When The Bell Tolls
≈Instead of regretting what we cannot do, it is better to do what one can. Even if for example, what you do has nothing to do with results, you must forge forward.≈
"So... Tell me why we're sitting in the bushes at a shrine in the dark, again?" Watanuki asked, sweat dropping, as he, Doumeki, and Suzume hid behind some bushes and waited for the culprit behind Suzume's curse to show himself.
"Because the almighty Yuuko-san commanded it of you?" Suzume said, smiling wryly at him.
"That sounds about right." Doumeki deadpanned.
"Now, as for how to prevent the culprit from cursing you anymore... It's quite simple, really. All you have to do is catch him in the act, and the curse will not be able to affect you. Instead, it will rebound onto its caster." Yuuko said, smiling slyly at Suzume.
"Eh? But if it rebounds on my uncle, won't he get hurt? What if he ends up almost dying, like I did!?" Suzume asked, concerned.
"It is possible... Your uncle doesn't seem to posses much power himself. Even if that man did not believe it would truly work, he has been striking the nail with murderous intentions. The spirits were simply being drawn in by his rage and hatred for you, so the level of the summoned spirit is pretty hit or miss... What I can tell you for certain, is that man will not stop until he has removed the 'obstacle,' you, from his path and has obtained your grandmother's wealth." Yuuko said frankly. "While you can rely on your power over kotodama for defense against spirits while you are awake, you will still be relatively defenseless once you are sleeping or unconscious since the 'barrier' your body naturally maintains will not be enough if another big one like the one that put you in the hospital comes." She explained.
"Kotodama?" Watanuki asked. "What's that?"
'Oh, I've heard of that before! It means something like 'soul of language' or 'sacred sound,' right? The notion of kotodama presupposes that sounds can magically affect objects, and that ritual word usages can influence our environment, body, mind, and soul." Misaki said. "My grandmother told me about it once. She said that words were living things, and I should be careful how I use them since the right words at the right moment in time can either make of break a person... Once something's been said, it can never be taken back. Even if you apologize, the effects can never be completely forgotten."
"My grandfather told me something similar." Doumeki said thoughtfully.
"Yes, that's right." Yuuko said, smirking slightly. "Your grandmother gave you some very wise advice, Suzume-chan. Everything she told you is especially true in your case. If you consciously focus on putting power behind your words by imaging what you're saying actually happening hard enough, then whoever or whatever you direct them at will have to make them come true. It's amazing how much control you have when you've been doing it subconsciously ever since we removed the seal on your powers in the hospital. It seems your power over kotodama only affects the one you're thinking of when you speak, and the others around you are shielded from it, but you should be very careful from now on. Your words carry more weight than they ever have before." Yuuko said cautiously.
"I understand... In other words, no matter how angry I am at someone, I should never say something like 'go die' or 'jump off of a bridge,' because they might actually do it, right?" Suzume asked seriously. Yuuko nodded.
"That would be for the best. The cost of taking a life is a very heavy price to pay." Yuuko said solemnly.
"But on the other hand, if I want to cheer someone up, I can brainwash them into being happy, huh...?" Suzume said thoughtfully, half joking, as she smiled brightly at them. "Don't worry, I'll be sure to use my powers for good instead of evil~!"
"Tell Watanuki to make feudal udon." Doumeki deadpanned.
"The feudal era ended already! That meal went extinct along time ago!" Watanuki snapped, vein mark throbbing on his forehead, as Suzume laughed at their antics. "Anyway, what are you going to do about your uncle?" He asked her.
"Well... He might be a jerk, and I want him to stop harassing me... But 'stopping' him and 'erasing' (killing) him are two completely different things. Isn't there some other way to resolve this, Yuuko-san?" Suzume asked.
"It's not that this is the only way..." Yuuko said cryptically. "But seeing the type of spirits that are targeting you, your uncle must be trying to curse you using a wara-ningyou."
"You mean those straw dolls people nail to trees?" Suzume asked. "I thought they were just supposed to convey the hatred of the person striking the nail into it... can they really be used to kill?" She asked skeptically.
"Eh? I thought you said you didn't believe in this stuff before, Suzume chan, yet you seem to know a bit about these kinds of things?" Watanuki said, confused.
"I used to be a skeptic before I started seeing everything for myself, but my grandma was very superstitious and she used to tell me about stuff like this." Suzume explained, smiling wryly as she sweat dropped. "I've been thinking I should probably learn more about the supernatural now anyway, since being ignorant doesn't seem like it'll help me stay safe much longer..."
