Chapter 3:

[Yasuo] — Things Start to Heat Up

Questionable Days with Yokai — Volume 2

A few more days passed, and Yasuo spent most of them practicing more shrine maiden rituals. Eisuke really wanted him to get those dance-like movements down perfectly, though he felt silly doing it every time. “This is a shrine, and you need something to do, don’t you?” Eisuke had reasoned. “These rituals will help strengthen my spiritual bond with these shrine grounds.”

Yasuo didn’t have much of a counter-argument to give, but still he wondered if there was a deeper purpose to it all beyond simply improving the general state of the shrine grounds. This land and the buildings that rested on it surely meant a lot to Eisuke, so Yasuo was glad to help out... and of course it would only benefit himself as well, for however many days he’d be living here.

Might be weeks though, not days...

He had hoped things would have been settled with all the magatama and whatnot by now. Of course, he had hoped everything would have been settled after all the summer festival nonsense went down. He wished he were back home, getting ready for the rest of his final school year. Back in his own body, and back with his parents. And back with...

Ah, guess I can’t go back to her, even if everything here does get settled.

It was still possible that he would see Kokone again, at least, but...

I keep thinking of her, even at times like this.

Currently Yasuo was shaking a stick with twelve golden bells attached to it—another traditional implement that miko used in ritual dances and whatnot. The performance Eisuke was having him learn now wasn’t as exerting as a session of kendo training, but Yasuo found it tiring all the same. He had to assume it was in part due to his current body not being used to this level of physical activity, and in part due to the summer heat sapping his energy. Eisuke was having him practice outside this late afternoon, and by the time the sun was starting to set Yasuo felt miserable in his heavy sweat-soaked shrine maiden garb.

“All right, I think you’ve got that down well enough,” Eisuke said. He was dressed in the more formal vestments of a shrine priest, wearing a white purified robe over his kimono and hakama. He also wore a black kanmuri headpiece, albeit modified to allow room for his fox ears. “Let’s perform a ritual together for real now.” He went over everything Yasuo needed to do.

Yasuo took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders a couple times. “Sounds simple enough. What’s the purpose of this ritual?”

“You’ll see. Change into some clean clothes while I make preparations.”

Yasuo did as instructed, returning to his room to put on a new white kimono and red hakama skirt, as well as an outer white coat and a tiara-like headdress—a crown of pink flowers, with thin rectangular silver tassels hanging in front of his forehead like bangs.

Once changed, he found Eisuke had placed a furnace and large pot of water outside, over in an empty patch of land a ways behind the main sanctuary building. A crackling fire was already flaring beneath the pot, and soon enough the water was boiling, releasing a steady flow of white puffy steam that dissipated within a few meters. Eisuke assured Yasuo that the smoke wouldn’t be seen by any yokai outside of the shrine grounds.

“There will be nothing to fear, and nothing to interrupt us,” he said, “so try turning your thoughts toward the rising steam. It is sacred spring water I saved from long ago, mixed with saké and rice as offerings.” A sweet and piercing, yet earthy and nourishing smell emanated from the pot.

“Who are we offering it to?”

“The creator of this realm, naturally. Ichijo no Shunzai.”

Though Yasuo understood the onmyoji mage to have been a human being—and likely his ancestor—it made sense that the yokai here would treat Ichijo no Shunzai as a sort of deity, for good and for ill.

After they washed their hands and rinsed their mouths at the shrine’s ablution pavilion—a water basin known as a chozuya—they walked back to the pot of boiling water. The ritual began with Eisuke kneeling, bowing, and clapping twice toward it. He then stood, and at four corners of the barren field, he rhythmically waved a leafy tree branch a few times.

Once he knelt, bowed, and clapped twice again, it was time for Yasuo to perform a short kagura dance around the pot, waving about an ornate paper fan. He had each careful step, slow turn, and gentle arm movement well memorized, so he focused on the effervescence of the misty steam he occasionally passed through. As he did so, he felt... refreshed. Rejuvenated.


Once he finished the dance, he received two large sprigs of bamboo from Eisuke, and proceeded to dip them into the pot of boiling water. He then swung his arms back, flinging water droplets across the field around him. He repeated this several more times, wielding the pliant bamboo branches almost like swords, scattering the blessed water from their leaves in short-lived yet lively steam-filled flurries. Both he and Eisuke got wet in the process of course, but the kitsune had explained this would be a good thing—a blessing bestowed upon them. And for about a minute, Yasuo really did feel a kind of warmth building within him. A kind of vigor he never knew he could feel...

