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This chapter is dedicated to Ame and Squinty!
Ame! Sorry about the other day!
Squinty! Thank you for the Kikokugai reading session!
A tatami mat size is 85.5cm wide and 179cm in length (about 33.5 by 70.5 inches)
Izumi loved to bathe.
In the sultry summers when it felt like she would boil. In the winters when it felt like even her bones would freeze. And naturally, even in spring and autumn, she continued to enjoy her baths.
Even on days when nothing went right, just the smell of soap could lift her spirits.
The moment that her body submerged into hot water, it felt like her troubles and fatigue simply disappeared.
And today too, she looked forward to bath time.
But the moment that she opened the door and her foot touched the cold floor, Izumi let out a great sigh.
Even though it should never have been in her bathroom to begin with, right now it was the first thing that entered her gaze.
In her experiences thus far, she had been given a lot of hard-to-deal with things, but this one surpassed them all.
“…What am I supposed to do with this.”
Izumi even forgot to turn the shower on, as she muttered.
Beautiful, shining silver hair. It was the symbol of the Jebas Royal Family, and considering its volume, had apparently been grown to that length with much care.
Izumi tried to put it into a bucket, but there was so much that it wouldn’t fit. After a lot of thinking, she just placed it into a transparent garbage bag.
She really didn’t know what to do with it. Keeping it took up space, and she had to be careful not to damage it either. But there was an even bigger problem.
Through her experiences thus far, she learnt that what she gained in the previous meeting would be useful in the next.
In that case, she was worried she would meet Hiqyuu, who wanted this hair the most. Thanks to that, she hadn’t opened the window even once.
But when she met them last night, there was one thing she noticed.
Apparently, the window often opened to somebody she wanted to see.
When she met the stranded man, and she was worried for his safety, the window opened up to Prime Minister Teo Keh.
When she met with Yeti Setsugen, and she felt sorry for doing something bad to him, she ended up saving his sister.
When she met with armoured guy Arshu, and she was wondering if he reconciled with his wife, the window opened to the woman herself.
When she met Prince Hinoki trapped in the tower, and she was feeling worthless about being unable to save him, she was able to pass the key to people who wanted to save him.
When the Yohk’Zai delegation fell into Queen Akka’s trap, and she wanted them to help Prince Hinoki, in the end she met with them too.
And finally, when she met with the Old Maestro, and heard about Arshu’s marriage with the Princess, when she wondered about how the Princess felt, she was able to meet with her too.
After so many times, could you still call it coincidence?
The window would connect Izumi to those she strongly wanted to meet. Then in that case, was it possible that it would avoid the people she didn’t want to meet…? Or so thought Izumi.
But the problem was that Izumi couldn’t imagine anybody who would want this hair except for Hiqyuu.
――After all, was there any use for hair except for making a wig?
Not only that, but apparently this silver colour was rare enough that it was treated as a symbol of royalty. And truly, out of all the people Izumi had ever met, only Princess Aqua had possessed silver hair.
Izumi turned on the shower, careful to avoid getting the bag wet as much as possible.
While being careful not to get suds everywhere, Izumi finished washing her head and body before getting into the bath.
But it wasn’t working. She wasn’t relaxing.
It might be a different story if she was in an onsen or public bath, but why, in her own home, did she have to worry about other people seeing her?
Izumi poked a wet finger at the hair through the bag.
To be honest, getting rid of it was easy. She only had to take it outside.
But once she considered that somebody other than Hiqyuu might need it, she was hesitant. Not only that, but she couldn’t bring herself to simply destroy such beautiful hair.
Izumi looked up at the window, and gulped.
Would it connect to Hiqyuu, or somebody else?
It was a match between her and Hiqyuu.
A match to see whose desire was stronger.
――She had a good feeling she would lose though.
She wanted Arshu and Utaseyu to be happy together. She wanted Princess Aqua to be fine with this, and find her own partner. These feelings weren’t a lie. But when she recalled Hiqyuu’s tragic expression when they parted, she thought that perhaps his feelings were stronger.
Having said that though, she couldn’t just keep the window closed forever.
As though the world had heard her thoughts, a sound came from beyond the window.
She could hear a number of people whispering to each other.
The contents of their whispers weren’t audible, but she could tell that they weren’t the voices of her neighbours.
