Ho-ho-ho, happy holidays everyone! You know what that means? A holiday translation update! And what better translation to publish than the first chapter of Clover's Regret (for those who forgot this was even a thing, see here.) that had been stuck in editing hell for half a year, since the holidays finally gave us the respite to finish up the editing. Especially since one chapter of this story is like 1/4 of an entire book.
Clover's Regret is a series which rather heavily capitalises on Japanese culture, including tons of yokai-that-I-never-even-heard-about, various Japanese sweets and food (this chapter kinda made me hungry...), and various cultural references. Also, expect some Japanese puns and even riddles-that-required-leaving-the-original-text-for-the-discussion-to-make-sense for good measure. So, whoever is interested in all of that stuff will find this series a blast... and those who don't... well, you have my condolences for all the Japanese stuff you'll have to go through.
Because of the variety of cultural references (as well as the size of this chapter...), we have ended up with a ton of translation notes. To reduce the number of notes, we've decided to refrain from explaining all the various yokai and foods, as well as other things that I would have normally left a note for. However, we've also decided to have a poll to gauge our readerbase's interest in translation notes. The poll will be available on the side bar and will be open till around February. So, please share your opinion if you're interested in continuing the series!
For those interested in future releases of the series, the story seems to have finished its serialisation on the Dengeki Bunko MAGAZINE and has been compiled in its entirety as a single tankoubon volume, thus it seems that the series has been finished in Japan. The volume consists of the three chapters serialised on the magazine, as well as an additional final chapter. Each chapter is about as big as this one, thus they will take time to translate. And seeing as the series isn't progressing anymore, we will probably not be in a hurry to catch up to the Japanese side. As such, expect long breaks between releases, as we'll probably only get around to it when we have considerable free time.
Bold text marks the use of boutens (dots beside the text that are used for emphasis) in the raw. We also make great use of furigana for both when the original text used it and for explaining Japanese text when we had to keep it in the translation for the discussion to make sense (or to show the puns that would be lost in the translation otherwise). Remember that the big text at the bottom is supposed to be the meaning of the phrase, while the little ruby text above it supposed to be how the text is read. Parentheses covering a paragraph seems to be the author's way to denote the character's monologue/thoughts. Unlike for AGGO, we did not bother marking out the Engrish in the text for this series, as the author of this series has much fewer issues with overuse of Engrish.
Any feedback is appreciated.
CreditsRaws: SAO Scans Project
Editing: ZeHaffen, OmegaVesko, Lockman
Chapter 1 - Mitsuba Detective
A matsuribayashi(1) could be heard in the distance.
The high-pitched flutes, the light tsuzumi, and the elegant koto(2) together formed a merry racket.
Although that tumult should sound bustling while up close, it sounded somewhat lonesome from afar.
Nobody knew where that sound came from.
It was known as the Phantom Orchestra.
It would disappear if you left the area, but it would not feel like it was close even if you were to go further in.
It’s not like it came from beyond the sky, or from the depths of the earth. Though if you planned on searching for the origin of the sound, you’d end up with going around in circles.
You could hear a sound, but could not see where it came from; the orchestra continued playing in the distance as if it were trying to deceive those looking for it.
Sitting down on the dark stone steps leading to a deserted shrine, Nayuta, dressed as a miko, absent-mindedly listened to the sound.
She felt like she had experienced something similar in the distant past.
Alone, in a dark place, tired, and at a loss——
Perhaps the majority of people, without much thought, had dreams of a time like this when they were kids.
Sitting on the steps of a gloomy shrine, gazing down at the road below that no one walked on, and carefully listening to the matsuribayashi.
Bamboo grass rustling in a thicket, a countable number of stars twinkling in the night sky, when you feel that someone is tapping on your shoulder yet there’s no one there when you turn around——
This dream of hers was interrupted by the ring of an e-mail.
A message from her friend was displayed on the floating console.
【Yahou. Nayu-san, whatcha doing?】
Nayuta cast her eyes down and, for a few moments, closed them. This switch-like action was a habit when changing her behaviour.
After a short sigh, she quickly began composing her reply.
【Investigating the 《Phantom Orchestra》. I don’t know the requirements for starting the quest, so I am trying stuff out.】
Barely any time had passed before the next message came.
【Oh that…… the one where you〝hear the sound of an orchestra but can’t find it〟 and 〝when you make an offering, you hear a cry, so that’s probably one of the triggers for it〟, right? 】
【Yes, that one. Is there any other info?】
【It’s probably more like a rumour of dubious origin than info, but—— seeing as nothing has happened even three days after implementation, it may be that you need some special key-item for it. Wanna postpone that one and work on a different quest together? It seems you can get a nice katana out of《Kagome, Kagome》(3), but it’s rated eight on a scariness scale, so it might be a bit too much for me alone —— 】
【All right. Let’s meet up.】
【Thanks! Nayu-san, you’re so cool! So, I’ll be waiting at the bakeneko tea house.】
After the message exchange ended, Nayuta stood up from the stone steps.
With her long, black hair and the sleeves of her miko costume gently floating, the girl jumped down.
Unlike reality, there was barely any impact when she landed; she felt as though her body was as light as a feather.
This did not mean that all the avatars would have the same feeling. Nayuta’s class, the 《Battle Miko》, had a special trait of excelling at jumping. On top of that, she had also acquired the《Unparalleled Jump》 skill, an advanced form of the hassoutobi(4), thus her body was especially light.
On the other hand, as she focused on the lightness of her equipment set, this narrowed her choice of equipment, and thus had the drawbacks of weakening her defence and shortening her reach.
For the majority of Battle Mikos, the standard was to make use of the easy-to-use halberds that benefited from class specialty weapon bonuses and choose heavy equipment to compensate for their low strength, rather than work on their special jump trait.
Although this made it pleasant to move, even the tiniest bit of negligence could lead to fatal wounds, thus such a character build was even called peaky by game guides, as the player would be best off avoiding damage entirely.
Nayuta proceeded along a deserted country road, illuminated by moonlight, at a speed that made it seem like she was sliding on the road.
Looking to the side, the ears of rice swayed like a wave as a gust of wind brushed the rice fields.
The refreshing rustling sound blended with the subtle and profound orchestra.
The fluttering of the flute, the drums faithfully beating the rhythm, the dignified and elegant koto—— although each of them was overflowing with bustle and energy, their melody still seemed somewhat melancholic.
Gazing at the rice fields on this moonlit night, she noticed something peculiar while on her way to the teleport point.
A small hokora(5), where a dōsojin was enshrined, that she had not noticed before when passing by.
The roof was only as high as her waist, and the stone statue inside was appropriately small.
At its facade, a letter had been offered.
(This shouldn’t have been here when I came through…… does that mean that the offering was a switch for it——?)
She hesitated to take the offering, but the chance of it being some kind of hint was high.
Once she took it into her hands and unfolded it, she saw some characters messily written on it with a brush.
《I wanna eat some botamochi》
Just a single line.
As it was so excessively simplistic, she ended up checking the back of the paper.
At a loss, Nayuta looked at the stone statue in the hokora.
On it, the sorrowful, tear-stained face of a still-very-young child was engraved.
The Japanese VRMMO 《Asuka Empire》’s new event, the 《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》——
This large-scale event, held to commemorate the creation of a new district called “Ayakashi Bystreet”(6), would introduce a hundred and eight different scenarios, both large- and small-scaled, over the course of approximately a year.
For the game boasting a scale that was second only to 《ALfheim Online》 in the domestic market but suffering a stagnation in userbase growth, this was an update with its dignity literally at stake.
Since the spread of the World Seed, creating a FullDive-supporting virtual world became so easy that not only companies but even individuals themselves could build such worlds, thus the number of playable titles skyrocketed.
At the same time, this encouraged existing users to spread to other games, and some insignificant games that were no longer able to maintain a playerbase were forced to suspend their service.
This concerned even a game as as large-scaled as 《Asuka Empire》, thus this event focused on both the creators and the players.
The 《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》 would literally incorporate a hundred and eight quests. These hundred and eight quests would consist of “The Hundred Tales” , “The Seven Wonders” and a “Finale” slated for the end; among them, “The Hundred Tales” would consist of user-generated quests made using 《The Seed》.
For this event, about 8-10 of the numerous quests created by individuals would be chosen each month and incorporated after the creators received a remuneration—— in short, it was a user-made scenario contest.
At first, this selection was criticised as “a last resort to ensure an increase in the number of quests”, but boosted by a tremendous The Seed fad, when it came time to review results, there were so many masterpieces collected that the selection took unexpectedly long.
The game’s management had called out to students of various vocational schools and clubs to participate and a lot of them applied, taking it on as their graduation work or a test-of-skills challenge for their summer holidays.
It was difficult to create a new game, with its own system, environment and setting included, from scratch in a short time, but if it was based on 《Asuka Empire》’s system, it would eliminate a lot of required labour, allowing them to focus on working purely on the scenario, visuals and audio.
To the applicants, the sense of a 〝cultural festival haunted house〟, open to a very large audience, was very strong.
As for 《The Seven Wonders》 that were unrelated to the contest, they’re tie-up quests for all the different types of enterprises that specialised in confectionery, fashion, soft drinks, figures and so on; it was a collaboration that not only involved having the products of the companies appear in the quests, but it even involved items that appeared in the game being sold in real life.
It has only been three months since this festive merrymaking with the future of the companies at stake, but at the present moment, it was enjoying a favourable reception that exceeded the game company’s goals.
Unlike 《Sword Art Online》, which led to thousands of deaths and had to suspend its service, or 《ALfheim Online》, which had to change its management company due to a case of human experimentation coming to light, or 《Gun Gale Online》, where the criminal act, known as the Death Gun incident, that lead to several victims occurred, Asuka Empire had yet to have any such scandals since its service had begun. This credibility was highly valued at the moment.
“……Though, you know. It’s not like this event is getting high praise. After all, ain’t it basically nothing but horror? With movies, seeing one or two of them is one thing, but seeing a hundred and eight horror movies in a row is just a pain. There are tons of horror comedy-type quests, but they even have comedy-feigning surprises like the 《Subjugation of a Tiger on the Folding Screen》.
“……I haven’t cleared it yet, but I’ve heard that it’s like a scene of pandemonium.”
At a corner of the kanmidokoro(7)/bakeneko tea house, Nayuta listened to the endless complaints from Koyomi, her ninja friend that she had met up with.
The mentioned 《Subjugation of a Tiger on the Folding Screen》was based on the tonchibanashi(8) of how a young priest was given this unreasonable demand from the shogun: “Subjugate the tiger on this folding screen”, to which he responded: “Then, please drive that tiger out of the folding screen.”(9)
In this quest, set in a western-style house from the Taisho era, the early stages had a gentle build-up as if it were a funny story—— but, in the middle stages, the tiger on the folding screen really did come out and start slaughtering the area’s NPCs in succession; a violent course of events.
The player was then forced to subjugate the tiger hiding in the western-style house, but if they made the slightest mistake, they would end up discovering the gory corpses of the NPCs one after another, and furthermore, the tiger was basically set to be “so strong that you can’t win against it by fighting”; a panic horror quest where you could only run around trying to escape, to say nothing of fighting against it.
The quest clearing requirement was to lure the tiger into a trap and return it to the folding screen, but the majority of challengers were forced to fully realise the dread of a large carnivore, and some even became unable to eat meat for a while.
The chillingly realistic blood and guts, the cerebrospinal fluid leaking out of the broken bones, and other fine details were all depicted without omitting anything, while the cries and screams of the NPCs that kept dying due to fatal wounds spiced things up; it’s said that it unfolded into a nasty hell that had no relation to the charming tonchibanashi.
“……Though, I've heard that the quest had some revisions made to it, as could be expected——”
“……It only added the option to switch pixelation on or off, and upped the scariness level from five to seven. Oh, and it began a rental service for a 《corpse sensor》 as a measure against heart attacks, but the fee is three hundred yen per day, what a rip-off……! That’s no longer an apparition, but a gut splatter!? And what’s more, compared to the stress caused, the reward is shabby and…… Nayu-san, here, say ‘ah’.”
Whether it was because she wanted to cool down or because she wanted to avoid letting her memories of clearing the quest resurface, Koyomi abruptly held a toothpick with some warabimochi up to Nayuta’s mouth.
Although feeling slightly uncomfortable about being fed, Nayuta obediently opened her mouth.
Compared to warabimochi in the real world, the faint sweetness, the scent of soy flour, and the exquisite, spongy texture were all well reproduced.
“……Mmhmm…… So, the 《Kagome, Kagome》 that we’re planning to do is rated eight on the scariness scale, making it scarier than the tiger subjugation, right? Are you going to be okay?”
