Chapter 22:

[Shuhei] — Unhappy Ending (1/4)

Questionable Days with Yokai


Bookmark here

There were a lot of things Shuhei hated.Bookmark here

For starters, he hated the world, and he hated everyone in it. He hated humans, he hated yokai, he hated gods. They were all useless. At the end of the day, even his kappa brothers-in-arms were pretty useless, so he hated them too. But the ones he hated the most were, without a doubt: Bookmark here

Bookmark here

□ himself
□ the accursed onmyoji who bound him here
□ the irritating yuki onna
□ the pathetic wheel monk
□ and the filthy brats... Yasuo Mizutani and Risako KitamuraBookmark here

Especially Risako Kitamura! Shuhei had vowed to not lay a claw on her... and he intended to keep that promise. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to do anything. Not after that stunt she pulled...Bookmark here

I will never forgive her. Never forgive her. Never!Bookmark here

That girl had taken Shuhei's sight from him. How she had managed such a feat, he could hardly even fathom. He was surprised the shrimp had been able to even hold a sword with those bamboo stalk arms of hers. But to sneak up on him in the middle of a one-on-one duel, and perfectly swing the blade directly across both his eyes in one fell swoop? There was no way he could have seen it coming, and now he was never going to be able to see again.Bookmark here

He wasn't like the yuki onna, who could just regrow lost appendages. After his botched fight and forced retreat, Shuhei returned to his creek and removed his ruined eyes with his own hands. His face was severely wounded too of course, but he didn't care. It stung terribly, it was only pain. He submerged himself in the creek and lay on the floor of the river for the next couple days.Bookmark here

A couple days to recover, a couple days to focus all of his hate on the brats. Being able to see nothing but darkness only seemed to channel his hate with greater intensity. He knew he could kill the boy, even without his sight. Shuhei still had excellent senses of smell and hearing, enough so to completely make up for his blindness.Bookmark here

You can't hide in that inn forever, boy. My team will find a way to drive you out, and when they do, I'll be coming for you. After I beat you down, I'm going to break your knees. Then I'll snap each of your toes, and each of your fingers. I'll wrench out each of your teeth, and I'll gouge out your eyes. I'll keep you alive enough so you'll suffer thirst and hunger. And then to finally finish you off, I'll tear the shirikodama right out of your asshole!Bookmark here

It was the kappa way.Bookmark here

Then as for the girl... What to do with her?Bookmark here

She had to go. But Shuhei wasn't sure how he should do it. He had promised not to harm her — but even if he hadn't, he wanted to find a more insidious way to make her suffer. Shuhei could physically torture anyone. That was nothing special. He wanted to wreck her on some deeper level. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually.Bookmark here

I'll make her so miserable, she will want to kill herself!Bookmark here

This thought did not please Shuhei, since nothing pleased him. But he felt he was on the right track with this thought...Bookmark here

He took his magatama of hate out of the crimson dish atop his mangled head, and clutched it tight in his webbed hand. It was times like this, when he was absolutely overflowing with hate, that he was able to actually put this strange jewel to use for a bit.Bookmark here

With enough focus, Shuhei was able to spread his hate, releasing fragments of it like leaves in the wind. Some beings he could imprint hate into more easily than others, namely ghosts and other spiritual apparitions. If there was anything out there that could assist him in his hate-fueled quest, he wanted to find it. Anything that had a vengeful streak to it, Shuhei intended to amplify its hate to its full capacity. And if he could find something that held even the slightest grudge against his foes, then all the better.Bookmark here

It doesn't matter where you're hiding, girl. If I can't find you, I will find someone who can. And then you will receive the pain you deserve, a hundred times over!Bookmark here

Shuhei continued to lie motionless at the bottom of the river, simply allowing the waters to flow over his wounds. Days passed, but he was only barely aware of the passage of time. He could no longer check on the shifting phases of the moon, to clue him in.Bookmark here

There was no going back and correcting his mistake. All there was to do now was prepare for the future. So he focused all his energy on his magatama, his hate, and his scar. That scar across his face would forever serve as a reminder to never trust humans, to never turn his back on them.Bookmark here

From time to time one of Shuhei's underlings would fill him in on how things fared in the search for the two brats. The kappa were still unable to breach the inn's defenses placed by the boy, nor were they able to find the shrine that the girl was hiding at. The two brats each had yokai assisting them, and Shuhei was determined to have them all killed too. The despicable otter, the lousy crow tengu, and the annoying kitsune. Shuhei hated all three of them just in general, but now they definitely had to be disposed of.Bookmark here

