Chapter 20:

[Risako] — We All Have to Move On Somehow

Questionable Days with Yokai

A couple days had passed since Risako's duel with Shuhei, where everything went wrong.Bookmark here

She got beaten up pretty badly by Shuhei, but just when she was about to use her hidden earth talisman to capture the giant kappa with hardening dirt, Mizutani decided to slash Shuhei right across the eyes.Bookmark here

It could be argued that he saved her life. There was a chance Shuhei would've broken past Risako's final defense, and then slit her throat with his claws while she was still down.Bookmark here

But even still, Mizutani should not have interfered. Retrieving the kappa's magatama of hate was going to be much more difficult now... Maybe even impossible. Risako didn't want to keep fighting him, but now she had an entire gang of kappa out for her blood.Bookmark here

She, Akemi, and Tsutomu all had to hole up in the inn, which Risako had placed all sorts of protective talismans on. So long as the kappa kept trying to break in though, Risako had to keep putting up new barrier ofuda... and Akemi only had so many of them for her to use. Risako could not yet create her own ofuda effectively, though she was trying her best to learn.Bookmark here

The kappa all wanted Risako, Akemi, and Tsutomu dead now, and it was likely they were riling up a lot of the other yokai who lived down in this hidden world. Shuhei just needed to explain that Risako was a living human from the above world, and that she had the blood of Ichijo no Shunzai flowing in her body. That would rile up some of the more aggressive yokai at least, and he and his gang could surely strongarm plenty of others into assisting in his efforts.Bookmark here

Shuhei also obviously wanted Mizutani dead now, but the kitsune had stolen him away and taken him to who knows where. Risako could only assume what those two were doing now, off together by themselves... To her surprise though, she didn't find herself really fretting over what Mizutani was up to. He could do whatever at this point; she didn't care anymore.Bookmark here

It was everything he told her before her fight with Shuhei that upset her most.Bookmark here

Why did he stop trusting me? Why couldn't he just believe in me? Why did he want to give up on everything then, of all times? After all we've been through? Doesn't he want to get his old body back? And what about this world, and all the yokai in it? Can he seriously just abandon everyone?Bookmark here

He abandoned Risako for that kitsune...Bookmark here

So perhaps he was fine with it.Bookmark here

At the same time though, Risako couldn't really blame him for leaving her behind. It wasn't like they were best friends or anything. They barely even knew each other before their run-in at the abandoned mansion.Bookmark here

Risako sat alone at one of the restaurant's floor tables, picking at a bowl of rice with her chopsticks. It wasn't really a restaurant anymore, now that the kitsune was gone. And most of the food she had nowadays was as plain as could be. Akemi and Tsutomu were helpless in the kitchen, and Risako really only knew the basics. She didn't mind though. The kitsune's food was good, she wasn't going to deny that. But she didn't miss it so much that he wanted him to come back.Bookmark here

In a way, this new arrangement might have been for the best. It meant she could focus on becoming a stronger onmyoji. Mizutani and the kitsune wouldn't distract her anymore, and neither would any of the other yokai. She felt a little sad to not have Naoya to help out anymore, but he would be fine without her. Risako now needed to work out how to deal with the yuki onna and the kappa... And unfortunately, there was probably no way to retrieve either of their magatama outside of brute force at this point. Risako was going to have to fight them both once more before all this was through, she was rather certain.Bookmark here

Akemi showed up with a dead fish in her mouth. She was capable of sneaking past all the kappa apparently — not that this surprised Risako much. Akemi was always just doing whatever she wanted. To some degree Risako had grown weary of the inscrutable otter.Bookmark here

Akemi set the fish down on the table, not even bothering to get a plate. “Good evening, Miss Kitamura. I hope your training has gone well today. Any luck on sensing the location of the missing fourth magatama?”Bookmark here

“No, haven't felt anything yet.” Risako had been trying to use the ofuda and the magatama of ambition to try working out where in this yokai realm the “lost” magatama might be hidden. She wasn't having any luck though. Perhaps she just needed more practice, or perhaps she needed more of the magatama to help guide her. It was a shame Mizutani still had his. Maybe she had been too soft on him.Bookmark here

“It will come to you in time,” Akemi said. “It is only natural that we run into a few obstacles along the way. With a little perseverance, we shall surely acquire all five of the magatama.” Bookmark here

“And then what?” Risako asked.Bookmark here

“You and Mister Mizutani will be able to return your minds to their proper places, of course.”Bookmark here

“And?”Bookmark here

“My, my,” Akemi said with a squeak. “Naturally, my hope is that with the full power of the great onmyoji Ichijo no Shunzai at our disposal, we shall be able to break the seal that binds all the yokai to this underground prison. The day of our freedom has been a thousand years in the making, Miss Kitamura.”Bookmark here

“Right...” Honestly, Risako wasn't sure what to think about all that right now. Maybe a week or two ago, she would have been all for freeing the poor creatures trapped down here. But now she kind of couldn't help but wonder if this arrangement really was what's best for them. Yokai like Shuhei at least would likely be more than happy to get back to killing humans on a regular basis up in the real world. And as for the less dangerous yokai, well... they were still monsters, and if found by humans they would most likely be killed.Bookmark here

