Translation: all chapters

By Kuwabara Mizuna (author), Toujou Kazumi (illustrator)
Translated by asphodel

Prologue: Dearly-Awaited at the River-Edge

They met for the first time at the edge of the Kamo RiverKamo-gawa

A 31 km (~19 miles) long class A (protected) river which flows through the city of Kyoto.
view map location
, beneath the Great Four-Arched BridgeShijou Oohashi (四条大橋)

A busy four-arched steel girder bridge which spans the Kamo Riverview map location in Kyoto. According to Yasaka Shrine's records, the original bridge was built in 1142 from temple-solicited funds. The bridge was rebuilt and widened numerous times in subsequent years after being damaged or swept away by floods.

A stone bridge was constructed in 1857 during the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate, and a iron one replaced it in 1874 with a toll enacted to amortize construction costs. Upon the opening of the Kyoto Municipal Railway in 1913 and the widening of the highway, the bridge was rebuilt with arches using reinforced concrete. However, the 1934 Muroto typhoon and June floods of 1935 caused driftwood and other debris to block the arches, resulting in additional water damage to the surround areas. The Kamo River was dredged and the current bridge built in 1942.
view map location
.

Injured in a battle against Heian EraHeian-jidai (平安時代)

Literally: "Era of Peace and Tranquility"; a period in Japanese history in which Chinese influences on Japanese culture, such as Confucianism, were at their height. The imperial court was at the peak of its power, and the capital was moved from Nara to Heian (now Kyoto). This era is greatly admired for its art, including poetry and literature (The Tale of Genji was written during this period). Buddhism, primarily in the form of two esoteric schools, Tendai and Shingon, began to spread throughout Japan.
-onryouonryou (怨霊)

Lit.: "vengeful ghost"; the spirits of those who died in the Sengoku period who are still so filled with rage and hatred that they continue to exist in the world as vengeful spirits instead of being purified and reborn.
causing unrest in the capitalKyoto-shi (京都市)

The imperial capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, located in Kyoto Prefecture.
, she had hidden herself among the tall reeds along the river—to find the spot already occupied.

He’d been standing on the riverbank that early morning with birdfeed in hand, calling to the waterfowl. The birds had gathered around him with bold familiarity, demanding food.

What a strange man.

He seemed almost to be conversing with them. To her, worn and battered as she was from battling people long dead, he might as well have stepped out of another world.

She listened to the quiet song of the river.

Its current sparkled with morning sunlight. Birds circled in the pale mist, flocking to the man on the bank to exchange gentle greetings. He was so very beautiful... Her eyes brimmed with tears.

“You’re...what is wrong?”

She was stunned to be discovered. Noticing the seriousness of her wounds, the man immediately tore a strip from the sleeve of his kimono and deftly stopped her bleeding. Then he picked her up and carried her home without even a “by your leave.”

“I will tend to this now. Bear with me but a little longer.”

The man was a doctor. He had studied Dutch medical science in NagasakiNagasaki-shi (長崎市)

The largest city in and capital of Nagasaki Prefecture, Nagasaki began as a small harbor town which quickly grew into a large port city following the accidental landing of Francis Xavier in nearby Kagoshima Prefecture and the establishment of trade with Portuguese merchants.

Nagasaki also became the point of entry of Christianity into Japan, and its daimyo, Oomura Sumitada, and many of its inhabitants converted to Christianity. However, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, wary of Christian influence in the region, ordered the expulsion of all missionaries 1587, an order that largely went unenforced. Although 26 Japanese and foreign Christians were executed in Nagasaki in 1597, Christianity was grudgingly tolerated until 1614, when Christianity was officially banned and all missionaries ordered to leave. Following the ban, the Tokugawa shogunate killed and tortured Christians across Japan to force them to renounce their faith.

The rebellion at Shimabara near Nagasaki in 1636-1638 convinced the government that Christianity and disloyalty were linked. 30,000 Japanese Christians were massacred and a policy of national isolation descended in 1639, closing foreign trader with all but the Dutch.

Isolationism only ended with the arrival of Commodore Perry's 'Black Ships' in 1853, and Nagasaki would become an important economic city once more after the Meiji Restoration. Its main industry was ship-building, a fact which made it a target for the second atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan during World War II.
view map location
, and practiced Western medicine. His clinic was also his home, where he treated her injuries with surprising skill.

“It’s all right now,” he told her, smiling softly. “But you should rest and heal for a little while. Where is your home?”

Haruie shook her head on the pillow. She didn’t have a home. She had abandoned her kin and lived as a traveling samisen player, earning enough to keep body and soul together while performing her covert onryouonryou (怨霊)

Lit.: "vengeful ghost"; the spirits of those who died in the Sengoku period who are still so filled with rage and hatred that they continue to exist in the world as vengeful spirits instead of being purified and reborn.
extermination duties.

It had never been her intention to be reborn into a female body, having done so with reluctance after losing her body in the midst of battle. She’d had her fill of the absurd egotism of men since then—not that she wanted to reflect on what she’d been like as one of them. “Wild” would have been an apt description. Never knowing how much time she would have, her only concern had been to extract the maximum possible pleasure out of her life. She knew precisely how men viewed women, because she’d been one herself. So it had been simple for her to lead them about by their noses.

Shintarou didn’t ask any more questions.

“You can stay here until you’re healed, if you like. For as long as you wish,” he invited. Haruie viewed the offer with mistrust, suspecting ulterior motives, but Shintarou only smiled quietly and left the room.

He proved himself an honest doctor.