Koyomi frowned explicitly. Due to her ever-changing expression and childish face, as well as being a hundred and forty cm tall, she looked to be very young, but she was actually a working adult and older than Nayuta.
“About that, you see, the problem is….. Just that the management’s scariness scale criteria are relatively sloppy and, from what I’ve seen in the reviews, it’s not splatter-scale scary, so I thought that I might have better compatibility for it—— And also, the reward for clearing the quest is a shinobi katana named 《Empty Air》, which I hear is especially effective against spirit-type enemies, so I wanna hold onto it for the upcoming quests. Nayu-san, I’m begging you! Help me out! You’re OK with scary stuff, right!?”
It wasn’t like she was trying to be calm. But, whether she had better resistance than other people or was simply insensitive to such things, she had no memory of feeling “scared” during this event.
On the other hand, during a previous quest, Koyomi shrieked so loud when she was chased around by a skeleton warrior that it almost seemed as though her scream went into ultrasound.
As her friend, Nayuta felt very uneasy about sending her off to a scary spot on her own.
“Of course, I do not mind helping, but…… I have a one-sided character build, so my worth as an asset is questionable. You are not going to invite anyone else to help?”
“Oh you and your jokes again. Nayu-san, you know that you’re the strongest person among my friends? Oh, and the recommended level for that quest ain’t that high. I should be able to clear it on my own, but it’s rumoured to be scary…… so I don’t really wanna go to a haunted house like that on my own, and it would be hard to cling to someone at the scary bits if I bring my good-for-nothing friends along, while you, Nayu-san, always give the impression of coolness, so I feel like I can rely on you…… right? I beg you!”
“All right. I want a weapon for ghosts too, so I look forward to working with you.”
She had no intention of declining the request from the start. They had a mutual give-and-take relationship as well.
“Thanks! Nayu-san, I love that you’re so simple! Alright, say ‘ah’.”
Smiling from ear to ear, Koyomi presented another piece of warabimochi to Nayuta’s mouth.
“……Oh no, it’s not like you bought me over with warabimochi…… Oh, would you like your mamekan?”
Nayuta scooped up the agar jelly and peas with her wooden spoon and presented it to Koyomi’s mouth.
And the girl bit into the spoon in a flash.
“…… Glad to hear it.”
As the situation took a turn that made it hard to tell which of them was older, Nayuta once again looked around the shop.
This bakeneko tea house was a popular shop at Ayakashi Bystreet, but the confined store had barely any customers.
This did not mean that the store was not thriving; a clone shop system that prevented excess congestion had been introduced to a large number of shops in this district in order to maintain the appropriate atmosphere.
Although it appeared as if there were one store, its interior was actually copied and split into several stores.
As customers that came in one after another would be transferred to different stores, it ensured that no matter when somebody came in, they would never see congestion. If someone had an appointment, they could operate their friend list at the front of the shop and enter the same room as their friends.
It wasn’t all that rare for people to pay an additional fee to make a reservation and have online meetings rather than offline ones.
As a large congestion of people would spoil the haunted house atmosphere, a large number of quests in this event had a applied a policy limiting the number of participating players.
As such, the quests were split into four categories.
The 《Tests of Courage》: these allowed only one person to challenge them by themselves.
The 《Fellow Travellers》: these allowed encountering only party members that joined the quest together.
The 《Encounters》: these could assign a limited number of people within range to an area where other players were already present.
And, the 《Universals》: these had no limits on the number of participants and, theoretically, could even allow all players to gather in one place.
A majority of the stores in Ayakashi Bystreet were categorised under 《Encounters》 to prevent lines.
The 《Subjugation of a Tiger on the Folding Screen》 that implanted a trauma in Koyomi was an example of the 《Tests of Courage》 meant for a single person; the 《Phantom Orchestra》 that Nayuta had been investigating just a while ago and the 《Kagome, Kagome》 that they planned to challenge were examples of 《Fellow Travellers》 that only allowed party members to participate.
Because of this system, it was rather unlikely to bump into someone in restaurants even if you were both regular customers, unless you were trying to meet up with them.
On the other hand, perhaps because there seemed to be few customers, there were cases of relationships forming between two unacquainted players who just happened to be present in the store at the same time.
Nayuta and Koyomi, too, got acquainted only two months ago, when this bakeneko tea house had just opened.
The impetus behind this was the fact that the nekomata clerk mistook their orders and carried Nayuta’s mamekan to Koyomi, and Koyomi’s warabimochi to Nayuta.
This wasn’t a simple mistake; it seemed that it was an action programmed to occur at a fixed probability as a character trait for the nekomata.
Even later on, the same phenomenon happened now and then, and had practically become an obligatory event in the store.
The nekomata clerks, who would simply incline their head in confusion without apologising and feign ignorance each time this happened, were showgirls wearing cat ears—— of course not, they were a group of actual, bipedal cats.
A black cat, a Calico, a tabby cat, a Russian Blue, Scottish Fold, and a Munchkin - a collection of various breeds was assembled and they looked lovely in their matching happi coats(10), but they were basically unsocial and, on a whim, frequently idled from work and dozed off. Occasionally, they even jumped onto the customers’ laps, looking as if they owned the place.
Without saying a single word, they only did their waiter duties of taking and bringing the orders, but there were dubious eyewitness reports that there was a mature hermit-like Norwegian silently making wagashi(11) in the kitchen.
Due to the fact that there was no concern for cat allergies in virtual space, there were fairly many customers visiting the store for these cats.
Nayuta and Koyomi, too, visited it for their respective cats, and since they hit off well, they started frequently forming a party.
The sliding door opened with a clatter, and a new customer walked in.
The receptionist black cat rushed through, passing by Nayuta and Koyomi.
“Excuse me, I would like to enquire for the way——”
The person who entered was an elderly priest dressed as a traveller.
He was wearing a braided hat on his head, gaiters on his feet, and had a monk staff in his hand, in other words, you could say he was wearing the initial equipment for a monk.
He could later specialise, choosing between a Warrior Monk and Sinful Monk if he chose the warrior path, or a Mendicant Priest and High Priest if he chose the spell-user path, but compared to the stars, the samurai and ninja, the somewhat plain impression that monks gave could not be denied. And on top of that, he had the appearance of an old man, which was quite rare due to player age bias.
In 《Asuka Empire》, the character’s appearance generally reflected the person’s actual appearance, as the AmuSphere performs a scan of the player’s body when registering a character.
Your appearance could be changed to some degree, and it was possible to change how the clothes fit your figure, but it was difficult to change age and gender.
In the recent years, in order to promote VRMMOs for the elderly generation, “sleeper train trips”, “mountain climbing”, “fishing”, “rural life” and other interactive types of content with few game elements had gained popularity. The majority of the elderly drifted to such games, while those who joined games where battles were the main element still formed a minority.
Even though they could compensate for the physical handicap with equipment or stats, nothing could be done about reflexes. And in the majority of cases, reflexes were the key to determining victory or defeat.
The elderly priest, slowly taking his braided hat off, gave an impression of being really simple. Fitting his role all too well, he looked like he was playing a supporting role in a historical drama rather than being a game player.
The black cat wearing a happi coat was fixedly looking up at the elderly priest right beside it.
Looking down and a bit confused, the elderly priest began speaking.
“……A cat……? Umm…… I…… Excuse me, do you understand what I am saying? I’m a bit——”
Koyomi stood up without a moment’s delay.
“Ojii-chan, those little ones are unmanned AI, so they can’t make such a complicated response! Where do you wanna go? If it’s some place I know, I could guide you there.”
Her self-assured personality that allowed her to help people even in a game was the target of the shy Nayuta’s respect.
Nayuta also turned her eyes towards the elderly priest.
“Is it your first time at Ayakashi Bystreet? This district should have a warp zone midway down the street …… So, if your destination is a registered establishment, you should be able to use the navigation feature; could it be that your destination is not registered?”
Being called by two young girls, the elderly priest was at a loss for words as if he were surprised, but it seemed that he soon recalled that this space was different from reality.
The elderly priest smiled and gave a bow, then stepped up to Nayuta and Koyomi’s table.
“Oh, you have my thanks. My name is Yanagi. Just as you have noticed, I am still a beginner…… I am looking for the detective office named 《Mitsuba’s Detective Agency》 that should be in this neighbourhood; would you happen to know anything about it?”
“Ah, I am Nayuta. And this shinobi is Koyomi-san…… Umm….. A detective office, you say?”
Asking again, Nayuta reflexively exchanged glances with Koyomi.
“Koyomi-san, do you know it?”
“Hmm, first time I’ve heard of it…… Detective offices sound like they come from a different world….. Ojii-chan, are you sure that this is really something related to Asuka Empire here?”
With the spread of 《The Seed》, numerous games, including tiny-scaled works, continued to be produced even now. Among them, there should of course be some that had detectives, but in 《Asuka Empire》, whose selling point is a Japanese-style world, such an occupation did not exist system-wise.
“Yes, it should be. Although it is mostly done in the form of a hobby…… Excuse me, it seems you have no knowledge of it……”
As the elderly priest was about to leave, Koyomi called him to a stop in a hurry.
“Wait wait! It’s not like we don’t happen to know anything! If it’s not registered on the nav, there’s only one place in the neighbourhood where an individual could get a place for a thing like this——”
“……Well, thinking about it normally, it has to be that place, right.”
The same place came to Nayuta’s mind right away.
The back street of Ayakashi Bystreet, nicknamed “Twilight Street”——
It was a dubious area where, compared to the main street, the price for renting a store was exceptionally cheap, and a lot of individuals could open their preferred establishments regardless of whether they were commercial or not.
A shopping district where street stalls would be lined up on festival days—— was what the game management had in mind, but with the horror elements in mind, it instead became a chaotic neighbourhood that seemed more like the black market.
Due to the large number of stores, which, to make matters worse, frequently changed, not only were each and every one of them not registered on the navigation, but there were plenty of stores dealing in strange goods and services.
“……Ojii-chan, this office that you spoke of, could it be located on 《Twilight Street》?”
“That is exactly right. Though I thought that this was the place……”
The elderly priest smiled broadly as if he were relieved.
Koyomi jumped from her chair.
“Alright! So, Nayu-san, shall we show him the way for a bit before our quest?”
“Okay. I have no objections.
As a matter of fact, it was a place rather hard to navigate for beginners. It would be faster to show the way rather than explain it.
The two stood up from their seats, and chose the payment option from the console.
The nekomata clerk skillfully finished processing the bill for the service with its antique register while its branched tail swayed carefreely.
Even if you, say, left the store without asking for the accounting, the payment would just be taken from the deposit, so it was just a matter of mood. Above all, once the accounting was done, you could get a piece of candy. During campaigns, you could also get lottery tickets and, with luck, you could get a rare piece of equipment as a prize.
“Oh, right….. Clerk-san, could I get some 《botamochi》 for takeout?”
While looking at the bewitching coat of fur on the round, black cat handling the register, Nayuta recalled the event at the hokora some time ago.
That was probably a demand for an offering.
The black cat, as round as a botamochi, nodded and took out some botamochi wrapped in bamboo grass leaves from a strange outlet, fashioned in the form of a cat’s mouth, by the counter.
Having received the botamochi, Nayuta moved it to her kit bag through her console.
“Hmm? Your afternoon snacks?
“Oh no, this is an offering. Since I might need it for a quest.”
Seen off by the happi coat-wearing nekomata waving its paws, the party left the store.
As they began walking, the elderly priest bowed down.
“I am humbly sorry for interrupting you when you were busy——”
“Oh come now, it’s no problem. The place is kinda hard for a new person to navigate, after all!”
Koyomi’s response was incredibly cheerful.
Nayuta, who did not possess the same skills in the art of conversation, spoke up in a stubbornly refined manner.
“Investigating the 《Twilight Street》 was part of the Hundred and Eight Apparitions tutorial quest. After release, it became an area where users could rent stores—— The office that you are looking for is mixed in among those, I believe.”
“Hahaa, I see…… The person who introduced me to the game told me〝It’s probably a hard place to navigate, so if you’d like, I can have an acquaintance show you around〟, but I thought I could manage somehow anyway—— However, it seems I was naive. Meeting such a kind person as yourself has been a great help.”
Koyomi laughed out loud.
“Hey. Nayu-san, you’re so kind, huh. If I were a man, I’d definitely make you my wife. Actually, I want to be the wife…… Hey, just marry me already. And support me with your ability to make a living…… I don’t wanna go to work on Monday and beyond…… I’ve had enough of being buried in a crowded train with my height……”
Koyomi’s forced voice gradually became quiet.
Nayuta, who had already grown accustomed to handling this, brushed the hair of the girl below as if she were a child.
“What are you saying to a student. You are a good girl, so please be a proper working adult.”