If it was Hiqyuu, she was going to immediately shut the window.
Having found her determination, Izumi opened the window.
She had never met these people before.
A middle-aged woman, a young woman, and a child.
The middle-aged woman was lying atop some bedding on the stone floor. Behind her, the other two sat on a carpet the size of a tatami mat.
“Hello. Is anybody in need of help?”
She tried speaking to them, but Izumi was in confusion.
All three of the people staring at her speechless had a head full of dark brown hair, and none of them seemed to be balding.
She couldn’t imagine that Princess Aqua’s hair could be of any use to her.
“Who are you!”
The first one to come back to their senses was the boy, who was closest to Izumi. Probably two or three years younger than even Prince Hinoki of I’Jibro.
His eyebrows and eyes slanted upwards, and gave him a very strong-willed and sharp impression.
No sooner had he stood up, did he draw the dagger at his waist to point straight at her.
“That’s a terribly difficult question for me to answer, but… If I said that I was called an angel yesterday, would that help? Do you know what an angel is?”
Izumi tilted her head in wonder.
Would a mystic have been better?
Their appearances were quite different to those of Jebas. Their clothing, their faces, everything was closer to the people of Yohk’Zai.
Behind the boy, the two women gasped.
“Angel-sama!? Roten! Sheathe your sword!”
The younger girl ran over and hugged Roten from behind.
“Sister! Please let go of me. There’s no proof that this thing is an angel. She might be a spy from I’Jibro!”
“I’Jibro!?” cried Izumi in shock.
Apparently Queen Akka had all sorts of enemies. Considering that she was the type who could lock Prince Hinoki in the tower, Izumi wasn’t surprised that she had incurred the wrath of others.
“I’m not an I’Jibro spy. Well, I’ll still be troubled if you ask for proof, though. Can’t you just believe me?”
Roten glared at Izumi with sword in hand. But the young girl――apparently his older sister――frantically stopped him.
“Sheathe your blade, Roten! Even if it’s the power of I’Jibro, how could a single spy make it into our village?”
Apparently her calm but stern voice was not reaching him.
As if to show that his sister could not stop him, he stepped forward anyway, and raised his sword.
“Greedy thing of I’Jibro, I shall punish you in place of the heavens! You can redeem yourself in the afterlife, you breast-flashing Woman!”
At first Izumi had felt sorry for him, sure that he had been wronged by Queen Akka… But his next words caused anger to shoot through her eyes. She wasn’t naked because she wanted to be.
“Who are you calling a breast-flashing woman!”
Taking a firm stance in the bathtub, she pointed vigorously at Roten.
“Have a good look! Just how am I flashing anything!!”
And right after she said that, Izumi regained her sanity.
She was acting exactly like a pervert.
Ignore what happened just now. She was so embarrassed that she wanted to dissolve into the water, but when she forced back the embarrassment and wanted to say that, the boy cut off her words.
“You are most certainly flashing them. So what dissatisfaction could you have when I call you a flasher.”
Izumi was dumbfounded.
Was he just too young to feel embarrassed about a woman’s naked body? Could it be that he always got in the bath with the sister that was hugging him right now, and that’s why he was used to women?
Drained, Izumi placed her hand against the windowsill.
Oh, that’s right.
Izumi looked behind her.
She wasn’t sure how it was going to be useful, but it would definitely save them from their predicament.
Let’s just hand it over already, so I can enjoy my bath.
Izumi reached for the garbage bag, and then handed it through the window.
“You can have this.”
She undid the knot, leant through the window, and then placed it onto the floor. From the open mouth of the bag spilt the sleek silver hair.
Roten muttered with sword still brandished.
“…The hair of Kon York the Second’s.”
His sister finished his words.
Izumi tilted her head in wonder. Conyork the Second. She was sure she had heard the name before.
“The fraud who travelled the world, Conyork the Second!”
She immediately remembered, and struck her hand in realisation.
The Old Maestro had told Aqua’s brother about him.
Apparently he really did travel the world.
“Are you really an angel?”
Perhaps because she was holding the silver hair, and seemed to know of Conyork the Second, Roten looked at her questioningly.
“Y-, Yes. That’s right.”