As she slowly healed, Haruie could get out of bed for small stretches to help. Before she knew it she had become his assistant, receiving and looking after patients.

Walking to Kamo River in the early morning to feed the birds was part of Shintarou’s routine.

“I’ve liked birds since I was a boy,” he explained. “I used to think that when I grew up, I would become one myself. So I share a bit of my food with them.”

Shintarou had come from TouhokuTouhoku-chihou (東北地方)

Also known as: Michinoku (みちのく)

The northeast area of Japan's main island of Honshuu, the Touhoku consists of the prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata. It is a mountainous region which is known for having breathtaking scenery but a harsh climate.
’s poor. His talents had been noticed by the chief priest of their parish temple, an interesting man who had once been an elite monk cadet at Mt. HieiHiei-zan (比叡山)

Mt. Hiei is a mountain to the northeast of Kyoto on which the Buddhist Tendai Enryaku Temple was founded by Saichou in 788. Oda Nobunaga razed its temples and towns and massacred its inhabitants in 1571 to check the power of the Tendai warrior monks, who had long been his enemies due to their strength and independence.

The temple was rebuilt and is still the Tendai headquarters.
view map location
. Having grown skeptical and jaded of his training there, he had made his way to rustic MutsuMutsu-no-kuni (陸奥国)

Also known as: Oushuu (奥州)

The largest province of ancient Japan, situated in northern Honshuu, which was ruled by various clans during the Sengoku, including the Uesugi, Nambu, and Date. It was divided into the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, and Aomori.
. It was a region with very few doctors. This priest recommended Shintarou to the province’s chief vassals, whose special support secured approval for him to study Dutch medicine, the most advanced medical science known, in faraway Nagasaki, that he might serve as a provincial government doctor.

While feeding the birds at Kamo River, Shintarou often mused, “I never really wanted to be a government doctor, though. I want to return to my village and be a country doctor. Follow in the footsteps of my teacher the monk. My village is so poor, it could never even dream of having its own doctor.”

Crouched by his side, a strange feeling swept through Haruie as she stared at Shintarou’s profile.

Here was a man—this amazing man—working to keep the living alive. She, on the other hand, fought the dead. What kind of miserable life was that?

“Won’t you come with me, Otsuta?” Shintarou suddenly asked one morning, there beside the misty river. “My studies here in the capital will be over in two years. Come home with me. You don’t have a destination in mind anyway, right?” Shintarou must have known how weary she was of wandering. “Be my assistant, Otsuta.”

The birds took flight.

It was winter, seven months after she had met Shintarou.

Haruie wavered, troubled.

She didn’t dislike Shintarou.

Yet, afraid of revealing her true identity to him, she didn’t give him an answer immediately.

That was when onryouonryou (怨霊)

Lit.: "vengeful ghost"; the spirits of those who died in the Sengoku period who are still so filled with rage and hatred that they continue to exist in the world as vengeful spirits instead of being purified and reborn.
began disrupting the capital once more.

Kagetora and the others came rushing to her aid, but they were unable to completely contain the chaos and violence, or to prevent scores of people from getting hurt. Exorcisms kept Haruie busy, and she fought the onryouonryou (怨霊)

Lit.: "vengeful ghost"; the spirits of those who died in the Sengoku period who are still so filled with rage and hatred that they continue to exist in the world as vengeful spirits instead of being purified and reborn.
with a resolution to abandon her body if need be.

She had left Shintarou without a word, and thought that that was the end of it. But Shintarou wouldn’t let it go; he searched for her high and low, until finally he got caught up in one of her battles.

The onryouonryou (怨霊)

Lit.: "vengeful ghost"; the spirits of those who died in the Sengoku period who are still so filled with rage and hatred that they continue to exist in the world as vengeful spirits instead of being purified and reborn.
was particularly vicious, and it tore off Shintarou’s right arm as he attempted to protect her. Because of her, Shintarou lost his precious dominant hand.

Though she exorcised the onryouonryou (怨霊)

Lit.: "vengeful ghost"; the spirits of those who died in the Sengoku period who are still so filled with rage and hatred that they continue to exist in the world as vengeful spirits instead of being purified and reborn.
, and Shintarou’s life was saved, she could not give Shintarou’s arm back to him. She wept at his bedside for three days and three nights.

She begged forgiveness for that which she could not recover.

But Shintarou smiled and told the grieving Haruie, “Do not blame yourself. My arm was a cheap price to pay for your life. But if you feel you must atone, would you consider taking its place?” Surprised, Haruie raised her head. “Be my right hand. Stay with me for now and always... I have no regrets, if it means having you by my side.”

That was when Haruie finally knew how deeply she was in love with this man, and why the loss of his arm hurt and grieved her more than if it had been her own.

She could not seem to stop crying. “I want to be with you forever.”

His chest was warm.

Kagetora, for reasons unknown, allowed her to leave the Yasha-shuuYasha-shuu (夜叉衆)

The five kanshousha at the head of the Meikai Uesugi Army ordered by Uesugi Kenshin to hunt for the onshou who are disrupting the peace of modern-era Japan in a battle which has lasted four hundred years. Led by Uesugi Kagetora, with Naoe Nobutsuna, Kakizaki Haruie, Yasuda Nagahide, and Irobe Katsunaga. The name "Yasha" refers to soldiers in the army of Bishamonten, called "Yaksha".
. She would throw away her Uesugi name and live the rest of her life as an ordinary woman. And if that life were to be her last, she wouldn’t mind. She was stunned when Kagetora granted her request. But Kagetora himself was exhausted after two hundred years. The onryouonryou (怨霊)

Lit.: "vengeful ghost"; the spirits of those who died in the Sengoku period who are still so filled with rage and hatred that they continue to exist in the world as vengeful spirits instead of being purified and reborn.
of the SengokuSengoku (戦国)

The "warring states" period, lasting from 1467 to 1615, in which the warlords of Japan battled each other for the rule of the country.
were, on the whole, pacified. In recent years they had concentrated their efforts on extermination of other spirits.