“But you know…… our company is filled with nothing but married pops and grandpas, so we have no girls or boys….. I’ve been doing my best for a year now, but none of it is any fun…… and we work like mules at the end of the fiscal year; I’m getting the feeling that you’re my sole comfort right now, Nayu-san…… Hey, let’s get married already? Nayu-san, a wedding dress would really suit you.”
Her repetitive, reckless remarks were indifferently turned aside by Nayuta.
“Hmm, true. I will consider it if you make over ten million a year.”
“Really!? I know that that’s a complete lie, but I feel like I can pull through for around a week with that one phrase! Life really does need dreams and hopes! Even if they’re just illusions with 0% chance of coming true!”
“……Koyomi-san, does that mean that you kind of like such things? It will be painful to watch at times though.
“Yeah. That’s love. Love, without a doubt. And it’s first love to boot.”
Hearing their odd exchange, the elderly priest burst into laughter.
“……Oh, excuse me. This is my first time in an online game, so I had no idea…… I see, I am starting to understand the reason why my grandchild enjoys this. After all, it is quite fascinating how you can freely create such relationships with other people.
Koyomi looked over her shoulder like a puppy.
“Oh, so you thought you’d start playing with your grandchild, Ojii-chan?”
“Well, that is not really…… Actually, that could be it. It… the circumstances are a bit complicated—— I have a task that I would like to request of the detective whom we are about to visit.”
The elderly priest stammered while giving a smile.
Thinking that it wasn’t nice to pry so much on a first meeting, Nayuta kept her mouth shut. If he wanted to talk about it he one day would, so she had no intention of prying too much.
Yanagi gave a light nod, as if he were apologising for troubling them.
Leading the elderly priest, Nayuta’s group left the back alley and went around to the back of the bakeneko tea house.
Although the night sky was dark, even spots with no light sources in the district were faintly bright, and there were no obstacles in the way.
It is said that Ayakashi Bystreet was based on the motif of the Edo(12) castle town. “Bystreet” was essentially a word that indicated a narrow road away from the main street, but Ayakashi Bystreet was apparently named as such in the sense of 〝a district away from the present world〟.
The district was so large that it made the word ‘bystreet’ sound like a lie; it was dotted with suspicious places like the Neck-Hanging Sakura, the Kappa Moat, and the Yomi(13) Tunnel.
Compared to Asuka Empire’s capital city, 《Kiyomihara》, based on the motif of the Asuka Kiyomihara Palace, as well as Heijou-kyō and Heian-kyō(14) from nearly the same period with their abundant Buddhism architecture and refined buildings of nobles, this district was more plebian, and emphasis was placed on its ominousness.
Regardless of the time in real life, it was always night at Ayakashi Bystreet as the sun did not rise. At present, it was Saturday afternoon, but the sky was immersed in darkness.
The stains on the wooden fences seemed like a human face that occasionally changed its expression.
It wasn’t rare for a white hand to spring up from the mud, the huge castle in the distance would never appear closer no matter what for some reason, a huge oni face appeared in the sky at times.
There was such an enormous number of apparition tricks here that if something went wrong and a 〝real〟 bizzare phenomenon occurred, it’s likely that no one would notice.
Greeting the noppera-bō that they passed by, the three walked along the interstice between the old residences and halted in front of a small shrine.
To the sides of the torii(15), a pair of manekineko were sitting in the place of the komainu and fox.
Nicknamed the Neko-Inari(16)—— a god of cats of dubious lineage, the “Kedamahaku Neko no Mitama no Kami” was revered there, and some taiyaki was offered to him beside the offering box.
“Oh, are we making a stopover?”
“Oh no, this is our destination.”
Koyomi gave an impish smile to the bewildered Yanagi.
She entered through the torii, faced the hokora, bowed twice, clapped twice, and bowed twice again——
And when she turned around, a wide road that wasn’t there before stretched out straight forward on the other side of the torii.
Numerous orange lanterns in a row, glass bells painted in dazzling colours, and groups of carts with no sense of unity such as oden with takoyaki, cotton candy, ramen, and yoyo fishing.(17)
There were numerous customers coming and going among the miscellaneous stores lined up on the sides as if there were a heat haze.
Not only were there carts, there were also some small-scale businesses that were using the first floor of the buildings to the sides of the road as their stores. Its appearance, reminiscent of a Showa era shopping district, contained a mix of eeriness and liveliness that brought about a chaotic glamour.
Yanagi stared in wonder at this mysterious change that occurred instantaneously.
“What… is this……?”
Nayuta answered in a whisper.
“The interior of the torii is a teleport point. Two bows, two claps and two more bows is the switch for it, so use the same procedure when you want to return.”
It was said that, ordinarily, the proper worshipping etiquette was two bows, two claps and one more bow. In the case of the Neko-Inari, it seemed to be two bows, two claps, and two more bows, as it was a cat god.
The three continued to walk along Twilight Street, among such liveliness that it seemed like there was an ennichi(18) taking place.
The players going back and forth were rather varied: there were samurai, ninja, onmyouji, shirabyōshi(19), and so on, but there was no one particularly suspicious. However, stores to the side of the road, and the clerks working there, stood out with their strange ornaments and make-up that made them look like yōkai.
There were people wearing oni or kitsune masks, as well as genuine kitsune and racoon dogs, who were still on the cute side, but there were also a number of characters that would make kids cry mixed in, including eccentric yōkai such as tenome and jorōgumo, fleeing soldiers with their guts exposed, and entirely black shadow men.
From among them, a strangely attractive, fuzzy keukegen hopped towards Koyomi and pulled on her hand.
“Ramen Keuke-ken” was written on the signboard of the store nearby.
With a bitter smile, Koyomi took back her hand.
“Ah, sorry sorry. I have other business today. I’ll see you around when I’m in the neighbourhood again.”
“……Don’t tell me that you are a regular here.”
“Yeah. It’s a store that always has hair in the soup…… Wait, would that be fur?”
A good-for-nothing, as usual.
The stores on Twilight Street were, in general, strange in some respects. Naturally, the frequent customers were rather strange too.
“Now then, where could the detective agency be, I wonder…… Hmm, let’s see let’s see…… Charms against apparitions here?”
Like a child who had just learnt a word, Koyomi began reading the signs and banners in her field of view.
“升(20) was used in the Showa era, right?”
Nayuta was hooked and shared her thoughts. Perhaps overwhelmed by the chaotic atmosphere, Yanagi just dumbfoundedly surveyed his surroundings and didn’t say much.
“Ah. Foot massage.”
“Not really much point to that in a virtual space, right.”
“Oooh, the horror standard, human flesh manjū.”
“Someone has poor taste.”
“Chocolat de Framboise.”
“That feels so out of place……”
“Adult video arcade.”
“……I am surprised this got permission from the management.”
“My mistake! It says kitsune video arcade.”
“That has me somewhat worried.”
“……A sub-variety of wankosoba(21), perhaps?”
“What are these two doing so close together?”
“Mitsuba Detective Agency.”
“What would he be investigating in a pla…… Ah!”
“Cat God Faith Society.”
“Koyomi-san, please don’t just pass by like that. It’s here.”
Nayuta grabbed Koyomi, who was leading the way, by the nape like a cat and forced her to stop.
At the entrance so narrow that only one person alone could manage to squeeze through, an old wooden signboard was hanging in a sorry state.
The office in question seemed to be on the second floor. The path ahead was shrouded in total darkness, and steep stairs led above.
Yanagi displayed a smile of relief.
“Ah, this seems to be the place. That you very much, both of you. Alone, I would have had a very hard time reaching this place.”
“……Hm. Well, there is indeed a sign hanging here, but……”
“……Is this really the place?”
Looking up at the second floor, Nayuta and Koyomi noticed a hanged corpse slowly swaying on the other side of the window.
“……Another case of bad taste, hmm.”
“Hmm, well, it might be linked to the district’s scenery management……”
The scene was not necessarily a reflection of the inside of the room. To create an appropriate atmosphere for Twilight Street, the ornaments on the windows facing outside were configured by the game’s management.
Though, if the tenant’s ornaments passed the management’s inspection, the room’s state could be shown through the window as is. This guess could only be confirmed by actually stepping in.
“This is more suspicious than usual….. right, Nayu-san? Isn’t there a chance that once you step in, a secret quest will be activated before you can reach the detective office or something? Sending off a beginner elder like that is kinda——”
Nayuta replied to Koyomi’s worries with a nod.
“……Say, Yanagi-san. This might be rude but… you are still level 1, right?
“Yes. After all, I logged in for the first time today—— I even postponed the tutorial.”
Nayuta and Koyomi exchanged glances. They praised him for managing to reach the bakeneko tea house at this state.
“……This might be uncourteous, but shall we accompany you further if we do not interfere?”
A broad smile appeared on the elderly priest’s face.
“Why thank you, I have caused you so much trouble…… Again, I am greatly obliged for your kindness.”
With his hands pressed together, he gave a very deep bow. It seemed that he had cold feet.
With a nod, Nayuta swiftly stepped forward toward the dark stairs jammed in between the wooden walls.
Seeing her take the lead without hesitation, Koyomi, who was standing in the back, let out a sigh of admiration.
“Nayu-san, I think I’m falling in love with the way you’re being all manly like that……”
“The one in the back does not necessarily have the highest survival rate. Back attacks come from behind.”
“Oh, it’s not about survival rates…… You never think that 〝The dark is scary!〟 or something? In the first place, if we’re talking about survival rates, since Battle Mikos are a vanguard class, shouldn’t they strengthen themselves with more metal protectors? It would be one thing if you were a magician-type Exorcist Miko, but you’re the only Battle Miko I know with such enormous boobs and visible cleavage……”
“……It’s not visible. I am wearing my innerwear underneath, so please stop with the random sexually harassing remarks. The size setting…… was just a mistake.”
When creating an account, your figure was influenced by the AmuSphere’s scan to some degree. She could have just wrapped a sarashi(23) around herself, but she did not get to that.
Partly because it was summertime and she was lightly dressed, she started the game without reading the exact numbers; she noticed the glances from her surroundings several days later.
To top it off, while she contemplated whether she should delete her account and start over, she had the luck to obtain a rare piece of equipment with a high evasion stat, the 《Shirahae no Kosode》(24), and so she became unable to delete her account without deleting the item.
“Even if you’re wearing innerwear…… That spunky, fireproof, sportswear-like innerwear itself is generally thought of as sexy on its own, you know? It makes your silhouette look quite impressive, you know?”
“You’re exaggerating. And isn’t that fire- or electricity-proof innerwear a standard piece of equipment for shinobi-type people like you, Koyomi-san? Since I focus on speed and agility, I end up with such equipment and I can’t help it.”
Koyomi nudged at Nayuta’s back.
“About that! Nayu-san, if you’re focusing so much on speed, then why didn’t you become a shinobi? Even though it’s a popular class that’s the most nimble one in the game and has fair offensive abilities, according to class charts. Battle Miko is a class that people who think 〝Ninja have far too little armour, so they’re kinda……〟choose, you know?”
‘I have my reasons. I can’t say that I don’t, but I’m a bit embarrassed.’ Nayuta whispered in response.
“Ehm…… I thought—— the hakama(25) looked cute.”
Koyomi hanged her head at once.
“……Sorry, I take back what I said about you being manly. You’re cute, Nayu-san. You look like a proper girl…… On the other hand, as I see nothing but stats and efficiency, my femininity level is awfully low……”
“……Oh no, my character build is suited for martial arts, so I am not very feminine——”
“Nuh-uh. You’re a girl no matter how I look at you…… After all, during battle, your bust jiggles so much…… it goes *tayuntayun*…… so much that I wonder whether it has a specialised visualising engine.”
“……Koyomi-san, seriously, stop with the frequent sexual harassment with those indecent eyes of yours. It makes it hard to give a normal response.”
It seemed that something unpleasant had happened to her in real life.
Having arrived at the top of the stairs, Nayuta opened the wooden door blocking their path.
A very faint orange light reached the stairs.
Inside was a room larger than they had envisioned.
The ceiling was strangely high, slightly altering the stream of air and the echo of voices.
Directly opposite the open door sat a huge, bulky black cat.
It wasn’t of a normal size.
Its sitting height was easily over three metres, and coupled with the height of the ceiling, it gave off an intimidating aura.
Of course, it wasn’t an actual cat; it was an ornament that had a plump body twice as large as its head and was sitting in Zen meditation position; its forelegs were in the Dhyāna mudrā(26) and its hindlegs were in the lotus position(27), like a black Buddha statue so to speak.
The dim room with the statue looked more like the main temple building of a shrine rather than the second floor of a shopping street, and gave the illusion that they might have been transported by a warp zone.
