With the joined efforts of Sousuke, Hiroto and three kitsune brimming with appetite, the pot with the stew soon became empty. After also devouring all of the pasta, the kitsune gave large smiles of satisfaction.
After finishing tidying up in the kitchen and returning to the living room, Mutsu found the kitsune already dozing off.
“They’re all completely out of it before I even took out the alcohol.”
Mutsu’s discreet laughter was contagious, and soon Sousuke and Hiroto joined in.
Hiroto stroked the soft fur of one of the kitsune, seeming to have already gotten used to them.
“I didn’t know youkai could be this tame.”
“Isn’t it just because these guys live among humans?”
Mutsu didn’t forget to add that they still were fairly disconnected from human society.
“Sou-san, doesn’t this mean that it was pointless for us to come out here this late in the evening.”
“It’s all because Mucchan was in a hurry to get here.”
“Hiro-chin! Say something to defend me!”
Mutsu gave them a glare as she prepared tea and cleaned up some cigarette ash, as if saying Do you really plan to rest now.
“Well, if it’s just going outside to take a look, then it should be okay without them if you don’t get separated from us.”
Mutsu smiled in delight at the unexpected support.
Sousuke bit his lip in worry but still hesitantly conceded.
“But you can’t get separated from us. If you can’t promise that I’ll just have to tie you up, since I can’t collar you like an animal.”
Saying this, he began to take out flashlights and some rope. It seemed that he was being serious about his threat.
Mutsu quickly put on her jacket and took out her sneakers, preparing to go outside.
“Are you changing your shoes? Are we going to walk very far?”
“It’s not that. It’s so that I can walk soundlessly.”
Hearing these words Sousuke and Hiroto suddenly stiffened. They suddenly realized that they may be deep in the depths of the mountains, in a pitch-black world that only held darkness. They might not be able to hear if something would approach and also had to be mindful of the sounds of their own footsteps.
After tightly tying their shoelaces, the three of them silently left. Nothing but the faint light from the shrine office was visible outside.
“It’s all fine if we don’t leave the shrine grounds, right?”
“How far are you planning to go?!”
Feeling uneasy and not even wanting to talk in a normal voice, Hiroto spoked quietly, as if influenced by Mutsu’s whispering tone.
“To the front shrine. I want to get up on the roof and look around.”
“So you want to look for signs of anything unnatural? I’ll go with you. Hiro-chan, do you think you’ll be able to climb up too?”
He didn’t want to be left alone, so Hiroto started nodding as if his life depended on it.
Mutsu took out a piece of paper cut into the shape of a person out of her pocket, held it in her palms, and blew on it. The paper fluttered downwards, growing larger it fell and by the time it reached the ground, it landed steadily on two feet, just like a human being.
Mutsu gave the paper figure her flashlight and let it walk in front of them. The shrine grounds weren’t that large, so they quickly reached the front shrine. The flashlight shone upon their surroundings, revealing the roof, surrounded by overgrown trees, and an offertory box.
“Who will go first?”
Mutsu and her paper figure turned their heads at the same time. Mutsu’s light complexion and the pure white smooth and featureless thin face made a somewhat creepy picture.
With those words, Sousuke handed over his flashlight to Mutsu. It seemed that he was supposed to climb where the flashlights shone, but there obviously weren’t any stairs around, so he was a little worried.
Mutsu alternated between illuminating the lower part of the building and the rood.
“I suppose you’ll have to climb onto the offertory box, there’s no other way. Even though it’s sacrilegious.”
Then she added:
“We’re doing it for the investigation, so the kami-sama should forgive us.”
Maybe because he was hesitating to put his feet onto the offertory box, Sousuke climbed up onto the handrails next to it and jumped from there. He seized the edge of the roof with precision and heaved himself up with only the strength of his fingers.
Just as Mutsu expressed her admiration, a low groan could be heard from above. It seemed like Sousuke had hit his head against one of the overgrown branches.