“If that is what you want, then go. I will take all responsibility for this decision,” Kagetora said, looking at her with abiding affection. “Don’t think about anything else, only live as you want to live. I am grateful for your long service. Thank you...” He took Haruie’s slim hand gently in his. “This is likely the last time we will see each other.”

They had both thought that this would be their final parting—that this was the end. After two hundred long years... Haruie was overwhelmed with happiness at the thought of being able to spend her final decades with the one she loved above any other. She would never love anyone else as she loved him.

“The magnolias near my home are so beautiful this time of year.”

Shintarou liked to share stories of his village with her, his eyes sparkling like a child’s when he spoke of the changing seasons there. Haruie loved those eyes. With her devotion and support, the one-handed doctor could help even more people than he could before.

“One day soon I’ll be able to show them to you,” Shintarou murmured as they fed the water fowl at the edge of Kamo River on one of their daily walks.

But he never did. The following year, a month before they would have made that trip back to his village of the lily magnolias, an epidemic ravaged the capital. Shintarou himself was infected while treating his patients, and, on a spring day, weakened beyond help, he died.

“A doctor who can’t even save himself...!” Haruie wailed as Shintarou faded before her eyes.

“Don’t cry, Tsuta.”

“Would you leave me? I’m your right hand! I’m a part of you! If you die I’ll die too!”

“You can’t die.”

“Don’t leave me here!” Haruie sobbed, and Shintarou wiped away her tears with fingers thin as bone.

“You will not be alone. I swear to you.” He painfully drew breath through parched lips before continuing, “I am not going to die. I won’t die. But even if I do, you won’t be alone. I’ll find you again in my next life.”

“Wait for me, Tsuta. You’ll be my right arm again.”

“I promise you.”

“Believe in me.”

His final words.

It would soon be the two hundredth winter since he had made his promise to her.

And Shintarou had not come to find her.

Chapter 1: The North Wind and the City

The trees along Midou-sujiMidou-suji (御堂筋)

The primary thoroughfare of central Osaka, Midou Boulevard runs north-south and boasts ultra high-class stores and hotels.
view map location
were almost bare of leaves already.

Due to an overturned truck near the Amagasaki East Interchange view map location, his company car was more than thirty minutes late by the time it arrived at his home in AshiyaAshiya-shi (芦屋市)

A city founded in Hyougo Prefecture in 1871, Ashiya was designated as an urban planning area in the early 1900s, which led to the development of large single-family homes along the hills overlooking Osaka Bay.
view map location
to pick him up.

“Looks like another bad traffic day,” his driver muttered at the Yodoya Bridge view map location crossing, staring at the back of the car in front of them. Speaking of which, this was a gotoobigotoobi (五十日)

Lit.: "fifth/tenth day"

A day of the month that is divisible by 5 (5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th). In Japan, paydays and settlement of accounts are customarily done on one of these days, leading to busy teller windows and traffic congestion.
Friday in OsakaOsaka-shi (大阪市)

The City of Osaka is the capital of Osaka Prefecture and the commercial and gourmet food center of Japan.
. Congestion was to be expected.

His driver slid the pearl-white Crown to a stop in front of the private entrance of a bright glass-sided building ten stories tall. Hazama Shigeharu, the man sitting in the rear, had spent the trip gazing out at the trees flowing past along Midou-suji while sunken deep in his own thoughts. He finally stirred as they arrived at company headquarters.

An employee dressed in a blue business suit was awaiting his arrival. He rushed over to open the car door before the driver could step out. “Good morning, Director,” the man, apparently a secretary, stepped gracefully back and bowed before hurriedly continuing, “They’ve been waiting for ten minutes. Please hurry.”

“They’re here already? We were scheduled for half-past.”

“Saitou-san is here with a delegation from Sankou Foods. He seems determined to conclude negotiations for the factory as previously discussed, so please prepare yourself for things to get as complicated as last time. You have a tight schedule today, so please stay within the time constraints as much as possible.”

“Very well,” Hazama responded, heading for the elevators. He acknowledged the female receptionist’s greeting before adding to the tall secretary following half a step behind him, “I’m sorry for keeping you so late yesterday. Miyata and his lot have royally messed things up, haven’t they? I’ve been monopolizing too much of your time.”

“Not at all. I believe I got up this morning shortly after you arrived home. You might have had a little too much to drink last night; are you feeling all right?”

Rubbing his angular chin, Hazama chuckled. “When your company’s fighting for its life, isn’t getting drunk the expected thing to do?”

In truth, he did look like he’d been on something of a two-day bender, and the fact that he hadn’t completed his morning routine contributed to that impression. The traffic certainly hadn’t helped his frustration, but he felt at least somewhat refreshed after making some calls via the car phone.

His young secretary of twenty-seven or twenty-eight opened his black leather notebook and gave him the full schedule as they headed down a corridor striped by rays of weak winter sunlight. The list was methodical, flawless.

