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The Traditional Ritual Is Only Annoying for the Male and Female Couple
The night was finally upon us. Following the parade of flickering orange lights from paper lanterns, we carefully progressed through the pitch-black mountain pathway. The orbs of fire in the distance looked like dancing apparitions. Focusing on the sounds around us, I could hear the footsteps stepping on branches of trees and grass, and realizing that those belonged to the parade guiding us, I let out a relieved sigh.
The parade consisted of inhabitants of the Village Kageishi. They were all wearing noh masks, giving off an imposing atmosphere, just following their head, Kageishi Kou, without speaking a word, as if to hide in his giant shadow. Following them were me and another person next to me.
The person walking next to me had an attire fit for the surrounding darkness and the weirdness of this whole ritual, with a fox mask on their face. It was that kind of fox mask you would only see in Japanese traditions and art museums, sometimes even in horror movies—a white fox mask with red eyes, giving off a mischievous grin. Their body was wrapped in a white kimono long enough that you could trip over it while walking. Even so, their physique was still visible through the kimono, revealing the person to be a woman. Long ago, masks like these were used to conceal one’s identity, to protect the wearer… But as times have changed, it’s only a gimmick used to heighten the sense of eeriness and uncertainty.
“Hey, you—are you okay, Sumire-sensei?”
As she stumbled over a particularly thick tree root, I quickly came to support her body before she could fall. I couldn’t see through the fox mask, but she must have been flustered.
“I-I’m sorry. I’m not used to this footwear, so I lost my footing.”
“Please, be careful. If my precious bride dirtied herself right now, the Yama-no-Kami1 will get angry.”
“Indeed. Those who call themselves the women of the Kageishi Family have to be resolute and dauntless, Sumire.”
“Y-Yes, I understand, dear Grandfather…”
After listening to Sumire’s dejected voice for a bit, I held out my hand.
“Let’s hold hands until we reach the shrine.”
“Yes, thank you very much, Akiteru-kun.”
She grabbed my hand, and through it I could feel her temperature. It was soft, warm, and ever-so-slightly sweaty. She must be nervous. Of course she is. After all, in a bit, we will both have to outwit the giant in front of us, as well as a countless number of villagers behind us.
While we held hands and walked down the mountain path, the parade suddenly came to a halt. As Kageishi Kou raised the lantern he was holding, the outline of a building slowly came to shape. It was a building much taller than the shrine I had anticipated. While too small to be called a Shinto shrine, it was still too big compared to what you’d expect of a shrine up in the mountains. Although it must have fallen victim to the heavy rains in the rainy season, this building, made entirely out of wood, showed no signs of weathering away. The zigzag-shaped paper streamers hanging down on it engendered the perfect atmosphere for this ceremony.
Kageishi Kou handed me the paper lantern he was holding, and I accepted it carefully. It probably means that only the two of us are supposed to proceed from now on. Interpreting it as such, I gave a deep nod, and, while still holding the girl’s hand, I walked up to the shrine.
Since I was called by Kageishi Kou, I turned around. He then flashed a massive smile and flashed a thumbs-up.
“I entrust my granddaughter to you. Please, go ham to your heart’s content.”
“…Go ham? What are you on about?”
I was a bit surprised at his sudden, strange choice of using JK vocabulary. Without responding, he continued pushing our backs towards the shrine.
—So we’re finally going to enter that rumored shrine, huh? To be honest, if that god’s power turns out to be true, then as soon we you enter this place, I’ll truly be tied with that girl, which is definitely the worst-case scenario. However, nothing as occult as that could exist in this world, so while reassuring myself that there must be some trick behind it, I tightly grasped the girl’s sweaty hand and set foot inside. At the same time, I heard Kageishi Kou’s words behind us.
“Listen. You two will be spending the night here. You cannot leave this place until morning comes.”
“What if…we go outside?”
“You’ll end up fodder for the wolves.”
Her, that’s an awfully realistic answer. I was expecting something along the lines of being haunted, cursed, and the like, but not something as realistic and plausible, you know? Well, it’s a bit scarier that it’s realistic, so I shouldn’t be too happy about it.
“Now, head on inside. I will leave some villagers here on the lookout, but not in the range that your voices could reach. So no matter what you do inside, we’ll never hear about it. You could also say that no matter how heated-up things get, nobody will bother you. So don’t worry about that.”
