to clean up.
But still, perhaps Eisuke could convince her to ease up a bit in the next race — not for Naoya's sake, but for the two humans.
Once Eisuke finished putting away all the dishes, he got to work scrubbing the table and floor. He was going to have to waste quite a few of his washcloths for this mess... He would put the expense on Shuhei's tab, but then a bunch of kappa would probably just show up one night and kill him in his sleep. Well, Eisuke would probably wake up if ambushed, but it wasn't like he could fight back.
Tsutomu the crow tengu showed up while Eisuke was still washing the floor. Technically Tsutomu was Eisuke's boss, but he had never really acted like one.
“How are things?” Tsutomu asked. “Sounded like there was a bit of trouble out here. Nearly put down the book I was reading to check in on you.”
“The three wardens showed up,” Eisuke said. “They ate with Akemi and our two new guests.”
“Huh. Did they all leave?”
“Even the zashiki-warashi?!” Tsutomu tilted his head far back, pointing his beak toward the ceiling. “I'm ruined!”
Zashiki-warashi were said to bring great fortune to the places they resided in. But the catch was, if the zashiki-warashi were to ever leave, then the place would go on to suffer even greater misfortune. So it was generally good advice to make sure the zashiki-warashi of your home (or other establishment) remained content from day to day.
Eisuke scratched the back of his head. “Eh? Since when did we have a zashiki-warashi?”
“Since last night...”
Tsutomu sat down on a cushion and explained everything that happened the previous evening. Eisuke couldn't help but laugh. He wished he could have been there to bear witness to such a farce.
“And you still believed them? You're too funny, boss.”
“I had my doubts,” Tsutomu harrumphed, “but come on. Easier to accept a pathetic samurai ghost and a dopey zashiki-warashi, than two living humans showing up down here. And you know... better to be safe than sorry. It's not the world's greatest inn, but it's all I've got.”
“That girl was too old to be a zashiki-warashi, you should know that.”
“I've seen stranger things down here.”
That was probably true; Eisuke couldn't argue there.
Once he finished cleaning the table and floor, Eisuke tidied up his kitchen area and prepared some more sushi rice for the evening. He then joined his boss at the side porch where a small pond was located. They rested their feet in the lukewarm water and enjoyed some lukewarm barley tea together. Tsutomu tried flapping the great wings on his back a few times nice and slow, to try to get some air flow going. It proved more effort for him than it was worth though. Only so much you can do against this summer heat; best to just make peace with it.
“Thanks for the drink, Eisuke.” After a long pause, a long sip, and a long aaaahhhh, the crow tengu rambled. “You know, at times like this, it'd be nice if Fumi wasn't, uuhh, insane? She could put her magic to good use, cool the pond and drinks for us from time to time. Wouldn't that be nice?”
“It would,” Eisuke admitted, “but come on, boss. I'd sooner expect to see a kodama beat up a dragon, than to see one of the wardens start acting nice.”
“Maybe they will though? If the humans can actually get them to give up their magatama. The fact the wardens are willing to even consider it means there's hope for them.”
“The humans...” Eisuke stared down into the clear pool and thought over everything he knew about them. “You think they can change the wardens?”
Tsutomu didn't answer right away. He took another sip of barley tea and sighed. “No, I don't think they can. I don't think anyone can make others change. The wardens will have to change on their own.”
Eisuke didn't have anything to add to that. Boss was right.
Tsutomu set his drink aside, hunched forward a ways with his hands on his knees, and stretched out his legs. “And I get the feeling they will change, in one way or another. You and I both did.”
Tsutomu was not always an inn-keeper, and Eisuke was not always a chef.
They were once creatures of the natural world. Of the real world.
They were hunters.
“This whole world might be changing soon,” the crow tengu said. “And we'll all have to change with it.”
Eisuke set his drink aside and stared silently up at the full moon. The fake full moon.
“This whole world might be ending soon. And we'll all have to end with it.”