“It’s possible that they were caught by some stray cat or dog though. Maybe what seemed like scissors were actually fangs. But… if they weren’t torn completely to shreds, they should come back.”
Then Mutsu continued in a deliberately joking voice:
“Maybe they were swallowed whole.”
“…We need a map.” After grumbling this, she headed for the shrine office but suddenly stopped. Hiroto anxiously looked at her.
“Has Shirou-chan contacted you at all?”
“Nope, haven’t received anything from him at all. Not even the documents about the case.”
“That would be because I told him that we wouldn’t need the documents. Because it wasn’t committed by humans.”
“What are we going to do now?”
“As I expected, I’d prefer to investigate at night. Hmm… but we should check the place where the paper dolls disappeared first.”
“Will we go by car?”
After saying this, Mutsu changed her shoes and entered the shrine office.
“Mutsu-san, wait a moment! We need to prepare if we’re going to walk around”, with these words, Hiroto disappeared into the back of the shrine office.
Mutsu and Sousuke also followed him, taking off their shoes. They glanced at the living room, but as expected, no kitsune could be seen.
“Where are the kitsune?”
“I asked them to go collect rumors. About on when and where people have disappeared, in as much detail as possible.”
“Oh? As punishment for peeping on you?”
“That too. But they won’t be of any use in our work.”
A chuckling Mutsu took out a bundle of paper figures out of her bag and put them into her pocket.
“It’s better if you don’t carry anything with you, Mutsu-san. If you have anything you’d like to bring, put it in my backpack.”
“I’m worried that you don’t have enough stamina, Hiro-chan. I’ll take it instead. What did you bring?”
While Sousuke and Hiroto went through the contents of the backpack, Mutsu checked her phone. Nobody had contacted her.
After completing their preparations, they went outside.
Because they had no maps and Mutsu was the only one who knew in which direction the paper figures had gone, she walked in front of the others.
They passed by the back of the main shrine and entered the mountains. There was no road they could walk, so they used the working gloves they were wearing to ward off dead branches in in their way as they walked.
The sound of rustling leaves and breaking branches that their feet made was the only thing that they could hear.
It was daytime, but their surroundings were dark and gloomy.
“This direction, was it?…”
“Are you unsure?”
Mutsu looked upwards and then restlessly started looking around.
“This is what happens if the connection breaks halfway”
She went down on her knees and pushed aside the dead leaves below her, feeling around for something.
After she removed the leaves, the damp soil became visible. Even as Mutsu looked among the dead leaves, she could not find even a piece of a paper doll.
“Let’s walk a little further.”
She started walking away as soon as she stood up.
“How much further are you intending to go?”
Maybe it was because he was unused to walking on mountain trails, but Hiroto already looked worn out.
“Maybe you can go back, Hiro-chan?”
“You should be able to make it if Sou-san goes with you. And if you’re going back, I have something I’d like you to do for me.”
“You climbing this mountain alone is a bad idea, Mucchan. Even bringing the kitsune with you would be better. Let’s return for now.”
After hearing Sousuke’s words, Mutsu reluctantly nodded and they decided to back the same way that they had come.
“Mutsu-san, on the topic of kitsune. Why aren’t you trying to exorcise them?”
“They aren’t harming anybody. They haven’t done anything bad or made any trouble, so why would I?”
“I see. So if something doesn’t cause any harm, it’s okay to leave it be.”
The kitsune were already back by the time the three of them returned to the shrine. They rushed over right away and proudly wanted to report their findings.
“We are useful and splendid kitsune worthy of praise!”
“I didn’t expect anything less from you guys! Let’s have a listen while we eat a light meal,” Mutsu laughed. Her expression seemed bad, despite nothing having happened. After entering the shrine office, Mutsu started to prepare lunch in the kitchen. She hadn’t eaten anything since the morning and had been moving about a lot, so she was hungry.
She made soba with sweet deep-fried tofu, as if to praise the kitsune. Then, she added two small plates with two steamed buns each.
“I think she’s trying to use the kitsune again”
“Well, they have an indispensable potential to us.”
Sousuke and Hiroto’s whispering conversation had been clearly heard by Mutsu.