This secretary’s name was Tachibana Yoshiaki. He had wise, double-lidded eyes in an intelligent and handsome face and a serenity of bearing that set him apart from his colleagues of the same age-group. Though he’d actually started working for Hazama less than a week ago, they synchronized so well that Hazama felt as if they had been working together for ten years, and he already found it difficult to imagine doing without him. Either they were just a natural fit, or Tachibana possessed the ability to mold himself gracefully to another’s style. He’d had several secretaries in his time, but never one that he felt understood him so well.

“For dinner, I‘ve accepted an invitation for you with Nikkou Industries’ Managing Director Asada and his wife at the Royal Hotel in Nakanoshima view map location. And that’s the last item for today. ...? Is something the matter?” Tachibana inquired, catching his gaze.

Hazama clapped Tachibana on the back, chuckling. “Not at all. I’m glad dinner will be traditional Japanese. I’ve had enough of drinking for a while.”

“Yes; if it goes on for much longer, your health may be jeopardized.”

“‘Lay off the booze,’ in other words? Geez, you nag worse than my wife.”

“You yourself have said that this is a crucial juncture for the company. Your health concerns more than just yourself.”

The elevator arrived at the tenth floor. The receptionist there stood and bowed: “good morning” as they alighted. This entire floor was reserved for the offices of the president and his staff. The eight of them stood and greeted him as they entered. They passed through the beige-carpeted room to the presidential office within.

“...Humph. You’ve been here less than a week, and already you’re talking like a company man.”

“I may have been here a week, but not as a replacement for your employees.”

“Nobody else here has the nerve to berate me like you do,” Hazama returned, not looking at all put out. “Eh, it’s not like you’d have to worry about your livelihood even if I did fire you for offending me.” Hazama turned and peered up into Tachibana’s face as they reached the presidential office. “I’ve kept your charm close. Those strange dreams have stopped, just like that. I don’t know which temple it’s from, but it works pretty damn well. Guess this is what you’d call magic.”

“So you’ve experienced nothing out of the ordinary since then?”

“Getting a bodyguard was a bit of an overkill, but I’ll have to increase Okumura’s salary or give him a bonus for referring you.”

“Not with the company’s money.”

“Of course,” Hazama answered, and turned the door knob. “Could you let them know I’ll need a summary of the accounting for the first half of the year with our overdue accounts? I’ll take a look once I’m done here.”

“Certainly,” Tachibana bowed, and Hazama went in, closing the door behind him.

 

It had been a week since Tachibana Yoshiaki—AKA Naoe NobutsunaNaoe Nobutsuna (直江信綱) ? - Oct. 6, 1581

Also known as: Nagao Kagetaka (長尾景孝), Nagao Toukurou (長尾藤九郎)
Title: Yamato no Kami (大和守)

Historically: Son of Nagao Akikage, he became head of the Sousha-Nagao Clan at a young age. He later (around 1545) passed the position to his younger brother Nagao Kagefusa. When the clan was destroyed by Takeda Shingen and their territory lost, the family escaped into Echigo. There Kagefusa became a monk, and Kagetaka was adopted by Naoe Sanetsuna when he married Sanetsuna's daughter, Osen-no-Kata. He succeeded his adopted father as master of Yoita Castle in 1577 and was a vassal of Uesugi Kenshin. He promptly took the side of Uesugi Kagekatsu during the war for succession after Kenshin's death and mobilized the members of the Naoe Clan at the castle to subdue Kagetora's troops.

After the intra-house war and Kagekatsu's victory, a question of reward was called into question. Yasuda Akimoto, one of Kagekatsu's trusted commanders, had promised rewards to Shibata Shigeie, Mouri Hidehiro, and others to convince them to join Kagekatsu's side. However, Yamazaki Hidenori, Naoe, and others objected, for they had risked life and limb at Kasugayama Castle from the very beginning of the battle, while Shibata Shigeie and the others had been lured by promise of reward from Yasuda Akimoto.

Yasuda Akimoto committed suicide when he could not keep his promise of reward. Later, Mouri Hidehiro, carrying a grudge for his death, murdered Yamazaki Hidenori at Kasugayama Castle; Naoe, who was with him at the time and took up a sword to defend himself, was killed as well. His death ended the Naoe line, which Kagekatsu later resurrected by marrying Naoe's widow, Osen-no-Kata to Higuchi Kanetsugu and commanding him to take the Naoe name.

In Mirage of Blaze: According to Kousaka Danjou, and Houjou Ujiteru he was the ringleader of Uesugi Kagekatsu's forces in the Otate no Ran. He is now Uesugi Kagetora's protector and one of the Yasha-shuu under his command. He alone, as Kagetora's protector, was given the power to perform kanshou on other souls, a power he used to force Kagetora's soul into Minako's body.
—started working for Hazama Shigeharu, president of Hazama Confectionery, as his secretary. From the outside, he appeared to be familiarizing himself with the company and fitting himself well into its staff, though neither Hazama nor Okumura, the friend who had referred him, had expected him to do so splendidly in that role. Strictly speaking, he was Hazama’s ‘advisor’ cum ‘bodyguard.’ But to have him be known as such would have unnecessarily alarmed both employees and clients, something which a company already in a downturn due to the recession following the collapse of the bubble economy and operating in a bear market could ill afford.

Hazama Confectionery owned three branch offices and ten factories nationwide, and was one of the mainstays of the confectionery business. Hazama’s grandfather had established the first shop in Osaka around fifty years ago to produce traditional Japanese confectionery. Their operations had been greatly enlarged in Shigeharu’s generation with snacks for children, and now produced soft drinks and flavorings in addition to confectionery. During the bubble they had made the mistake of attempting to expand into cosmetics; with the collapse of the economy, its failure had rebounded on the core confectionery business with heavy losses, with management bearing the brunt of the blame. The ensuing litigation and conflict with regional trade from the associated patent design applications had put CEO Hazama under a great deal of stress.