"Yes, it is as you said, Suzume-chan. Getting involved without knowing the whole story can be quite dangerous." Yuuko said, smiling like a Cheshire cat. "To continue what I was saying about the curse your uncle is using, the dolls are usually made of a few bundles of straw, and are used in a traditional Japanese curse ritual known as Ushi no Koku Mairi. Every night, the ritual takes place during 'Ushi no Koku,' the name of a time period used in ancient times, representing 1:00AM to 3:00AM. The person who executes the curse usually wears white clothing , paints face powder on his/her face, puts a trivet on his/her head , stands candles on that trivet, wears single-toothed geta, and at a sacred tree growing in a Shinto shrine, selects a wara-ningyou for a person he/she detests, and nails a gosun-kugi (a large nail about 5 inches in length) to the doll. This has to be repeated until the cursed person is dead. It works best when a string of hair, a piece of skin or some blood of the person to be cursed is mixed with the straw. There is the risk that the person who hit the nail into the tree might turn into an oni, a demon themselves." She explained. "Every night, since the start of the curse, your uncle has been nailing the gosun-kugi deeper into the tree, sending more spirits to harm you. The deeper the nail is driven into the doll and tree, the worse for you it will get. Because you could not see them before, and you had no knowledge of your own power, you had no means to drive them off and became easy prey for the hungry spirits. And now that you can see them, you can actively defend yourself while awake... However, eventually you will need to rest, and when you let your guard down, you will be over taken by them again. The longer you let this go on, the worse it will be. If your uncle is allowed to complete the curse... you will die." Yuuko said gravely. Suzume bit her lip as she closed her eyes, knowing that what Yuuko said was most likely true.
"I really didn't want to believe that he would go so far... but come to think of it, at grandmother's funeral, my uncle 'accidentally' pricked my finger when he offered to help me pin the brooch my grandmother had given me before to my jacket, and the tissue I had used to wipe the blood away was taken by him... at the time, I had thought he was just being uncharacteristically nice to me out of grief from loosing his mother, but he had probably planned to get rid of me from the start." Suzume said sadly. "I think even if I talked to him now and asked him to stop, he would probably still keep trying to curse me."
"Yes. That man is not the type who will stop simply because you ask. He will only continue until he obtains the desired outcome. He may not be a demon yet, but even if you survive this curse, he will simply start over, and he really will become a demon." Yuuko said. "His type will not stop playing with fire until he has been burned himself. That is why I suggested turning the curse back on him. If you do it now, he still has a chance of surviving and remaining human."
"... I understand." Suzume said, bowing her head in resignation. "Yuuko-san, please help me turn back the curse for the sake of both myself and that man. I want to stop my uncle from doing harm to either of us any more than he already has." She asked humbly. Yuuko smiled.
"Very well. However, Suzume-chan, you do not require my help to turn back the curse with the method I have in mind. I will tell you the price once your wish has been granted." Yuuko said, smirking like the cat that ate the canary.
"Oh, right... and after that, Yuuko-san sent the three of us to this shrine to wait for your uncle..." Watanuki said, sweat dropping as he remembered what had transpired.
"Sorry, Watanuki-kun, but I'm really glad you guys are with me, since this place is kind of creepy in the dark..." Suzume said, smiling wryly, as she sweat dropped. "Although Yuuko-san said that all we had to do was catch him in the act in order to break the curse, it just felt like it sounded too easy..."
"You scared of the dark?" Doumeki asked.
"Not really, but this place just has that 'haunted' feeling to it, doesn't it?" Suzume said.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. There's usually a lot of spirits around shrines and temples like this one." Watanuki said, nodding in agreement.
"... Is that so?" Doumeki deadpanned, obviously not bothered in the slightest by the tense atmosphere around them.
"Why, you—!" Watanuki started to yell when Suzume clapped a hand over his mouth, silencing him.
"Shh! I hear someone coming!" She whispered urgently. The three of them held their breath as the sound of footsteps drew closer. They watched from behind the bushes as a man stepped into view, illuminated by the light of the moon. It was Inoue Hideki, Suzume's uncle! He had come, just as Yuuko had said he would. They watched as he glanced around cautiously before marching purposefully towards a large camphor tree close to their bush, but their view was angled so that they could see him, but not the straw doll. He raised the hammer in his hand, and his face became twisted in a feral snarl as he struck the nail.
The loud bang of the hammer striking the nail seemed to echo throughout the night.
"..." Hideki said as he stared darkly at the doll for a moment. They all waited in silence, holding their breath, but nothing happened. "Tch! Nothing again, huh?" Hideki muttered disappointedly. "I thought for sure it might be having an effect when that brat was hospitalized, but to think that she would suddenly recover...! Was it just a fluke?" He wondered out loud. Suzume clenched her fists as she suddenly stood up from behind the bush, unable to contain herself any longer.
