Ukikumo Shinrei Kitan Vol 2 Chapter 2
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the way of the root of evil prologue ‘Have you heard about the curse of this swamp?’ The person who brought up this topic was Daijirou, who was also walking. It was a night that was cold for summer – They were on the way home after drinking at Maruk.u.ma, their usual drinking hole. 'What curse?’ asked Kisuke. He stopped walking. 'That swamp over there – ’ After saying that, Daijirou held up his lantern and pointed at the swamp behind the old estate. Daijirou’s face was as expressionless as a Noh mask. He looked frightening under the light of the lantern. They had taken this path countless times. Kisuke knew that it was an abandoned samurai estate. It had been abandoned for several years, overgrown and uncanny. – Was there a swamp though? Kisuke was doubtful as he looked, but there it was. Behind the estate that looked like it might collapse at any time, there was a dark swamp. 'What about the swamp then?’ asked Kisuke, turning to face Daijirou. Daijirou was thirty, the same as Kisuke, but because of his bald head, he looked much older. 'People say they appear here.’ 'They appear? What?’ 'Ghosts, obviously – ’ Kisuke couldn’t help but laugh at Daijirou’s words. Ghosts appeared? Even as an attempt to frighten him, it was a bit too childish. 'So what if they do? I’m not afraid of ghosts,’ said Kisuke with a laugh. Daijirou’s face grew grim. 'You don’t understand.’ 'What?’ 'People who see the ghosts here are killed by a curse.’ Daijirou spoke with such serious eyes that Kisuke thought it even funnier. 'Don’t be stupid. Whose curse is it?’ It was a creepy place, but that was all. 'The master of the samurai family that lived in this estate was pretty well-known. Even held an important office…’ 'Oh?’ 'But one day, his wife fell ill. Ever since then, he was a changed man. Seems he tried to kill both the doctor and his wife.’ Along with Daijirou’s words, the cold wind blue, rustling the gra.s.s growing about the swamp. Daijirou made it sound very real, but most stories like this were just rumours. 'Stop telling boring stories and get going already.’ Kisuke tried to start walking again, but Daijirou grabbed his arm. 'Did you hear something just now?’ 'You probably just heard the wind,’ said Kisuke with a laugh. He tried to start walking again, but then he stopped. He felt somebody’s gaze on him. – What? He felt suspicious as he looked about. 'Oooooooh.’ A groan reached Kisuke’s ears. It wasn’t the wind. Kisuke and Daijirou looked at each other. Daijirou was pale. Kisuke probably looked the same. 'Ur…. gah…’ He heard it again. It was clearer this time. ’T-tha….’ Daijirou’s voice trembled as he pointed at the swamp. Kisuke looked at the dark swamp. It swelled up, like it was alive, and then a dark shadow came out from within. 'Guh…. urgh…’ The shadow walked towards them, swamp water dripping. Drip, drip, drip. It was obvious at first glance that it was not something of this world. 'I-it appeared!’ Daijirou dropped his lantern and staggered backwards. The lantern hit the ground. The fire crackled and lit the shadow up. It was an old man, thin like a dead tree. Kisuke tried to run, but his body wouldn’t move. Daijirou seemed to feel the same. His teeth ground together as he shuddered. The old man was still approaching them, one step at a time. Soon, he was right in front of them. The old man brought his face close to them. It was a creepy face, like skin plastered on a skull. His fish-like eyes were cloudy, with no sign of life. 'You… I’ll kill you…’ said the old man in a clear voice. 'Aahhh!’ Daijirou shrieked. He spun around and ran off. Kisuke tried to run too, but his body wouldn’t move the way he wanted it to. He was frozen in place by fear and fell to the ground. The old man’s frightening face drew closer to Kisuke. 'Stop! Stop!’ screamed Kisuke. He held his head in his arms and curled up. For a while, he shook like a sign blowing in the wind, but nothing happened. – What’s going on? Kisuke was frightened, but he opened his eyes slightly. He didn’t see anything. He opened his eyes in full and looked around, but he still didn’t see anything. The old man had disappeared. There was just the fishy wind and the sound of rustling leaves. – Was that just a trick of my eyes from too much drinking? Though Kisuke was confused, he stood up. He was still half in shock when a warm wind brushed his neck. No, it was different from wind. It was like somebody had breathed on him. Kisuke was nervous, but he slowly turned his head. The old man from earlier was right behind him. 'Die – ’ As the old man said that, Kisuke shrieked and ran off. 1 Unlike the night before, the sun came out bright in the morning and brought with it a boiling heat. Yasohachi spotted a crowd around the bridge. He was on his way home from delivering textiles to a customer at his father Genta’s request. People had crowded around the bridge, blocking it off. Their heads were huddled together as they muttered. – Did something happen? Yasohachi took a look, but he wasn’t sure. There were rumours of robbery around the area, so perhaps they had caught somebody of that sort. 'Did something happen?’ Yasohachi spoke to a man nearby. He looked like a merchant, with a wooden rack of goods on his back and bamboo hat covering his eyes. He was tall and seemed refined, but there was a dark air about him. The man looked at Yasohachi sharply from underneath his hat, but he didn’t say anything. 'Do you know what happened?’ Yasohachi asked again. Though the man must have heard, he turned around and walked away. – What a strange person. Just as Yasohachi thought that, somebody slapped him on the back. He turned around and saw a familiar face. 'k.u.ma-san.’ It was k.u.makichi, the owner of Maruk.u.ma. He was as large and hairy as a bear, just as his name suggested. He had a square jaw and face and looked stern but he was a very friendly man. k.u.makichi had often played with Yasohachi when Yasohachi was young. 'Hachi. Perfect timing.’ k.u.makichi looked relieved. It sounded like he had something he wanted Yasohachi to do. 'What is it?’ 'There’s something I want you to hear,’ said k.u.makichi with a serious expression. k.u.makichi was usually in good humour. It was rare for him to look like this. Something serious must have happened. 'I don’t mind, but can I really be of use to you?’ 'It’s fine. Let’s talk inside,’ suggested k.u.makichi. It seemed like he didn’t want other people to hear. 'Could it be that you’re in love?’ said Yasohachi. k.u.makichi sighed. 'That’s not my sort of thing.’ It was true that he wasn’t the sort of person who would become anxious over love. 'And I’m not the one who wants you to hear something.’ k.u.makichi looked forward. Under the roof of the dango shop stood a man. He looked to be about thirty and was glancing about nervously. 'Who is that?’ 'Kisuke-san who’s the head clerk at the sundries shop called Kuraya. Maruk.u.ma gets its stuff from there.’ 'Ah…’ Yasohachi didn’t think that he’d be able to do anything after hearing the story of a person he didn’t know, but before he could say that, k.u.makichi had started walking. Yasohachi wasn’t sure about this, but he followed k.u.makichi. Kisuke joined them and they walked together, but n.o.body said anything. They walked silently, the atmosphere suffocating. When they reached Maruk.u.ma, they went up to the room on the second floor. After the three of them sat down, k.u.makichi introduced Yasohachi to Kisuke. Kisuke nodded. His face was pale – perhaps he was unwell. 'He wants to talk to you about a ghost, Hachi,’ said k.u.makichi in a heavy tone. 'A ghost?’ 'Yeah. Kisuke-san will tell you the details.’ Kisuke looked divided, but he slowly began to speak. 'It was last night – ’ Kisuke started speaking in a shaking voice about the abandoned estate of a shogun’s va.s.sal and the terrifying incident that had occurred at the swamp near it. Kisuke spoke in great detail. It felt like they were right there. Yasohachi almost yelped when Kisuke reached the point with the old man, like a dead tree, whispering 'Die – ’ 'That’s terrifying,’ said Yasohachi in a hoa.r.s.e voice. Kisuke had been very focussed on his surroundings as he spoke and started at every small noise. It hurt to watch him. k.u.makichi was silent, a serious expression on his face. 'Actually, there’s more to the story,’ said Kisuke with an odd expression. Everything so far had already been frightening enough. It made Yasohachi depressed to think there was more. 'What happened?’ he urged. Kisuke nodded. 'I just ran. I didn’t know where or how, but before I noticed it, I was shaking in my futon at home. I did that for a while, but then I suddenly came to my senses. What on earth was I doing? Wasn’t it just a trick of my eye? That’s what I thought.’ 'I see.’ 'I decided to leave my futon. Then – ’ After saying that, Kisuke looked straight at Yasohachi. A shadow fell over his pale face. Yasohachi’s heart was pounding. I can’t listen to what comes next – that was how he felt. But he couldn’t say it, so he just gulped and held his breath. 'He was there. That old man, right in front of my eyes…’ Kisuke covered his face with his hands. Yasohachi felt gooseflesh rise in his fear too, and his shoulders shook. k.u.makichi looked frightened too, which didn’t match his image. The silence continued. After some time, Kisuke took a deep breath and said, 'I’m ashamed to say that I fainted… When I next woke up, it was morning…’ 'There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Anybody would do that,’ said k.u.makichi. 'k.u.ma-san, you don’t have to console me. I didn’t think I was such a coward,’ muttered Kisuke. Even though k.u.makichi wasn’t the sort of person who would say things he didn’t mean to console somebody, it probably wouldn’t help if Yasohachi said that. 'Was he gone in the morning?’ asked Yasohachi. Kisuke nodded. 'My head started working properly and then I remembered Daijirou, who had been with me… so I went to his house to check on him,’ said Kisuke hoa.r.s.ely. 'Daijirou is a poor wandering samurai who lives in a row house near Kisuke-san,’ explained k.u.makichi. 'But there was n.o.body at Daijirou’s house. He’s single, so there was n.o.body to ask where he went. Normally I’d just think that he had gone out somewhere, but what happened yesterday was still on my mind…’ Kisuke stopped speaking, looked down and bit his lip. They had run off separately after seeing a ghost. It was natural for Kisuke to be concerned about Daijirou’s absence. 'Did you go look for him?’ asked Yasohachi. Kisuke looked up. 'I did, but since I didn’t have any clues, I just walked around town. Then…’ Kisuke stopped speaking and bit his lip again, looking down. 'Did something happen?’ Yasohachi asked. Kisuke looked down further. The story would get nowhere like this. Yasohachi looked to k.u.makichi for help. k.u.makichi breathed out and spoke in Kisuke’s stead. 'The commotion at the bridge earlier – Daijirou-san’s body was found there.’ 'H-his body?’ Yasohachi half-got up without thinking. 'Yeah. He was cut right down the stomach…’ 'That’s… too cruel…’ said Yasohachi, his body shaking. Yasohachi’s shoulders slumped, but then he thought something odd. 'Could it have been the work of the ghost?’ asked Yasohachi. 'That’s the only thing I can think of,’ said k.u.makichi. 'Do you have proof of that?’ Yasohachi asked. k.u.makichi nodded. 'There’s a bit of a history to the estate where Kisuke-san saw the ghost.’ 'History?’ 'I don’t know the details, but there’s been a rumour for a while that there’s a ghost there, and the people who’ve seen the ghost there die afterwards.’ 'What…’ Yasohachi didn’t think it was good to just accept rumours as fact, but he did feel like the ghost that Kisuke saw had something to do with Daijirou’s death. 'I’ll be killed next… I’m sure of it…’ said Kisuke in a shaking voice with his hands on the tatami. He looked so frightened that he might just collapse at any moment. 'Hachi, could you ask Ukik.u.mo to help Kisuke-san?’ Ukik.u.mo was a man who worked as an exorcist. He was Yasohachi’s acquaintance and a frequenter of Maruk.u.ma. He had solved many cases involving spirits in the past. k.u.makichi was the one asking. Yasohachi wanted to help if he could. He also couldn’t just leave Kisuke alone when he was shaking in fear like that. But – 'I can ask, but Ukik.u.mo-san is a bit moody.’ Ukik.u.mo was troublesome. Though he was an exorcist, he was terribly slow to act. 'Doesn’t seem that way to me.’ k.u.makichi shook his head. k.u.makichi only knew Ukik.u.mo as a customer at Maruk.u.ma, so it made sense for him to think that way. 'And he’s a miser.’ Yasohachi had had to pay an unlawful rate to Ukik.u.mo in the past. Ukik.u.mo had even stolen the contents of his wallet. 'How much will it cost?’ k.u.makichi asked. That was difficult to answer. Ukik.u.mo’s moods changed like the clouds, as his name suggested. He might ask for a whole fifty ryou sometimes but do something for free another. There was nothing consistent about that man. 'I couldn’t say, but it’s a request from you, k.u.ma-san. I don’t think Ukik.u.mo-san will refuse, so I’ll try asking him,’ said Yasohachi with a sigh, though he did feel anxious. 2 'Hey, are you listening?’ said Yasohachi to the man lying on the floor with his arm as a pillow. They were in an old, slanted shrine. The man had a refined look to his face, but his hair was loose, not in a topknot, and he wore his white kimono without hakama. The red obi was tied in a slovenly manner. His skin was paler than the kimono – it made him look almost dead. – This was Ukik.u.mo. 'You’re so noisy.’ Ukik.u.mo glared at Yasohachi. His eyes were the vivid red of blood. He had his red eyes in the open since they were in the shrine now, but he usually covered them with a red cloth that had eyes drawn on them in ink to pretend to be a blind man when he was out. Yasohachi thought the eyes beautiful so he didn’t think it was necessary, but Ukik.u.mo said that not everybody thought that way. Ukik.u.mo’s eyes weren’t just red. They could also see the spirits of the dead – that is, ghosts. 'I’m talking, so please listen. It’s rude.’ 'Barging into somebody’s place and telling ghost stories isn’t rude?’ Ukik.u.mo said lazily. He yawned. This always happened, but Ukik.u.mo really was good with words. Yasohachi wouldn’t lose though. If he became depressed at something of this level, he wouldn’t be able to get Ukik.u.mo to move. 'Ukik.u.mo-san, you’re an exorcist, aren’t you? I came here to talk about work.’ 'You keep saying that, but who told you that?’ 'Hijikata-san did.’ Hijikata was a medicine merchant who frequented Yasohachi’s father’s dry goods store. He had introduced Ukik.u.mo to Yasohachi. 'That idiot Tos.h.i.+zou,’ spat out Ukik.u.mo. 'In any case, this is about work, so please listen.’ Yasohachi sighed, and Ukik.u.mo got up. Just as Yasohachi thought that Ukik.u.mo had finally decided to listen to him, Ukik.u.mo just picked up his gourd, poured himself rice wine and gulped it down. 'Work? The guy probably just saw a bad dream after drinking too much,’ said Ukik.u.mo, his own breath stinking of alcohol. 'But somebody is dead.’ That was the problem. Daijirou, who had seen the ghost with Kisuke, was dead, so it was hard to write this off as just a dream. Even though Yasohachi was serious, Ukik.u.mo just yawned. 'Like I care.’ 'Please don’t say that. Kisuke-san is very concerned that he may be cursed himself. He says he’ll pay – ’ 'Who’s this Kisuke anyway?’ Yasohachi sighed. He had explained about Kisuke at the beginning, but it seemed Ukik.u.mo hadn’t been listening at all. 'I said, Kisuke-san is the head clerk at the sundries shop that Maruk.u.ma uses. It’s called Kuraya.’ 'Even if he is the head clerk, he’s a townsperson. Don’t think he’ll be able to pay.’ And he went and talked about money – he really was a miser. Yasohachi wanted to complain, but if Ukik.u.mo fell into a bad humour, there would be no saving the situation. 'Don’t say tha.t Please help.’ 'Like I said, I don’t care.’ 'This is a request from k.u.ma-san. It seems Maruk.u.ma has been helped greatly by Kuraya.’ From what Yasohachi had heard from k.u.makichi, Ukik.u.mo drank at Maruk.u.ma on a tab. He did whatever he wanted, so he should at least help a bit. 'I don’t care about the things I don’t care about.’ 'Are you serious?’ 'So I am,’ Ukik.u.mo said uncaringly. Then, he drank rice wine directly from his gourd and wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his kimono. It was so insolent that Yasohachi was irritated. 'Don’t you feel bad for him?’ 'I don’t.’ Why not? How can you be an exorcist like that?’ 'I can say I don’t care because I’m an exorcist.’ Ukik.u.mo threw his gourd to the ground. 'What do you mean?’ 'You still don’t understand? I’ve said this before, but ghosts are like cl.u.s.ters of the thoughts of the dead.’ Ukik.u.mo always said that. Ghosts, which were the cl.u.s.ters of the thoughts of the dead, didn’t have bodies of their own, so they couldn’t touch anything. Yasohachi had no way to confirm that, but Ukik.u.mo was saying that and he could see ghosts, so it was probably true. 'What about it?’ asked Yasohachi. Ukik.u.mo made a click of his tongue in irritation. 'Daijirou the wandering samurai didn’t die at the hands of a ghost. A person did it – ’ Ukik.u.mo’s red eyes glinted. Under that pressure, Yasohachi leaned back and gulped. 'A person…’ 'That’s how it is. That’s why there’s nothing for me to do.’ Yasohachi understood Ukik.u.mo’s reasoning. But was it really impossible for a ghost to kill somebody? Daijirou was dead. And – 'Even if it wasn’t the work of a ghost, I think this may have something to do with the ghost Kisuke-san saw…’ 'What’s it got to do with anything?’ 'I don’t know, but I think there’s something in that estate and swamp where Kisuke-san saw the ghost.’ After Yasohachi said that, Ukik.u.mo’s expression went stern. 'Hachi. Could it be that the place the man named Kisuke saw the ghost is the old estate with the swamp behind it along the Koushuu Kaidou?’ Ukik.u.mo’s left eyebrow went up. Kisuke had been focussed on explaining the situation and hadn’t mentioned the specific location. But – 'How do you know?’ asked Yasohachi. Ukik.u.mo looked away. 'There’s a rumour.’ 'What about?’ 'It’s obvious, isn’t it? A rumour that there’s a ghost there – ’ Ukik.u.mo ran a hand through his messy hair in irritation. 'Is that so? Then I think it must be related.’ Yasohachi leaned forward. Ukik.u.mo stood up as if to escape from him. He looked as refined as he always did when standing. It always caught Yasohachi’s eye. 'Might be related. Might not. Just leave it.’ 'But…’ 'If that man named Kisuke doesn’t want to die, tell him to stop talking to everyone about ghosts – ’ Ukik.u.mo looked down with his red eyes at Yasohachi. There was an unusual intimidating air to them that made Yasohachi hold his breath. 'Please wait. It really is related then, isn’t it?’ 'You don’t understand anything.’ 'What are you talking about?’ 'Think for yourself a bit.’ 'I’m asking because I don’t understand after thinking.’ 'This is the end of the conversation. Go home.’ Ukik.u.mo opened the door and urged Yasohachi out. It was obvious that Ukik.u.mo wasn’t going to hear Yasohachi out. Ukik.u.mo said a lot, but he couldn’t leave people in trouble alone. Yasohachi had thought he was a compa.s.sionate man, and yet – 'You really aren’t going to help?’ 'Not going to do anything. Don’t do anything else if you don’t want to die. Go home and sleep.’ Yasohachi could do nothing more if Ukik.u.mo refused him this way. His shoulders slumped and he left the shrine – 3 'Yasohachi-san – ’ Yasohachi had just left the shrine with his head down when somebody called out to him. When he lifted his head, he saw a man he knew walking towards him. 'Ah, Hijikata-san,’ said Yasohachi. Hijikata smiled gently at him. He seemed like a friendly and warm person when he was like this, but sometimes he showed a different face. Yasohachi had seen Hijikata easily defeat a wandering samurai before. It was clear he wasn’t just a medicine merchant. Yasohachi wanted to ask a variety of things, but the unique air Hijikata had about him made that hard, and Yasohachi had never been able to ask anything. 