Once the area was sufficiently dotted with the ritual spring water, Yasuo returned the bamboo sprigs to Eisuke. The kitsune smiled, and Yasuo couldn’t help but grin in return.

“How do you feel?” Eisuke asked.

Stimulated, Yasuo nearly said, but he recognized in time that wasn’t quite the word he wanted to use. Not here, and not to Eisuke. Not right now.

He shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. “Um... kind of... exhilarated... I guess?” He felt dumb saying it like that, but Eisuke simply nodded.

“That’s how I feel too. You did a wonderful job today, Yasuo—I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you. Thank you very much.” Eisuke gave a sincere and solemn bow.

Yasuo wasn’t sure how to react to that. He couldn’t think of many times where he had been so genuinely thanked before at all, let alone with this level of deference.

“It’s— It’s nothing...” he said, turning around. “All I did was dance around a bit, and—”

He stopped short, startled by the sight that was before him.

The field was no longer empty. Before his eyes, there was a full-blown open-air onsen, complete with slick bamboo fencing and sleek rock gardens. A glossy wooden walkway led straight to a cozy outdoor stone bath filled with beautifully clear hot spring water, all of which was clouded by a hazy, dreamlike fog—the calming vapors of a vivacious yet ghostly steam.

Yasuo was struck speechless for a good ten seconds before he could finally ask, “Where did all of that come from?”

“It used to be there, long ago in the past,” Eisuke said, his gaze as misty as the waters. His fox ears sunk ever so slightly. “Throughout the ritual, I focused all my thoughts on the little hot spring from my memories and... we brought it back.”

Everything on these shrine grounds really was tied to Eisuke’s mind in some way then. Yasuo wasn’t sure if he should feel reassured or disconcerted by the kitsune’s extraordinary power.

Though technically I helped out here, supposedly...

Yasuo didn’t feel like he had any power to contribute to such a clearly magical ritual, but he didn’t have much of an understanding for how these things worked.

Eisuke placed his arm over Yasuo’s shoulders. “We’ve done enough for today. Why don’t we take a dip?”

Yasuo shut his eyes and grimaced. “Uh...” A couple conflicting thoughts passed through his mind simultaneously. Over the past week, he had been simply wiping his body with a rag soaked in water from the well on the shrine grounds—so an actual bath did sound really nice, especially after hours of ritual practicing and performing in the summer heat.

But sitting in the hot spring with Eisuke... They’d both obviously have to take their clothes off. He wasn’t sure which he felt less ready for: seeing Eisuke naked, or Eisuke seeing him naked. Yasuo wondered if he’d feel less concerned about this if he had his own body back... Nothing he could do about that right now, of course. Perhaps he just needed to not treat this like a big deal. Eisuke probably wouldn’t do anything... inappropriate. Right?

“Something wrong?” Eisuke asked.

Yasuo opened his eyes and found Eisuke standing a few paces ahead, hands on his hips, tail brushing back and forth questioningly.

The fox man was completely nude.

Unclad and unveiled, undressed and uncovered. In the buff. Au naturel. And Yasuo saw everything all at once. His first reaction was to cover his eyes, but his second reaction a half-second later was to not do that. So he ended up with his arms raised a bit, his fingers sprawled out and frozen in place as grabby claw-hands.


Eisuke’s fox ears stood at attention. “You’re looking a bit pale, Yasuo. Should I get you some water? Something to eat?”

“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good.” Yasuo couldn’t blink, but he also couldn’t keep his eyes fixed to any one spot.

“I’ll whip up something quick then. Some nice hearty snacks to enjoy in the hot spring! Feel free to get in and relax in the meantime.” And with that, Eisuke headed back to the living quarters shrine building to prepare some food.

“Oh... okay.” Yasuo watched him go, up until the fox man finally made his more casual priestly garb reappear before stepping inside.

“A nice... big... meal,” Yasuo echoed to himself, before sighing deeply and wiping his brow.

Remember, he’s a supernatural being. No regular guy could measure up to the... anatomical capacity... of a literal shapeshifter.

Not that Yasuo could compare at all, given his current physical state. But still...

He clenched a fist over his pounding heart and looked back at the hot spring. Maybe this kitsune really will be the death of me...

Yasuo spent the next few minutes trying to decide what to do. Feign sickness? Say he’s tired and go to bed? Run away? Or just... go with it?

He was still weighing his options when he noticed Eisuke in the distance heading back with a large tray of food in his hands.

That was fast! He must have prepared it all in advance.

It was too late to run away now, and Yasuo felt too hungry to turn down the approaching meal...

So he quickly stripped, tied up his hair, and got into the water before Eisuke was close enough to get a clear look at him. The abundance of steam would keep Eisuke from seeing too much while in the hot spring, Yasuo hoped. (Not that there was much to see...)

