Chapter 1: Girl Meets Girl
Well, then. Just what should I make of this? I look to the heavens in an attempt to reorganize my thoughts, but the overcast sky does nothing to clear my confusion. This truly is unpleasant. Every piece of this pointlessly complex puzzle is worthy of prioritization in its own way, but I suppose that it should start with the most important one, which would undeniably be me.
My name is Sakagami Kagura. I’m incredibly cute, unbelievably intelligent, and my manners are utterly flawless. No diamond in the world could compare to my illustrious beauty. You could say that I simply put the rest of the world to shame with both brains and beauty. My hair shines like golden moonlight, and my skin is pure as porcelain. To relate me to a goddess would be nothing short of an insult; indeed, my splendor is beyond description, surpassing everything in heaven as well as everything under it. I suppose that if one had to describe my otherworldly beauty, it would suffice only to say that my appearance is beyond description. Any description more fitting than that would risk filling a dozen books, and as such I will humbly leave it at that.
Next, this situation.
It’s a given that a wonderfully talented and brilliant once-in-a-billion-years beauty such as myself would attract trouble wherever she may go, just as the protagonist of a story might be beset by troubles at every turn. You could say that I have encountered quite a bit of trouble, in fact, to the point where my status as the world’s heroine is irrefutable. My tendency to attract such misfortune is perhaps my one and only flaw. Mournfully, I sigh, raising my chin slightly so as to better catch the illumination of the streetlights. Even sighing, I must look simply exquisite.
Then, I focus my gaze on said trouble — the two individuals in front of me, the source of my most recent plight. One is a black-haired young woman, the kind that would be idiotic enough to walk the streets this time of night. The other is a quite literally wolf-faced man. Naturally, he has her cornered. A werewolf and his prey.
“The hell YOU lookin’ at, brat?”
The wolf-man raises his voice at me in anger, while the woman gives me a pleading look. Honestly, this is all too bothersome. I dramatically sigh again.
“I’m just an exceedingly beautiful innocent passerby. Sorry to interrupt your meal, Mr. Werewolf. Farewell.”
“Whoawhoawhoa, hold up a sec! What’re you saying!? Aren’t you going to do anything!? Are you crazy or what!?”
The woman calls out to me just as I turn to leave. I can hardly commend her choice of words, but fortunately for her, I also happen to be incredibly benevolent. I give suffice to give her a slightly cross look.
“I’m not sure what you expect of me. How could a beautiful, helpless young girl such as myself possibly help you under circumstances such as these?”
“I think anyone who can just look at a situation like this and act like nothing’s wrong can’t be a weakling… Normally you’d scream or cry or run away or something, right?”
“Oi, shut it! Ya gonna get lost or what, girl?”
The werewolf yells at the young woman before turning his attention back to me.
Now, technically, I am a fiendslayer, and as such it is my sworn duty to slay fiends such as this dopey-faced werewolf before they can wreak havoc on the mortal world. In a way, you could call me a deva, a saint, a savior of humanity. My current missive, in fact, is disposing of the werewolves that have been running through the streets as of late; in other words, this beast in front of me. That’s all and well, and under normal circumstances I would slay the fiend and be done with it, but these circumstances are far from ordinary. If I had encountered him after his meal, or even before, things would be infinitely simpler… no, I suppose that isn’t quite right. The three of us being here together in this alley in and of itself is indeed the problem.
Putting my supercomputer of a brain to work, I quickly devise the most fitting retort for the werewolf.
“I am indeed a fiendslayer, tasked with slaying you, but it would be rather problematic to fight you with a hostage by your side. In light of that, I believe I’ll just find you again after you’ve finished your meal.”
“………Wait, I think I misheard ya. What’d ya say?”
“I really, really hope I misheard her, too…”
Werewolf and woman alike appear deeply confused, exchanging glances.
“Ah, good, it looks like you’re getting along already. What a relief. Well then, until we meet again.”
“What’s a ‘relief’, huh!? You’re abandoning me after all!?”
“I’d rather not deal with a hostage,” I say with a smile. My word, she’s looking at me as if I’m crazy.
“Uh… I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone say that before, ever. I mean, don’t you have any humanity?”
“Humanity? How dull. I’m a saint before a human being, I’ll have you know.”
“Yeah, I don’t think a saint would say anything like that… Actually, it’s downright inhuman…”
“Inhuman, am I? Well then. I suppose this is where we part.”