Naturally, this sense of crisis had permeated throughout the company. As a result its employees had become oversensitive to even trivial changes in the business world as well as every word and action of managers and company executives.

In that atmosphere, who knows what rumors would arise if the CEO were suddenly seen with a new bodyguard. It was with such concerns in mind that they had improvised their cover story (to the other employees, he was a secretary Hazama had pulled out of the general affairs section of the SapporoSapporo-shi (札幌市)

Sapporo is the capital and largest city of Hokkaido, the northernmost of the major Japanese islands. Its name comes from the indigenous Ainu language and means "dry, great river".
branch office), though without knowing how well Tachibana would handle the job. Yet even without previous experience with company culture he had quickly adapted.

Tachibana turned from the closed door to the larger room. It was off-white, with several office automation machines in a row and employees occupied with their own tasks. One of them, a man in a white business shirt with a desk near the window typing out a speech for Hazama on his computer, commented: “Looks like he made it in time after all.”

This man was his friend Okumura. Tachibana set his files down on a desk and approached. “There appeared to have been an accident at Amagasaki. He was caught in a huge traffic jam.”

“Good thing he always leaves thirty minutes early when he has an appointment. Our guests today tend to be finicky about punctuality, and I’m guessing there would’ve been quite the fuss if he’d been late,” Okumura grinned at Tachibana. “Anyway, seems like you’re settling in nicely... You even have more of a knack than me for looking after him. Have you worked as a secretary before or something?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Quit your monk job and keep this one. I’ll put in a good word for you.”

Okumura and Tachibana had become friends in high school, having both come from families running temples. He had studied Buddhism in college to obtain his monk’s license, but after graduation had turned company man instead.

“This is a side of you I haven’t seen—I mean, I had no idea you had such talents. ’Cause you’ve always been one of those guys who never concerned himself with what other people were doing,” Okumura remarked, stroking his long, narrow chin, before taking off his glasses and spraying it with cleaner.

“Well, I do apologize for showing you an unexpected side of me.”

“The president’s personal secretary is like his work wife—for you that’s reaching pretty far! To see you suddenly so devoted and hard-working, I gotta say—wow, well done.”

“I have a feeling I’m being damned with faint praise.”

“Eh, this job isn’t for somebody who craves the limelight. Seems an unexpectedly perfect fit for you, since I’ve never known you to chase after women or money. So how many of the fairer sex have you left in tears because you refused to get attached?”

“...Okumura.”

“Oh, but you fall for bad girls, don’t you? I bet you’re the type who gets strung along until your wallet’s empty and you’re in pieces, huh?”

Noticing Head Secretary Kawada glance at them, Tachibana cleared his throat. Okumura calmly sat back in his chair and looked up at Tachibana like a mischievous child. “Why don’t you give me the final report at lunch time?”

The secretaries took lunch in three shifts. The two friends headed down to the basement cafeteria for their lunch break together.

“Urgh. This sucks,” Okumura sighed into his bowl of tempura buckwheat noodles. He rested his chin in his hands and gave Tachibana a bitter look as he sat down facing Okumura.

“What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?? Have you even noticed our female colleagues? I knew it!”

“?”

“Just look at their heated gazes. I’m only here to be your wingman, aren’t I?” Okumura pointed behind them, and when he turned, several young women gathered near the entrance started chattering to each other. They had apparently descended on the cafeteria en masse during their lunch breaks to see the ‘gorgeous new secretary,’ current star of the grapevine, for themselves. This was why Okumura was sulking.

“You stand out too much. You know what they say about you?”

“What do they say about me?”

“That you’re the young (bachelor) rockstar from the Sapporo office who’s earned the respect of even our trade partners’ top management. That you’re Management’s Messiah, the star of hope chosen by our president to be his right hand. That you wear dashing Giorgio Armani suits, use Egoist cologne, wear a Rolex watch, and drive a re-imported Lexus. That you’re a thoroughbred from a family of businessmen. You went to Harvard, apparently, after graduating from Hitotsubashi University. They even know where your apartment is, your list of hook-ups, what brand of underwear you wear. They’ve made up a whole personal history for you, you know.”

Tachibana groaned with forehead in hand. “I’m not taking responsibility for any of that.”

“Well...now that I think about it, I guess it’s not that much fun,” Okumura conceded sympathetically. He lowered his voice. “So? How’s it going, really? Have you solved the mystery of the ‘princess’ ghost’ yet?”

“Not yet,” Tachibana’s expression grew more serious. "I‘ve been here for a week, but I haven’t been able to confirm the existence of a spirit as described by the Director. I’m beginning to think it’s not an actual ghost. He said that he saw it in a dream—so maybe it was ’astral projection’ instead.

“Astral projection? What’s that?”

“Using thought-projection to appear before the person you wish to contact. When done by the living, the projection becomes their doppelgänger. He described a ‘princess from the old days,’ though, so I don’t know... I need to figure out if that guise is an affectation, or if we’re talking about a real ‘princess.’”

"How could it be ‘real?’’

“Well...it could be the spirit of someone who died a long time ago trying to contact him from far away. In that case, the source of the astral projection would be a ghost instead of anyone living.”