The large, golden eyes did not particularly give the impression that it was full of love, neither did it give the slightest impression of strength to ward off the klesha(28), or the overambitious will to save the living, but the cat-like expression of cunningness was fully represented.
The halo behind it was styled as cat paw pads, the pedestal as a cat food can, and the lanterns hanging in the surroundings as balls of wool; even those obsessed with details would find no oversights.
Nayuta and the others stood stupefied in front of the strange-looking seated figure that could be called a large, black cat Buddha statue.
“……Eh? What is… this?”
“Whoa…… Arigataya. Arigataya.”(29)
While Nayuta was bewildered and Koyomi paid her reverence at once, Yanagi found a sign in the darkness.
“To the right is the Cat God Faith Society, to the left is Mitsuba Detective Agency……It seems that this second floor branches out. This cat statue is probably an entrance objet d’art——”
Looking to the right and left, they saw the respective doors.
The door on the right had a carving of a cat with blazing, open eyes, while the door on the left had a small wooden tag hanging from it, the word 《Open》 written on it.
The door on the right went beyond adorable to being evidently ominous.
After casting down and closing her eyes, then taking a short pause, Nayuta knocked on the door to the left without hesitation.
“——The door’s not locked. Come in.”
The strangely clear voice of a young man came from inside.
Detectives were generally divided into two categories.
The first included those who only did the job for money, the so-called realist detectives.
The other were romantist detectives, who aspired to be the kind of detectives that appear in stories and thus chose this profession themselves.
The distinction was simple.
The former did not look like detectives. Aside from those in charge of advertising and business, most refrained from showing their faces and precisely handled affair investigation and background checks while hidden in the bustle of the town.
The latter started from the looks. Fine-tailored suits or splash-patterned kimonos, a custom-made stick and their favourite pipe——as long as it looked detective-ish, any prop worked. They were the people to emphasise that they were detectives starting from their appearance, and promote themselves by being conspicuous.
And, just as expected, the owner of the Mitsuba Detective Agency that appeared before Nayuta and the others was part of the 〝latter〟 to an overwhelming degree.
The white shirt, polar tie and vest were still understandable. Although there was no 〝detective〟 class system-wise, such Western clothes were sold even in Kiyomihara.
However, even if they were easy to obtain, going so far as to have an inverness cape and deerstalker hanging on the wall made it look like nothing but an evident cosplay of the most famous detective in the world.
The bookshelves crammed with books, leaving no gaps, the glass shelves storing chemistry lab equipment, an old skeleton, and an antique gramophone were completely devoted to setting the atmosphere.
In the first place, as they were in-game, the ornamental books probably had blank pages. It was even questionable whether they could be taken out of the bookshelves.
The chemistry lab equipment was also meaningless of course, and as for the BGM coming from the gramophone, it was a net radio horse racing broadcast.
It seemed that favourite number nine: the bracket two, horse number two Nikukyūkaiser won Saturday’s sixth race.
After confirming these results, the young detective switched off the gramophone-type radio in a good mood.
Under the light of the lamps, the owner of this room behind the mahogany desk, which gave off candy-like lustre, displayed an elegant smile.
“Welcome to this office in the outskirts, dear guests. I am Detective Clevel. Do not mind the cat Buddha statue. It’s something that those guys from the Cat God Faith Society placed of their own accord. You really have to——know their character.”
Detective Clevel’s voice was as clear as a presenter’s.
He was slender but his face and figure weren’t half bad. His gaze, as if he were appraising his guests, was somehow reminiscent of a kitsune.
(……So there are people that give off the same aura as the disguised kitsune from “The Kitsune’s Wedding”……?)
Nayuta thought back on the quest that she and Koyomi had cleared several days ago.
Although the disguised kitsune in the quest definitely wasn’t wearing Western clothes, he was a handsome young man who had eyes with long slits and a glamorous, slender face.
A pushover for looks, Koyomi was blindly struck by him, but, unfortunately, he wasn’t Nayuta’s type, thus once she confirmed that he was the enemy, she carried out her judgement on him without hesitation and even received a combo bonus.
Having seen this, she was asked “……Nayu-san, do you have something against hunks……?” by Koyomi with a serious look on her face, but she did not particularly have a problem with that.
The detective named Clevel continued speaking in a smooth tone.
“Now then, Yanagi-san. As for your request, I understand the general details based on the email I received from your middleman just now. Seeing as you could not FullDive to your destination, I apologise that I could not show you the way, and I humbly regret it…… Though if you had contacted me directly, I could have sent someone to meet you at Kiyomihara.”
Yanagi, sitting on the antique sofa, hung his head with a bitter smile.
“Oh no, I wanted to go for a stroll anyway, so I planned to look around the game myself first. Though, I truly did not expect getting lost at this age. If these ladies had not helped me, I would probably still be lost at this time.”
With a triumphant look, Koyomi puffed out her chest.
“Well, you have to support each other in times of trouble! ……Ah, incidentally, I was also interested in the detective; if he were a fraud, I figured I had to stop him and, depending on the case, turn him over to the police……or something.”
In response to her rather rude and frank manner of speaking, the detective let out a chuckle.
“Calling me a fraud is harsh. Though, I understand your reasons for doubt. As a matter of fact—— the agency was approved by the game management as a 〝tourist enterprise〟 rather than a 〝detective enterprise〟. In RPGs, situations when the sign for a business states ‘bar’ when it’s actually a temporary employment agency can be encountered now and then, right? It’s something like that.”
Nayuta inclined her head to the side. A detective enterprise in an online game was suspicious, but a tourist enterprise was quite suspicious as well.
“A tourist enterprise……? In a VRMMO you say?”
“Not what you expected? It’s quite popular among the English-speaking customers. Since a sightseeing trip to Japan takes both time and money, there is of course a demand for experiencing the atmosphere cheaply through a Japanese-style game. The AmuSphere is excellent for that. Tasting gourmet food, soaking in a hot spring, getting worked up over ninja and admiring sakura——none of these are different from their real life equivalents. Why, it even allows 〝climbing mount Fuji with guaranteed good weather and no congestion〟, which is hard to do in real life. So, my job is to accompany my clients on the quests that they wish to go on as an interpreter and guide, or show them around towns, stores and all the famous places.”
A black, bipedal nekomata that appeared out of nowhere placed some black tea in front of Nayuta and the others. They seemed to be business-use bots identical to the ones at the bakeneko tea house.
While putting some cube sugar into his black tea, Clevel continued the chat that doubled as his self-introduction.
“My customers aren’t all foreigners. Some officials from domestic enterprises, though not numerous, occasionally come to me with requests. They are usually people who have absolutely no experience with games, but want to observe from the inside for their collaboration plans and advances on the game market——I get requests like that.”
Clevel’s gaze faced a corner of the wall. A poster from the maker of a famous drink announcing their collaboration for the 《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》was affixed to the wall there.
“For such clients, if asked, I handle analyses of the in-game market and fads, and offer suggestions. At this point, I go into the consultant field rather than a tourist or detective enterprise, but…… In a word, you could say that I act as a scapegoat to help officials from companies avoid responsibility. If their plans fail, they can put the blame on an outsider like me and save their reputation in the company.”
The working adult Koyomi gave a conspicuous, displeased expression.
“……Uwaa…… You’re blunt……”
The detective sneered carelessly.
“I’ve had clients with such a plan in mind; that’s the extent of my work. Of course, I refuse jobs that are too likely to fail. Now then…… As I have finished explaining what kind of place this is, let’s talk about Yanagi-san’s request.”
The detective changed his tone as he turned to Yanagi sitting on the sofa.
Yanagi responded with a meek nod.
“Based on the middleman’s letter, 〝I’d like to clear a certain new quest within a week〟is your request it seems, but——excuse me, I would like to confirm the payment first. That idiot seems to have made a mistake with the digits.”
Yanagi hurriedly shook his head.
“Oh no, I believe that it is correct. Two hundred thousand for the deposit, twenty thousand per man per day, and a million as a completion bonus for doing it within a week, so if you would like……”
Nayuta could not believe her ears at that amount of money. Koyomi frowned reflexively.
“……Eh? Wha? Are you talking about in-game currency? You can’t really be talking about real money, right?”
The detective sighed.
“We only deal in Japanese Yen and the Dollar. Yanagi-san——Excuse me but, are you serious? Of course, the price greatly depends on the content of the request, but there are almost no risks, unlike how the case is for detectives in the real world; it is basically safe. If it is just to help with quest clearing, the price per person per day is ten thousand, and the price for completion is at most fifty thousand. While it may be true that if it were a Seven Wonder-class large-scale quest, it would require a decent deposit, but…… If I recall correctly, your request was the 《Phantom Orchestra》, right? Although no one has cleared it yet, if we believe the announcements from the game’s management, it should not be that difficult.”
Nayuta’s shoulders twitched.
(Ah. The Phantom Orchestra——)
She had attempted the quest just a short while ago.
As there were about two to three new quests implemented per week, it wasn’t strange that someone might be overwhelmed by the number of quests they wanted to do.
But, she could not understand Yanagi’s true motives behind wanting to clear a quest that did not have known drop items or a confirmed value so much that he took the trouble to request a detective for help.
As for the quests implemented this week, a clearing group has formed for the 《Forest of Werewolves》, which had a prior announcement to include rare items, thus the majority postponed the Phantom Orchestra which did not even have clear triggering requirements.
Yanagi gave a deep bow.
“I beg of you, please consider. It is true that it might seem like a large sum, but I have certain circumstances that compel me to clear it within a week no matter what the cost, even if I have to pay such a large sum——”
“Whoa whoa, what circumstances!? Is it normal to offer over a million yen just for clearing a quest?”
Koyomi shouted in a shrill voice, but Clevel held her back with his hands.
“Young lady, according to the rules here, the client doesn’t have to speak about what he doesn’t want to speak about——if there’s also a large payment involved, I will not force him to talk. I will just handle a job that is as sincere as the sum offered for it.”
“Yeah….. You sure talk cool, but in short, you mean 〝I have my eyes on the money〟 by that, right?”
Clevel took Koyomi’s unrelenting indication in stride with a faint smile.
“I won’t deny that. Money is a convenient scale for measuring how sincere and serious a person is. Above all——can you two really disregard the wish of this elder when he is willing to pay so much out of pocket to have it granted?”
“……More like, we want to teach the detective a wonderful proverb: 〝Every sweet offer has a catch〟 …… Ojii-chan, why are you in such a hurry? It’s not like there’s a time limit; you could just clear it at your own pace. You don’t need to pay such a suspicious detective any money; just say the word and we’ll help you free of charge.”
Nayuta, who had been carefully watching over the course of events, finally opened her mouth as well.
“I was just in the middle of investigating the 《Phantom Orchestra》. I have even found a hint regarding the requirements for triggering it, so if it goes well, we will probably clear it within a few days.”
Before the elderly priest could answer, the detective interjected.
“I see. That’s not a bad deal either—— As a matter of fact, Yanagi-san. I have an issue to resolve during the time of your request. It is somewhat related to my schedule being free, but my assistant, who is usually in charge of combat operations, will not be able to log in due to personal business until after the tenth. I planned to hire a temporary mercenary if the need arose, but if these ladies wish to assist you, then that is just what you needed.”
Koyomi stood up from the sofa at once.
“Ah! Your get-rich-quick scheme was about to crumble, so you planned to placate us!”
“Please let me finish. I’m not so worried about money—— Yanagi-san, let’s put our contract on hold till Monday. Instead, please try clearing the quest over today and tomorrow, the weekend, with these ladies. I will also accompany you and thus do some investigation beforehand, but I will not require payment for these two days. In the first place, if it is a simple quest that can be completed in just two days, I cannot accept such a large payment. If we are unable to clear the quest in two days—— please consider again whether you would like to enter a contract with me on Monday. And, in the event of a contract being formed, I will assist you with all I have for five days starting from Monday.”
The detective finished his speech and gave Nayuta and Koyomi an intelligent gaze.
“……And so, this is my compromise. After all, starting from Monday, you two will have either school or work, right? You’ll likely be unable to help Yanagi-shi during that time. In the end, there lies the reason why he wants to employ a detective like me. A talented man, capable of focusing on this quest twenty four hours per day, even if I have to refrain from sleep, to clear it by any possible means, as long as the client has the money——that is who I am.”
Unable to object, Koyomi groaned vexedly.
“Muu…… W-we can just clear it over the weekend! We can do it we can do it! No problem! Time attack, bring it! Let’s do it!(30)”
“……Indeed, we have no issue with it. Yanagi-san, you don’t mind us assisting you, do you?”
Nayuta’s tone was calm in comparison to Koyomi’s vigour, but the determination in her words could be said to be mostly the same.
Yanagi inclined his head as if he were troubled.
“Well, of course, this is just what I needed, but…… are you sure? To do something like this for me, a person you have just met……”
Nayuta nodded modestly.
