Chapter 17:

[Yasuo] — A Date with Whatever the Opposite of Destiny is

Questionable Days with Yokai


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The last twenty-four hours were a whirlwind of apprehension for Yasuo. An upset Kitamura had taken off in the middle of a storm, and so Yasuo and Eisuke spent most of the rest of the day looking for her. Their search availed them nothing though, and Yasuo struggled to get any sleep back at the inn that night.Bookmark here

Fortunately the next morning, Kitamura showed up along with the inn-keeper Tsutomu. Apparently Kitamura had stumbled upon the crow tengu's mountain shelter and spent the night there, and the two hit it off well enough that Tsutomu spent the whole day training Kitamura for her upcoming duel with the giant kappa. Yasuo didn't know how much a single day of sparring was going to help, but perhaps Kitamura could at least glean a couple useful tips.Bookmark here

As to be expected, Yasuo's reunion with Kitamura was strained and graceless. They each apologized for various things, but it felt more like something they just had to get out of the way for the sake of acting like a happy couple (for the sake of getting the yuki onna's magatama... for the sake of getting their minds swapped back... for the sake of them getting out of this underground prison). At the very least, Kitamura wasn't going to pressure Yasuo to give up his magatama, since they would be getting one to three more of them soon enough, and Kitamura could work with those in her onmyodo efforts of finding the final fifth one.Bookmark here

While Kitamura trained, Yasuo spent most of the rest of that day getting roped into preparations for the summer festival. The yuki onna saw that Yasuo didn't have anything to do, so she put him to work. Yasuo was concerned about being alone with the temperamental yuki onna, but they didn't actually interact much.Bookmark here

That evening after dinner, Yasuo tried to work out a plan with Kitamura for how they were going to act during the festival. The yuki onna was likely going to test them in every way she could think of, so they needed to be prepared for anything... But Kitamura had an odd change in attitude regarding the whole thing.Bookmark here

“I think we need to not stress the details so much,” she said. “You said your girlfriend never really acted lovey-dovey with you, right? Maybe we shouldn't either. If a couple really loves each other, they'll just be their natural selves around each other, right? The trick then is to not act romantic. Otherwise it'll feel forced.”Bookmark here

Yasuo stared into his cup of tea, mulling over this notion of being romantic by not being romantic. “Sure, we don't want to look fake. But I'm pretty sure the yuki onna really wants us to put on a show for her...”Bookmark here

If Kitamura wasn't even going to attempt pretending to love him, then what was the point?Bookmark here

Of course, Kitamura had never gone on a serious date with anyone before, let alone gone on one as a boy. How suave and debonair of a gentleman could he expect her to suddenly be?Bookmark here

“It'll all work out,” Kitamura said. “If we have a good time at the festival, the yuki onna will have a good time too. So let's just relax and have fun tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“All right.” Yasuo was pretty sure he was going to have to just pick up the slack for Kitamura on this one. But perhaps that was only fair; she already had enough on her plate. At the same time though, how natural was he going to be able to act? He didn't love Kitamura, and he had to play the role of a girl for all this.Bookmark here

Sink or swim, I guess. That seemed to have become his mantra over these past couple weeks.Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

The next morning after breakfast, they met with Naoya one last time at their training field. They timed his laps, and to Yasuo's surprise the wheel monk had actually improved a surprising amount. His average time was a good seven seconds quicker than it was back when they first timed him a couple weeks ago. Upon hearing this, Naoya leaped up and down several meters, literally bursting with fiery enthusiasm with each jump.Bookmark here

“I'm goin' to win! I'm goin' to win! I can't fail, champions! On the trail, champions!”Bookmark here

“We'll be rooting for you, Mister Naoya,” Kitamura said. “Give it your all, and you'll come out of that race a winner!”Bookmark here

Yasuo was impressed by the wheel monk's progress, but he still didn't think it would be enough to defeat the giant snail at the race tonight. It felt like there a sliver of a chance now though... so who knows. Maybe Naoya really would be victorious.Bookmark here