“So it might be...a ghost projecting its thoughts so it can appear before the Director?” Okumura’s face stiffened. “Why would it do that? What could it hope to accomplish? Come on, a ‘princess from the old days?’ Like in one of those historical dramas, with black hair this long, and a button mouth, and a calabash-shaped face. I mean, what the heck?”

“...Sssh, not so loud,” Tachibana shushed him with an upraised finger as Okumura steadily gained volume. “I don’t know yet. It could have something to do with one of his ancestors, but I need to learn more to come to a conclusion. If it would actually appear, I’d be able to determine both its age and its original form, but it’s difficult to find someone telepathically when I’m not the one being contacted. The Director would have received some sort of message, though.”

“But he doesn’t know it?”

“That, or he doesn’t want to say. I wouldn’t say I’m suspicious of him, but it’s difficult to investigate with so few clues.” Tachibana leaned his elbows on the table and clasped his hands before him. “I’m not sure what I can do at this point,” he added with some mortification.

“But he said it was causing him anxiety, this astral projection business. You’ve gotta do something! Otherwise he’s gonna have a nervous breakdown.”

“Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen—not over something like this,” Tachibana answered, and about this, at least, he sounded confident. “He’s made of sterner stuff than that, no matter how bad things get with the company.”

Despite his short time here, this at least he knew: Hazama was the type to rise up to a challenge. He would not be bothered by nightmares or illusions while his indomitably spirit blazed for the fight. Even if they did appear to him, he would simply drive them away with his natural vitality.

“But that’s the strange thing,” Tachibana muttered: “He doesn’t particularly seem like someone who would be susceptible to such dreams. Even though he hired me to be his bodyguard, I don’t get the sense that he’s all that worried about what this ‘female spirit’ might do to him. It’s almost as if...he had another purpose for calling on me.”

“What do you mean, another purpose?”

“I feel like there’s something else he’s guarding against...though I don’t know what that might be,” Tachibana explained, brows knitting over a countenance grown doubtful and grave.

Okumura abruptly pushed back his chair, placed both hands on the table, and bowed his head. “Please just help him, whatever you need to do. Be his support! I beg of you!”

“Hey. Okumura...” Tachibana said, consternated. But Okumura only repeated ‘please,’ his head bowed. In the end he could only surrender.

“Really?”

“You really like this director of yours, huh?”

“You can tell?”

“It’s pretty obvious. A show-off like you contenting yourself with the position of a secretary? You must admire him.”

“He’s a man among men,” Okumura threw his shoulders back proudly. “A true leader who’s even stronger and more trustworthy in times of crisis than of smooth sailing—you gotta admit that’s pretty awesome. It’s been hard, but I think we’ll survive as long as he’s here. And I’m not the only one saying this. You can ask anyone here.”

“Why not go into sales or another department where you can work hard for the company and climb the corporate ladder more quickly? Why choose to stay here?”

“It’s the Director’s character I admire, not this company. I want to be his right-hand man and work wherever he is,” Okumura stated with utmost sincerity. His single-mindedness hadn’t changed one bit, Tachibana thought, eyes softening.

“Stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

"You get this look sometimes, like in a weird way you’re scoffing at me, and it just rubs me the wrong way. You gotta stop doing that, man.

Tachibana laughed, drawing excited chatter from the cluster of women at the entrance. Okumura stood and shouted at them, “Geez, enough already! Lunch break is over! Get back to your jobs!”

 

It had been ten days since his arrival in Osaka, Naoe recalled with deep emotion as he gazed at the cluster of buildings in the now-familiar Honmachi neighborhood view map location. Business suits and office ladies were a commonplace sight here: it was indeed a business town.

Hazama had told him he only needed a bodyguard while he was at the company, since his residence in Ashiya was fully equipped with a security system—an odd view, since no security system was proof against ghosts. He had said as much to Hamaza, whose response had been simply: ‘Just stay with me until I go home’ and had set Naoe up in a studio apartment. That was when he’d decided that there was something else going on...

(I really hope this doesn’t blow up in my face...) He gazed out the car window at the buildings along Yotsubashi-sujiYotsubashi-suji (四つ橋筋)

"Yotsubashi-suji," or "Four Bridges Boulevard," is a nickname for the Osaka North-South Road. It is a major street running north-south through central Osaka.
view map location
.

The setting alone was cause for concern, for this was a focal point in the Ikkou SectIkkou-shuu (一向宗)

Lit.: "One-minded School/Sect", a small, militant, antinomian offshoot of True Pure Land Buddhism founded by 13th-century monk Ikkou Shunjou. Its ideologies provided the basis for a wave of uprisings against feudal rule in the late 15th and 16th centuries, such as the Ikkou-ikki revolts. Oda Nobunaga eventually destroyed the sect's two large temple-fortresses, Nagashima and Ishiyama Hongan Temple and slaughtered most of its sectarians in those areas. Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated the followers of the sect in Mikawa in 1564 in the Battle of Azukizaka. The last of the Ikkou sect fought alongside Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 1580s.
’s area of influence. The practical effects of that fact were striking. Those with a strong affinity for the supernatural had begun to see the spirits of what he believed to be sect followers on the streets of Osaka City quite frequently, and rumors inevitably followed. Naoe himself had come across countless such spirits.