“As I have said before, it is a quest that I am investigating as well. Even without you, Yanagi-san, I planned to clear it before long.”
She had absolutely no idea why this elder wanted to clear the 《Phantom Orchestra》.
But, at least he did not seem like a bad person; seeing his sincere expression, it was obvious that this was important to him.
Detective Clevel picked up the inverness cape and deerstalker hanging on the wall.
“With that settled, let’s move out at once. Nayuta, Koyomi, we have just met, but I’m looking forward to working with you. Let’s form a party now, you too, Yanagi-san.”
Operating their respective consoles, the group finished forming a party. Yanagi took a bit more time, but thanks to to Koyomi’s instructions from the side, the impromptu party was finished without a hitch.
The 《Phantom Orchestra》 that they were about to attempt fell under the 《Fellow Traveller》 category, which only allowed players to encounter party members. Thus, it was impossible to take on the quest with other people unless a party was formed at least temporarily.
(Yanagi-san is of course level 1. Though the detective is quite the veteran……)
Gazing at the 《Clevel》 name displayed on the console, Nayuta nonchalantly checked his stats.
And she suddenly froze up.
“…… Huh……What… is this……?”
Unintentionally letting out a moan.
There, she saw some numbers that could be called abnormal.
“……U-umm…… detective, what is……?”
“What’s the matter? Nayu-san, why did…… Ueah!?”
Koyomi, who was beside her, noticed the abnormality as well and thus squeaked.
Looking at their reactions, the detective maintained his curt smile.
His stats displayed on the console—— he was five levels higher than Nayuta. And yet, almost all of his other numbers were 《single digits》. In short, almost all of them were still level 1.
There was one sole entry among them that was raised to a number close to a thousand.
“Umm…… you only raised your 《Luck》 ……”
“Wai…… eeeh……Uwae, wha, are you serious...? You can't even beat Itachi with that, let alone Kamaitachi.”
Itachi were just a bit stronger than small fry to beginners. The higher-ranked Kamaitachi were oriented towards intermediate-level players, and the highest-ranked Noriitachi(31) were oriented towards advanced-level players, but as all of them looked rather adorable, they were treated as mascot characters in-game.
A veteran with a questionable character build that might not even win against such opponents seemed like nothing but a terribly elaborate but poor joke.
In Asuka Empire, characters could be improved by freely allocating points earned through level ups to Strength, Intelligence, Agility, and other optional stats.
Fighting power was especially influenced by equipment quality, but to begin with, weapons and armour each had a set “minimum attribute value required to equip them”, hence if your stats were not raised to these values, you couldn’t even equip them.
The equipment of Detective Clevel, who had not raised these stats at all, was almost like garbage.
In front of the dumbfounded Nayuta and Koyomi, Clevel calmly put on the coat that was only good for show and picked up his equally stylish stick that had no offensive ability.
“Now then, shall we be off, ladies? As you have noticed, I specialise in mental work. I’ll leave the fighting to you, so do your best.”
Informing them as if it were only natural, the lucky detective turned gallantly and adroitly aside in their field of vision.
Nayuta and Koyomi exchanged glances in silence.
Somewhere in Twilight Street, a bot crow let out an innocent cry as if mocking people.
The Phantom Orchestra field, which was mostly an endless rural landscape, had a looped boundary.
If you reached the map’s edge and wanted to get to the other side, it was impossible to either enter or leave the area aside from using the teleport point.
The teleport point also served as the event flag save point; in the case you left by using items, unsaved flags would be lost. And in the case of a wipe-out, you’d lose all the flags, even the ones you saved, and you’d have to start the quest over from the beginning.
“……And so, Yanagi-san. Our job, if an enemy appears, is to run around to increase our survival rate. If by any chance the ladies, our combat personnel, fall, we have to abandon them and at least escape ourselves. If we do that we will maintain the event flags as a party.”
While walking along the footpath between rice fields in the middle of the night, Clevel gave this explanation to his client Yanagi-san.
“Well…… that sounds... rather regrettable, if I should say so……”
“It is far better than starting over from scratch. So much that, when dealing with high-difficulty quests, there are parties which have spare members solely for maintaining the flags.”
Hearing their conversation, Koyomi silently dropped her shoulders.
“……Well, what he’s saying is absolutely true…… but I don’t really like it……”
Nayuta was of the same opinion, but since they had a week-long time limit, she wanted to avoid retrying due to a wipe-out. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were in the initial stages, but a game over in the late stages of a quest would be nerve-wracking.
“……Well, if we had come solely with Yanagi-san, we would inevitably be the only ones fighting——And it seems that the detective will at least be using items……”
Although her advocacy was meant to ease Koyomi’s displeasure, it definitely wasn’t meant to help the detective that relied on others so much.
“His stats aren’t suited for that. He can’t use decent equipment with that….. Detective, how did you manage to work as an in-game guide with them?”
To Koymi’s indication, Clevel responded with an unconcerned look.
“The numerical value of Luck is actually indispensable to a guide. I did say that I leave the fighting to my assistant, right? There are heaps of players pursuing strength, so hiring one as a mercenary isn’t that difficult. However—— there aren’t that many players specialising in 《Luck》, you see. It’s the only thing I had a need to raise.”
“That’s not true. After all, the necessity……”
“Rare item drop rate.”
*Gu*, Koyomi was at a loss for words.
“Just by having me, the party as a whole has its rare item drop rate rise threefold. The upper limit is 10%, so I can’t boost it over that limit…… but even so, the drop probability for 1% rate items can rise to 3%, and it even affects the chances of encountering rare enemies in the first place. Also, the chance of encountering 《superb views》 like geysers or seas of clouds is dependant on party member Luck. To an in-game tourist guide, you could say that it’s the most indispensable stat.”
It was a sound argument. But, she was naturally still a bit displeased.
“So you’re like a zashiki warashi, I see…… I understand your reasoning, but was there any need to be so extreme? For example, couldn’t you allocate eighty percent to Luck and distribute the remaining twenty to the rest?”
“I had no such luxury. Just now I said that I can〝raise the probability of rares threefold〟, but that’s only at my current level. There’s probably room to improve. If I could raise it to tenfold with more….. I could get myself yet another business.”
The detective chuckled cheerfully.
“Indeed…… until that time, I don’t have any need to change my methods…..”
Calmly avoiding the who-knows-how-serious prank, Nayuta stopped in front of a small hokora erected along the road.
“Here it is. After I received a message from Koyomi-san some time ago, I found this hokora along the way to the teleport point…… It was not present when I came here, so the shrine’s offertory box on the other side or something must have been the event switch for the 《Phantom Orchestra》, I believe.”
Facing the stone statue in the hokora, Yanagi joined his hands.
“……A tear-strained child. For Jizō(32), it gives a rather heartbreaking impression.”
Beside him, Nayuta selected an item from her console.
“There was a note that said 〝I wanna eat some botamochi〟 in front of the statue. So, when I was at the bakeneko tea house some time ago, I took the opportunity to purchase some botamochi….. I shall try placing it.”
Nayuta placed the offering botamochi wrapped in bamboo grass in front of the statue.
In front of the group, the expression of the stone statue changed faintly.
Although it was still a vague, unsettled-looking expression, it more or less stopped weeping, while the botamochi offering disappeared like mist.
“……Ooh. I wonder if the next event will occur now?”
While Koyomi surveyed the surroundings, a matsuribayashi came from some far-off place.
The timber of the light drum, high-pitched flute, and elegant koto formed a complete whole, and created a generally lonely tune.
It wasn’t like she had heard it when she was a child, but for some reason, it made her succumb to a feeling of nostalgia.
Yanagi knitted his eyebrows.
“I can hear…… a matsuribayashi.”
Clevel turned his stick around.
“The goal of this quest is to find the origin of the 《Phantom Orchestra》. Whether this will clear the quest, or whether something else will happen afterwards——or whether a boss character appears is unknown, but at any rate, the fact that there has been no one to clear it probably implies that there is some sort of nuisance involved.”
“Hmm. But there could be people who cleared it but remained silent about it……?”
“Speaking by the book, you are correct. But unlike the norm, the number of people who have successfully cleared each quest in the《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》 is announced on the official site. The announcement is made once per day, so I cannot be certain what the situation is at the present time, but—— in the morning, it was still 0. It could be due to it only being the third day since implementation, but it is certain that it is not a simple quest that you can solve through brute force.”
As the matsuribayashi seemed to get closer, Clevel pointed his stick in front of the stone statue.
The botamochi offering there had already disappeared, but in its stead a new piece of paper had appeared.
Nayuta carefully picked it up.
On the paper was a line of characters written with a brush——
《 I wanna eat some kuzumochi 》
“Oooh…… So that’s how it’s gonna be……”
Clevel also gave a bitter smile and shook his shoulders.
“I see, so this is the cause of the 0 clear rate so far, huh. An errand-type quest pointlessly eats up a lot of time. In addition to the time for finding the required items, it also takes time to make a round trip between the hokara and the town, so people are being smart and putting it on hold until someone spreads a walkthrough with all the required items.”
Nayuta was also dejected. She did not mind an errand once, but repeating a similar task over and over felt awfully fruitless.
“Well then, shall we return to the town again?”
Yanagi was about to turn back quickly, but Clevel turned his kitsune-like gaze to him.
“No. Before that, I will investigate this hokora a bit. If it were just a monotonous and bothersome quest like that, I don’t believe that it would have passed the game management’s judging——even if, for argument’s sake, it did pass, it should have been adjusted during implementation. Either this request is a fake, or…… it is a riddle.”
Clevel looked inside the hokora.
Nayuta also brought her head closer from the opposite site.
The hokora was so small that if you wanted, you could just lift it up in your arms. There weren’t that many places to investigate either.
“Detective-san, is it really okay for you to help like this? You’re unpaid right now? Wouldn’t it be better for you to drag it on?”
Hearing Koyomi’s ridiculing indication, Clevel responded with a sneer, his gaze still fixed on the hokora.
“Do you really think that Yanagi-shi would want to place a request with a sly person who’d slight his work like that? After all, as I call myself a detective, even if an imperfect one, I have no intention of slighting my work when solving riddles with my pride on the line.”
His tone made it seem like he was joking, but Nayuta could feel faint zeal in his words.
(Aside from his appearance, he’s actually a surprisingly earnest person……?)
Due to his get-up that looked like cosplay, at first he seemed like an easily flattered person, but from his logical way of speaking, it seemed that he was intentionally playing the buffoon. While investigating the inside of the hokora with his touch, the detective gave a faint smile.
“Hmm——Miss, please take a look overhead at the stone statue.”
Following his instruction, Nayuta checked the ceiling of the hokora. She found a piece of paper with 《Clouds》 written on it afixed there.
“……Aah. A kind of paper frequently affixed above a kamidana?(33)”
“That’s right. As it would disrespectful to have something superfluous above a God’s head, a paper or board with ‘sky’ or ‘heavens’, or ‘clouds’ and other symbols written on it is affixed to the ceiling, as a substitute for the sky. In other words—— it’s probably a hint that 〝this hokora accepts substitutes〟.”
Clevel’s hand was grasping a brush stand. It seemed to have been hidden behind the stone statue.
“Nayuta, could you turn that paper around and unfold it?”
Guessing the detective’s intention, Nayuta unfolded the paper on her hands.
Clevel then fluently wrote down 《kuzumochi》 in India ink.
As Koyomi and Yanagi watched on, Nayuta folded the paper and returned it as an offering.
Naturally, Koyomi was flustered.
“Eh. Nayu-san, is that really gonna work ……?”
“I do not know. But, it does not cost anything to try.”
While they were talking, the paper offering disappeared and a new paper appeared.
The next demand was written there.
《 I wanna eat some habutaemochi 》
The stone statue child stopped crying entirely. Its mood was still poor though.
Koyomi clapped her hands.
“Wow, it worked! ……I guess? But yet another mochi, huh…… If I’m not mistaken, it’s sold in a high-class wagashi store in Kiyomihara.”
“It doesn’t seem like we need to buy it. Let’s continue.”
Clevel wrote done the characters, and Nayuta placed it as an offering.
“Dear me…… the timbre of the matsuribayashi seems to be getting even closer.”
“It is probably proof of making progress on the flag. This is probably the requirement for triggering the quest. If you notice the trick, it could be done in a few moments, but if you do not notice and have to make round trips to the town, it would be a rather annoying task.”
“Ah. But, if you left someone in town to contact via messages, he could already look for the item during the time it takes to return to town……”
In the middle of Koyomi’s words, the next demand came from the stone statue.
《 I wanna eat some koorimochi 》
“……I take back my words. Finding this would be rather difficult……!”