After the wheel monk took off to go “get a proper rest in” (whatever that entailed for him), Akemi showed up to give Yasuo and Kitamura some final advice. She was in her otter form, but there was a certain gleam in those beady little eyes of hers that hinted at her high hopes for the day.Bookmark here

“Your primary goal for today is to acquire Fumi's magatama of love, and then Naoya's magatama of ambition,” she said. “But do be cautious around them both. In Fumi's case, if you can remind her even a little of her blissful days with her beloved Ichijo no Shunzai, then I am confident she will pass on her magatama willingly, just as she promised. She is desperate to relive even a moment of those happier times, even vicariously so.”Bookmark here

If that were true, then proving that they were the greatest couple in the world wasn't really the true goal here. The yuki onna just wanted to feel assured that her magatama would end up in the hands of someone who had the same sort of bond she had with Ichijo no Shunzai, Yasuo's presumed ancestor.Bookmark here

Akemi continued, “As for Naoya, I am aware he has already promised to give you his magatama after the race, but I would not count on that as an absolute certainty. The two of you have given him a remarkable boost in confidence... I commend you for this, but I also fear what he may do should he lose this race after he has put such an abundance of newfound faith in himself.”Bookmark here

In other words, it was going to be much more painful for him to lose now that he put all his hopes into this. There was a chance that Kitamura's plans would backfire dramatically.Bookmark here

Kitamura swiped her arms in front of her dramatically. “There will be no more of that kind of negative talk, especially around Mister Naoya. He needs all the positive vibes he can get at this critical point in his life.”Bookmark here

Emiko squeaked, switching back and forth between standing on all fours and on only her hind legs. “Understood, Miss Kitamura. But do be careful, all the same! I would hate for either of you to suffer needless injury, should poor Naoya choose to go out with a bang...”Bookmark here

“He won't,” Kitamura said. “I guarantee it! Likewise, I guarantee Miss Fumi will pass on her magatama to us by the day's end.”Bookmark here

Perhaps it was a good thing Kitamura had this much confidence, this much impulsiveness. She probably needed it to make up for Yasuo's aimlessness, his diffidence.Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

After lunch, Yasuo and Kitamura helped each other look their best for their big fake date. Kitamura assisted Yasuo with the makeup (the trick with the mascara, it turned out, was to not use too much of it — he needed to wipe some of it off the applicator first), and Yasuo helped Kitamura style her hair with gel. He hadn't pushed her to use it before, but if he had to put in extra effort to look presentable then she could too, at least a little.Bookmark here

Akemi had acquired some nicer yukata for them to wear today. At this point, Yasuo was able to put on his yukata on his own without much difficulty. It was a black one elaborately patterned with all sorts of white, yellow, red, and blue flowers. Yasuo wondered if this might not look cheery enough, but Akemi insisted the outfits she picked out for them would help remind the yuki onna of herself and Ichijo no Shunzai. Bookmark here

Once Yasuo got the yukata on, Akemi took on her human form and helped Yasuo tie up his hair and adorn it with a hairpiece. It featured a large red flower, a couple small white flowers, and a few delicate lavender flowers. A tsubaki, a couple jasmines, and a few orchids, Akemi told him. There were three short strings that hung down from the ornament, each adorned with tiny flower petals.Bookmark here

Kitamura meanwhile wore a striking light gray yukata patterned with thin black outlines of diamond shapes. It was a bit dizzying to stare at closely, but at a passing glance it looked stately, perhaps even commanding. It seemed the sort of social gathering outfit an onmyoji would wear, when not in the more courtly robes they were normally associated with (at least in Yasuo's mind).Bookmark here

“Well, how do I look?” Kitamura asked, glancing upward and scratching the back of her neck nervously.Bookmark here

“I think it'd be rather vain of me to call you handsome,” Yasuo said.Bookmark here

