Mutsu and the two men carefully listened to the kitsune, who explained this and that while slurping buckwheat noodles. Just as Sousuke had said, they were and important asset in this unfamiliar territory.
“So first it was livestock? And recently it’s about a person per week… Hmm? Was it a lot disappearing every time back when it was livestock?”
Mutsu tore apart her calendar and drew a simple map at the back, indicating the places dotted with private houses, the places where people had disappeared, and lastly the places she had visited herself.
“Back in the old days, you guys were normal kitsune, right? Has this sort of thing happened before?”
“Nothing like this has happened in the last two hundred years. Anything earlier than that, we do not know.”
Mutsu held a permanent marker with her left hand and a pair of chopsticks with her right, showing her dexterity as the lifted the buckwheat noodles to feed the kuda-gitsune.
“At any rate, this place has way to many isolated private houses dotted about. It feels like a town of lonely islands.”
“Mutsu-dono, which direction did you send the paper figures off into?”
“I sent them to about this area, I think. Yesterday, I heard that things had been happening deep in the mountains, so I sent them off in various directions straight ahead and slightly eastward from the shrine.”
“And they were completely destroyed. Are your powers weak?”
Mutsu started quietly chanting something, presumably offended by the kitsune’s words. Suddenly a flame flared up next to its whiskers.
The flame did not burn the whiskers completely, but rather extinguished itself after making them curl up from the heat.
“Tonight, you’ll be the only one not getting deep fried tofu! Or any sweets!!”
Later, the scolded kitsune followed Mutsu around to curry favour with her, but only managed to make her angry again.
“Well then. Sou-chan and Hiro-chan, can you guys take the car to the locations of the disappearances and make a more accurate map? You can also ask around about any other abnormalities.”
Mutsu took down the makeshift map from the wall and handed it over to Hiroto together with the permanent marker.
“And as for me, I’d like two kitsune to go with me.”
The kitsune that had made Mutsu angry with joined Sousuke and Hiroto. The remaining ones ended up joining Mutsu.
“If anything happens, contact me by phone or through the kitsune. Hmm it’ll still be too early for it to be getting too dark, so let’s aim to be back at 18 p.m.”
Mutsu brought her shoulder bag with her for personal use, putting a flashlight and rope into it. She put her working gloves and phone into her trouser pocket and put on her comfortable sneakers, before going outside.
“Mucchan, be careful!”
Sousuke said it as a reminder to her, and Mutsu earnestly nodded in reply. Then she entered entered the mountain forest together with the kitsune.
Just like that, the rustling sound of her forcing her way through the vegetation with her companions faded away.
“Mutsu-san will be fine, right?”
“She has the kitsune with her, so it’ll be okay. I want to think that she won’t go as far as to act too excessively.”
Sousuke and Hiroto pushed the kitsune, who had turned human for the sake of their trip around the area, into the car. Apparently, it had wanted to go with Mutsu. In his mind, Sousuke decided that this must have been the one who had sneaked into the bathroom when she had been showering.
“It appears that you are very infatuated with our Mutsu.”
Sousuke his steering wheel as he quicky glanced through the review mirror to scowl at the kitsune.
“She is cute.”
The kitsune became surprised at how forcefully Hiroto had turned around and leaned further back into its seat.
“Hiro-chan, haven’t you seen that adorable side of her yet?”
“Does it really exist?”
What sort of “adorable” were they talking about, Hiroto wondered. Was her brave and heroic appearance at work also adorable?
Even now his working experience was still short, but back when he had only just started this job, Mutsu had come running to save him when he was in trouble. At that time, she had looked very attractive, but it hadn’t been in a cute and girly way and Hiroto still couldn’t imagine her ever being such.
“Well, I agree that her appearance is good, though.”
“What I saw in the shower was also lovely…”
Since Sousuke was gripping the steering wheel, Hiroto hit the kitsune in his stead.