It kind of pisses me off that he’s so pushy about it, but I nodded along without saying any further.
“Now then, dear Grandfather. We shall be going.”
Towards the bride pulling up the bottom of her kimono, giving a deep bow, Kageishi Kou nodded along, satisfied. Then she turned her back towards him and we set foot inside. Behind us, the Japanese sliding door closed as Kageishi Kou raised his voice, announcing that the job of seeing us off was done.
“Retreat! Leave a few people around the area, and the rest will move down the mountain again!”
We heard the sounds of several pairs of footsteps dispersing. Opening the door a crack and peeking outside, I confirmed that the paper lanterns were retreating down the mountain.
“So it’s finally just the two of us.”
“Indeed it is. Fufu, fufufufu…”
An amusing laugh came from the inside of the fox mask. Sumire’s shoulders were shaking with laughter. Really, she sure is enjoying this. Your talent is as peerless as ever, you demon.
“We duped them wonderfully. Right, Senpai~?”
The fox mask was taken off at great speed. The face that appeared beneath that wasn’t the beautiful face of the failure of a teacher you’d expect, but rather Iroha’s grinning expression that could piss one off at any angle, along with her triumphant look.
“Iroha and I will participate in the ritual.”
A few hours before this. If one mentioned the reactions of our comrades to me revealing my grand scheme, it could be described in one word: Chaos.
“So you finally decided to marry Iroha!? I finally won!”
“A-Are you an idiot? Why does it end up like that? Aki, do you actually like Iroha…?!”
“I-I’m totally fine. But, doesn’t this mean that… you… eh? You like Iroha-chan? Ehhh?”
Ozu threw a winning pose, Mashiro’s glare was filled with half-sadness, half-anger, and Sumire was just confused as a whole. I expected their reactions to be somewhat like this, but one reaction was clearly not within my speculations—Iroha’s.
“Eh, wha, Senpai, that’s, eh? Ah…Ahhh! I see~ So you want to marry me that badly~ Weeeeeeell, can’t help it then, Iroha-chan is so cute after all~”
Although she was saying the same things she’d usually say, she seemed anxious about something. Her eyes got watery, and her cheeks flushed. Well, she’s typically the one teasing me about this sort of stuff, trying to seduce me, but as soon as it gets to the real deal, she probably can’t be as assertive. Well, that just shows that she actually thinks things through like this, which can be reassuring.
“Don’t be stupid. It’s not like I want to get married with Iroha. There must be something else hidden behind this ‘Ceremony of Marriage’, right?”
It doesn’t matter what kind of forces are at play. It’d be stupid not to use this chance. In order to pull Sumire away from her family, I will—
“I will use this ritual for our own benefit.”
“What are you planning?”
As Sumire tilted her head with an anxious expression, I continued with a confident smile.
“Expose the ‘hidden side’ of the Kageishi Family.”
“The Kageishi family protects strict traditions and culture, and pushes that onto its descendants. However, what if there were people in the darkness, pushing those rules, and they had a fatal weakness?”
“The reason that I’m being bound down by those rules… would disappear…”
“Yeah. At the very least, it would give ground for resistance. An important step forward in denying those traditions, giving way to freedom. For that, I want you, Sumire-sensei, to search through the main house of the Kageishi Family.”
“Search through the main house…?!”
My comrades started to get noise. Which was to be expected. It’d be stressful to trespass, after all. But that’s exactly why it has to be done.
“That’s why Sumire-sensei will have to do it. You should be safe, free of suspicion. For this ‘Ceremony of Marriage’ ritual, most villagers will be participating in the parade. And during that time, the main house should be empty.”
“Now that you say it… I see, so you’ll have Iroha-chan act as my stand-in.”
“Exactly. You can’t participate in the ritual if you’re searching through the house.”
“S-So, Mashiro can’t be… her stand-in?”
“There’s no way you could act as Sumire-sensei, right? If you’re not good at acting, the villagers will find out.”
“Ugh… You’re right…”
“But even if you tell me to search through the house, what exactly should I be looking for? I don’t think that my grandfather would leave anything important out in the open.”
Her doubts were more than understandable. He looked like a bear, with a voice sounding like it came from the depths of hell itself. His armor seemed impenetrable. But I’d found it. I found one glittering hint, a ‘what-if’.