“P-pretend to be me answering the question.”Bookmark here

“How would you answer it?”Bookmark here

“I-I'd say I'm, you're, you're very handsome, of course! Or, I mean, y-you look sharply-dressed, I mean.”Bookmark here

Yasuo clasped his hands together and smiled warmly. “You look sharply-dressed, my dear!”Bookmark here

Kitamura frowned and shuddered. “It's so off-putting, seeing me act like that.”Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

Late afternoon, they met with Fumi, the yuki onna, at a small teahouse run by a... light blue fireball. When it brought a tray of wagashi sweets to the floor table they were sitting at, Yasuo noticed the floating tray glowed a similar light blue. The small ball of flame silently set the tray down on the table, then repeated this process with the green tea. The trays stopped glowing once they were set on the table. It seemed the haunting orb could prepare tea and confections telekinetically.Bookmark here

The teahouse was much smaller than Eisuke's restaurant, and had a more rustic, cozier feel to it. It didn't seem like the sort of place the yuki onna would have picked for a get-together, but it wasn't like Yasuo knew her well. It felt odd to be eating without Eisuke around. Thinking of the kitsune, Yasuo wondered if maybe he could put on a more convincing act if he pretended Kitamura was actually Eisuke posing as her. (Well, posing as Yasuo, technically.)Bookmark here

What an embarrassing train of thought...Bookmark here

“You two go ahead and act, as, if! I'm, not, here,” the yuki onna said, her voice rising up, then rising down. “Or you can just pretend I'm a friend who happened to run into you... But please, oh please, let your focus be on one another this glorious evening!”Bookmark here

The unnatural way this snow woman spoke didn't sit well with Yasuo, but perhaps it was just something she couldn't help. The steam from her cup of tea vanished as soon as she picked it up, Yasuo noticed. Bookmark here

Guess it makes sense that the tea would cool so quickly in her grasp, and that she wouldn't want to eat or drink anything hot.Bookmark here

“Thank you so much, Miss Fumi,” he said with a polite bow. He then smiled at Kitamura, who was chewing on a sweet dango dumpling. “What are you looking forward to most tonight, Yasuo?” He decided to save terms like darling for special moments, should any arise. He didn't want there to be any special moments, but the yuki onna surely would... He was just going to have to put up with it.Bookmark here

It took Kitamura a few awkward seconds to finish chewing the glutinous rice confection.Bookmark here

Probably should've waited to ask her a question...Bookmark here

Once she swallowed, she responded, “I'm looking forward to seeing your face illuminated by tonight's fireworks, of course.”Bookmark here

“Oh ho!” the yuki onna exclaimed with a grin. “That's good, that's five points.”Bookmark here

“Points?” Yasuo repeated.Bookmark here

“Yes, if you end the evening with at least ten thousand points, I'll consider the two of you worthy of my precious magatama.”Bookmark here

“Ten thousand?” Yasuo and Kitamura both shouted.Bookmark here

“Do not worry your precious little heads,” the yuki onna said. “Different things are worth different amounts of points. Don't mind me. I'll be rooting for you!”Bookmark here

There was no way to not mind her when she was a live audience literally sitting across the table from them. But in a way the absurdity of it all took the edge off this unpleasant scene.Bookmark here

“H-How about you, Risako?” Kitamura asked.Bookmark here

Yasuo turned toward her. “Hm?”Bookmark here

“H-How about you?”Bookmark here

“How about I what?”Bookmark here

“What are you looking forward to most tonight?”Bookmark here

“Oh. I'm looking forward to...” He was about to say the fireworks, but that was just repeating what Kitamura said. But maybe that would've been a good thing? It felt too cliché. “I'm looking forward to having some shaved ice. If they have any.”Bookmark here

“You're in luuuuck,” the yuki onna said. “I will be providing shaved ice for anyone who wants some at the festival tonight!”Bookmark here

