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The night before the school trip, Kuzuha gave me a handmade origami ninja star.
“It’s a Tsukumo Shuriken. It has Shikigami magic. Take this with you and it shall protect you if something happens.”
She told me that the magic would last for only a certain amount of time but that it was still better than nothing.
“Thanks.” I said as I took the origami star. “I feel like a ninja.”
Kuzuha did not reply and sank into her usual contemplation.
There were so many things in my head that I had wanted to ask her ever since we visited Akihabara. Who is Haruaki Shinoda? Does he have something to do with the evil spirit of the fox? Is he a Shikigami invoker as well? My head was packed with so many questions that I didn’t even know where I would be able to start.
“I’m really sorry.” Kuzuha suddenly apologized, lowering her head.
“Sorry for what?” I asked, but she just looked away. I tried to change the awkward atmosphere by forcing a smile. “Since you’re not coming with us on the school trip, I might cancel it.” However, Kuzuha still kept her silence.
Japanese culture is considered ‘high context’ and people often value non-verbal communication higher than understanding each other with words. I think it’s a beautiful tradition, but for foreigners like me it can be quite frustrating. The reason I asked Kuzuha the following was probably because I was irritated by the fact that she seemingly had something to say but would just not say it frankly..
“Is Haruaki Shinoda your boyfriend or something? Are you two engaged?”
I was expecting her to get angry, so I wasn’t expected this. She looked me dead in the eyes.
“If so, what would you do?”
Ryoya was sitting next to me with a look of concern on her face.. We were in the hired coach, on our way to the accommodation for the school trip.
“What’s wrong? Are you OK? Do you have motion sickness?”
“I’m fine. I was just thinking about something.”
“I see. Good.”
“Would you like some cookies? I baked them myself. I also have hot tea.”
“Thanks. I’ll have some.”
Everyone seemed to be relaxed and killing time on the coach as it sped along the highway. Jasmine was holding a notebook and pen, walking from seat to seat and asking her classmates to write something. I took the handmade cookies from Ryoya and begin unwrapping the foil.
I froze. Human eyeballs pierced me with their glassy stare: definitely not cookies. I blinked, and they disappeared. Just normal cookies were sitting in the foil now, but the feeling of being watched by something evil remains in me.
“Someone is watching me–”
I looked out of the window. There was another coach with students traveling beside ours. Among them, I saw a familiar smug face. Haruaki was sitting in a window seat and sneering at me. He brought his right hand to the mirror, lifting up his middle finger.
He was flipping me off.
We followed a guide around a forest and then went to a wasabi farm. The pungent green paste in sushi is the finely grated stems of this plant, which grows in the clean stream beds of the mountains. After the field trip, we went back to our accommodation and attended a seminar about nature conservation activities by the Japanese government. Finally, the program for the first day of our school trip had come to an end. We had our dinner in the hall and headed to one of the highlights of staying in an accommodation like this- the volcanic hot spring.
The school allowed Ryoya to use a private bath as she is transgender, so I visited the bath on my own. While I was stripping myself in the changing room, some of the Judo club members struck up conversation with me..
“You’ve got muscles, haven’t you?”
One of them looked at the chain around my neck.
“Is it a pendant?”
They were looking at my palm sized, decorative medallion with an intricate relief. My knowledge of the medallion was almost non-existent. I just knew that it was quite old and presumably Japanese judging from its design. Perhaps I knew more about it before my memories were stolen by the millipede. However, I could still remember snippets.
“My granddad gave me this before I came over here. He told me that this medallion was a keepsake of his late father, so I have to take care of it.”
“It’s a nice story”
They seemed to lose interest quite quickly.
“I heard there’s a hot tub in there. We gotta go check it out!”
After soaking in the onsen (hot spring), I put on a Japanese bathrobe called a yukata, tying an obi sash around my waist. I bought a bottle of chilled coffee-flavored milk from a vending machine and gulped it down. It was sweet and tasty, and cooled down my body after the hot bath. The guys from the Judo club told me that I should down it in one go while putting one hand on my hip. They said that it’s the typical Japanese bathhouse ritual, but I dismissed it as a joke. They were quite friendly with me tonight because, apparently, they wanted to get information about the Aikido techniques exclusive to the Komyo clan in order to prepare for the oncoming prestigious Judo tournament, the Kinshuki.
Afterwards, I was walking down the corridor alone to go back my dormitory when I bumped into a girl as I was going around a corner.
She also seemed surprised to see me. Tsuzura the white cat and Yoh the white owl urged her to leave. She turned around and swiftly disappeared around the next corner.
I ran after her and turned the corner. I saw nothing but a long, dim and deserted corridor.
“Why is she here…?”
Confused, I mumbled to myself. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I felt like something would be happening soon. I carefully proceeded to the corridor, holding my breath. I looked around but didn’t know whether I was trying to find Kuzuha or watching out for a sudden attack from the unknown. I stepped down the stairs and arrived at the lobby. It seemed to be deserted but I had that same feeling I has when I was in the coach- someone was watching me.
A dreadful stench entered my nostrils. I had a feeling that I knew this smell. It was as though rotten meat were being boiled with poisonous spices, as if a starving hyena were panting over me, or-—
A shiver made its way up my spine. The smell was the same as —
“The evil fox spirit…”, I murmured.
“Hello, Mr. Gaijin.”
It was Haruaki, who unexpectedly appeared from behind a pillar. The term gaijin can be used in a derogatory way to refer to foreigners, so I felt a twang of annoyance.
“Are you looking for someone?” he asked me.
“Keep out of it,” I answered frankly.
“Oh, but you’ll probably want to hear about this.”
I ignored him, but his words stopped me.
“We need to talk.”
He gave me a knowing smile.
“It’s about Kuzuha Komyo, of course”
To be continued in Shikigami Girl Chapter 7: Clan of Darkness
← Go to Shikigami Girl Chapter 5: Kuzuha and Akihabara
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