DARK MODE 

Monday, December 26, 2022 @

Chapter 36, Part 1

 ...Time goes back a while. After finishing our meal at the restaurant, we started to explore the market for some light exercise. We browsed and browsed the goods in the general stores and street stalls. Then, I luckily or unluckily ran into a sub-character from the original game 'Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)'.
 
 "Wow... Tomobe-san, look at this! How is it!? Does it suit me?"
 
 Kayo stopped in front of one of the stalls and showed me her honey-colored hair, or more precisely, the hairpin in her hair, through a gap in her Ichimegasa. Her hair was sweet and the sweet scent of Tachibana spread softly around me.
 
 The cuteness that I could recognize even through Ichimegasa, the charm of Tachibana that does not suit her age... but for me, that was not a problem right now. More importantly, there's another thing...
 
 "...Well. First of all, let's take off that hairpin and apologize to the shop clerk, shall we?"
 "?"
 
 Kayo tilted her head as if she didn't understand what I was saying. Unfortunately, it is better not to take a hairpin from a row of hairpins and put it in her hair without asking the shop owner. Especially if she is wearing Ichimegasa to cover her head.
 
 (If it is a professional thief, he/she could steal the goods in a very natural manner amid the chaos. There is no need to create suspicion on their own.)
 
 At least, she should say a word to the shop owner. But I guess she is a young lady who is not aware of such a situation. Moreover...
 
 (...of all people, it's that guy. I found a guy with a strong impact.)
 
 I inwardly chuckled. Kayo may have thought it was just an open-air stall, but if one looks closely, one can realize that fact. Yes, I could tell at first glance that many of the items on display were not just for decorative purposes... or rather, I could tell at once. I knew some things about this street peddler before I actually saw him.
 
 "Excuse me, I think my companion put the goods here without my permission. She didn't mean anything by it, but... is it okay?"
 "Hmm? No problem, buddy (anii-chan). I wouldn't treat a kid as a thief just because she wears my product and gets excited."
 
 The strong-looking middle-aged street vendor sitting on a chair replies with a smirk on his face.
 
 "No. Your way is one thing, but the curse tool is not so flexible, is it?"
 "Hmm? Oh, you mean that. But then, from the looks of it... you're escorting some rich guy, huh?"
 
 The middle-aged peddler tilts his head at my low voice, then frowns uncomfortably when he notices my face... or more precisely, my appearance, which is obscured by my cloak. I knew that he hated exorcists and the like, both as a native and in his line of work.
 
 'A stray curse tool, is it? I wonder what he's doing in the capital marketplace with his stall in broad daylight...?'
 
 A bee shikigami lets out a disappointed exclamation in my ear. Well, this guy is certainly a stray, but it's also true that he is slightly different from those people who sell low-quality goods for a bundle, you know?
 
 This peddler, who appears randomly in some events in the game and at random places with low probability, is a descendant of disgraced and fallen exorcists.
 
 In the game, he is a man with spiritual power who is a common traveling peddler, but in the side business, he is a man who creates and sells magic tools (curse tools) without the approval of the Imperial Court, and in the game, he is a man who sells so-called rare items.
 
 However, it is difficult to encounter him because he appears randomly except for some routes, and at first, even in the strategy forum, he was treated as false information. As for how difficult it is, it is about ten times more difficult than the third-generation monster-catching (Pokemon) game "Mirage Island" which has gained worldwide popularity. Besides, it is useless to adjust the random number adjustment (RNG?), since the creators of the game have already taken measures against it a long time ago.
 
 Nevertheless, as the encounter rate is low, the items that can be purchased are also expensive but very effective. In fact, the pro gamer I mentioned before, who experimented attacking the underground tunnels with fully-armed and level-completely-armed players in order to kill youkai-mother, had his heroes equipped with several very rare items bought from this guy. Though he couldn't do it no matter how much he tried...?
 
 (Still, I didn't expect to meet this guy at such a time. If this were a game, I would be overjoyed... but it's no use for me to meet him now...)
 