If she told him no, she would end up as “Breast-flashing Woman” again.
Izumi threw out her chest, and nodded.
“Nobody in the Heavens possesses a dirty heart. That’s why everybody is naked there.”
Unable to fully swallow it, Roten furrowed his brows, but at least he seemed to have calmed down for now. After lowering his sword, he turned around and said,
“Sister, please let go of me.”
Having made sure that her brother had calmed down, Roten’s sister immediately kneeled and lowered her head.
“O Angel. By bringing the hair of Kon York the Second, does that mean that you acknowledge me as Chief?”
Izumi had absolutely no idea. While Izumi was bewildered, Roten cut in front of his sister.
“Angel. Please give that hair to me! My sister, Yuataree fell ill the other day, and lost the power to hear the voices of the insects. It would be impossible for her to complete the inauguration ceremony. She will simply become food for the insects!”
“No, please make me Chief. Roten is still young, and cannot use the flute well. It is when you cannot convey your heart to the insects that you will truly become their food. Please, make me Chief.”
“Right now she can’t even bring back Kon York the Second’s hair! It’s impossible for her to become Chief!”
“I failed because Kon York the Second’s hair is enshrined deep in a valley with many nests. For the ceremony, I only need one nest to obey. It is more important to convey your voice, than to hear theirs. It is still impossible for Roten.”
Izumi became more and more lost.
The two of them kept taking turns in trying to convince her, so she asked them to wait.
“C-, Calm down, you two. Could you first explain from the beginning why you’re arguing about becoming Chief?”
It didn’t seem that they were trying to steal the position out of greed. Instead, it felt like they were doing it because they cared for the other. That’s why she calmed them down and asked them what was going on.
“Explain…? All you need to do is name me Chief!”
“Roten! This won’t do. In the future, you’re going to be supporting Ottko Yu.”
“Yuataree. Roten. Please stop this. You’re troubling the angel.”
The reclined middle aged woman had noticed that Izumi couldn’t stop them at all, so she spoke up. Izumi turned to look at the woman she had forgotten about.
Her face was completely pale, and it was obvious that she was unwell. She rose with heavy movements.
“Mother! You musn’t! If you don’t lay down-!”
The woman who seemed to be their mother, held them back firmly, and then lowered her head.
“O Angel. I apologise for the rudeness of my children. But their impoliteness comes from their care for each other. I implore that you show them mercy.”
The woman’s formal attitude caused Izumi to flap her hand in panic.
“No, nono, I never thought of them as rude or impolite at all.”
Except for the Breast-Flashing Woman comment.
The woman smiled in relief.
“Thank you very much.”
Then, once again, she bowed deeply.
“I understand why you graced us with your presence with that hair in your possession. It was because you sensed that we were in a crisis. Please, grant power to us, the citizens of Ottko Yu.”
There were tears in the woman’s eyes.
“So what Kon York the Second taught us was true. If you continue to bear a righteous heart, salvation will come for you.”
Izumi could feel a cold sweat on her back.
If after all this time, she said “Actually, you’re wrong…”
“Then, I’ll do whatever I can.”
――What exactly can I even do!?
Screamed Izumi, in her heart.
She had already handed over the hair. What else could she do?
Izumi was regretting her thoughtlessness, but it wasn’t time to be regretting.
“For now, please lay down. And please tell me what’s going on. With as much detail as possible, and from the very beginning.”
But first of all, the sick woman needed to lay down.
The woman bowed for the third time.
“Chief! A messenger from I’Jibro has come.”
Suddenly, they all heard a voice. And seemingly chasing that clearly anxious voice, were audible footseps.
Tension ran through the expressions of the trio.
Faster than Roten could run off, Yuataree moved into action.
“There’s no time. Angel, please take care of Roten. Please shelter him until the inauguration ceremony is complete.”
No sooner had she said that did Yuataree pick up Roten.
Even if he was a child, it should have been hard for her to hold him up to the high window.
But Yuataree did so easily. Perhaps it was like the strength of a mother, lifting a car from her child.
Roten struggled violently.
Almost at the very moment that a man opened the door, Yuataree pushed Roten at Izumi, and then shut the window.
Sister, Mother, should be ‘esteemed sister’ and ‘esteemed mother’, but it feels too distant for this particular context.