'Did you need something from that man?’ Hijikata glanced at the shrine. 'Yes, that was the plan…’ said Yasohachi, looking at the shrine as well. Ukik.u.mo was still inside. Perhaps he was looking out at them through the lattice. 'He refused then.’ 'He did. Even though there are people who are troubled… I didn’t think he was such a cold person,’ said Yasohachi with a sigh. 'That man is busy too, though you might not think it.’ 'It doesn’t seem that way to me…’ Ukik.u.mo had just been lying on the ground while drinking rice wine earlier. He didn’t look busy at all. Ukik.u.mo was always drinking lazily anyway. Yasohachi had never seen him look busy. 'Actually, he is looking into a rather troublesome case right now.’ 'A troublesome case?’ 'Yes. Well, spirits are involved. I made the request, even though it was difficult,’ Hijikata said softly. 'Is that so…’ If that was the case, Ukik.u.mo should have just said that he was busy and couldn’t help right now. Yasohachi wouldn’t know that if Ukik.u.mo just shooed him away like that. 'What was your issue, Yasohachi-san?’ 'There is a man who is afraid that he has been cursed by a ghost and will be killed, so I came to consult Ukik.u.mo…’ 'I see. Did he listen to you?’ 'Yes, but he shooed me away, saying that there was nothing he could do,’ said Yasohachi, depressed. For some reason, Hijikata laughed aloud. It didn’t seem funny to Yasohachi. When Yasohachi looked at Hijikata, he immediately stopped laughing, perhaps feeling guilty. 'Well, that man is not an idiot. If he says there’s nothing he can do, there is probably nothing he can do.’ 'But…’ 'Yasohachi-san, you’re an earnest person, aren’t you?’ Hijikata nodded a few times. If asked whether he was earnest or not, Yasohachi would say earnest, but when Hijikata spoke like that, Yasohachi felt like he was being made fun of. 'That’s not it. I just can’t accept it.’ 'What is it?’ 'Ukik.u.mo-san made it sound like that case I mentioned was related to ghosts somehow. He told me not to do anything unnecessary if I didn’t want to die. I’m sure he knows something,’ said Yasohachi. 'I see,’ said Hijikata. He looked up at the sky. Yasohachi looked up as well. There was a line of clouds. After a silence, Hijikata nodded and said, 'If he told you not to do anything unnecessary, it is probably best to believe in him and wait.’ It looked like Hijikata had accepted that, but Yasohachi still didn’t understand anything. It made him feel uncomfortable. 'Is that really fine?’ 'Yes, that’s fine. Since that man said so – ’ From those words, it sounded like Hijikata completely trusted Ukik.u.mo. To be honest, Yasohachi thought it was amazing Hijikata could trust Ukik.u.mo with that att.i.tude of his. There had to be a reason Hijikata trusted him so deeply. 'Er… Hijikata-san, how did you meet Ukik.u.mo-san?’ asked Yasohachi. Hijikata looked slightly surprised. 'It would take a while to explain.’ 'Does that mean you are old acquaintances?’ 'No, not quite old, but the circ.u.mstances were a bit complicated.’ Hijikata narrowed his already narrowed eyes. It was a meaningful sentence. It made Yasohachi even more curious. 'Did something happen?’ 'I am willing to discuss it, but I think that man probably wouldn’t like it. HE’s probably watching from the lattice right now.’ Hijikata looked at the shrine again. Though there was no sound from the shrine, Yasohachi felt sure that Ukik.u.mo was staring from within. 'Well, you’ll find out eventually,’ Hijikata said gently. 'Really?’ 'People are connected by strings of fate. They aren’t strings that you can cut just because you want to. No matter how that many dislikes it, it isn’t something he can hide.’ 'Oh…’ Yasohachi felt like he was being tricked by smoke with Hijikata’s roundabout speech. 'Just as it was with Kanou Yuuzan…’ 'Eh?’ Yasohachi hadn’t thought that he would hear Kanou Yuuzan’s name from Hijikata’s mouth. Kanou Yuuzan was a painter of the Kanou school. He was a shaman who cursed paintings to kill people without getting his hands dirty. Yasohachi had been involved with Kanou Yuuzan before and knew how horrifying he was. Yasohachi had sensed that Ukik.u.mo and Kanou Yuuzan were related somehow, but from what Hijikata said just now, Hijikata was also involved. 'I’ve said something unnecessary, haven’t I? I’ll take my leave now – ’ Hijikata was about to go, but then he stopped. 'Yasohachi-san, could it be that the incident involving ghosts you mentioned today has something to do with the va.s.sal’s estate and swamp by the Koushuu Kaidou?’ said Hijikata, his back facing Yasohachi. That was exactly it. 'How do you know that?’ 'Perhaps his is fate as well.’ 'What do you mean?’ 'I also think it would be better if you didn’t get involved with this case, Yasohachi-san. You will be swallowed up by the flow of fate.’ – What do you mean? Yasohachi wanted to ask, but Hijikata went through the torii gate as if to run away from Yasohachi’s question and walked up to the shrine. Though Yasohachi could have called out to him, Yasohachi was stopped by what felt almost like a thirst for blood emanating from Hijikata. All Yasohachi could do was stand there. Hijikata went inside the shrine and disappeared. Yasohachi heard thunder in the distance – 4 'h.e.l.lo.’ Somebody called out to Yasohachi as he was ambling along. He lifted his head and saw Iori. Her lovely round face had a gentle smile on it. Iori usually wore hakama with training clothes, but today she wore an elegant kimono. The water lilies on the kimono suited her well. 'Iori-san –’ – Why are you here?’ Yasohachi was about to ask that, but then he realised that he was standing in front of Iori’s estate. 'Is something the matter? You look depressed.’ Iori looked at Yasohachi’s face in concern. Her eyes were as clear as a stream. Yasohachi could feel himself blus.h.i.+ng under the gaze. He felt strangely embarra.s.sed. 'No, I’m just a bit troubled,’ Yasohachi said as he looked away. 'What happened?’ 'I was consulted about an incident involving a ghost and went to talk to Ukik.u.mo-san about it, but he felt unapproachable.’ 'I see…’ Iori looked at Yasohachi in sympathy, which made Yasohachi feel bad about saying something strange. 'No, it’s fine. I’ll do something about it.’ Though Yasohachi smiled, he knew it was unnatural. Ukik.u.mo had already refused. Yasohachi had no idea what else he could do. 'What sort of ghost is it?’ 'Eh?’ Why did she ask? Yasohachi c.o.c.ked his head. Iori smiled. 'If you wouldn’t mind my a.s.sistance, I will help, so please tell me what happened.’ 