“That'll be a nice way to cool off a bit,” Kitamura said, before plopping a strawberry daifuku in her mouth.Bookmark here

The conversation kind of died there. He didn't expect Kitamura to bring up a new topic, so he had to come up with something while he took a sip of green tea.Bookmark here

“Everything here has such a refined taste to it,” he said.Bookmark here

“Yes, it's all really great,” Kitamura said, nodding regardfully. She looked to the light blue fireball hovering near a small table in the back of the small room. “My compliments to the chef.”Bookmark here

“Don't think chef is the right word,” Yasuo said.Bookmark here

“I mean, tea... person. Er, fire wisp, not person. Tea fire wisp. And patissier.”Bookmark here

“Not patissier!” He nearly palmed his face, but remembered all the effort he had put into his makeup and stopped himself.Bookmark here

Kitamura shakily raised her hands in the air. “Tea fire wisp and. And. Sweets, sweets chef.”Bookmark here

“Confectioner, confectioner! Or how about, you just say host! My dear!” Yasuo tried to correct his agitated voice by adding a term of affection he had meant to only use for special moments.Bookmark here

“Host! My compliments to the host!” Kitamura stiffly bowed a couple times toward the light blue fireball. How the yokai reacted to these shenanigans, Yasuo could only imagine, since the floating flame orb didn't have a face and didn't seem capable of speech.Bookmark here

“Oh! Ho, ho, ho, ho!” the yuki onna chortled. “How deliiiight. Full. A hundred points. Please, please, keep-this-up-for me!”Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

At sunset, Yasuo and Kitamura walked — and the yuki onna glided — down the road to look at all the summer festival stands that the yokai had set up. For the first time down here, Yasuo got to see a real crowd of the monsters and spirits. There had to be hundreds of them, and the booths went all the way from the inn down to the giant arched bridge. It made Yasuo think of the famous legend of the pandemonious night parade of one hundred yokai. It was probably closer to a thousand, in this case.Bookmark here

Fortunately, it looked like everyone was just out to enjoy the festivities. Yasuo could hear taiko drums and various stringed instruments from several different distances, all just barely noticeable above the chatter of this hidden world's denizens.Bookmark here

Kitamura clasped his hand with Yasuo's. “Should we try some of the games, Risako?”Bookmark here

Yasuo clasped her hand in return and smiled. “Yes, let's see if we can scoop up a goldfish.” It was just the first summer festival activity that came to mind; he didn't actually care about winning a goldfish.Bookmark here

They soon found the middle-aged bookstore lady — the sumo-sized calico cat — running a goldfish-scooping booth. A large wooden basin was full of water and... one huge goldfish.Bookmark here

Wait, is that a goldfish? It was about the size of a steamed pork bun. About the same shape too.Bookmark here

“It'll be one gold coin to play,” the cat said. “That's only fair, right? Since it's a gold fish.”Bookmark here

“Seems kind of expensive, just for the chance to get one,” Kitamura said. She had been given some money by Akemi to use at the festival, but only so much.Bookmark here

“You get three chances,” the cat said. “Nyat such a bad deal after all, huh?”Bookmark here

“It's still a bad deal,” Kitamura said.Bookmark here

The cat beckoned with her paw. “I'll be nice this once and offer you a bonus fourth chance.”Bookmark here

“We can perhaps come back to this booth later, Yasuo,” Yasuo whispered to Kitamura. “Let's look around some more.”Bookmark here

“If my darling wants a goldfish, then I can at least try my best to win her one!” Kitamura said, handing over a large coin to the large cat.Bookmark here

“Hoo boy,” Yasuo said under his breath.Bookmark here

Kitamura bent her knees down and hunched low so she could get close to the water and watch the fish carefully. The cat handed her a paper scooper to pick the fish up with, and a bowl to place the fish in. Chances were very low that Kitamura was going to be able to get that fish... The paper on the scooper was very thin, and would tear easily once placed underwater. Normally the basin would be full of much smaller fish than the one the bookstore cat provided here. If the paper would fall apart under the weight of a tiny baby goldfish, there was no way—Bookmark here