“……Is this a local cuisine somewhere? Though I am not really sure what it is.”
‘The majority of those attempting the quest probably gave up at this point’, imagined Nayuta.
Yanagi gave a rather cheerful smile.
“It’s when you freeze and dry a mochi. It’s a preserved food that you can dip into hot water and eat in the cold regions. At times, it is also used as an ingredient in wagashi.”
Nayuta was shocked at Yanagi’s bits of knowledge.
(In the end, I wonder…… who is this person?)
Unless you shared a very close relationship with someone, online game manners did not allow prying into the person’s IRL identity. But, she felt curious about multiple things about him, including the reason for the request. Based on his extensive knowledge shown just now, it was possible to imagine that he was some sort of researcher or cook.
Because there was no need to look for the hard-to-find requested good as an item, Clevel easily granted the stone statue’s wish with the stroke of a brush.
《 I wanna eat some kobanmochi 》
“The mochi series still continues, huh…… is this another wagashi?”
“Yes. I happen to see them at times, but aside from the koban(34) shape being a common feature among them, it seems that the method of making them is different in each store. Some have red bean jam filling, some use yomogi, some have beans mixed in….. quite the variety available. There is also a tree called kobanmochi.
There was no hesitation in Yanagi’s explanation.
《 I wanna eat some nikkimochi 》
“……Wagashi again? It doesn’t seem to be sold in Asuka Empire’s shops——It’s probably something made with the Cooking skill.”
Clevel’s dazzling eye expression was somewhat stern.
The sound of the matsuribayashi continued to approach them.
Koyomi’s gaze wandered about in unease.
“……Hey, you know. It can’t really go on forever, can it? If it actually enters a loop……”
“——No, I think it’ll end soon enough. Let’s continue.”
The paper offering with the characters on it disappeared in the time it would take to say ‘ah’, and the next demand came out.
《 I wanna eat some isobemochi 》
It was a mochi that was just dipped in soy sauce for flavour and wrapped in nori. This definitely could not be called a wagashi.
“……It suddenly became a simple order. I saw some on the street stalls in Twilight Street.”
While reading the paper, Nayuta checked on the state of the stone statue.
Its expression had changed entirely from its initial tear-strained expression. Thought that did not mean that it was showing a smile now.
It lost its expression, and became like a Noh(35) mask that showed no emotions at all. Although befitting a stone statue, it was a bit creepy.
On the other hand, the sound of the matsuribayashi was already only a few steps away.
Neither the shadow nor the figure of the performers could be seen, but their music was playing in close proximity.
*Pihyara*, *tonton*, *sharansharan*, although it should have sounded bustling, for some reason, it did not make her feel exhilarated.
On the contrary, it strangely made her break into a cold sweat.
(I can’t see them, but…… they’re surrounding us?)
Nayuta put some strength into her limbs to be ready to take a battle stance at any time.
The sound of the instruments seemed like a scream. She could also hear someone’s voice whispering and murmuring right next to her ears, but had no idea what they were saying.
The cowardly Koyomi clung to Nayuta’s back.
“……T-this sounds like a sign of something bad coming……? This definitely looks like the party where something comes out, right? Something is breathing into my ears you know……!”
“Calm down. This quest…… has yet to even begin.”
Clevel told her in a whisper.
The series of actions that Nayuta and the others had been performing was meant to satisfy the requirements for triggering the quest.
Unless the requirements for triggering it were satisfied, the enemy would not appear. And so, at the moment of the quest being triggered, a low bell sound would ring as a sign. Only after that would they need to be vigilant.
Clevel made an offering with the paper with 《isobemochi》 written on it.
The paper instantly disappeared and a new paper appeared.
There were no mochi requests on it anymore.
《 瑠璃も玻璃も照らせば光る。提灯いらずの月夜といえど、たまには欲しき此明かり 》(36)
This composition was written in proper characters(37) with furigana as compared to before.
Koyomi muttered in unease.
“The mochi series is finally over….. I think I’ve heard of 瑠璃, but what’s a hari?”
“……Koyomi-san…… 瑠璃 is a blue gem and 玻璃 means a crystal. Long ago, both of those words carried the meaning of glass.”
“In Buddhism, they were valued as two of the seven treasures. Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, shako, coral, and agate - the seven of these——though it seems to differ slightly between schools.”
Koyomi blinked a few times. Even with Nayuta and Clevel’s explanations, it seemed that she didn’t quite get it.
“Mantis shrimp? Sort of like a shrimp?”
“Not that, it means the shell of a giant clam. Koyomi-san…… Have you ever taken your lessons on classical literature properly?”
Still clinging to Nayuta’s back, Koyomi made a sour expression with her lips.
“Na-Nayu-san, you and Detective-san, who know such minor bits of knowledge so well are the weird ones——I’m normal!”
“I think you should at least know what hari is—— This is a proverb. 《瑠璃も玻璃も照らせば光る》 means ‘Encouragement brings out the best in people”, but in this case it probably refers to this hokora rather than a talented person. 《此明かり》is a word that means Bon festival welcoming fire. And then——as for the paper with 《Clouds》 that is affixed to the ceiling, it’s only used 《when there’s a second floor above》. In other words, this hokora has an invisible second floor. If we sum up all the hints——”
Clevel took out a dungeon clearing lantern from his console’s item list.
With his eyes narrowing due to the dazzling light, Clevel placed the lantern atop the hokora.
As all of them held their breaths, the matsuribayashi drums resounded so loudly that they even made their bodies tremble.
Nayuta and the others, who had all reflexively plugged their ears, saw how the light extending from the lantern became a breeze that brushed the ears of rice, and along with this stream, a golden line began to form a huge, solid body.
In the time it would take to say ‘ah’, the line filled the surface of the rice field, and a mere moment later, the colour began to spread.
What appeared above and to the sides of the hokora as if surrounding it was an excessively huge, golden castle.
Right in front were broad stone steps and a huge castle gate, and a stone wall with a steep slope continued to the sides as far as the eye could see; as for the top of the castle, the top part of it was engulfed in darkness and could no longer be seen.
Koyomi, clinging to Nayuta, buried her face into Nayuta’s clothes.
Taking their gaze away from the castle, Nayuta and the others saw that they were surrounded by matsuribayashi performers.
The group of players wearing kariginu and eboshi(38) were semi-transparent. Their faces lacked vitality and their complexions were faint and looked like they were barely present.
And yet, the thrumming sounds they made were distortedly intense, as if they were venting their malice on their instruments.
They ascended the stone steps to the side of the hokora, and, ignoring Nayuta and the others, set foot into the castle.
As the procession advanced orderly, a different, bass sound, like that of the joya no kane(39) on New Year’s Eve, resounded only once, mixing in with the rhythmical timbre of the matsuribayashi?
This was none other than the sign signaling the triggering of a quest. The Hundred and Eight Apparitions began with a hundred and eight bell chimes.
Clevel turned around towards Nayuta and the others, dumbfounded by the spectacle in front of them.
“——Now then, the quest has been triggered. Let’s pay a visit to the castle ourselves as well.”
As he proclaimed in a tone as if he were invited to a friend’s house, a smile so elegant that it was creepy appeared on his kitsune-like face.
Nayuta cast her eyes downwards, and after closing them for a bit—— she slowly nodded.
Thus, the《Phantom Orchestra》 quest raised its curtain.
The matsuribayashi phantoms in the area disappeared into the castle in the time it would take to say ‘ah’.
The surroundings changed and were engulfed in silence, but due to the presence of the huge castle in front of them, the countryside atmosphere that hung in the air until just now was blown away entirely.
The small hokora that was here from the beginning looked extremely cramped with the stone steps to its sides and the castle overhead, but the stone child statue that had become expressionless seemed like the ruler of the castle with its arrogant look.
Still clinging to Nayuta’s back, Koyomi muttered in a trembling voice.
“……W-what was that? That group of phantoms just now….. They entered the castle, but……”
‘If she’s that bad at dealing with scary stuff, why is she so desperately playing the Hundred and Eight Apparitions?’, this was another thing that Nayuta didn’t understand. This seemed reckless for a simple-minded, inquisitive scaredy-cat like her.
The detective began climbing the stone steps one step ahead.
“We’ll find out when we get there. This quest….. is definitely more to my liking than I had imagined. The creator of the quest has good taste.”
“Eeh…… Detective-san, what is your liking?”
At the inquisitive Koyomi’s question, Clevel showed a truly forced, sociable smile.
“Not solvable through brute force. And, one that can be solved by using your head a bit—— when you’re at an age like this. A light brain exercise by solving a clever riddle is more pleasant than the tiresome sense of achievement of defeating a strong enemy.”
While following the detective, Nayuta tilted her head.
“Though you do not look that aged…… So, to put it simply, don’t you just mean that with how low your combat stats are, you have a low variety of entertainment?
Clevel shook his shoulders and smiled. This wasn’t a made-up smile.
“Your indication is quite unsparing. True, that was one of the reasons as well. After all——I seem to have forgotten the proper way to enjoy the game.”
The exaggerating detective finished climbing the stairs at an easygoing pace.
Yanagi, looking up at the huge castle gate in front of him, let out a deep breath.
“This is…… another splendid object. Rather than an ordinary gate, doesn’t it look like the Yōmei-mon of Tōshō-gū?(40)”
Although there was the big difference that the other side of the gate was an indoor area, it could not be denied that its silhouette and size were almost the same.
Koyomi rushed over beside the gate.
“Ah, I see, I thought it kinda looked familiar! Nikkō, I went there on a school trip in elementary school…… Mizaru, Iwazaru, Kikazaru(41), right?
“……A field trip…… aah.”
Under his braided hat, Yanagi’s face stiffened a little.
Before anyone aside from Nayuta could notice, he immediately hung his head, and hid his expression.
On the other hand, Clevel continued to watch over the surroundings attentively.
“Now then, I thought that the gatekeeper would come out at this point, but——”
Nayuta suddenly felt a lukewarm breeze on her cheeks.
In the Hundred and Eight Apparitions, this wind was a sign of the enemy appearing in most cases.
Koyomi unsheathed her ninja sword, while Clevel moved in front of Yanagi. It seemed that he intended to be the client’s shield for the moment.
“Nayu-san! Something’s coming from inside!”
Before it could close the distance, Nayuta charged forward with her clothes fluttering.
If she and Koyomi were alone, they could just size it up, but they had two people to protect in the rear. If the enemy had a wide-area attack and closed the distance between them, it could be quite capable of wiping them out.
Just as Nayuta leapt inside the castle from the gate, torches along the right and left walls lit up.
Due to that light, the figure of the enemy standing in front was illuminated.
What she found there was——a small child wearing a white kitsune mask.
Nayuta, who had expected an obvious gatekeeper like a group of armoured soldiers, a huge spider, or a ferocious oni, stopped on the spot in a rush.
The kitsune-masked child was wearing a worn, splash-patterned kimono. She was barefooted and had no weapon.
The figure, standing alone and looking lonely, looked like a lost child.
(This quest’s type is the 《Fellow Traveller》 ……There is no chance of meeting another player outside of the party. In other words, this child is either an enemy, or an NPC…...)
To make sure, Nayuta called out to the child cautiously.
“……Who are you?”
The kitsune-masked child beckoned to Nayuta without uttering a word.
‘What’s up with that’, a bewildered Nayuta looked back at her group.
“Detective-san. It seems we are being invited……”
But there was no sign of her fellow travellers in her field of vision.
Even the gate that she should have entered through was missing, and instead, a stone-paved, dark road continued endlessly.
(……A warp zone!?)
Nayuta, who charged ahead alone, seemed to have been taken away to some different place.
She promptly brought out her console, but, as expected, the communication feature was locked down. Giving up and logging out were possible, but if, for example, everyone withdrew like that, then all the event flags they had raised would be lost.
Nayuta quickly made up her mind.
This was nothing to tremble about. In the end, this was a 《haunted house》-like place that guaranteed safety.
She was concerned with how Koyomi and the others were doing, but aside from the beginner Yanagi, the other two were quite high-leveled.
(……Ah, Detective-san could be useless. With stats like that, he couldn’t even beat a wild rabbit——)
While considering this, Nayuta took an optimistic view of the situation.
From the balance regulation point of view, the fact that they were split inside the castle meant that an〝enemy so extremely powerful that it can’t be beaten alone〟 would not come out for the time being.
A quest like the “Subjugation of a Tiger on the Folding Screen”, where running around was in the premise, was a different case, but at the least, the chances of encountering a boss class enemy before she met up with her comrades were low.
This would be the part where you would be driven to dread due to isolation if this were reality, but no matter how real it seemed, it was nothing more than a game with balance regulation, after all.
——Unlike SAO, there was no 〝dying〟 here.
The kitsune-masked child grasped Nayuta’s sleeve before she became aware of it.