'No, I couldn’t…’ 'It’s fine. Yasohachi-san, you have helped me so often. Please allow me to help, even if it is just a little.’ 'No, I…’ Iori was probably talking about the previous cases involving spirits, but Yasohachi had just been watching. He hadn’t helped at all. Furthermore, he was just a son from a dry-goods store. He knew his place. He couldn’t have Iori, the daughter of a samurai family, listen to his troubles. 'Ah, yes, you wouldn’t want to discuss something like that in the open. Let’s go inside.’ Though Yasohachi was troubled about what to do, Iori was the opposite – it looked like she was intent on hearing him. Yasohachi couldn’t just refuse her now. Yasohachi let Iori show him into the Hagiwara estate to a room facing the garden. He had been to this room many times before. When Yasohachi thought about how kind Iori was to him when her status was so different, it made him feel somewhat nervous. 'What happened?’ asked Iori once they had sat down. There were many thoughts on Yasohachi’s mind, but he couldn’t be silent after coming this far. Yasohachi hesitantly told Iori what he had heard from Kisuke. 'How frightening,’ said Iori after Yasohachi had finished. 'It really is,’ agreed Yasohachi. Kisuke had not just seen a ghost. No matter what Ukik.u.mo said, the man named Daijirou had been sliced in the stomach and killed. 'I had heard that a corpse was found at the bridge, but I can’t believe a ghost was involved.’ Iori’s brows furrowed. Her eyes were melancholy. It was strange how even that expression looked lovely. 'Yes…’ 'I’ve heard of the ghost at that estate before.’ Yasohachi leapt up at the sudden voice. He turned his eyes to the corridor and saw Iori’s brother s.h.i.+ntarou standing there, leaning against a pillar. 'Brother! Don’t surprise me like that!’ said Iori angrily, but s.h.i.+ntarou didn’t seem to care. He casually entered the room and sat down. 'I wasn’t trying to,’ said s.h.i.+ntarou with a smile. This casual manner was just like s.h.i.+ntarou. 'Eavesdropping is improper,’ said Iori sullenly. 'I wasn’t eavesdropping. I was walking past and just happened to hear.’ 'What is with that excuse?’ 'It’s fine, isn’t it? I would have held back if it were an amorous conversation, but it’s just a ghost story.’ 'What do you mean, amorous…’ Iori’s cheeks were slightly pink. It seemed that s.h.i.+ntarou was teasing Yasohachi and Iori. 'I would not be so rude as to speak of such things to Iori-san,’ said Yasohachi with a wry smile. 'Yasohachi-san, do you dislike Iori?’ s.h.i.+ntarou c.o.c.ked his head. 'That isn’t the problem. Our social statuses are too different.’ Yasohachi, a townsperson, was of such a different status than Iori, the daughter of a samurai family, that even talking of romance was ridiculous. Ukik.u.mo said that status didn’t matter between the sheets, but that wasn’t how things were. Marriage between a samurai family member and a townsperson were forbidden by the shogunate. 'That is a bit troublesome.’ s.h.i.+ntarou put his chin in his hands and let his gaze wander. He seemed to be in thought. Yasohachi had no idea if s.h.i.+ntarou was being serious or if he was teasing him. In either case, they had gone off-topic. After Yasohachi mentioned this, s.h.i.+ntarou clapped his hands together and said, 'Actually, I know a ghost story about that estate too. I might be able to help.’ 'Um… What do you mean by that?’ asked Yasohachi. s.h.i.+ntarou nodded. 'The estate you mentioned is that abandoned building along the Koushuu Kaidou, right? With the swamp behind it.’ 'Yes.’ 'I hear that the estate used to be f.u.kami s.h.i.+nzaemon’s.’ 'Is he famous?’ 's.h.i.+nzaemon-dono was a sharp guy – even the Aoyama family couldn’t outdo him. Well, there’s also a rumour that he was rather greedy…’ 'Why did the family come to ruin?’ 'Misfortune befell him…’ s.h.i.+ntarou’s eyes narrowed. Though he probably didn’t notice himself, his flat way of speaking was rather frightening. 'Misfortune?’ 'Yes. It was about ten years ago. First, his wife fell ill. The reason for it was unknown, and it seems she suffered a lot. Then, s.h.i.+nzaemon-dono called for a well-known doctor…’ After saying that, s.h.i.+ntarou looked down, seeming uncomfortable. It would bother Yasohachi if s.h.i.+ntarou stopped here. 'What happened?’ Yasohachi asked. After a while, s.h.i.+ntarou lifted his head. 's.h.i.+nzaemon-dono killed both his wife and the doctor.’ 'Wha…’ It was so shocking that Yasohachi was at a loss for words. The image of a man brandis.h.i.+ng a b.l.o.o.d.y sword flashed through his head, making his whole body shudder with fear. 'Why would he do such a thing?’ asked Yasohachi in a trembling voice. 'I wonder. Perhaps he went mad.’ 'What happened to s.h.i.+nzaemon-dono after that?’ asked Iori. Her voice was high-pitched. Perhaps she was afraid as well. 's.h.i.+nzaemon-dono slit his own stomach and was found floating in the swamp.’ After s.h.i.+ntarou said that, a silence fell upon the room. Yasohachi found it hard to breathe. He wasn’t sure whether it was because of the summer heat or the frightening way s.h.i.+ntarou had told the story. 'Ever since then, people sometimes see a ghost there,’ said s.h.i.+ntarou after a long silence. 'Then Kisuke-san saw s.h.i.+nzaemon-san’s ghost?’ asked Yasohachi. For just a moment, s.h.i.+ntarou looked outside. Yasohachi looked out as well at the clouds in the sky. They were grey now. 'It may be too soon to say. What I heard was only a rumour. Furthermore I don’t know whether what the person named Kisuke-san saw was really s.h.i.+nzaemon-san’s ghost…’ Though Yasohachi felt s.h.i.+ntarou was being too cautious, it made sense. Yasohachi hadn’t seen the ghost himself. He couldn’t see ghosts like Ukik.u.mo. If they didn’t confirm who the ghost was, there was nothing they could do. But the problem was how to go about doing that. Yasohachi was thinking when Iori suddenly said, 'Oh! How about meeting with Kisuke-san and painting a portrait of the ghost?’ Iori’s suggestion made Yasohachi clapped his hands together. 'I see!’ If he went to talk to Kisuke again, drew a portrait of the ghost and showed it to people who knew s.h.i.+nzaemon, he would probably be able to confirm a number of things. 5 Yasohachi stood in front of the shop called Kuraya. There was a big curtain hanging over the entrance. Yasohachi had returned home to pick up his portable brush-and-ink case and paper, so when he reached the shop, it was already nearly evening. Iori had insisted on going with him, but Yasohachi had refused. This case had nothing to do with Iori. Yasohachi didn’t want to trouble her and they would gather attention if he walked around with Iori, who was the daughter a samurai family. Kisuke would probably be surprised and on guard. When Yasohachi was about to go in, he felt somebody’s gaze on him. He looked up and saw a man – a man he knew. The man was tall, with a bamboo hat on his head. It was the man Yasohachi had spoken to yesterday at the bridge. 