In the distant past, the Mayuzumi family was a wealthy farming family that served as the village head of Matsushiro. One day, the villagers complained about a demon causing damages, so they captured it and killed it, then drank its blood afterwards.
“A wonderful story, wouldn’t you say? By eating a demon, the Mayuzumi family transcended humanity and gained spiritual powers.”
The power to hear the voices of the dead, to curse others, and to save others from curses. A power to be feared, it also attracted the greedy. Using their abilities, the Mayuzumi family eventually deepened its ties with powerful people.
The power was especially strong in the girls of the Mayuzumi family, so the male descendants that gained the ability became the head of the family, and the girl became a god, fulfilling the desires of those who came to them.
After the Meiji Restoration, using their connections, the Mayuzumi family rode the wave of industrialization and succeeded in a number of ventures. The head of the family at that time showed little skill, while a girl named Azaka, who was chosen as god, possessed rare, powerful abilities.
“To overcome his own lack of ability and the innate feeling of inferiority to girls, and in order to establish success and status in the open world, the foolish head attempted to change the Mayuzumi family. Only fools defy gods. You will be punished by the heavens, without fail.”
He tried to eradicate the power of the demon blood, claiming that it was a hindrance to the growth of the family, and purged members that rebelled against the change. However, he could not kill the “god” of his generation because of the possible backlash and the fear that had been ingrained in him since he was a child, so he imprisoned her in a dungeon together with her close relatives. But the head and those who supported him started dying unnatural deaths one after another.
“It was both a miracle and punishment brought by the god. It is the fate of those foolish enough to defy the demon blood.”
The surviving members of the Mayuzumi family regret having imprisoned the god, and gathered to her in an act of desperation. After a discussion, the god became the absolute ruler of the family, standing above the head. All business-related matters were relegated to the branch family, while the main family would control everything from the shadows using their power. A close relative of the god would serve as the new head of the family, and, wishing for a new change, the future gods were to be named Mayuzumi Azaka. These were the instructions of the first Mayuzumi Azaka, the god of her generation, and were still engraved in the family motto.
“In other words, your master is the god of the Mayuzumi family. Do you understand?”
Chihana’s story was long. When I remained silent, she continued, “The present-day Azaka-sama, especially, is so powerful that she is said to be the second coming of the First. For reasons unknown, she left the family. But to us, she’s the one and only Mayuzumi Azaka. She is our god. No one else can take her place. I cannot believe you don’t know that.”
Chihana shook her head ruefully. Suddenly, I sensed clear disgust. It was like watching a child playing with a dead frog. While the children are simply enjoying themselves, to others, the sight is both bizarre and repulsive.
Ate a demon. Drank their blood. Gained powers. Created a god.
I could not see how she could be so ecstatic in her story-telling. The tale had no riveting moments whatsoever.
But more importantly…
“The Mayuzumi Azaka I know would get angry if you called her a god,” I remarked.
Mayuzumi despised being worshiped by anyone.
“What’s the point of worshiping me? Sometimes people have to rely on someone to survive. But don’t count on me. It’s morbid.”
I bet she’d say that and laugh.
“I understand what you’re saying. But it doesn’t mean anything to me.”
She was the god of the Mayuzumi family.
But what does it matter?
As I stared at her, Chihana’s lips moved silently, then she gave a warm smile.
“Very well,” she said. “I don’t really mind. Azaka-sama chose you. I have nothing more to say.”
She was smiling, but the words that she mouthed remained etched in my mind.
“On another note, would you like to eat?” As if to change the atmosphere, Chihana offered me food.
I had no appetite. Chihana herself had not touched her plate at all. The food was just a tool to make it look like the conversation was proceeding peacefully. However, when I took a second look at the plate in front of her, it was empty. My eyes widened. If I recalled correctly, Chihana only touched the saké.
A tiny sound. I lifted my head and saw someone in the corner of the tatami room. A man curled up with folded knees was shoveling food into his mouth.
He gobbled, swallowed, and licked his lips.
He looked very comfortable. After taking one last gulp of tea, the man crawled over to the table, set the bowl back in its place, took a plate of dessert and crouched down.
He began eating, like a dog.
“Kugutsu, we’re done talking. I told you you can eat, but that’s enough.”