Kitamura scooped up the abnormally chunky goldfish and plopped it into her bowl.Bookmark here

“Whaaaat?” the cat exclaimed, placing her paws on her head in disbelief.Bookmark here

“Amazing!” the yuki onna proclaimed. “You didn't even need the other three tries!”Bookmark here

Yasuo was stunned, but only for a second. He saw that the paper of the scooper had indeed been ruptured from the weight of the heavy fish, but then he realized the circumference of the thin wooden circle for the scoop was slightly smaller than the size of the goldfish.Bookmark here

“I did nyat think this through...” the cat lady lamented.Bookmark here

“I'd say that's worth some points,” the yuki onna said. “Fifty points for not backing away from a challenge for the sake of his love, and a bonus ten points for succeeding!”Bookmark here

Yasuo wanted to say, You've got to be kidding me, but he needed to look pleased with Kitamura's success. “That was really cool, Yasuo.”Bookmark here

“Here you go, Risako,” Kitamura said, handing Yasuo the black ceramic bowl and its oversized suffocating goldfish. Perhaps riding off the thrill of her swift victory, Kitamura gave Yasuo a quick peck on the cheek.Bookmark here

Yasuo nearly dropped the bowl, shocked Kitamura would do something so outrageously spontaneous. But thinking it over for a good half-second... he probably shouldn't have been shocked.Bookmark here

Kitamura and the yuki onna both chuckled, and Yasuo realized his face must have turned a deep red.Bookmark here

Yasuo turned around with a sigh. “Let's go! I want to find this goldfish a good home.”Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

The three of them walked to the arched bridge and released the goldfish into the river. Yasuo didn't want to be carrying around a bowl all evening, so they returned it to the cat when they ran into her at a takoyaki stand.Bookmark here

Kitamura bought some of the grilled octopus dumplings for herself and Yasuo — (the yuki onna didn't want any) — and after they ate they took a look at some of the other booths. They listened to a tanuki play the koto, bought a couple paper fans from a living paper fan, and attempted a rifle-shooting game run by the ghost of an Edo-period Dutch trader.Bookmark here

“You speak Japanese really well,” Kitamura had told him.Bookmark here

“I have lived here for a few centuries now...” the Dutch man said. “Though perhaps lived isn't the right word for most of it.”Bookmark here

After Kitamura tried shooting a few times at some paper targets (and missing), Yasuo asked for a turn. He felt he'd have better aim than Kitamura, though he wasn't sure if his shift in height and whatnot would affect things.Bookmark here

Kitamura glanced nervously from Yasuo to the yuki onna, then back to Yasuo. “How about we head back to the river, Risako? It looked like they're going to float paper lanterns down it soon. Perhaps we can write a wish on one and release it into the river.”Bookmark here

Yasuo didn't get why Kitamura was changing the topic so forcibly. But then he remembered he was a girl now, and worked out the thought process Kitamura must have gone through.Bookmark here

As they headed back to the river, the yuki onna confirmed Yasuo's suspicion. “Placing the safety of his beloved above all else! Ah... Ah... That is worth a huuuundred points!”Bookmark here

Good grief! Yasuo thought.Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

Once twilight arrived, Yasuo and Kitamura each released a paper lantern boat into the river. Kitamura's wish was to forever be with my beloved Risako, and Yasuo's wish was to forever be with my darling Yasuo. In a way that kind of was what they each truly wished for, but in a very different sense from how the yuki onna interpreted it. She gave them a couple hundred more points for their touching wishes.Bookmark here

Maybe we really will get her magatama, Yasuo thought. She hasn't been so hard to please after all.Bookmark here

As they headed back across the arched bridge, Yasuo tripped, his right foot slipping out of his wooden sandal. Kitamura was there to steady him, luckily... That probably earned them some more of those precious points.Bookmark here