 The items he makes and sells... the performance of the curse tools is good enough for the later game, however, the price is adequate, and in fact, the players who met him in the early stage of the game with no money on hand were left in a state of wakefulness, saying that they had run out of luck. Moreover, thanks to the setting of the game, I, as a servant of the exorcists, can't expect a very friendly relationship with him. Unless I'm as charming as the main character.
 
 ...Anyway, I can't believe that this man, who is rather distrustful of human beings, doesn't put any kind of security device in his goods. The holder could be severely cursed if he/she did something that could be misunderstood. In fact, there was a story about it in a short side story. That's why I asked...
 
 "Don't worry, I'm also thinking about the safety of the goods. I wouldn't curse someone for putting on my goods without my permission. Besides, this is also a security measure for the buyer."
 "I think you understand that both the Imperial Court and the Onmyou dormitories have restrictions on the distribution of cursed items, don't you?"
 "...are you planning to inform me? Is that right?"
 "I'm in a position where it's difficult for me to turn a blind eye..."
 
 At least do it out of sight. I would have stayed out of it if Kayo hadn't touched his goods. And I don't want to ruin the main character's route to get rare items, even if it's a difficult one.
 
 But there's always someone watching. With Kayo around, there was no need to make a fuss here... but I really wanted him to fold up his goods and get out of there before the official from kebiishi arrived.
 
 "Uh, um... G-Gonbei-san?"
 
 Kayo called out to me with a somewhat uneasy and embarrassed expression on her face, perhaps noticing the somewhat dangerous atmosphere between me and the peddler. However, I couldn't easily respond to that...
 
 "...hey, hey. Don't be so cold shoulder, buddy. We're both doing our jobs. Let's get along. Okay?"
 
 After a moment of silence, the peddler calls out in an attitude of surrender. He looks around warily as he calls out to me, and then he shushes me. It seems that he, too, has noticed the situation to some extent. After all, his ancestors were ex-exorcists, and he is still selling curse tools to the other stray exorcist. Surely he must have some understanding of the situation.
 
 And he seemed to be saying that it was foolish to fight for a higher power. In short, we work for the sake of living, and it is absurd to risk not only unnecessary loss but also injury and even death for the sake of working for the sake of living. Well, that argument is true in a sense...
 
 "Look, I'll give you a discount for that little girl's hair ornament, okay? So, please keep your mouth shut. You can have one of mine if you want. Here, how about this?"
 
 With a grin, he selects one of the items from the selection and holds it out in my hand as if to force my hand. It's a fee to keep my mouth shut. It seems he wishes me to leave now so that he won't be reported to the officer in charge.
 
 "...The quality doesn't seem to be bad. However, with this kind of quality, it seems that there are job openings in the inner artisan dormitory or the onmyou dormitory, doesn't it? Why would you risk your life in a place like this?"
 
 I asked as I examined the wrist beads that were pressed into my hand. The wrist beads are probably concealed easily as a bribe to make it hard to be found. However, even so, the quality of the items is far better than those mass-produced by those stray curse-tool who are selling cheap or cheaply to the same players or to the public. If the quality is this good, it's not surprising if he could find a job at the imperial court... I mean, if I think about it, wouldn't that be more capitally appropriate than being a peddler in the original game's storyline? Come on, please strengthen the imperial court camp.
 
 "Oh? Are you kidding me? I've had enough of serving the court. I'd rather go to the slaughterhouse than work in that suffocating and troublesome place."
 
 However, this peddler replied with the utmost disgust at my suggestion. Well, in his case, his ancestors had been in pain. So, I didn't expect much from him. Well, anyway...
 
 "...I will pay for it. This kind of thing is bad for her education. Besides, I don't want to take it as a bribe."
 
 In fact, it is better to pay. Both from an educational point of view for Kayo and as an excuse for later pursuit.
 
 No matter how much the Imperial Court regulates the amulets and charms made by the stray curse-tool maker, the large demand for them among the public and the lack of supply from public institutions have resulted in a large number of untaxed and illegal products, which are practically impossible to catch. Therefore, to be honest, it is not so much of a crime to just buy them. If every one of them were caught, the jail would be full. At best, it would be a penalty.
 
 Still, free of charge is not a good idea. The best way is to say that I bought it without knowing that it is illegal as a third party with good intentions.
 