'Ah!’ exclaimed Yasohachi. The man looked away and briskly walked off. Had he had an errand at the shop? Or – well, thinking about that now was pointless. Yasohachi went under the curtain. 'h.e.l.lo.’ When Yasohachi went inside, Kisuke looked up from organising the shelves. He looked even paler than he had before. 'Yasohachi-san, correct?’ 'Yes.’ 'How was it?’ asked Kisuke. His face was clearly expectant. It made it very hard for Yasohachi to say that nothing had changed. He was wondering what to say when a woman came out from the back. She was probably about forty. She had good posture and a dignified face. 'A customer?’ the omwan asked Kisuke. 'No, I asked him for advice about the ghost the other night…’ responded Kisuke. The woman sighed. 'Are you still talking about that? You just saw a nightmare.’ She spoke firmly, just as her appearance suggested. 'No, I definitely saw the ghost,’ Kisuke insisted, but the woman did not back down. 'You probably mistook a dog or something.’ 'There’s no way I did that. It was definitely human. And it came into the house.’ Kisuke looked at the woman pleadingly, but the woman just snorted. 'You were probably just half asleep. It’s because you always stay out drinking until late at night. Good thing it was a ghost – a robber would have killed you.’ After that speech, Kisuke opened his mouth to speak, but in the end, he held in his words with slumped shoulders. 'More importantly, have you seen Ohisa?’ the woman asked. 'I think she was here just earlier…’ 'Did she sneak off to see that man again?’ 'I don’t…’ Kisuke stopped speaking, looking bitter. Though Yasohachi didn’t know the details, it was clear that the woman was irritated about something. 'Honestly. There’s no helping it. I’m going out to deliver something, so I’ll leave the rest to you,’ the woman said briskly. She picked up a cloth parcel and stepped out. She was a very vigorous woman. 'The wife of the owner,’ said Kisuke with a wry smile. 'Is that so?’ 'She wasn’t so crabby before… but she’s been like this ever since the owner disappeared…’ 'Did something happen to her husband?’ 'I don’t know. It was ten years ago. He just left one day. There was a rumour that he had a woman somewhere.’ Kisuke scratched his head, looking like he wasn’t sure what to say. 'She must have had to work very hard.’ 'She did, definitely. She acts strong so that n.o.body underestimates her.’ 'I see.’ 'Well, recently, it seems her daughter found a man, so she’s probably irritated about that too.’ 'Why would she be irritated about an engagement?’ 'Because the man’s some n.o.body that just came by recently. It makes sense for her to be tense,’ said Kisuke. Yasohachi nodded and looked around the shop. It was fairly old, but it was well maintained. Perhaps the owner’s wife was so frantic in protecting the store because she was waiting for her husband to return. 'So how was it?’ asked Kisuke, surprising Yasohachi. He had almost forgotten his point because of the owner’s wife’s vigour. Yasohachi turned towards Kisuke. 'Actually…’ Though he wasn’t sure whether he should tell Kisuke that Ukik.u.mo had refused or keep quiet, he decided to keep quiet for now. He had decided to investigate on his own – he would get Ukik.u.mo to help somehow afterwards. 'Kisuke-san, do you remember the ghost’s face?’ asked Yasohachi. 'Eh?’ Kisuke c.o.c.ked his head. It was natural for him to be surprised at such a sudden question. 'First, we will investigate the ident.i.ty of the ghost.’ 'What? Does it matter who the ghost is?’ Kisuke looked doubtful. Yasohachi probably would have looked the same if he hadn’t met Ukik.u.mo. 'Yes. The ghost is wandering this world because of some attachment it has – if we understand what it is, we can exorcise the spirit.’ 'Oh, that’s how it works?’ Kisuke nodded in admiration. 'That’s why I’d like you to describe the ghost to me. Just what you remember is fine. I’m going to paint the ghost’s portrait and ask around.’ Kisuke’s expression clouded over. 'Ah… I think he was a thin old man… but I can’t remember much.’ Kisuke put his hand on the back of his neck, looking apologetic. It probably wasn’t that he had drunk too much and forgotten. He had probably been too afraid to look at the ghost’s face properly. That said, Yasohachi couldn’t back down now. 'I don’t mind. Just tell me what you remember.’ He didn’t have to paint the portrait exactly. If he found out any particular characteristics, they should be enough to find out the ident.i.ty of the ghost. 'If that’s so…’ responded Kisuke in a very unreliable one. 6 Yasohachi ambled along with the portrait. Kisuke’s memory was less reliable than Yasohachi had thought it would be. A thin old man with eyes like black holes. That was all Yasohachi had managed to get out of him. He had drawn many different examples for Kisuke like he had done with Iori, but Kisuke had been no help. Yasohachi had painted a portrait, but it wasn’t likely somebody would be able to tell who it was. 'What to do…’ Yasohachi murmured just as thunder roared. The clouds looked like they might bring a storm. It would probably rain in the evening – Yasohachi had thought he would do things himself if Ukik.u.mo wouldn’t help, but he was at a complete loss. At this right, Kisuke might actually be cursed to death. –Now, what to do? Probably the only thing he could do was try to convince Ukik.u.mo again. Yasohachi was thinking as he walked, but before he’d noticed, he had reached the aforementioned estate. It had probably been abandoned for a while. The garden was overgrown, the door out of the frame, the pillars slanted and the roof mossy. Behind it, there was a swamp. Weeds grew over the water. It was dark with mud and had a fishy smell. 'Ah!’ Yasohachi yelped without thinking. He had spotted a man standing by the swamp, peering down at the water. Though his back was facing Yasohachi, he recognised the man. He was tall and wore a bamboo hat. It was the third time he’d met him – It couldn’t be just a coincidence. 'Excuse me…’ Yasohachi walked up to the man and called out, which made the man shudder in surprise and turn around hesitantly. When the man’s eyes met his, he let out an 'Ah!’ – he seemed to have recognised Yasohachi. 'Why are you here?’ Yasohachi asked. The man turned on his heels and dashed off. Yasohachi tried to catch him, but the man was too fast. It felt like he had just slipped out of Yasohachi’s fingers. After Yasohachi sighed, a raindrop fell on his cheek. Then, the rain came pouring down in the blink of an eye. It was a storm. Yasohachi ran to hide from the rain under the estate’s eaves. The sky lit up with lightning and the roar of thunder. It was an evening shower and would probably end soon, but he would have to hide from the rain here for a while. – This really has been quite a day. Yasohachi sighed and peered inside the estate absentmindedly through a gap between the door. It was too dark to see. There was another flash of lightning. For just a moment, the estate lit up enough for Yasohachi to see a wall scroll. It was just a moment, but he saw a painting on the scroll. – That painting. Yasohachi, led by a hunch, slowly opened the door. The room became brighter, just faintly. There really was a wall scroll with a painting there. Yasohachi recognised the style. He decided to step inside. He felt like each step sank into the floor – perhaps the tatami was rotten. He walked up to the wall scroll. He stared at the painting in the door. It was an absolutely ominous painting. There was a lake with blooming water lilies. From inside the lake, a thin old man reached out with arms like branches of a dead try, trying to crawl out. The man’s face was deathly pale and expressionless. His eyes were as dark as holes. Despite that, there was an incredible force emanating from him, like he could crawl out of the painting at any moment. Yasohachi felt only one emotion as he looked at this painting – terror. Yasohachi checked the painter’s seal in the bottom right of the painting. Though it was covered with dust, he could read the name. 'Kanou Yuuzan – ’ Yasohachi read the name aloud. At the same time, a shudder ran through his body. His body was probably cold from the rain, but it wasn’t just that. Yasohachi had met Kanou Yuuzan before. He wasn’t just a painter. Kanou Yuuzan was a shaman who used curses to control people’s hearts and killed people without dirtying his own hands. The story about this estate that Yasohachi had heard from s.h.i.+ntarou flashed through his mind. s.h.i.+nzaemon had gone mad after his wife fell ill and killed his wife and the doctor? Could that have been Kanou Yuuzan’s work? It had to be. That was why Ukik.u.mo had refused the case – he’d known. He had warned Yasohachi to not get involved if he didn’t want to die. Despite that, Yasohachi had carelessly involved himself and brought himself to Kanou Yuuzan’s painting. His eyes were ringing. It was hard to breathe. This room was filled with Kanou Yuuzan’s curse. Yasohachi ran out of the estate. The rain came down hard on his body. He tried to run home, but he had only taken a few steps when the mud caught him and he fell forward. Huge raindrops. .h.i.t the swamp loudly. The smell – the smell of the swamp seemed to eat away at Yasohachi’s heart. – I need to run. That thought forced Yasohachi back up. Suddenly, he saw something like a dark shadow in the middle of the swamp. – What is that? He squinted but he couldn’t see well in the rain. The sky lit up with lightning. There was a roar of thunder. The white light lit up a man – A man stood in the middle of the swamp. Yasohachi couldn’t breathe. What was that? Was that the ghost Kisuke saw? Was that something brought about by Kanou Yuuzan’s curse? Yasohachi tried to back away in his confusion, but his back hit something. Did he walk into a tree? No, there was no tree there. He tried to turn around, but before he could, something hit him in the back. The force made Yasohachi fall forward. He tried to get back up, but he slipped and hit the ground again. Before he’d noticed, he found himself sitting by the swamp. Yasohachi tried to get up, but something cold touched him. When Yasohachi looked down, he was shocked. It was a person’s hand. A thin hand, like a brancho fa dead tree – It had come out of the swamp and had a hold on Yasohachi’s ankle. It was like something black had crawled out of the swamp, just like in Kanou Yuuzan’s painting. 'Agh!’ Yasohachi tried to run, but he lost his footing. He didn’t even have time to think before he fell into the swamp. He frantically struggled, but the more he did, the deeper his body sank. The fishy, muddy water went down his throat. He couldn’t breathe. Soon, he lost the power to struggle and sank deep into the swamp. – I will not forgive you. As Yasohachi’s consciousness faded, he heard the hoa.r.s.e voice of an old man. 7 It was humid and hot. It felt hard to breathe. Sweat dripped down his forehead and neck, but it was quick to dry. His fingertips touched something cold. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t see anything. But he could tell that it was a person’s hand. It felt like his heart was melting away. There was the sound of a cat mewing. He heard the sound of water boiling. He felt like somebody was calling his name. It was a beautiful voice – refres.h.i.+ng, like it was was.h.i.+ng away all the dirt from his heart. – Who could it be? As he pondered, he spotted a light in this pitch-black world. He felt like he wouldn’t be able to return if he went to the light. The anxiety in his chest turned into fear. His body shook. The hand his fingers were touching suddenly grabbed his tightly, as if it had sensed the change in his state of mind. He clutched the hand back. – Yasohachi-san. He heard the voice again. It was clearer than before. Yasohachi opened his eyes, as if led by the voice. Bright light flooded his vision, disorienting him. – Where on earth am I? He didn’t know where he was, but he felt very at ease as he held this hand. 'Wake up already!’ A sudden voice woke Yasohachi up at once. At the same time, a series of images flooded his mind and he sat right up. After a vicious bout of dizziness, Yasohachi had to press the corners of his eyes in the pain. He could hear his body creak. He had just taken a deep breath when somebody rubbed his back. 'Are you all right?’ 'Yes – ’ As Yasohachi turned around, he saw a face he recognized in his blurry vision. 'I-Iori-san!’ Yasohachi exclaimed in surprised. Iori sighed and smiled gently. 'Thank goodness. For a while, I wasn’t sure how things would turn out.’ Iori’s eyes were slightly wet as she said that. Yasohachi finally realised that it was Iori’s hand he had been clasping and hurriedly let go. Even if he had been confused, it was far too presumptuous of him – ’S-sorry.’ After Yasohachi made his apology, Iori shook her head and said, 'It’s fine,’ her cheeks a bit pink. Yasohachi was starting to understand the situation. He was in a small wooden room. He was sleeping on a thin futon. At the same time, a number of questions came to him. Why was Iori here? Where was this place anyway? He had fallen into a swamp – what on earth had happened? 'Get a grip already.’ A fist fell on his head. Yasohachi saw Ukik.u.mo in his usual hakama-less white kimono looking down at Yasohachi in a disgruntled manner. 