“……Onee-chan. Shall we play?”
She heard a muffled, young voice coming from the other side of the mask.
Nayuta shook her head.
“Sorry. I strayed from my group. I have to meet up with them and clear this quest, you see.”
The other party was an NPC. She did have a need to choose a sensible response for the event flags, but there was no need to fuss about it excessively.
The child looked up at Nayuta.
“……You won’t play with me……?”
“……What do you want to play?”
The child turned their back on her and broke into a run.
(……I see. So, I have to find and catch that child in this dungeon, I guess——)
The child’s figure disappeared into the darkness of the passageway.
Nayuta once again surveyed her surroundings.
There was a stone wall on either side. Due to the torches dotting it, it was faintly lit, but the intensity wasn’t enough to easily see far ahead.
Her footing was stone pavement, with stains of blood here and there.
——Straining her ears, she could faintly hear the matsuribayashi drums somewhere. As the event proceeded, the sound would probably become louder.
Resolving to advance, Nayuta fixed her gaze on the dim passageway.
She closed her eyes, and took a breath——
After taking a lot of air into her lungs, she slowly breathed out.
And then, she carefully, but without hesitation, began walking towards the cold darkness.
In the castle, the lone Yanagi was at a loss.
He didn’t really understand what had happened.
Nayuta, the Battle Miko who had taken the lead, suddenly disappeared, then Koyomi, who was rushing towards her, disappeared, and immediately after the detective clicked his tongue, Yanagi found himself alone.
It wasn’t enough for him to feel 〝afraid〟, but it had him thinking ‘So, what should I do now’ over and over, to no avail.
Along the way, he had received several pieces of advice from Clevel.
‘If you become separated, use the communication feature of your console.’
‘However, there is the possibility that you won’t be able to use it during an event, so in that case, decide yourself whether you want to continue searching, or give up and return to town.
Right now, the communication feature was locked down.
However, there was no sign of any enemies, and the situation didn’t seem like it warranted escaping right away.
Yanagi surveyed his surroundings.
He was in a large hall. And it wasn’t of usual width.
The floor underneath his feet was tatami-matted, not a single pillar, let alone a wall, could be seen, while the wooden ceiling continued endlessly.
Although it was faintly bright rather than dark, there was no light source that looked like a light source.
There was nothing that could be used as a landmark and it was inconceivably wide in all directions.
Alone, in a room that would be impossible to make in reality——
Yangai was once again at a loss.
“……I can’t do anything by just standing here. I guess I should walk……”
Muttering with a sigh mixed in, he began walking on the tatami with his gaiters still on.
This being a game, his sight was fairly clear and unaffected by age. His legs and loins didn’t hurt when moving around either. He did feel fatigue, but even that was on the same level as he felt when he was young, so in other words, he felt no handicap due to age.
Only his reflexes weren’t the same as those of his youth, but just being able to walk normally like in his youth made him feel good for some reason, in contrast to the ominous state of his surroundings.
“……So a VRMMO that supports FullDive……I see, so that’s what it feels like——”
While walking with no concern, Yanagi cast his eyes down.
The elderly who have lost their physical strength were a given, but even people who could not move their bodies properly in the real world could easily have a healthy body in this world.
After all, a game could be said to be nothing more than a simulated experience, but to someone who had problems leading even a normal life, this virtual space where they could enjoy their body without being conscious of its shackles was truly a godsend.
Going where they wanted, eating what they wanted, doing what they wanted——a healthy person could not really imagine how happy all of this would make them.
Yanagi continued aimlessly walking along the great hall with no end in sight.
While he was moving straight forward along the edge of the tatami, an unexpected, small figure appeared ahead.
A sole child wearing a black kitsune mask who seemed to have blended with the darkness before——
Yanagi spontaneously froze up.
Although he stopped breathing for a moment, this wasn’t because of surprise. He was expecting such a situation somewhere in his heart.
The moan that slipped out from him was like a cry, even though it wasn’t accompanied by tears.
The child beckoned Yanagi with his white hand that had lost its complexion.
Stepping up as if he was staggering, Yanagi tried grasping the shoulder of the child.
His extended hand trembled and his breathing that should have been well-ordered was now wild again.
The kitsune-masked child turned his back to him just as the hand was about to reach him, and broke into a run.
Yanagi rushed after him in panic.
Out of nowhere, the sound of a matsuribayashi suddenly began resounding in his ears.
Strength left his legs, and his field of vision distorted.
After an unpleasant feeling that seemed like dizziness from standing up too fast, Yanagi, who had come to a halt, somehow managed to hold his ground without his knees falling down by relying on his monk’s staff.
In the darkness a bit of a distance away, the boy, who had turned around, took off his kitsune mask.
——What Yanagi saw underneath was a face that he recognised.
It was rather far away, so he couldn’t possibly see clearly. But, Yanagi had no reason to believe he was mistaken.
While calling out the child’s name, Yanagi began pursuing him unsteadily.
The kitsune-masked child continued running through the infinite, large hall.
Despite his figure disappearing into the darkness, Yanagi continued earnestly pursuing the no longer visible figure.
The detective, Clevel, was in a castle tower. It seemed that his characteristic good luck had been exhibited at a time like this as well; below him were ears of rice making waves that were shining silver due to the moonlight, beyond was a mountain ridge covered in leftover snow, and in the night sky, clear of stars, was the radiant moon - a superb view extended all over.
The creator’s fastidiousness could be felt in the cool and clear beauty that was unbefitting of a horror-taste quest.
(……This scenery seems to be different from the one we saw from the ground before rushing into the castle based on the terrain……)
The scene that he saw from the tower was probably specially designed. For argument’s sake, if you tried used a kaginawa(42) or something to descend down, you wouldn’t necessarily reach the field from before.
But then, his goal was to 〝investigate〟 rather than escape, thus he had no need to test that out. Incidentally, he had no kaginawa with him.
It was unexpected that he was forcibly separated from his comrades, but even if they were wiped out, it was possible to just do the quest over. Unlike SAO, a game over had no link to death.
——A game over had no link to death.
Clevel took a deep breath.
He was once trapped in that game.
Although he did not want to recall the events from then, at the same time, he by no means wanted to forget them.
The SAO Incident was related to his reason for dabbling in the work of a 〝detective〟 like this.
(If only… that incident hadn’t taken place——)
The detective changed his sluggish thinking and once again looked over the castle tower.
Someone was…… peeking from a window on the opposite side.
Because this was frequently used in horror productions, Clevel instead grinned and started walking.
The black figure peeking out from the window went inside as if it were crawling.
He then heard the timbre of the matsuribayashi coming from somewhere.
The detective felt dizzy.
“……Status abnormalities….. none, I guess.”
He promptly checked his own state, but found no odd changes. Though, he did feel as if his field of vision narrowed down.
The crawling figure extended its hand to Clevel while painfully twisting its body. The moment his face was illuminated by the lanterns illuminating the tower——
Clevel froze up on the spot.
(Why…… why… is 〝he〟 here……?)
The boy crawling on the floor was a person that definitely should not have been there.
Despite being shocked, Clevel didn’t lose his composure. He persistently remained calm.
However, that calmness, due to “not being able to grasp the situation” was a thing similar to paralysis.
Was he playing a game, or was he just sleeping and having a dream?——he felt suspicious even about that.
The man crawling on the floor in pain faced Clevel and opened his mouth in a way that seemed he was trying to shout something.
However, no voice came out of it.
The body smeared in blood was dressed in a western-style platemail that was unbefitting of 《Asuka Empire》.
To Clevel, this, of course, was an item that he recognised.
——Something that he tried to forget, but could not forget.
Clevel didn’t lose his composure.
He never——lost his composure.
He did not believe in ghosts. If he saw something like that, he discerned that it was either an imitation made by someone or a kind of hallucination that his brain was showing him.
(That’s right, it’s a hallucination……or a figment of my imagination. That cannot be that guy. However……)
——Taking a good look, he noticed that the crawling man’s face was somewhat blurry. That was the main cause for making him lose his sense of reality too much.
Once again, Clevel didn’t lose his composure.
That’s why he was able to think.
Even if, for example, his senses became numb due to not grasping the situation, he was able to make a few 〝conjectures〟 without turning to panic.
And so, one of the possibilities that he derived was not a very good answer.
(It can’t be… that this quest is…… this is bad. If the game management finds out……!)
In Clevel’s field of vision, while he was grinding his teeth, the floor in the area of the crawling man turned black.
As if the floor had turned into a bottomless marsh, the man’s body began to sink into the floor.
As Clevel tried rush over to him, a hand grasped his hem from behind.
He promptly looked back.
There, he found a young boy with a kitsune mask.
His slender fingers were grasping Clevel’s coat, and he was fixedly staring at Clevel from within his mask.
Clevel’s attention was turned away for a few moments, and he then immediately returned his gaze to the sinking man.
〝He〟 was no longer there.
He sunk too quickly. It would be correct to say that he seemed to have disappeared while his gaze was away for a moment.
In the first place, seeing as this was a virtual space, such a disappearance wasn’t strange.
While gazing at the floor where the man had disappeared, Clevel called out to the kitsune-masked child.
“——You. I have to clear this quest with Yanagi-shi immediately. Lead me to my scattered comrades. You—— aren’t an 《enemy》 in this quest, right?”
The kitsune-masked child tilted his head in wonder.
This child… was of course not a ghost or anything. Just an AI——and in addition to that, this was probably a being assigned the rule of being a guide in this quest.
The child let go of Clevel’s hem in silence and glid towards the edge of the castle tower.
At his destination was a set of stairs, which were so steep that they looked more like ladders, to descend to the lower floor.
The child leapt down below, without using the stairs or making a sound, and disappeared.
Clevel followed after him.
There was, of course, the possibility that he was leading him to a trap, but if getting past that trap was the clearing requirement, this child was unmistakably the guide of this quest.
(……If I get involved with some small fry at this stage, I’m probably going to lose……)
To Clevel, whose stats aside from Luck were unusually low, this was one point to worry about.
As if to support his fears, something squirmed along the ceiling downstairs with a rustling sound.
A half-spider woman dressed as a courtesan appeared in his field of vision when he looked up after descending the steep stairs.
The woman, clinging to the ceiling while upside-down, smiled, exposing the fangs in her slit mouth.
With the tip of his stick, Clevel lightly struck the floor. This was his habit when thinking.
To a master player, this wasn’t a particularly strong opponent.
But, with Clevel’s stats at least, it wasn’t an opponent he was a match for.
He couldn’t chase after the kitsune-masked child without defeating this monster, but it would probably be difficult to defeat. His sole path of retreat was the castle tower with nowhere to run.
——In other words, there was nothing he could do.
The detective lightly struck his forehead——
Facing the virtual 《death》that allowed do-overs, he took a step of resignation backwards.
When Nayuta managed to temporarily withdraw from the castle, she found that she had already received three messages in her mailbox.
【Nayu-san, sorry! I tried my best, but got done in…… See you in the Detective-san’s office tomorrow!】
【Sorry. I lost too. It seems that Yanagi-shi is tired as well, so you should log out for today as well.】
【I beg your pardon. For not being of any use——】
It seemed that all three of them were forcefully driven out. This meant that the only one who was able to safely withdraw from the castle, while maintaining the event flags, was Nayuta.
In the 《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》, as a death penalty, players who had a game over could not log in again for the next six hours.
The usual penalty of losing one item in possession randomly also existed, but as long as you had a 《Sarubobo》(43) to use as a sacrifice, it wasn’t really scary.
It seemed that the origin of this doll was a popular amulet in Hida province(44) that imitated a baby monkey and “drove away” calamities.
In the Hundred and Eight Apparitions, the setting was that it “went away” in the place of would-be lost items, thus it was an indispensable item to raid groups.
In the first place, because of horror-taste circumstances, there were plenty of sudden game overs in this event.
The Sarubobo was a relief measure for that; it was a special item exclusively used for the Apparition event, thus it did not exhibit its effect in Asuka Empire’s other quests.
As long as you had one, there would be minimal damage due to game overs, but nothing could be done about the six-hour login restriction.
Giving up on a prompt reunion, Nayuta decided to log out for the time being.
After saving their event flags at the teleport point, and restocking at a general store on items that she had used up while she was at it, she returned to her own room. She raised her head from her bed and noticed that it was already dark outside through the window.
She heard her mother’s voice coming from outside her room as if scolding her.
“Yurina, are you still playing games? If you hear me, the bath is ready, so go take a bath.”
“……Yeah. I’m going now.”
Nayuta——Kushiinada Yurina surveyed her room while giving an answer.
Returning from an old Japanese-style world to her room, she was a just bit bewildered by the differences between the two worlds.