“Okaaay. Really sorry. It tastes awful so it took me a while. It’s awful… disgusting.”
The man shoved the last slice into his mouth. Licking his lips with his thick tongue, he lifted his head. Black hair with gray streaks framed his thin face. His large mouth moved.
“Hehe. Hehehe. Hello. What a fine man. It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Mayuzumi Kugutsu. As you can see, I am but of lowly birth and belong furthest away from the table. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to get close to you, good sir.”
The man bowed furiously. His black, wet eyes looked up at me. A self-abasing gaze. My brows furrowed, and he responded with a smile. He wore an expression that said he was used to others looking down on him.
“Could you please take Kugutsu to Azaka-sama?” Chihana suddenly suggested. “If you take him with you, with no way to send him back, Azaka-sama will not drive him away. He can do household chores, clean up, anything. I believe he’ll be of use.”
I looked at the man. Kugutsu kept his face down and stayed still. If I suddenly kicked him in the stomach, he probably wouldn’t even move.
“You want him as a guard since Asato showed up?” I asked.
Chihana shook her head slowly. “Not a guard, but a shield.”
A human shield? I frowned, not grasping what she meant.
“From tasting food for poison, to getting stabbed in your stead,” Kugutsu picked up. “I will gratefully perform any duty given to me.” His voice was clear.
Taken aback, I turned to Chihana, but she didn’t deny it either.
Kugutsu kept his head low. My hair bristled. For them, this was normal.
What the hell do you think humans are?!
Before I could yell at them, Kugutsu, on his knees, shuffled toward me.
His face lowered about halfway down, he whispered, “I know this is extremely rude of me, Sir, but if you would please permit me to speak. If the good sir sends me home, I might as well be dead. It is my duty to die in the service of my liege. I understand that you are kind-hearted. I feel extremely grateful, but there is no need to care about a dog like me. Please, sir. Could you take me back to Azaka-sama’s office? I won’t ask for pay. You don’t need to worry about water, food, or a bath either.”
Kugutsu rubbed his forehead on the tatami again. I stared at him in mute amazement. I couldn’t believe it. How could one create such a person?
“You can refuse if you wish,” Chihana said calmly.
Kugutsu kept his head down, but his shoulders were trembling slightly.
Resisting the urge to lash out, I bit my lip hard.
“Thank you so much, good sir. I truly appreciate your kindness. You are a man of high virtue. I expected nothing less from a man that Azaka-sama keeps by her side.”
“Sorry, but can you please keep your mouth shut?”
Enduring a headache, I took out my keys. This wasn’t like picking up a cat or a dog. I couldn’t come up with any excuse at all. I couldn’t refuse, but taking him back was just what they wanted. I went along with it, and this was the result. Absolutely pathetic of me.
When I opened the door, I found that Mayuzumi had turned into a bagworm moth. With only her nightcap sticking out of the blanket, she looked like some new species of creature. Apparently, she slept like that. I put my hand on her shoulder and shook her awake.
“Hmm… Welcome back, Odagiri-kun… Hmm?”
Mayuzumi knitted her brows like a wary cat. Following her gaze, I saw Kugutsu studying the list of ingredients enclosed with the medicine.
“This won’t do, my good sir. I don’t know how long Azaka-sama has been taking it, but she should not take this. Medicine stays in the flesh. If you don’t mind, I will stock up on some Chinese herbs next time.”
“I don’t need it,” Mayuzumi replied flatly. “The ones that Odagiri-kun provides me are enough. I don’t want to have any more unfamiliar things in my residence.”
She took some cocoa and washed the medicine down with it. Use plain water, darn it. And you’re supposed to take it between meals. Normally, I would be yelling at her, but my voice was cajoling.
“You don’t have to tell me. I know what happened. You were probably forced into it. You brought him here, so you can do whatever you want. But count me out of this. Even a schoolboy knows that it’s the finder who takes care of the cat he finds. Like I said, I don’t really care about them.”
Frowning at the bitter taste, Mayuzumi returned to being a strange creature again. Behind her, Kugutsu began cleaning up happily.
“Azaka-sama is more slender than I thought,” he muttered with disappointment.
Did he picture some kind of a busty lady?
Breathing a sigh, I snatched a cigarette that Kugutsu almost threw away from his hand.