Mutsu sat comfortably in the car together with Toushirou, silently staring at the scenery outside. Sometimes, she would glance over at Toushirou but would also shift her gaze outside after.
“That Shinto shrine over there”
As if suddenly having recalled something, Mutsu started speaking in a low voice.
“The chief priest”
“Oh, are you talking about that kitsune-san?”
“What?! You knew?”
“Yes. When you were informing us at my workplace, you said so yourself, remember?”
At first Mutsu had perked up and stared at Toushirou, surprised. But then, when she heard his explanation, she wearily leaned against her seat.
As she pushed her glasses up that had slid down, Mutsu unblinkingly stared at Toushirou. Maybe it was because Toushirou and Mutsu had known each other since they were very young, but he had no prejudices against strange events or youkai. And this was also the reason why he could visit such a questionable business as the Yorozuya without any hesitation.
“I thought you might have been joking so I went here to take a look.”
“So you checked it yourself?”
“Well… I just had a feeling that I wouldn’t get a truthful answer if I asked. But whatever.”
Toushirou smiled, reminding her that she was sometimes excessive with her pranks.
“Can it be done with just kitsune-san? I have a feeling that there’s something fishy about it. It’s what my intuition tells me.”
“Mmhm. It just hasn’t happened before.”
Looking at the pouting Mutsu, Toushirou barked a scoffing laugh.
“What? Did you think I don’t believe in things like that?”
“Well, it’s because it hasn’t really been long since we reunited, Shirou-chan.”
Mutsu grumblingly complained that it was only last year that they met again after about a decade apart.
“We’ve worked together several times, though.”
“Yeah… but you’re a police officer. And these things are unscientific too.”
“Is that really something you can say?”
Mutsu gave a relieved smile in response to Toushirou’s astonished laughter. That’s right, barely half a year has passed since last summer.
The midwinter sky was dyed gray, as if snow could start falling any moment. Despite that, Toushirou had slightly lowered the car window next to Mutsu’s seat.
“Whatever. I’ll investigate it.”
Mutsu bashfully smiled.
“Oh, we’re almost there. Should we stop near the Shinto shrine?”
“Yeah, it’s a good place to get off. I’d like to take a look at the surroundings on foot.”
“Got it. Will you be commuting a lot while you’re investigating? If it’s a bother, you could stay at my place.”
Toushirou looked at the utterly surprised Mutsu as if he’d seen something unexpected.
“Wh-what are you saying? I’m a woman of marriageable age, you know.”
Mutsu used the fact that they conveniently stopped at a red light to get out of the car.
“Hey! It’s quite a walk from here.”
“Shirou-chan, are you dumb?”
Forcefully closed the door with a bang, Mutsu promptly started to walk away without looking back. Watching her retreating figure, Toushirou furrowed his brows.
“Why did she get angry? It seems like a person’s character can change after not seeing each other for 10 years.”
Toushirou looked puzzled but left to return to the police station he worked at.
Mutsu, who had begun walking, suddenly stopped.
“I wonder where the municipal office or something similar is.”
There was nobody around and even as she restlessly surveyed the surroundings, she was only met with the cold wind. ‘Not exactly an invigorating scene’, she thought as decided to walk straight ahead for the time being.
The sky was gray and only a forest could be seen stretching out on both sides of the prefectural road, with very few cars passing by.
Mukaida, the town where Yorozuya was, had the feel of a provincial town, but this place, Hakonou was really rural. Nobody walked past her and no car passed by.
However, Mutsu didn’t have any particular feelings of unease. As she continued walking along the road, she discovered a narrow road that branched off towards the right which she started following.
She hadn’t been here before, but she headed for a Shrine she’d already heard about from documents and rumors. The Shrine that she had shared the rumors about with Toushirou, the one with a kitsune as the chief priest. Toushirou believed it. Maybe that was why he’d gotten suspicious and brought his concerns to Yorozuya.
Mutsu also believed it.
Trees obstructed the light on the narrowed road, which felt gloomy despite it being daytime, and not a bird could be heard chirping. It was a silent and eerie place.
A small torii gate placed at the roots of a big tree caught Mutsu’s eyes. And immediately, the concrete road changed into cobble paving.
Clink, clink, clink. Only the sound of Mutsu’s heels resounded in the air.
When she arrived in front of the big torii gate, she ascended the gently sloped stone stairway that started beyond it, and arrived at the shrine grounds.
As she surveyed her surroundings, Mutsu left the cobble paving and headed towards the shrine on non-paved ground.
(How do I put it… it gave off the feeling of a Shinto shrine at the outskirts of a village, one that people rarely visited.)
Just as she softly arrived at the rear of the shrine, the garden lanterns lit up all at once.
(So the talk of the kitsune-san was true then?)
The flames being lit in the lanterns was something that Mutsu had to acknowledge. Mutsu resigned herself and arrived before the main shrine. The fallen leaves rustled under her firm steps.
“It really seems like a kitsune has settled here. Could you please come out?”
As Mutsu raised her voice, a shadow showed up before the water ablution pavilion.
“Phew, that’s good.”
Mutsu took a step towards the shadow with a smile, but immediately came to a halt.