Furthermore, a strong barrier had been erected around Osaka Castle ParkOsaka-jou Kouen (大阪城公園)

Osaka Castle Park is a public park located at the site of Osaka Castle in central Osaka City and is the second largest park in the city. The site was the location of Ishiyama Hongan Temple, headquarters of the Ikkou Sect, destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in 1580. Toyotomi Hideyoshi began construction of Osaka Castle there three years later.
view map location
where the Ikkou Sect stronghold Ishiyama Hongan TempleIshiyama Hongan-ji (石山本願寺)

A fortified Buddhist temple established in 1496 which was home to warrior monks, priests, peasants, and local nobles (Ikkou-ikki) who opposed samurai rule. Oda Nobunaga, who feared the power and influence of the monks, set siege to the fortress in 1570 while Kennyo was its chief abbot. The siege lasted for 10 years, and the temple finally fell in 1580.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi began construction of Osaka Castle on the same site three years later.
view map location
had once stood. Kennyo and company must be planning to claim it as their base once more. The existence of the barrier meant that no one could enter—well, technically they could, but anyone who did so lost consciousness immediately. Thus no one knew what was going on inside, which meant no one could deal with it.

“Osaka’s psychic point manifestation:” people had made a lot of noise about it a month ago, but someone must have worked behind the scenes to silence the media, leaving the situation suspended in a strange state of ‘everyone knows about it, but nobody cares.’ People simply left the problem alone.

The barrier, of course, was also an impediment to Naoe and company, necessitating a careful investigation of Osaka to refine their countermeasures. Okumura had contacted him while they were still coming up with a plan.

Hazama’s story prickled his spirit-sense. Having his employees believe he was there for the long haul was simply convenient. Although...

(At this rate, it might turn out to be true,) Naoe sighed with a hint of self-derision. Neither of his investigations was getting very far. (This is no time to be playing company man.)

“You’ve been quiet. What’s wrong?” asked Hazama seated beside him.

Naoe gathered his wandering thoughts and recomposed himself firmly in his Tachibana Yoshiaki persona once more.

“Nothing. My apologies. I was just thinking.”

“Are preparations for the trip to KyotoKyoto-shi (京都市)

The imperial capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, located in Kyoto Prefecture.
view map location
next week complete?”

“Yes. I’ve booked the room as you asked. But may I ask...?”

“Hmm?”

“Well... I believe you’re planning to stay at the hotel for a week? But Kyoto isn’t that far from your home...”

“You see, Tachibana,” Hazama explained, his narrowed eyes fixed on the sun sinking towards its rest within the windows of the buildings flowing past outside, “I think of this trip as the decisive battle for Hazama Confectionery’s future.” The gravity and determination in his tone drew Naoe’s focus to him. “This big confectionery enterprises conference is a conference in name only; its actual purpose is to set the table for business strategies. Everyone in the industry will be in Kyoto next week. We need to take this opportunity to ally ourselves with those who can put the company back on its feet. If I can’t do that—” Hazuma’s expression was solemn, “—I’ll have to wrestle a great lion.”

“A great lion...?”

“Yes,” Hazama nodded, hands clenching into fists on his thighs. “Nakamura of Nagamori Confectionery has formally proposed a merger.”

“Nagamori Confectionery...! Which means...!”

Hazama nodded again, bitterness creasing his forehead.

A merger...

Okumura had told him that there’d been several probes.

(So the rumor was true...)

Nagamori Confectionery was a large enterprise boasting of top sales in its snacks division. Focusing on consumer appeal and expanding sales with its proprietary wholesale system, it was building on its momentum with the aim of advancing into Japanese traditional confectionery. Perhaps it viewed a merger with Hazama Confectioney as the first step in this plan.

Or so the rumor went.

“I expect Nakamura to announce a proposal at this conference.”

“Director.”

“...As long as we can stand on our own, I don’t want to merge. But I also have to think about my employees and how they’ll put food on their tables if we can’t stand any longer.”

Bankruptcy...

The word floated into Tachibana’s mind.

He had not realized how close the company was to the brink. There had been nothing in Hazama’s bearing to even suggest the possibility.

Admiration filled him for the indomitable force of will which never betrayed even the slightest anxiety or sense of impending crisis to his employees in order to keep up their morale. A leader who navigated troubled waters with confidence, who refused to relinquish his dignity under any circumstance—Naoe suddenly understood Hazama’s inner heart painfully well.

(He is an amazing person.) Naoe looked at Hazama with new esteem, understanding now Okumura’s admiration for him.

“I’ll be going into battle in Kyoto: a critical battle that will determine the fate of my company. How can I go home and relax at a time like that?”

“...Director.”

“Tachibana, I’m going to fight ’til the end. I will not allow my company to be crushed, or my employees to be kicked to the curb. We’re not going to rot in the stomach of Big Business. I refuse to lose this battle,” Hazama declared, returning Naoe’s gaze. “That’s the spirit that got me here. —Then again, nobody wants to end up a loser. I don’t want to go home with my tail between my legs.”

“...”

Hazama’s murmured words echoed in Tachibana’s mind and reached deep into his heart.

Nobody wants to to lose...

He repeated the words silently, hands secretly curling into fists on his thighs.

 

The car soon arrived at their destination: the Royal Hotel in Nakanoshima. They were here to meet with Managing Director Asada and his wife, a Fukuoka-based client.

“I would have brought my wife as well, but unfortunately she’s not feeling well.” He had heard that Hazama’s wife was not in the best of health. But Hazama’s attention was needed elsewhere right now. “I would like to introduce you, if you don’t mind.”

“Director, I don’t think...”

“That’s why I brought you. Since this will likely be the start of a long association.”

The driver opened the door before he could ask what Hazama meant. They alighted at the hotel’s front entrance and walked together across the spacious lobby toward the elevators.