“Hot-hot-hot-hot...” Yasuo breathed out, squirming. It actually wasn’t that bad, but the suddenness of his action must have caught his sensitive body by surprise. It took about a minute to acclimate.

In the meantime Eisuke arrived, set the tray of food down, made his clothes disappear, and sat in the water near Yasuo. The kitsune wasn’t right up beside him, but still, he was in arm’s reach. Yasuo nearly scooted away in instinct, but he had to stick by close enough to reach the food. So he stayed put and lowered his body below the water’s surface a bit more, so just his head and bunched-up shoulders peeked out.

“Ah...” Eisuke sighed. He rested for a couple minutes with his eyes closed, and this time Yasuo made sure not to stare. It was admittedly a test of will-power, with Eisuke’s bare chest and toned arms outside the water. The kitsune had a slim build—he wasn’t burly like the crow tengu he worked with at the inn. But that was more in line with Yasuo’s tastes.

“Help yourself to the food,” Eisuke said, his eyes still closed. “Just don’t drink all of the saké.”

“I’ll stick with water...” Yasuo looked over the food, and sure enough the kitsune had pulled all the stops. Nigiri, maki rolls, edamame soybeans, pickled vegetables, and a variety of mochi delectables. Eisuke said to not worry about chopsticks—everything he made could be eaten by hand.

While Eisuke took easygoing sips from a bottle of saké, Yasuo helped himself to a little of everything else. Eating in a bath like this was a first for Yasuo, but he had to admit it was quite nice.

“Amazing! You really outdid yourself this time, Eisuke. Your food at the inn was always excellent, but I feel like it’s only gotten tastier here at the shrine, somehow.”

Eisuke opened his eyes and smiled. “You’re too generous. This sanctified domain has likely had an effect on my cooking, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the food—and everything else here—will continue to improve. Even I perhaps will start to change...”

Wonder if that goes for me as well?

“In what way?” Yasuo asked, keeping his first question to himself.

“I don’t know. But there were times in my life I felt better about myself, had hope for the future. It’d be nice to go back to those times... Not have to worry.”

“Are you worried now?”

“Of course. I’m just about certain this hidden realm as it currently is now—and as it has been for a millennium—won’t be a thing for much longer. The power of the five magatama will be used one way or another in the days to come, and whoever ends up in control of Ichijo no Shunzai’s power will surely change this little world irrevocably. Perhaps even destroy it entirely. But even then, we’ll be safe here on my shrine grounds.”

“I see...” Yasuo’s guilt returned, hitting him full-force with a vengeance. If everything going on with the magatama really was putting everyone’s lives at risk, then he could hardly begin to imagine the weight of the burden Kitamura must be shouldering.

Eisuke continued, looking up toward the tranquil-blue twilight sky. “All of our rituals this past week have helped strengthen these shrine grounds. So no matter what happens in the rest of the underground prison, it won’t affect us.”

“That’s good, I guess.” Yasuo wasn’t sure if this was the time or place to broach this subject, but it wasn’t something he could keep putting off. “I can’t help but worry about Kitamura and the others though. I get that she’s basically an onmyoji who can do anything with magic and all, but still...”

Eisuke maintained a neutral expression, perhaps just focused more on relaxing than on the conversation itself. “She’ll be fine. She’s got the otter watching over her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘ol Tsutomu was helping her as well.”

“Perhaps we should be helping too...”

“Oh? In what way?” Eisuke looked neither surprised, nor put off.

“I don’t know.” Yasuo leaned his head far to the side. “I guess I was thinking... like, you’re really powerful, right?”


“Probably as powerful as that crow tengu at least... Not to mention the giant kappa, and the snow woman...”

“I’m not a fighter, Yasuo.”

“Right... As in, you can’t fight? Or you just, uh, that’s not your thing?”

“I won’t fight.”

And as Yasuo feared would happen, the kitsune didn’t elaborate. There wasn’t a mean or annoyed tone to Eisuke’s voice when he emphasized won’t, but he apparently didn’t want to explain whether he possessed supernatural combat prowess or not—and if he did, to what degree.

It was possible he did hold remarkable power, but couldn’t wield it for one reason or another.

It was also possible he held remarkable power, but simply chose not to ever wield it for one reason or another.

Yasuo sighed. “Wish I could do something.”

“You are doing something. You’re helping me create a stable sanctuary here. It may prove beneficial to our comrades at some point, should they require it.”

“You’d let Kitamura in here?”