“Ah, looks like the strap broke,” Kitamura said, picking up the sandal. Bookmark here

That was a remarkably clean cut across the strap, Yasuo couldn't help but notice. He glanced back to the yuki onna behind them, but her face only displayed concern.Bookmark here

This is probably a test, Yasuo thought.Bookmark here

“You've got another pair of geta sandals at the inn, right? I'll go run and get them!” Kitamura immediately took off, leaving Yasuo dumbfounded.Bookmark here

“Wait, Yasuo!” Yasuo stretched out his arm, but it was too late. Kitamura was already heading down the other half of the bridge.Bookmark here

“My, my, my, my, my...” the yuki onna said in a low, ominous voice.Bookmark here

The air around Yasuo suddenly became much colder, to the point he literally shivered. He was afraid to look back, but there was not running away from the likes of a yokai this powerful.Bookmark here

The yuki onna was staring forward blankly, wide-eyed, with a truly icy glare. She breathed heavily, almost as if she were hyperventilating. The giant snowflake hairpiece behind her head had grown in size, tens of incredibly sharp-looking icicles extending from each corner.Bookmark here

“He left his beloved behind! Alone! At a mass gathering of monsters!”Bookmark here

Yasuo had to try to calm the yuki onna down somehow. Her magatama was still on the line of course, but more importantly, so was his life. This was the exact sort of situation he feared ending up in most in regards to the passionate snow woman.Bookmark here

“W-wait, it-it's...” His teeth were chattering from the suddenness of this cold spell. “It's okay. Yasuo will b-be right b-back.”Bookmark here

“How could he?” the yuki onna screamed pitifully. “How could he leave me? How could he leave me when I need him so badly?”Bookmark here

This whole festival date obviously carries some extra meaning to the yuki onna...Bookmark here

Yasuo decided to try directing her attention on something else. “Miss Fumi! I-it was you who cut the strap off my s-sandal, wasn't it?” Yasuo pointed an accusing finger toward her.Bookmark here

The yuki onna furrowed her brow, much more maliciously than Yasuo had ever seen anyone pull off before. “Of course. I wanted to see that boy carry you like a princess! Just like my beloved did for me, when my sandal broke.”Bookmark here

“You've got to be kidding me!” This time Yasuo did say it out loud. He was mad enough that he could ignore the cold. “You think our lives, or anyone's lives, get to just play out like some love story?”Bookmark here

The yuki onna grit her teeth, furiously sliding the two rows against each other back and forth, back and forth, faster and faster and faster. Her teeth shattered, then regrew. Shattered, then regrew. Again and again. Her body shook ever more violently, her chest heaving with each frigid breath she took.Bookmark here

Not good...Bookmark here

Yasuo pointed at the yuki onna again and, at his wit's end, decided to just say anything that came to his mind.Bookmark here

“You can't kill me yet. You... You... promised me shaved ice!”Bookmark here

All of the new jagged icicles that had extended from the yuki onna's snowflake hairpiece fell off at once, clattering noisily against the wooden bridge. She tilted her head violently to her left and grinned, still wide-eyed.Bookmark here

“Shaved ice? You say? Okay, okay. Let's seeeeeeee...” the yuki onna sang in a gloomy, haunting tone. “What is your favorite fruit, Risako?”Bookmark here

It seemed the yuki onna's fury had been quelled for the time being. But she clearly was plotting something sinister here, so Yasuo couldn't let his guard down. For now, he decided to play along with the yuki onna.Bookmark here

Perhaps she'll make me some shaved ice, and by the time Kitamura returns she'll have calmed down a bit. Kitamura's presence then might placate her fully, but if not... Well, she's got those magical talismans. She should be smart enough to use a fire one.Bookmark here

“My favorite fruit is watermelon,” Yasuo said.Bookmark here

“The fruit of summer,” the yuki onna said. “Very well then, I'll be. Right. Back.” She took off, gliding down the bridge and on down the road, bumping aside any yokai who got in her way.Bookmark here