“When I was talking to the head of the Kageishi Family—and also when I heard about the sense of values the family held, I felt like something was off. If my premonition turns out to be correct, then it might be an opening. The secret, hidden in this village, is—”
Sumire, Iroha, Mashiro, Ozu, all of them swallowed their breaths, waiting for my next words. I looked around, gazing at their faces, and announced.
Time stopped. Nobody had any idea what I was saying, and they just stared at me blankly.
“No, not happening, Senpai~ Don’t joke around in such a serious atmosphere, okay?~”
Wait, Iroha. Stop treating me like that.
“I-I’m not joking or anything! I’m completely serious. The people of the Kageishi Family—Especially Kageishi Kou—have to be lolicons, no matter how you slice it!!”
“It’s even worse if you’re serious! Using the [5th Floor Alliance] to gather proof of them being lolicons is too much of a gag development!”
“Shut up. It’s no gag or anything. If we gather enough evidence, we can start negotiation with the Kageishi Family. It’s all for Sumire-sensei’s sake!”
“Well, I can see that, but…will we actually find any proof of them being lolicons? How did you even get that idea?”
“I have three reasons.”
I put up three fingers.
“First off, this tolerance of a romantic relationship between teacher and student.”
Looking at their history of being teachers, they have a doctrine to generally accept marriages with boys not even of marriageable age. Even back then, there has been precedent.
“H-Hm…that’s a bit weak, isn’t it? There’ve been marriages with younger kids a long time ago, and that wasn’t related to them being lolicons. Tell me your other reasons.”
“The second reason for my feeling of discomfort is the JK vocabulary.”
“That head of the family had this old way of speaking but would sometimes throw JK language and vocabulary into the mix. It’s proof that he’s conversing in some way with a JK, since he had to learn the words from somewhere. It shouldn’t be weird that he’s in close contact with a JK, right?”
“Well, now that you say it… No matter how much of a teacher you are, and how familiar you get with the students, you wouldn’t normally adapt JK language like that. But… it still feels a bit weak… Maybe he’s just so enthusiastic about being a teacher that he talks a lot with his students?”
“My third reason might be a bit vague, but…” I looked over at Sumire. “—They share the same DNA as Sumire. Meaning that they have what it takes to be absolute perverts, don’t you think?”
“I see. Now that’s a satisfying reason!”
“Can you not just agree to that?!”
Having stayed quiet until then, Sumire retorted with tears in her eyes.
“But it makes sense. Rather than Sumire-chansensei being the one dancing out of line by being a pervert, there’s a chance of you inhabiting your family’s lolicon or shotacon DNA, meaning that the possibility of other family members carrying that as well is much higher!”
“Ehhhhh… I don’t really think that’s the case… I’ve grown up here, so I would have realized something myself…”
“But the club president has been with you ever since she was born, and she still hasn’t figured it out yet, right?”
“…Ah! Now that you say it!”
Although it might not always be so clear, parents and children share the same blood. Since Sumire was taught under those strict traditions, Sumire tried her best to not show her true feelings and interests. Therefore, she locked her own perverseness within herself, while portraying a cool beauty to the outside world.
—So, is this only a front put on by Sumire? What if it wasn’t just Sumire, but every single member of her family? What if this ‘Public Face’ broke? Their pretext to keep up these traditions would scatter into thousands of fragments, becoming useless.
“This is a wager. This might actually be just a false assumption, and there might not be any proof of this. If there isn’t, then we’ll just have to think of something else. But not taking action because of a what-if and staying frozen in place isn’t something we can allow ourselves to do… Right, Murasaki Shikibu-sensei?”
“Aki…” Sumire blinked a few times, as she gazed at me.
Hesitation was filling her eyes. What is she thinking about? Or is she even thinking about anything? She tightly pursed her lips and formed a fist with her hand. The ends of her eyebrows were raised up with energy, having drooped earlier. And then she spoke up, her eyes filled with determination.
“I will bet on your plan. For my own future!”
—That happened, and now back to the present.
“Seems that it was a success, for now at least.”
“V for Victory!” Iroha grinned, flashing me a V sign with her fingers.