“Of course. She’s still holed up in Tsutomu’s inn at the moment, from what I’ve gathered from the kappa. But once there’s an opportunity, I’ll pass word along to her of our whereabouts. I’ll know if she’s seeking us out.”

Yasuo felt some relief to hear that. If they could regroup and work out a proper plan of action together... well, it wouldn’t alleviate Yasuo’s worries entirely, but he’d at least lose a few of the pins and needles he felt pierced with.

“Thanks, Eisuke.” Yasuo hoped he sounded genuine, and not just tense and fretful. The hot spring was supposed to be relaxing—but there was no way Yasuo could feel at ease, fully exposed as he was in a literal sense, and yet so guarded figuratively. The same went for Eisuke of course, but the kitsune naturally continued to take the whole situation in his stride.

What would a flustered Eisuke look like? Wonder if I can find a way to embarrass him somehow... Nothing seems to ever worry him at all.

Yasuo remembered there was one concern Eisuke had though, in regards to the safety of these shrine grounds.

“A while back you mentioned it was possible a ghost could infiltrate this place, possibly haunt us.”

“It’s very unlikely one would ever wish to do so—let alone succeed at finding us, and let alone manage to creep in,” Eisuke said, his voice sounding a bit... sluggish. “But still, I’ve taken precautionary measures, and will remain vigilant. I suppose I could even teach you some of my shrine’s methods for purifying spirits, if you’d like.”

Yasuo perked up at that, sitting up in keen interest. “Purify spirits? That actually sounds cool!” He didn’t want to have to dress up and act like a shrine maiden to do so, but if that’s what it took to do something a little more proactive here then he wouldn’t complain.

Eisuke nodded. “I think you have it in you to become a true miko for this shrine.” He leaned over close to Yasuo. There was an odd look in his eyes... Perhaps he was getting tipsy.

Yasuo leaned back. “Uh, really?”

The kitsune nodded again, and placed a hand on Yasuo’s shoulder. Yasuo instantly slid aside, and Eisuke’s hand fell in the water. The kitsune slumped forward a bit, but otherwise didn’t look bothered. He smiled and asked, “Are you embarrassed?”

“Uh, no, no. I’m fine.”

Eisuke suddenly shifted into his female form, and placed his (her?) hand on Eisuke’s shoulder again. “There, is that better?” she asked in that soothing voice of hers. “If we’re both girls, that ought to steady your restless heart.”

Maybe it ought to, but it definitely doesn’t! Yasuo thought, now with a full view of girl-Eisuke’s modest but entirely exposed chest. And she was leaning in closer again...

“Er, hold on.” Yasuo reached back for another saké bottle, then placed a saucer in Eisuke’s free hand. “As thanks for the meal you made me, and for everything else you’ve done, let me at least pour you a congratulatory drink.”

“Okay...” Eisuke said, looking the slightest bit befuddled, but only for a moment. She smiled warmly when Yasuo poured her a drink, which she downed with a cute ah! afterward, her arms outstretched.

Yasuo used the moment to put some space between them again, but not so much that he couldn’t continue pouring Eisuke more saké—because an idea struck him. There was a chance that the drink could loosen the fox woman’s lips... If there was one thing Yasuo had noticed about yokai in general down in this hidden realm, it was that seemingly all of them loved to drink—and more specifically, loved to get drunk.

“Please Eisuke, how about you tell me a little about... your time at the inn with the crow tengu?” He decided to start there, and work his way back. It was time to find out something about this mystery kitsune.

“Oh, what’s there to say... “

Yasuo continued to pour more saké for vixen-Eisuke as she rambled on about this and that, gently prodding her to share details further back in the past. Eisuke was good at dancing around all of the unspoken questions Yasuo really wanted answered though, and as the night wore on it looked like he wasn’t going to get much of anything out of her. Their conversation shifted from one topic to the next, Eisuke’s dialogue sluggishly shambling a little more aimlessly with each drink.

She ended up asking Yasuo about his own life, and he had no choice but to share a quick anecdote from his childhood.

“One time when I was... probably five or six? A neighborhood friend my age convinced me to take off my shoes, tie the laces together, and lob the shows up at a power line. It took many tries, but eventually I got the shoelaces to catch on it and... Well, my shoes got stuck up there, and there was nothing I could do about it. Wasn’t really thinking ahead, obviously. Had to return home without my shoes, and of course my mother was really upset... I guess you wouldn’t know what a power line is. It’s a sturdy string high up in the air. Anyways, that friend moved away the next month, I’m pretty sure...”

Eisuke was amused enough by the stories to join in on the conversation again.

“What makes you happy, Risako? What makes you... you know, smile?”