“Great, she's probably going to poison me with her shaved ice,” Yasuo muttered to himself. He spent the next few minutes wondering what the ice woman was planning, and hoping that Kitamura would get back here before her.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, the swift yuki onna was the first to return, a box made of ice sliding behind her on her ice path. She beckoned Yasuo to follow her down the other side of the bridge, where in a matter of seconds, she formed her own summer festival stall made of glistening ice. The box she brought with her was full of fruits and bowls, and she made quick work of filling the bowls with great heaps of snowcone ice that materialized out of thin air. More alarmingly, she proceeded to hold fruits above each bowl of shaved ice, and forced tiny icicles to emerge from her palms, allowing her to squeeze the juice out from each fruit with her own alarming strength.Bookmark here

She forced out the juice of nashi pears for the first bowl, mikan oranges for the second, peaches for the third, a watermelon for the fourth, and a melon for the fifth. Once all the juice was squeezed out, she caused the icicles from her hands to utterly eviscerate the peels, cores, and rinds. It could have just as easily been Yasuo's head, that was for sure.Bookmark here

Grinning like a madwoman, the yuki onna stabbed a tiny spoon into each of the five heaps of shaved ice. It didn't seem like she put any poison into them, so maybe she just hoped Yasuo would die of a brain freeze.Bookmark here

Can not keep up with this yokai...Bookmark here

Kitamura returned shortly thereafter, panting from her run to the inn and back. “Here you are... Risako... Sorry I... took so long...”Bookmark here

She handed Yasuo his regular pair of wooden sandals, replacing the “special occasion” pair that Akemi had provided him for today. He didn't find them all that different from each other, but it was a moot point now.Bookmark here

“Thank you,” Yasuo said, but he didn't bother to smile. The dating game was over, and some new terrible game was about to start.Bookmark here

“Welcome back, Yasuo!” the yuki onna proclaimed theatrically in front of her shaved ice stand, her arms outstretched. “I have bad news and good news for you!”Bookmark here

“Bad news? Did... something happen?” Kitamura asked, still catching her breath. Bookmark here

“The bad news is, you failed the test!” The yuki onna broke into a fit of laughter. “The good news is, you have a chance to redeem yourself! Go ahead, Yasuo. Go ahead! Your beloved said she was looking forward to having a nice bowl of shaved ice. Why don't you buy her a bowl? Why don't you buy her a bowl of her favorite flavor? Because, after all, ha ha ha ha! You know what fruit your beloved loves best, don't you? Don't you? Doooon't yoooouuuu? Ha ha ha ha! Your choices are nashi, mikan, peach, watermelon, and regular melon!”Bookmark here

So this was her plan... Yasuo bit his lip. In hindsight, he should've guessed this was why the yuki onna asked him what his favorite fruit was. But even if he had worked that out, he wasn't sure how he would have been able to surreptitiously relay that critical information to Kitamura. In all honesty, he didn't really have a favorite fruit. He liked most of them more or less equally. Watermelon was just what came to mind for him, since it was summertime.Bookmark here

But the yuki onna is only going to accept watermelon for an answer...Bookmark here

It was a one in five chance. That wasn't the worst odds in the world. About Russian roulette odds.Bookmark here

Yasuo shook his head miserably. So this is how I die.Bookmark here

Kitamura just stared at the yuki onna, completely baffled. “I don't get it... What's going on?”Bookmark here

“Just pick a bowl, Yasuo!” the yuki onna commanded. “Now!”Bookmark here

Kitamura immediately complied.Bookmark here

She picked up the plum bowl in the center.Bookmark here

“Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!”Bookmark here

“Th-this one's for me!” Kitamura said. “My favorite flavor is plum.”Bookmark here

The yuki onna stomped on the ground and thrust her arms downward, forcing a couple dozen icicles to emerge haphazardly from her arms.Bookmark here