That a was a tomorrow problem though.Bookmark here

She fiddled with the magatama hanging on the simple necklace she made for it. It didn't really feel like a good luck charm to her. All it made her think of was how much more she was going to have to struggle to get the rest of them.Bookmark here

“At least we're about halfway there,” Risako said.Bookmark here

“Are we?” Akemi asked. “For I only see one singular magatama on your person.”Bookmark here

“Mizutani has one.”Bookmark here

“It may be wise to consider him... not with you, if you grasp my meaning.”Bookmark here

Risako sighed, setting her chopsticks down on her merely quarter-finished rice bowl. She didn't want to think of Mizutani as an enemy. They definitely both wanted the same thing... right? She was just thinking the other day how he was a good boy. They just weren't... on the same page for everything.Bookmark here

Regardless though, Risako had to steel her resolve.Bookmark here

“Don't worry. If it comes down to it, I'll take the magatama from him.”Bookmark here

“Are you willing to fight a kitsune for it?”Bookmark here

“I've already beaten him once.” Risako propped her head against her palm, her elbow against the table. “How much do you think I should worry about him?”Bookmark here

“Perhaps not at all,” Akemi said. “But perhaps it would behoove you to consider Mister Eisuke the wild card in all this.”Bookmark here

“Always so cryptic! Wish I could get advice from literally anyone else from time to time,” Risako mumbled.Bookmark here

“My apologies, but even I have limits to my knowledge,” Akemi said. Bookmark here

The otter tore into her fish, and for a while Risako just watched blankly, not feeling anything. She felt like she was the fish.Bookmark here

Without much of anything to prompt this thought, she whispered, “I wish Grandma were here.”Bookmark here

Akemi stopped chewing and looked up, her tiny eyes glistening. “Hm?”Bookmark here

“My grandmother. She was the whole reason I came to the mansion above this hidden world, remember? It's not like I knew her all that well, but I miss her anyways. I was looking forward to seeing her, and finally getting to know her. I had no idea if I was going to actually like spending time with her... but I was hoping to finally have some family, other than my mother.”Bookmark here

“Ah, you have just reminded me! During the summer festival the other day, I found something left in front of the inn that should be of great interest to you. With so much that has happened since then, it slipped my mind completely. I do apologize.”Bookmark here

Risako sat up straight. “You found something... Something to do with my grandmother?”Bookmark here

Akemi transformed into her resplendent human form, sitting solemnly across from Risako. As always, she wore an ornate purple kimono, ornate golden hairpins, and ornate makeup. Not quite like that of a traditional geisha, but she carried that sort of air about her, and wore that sort of beguiling smile. It was still difficult for Risako to guess what age Akemi was supposed to be appearance-wise... Maybe as young as twenty, maybe as old as forty. From beneath the front of her kimono fold, she slipped out a folded piece of paper and handed it over.Bookmark here

Risako unfolded the paper and found it was a letter... It had the exact same style of tiny yet conscientious handwriting that Grandma's letter had — the letter inviting Risako to come to the mansion.Bookmark here

My dear Risako, oh how I have missed you! I am so, so terribly sorry for everything I have put you through. I deceived you, and for that I don't expect you to ever forgive me. But I am desperate. So very desperate.Bookmark here

I can not see you as I am now, I am afraid. Even though we are both in the same world now, we can not truly be together. At least, not yet. Not until my curse is broken...Bookmark here

I'm sorry I can't tell you more. But do know that I am rooting for you, my sweet little anko bean. I believe in you, and I'll be waiting for you.Bookmark here

Risako read through it twice more, clutching the paper tight. The detail at the end caught her by surprise each time... Sweet little anko bean. Her grandmother would call her that, Risako only now remembered. So this really was another letter from Grandma...Bookmark here

Tears dripped out of Risako's eyes, landing on the paper. She set it on the table and quickly wiped her face with her yukata sleeve.Bookmark here

“Sorry, I... I...”Bookmark here

Risako didn't know what to say. Was it right of her to say she missed Grandma, when they had spent so little time together? Would it truly be genuine of Risako to say she loved her?Bookmark here

Thinking about it rationally, it was probably more accurate to say Risako just longed for someone to take care of her, like some idealized doting, smiling, cute old grandmother would.Bookmark here

For years, deep down, Risako had wanted someone in her life who was more loving than her mother, and more caring than her friends and classmates. She was never going to truly connect with anyone romantically, she was rather sure. But she still longed to be loved and cared for, in some way.Bookmark here

Akemi shuffled over to sit beside Risako, and placed her hands on top of Risako's.Bookmark here

“I apologize for coming off as distant most of the time,” she said gently, a strange contrast to the piercing gaze of her sharp eyes. “But I do hope you will get to be reunited with your grandmother again soon. I will do whatever I can to assist you in that endeavor, so long as you are down here. I owe you that much at least, for giving me my life back.”Bookmark here

Risako smiled a little. She didn't really do anything to break the otter free of her statue imprisonment — that was thanks to the power of Mizutani's magatama, the necklace of which she simply happened to be wearing at the time (since she had become Mizutani shortly beforehand). All Risako really did was show up.Bookmark here

That's enough sometimes though, I suppose.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Akemi.”Bookmark here

The otter yokai might have been awkward and aloof, perhaps even cold at times... but she still always meant well. And she was still here now, supporting Risako.Bookmark here

There was still a little hope for Risako to hold on to.Bookmark here

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