The seventh day of the seventh month.
Doors were shut, windows were closed and blinds were pulled all the way down. Parents would, by all means, restrain their children from going out, or even looking out of the window, left only with the choice of coaxing them into bed early. If necessary, they would even stay awake by their side the entire night, lest their curiosity got the better of them. For you see, it was quite difficult to ignore the commotion that went on outside the house. Anyone with a logical mind knew, that whatever was happening outside those walls, it was for their own good that they were not acquainted with it.
The night parade of one hundred demons, they had called it.
A strong gust of wind blew past Dazai, blowing away the paperback novel that was held loosely in his hands. Sprawled over the couch, his tail swished lazily as he angled his head towards the source of disturbance, with a scowl on his face.
“Get up, lazy Dazai,” came the booming voice from the daitengu, his great wings beating threateningly.
“Don’t want to,” replied Dazai in a muffled voice as he buried his face into the pillow.
Annoyed, Kunikida resorted to pulling the pillow away, resulting in Dazai planting his face into the couch. Kunikida glanced at his wristwatch. Exactly thirty seconds later, Dazai threw himself upright, gasping for air.
His countenance moody, Dazai sulked. “This is a such a waste of time.”
“You know it’s important, though.” Kunikida stated as a matter-of-factly.
“Still a waste of time. Boring!”
It was at that moment that Fukuzawa had silently, but most noticeably, stepped out into the main hall, carrying a large gourd on his back. Scanning around the room, he bellowed in a loud and commanding voice. “Is everyone ready?”
“Yes!” The response was resounding, with every member in the room immediately standing at attention.
“Nurarihyon, good to see you again.”
“Let’s cut the formalities, otoroshi,” Fukuzawa replied even without batting an eyelid, casting his gaze downwards at a younger - much younger - girl by Mori’s side. She was wide-eyed with long golden locks, wearing a rather modernised European red dress that was adorned with lace and bows. “I did not know that you had deviated from your duty as a gate guardian to preying on small girls.”
“Ah, but she was so cute, how could I have not?” Mori patted the head of the girl affectionately as he said so.
Fukuzawa clicked his tongue in distaste. “Your tastes are as questionable as always.”
“Tell me that when you ditch that unsightly, oversized gourd of yours,” rebutted Mori with a smile.
“So much a truce,” scoffed Kouyou, who was strolling beside Mori all this while, having overhead their childish banter. “Perhaps you two would stop arguing for once?”
The two of them replied at the same time, almost in mocking unison–
“That’s impossible–“ “Not in this lifetime–“
“Forget I said anything,” sighed Kouyou, shaking her head. “Men.”
It was going to be a long night. After all, here were two different factions of yokai, walking down the dimly-lit streets of Yokohama all in the political name of striking a truce with each other. The peace treaty had been ongoing for several decades already – one that had them agreeing not to launch an all-out war on each other. Though evidently, it did not forbid the bicker and occasional tussles that would still inevitably ensue between its members. But just as all nights were, eventually this night would too come to an end.
“Don’t think you can slack off just because you’re in the rear,” warned Kunikida as he hovered above Dazai.
Tilting his head upwards, Dazai feigned an innocent expression. “Oh, but I wouldn’t even dare to dream of it?”
“I wish I could take your words seriously,” Kunikida groaned, before flying ahead to join the vanguard.
“It is in my nature, after all,” a foxy grin befitting of a trickster formed on Dazai’s lips.
Staying in the rear was boring work. Humans were too afraid of ghosts and monsters or the likes of them anyway, so now that they were out and about in such a large group, there was honestly nothing for them to fear. Dazai mused as he thanked the hooligan that had first gone around spreading baseless rumours about them. Seriously, eating humans? They are so many things better than that. Drowned in his own thoughts, his footsteps slowed, beginning to trail a distance away from the group.
Until his idle daydream was rudely interrupted by a shrill voice.
“G-Give me your money!”
Blinking in mild confusion yet remaining unfazed, Dazai turned in the direction of the sound – only to find a shorter boy with dishevelled light grey hair, dressed in tattered clothes and pointing the sharpened edge of a rock at him.
“Oh?” Dazai chuckled. “You’re asking for all of my assets?”
“Yes!” The boy shot up, exclaiming almost immediately. “Or maybe that’s too much…? Ah… Um… A thousand yen then!” That should feed me five bowls of ochazuke… Enough for a week or so!
A laugh escaped from Dazai. He was hoping for some entertainment but truly, this was much more amusing than what he had asked for. “For a mortal, you are pretty bold, aren’t you?” Dazai’s eyes glistened as much as it has darkened, floating orbs of blue-green light slowly materialising around him as his tail began to take shape.
Atsushi’s eyes widened in unbridled fear as his knees gave way, causing him to collapse to the ground. He had seen this before. He had seen this in the form of illustrations in books, books that had enraptured him so.