“Serving yourself, before serving your beloved? That's minus fifty points!” The yuki onna growled toward the ground.Bookmark here

While the yuki onna was looking down, Kitamura turned her head toward Yasuo.Bookmark here

This was his only chance. He winked with his right eye four times, nice and clear.Bookmark here

Fourth one on the right. Watermelon.Bookmark here

Kitamura smiled.Bookmark here

Did she understand?Bookmark here

“How rude of me, I wasn't thinking,” Kitamura said. “Naturally, the one Risako wants is the fourth bowl you've got here...”Bookmark here

With her free hand, she picked up the bowl of melon shaved ice.Bookmark here

Regular melon.Bookmark here

Damn it, Kitamura! The fourth bowl, when including the one you already picked up! There were five bowls to begin with! Choice four out of five!Bookmark here

“Noooo! No! No! No! No! Noooo!” the yuki onna shrieked. She raised an arm toward Kitamura.Bookmark here

“Stop!” Yasuo yelled.Bookmark here

Kitamura dropped both bowls of shaved ice.Bookmark here

A large icicle extended from the yuki onna's open palm, thrusting toward Kitamura like a spear.Bookmark here

At the same time, Kitamura slipped out a paper talisman from her sleeve. Bookmark here

Just as the icicle was about to pierce her chest, a great fireball erupted from her ofuda. The icicle melted instantly, and the blast of fire continued directly toward the yuki onna.Bookmark here

She slid several meters away... but not completely unscathed. Almost the entire right half of her body had been caught in the wall of raging fire, which safely dissipated shortly after passing her.Bookmark here

Her entire right arm and right leg was lost, along with great chunks of her torso. She fell to the ground, parts of the left side of her body cracking upon impact. Chunks of frozen organs spilled out of her horrific wound, but thin icicles shot out from within her to hold everything in place and bit by bit start to patch herself up.Bookmark here

The yuki onna wailed, but it sounded more like a cry of despair than one of physical pain.Bookmark here

She lifted her head off the ground and stared wide-eyed at Kitamura and Yasuo. The right side of her face slid right off, while cracks formed on the left side. But slowly, the right side of her face struggled to remake itself. Bits of muscle, sections of skull, then pieces of skin. Before her right eye had even finished re-forming, tears had begun to stream from them both. The tears froze to her face, looking like sickly veins.Bookmark here

“You're so cruel to me, Ichijo!” the yuki onna screamed. “Can't you understand just how much I love you, Ichijo?” She forced herself to stand up on her one leg, her body held up rigidly, stiff as a corpse. “Can't you see how much it hurts me to not be with you?”Bookmark here

Most of her torso and kimono had patched itself back together, but her arm and leg were struggling to re-grow. Chunks of ice would form, then fall off, shattering on the icy floor beneath her.Bookmark here

Kitamura still held her fire ofuda forward. Tears had spilled down her own face, Yasuo realized.Bookmark here

The yuki onna shakily stared at Kitamura, who made it clear she wouldn't hesitate to use her magic again if the yokai attacked again.Bookmark here

“Ichijo is... crying... for me...” The yuki onna grinned with the left half of her mouth. The right half was more of a jagged crack, like some slit-mouthed woman. “There's still hope. There's still hope. As long as there's love! There's still hope! Nothing can defeat love!”Bookmark here

On one leg, she glided away, a path of crackling, uneven ice forming in front of her. She was likely heading back to her ice castle on the mountain, where she would hole away until she could fully recover from the ghastly injury Kitamura inflicted upon her.Bookmark here

Once the yuki onna was out of sight, Kitamura fell to her knees. She let out a long, ragged, defeated breath. The fire talisman slipped from her grasp, and was carried off by the evening breeze.Bookmark here

Yasuo knelt down next to her, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.Bookmark here

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But for now at least, he could be here. He could stay by Kitamura's side.Bookmark here

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Bookmarked
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