We managed to successfully pull off the first part of the ritual without being found out, meaning that we should have bought Sumire and the others plenty of time to search the house for hints. So far, it’s been going just as planned. Iroha—the talent who I’m responsible for as producer—really is skilled. Her body shape we could hide through the kimono, but she perfectly managed to act out Sumire’s gesturing and tone of voice, capturing her everything. The only thing that was difficult to replicate was her height, and no matter what we tried, we couldn’t come up with anything—at first.
“It’s so hard to walk in these shoes!”
With those words, Iroha lifted up the bottom of her long kimono and took off the super high wedge sandals. We found those sandals left behind in Sumire’s car. Before we got going, she talked about them being a defensive mechanism against those surfer beach boys who might hit on her, being the tall beauty that she is. I never thought that we’d use them for something like this.
“The hike up the mountain sure was tiring~”
“It’s because you’re lacking in exercise. If you slack now, it’ll only be tougher in the future, you know?”
“I don’t want to be told that by the desk worker Senpai~ Don’t blame me if your intervertebral disk goes defective!”
“I’m training each and every day so it doesn’t end up like that. Don’t underestimate a health maniac.”
“Ohh, not bad. Then maybe I should have this health maniac of a Senpai carry me down the mountain~”
“…Oh? You want to experience the feeling of being pampered again?”
“Ah, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it like that please don’t make me go through that again.”
The same everyday conversation between me and Iroha ensued. Even if we’re going through this ‘Ceremony of Marriage’, nothing will change. It’s true-to-life, realistic, equal, and a relationship where I don’t have to use any brain cells of mine. That’s why, even if a one-in-a-million event occurred and something weird happened, ‘something like that’ would never happen between us.
—Or at least, that’s how it was supposed to be.
“These clothes are pretty heavy, so let me just take them off and catch a brea—?!”
“What’s wrong? Suddenly freezing up like that, Iro…ha…”
Iroha entered deeper into the shrine. Realizing that she was acting weirdly, I followed behind her, then was equally at a loss for words. Until then, everything was just as I had anticipated. Everything was moving along smoothly. However, the scenery in front of me had completely taken me by surprise. It was… completely outside the range of my expectations.
A pink and fluffy light filled the interior. Moody healing music was being played in the background, and on top of that, a weird silver globe was hanging down from the ceiling, shining down and about this pink light. Dead-center of it all was a new-looking double bed, and on its pillows, a bundle of four rectangular wrappers with a tissue box near to it. Also, some sort of rubber?
Well, I guess there’s no need to beat around the bush any longer. Without having to go into any further detail, you can more or less understand what this is. I’ll just say it.
“Hey, this is just a love hotel.”
No matter how you look at it, it was very clearly made to be a love hotel. Why is there something like this inside an old-fashioned shrine somewhere in the mountains like this? What is wrong with the people here?
“Senpai! Look at these condoms! There are holes in all of them!”
“And now they’re even pulling dirty tricks?! And don’t just go checking things like that! JKs are freaking scary!!”
“But, you know, I mean, we have to check if the condoms are good to use… N-Not like I thought about using them… or anything?”
“Don’t say that just to get flustered right after… Woah, you’re right. The wrapping on the top has holes. So they stabbed through it with needles, huh?”
Well… in a certain sense, I had expected something like this, but it had far surpassed my calculations. I thought there would be some sort of a gimmick to it.
The ‘Ceremony of Marriage’, boasting a 100% chance of forming a successful couple— the true identity of that was actually just using any method possible to aggressively push the couple together, into staying together. I had the confidence that I’d be able to hold my ground if something happened. And to a certain degree, that’s the case.
But this is definitely going too far. It’s basically whispering ‘Do it!’ into my ears. No, this isn’t just whispering. They’re screaming into our ears with a megaphone. It’s true that it’s terribly underhanded, but this rosy atmosphere really can make you start to feel horny… N-No! Disperse, evil thoughts!
“A-Anyway, let’s just calm down. I’ll go sit on this side.”
Even Iroha seemed to be flustered, unsure how to act in this strange atmosphere. Meanwhile, I moved towards the other end of the bed. Since the bed filled most of the narrow shrine room, it was hard to walk around.
As I tried to pass over the bed, I found that the pillow was unexpectedly fluffy. Is it possible that a bed this stimulating and comfortable actually exists?! Either way, my foot was sucked into the pillow, making me lose my footing. Then, I just stretched out my hands on a whim, and happened to grab Iroha’s shoulders—
A soft sound filled the room as the bed caught our fall. I tripped because of the softness, but thanks to that, I got off without any injuries.