'Ukik.u.mo-san… Why?’ asked Yasohachi. Ukik.u.mo snorted and sat down cross-legged. 'Honestly. I told you not to do anything unnecessary…’ Ukik.u.mo poured rice wine from his gourd into a cup and gulped it down. Ukik.u.mo had told Yasohachi that. Yasohachi had not listened to him – he’d gone investigating and fallen into the swamp as a result. 'Why am I here?’ asked Yasohachi. Then, the door opened and Kois.h.i.+kawa Souten appeared. Kois.h.i.+kawa and Yasohachi had met on a previous incident involving spirits. He was young and looked unreliable, but he was a doctor at a clinic. This meant Yasohachi was probably at Kois.h.i.+kawa’s clinic. 'It appears you’ve woken up,’ said Kois.h.i.+kawa gently. He swiftly confirmed Yasohachi’s vitals. 'It looks like you’re fine,’ said Kois.h.i.+kawa afterwards with a nod. 'Um… What on earth happened to me?’ Yasohachi asked Kois.h.i.+kawa. 'Fortunately, somebody had been pa.s.sing by when you were drowning in the swamp, and that person brought you here,’ explained Kois.h.i.+kawa, which brought another question to Yasohachi’s mind. Practically n.o.body pa.s.sed by that area, and it had been pouring. 'Who was it?’ asked Yasohachi. Kois.h.i.+kawa c.o.c.ked his head. 'That’s the strange thing…’ 'Strange?’ 'Yes, after bringing you here, this person immediately ran off without giving a name.’ 'I see…’ Even though it was something that was worth owning up to – did the person not like getting involved in troublesome things? Or was there a reason they didn’t want to give a name? Though Yasohachi was glad to have been saved, he felt unsettled. 'Iori-san just happened to be picking up some medicine when you were brought here, so she has been at your bedside since,’ added Kois.h.i.+kawa. 'Iori-san…’ said Yasohachi in surprise. He turned to face Iori, who was smiling. 'No, last night, your older sister Osayo-san was here. She’s sleeping in the next room now.’ Iori glanced at the door. 'I see…’ Yasohachi looked at the door too and sighed. It seemed like he had worried his sister Osayo as well. 'Iori-san was the one who told Osayo-san what happened. She told Ukik.u.mo-san as well,’ explained Kois.h.i.+kawa. It seemed he had put many people to a lot of trouble. 'Thank you very much. I sincerely apologise for all the trouble I have caused.’ Yasohachi sat up properly and bowed. He was only able to talk like this now because of everyone’s aid. 'You should, idiot!’ shouted Ukik.u.mo. His red eyes glared at Yasohachi. Everyone here knew about Ukik.u.mo’s red eyes, so he wasn’t covering them with a cloth now. It made sense for Ukik.u.mo to speak like that, and Yasohachi acknowledged that he was an idiot, but Yasohachi had things he wanted to say too. 'But I couldn’t leave Kisuke-san alone,’ said Yasohachi, which made Ukik.u.mo snort. 'You like meddling in everything, don’t you?’ Ukik.u.mo poured rice wine from his gourd into a cup and gulped it down. 'Perhaps, but…’ 'You’re an odd guy,’ interrupted Ukik.u.mo. 'What’s odd about me?’ 'You look quiet, but you’re stubborn and rash. Even though you can’t do anything on your own, you insist on meddling in everyone else’s problems.’ 'Is that so?’ Yasohachi admitted to not being able to do anything, but he wasn’t that stubborn and he didn’t think he was rash. 'And you don’t understand yourself either.’ Ukik.u.mo poked Yasohachi in the forehead.’ 'That hurts.’ It didn’t really hurt, but Yasohachi glared at Ukik.u.mo anyway. 'You’re an idiot that causes so much trouble, but for some reason, Hachi, people gather around you – ’ Ukik.u.mo muttered this last sentence and then stood up with the staff he had been holding under his arm. Ukik.u.mo seemed almost sublime in the faint light as he stood. 'Fine. I’ll exorcise the spirit haunting the swamp for you.’ Ukik.u.mo smirked. 'Really?’ So much had happened, but if Ukik.u.mo would help, Yasohachi would feel rea.s.sured. 'I’d be bothered if you did something half-baked and died.’ 'Are you concerned about me?’ 'Of course not.’ 'But…’ 'I can see ghosts. It’d be annoying to have you hanging around all the time after you died.’ 'I wouldn’t follow you around if I died.’ 'Who knows.’ Ukik.u.mo smiled mockingly. Though the man was fickle and terrible with women and money among other things, when Ukik.u.mo smiled, it was strangely relieving. 'Shall we get going then?’ Ukik.u.mo hit the ground with his metal staff. 8 Yasohachi went to Kuraya – He recovered quickly thanks to Osayo and Iori, who had watched over him, but quite some time pa.s.sed during his trip back home and the sky was already tinged vermillion. 'What is Ukik.u.mo-san thinking?’ asked Iori as she stood beside Yasohachi. Yasohachi had said he’d be fine alone, but Iori had insisted on coming. She probably felt like Yasohachi had fallen into the swamp because she had not gone with him yesterday. She was in hakama and had her wooden sword – it was clear she intended to protect Yasohachi. Yasohachi knew very well Iori’s skill with the sword. He felt comforted knowing she would protect him, but he felt pathetic for needing that protection. 'I don’t know, but I think we can trust him,’ said Yasohachi with a nod, saying it more to himself than anything. Ukik.u.mo had told him to go to Kuraya. Yasohachi had explained everything that happened yesterday to Ukik.u.mo. After thinking for a while, Ukik.u.mo had told Yasohachi to go to Kuraya and take a certain person to the swamp. He had spoken with confidence, like he understood everything. 'You really trust him, don’t you?’ Iori smiled happily. 'Yes,’ Yasohachi responded immediately. Ukik.u.mo was always drinking and he was a miser with sticky fingers. It might seem like there was nothing good about him, but he was an excellent exorcist. Of course, that wasn’t all. He was a man as had to get a hold of as a cloud. There was strong emotion in his heart. 'Let’s go,’ Yasohachi told Iori, and he went under the curtain. Kisuke was arranging a shelf like he had been yesterday. There was one other person there too. A woman was sweeping the floor. Though she had a quiet air to her, her face looked similar to the owner’s wife. Perhaps this was her daughter Ohisa. 'You’re fine?’ When Kisuke noticed Yasohachi, he looked like he had seen a ghost. He should have been told that Yasohachi had fallen into the swamp. There had been the incident with Daijirou – that was probably why he was so shocked. 'Yes, thanks to everyone – ’ 'Thank goodness.’ 'Luckily, a pa.s.serby saved me.’ 'Did a – did
Ukikumo Shinrei Kitan Vol 2 Chapter 2
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Ukikumo Shinrei Kitan Vol 2 Chapter 2 summary
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