“You’re an odd fellow.”

“Huh?”

“Those standing at the top are always alone. They may have countless employees trailing behind them, but no one beside them. They have to walk that path alone.”

“...”

“They have no one to guide them, and their employees’ livelihoods hang on their command. It’s a heavy responsibility. No matter what happens, they can never abandon these people who depend on them. They can’t escape. It’s hard, and it never ends.”

“It is not a duty that can be borne by simply anyone. One cannot reach such a position without the right disposition and magnanimity of nature, and a certain kind of charm.”

“‘Such a position,’ huh?” Hazama smiled wryly. “You certainly are a strange fellow. I feel like you know exactly how to flatter me.”

“It is not my intention to flatter.”

“No; let us say rather that you’re very good at encouraging someone who lacks confidence in himself. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but you make yourself indispensable to your superiors in their moments of weakness.”

“It seems, in that case, that I am not indispensable to you.”

Hazama scowled.

“Because you are not weak.”

“...True.” Hazama stepped into the elevator. “Yet, if you should ever choose to betray someone, that virtue would become the ultimate weapon.”

“...”

“I’d never want to get on your bad side, if you ever came to work for me.”

The elevator stopped on the twelfth floor—not their floor. The doors opened to a young man in a rough blue jacket. He didn’t seem in any hurry to step in. Naoe prompted, “Excuse me, are you getting on?”

“Why don’t you get off instead?”

He was holding what appeared to be a dagger. Their faces involuntarily stiffened at the brusque demand. Naoe quickly exchanged a glance with Hazama, deferring to him.

They stepped out. As the doors closed behind them, Naoe asked, “What do you want?”

“You’re Hazama Shigeharu...yes?”

Naoe casually stepped in front of Hazama. Behind him, Hazama responded firmly, “Yes, I am Hazama.”

“You were warned. I want to know where it is. Hand it over.”

(Warned? ‘It?’)

Naoe looked questioningly at Hazama, who was outwardly unperturbed. “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”

“Don’t play dumb! Do you really think you’re ready to face the consequences of ignoring us?”

“I don’t recall receiving any warnings.”

“So you’re going to to be obstinate.” The man’s dark eyes filled with aggression. “Fine. Allow me to help you remember!”

(What...!)

A hot wind assailed them both. Something roared past their flanks. It burned!

“Guh...!”

Naoe barely managed to dodge the attack—a sword of flame which struck the spot where he had been standing. He instinctively protected Hazama with a «goshinhagoshinha (護身波)

Lit. "wave of self-protection"; the goshinha is a protective mesh spun from fine strands of spiritual energy which surrounds the caster and protects from an opponent's spiritual as well as physical attacks. The mesh gains strength and stability when it is multi-layered and becomes the goshinheki. The goshinha is Naoe's forte.
». The fire surged back at them, two sharp pikes scorching the elevator hall walls to either side.

“Wh-what is that!”

“He’s...!”

Someone with the «power» to manipulate fire. Razors of flame attacked both of them without pause. Naoe shattered them with a «wall of self-protectiongoshinheki (護身壁)

Lit.: "wall of self-protection"; the goshinheki is a barrier constructed for an instant using spiritual energy. The goshinha is effective when maintained, but the goshinheki takes shape in the instant the caster is attacked and is a basic method of self-protection. However, its weakness is that it cannot protect the caster against 100% of the damage caused by the attack.
» and reciprocated with «nenpanenpa (念波)

Lit.: "waves of will/thought"; a nendouryoku attack using spiritual energy which focuses the will and releases it in a burst to strike at a target.
».

Obviously not expecting a counterattack, the man narrowly managed to throw up a «wallgoshinheki (護身壁)

Lit.: "wall of self-protection"; the goshinheki is a barrier constructed for an instant using spiritual energy. The goshinha is effective when maintained, but the goshinheki takes shape in the instant the caster is attacked and is a basic method of self-protection. However, its weakness is that it cannot protect the caster against 100% of the damage caused by the attack.
». Still, he abruptly flinched back and turned and dashed for the emergency stairs at the end of the hall.

“I’m going after him—please stay here!”

Naoe immediately gave chase. Razors of flame flew at him just as he wrenched open the door, ready to plunge down the emergency stairs after their attacker. He returned fire, arm raised in front of his face. Their strength was on a level, however, and his opponent pressed back with an unending stream of flames, blocking pursuit.

“You...!”

The air finally cleared, and Naoe sprinted down to the first floor. He burst outside, but the man was already gone. He had escaped.

Naoe stood motionless for a moment, jaw clenched tight.

(This feeling...) He was certain. This man— (He’s kanshoushakanshousha (換生者)

Those who possess others by driving out the soul from a body and making it theirs.

Unlike normal spirits, kanshousha cannot exchange bodies at will; they can only switch to another host body when their current body dies. Because kanshousha become the owners of their bodies, choubuku does not work on them. It is, however, still possible to exorcise kanshousha when they are in spirit-form (i.e. between possessions).
.)

Why was kanshoushakanshousha (換生者)

Those who possess others by driving out the soul from a body and making it theirs.

Unlike normal spirits, kanshousha cannot exchange bodies at will; they can only switch to another host body when their current body dies. Because kanshousha become the owners of their bodies, choubuku does not work on them. It is, however, still possible to exorcise kanshousha when they are in spirit-form (i.e. between possessions).
targeting Hazama? He said Hazama had received warnings. Did Hazama know him? What was the ‘it’ he wanted so badly to locate?

Naoe looked up at the building grimly.

Add new comment