 "...well, that's fine. I'm just a small-time trader in the market, but I didn't expect to get caught up with such a complicated guy. I'm not so lucky."
 
 The peddler sighs deeply as he receives the payment, which is a bargain compared to the quality in the technical sense, regardless of the material of the goods, and starts to gather up the goods from the stalls to leave the market.
 
 "Well, even though I just met you, you're going to have to work hard, too. It looks like you're going through a hard time... but you'd better get on with your life, okay?"
 "......? What is that..."
 
 The peddler is half in disgust and half in sympathy as he puts his goods on the horse parked beside him. I felt something indescribably wrong with the nuance of his expression, but I didn't have time to ask him about it. Before I could speak to him, a girl who had come close to me was grabbing the sleeve of my clothes with a dissatisfied expression on her face.
 
 "...Tomobe-san."
 "Call me Gonbei."
 "I called out to you, but you ignored me."
 
 Kayo replies with a truly grumpy attitude. Well, I remember she called me several times. So, I guess she was sulking because she was the only one left out of the group.
 
 "...please forgive me, Yuzu."
 "It's Kayo."
 "...yes, Miss Kayo. Forgive me."
 "It's 'Kayo'."
 "...Kayo, please forgive me."
 
 I reply reverently, but Kayo's expression turns grimmer. No, I don't know what's wrong with her anymore.
 
 'Think back. Before talking to the peddler, what did the girl say to you?'
 
 The bee shikigami gives me sighing advice in my ear, but unfortunately, I forget what she said to me just before, so I can't give her an answer.
 
 Kayo, perhaps sensing my confusion, gave me a sultry look, thought about something, let out a sigh, and then presented it to me in a reluctant manner.
 
 "What happened?"
 "Don't you recognize it? It's the hairpin that Gonbei-san just bought."
 "Yes, and that's...?"
 "Actually, there was another one that looked good, too."
 
 ...I think I understand the reason for her moody mood.
 
 Come to think of it, Kayo was showing me off first. I guess she had a few items she liked and wanted to buy them after she tried them on and got my third-party opinion. If I ignored her questions about whether or not they looked good on her, ignored her repeated calls to me by name, and then bought them on my own, she might have been displeased.
 
 'Maybe, is not the word. I am sure she would be. Anyone would be displeased if they are disrespected. Especially in this case.'
 
 A bee shikigami poking me invisibly in the ear. Stop it, it hurts.
 
 "Gonbei-san, haven’t you said it to me? You said you'd keep me satisfied."
 
 If I said, "I'm afraid I'm not that sure," she'd be offended... So, I guess the best thing to do here is to apologize. Even if there are things I want to say, sometimes it's best to be honest, without making excuses.
 
 "...please forgive me. I will make up for it in the future, so please accept this kind treatment."
 "Tomobe-san, do you think you can get forgiveness if you apologize?"
 "That's all I can do."
 
 If all I had to do was apologize, there would be no need for the police. But this time, I'm not going to call the police.
 
 "Muuu.. you don't seem to be putting up much of a fight. It's hard to do if you apologize so frankly and without hesitation!"
 
 The girl puffs out her cheeks and sulks.
 
 "I can't fight with you, and I don't want to. Is it different for you, Yuzu?"
 
 "It's... different, but... I understand. Then, please make up for the loss of my favorability, okay?"
 
 Kayo ordered me, though she was a little dissatisfied. At the same time, I offered her the hair ornament I had just bought.
 
 "What is this?"
 "Please put it on anyway. Don't you want to?"
 "No..."
 
 Since the girl was responding to my sincerity, it was not a good idea to make things worse by refusing to wear it. I follow the order and put the hair ornament I received on her golden hair.
 
 "Hehehe, does it look good on me?"
 "Yes. The color combination is not bad."
 
 The combination of yellow and blue colors originally make each other look good color-wise. The color of her hair and the polka dots in the shape of flowers go well with each other.
 
 "That's good. Then, let's go!"
 
 With a shove, Kayo tugs on my hand. And then she says.
 
 "Now, I'll tell you where we're going! There's a place I've always wanted to visit. Is that okay?"
 
 The girl asked with a tilt of her head, prettily, with attitude, and with nonchalance. Of course, I had no choice, and even more so after what had just happened, so I...
 