“Ouch… Sorry, Iroha. I just—Wah?!”
I opened my eyes, and immediately swallowed my breath. Iroha’s face was in front of mine. The fragrance from the old-fashioned Japanese kimono and the girly fragrance from her hair assaulted my nose. With our bodies so close, I could feel her warmth, even through her clothes. Even though her weight was on me, Iroha didn’t feel heavy in the slightest. No, this slight heaviness felt rather pleasant, even.
“S-Sorry. I didn’t plan on this. Let me just get up…” I hurriedly tried to separate from Iroha.
But while doing so, I felt her lean on me harder, weighing me down. It seemed she didn’t want to let me get up.
“Senpai… am I making your heart race?”
Iroha’s face was right around my chest. As she put her ear to my heart, she looked up at me.
—Stop, don’t look at me like that. Of course it is. I’m crazy nervous, you know? Although I didn’t have any answer, my expression alone seemed to tell her what she wanted to know.
“Can I ask one thing?”
“I don’t mind, but just get up for now. At this rate—”
I’m gonna get a boner.
Right before I could finish my sentence, I forced myself to swallow those words. In response, Iroha tightly grasped onto my clothes, pressing down harder. Her face was now completely buried in my chest. You know, I’ve never really looked at her up so close. Every time she would cling onto me like this, she would always do it from behind.
That’s why I never saw just what kind of expression she had whenever she embraced me from behind.
“Senpai, you said this is all part of the plan. But… have you thought, even for just a moment, that it might be fine to do this ‘Ceremony of Marriage’ with me?”
Iroha’s face, her expression, they left me in disarray. Does she always have this sort of expression when she clings onto me? Or… is she just getting swept along with the mood? I was expecting her to have the same teasing, grinning face she always does, enjoying herself with my embarrassment and panic.
Iroha’s expression completely matched the one Mashiro showed me, back when we were eating in that French restaurant.
“I don’t really believe in occult stuff like that. But did you think it was fine to take me with you on this ritual, even with its 100% success rate? That’s just a roundabout way of saying that you like me, right?”
“…You say that, but aren’t you the same?”
Unable to withstand the oppressing beating of my heart, I gave a vague answer. It didn’t answer her question, just a bypass to actually answering. Those cowardly words… they’re not manly at all. But it was all I could do for now.
“I thought it would be fine if it was with Senpai.”
Softly. Even though she’s always so loud, and so annoying. Now, she seems hesitant, weak, with a feeble voice.
“If I really hated you, I wouldn’t have agreed to this.”
What does she mean by that? You know, I’ve had these thoughts twirling around my head for a while now.
—What if Iroha actually had feelings for me?
I kept telling myself that it was impossible, seeing how she always acted in this annoying manner around me, but even Mashiro, who acts so terribly towards me, actually had feelings for me. Although it doesn’t look like it up front, she actually secretly likes me, no matter how much I try to deny it. These unrealistic romcom thoughts just keep finding their way back into my head.
And, what if? What if that was the case… what would I do? Ahh, my heart is beating so annoyingly loud. It’s going as strong as ever, and I could even hear it all the way up to my ears. How can I keep my head calm if this sound is penetrating my thoughts? Shit. Why is my heart in such disarray? And even if she were to have feelings for me, Iroha is clearly not my type.
She’s noisy, a pain to deal with, and annoying. But, no matter what path I choose, even if it made every single person hate me as a result, she would never throw me away, never leave me alone. Especially during a time like this… Why?
It was just the two of us in this room, setting the perfect mood. Our bodies pressed against each other, at zero distance, so close that we could feel each other’s breathing and the sound of our heartbeats. Why?
Why are you looking straight at me, red all the way up to your ears?
“If I said that I want to be swayed along with the magic of this ritual…would you be troubled, Senpai?”
Iroha’s expression was bashful. No sign of her annoying acting. It really brought out her cuteness. Pierced by her alluring gaze, like a bullet through my chest, I completely lost my voice. Like I was captivated by her. I swallowed my saliva.
Dawn had yet to come.
1 Name given to a kami/a god of the mountains in Shinto religion