There was a huge but slightly plain black cat plush toy atop her bed. This barely seemed like a decoration that suited a female high-school student; as for everything else, it was a plain room.
A large number of books, mostly novels, crammed into the bookshelf on the wall, a PC on the desk; the room used mostly whitish and blackish colours and there weren’t that many sundries around. Although it was very orderly, the room was so drab that it could even be mistaken for a guy’s room.
Having entered the living room, she found her older brother playing shōgi(45) with their father.
It seemed that her older brother was dominating today, as the always faint-hearted father’s brow was unusually wrinkled and he was making awfully loud groans.
“Onii-chan, are you off-duty today?”
“……It’d be bad if I was playing shōgi with the old man when I wasn’t off duty.”
He responded in shocked tone, and Yurina chuckled.
Her mother also peeked out from her kitchen island.
“Playing shōgi with your father instead of going on a date despite being off-duty isn’t a bad thing on its own, I wonder? Father would probably faint if Yurina brought a boyfriend home, but if her brother brought a girlfriend home, he’d give a warm welcome, you know?”
The elder brother, who was single, pretended not to hear that and shrugged his shoulders.
Father, who finally made his next move, timidly raised his head.
“……Yurina. I’m asking just in case but, you don’t have anyone like that yet……right?”
Before Yurina could even answer, her brother laughed out loud.
“She wouldn’t be wasting her precious Saturday afternoon on a game if she had someone like that. Hey, dad. Checkmate.”
“Aah……hey you, there shouldn’t have been a knight there…… ugh, did you swap it with the rook……”
It seemed that their game was coming to an end.
Having sat down on the sofa, Yurina began checking the site that she always visited on her tablet before going to the bath.
This major news site dealing in VRMMO-related info was acknowledged for the speed and accuracy of its info. Not only did it have walkthroughs, it even covered business trends and new game ads and the special-feature article for the past few days was a journal by the manager Thinker about his trip to Canada.
He was visiting a local software company and taking a direct interview from the up-and-coming creators——that was the content of it, but as his new wife Yulier was accompanying him and frequently appeared in the corner of the photos, there was a minority that went “Is this an open honeymoon” in jealousy despite how earnest the article was.
Just after Yurina began reading today’s update, a news flash appeared at the top of the site.
『 Asuka Empire - Bug in New《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》 Quest 』
(A new quest…..it can’t be——)
There were only two new quests released this week: the 《Forest of Werewolves》 and the 《Phantom Orchestra》.
Having a bad feeling, Yurina immediately clicked on the article.
While she went on reading, her fears were completely supported.
“ ……Complaints about the 《Phantom Orchestra》, released just this week, have been reported……? To investigate the matter, the quest will temporarily be suspended…… re-release date not yet determined——”
Dumbfounded, she read over the short article again several times. Perhaps because this was a rushed first report, the article did not cover the content of the complaint.
(No way…… But, Yanagi-san wanted to clear it within a week at any cost……)
Such a temporary content suspension has happened numerous times in the past. There were quests that were just deleted entirely, but it was common for it to take around a month to make revisions to a quest that gets restored.
You could say that it was already hopeless if you wanted to clear it within a week.
Looking for additional info, Yurina opened the 《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》 strategy guide community site from her bookmarks.
As expected, there was already a thread about the suspension of the Phantom Orchestra.
Aware that there were many conjectures and gossip of questionable accuracy, she began checking them out.
Among the many comments bewildered by the abrupt suspension, a certain entry caught her attention.
『 I’ve heard that an actual ghost appeared in the game. 』
Yurina——Nayuta compressed her lips tightly.
She already knew that this entry wasn’t just stupid, idle gossip.
However, she did not believe that was a 《real》 ghost. She was practically convinced that it was some kind of trick.
And unfortunately——it was highly likely that it was a kind of trick that the game management could not turn a blind eye to.
Turning her back to her brother and father, who were carefreely playing shōgi, Nayuta unconsciously squeezed her delicate fist alone.
1. ^ Matsuribayashi (祭り囃子, lit. festival accompaniment) is music that is performed (with traditional Japanese instruments) at festivals and forms a particular genre of musical accompaniment.
2. ^ The tsuzumi (鼓) is a Japanese hand drum of Chinese/Mongolian/Indian origin that consists of a wooden body shaped like an hourglass, and it is taut, with two drum heads with cords that can be squeezed or released to increase or decrease the tension of the heads respectively. The koto (琴) is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument, derived from the Chinese zheng, and a national instrument of Japan.
3. ^ Kagome kagome (かごめかごめ) is a children’s game (or it can refer to the song sung during it) where one player is chosen to be the “oni” (similar to “it” in tag) and sits blindfolded/eyes covered, while the other children walk in circles around them while chanting the song. When the song stops, the oni has to guess who’s standing directly behind them.
4. ^ Hassoutobi (八艘飛び, lit. “the leaping of the eight ships”) refers to how Minamoto no Yoshitsune escaped from Noritsune in the Battle of Dan-no-ura by leaping from one boat to another until he was eight boats away from his opponent.
5. ^ A hokora (祠) is a miniature Shinto shrine either found on the precincts of a larger shrine and dedicated to folk kami, or on a street side, enshrining kami not under the jurisdiction of any large shrine. Dōsojin (道祖神) are some of the kami that may be enshrined in it. Dōsojin is a generic name for a type of Shinto kami popularly worshipped in Kantō and neighbouring areas where, as tutelary deities of borders, they are believed to protect travellers and villages from epidemics and evil spirits.
6. ^ Ayakashi (あやかし) is a collective name for yōkai that appear above the surface of water. They are usually depicted as either sea monsters or as the ghosts of those who died at sea that want to add to their number.
7. ^ A kanmidokoro (甘味処) is a cafe featuring Japanese-style sweets.
8. ^ Tonchibanashi (とんち話) is a general term for a tale that focuses on a person’s wits.
9. ^ For those interested, this is referring to this story. Basically, it’s a story about how a lord asked a quick-witted priest to tie up the tiger on his folding screen as he feared that the tiger would slip out from the screen during the night and cause problems. The priest prepared a rope and then asked the lord to drive the tiger out of the screen so that he could tie it up, but the lord responded that it was impossible. Thus, the priest told the lord that if the tiger could not leave the screen, he was unable to tie it. Hearing this, the lord praised and rewarded the priest for his wits.
10. ^ A happi (法被) coat is a traditional Japanese straight-sleeved coat usually made of indigo or brown cotton and imprinted with a distinctive crest. They are usually worn by workers and shopkeepers during certain occasions, such as festivals.
11. ^ Wagashi (和菓子 lit. Japanese pastry/confectionery) are traditional Japanese confections that are often served with tea.
12. ^ The original name for Tokyo until it received its current name in 1868.
13. ^ Yomi (黄泉) is the land of the dead in Shinto mythology.
14. ^ Heijou-kyō (平城京) is the former name of Nara city when it was the capital of Japan for most of the Nara period (specifically, 710–740 and 745–784). Heian-kyō (平安京) is one of the former names of Kyoto.
15. ^ A torii (鳥居) is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred. Komainu (狛犬), often called lion-dogs in English, are a pair of statues of lion-like creatures found at the entrance or inner shrine of many Shinto shrines. As of the Edo period, other animals have also been used to fill in the role of the komainu. foxes are the most frequent variant, especially at shrines dedicated to Inari. Manekineko (招き猫, lit. beckoning/welcoming cat) is a common Japanese figurine of a cat with one paw raised.
16. ^ Inari (稲荷) is the kami of foxes (among other things) in the Shinto pantheon. Neko (猫) is the Japanese word for “cat”, so basically, this is the cat equivalent of a fox god.
17. ^ Yoyo fishing (ヨーヨー釣り) is a Japanese festival game of fishing balloons, floating in water, out with a hook.
18. ^ An ennichi (縁日) is a day believed to have a special relation with a particular Japanese deity (e.g. the day they were born). People think that visiting a temple/shrine on these days will bring greater fortune than on regular days, thus temples and shrines often hold festivals on such days.
19. ^ Shirabyōshi (白拍子) is a traditional singing and dancing performance developed in the noble courts of the late Heian, and Kamakura periods. The term is also used to refer to the performers themselves, who were primarily women and children dressed as men.
20. ^ Masu is a Japanese verb suffix that adds politeness. Normally, “masu” is written in hiragana, but in this case, it was written with the kanji 升, solely because it shares the same reading. This practice was apparently common (for example, in shop slogans) in the Edo period, but is rare nowadays.
21. ^ A style of Japanese soba noodles, originating from Iwate Prefecture, which are served in a small bowl and continuously refilled until the customer closes the lid to show that he has had enough. Wanko is also how children call dogs in Japanese.
22. ^ Literally, kitty noodles. So, a cat-themed food service next to a dog-themed one.
23. ^ A sarashi (サラシ) is a long strip of cloth, usually thick cotton, wrapped tightly around the midriff up to the chest.
24. ^ Shirahae (白南風) is the name for the strong winds from the south after the rainy season. Kosode (小袖, lit. short sleeves) is a basic Japanese robe for both men and women that can be worn either as an undergarment or an overgarment. The kosode are the forerunner of the modern kimono.
25. ^ A hakama (袴) is a skirt-like traditional Japanese garment that was usually worn by higher-class men like samurai as a sign of status, but later spread among the lower classes.
26. ^ A mudra is is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. The Dhyāna mudrā is the gesture of meditation when the hands are placed on the lap with the fingers stretched and palms facing upwards.
27. ^ A cross-legged sitting posture originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs.
28. ^ In Buddhism, mental states that cloud the mind (such as greed, hatred, delusion) and manifest in unwholesome actions.
29. ^ A phrase that obsessive worshipers use to show their gratitude to their god.
30. ^ Koyomi uses a slang expression here that is mostly used by “true Tokyoites”.
31. ^ Itachi are Japanese weasels (Mustela itatsi), Kamaitachi is a yōkai that is thought to be a trio of weasels who appear in a whirlwind to cut their victim. Noriitachi literally means “cursed weasel”. I left all of these names romanised, as they were all written in katakana, so I assume they are official monster names. And I had no idea how to translate Kamaitachi if I went for translated names.
32. ^ The Japanese name for Kshitigarbha, a bodhisattva (one who vows to save all beings before becoming a Buddha) who looks over children, travellers and the underworld. He is regarded as the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture.
33. ^ A kamidana (神棚, lit. god shelf) is a miniature household altar provided to enshrine a Shinto kami.
34. ^ A small, former Japanese oval coin.
35. ^ A major form of classical Japanese musical drama. The main actor in a Noh play wears a mask that signifies the characters' gender, age, and social ranking.
36. ^ Translation (literal): “Even a lapis lazuli (ruri) or crystal (hari) shines if illuminated. Even on a moonlit night with no need for lanterns, I sometimes wish for this light.” The first sentence is a proverb, while the second sentence appears to be a play on another proverb 月夜に提灯 (a lantern on a moonlit night) which means “something pointless or unnecessary”.
37. ^ Until now, all the requests were written mostly in hiragana.
38. ^ Kariginu (狩衣) are informal clothes worn by the nobility from the Heian period onwards. Eboshi (烏帽子) are black-lacquered headgear (made of silk, cloth or paper) originally worn by court nobles in ancient Japan, and afterwards spreading to the common people.
39. ^ The event of ringing a temple bell on New Year’s Eve 108 times.
40. ^ Tōshō-gū (東照宮) is any Shinto shrine in which Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined. In this case, this is referring specifically to Nikkō Tōshō-gū, a Shinto shrine located in Nikkō. Yōmei-mon (陽明門) is a richly decorated gate at this shrine.
41. ^ Refers to the three wise monkeys that embody the proverbial principle/maxim/saying “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. A carving of the three monkeys in Nikkō is what popularised maxim. Mizaru (見ざる) literally means “not see”, Iwazaru (言わざる) means “not speak”, and Kikizaru (聞かざる) means “not hear”; these names are commonly used to refer to the monkey that covers its eyes, mouth and ears respectively.
42. ^ A kaginawa (鉤縄, lit. hook-rope) is a type of grappling hook used as a tool by samurai, their retainers, foot soldiers and ninja.
43. ^ A red, human-shaped doll that is used as an amulet as a charm for good luck and is particularly associated with the town of Takayama. The name is composed of the words “saru” (猿), Japanese for “monkey”, and “bobo”, a Takayama dialect word for “baby”. The word “monkey” in Japanese is also a homonym for the verb “to leave/drive away” (去る), so it was believed that the amulet helped keep bad things away.
44. ^ A former province located in the northern part of the current Ginu prefecture that Takayma belongs to.
45. ^ Shōgi (将棋, lit. generals’ board game), also known as Japanese chess, is a two-player strategy board game that is similar to western chess, but has slightly different figures and rules.