“There is one other thing that might be worth mentioning,” the kappa reporting today said. The way kappa spoke to each other underwater was different from how they spoke on land. The waters connected their minds in a way that facilitated a part-echolocation, part-telepathy kind of communication that only kappa could pull off.Bookmark here

“What's that?” Shuhei asked.Bookmark here

“There is a new ghost lurking in town,” the underling said. “We think you might find this a particularly interesting wandering spirit.”Bookmark here

Shuhei decided he was well enough to get out of the water and see for himself if this ghost might be of use to him. Four of his boys led him out of the river and on into town. All the yokai that were going about their daily business were quick to get out of the kappa gang's way, which was just how Shuhei intended things to be.Bookmark here

It took a while to find the ghost, but eventually Shuhei's underlings spotted the apparition at a long-nosed tengu swordsmith's shop. Shuhei couldn't see the ghost, so one of his followers gave a description.Bookmark here

“A human girl, looks to be around the same age as the brats. Her hair's tied up in a couple bunches. She's wearing kinda strange clothes? I dunno how to describe them... I get the feeling she's from a more modern era, than most of the other ghosts that've wandered down here.”Bookmark here

“Modern era... What's she doing?”Bookmark here

“Just staring at the swords. Or maybe looking for something? She's very focused. There's this rough aura about her, boss. I'm not keen on getting too close to this one.”Bookmark here

“Is she saying something? I hear a faint muttering.” Shuhei wasn't afraid, so he crept right over to the ghost. She indeed was saying something... two words, repeated over and over. The muttering was barely audible, even with Shuhei's excellent hearing.Bookmark here

suomizUtaniyaSuOmi-zuTaniyAsu-OMiZuta-ni-yasuomIZUtaBookmark here

Shuhei grinned, his teeth vibrating wildly. “Now this is something! Yasuo Mizutani, she says!”Bookmark here

“This ghost got a grudge against him, you think?” one of Shuhei's followers asked, a confused gurgle emanating from his throat.Bookmark here

“Most definitely,” Shuhei said. “And I know just the thing to give her.” He plucked out his magatama of hate from his head's blood-filled dish and placed it carefully in the ghost's hands, helping her to hold on to it tight.Bookmark here

“Follow me!” Shuhei commanded the ghost. “I'll lead you to the one you're looking for.”Bookmark here

Shuhei rarely visited the yokai town, but the layout was simple enough that he was able to march straight to the inn, even in his blinded state. His hench-kappa let him know whenever the ghost stopped or wandered off a bit, but with enough persistence Shuhei was able to lead the spirit right to Yasuo Mizutani's location.Bookmark here

One of Shuhei's followers asked, “How is the ghost gonna get in? She can't get by all those wards. She's looking antsy, even this far from the place.”Bookmark here

“Maybe we can use her to lure the boy out,” Shuhei said. “They clearly know each other.”Bookmark here

“Not necessarily, boss... Hey, she's taking off.”Bookmark here

“What? Where's she going now?”Bookmark here

“I dunno, but she's running for it!”Bookmark here

Shuhei and the four other kappa spent the whole day following the strange spectre from one place to the next, Shuhei's bones crackling with every fourth and ninth step or so. The ghost girl was clearly looking for something... but if it wasn't the boy, then what was it?Bookmark here

As they traveled through town and up and down the river, Shuhei tried repeatedly to speak with the ghost, but she never stopped repeating Yasuo Mizutani's name. Never even stopped for a breath... but of course, spirits didn't need to breathe. It was absolutely exhausting to have to hear it nonstop though, so Shuhei eventually gave up on trying to talk to her and followed from a distance.Bookmark here

What is with this ghost...Bookmark here

Shuhei already hated her, but this was one fish he just couldn't let get away. Now she was leading him into the forest though... He considered just letting his underlings follow her around and report to him in the river, once literally anything happened.Bookmark here

But by sunset, the spirit finally stopped wandering. There were nothing but trees around, so Shuhei wasn't sure what the holdup was.Bookmark here

He knew it was pointless, but he asked anyways. “What's the holdup, ghost?”Bookmark here

“A shrine.”Bookmark here

The ghost said something new!Bookmark here

“What was that?” Shuhei asked.Bookmark here

“A shrine.”Bookmark here

Now this was another interesting development. The only shrine Shuhei knew of in this underground prison was the one that the annoying kitsune used to run, however long ago that was. The fox had hidden it away though, so there was no way for anyone but him (and those he brought with him) to access it. Shuhei's kappa were still trying to figure out a way to locate it.Bookmark here