"Suzume-chan...!" Watanuki said, startled and concerned. Doumeki frowned slightly. She shouldn't be exposing herself to such a dangerous person!
"Hideki-oji-san... just what were you thinking—doing such a thing!?" Suzume demanded, obviously hurt. She had wanted to believe in her uncle to the end, but after catching him in the act, she could no longer deny the truth. Her uncle really did hate her to the point of cursing her to death...! Hideki looked startled to find himself caught in the act by the very person he was trying to curse, but then he smirked.
"Heh, looks like I got found out." Hideki said coolly. "To think you'd be here at this time... did you come here to try to curse me too?" He asked cynically.
"No way! Don't compare Suzume-chan to yourself! She came here to stop you from hurting her and yourself anymore than you already have!" Watanuki shouted as he too jumped out from behind the bushes, unable to stand it any longer. Doumeki came out of hiding as well, deciding there was really no point in reaming hidden when the others had already given themselves away.
"Oh? You're still playing the part of the 'good daughter'? Even though we both know you're actually a stranger to the Inoue bloodline?" Hideki asked Suzume mockingly.
"What...!?" Watanuki asked, shocked. What was her uncle saying!? Doumeki narrowed his eyes slightly at that.
"Oh, I see. So you didn't tell your friends about that... about how your own mother didn't even want you!?" Hideki leered at her, laughing darkly.
"Sorry, Watanuki-kun, Doumeki-kun... but there's something I still haven't told you yet... The reason why he is able to do these things to me so easily is probably because he has never once considered me 'family.' The truth is, I'm adopted. My 'mother' couldn't have children, so she adopted me after my biological mother abandoned me." Suzume said, smiling wanly at the two boys. "But it doesn't bother me so much anymore, because I realized how lucky I was to have the chance to meet my loving adoptive parents and grandmother. You don't need blood ties to become a family." She explained when she saw the sad and pitying expression on Watanuki's face.
"Hmph. Well, it's true enough that you were closer to my own family than I ever was..." Hideki said bitterly. "But I'm still that old hag's flesh and blood! It should have been me who inherited everything! Why did she leave her entire fortune and both houses to the brat of some unknown who—"
"[[DON'T YOU SAY ANOTHER WORD!]]" Suzume said sternly, glaring icily at her uncle. "I might not know anything about my biological mother, but she still gave birth to me despite obviously not being in a position where she was able to raise me herself! I won't let you say anything bad about her or the rest of my family! How dare you call Oba-chan a hag after all she did for you!?" Hideki stood there, eyes wide with fear and shock when he realized he couldn't say anything. For some reason, he really couldn't say another word! "Oba-chan gave you her company because you were her only surviving son, and she wanted to give you a chance, but you ended up running the company she worked so hard to create into the ground! Do you know why she left the rest of it to me? Because it was my parent's share! My parents' house, where Oba-chan moved in to raise me after they died, was never really hers to begin with. She left her mansion and her fortune to me because the land has value, and she wanted to make sure I would be able to have enough money to live on my own and pay for school, clothes, taxes, and food until I was grown up and working a proper job. You already had a job and a house, so she thought you'd be fine without it, but it looks like Oba-chan overestimated you." She explained coolly. "[[WELL, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF, HIDEKI-OJI-SAN?]]" She demanded, releasing him from her previous spell of silence. "If you ask nicely, I might be able to save you from that thing behind you." She added, frowning out of concern. Watanuki took a step back as he stared nervously at the mass of negative energy that had been gathering behind Hideki the whole time Suzume had been lecturing him. It was the evil spirit Hideki had summoned to curse Suzume with earlier. It had finally appeared... only, it seemed to be more interested in Hideki than his intended victim.
"What thing? Do you really think you can scare me with that? There's nothing there!" Hideki shouted incredulously, vein mark throbbing on his forehead, as he looked straight at the evil spirit, unable to see it anymore than Doumeki could.
'That's right! I thought he might be able to see it since he's Suzume-chan's uncle, but since they're not blood related, he must not have that power!' Watanuki realized.
"Oh, that's right. I guess you can't see it on your own, uncle..." Suzume said thoughtfully. "But I wonder... what would happen if you were 'told' you could... They say the power of suggestion can be very strong, so... [[YOU CAN SEE IT, HIDEKI-OJI-SAN. IT'S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU]]." Suzume said meaningfully, pointing to where he should look. Hideki's eyes widened in fear as he turned blue with shock.
"N-No! Th-That's impossible!?" Hideki stuttered nervously as he fell backwards when he knees gave out, and he crawled over to Suzume, clinging to her as he watched in horror as the spirit he summoned drew closer to him. "S-Stop it! Don't come any closer, you monster!!" He shouted at it.