“It’s Yasuo. And I—”

“Right, I meant Yasuo, Yasuo.”

“I guess I like it when things in life are going smoothly, nothing too unexpected happening.”

“No, no. Simpler things, simpler everyday things that make you smile.”

“Uh...” Yasuo went with whatever random thing came to mind. “How about... when I’m heading to school and I see a cat, and it lets me pet it.” It didn’t happen very often, but it was nice when it did. He’d never had a pet growing up, but he liked how content cats looked when they were relaxing. Eisuke gave off that exact sort of vibe at the moment, actually. And petting the fox’s fur a few nights ago might have been what brought this “simple thing” to mind.

“I see, I see.” Eisuke’s head drooped down a bit, but she quickly lifted it back up. She might have been about ready to doze off...

“And what makes you happy, Eisuke?” Yasuo asked back. “What makes you smile?”

Her eyes closed, Eisuke finished off the last of her saké and set the white ceramic bottle down under the water, completely oblivious to its subsequent sinking. “What makes me... smile? She makes me smile. And she makes me cry. I love her, love her so much, love her with all my heart. There’s no escaping her. Can’t stop thinking about her. Though I know I shouldn’t. But so long as... I’m here... She’s here too.”

Eisuke wobbled in place a bit, then started to lean far to the side. Yasuo scooted over to her just in time to let Eisuke rest her head on his shoulder. Though Yasuo had been trying to avoid this level of intimacy the whole evening, he couldn’t help but catch Eisuke when she was falling.

“Who is she?” Yasuo asked quietly. He could tell that Eisuke wasn’t talking about him.


“Mineko? Who’s that?”


“Species? Age? Personality? Appearance?”

“She was a kitsune like me... Nine tails. Basically a goddess.”

Was? Yasuo noted.

Eisuke continued undeterred, needing no prodding in her inebriated state. “Mineko was even older than I was. And she was... she was... a presence. That couldn’t. Be ignored.”

“Is that so?” Yasuo whispered, subdued. Though this was the sort of secret Yasuo had been seeking, he still felt a twinge of guilt for drawing the information out of Eisuke like this.

“And to look at her... Where to start... Where do I start... Her immaculate, snowy and satiny fur... Oh, you probably meant her human form... Beautiful would be putting it lightly. So incredibly lightly...”

“Is that so.”

“Her legs were so long. And her hips, so shapely. Her tush, so rotund. Her waist, so slender. Her arms, so... lithe.”

It was extremely bizarre to hear this sort of crass talk coming from Eisuke, but it was Yasuo’s own fault for removing the kitsune’s inhibitions to such a degree. Yasuo was about to steer the conversation elsewhere, but Eisuke talked over him.

“And her breasts. Wow...”

Yeesh. Yasuo raised his eyebrows and frowned. “Larger than average, huh?”

“Just. Stupendous. The perfect size, the perfect shape. Such a grand, voluminous bust. But not excessively so.”

Yasuo didn’t think shapeshifting yokai really deserved all that much praise for their physical appearance, but perhaps there were limits of some kind to a kitsune’s “base” human form, likely in relation to their personality and magical power. And if this Mineko had nine tails... That was as powerful as a kitsune could get, wasn’t it? So no wonder she was a looker. There were also more than a few old folktales about vixens posing as seductive women, winning men’s hearts (and later breaking them, in most cases). Perhaps one of those stories was about Mineko.

Eisuke yawned deeply. “And her... face... I could have. Stared at her... face. Forever.”

The fox woman wrapped her arms around Yasuo’s other shoulder, clutching him like a pillow. Her heavy, rhythmic breathing indicated she was either already asleep, or something extremely close to it. Yasuo considered waking her up and getting out of the hot spring, but decided to just let her need him for a minute. It was nice to have someone who desired to rely on you... Even if it was a fabricated longing.

So all this time, there was someone really special on Eisuke’s mind. Someone who still claimed a piece of his heart.

But the way she was holding Yasuo now, he couldn’t help but have someone else on his mind too. Kokone used to hug him and rest her head on his shoulder just like this, whenever they slept together. Maybe she still claimed a piece of his heart. He felt a strange sort of tingling throughout his body, reminiscent of the feeling you get when your hand or foot falls asleep. Perhaps that was a sign to get out of the hot spring.

Yasuo took one last look up at the evening sky, wondering what the upcoming days would bring. He saw more than just the stars and moon though—there was also a long jagged white line. The unease in Yasuo’s heart immediately grew heavier. From one end of the sky to the other, there was what appeared to be an intensely contorted bolt of lightning, but frozen in time.

It was like a crack in a mirror.

Kuromaru (クロまる)