“I-I am sorry please don’t hurt me I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry please don’t eat me or burn me or curse me I’m sorry I’m sorry–”
Dazai sent a ball of fire sizzling right in front of Atsushi’s face, eliciting a yelp from him but ultimately achieving the end goal of shutting him up from his train of incessant apologies that no one had asked for. Atsushi sat on the floor, his pupils still quivering as he looked up at Dazai’s now majestic form, appearing much more intimidating than before.
“I could give you money but…” Dazai paused with a knowing glint in his eye. “It’s not as if you have anywhere else to go, am I wrong?” A wave of his hand and the foxfires that danced around him were extinguished in an instant.
“I… I will figure something out…” Atsushi replied hesitantly, for he himself was unsure of his fate the next day and the day following that.
“Or, you could come with us.”
The younger boy jolted upright in response to the incredulous suggestion and replied with haste. “I could never!”
Dazai smirked. How amusing was this being before him indeed. “Why not? There’s food and a decent place to stay,” his eyes narrowed before continuing, “I’m sure it’ll be interesting to have you around.”
“But I’m not-“
“One of us?”
Interjecting, Dazai reached out to lay a finger on Atsushi’s forehead, engulfing him in a beam of bluish-white light. It was only for a moment, but Atsushi could have sworn that his senses had been dramatically heightened, with his vision sharpening and all. He felt something behind him, but when he had turned around, the sensation had already dissipated. As his hair settled – when did it fly up? – Atsushi could only gape at Dazai in confusion as he tried to comprehend what had just transpired.
“But, you’re not one of them either,” Dazai spoke, curling his lips upwards while reaching out a hand towards Atsushi.
“Where did you wander off to?!” Kunikida had flown to the back, landing abruptly in front of the duo and causing their garments to flutter under the force of the wind. He eyed at Atsushi from head to toe, before shooting a questioning look at Dazai.
“A lost kitten,” Dazai explained, albeit rather unhelpfully.
A visible frown formed across Kunikida’s face as he crossed his arms in disdain. “You can’t just bring in a human.”
“Why not? I figured that everyone would appreciate some supper after the long walk.” Dazai replied playfully, obviously very pleased with himself. On the other hand, poor Atsushi had begun to panic, having reasonably inferred the older man’s insinuations.
“I’m joking,” said Dazai in a deadpan tone, when Kunikida did not give him the reaction he was fishing for. However, his entertainment had been found upon catching a glimpse of Atsushi, who was unmistakably frightened and sweating beads.
Kunikida sighed and tapped his feet in irritation. He knew fully well that arguing with Dazai here would lead to no viable conclusion. “In any case, you’ll have to run this through the director first.”
“You’ll put in a good word for this poor child, won’t you?”
“That’s not up to me to decide,” scoffed the blond. Taking off, he left them in the dust as he flew ahead back to the shrine.
“I knew this was a bad idea,” lamented Atsushi as he dragged his feet along the pebbled pavement, mindlessly kicking the larger stones aside. “Of all days to be kicked out… My luck is really the worst.”
Bad luck, huh?
“I wouldn’t call it that,” Dazai hummed to himself by Atsushi’s side, not caring to console him at all. There was no need for that.
Not long after, they had finally reached the shrine which presumably, would be the new residence of Atsushi. It was huge. Having never gotten the opportunity to explore the town, Atsushi was certainly surprised that such a space even existed. At first glance, its wooden exterior seemed to be more run-down than the orphanage, but there was no mistake. This place exuded an aura of hospitality that he had never once felt in the whitewashed, stone-cold compound.
Leaving the other to gawk at the entrance, Dazai slid open the doors leading to the main hall. He gestured for Atsushi to follow after him.
Unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar forms stared at Atsushi. Their sights all affixed on him, nervousness swallowed him whole, resulting in his heart beating so fast that it felt like it was about to lurch out.
But it did not take them long to break into a welcoming, heartwarming smile.
“So apparently, you’re a bakaneko,” commented Dazai as he casually flipped through an encyclopedia while lying on the sofa. Atsushi, who had been eagerly peering at him from the floor, frowned and curled his tail in disappointment upon hearing his answer.
“ Bakeneko, not bakaneko, you idiot.” Kunikida walked over and tapped Dazai’s head with his diary, his expression tired – tired of Dazai, that is.
The younger child, satisfied with having his query answered, thanked Dazai and Kunikida before scampering away to prepare tea for the others. It had been a day or two since he had joined the likes of them but Atsushi was already settling in just fine. The siblings, despite their dubious relationship, were extraordinarily nice to him, going out of their way just to help him adjust to the new environment. Now surrounded by pleasant people whom he felt that he could place his trust in to not hurt him, Atsushi’s heart finally sought the ease it had been looking for.
Kunikida stared at Atsushi. Unwavering, he posed a question to Dazai. “Did you know?”
Dazai cocked his head backward, leaning over the sofa. He opened his mouth and tapped his chin as if pondering on the answer. Then he shot a sly smirk over to Kunikida.
The response warranted another smack of the book on Dazai’s head and Kunikida walking away in exasperation.
Brushing his hair back into its original position, Dazai turned his head to gaze at Atsushi.
The question is if ‘that person’ knew or not.