After they picked up Hiroto with his car, Sousuke drove to Hakonou.
“Mutsu-san, I’m probably a bit late in asking, but considering we’ve brought clothes to change into and all: where will we be staying?”
“A Shinto shrine.”
“Oh, the one inhabited by kitsune?”
“Yes. So we have to stop by a supermarket first. We need to buy our meals as well as gifts.”
Hiroto sat in the back seat with a reluctant expression but nobody noticed since it was quite dark already.
“I’m trying to tame them with food. Last time I brought castella cake.”
“Huh, not deep-fried tofu1?”
“We’ve had entire boxes of castella disappear from the kitchen too. I think it’s the kuda-gitsune who had eaten them.”
“Maybe youkai simply like sweet things.”
Mutsu’s giggle made Sousuke’s kuda-gitsune emerge from under his collar and swiftly climbed up onto her knee. There, it proceeded to curl up and closed its eyes as Mutsu petted it, appearing to have fallen asleep.
Sousuke, Mutsu and Hiroto ended up buying a lot of things at a supermarket on their way. It was mainly meal ingredients, snacks, and some liquor, but there were also various tools like torches and rope.
Mutsu made sure to get a receipt at the cash register.
“Uhm, Mutsu… Is it really fine that we had you pay for everything? It might get expensive.”
“I’ll bill the client for it.”
“Huh? Oh? Okay…”
Hiroto curiously looked at Mutsu, who carried the shopping bags to the car.
“She seems to be in a bad mood for some reason, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, maybe she’s tired?”
After putting the bags into the car trunk, they headed for the shrine. The prefectural road had already been gloomy and desolate even during daytime, and now it was even more so. There were barely any lights and no oncoming cars at all. The forest stretched as far as the eye could see and there was only darkness beyond what the light from the headlights could reach.
“Mucchan, where was that shrine? I can’t find it on the GPS.”
Hiroto also leaned forward to look at the GPS from the back seat. No matter how they looked, the only thing that could be seen on the screen was the prefectural road they were driving on.
“Maybe it was a bit further down the road? There definitely was a small forest road somewhere here on the right-hand side, though.”
Sousuke worriedly stared at the display as they slowly approached the end of the road.
“Are you sure? I can’t find any other roads on the GPS or any indication of anything road-like around us, though.”
“Let me go take a look.”
With those words Mutsu removed her seatbelt and got out of the car. In the time it took Sousuke to instruct Hiroto to get the flashlights, her figure had already disappeared into the darkness.
“Oh come on!! How reckless can she be? Doesn’t she get that it could be dangerous? Is she stupid?!”
When they had finally found the flashlights and started inspecting their surroundings, Mutsu was nowhere to be found.
“Yuuno-san!! What should we do?!!”
“Don’t worry. Mucchan brought that thing with her, so nothing too bad is going to happ…en.”
Sousuke paused in the middle of speaking. A bit away from them, a hazy blue flame flared up.
“Was that Mucchan? Or something mysterious? I really can’t tell…”
The flame neither got bigger or disappeared, it simply flickered in the darkness. Just as Sousuke started to worry, his phone rang. It was Mutsu.
“Sou-san, over here!!”
“Is that flame yours, Mutsu?”
“Yeah, it’s mine!”
Mutsu’s voice was so loud that Sousuke’s ear started to hurt. It was so loud that even Hiroto could hear it. It seemed that despite being on the phone, Mutsu wanted to guide them with her voice.
“My ear hurts.”
After hanging up the phone and getting into the car, Sousuke started driving the car towards the flickering light.
“Is Mutsu-san a bit of an idiot?”
“Mutsu is certainly the type of person that you shouldn’t take your eyes off or she’ll get into trouble. Did you only notice that now?”
“Not really. It’s more like this has reaffirmed my belief.”
1It was briefly mentioned before in Chapter 6 but basically the favorite food of kitsune is thought to be deep-fried tofu (aburaage).