Shuhei worried the ghost would stop talking normally, so he asked, “Why are you looking for the shrine, kid?”Bookmark here

“He's there. Yasuo Mizutani.” She spoke as if she were from a great distance away, or as if she had just woken up, or as if in a trance.Bookmark here

That couldn't be true though. It was the girl that the kitsune took with him.Bookmark here

Shuhei didn't want to attempt an argument, so he changed the subject. “Let's start from the beginning. Who are you?”Bookmark here

“Kokone. Amari.”Bookmark here

“And... who are you, to that boy? Yasuo Mizutani?”Bookmark here

The ghost of Kokone Amari did not answer.Bookmark here

Shuhei wanted to set her off, and this sounded like just the point to apply pressure to. He already had a good guess of who this girl was to the brat... but he wanted her to say it. To say it with the magatama of hate in her possession.Bookmark here

“Who are you to Yasuo Mizutani?!” Shuhei shouted with his worst guttural snarl.Bookmark here

The ghost of Kokone Amari answered.Bookmark here

“I am... probably not... anything to him.” She sounded almost as monotone as Shuhei.Bookmark here

“Oh, I rather doubt that,” Shuhei said. “How about this then... who were you to Yasuo Mizutani?”Bookmark here

“I was his... I was his... I was his...”Bookmark here

She wouldn't finish the sentence.Bookmark here

“His what?” Shuhei prodded. “You were his sweetheart, I'm betting. That's it, isn't it? Then he left you for some other girl.”Bookmark here

“No... No... No...”Bookmark here

“No need to hide it,” Shuhei said. “You hate him at least a little, don't you? You want to see him suffer the same as you have, don't you? Some part of you does. I know some part of you does. Because you're a human.”Bookmark here

The ghost did not respond.Bookmark here

Perhaps it is going to take some time and effort to fully corrupt her, Shuhei thought. This girl was either the spirit of a dead human, or a much more rare ikiryo — the disembodied spirit of a living human. Whatever the case might be, Shuhei was certain he could make very good use of her. She had to be after the boy for a reason, and she had to be looking for the shrine for a reason.Bookmark here

Shuhei tried to piece the two together. Was it possible the boy was at the shrine? It made sense for him to want to be with the girl. They were a couple after all... But how did he slip out of the inn and make it to the hidden shrine?Bookmark here

“How do you know there's a shrine out here?” Shuhei asked.Bookmark here

“I can not find it... but I can sense it.”Bookmark here

“And you sense that boy's spirit around here too, I take it?”Bookmark here

“Yes. And the spirit of a powerful fox.”Bookmark here

“Nobody else? I was expecting a human girl to be hiding at the shrine... not Yasuo Mizutani.”Bookmark here

“I sense no one else, save for the five of you kappa.”Bookmark here

There was something about this girl... She didn't seem like an ordinary ghost. She seemed familiar with yokai, and she could sense things.Bookmark here

But if she was right about the boy's spirit being there, even though it was the girl who was taken to the shrine...Bookmark here

Shuhei felt like he was on the brink of a revelation.Bookmark here

In his head, he went over everything he knew about the two brats.Bookmark here

How did they get here in the first place? They had to have passed through the cursed garden in the mansion above, right?Bookmark here

The cursed garden. It shouldn't have affected the descendant of Ichijo no Shunzai, and indeed, the boy didn't appear to have been cursed. But what about the girl who came with him? She didn't seem cursed either...Bookmark here

Then it hit Shuhei. What if that boy wasn't the descendant of Ichijo no Shunzai? He would've been cursed in some random way then. And if that boy and girl both entered the garden at the same time... it made sense the curse that was set off would have involved them both.Bookmark here

The brats swapped souls! That's why this ghost is calling out the boy's name, looking for him at the hidden shrine — and why she wanted nothing to do with the inn. The boy's spirit is in the girl's body, and the girl's spirit is in the boy's body!Bookmark here

Everything about the way those two had been acting the past couple weeks suddenly seemed to make more sense.Bookmark here

There was a lot about all this that Shuhei still needed to work out, but for now he couldn't help but grin fervently at this rare stroke of good fortune that had befallen him.Bookmark here

This is it! I'm going to have my insidious revenge on Risako Kitamura... or should I say, Yasuo Mizutani... and it's going to be facilitated by the ghost of his own ex-girlfriend!Bookmark here

The ghost returned to listlessly whispering in haunting tones.Bookmark here

niYaSu-omiZutAnIya-suomiZU-tani-yAsuo-mizuTaNIYa-su-omiBookmark here

It had become music to Shuhei's ears.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Bookmarked
You can resume reading from this paragraph.