"Oh? I wonder which one of you is really the monster in this scenario..." Yuuko said mysteriously as she stepped out of the shadows.
"Y-Yuuko-san!?" Watanuki said, surprised. When did she get there, and why did she make him and Doumeki go if she was just going to come herself in the first place!?
"W-What—!?" Hideki yelled incredulously. How could she say that!? Didn't she see how hideous that thing was!?
"..." Doumeki said as he watched the whole scene unfold before him. Unlike Hideki, he still couldn't see the spirit, so he had no idea why the man was freaking out like that, but to think that he'd have the nerve to cling to Suzume after trying to kill her...
"Suzume-chan, now that you have seen your uncle's true character for yourself... does your wish remain the same, or have you changed your mind?" Yuuko asked her seriously.
"... Yuuko-san... Please help me save the both of us. If he turns on me again, I will simply have to stop him again, as many times as it takes... I just can't abandon the brother and son of my beloved father and grandmother, after all. I want to spare him for the sake of the people who have taken such good care of me." Suzume said resolutely as she stared at Yuuko with determined eyes. Yuuko smiled.
"I see. I thought that would be your answer, Suzume-chan." Yuuko said with approval as she walked around behind Suzume and draped her arms around the girl as she whispered in her ear. "Now, keep hold of those precious feelings, and say the words that come to you. Don't worry about the details or what come next, just let the words within flow naturally from your lips." Suzume closed her eyes as she took a deep breath, and slowly exhaled as she opened her eyes and gazed at the spirit before them with half-lidded eyes, as if she were in a trance.
[["Spirits of purificationcreated for order of and the motherthat they inhabit the Sky,exactly as when...CHI-N, CHI-I-N~!"]]
Suzume sang as she took a few small steps and held her arms up as though she were holding something in each hand.
[["The God Izanagi no Mikotobathed in the narrow estuaryof a covered river with treespermanently leafy, in the South region.CHI-N, CHI-I-N~!"]]
"What is she doing...?" Watanuki wondered out loud as he watched Suzume's graceful movements. It sounded like she was imitating a ringing bell every few lines...
"Kagura..." Doumeki said thoughtfully.
"What?" Watanuki asked.
"It resembles a Kagura dance I saw with my grandfather when I was younger. Kagura dances originated as a type of purification ritual, which can also be performed to invoke local gods and gain their favor." Doumeki explained. As he watched Suzume dance, holding her hands as if she were clutching a fan in one hand and purification bells in the other.
[["Please see this suzu as she dances for youPlease hear this suzu as she sings for youCHI-N, CHI-I-N~!"]]
"!?" Doumeki and Watanuki said when Suzume did a little spin, and her clothing suddenly transformed from modern clothes to the flowing kimono and hakama of a miko, and her empty hands now held a real fan and bells.
[["With all the respect from the depth of our heartsWe ask that they hear us, such as the spirit that hears ourintent, with sharpened ears, together withSpirits of the Sky and the Land,Take the badnesses, disasters and sins and purify all.CHI-N, CHI-I-N~!"]]
CHI-N, CHI-I-N~!CHI-N, CHI-I-N~!
This time, the ringing sound wasn't just from Suzume's singing, they could really hear the bells ringing! As Suzume finished her dance, the energy over the shrine took on a more solid form, taking on the image of a large, luminous, white fox that seemed to be made out of pure moonlight.
"Waaah!?" Watanuki yelped, flailing his arms, when the large fox suddenly swooped down on them, enveloping them in a gentle light, before flying back inside the shrine. "Wh-What was that...!?" Watanuki asked nervously. Doumeki noticed that the Kagura costume that had suddenly appeared on Suzume had been replaced by her modern clothes again, and she no longer seemed to be holding the fan or the bells either. Had it just been his imagination...?
"... Huh...?" Suzume said, blinking as she came out of her trance, looking slightly surprised. "Um... Did any of you just see a handsome man with green hair who was wearing a really fancy kimono just now?" She asked a little nervously.
"No... but I did see you dancing in a miko outfit with a fan and bells that just suddenly materialized on you, before the giant white fox that came up from the shrine and swooped down on us..." Watanuki said, sweat dropping.
"I saw the Kagura costume too, but other than that, it was just Watanuki panicking all by himself when a big gust of wind blew." Doumeki deadpanned.
"You'd panic too if you saw the same thing I did!" Watanuki huffed indignantly. "What did you see, Yuuko-san? Can you explain what just happened?"
"Of course, just as soon as Suzume-chan regains consciousness." Yuuko said, smiling slightly as she crouched down beside Suzume, who had just fainted. "Thanks for the hard work." She whispered slyly.