 "... as you wish."
 
 There seemed to be no other choice but to accept the princess's words with the same reverence as a knight of the west, just as I did before...
 
* * *
 
 "...so this is the place you've been wanting to visit?"
 
 The merchant young lady pulled me by the hand and took me into a bookstore. It was an ordinary bookstore in a corner of the capital... but I had seen this place in the original game.
 
 As I recall, depending on the level of likability and the progress of the game, some characters would appear here, and small events would occur that had little to do with the main story. In the front, it is an ordinary bookstore, and in the back, it is a place that sells and rents books that are odd and strange in a bad way, frequented even by nobles on a secret trip.
 
 "So? What brings you to this place?
 "I overheard the maids talking before. Father and Otsuru (the old servant) don't let me read books so freely. So..."
 
 Kayo puts her not-so-big hands together and smiles at me. It's a mock begging pose.
 
 "There are some stories I've been wanting to read. Could you help me find them?"
 "...I can't take the responsibility, you know?"
 "Oh, so, you can read?"
 "...to some extent."
 "Hehehe, I'm glad to hear that."
 
 Kayo's words made me realize that I had dug my own grave. She seemed to have noticed that I could read and write well enough to read the titles of books, although I had been appealing my position as a servant who was basically uneducated and had few skills other than combat. A real pain in the ass...
 
 Even though there are terakoya (temple schools) in this world as in the Edo period, the majority of the population are farmers, and the terakoya (temple school) itself is not free of charge. Moreover, children are also a valuable labor force in rural areas. Thus, the literacy rate is not high. Perhaps only half of the men and women are literate. And servants like me are not exactly considered commodities...
 
 Fortunately, many of the characters used in Fusō-kuni are broken characters, and although the use of words is old-fashioned, they are still 'Japanese'. Therefore, although I had some difficulty, I could read and write from the time I was in the village thanks to my knowledge from my previous life, and when I was employed to work as a maid for Hina, I was even able to learn the grammar and typefaces for the nobles.
 
 "...Yuzu."
 "I understand. Don't worry. I wrote the title down on a piece of paper. That'll give me an excuse to my father and the others, won't it?"
 
 She says with a smile and holds out a piece of paper with the title written on it with a fountain pen. How well prepared she is.
 
 I did not want the Kizuki family to find out that I could read, at least to a certain extent. If they find out that I can read the title of the book, they will detest me. Ostensibly, I would like to say that I searched by the "form of characters" in the title of the book. If I don't know the meaning of the title of a book, I can't understand what's in it.
 
 "I appreciate your help. Shall I find the book you're looking for?"
 
 I thanked her reverently and started to search for the book.
 
 "Even so, this lineup is a bit too far into the future, isn't it?"
 
 I inquired as I looked at the bookshelves and read the titles of the books lined up there in my mind. No, it's true that in real literature, there have been yuri and bisexual genres for a long time, as well as status difference genres... but to have TS (Transsexual), interracial, age difference, onee-shota, and even hypnosis genres is quite a feat. This is a genre that fights against morality and chastity with all its might.
 
 "There are also anonymous criticisms of the imperial court, and some publications with radical caricatures and dedications...but the majority of them are just trivial entertainment books. What a pity. Why waste precious paper on such nonsense..."
 'Haha, well... human desire knows no bounds...'
 
 The bee shikigami on my shoulder says with disdain in her voice, and I respond with a wry smile. I look at the pile of books on the shelves, so tightly packed that they almost collapse on top of each other, and half of them are obviously of an unhealthy nature... and I'm dumbfounded. It's true that unlike in my previous life, books are not so cheap that they can be easily discarded...
 
 (Well, everyone needs entertainment.)
 
 Regardless of the orientation, the human mind will be worn out if they have to work all the time. And although the content is out of the question, it is better than gambling, drinking, and women. With these thoughts in mind, I resume my search for Kayo's book from the shelf.
 
 ...and maybe it's my fault for looking away like that.
 
 "But where's the book in question? Hmm? Huh...? Whoa!?"
 
 I didn't notice the figure sitting on the floor reading a book just before I turned the shelf the next moment...
 
* * *

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