“Wait, stop! I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings or anything, but, uh… I do kinda need saving, so…”
She reaches out to me pleadingly, but my focus has already shifted to my silken-gold hair as I curl it through my fingers. I’ve been patrolling for close to eight hours now, sunrise is near, and I’m awfully tired. I was just about to call it a night before getting involved in this mess. Honestly, I have the worst luck. I think I might just head home anyways, take a quick shower, and report nothing amiss before retiring to my bed. The idea is quite seductive indeed.
“Sorry. I’m awfully tired, you see, so I’ll come back here tomorrow. I trust you can hold on until then somehow.”
“…You’re being really nice about it, but you’re just abandoning me here, aren’t you?”
“I suppose you might see it that way.”
“Uh, no, I think that’s the only way to see it…”
“Don’t worry. I’ll save you tomorrow, I swear.”
“Yeah, no, it’ll probably be too late by then.”
The young woman sighs, clearly halfway between exhaustion and disbelief.
I take another good look at her. She’s wearing a long-sleeved knit shirt and shorts, a ‘fashionable’ outfit that shows off her natural curves well… too well. Knitting my brow only slightly, I shift my attention upwards. Her hair is long and black, her features distinctly Japanese. She naturally doesn’t come close to my level — or should I say, my dimension — of beauty, but I suppose her face is hardly common in this city. One might even call her ‘otherworldly’.
Yes, no doubt about it. Though her mana is incredibly faint, this woman is either a fiend or a spirit. She’s certainly no human. For her to be attacked by a werewolf just as I happened to arrive can’t be mere coincidence. No, this entire setup screams ‘trouble’. She doesn’t seem the slightest bit afraid, for one thing, as if being attacked were simply an unavoidable annoyance. I suppose she may still warrant rescuing, however; though her tone is light, her complexion is unhealthily pale.
“Hurry up an’ decide, brat, get eaten or get lost. I’ll be nice and let ya go just this once.”
The werewolf, finally seeming to get tired of our exchange, rudely butts in. Nothing could be less pleasant than being talked to so brusquely by such a stupid-looking man. To a mere mortal girl, I might understand such an attitude, but to address me like that? Unforgivable.
That being said, I’m not so childish as to lose my temper over such a slight, but the man is making one critical mistake.
“I’m not sure whether you would call that horrid body of yours more man or mutt, but your brain is clearly that of a dung beetle’s. You will not be letting me go. I am letting you go.”
As soon as the words pass my lips I clamp my hand over them. Honestly, why did I have to say such a thing?
“…Ya got one helluva death wish, brat.”
Ahh, too late, it seems. I sigh as the mongrel bares his ugly yellow fangs at me. I suppose it can’t be helped. Letting out another dramatic sigh for good measure, I hug my rabbit companion tighter to my chest.
“…Even if I do have all the generosity and heavenly benevolence of Mother Mary herself, I couldn’t possibly allow myself to be eaten by a mongrel, much less by you.”
“…Hold on, were you boasting or trying to provoke him?” The young woman gives me an exasperated look. How inconceivably rude. “I guess if you’re gonna save me, though, I’m still really grateful.”
“I’m not going to ‘save you’ or any such nonsense. I simply can’t accept that mutt’s foul mouth, and as such I thought I would fix it for him.”
Well, that was enough to get his blood boiling. Though he may be halfway between a dog and a human, and in my humble opinion inferior to both, he is one of the stronger breeds of fiend, I suppose. He raises his clawed arm, evidently intent on closing the five-meter gap between us and reducing me to mincemeat within the next second.
“…Please don’t get any closer.”
In the end, though, a mongrel is a mongrel. I lightly swing my hand, strings of magic power manifesting and binding him head to foot before he can take so much as a single step. ‘Thread,’ we puppeteers call it, a manifestation of our magic power that we can manipulate at will. It may be one of the more elementary skills of our craft, and yet in my hands even such a simple tool can render an enemy powerless.
In fact, master of the Thread as I am, they call me the Puppetmaster.
The werewolf clumsily falls sideways, grunting as he crashes headfirst into the brick wall beside him. Unfortunately, the cretin isn’t so considerate as to die so easily, as expected of a werewolf. Lamenting the cruelty of the world, I gently nudge the karakuri in my arms.
“Shiro, wake up.”
The stuffed white rabbit, Shiro, shakes his head lightly as he awakens. He swings his arm, and in perfect concert a rabbit musketeer hops out of my sleeve. It takes aim at the bound werewolf.
“I really hate to do this, and I would be loath to waste any more mana than I already have on such a pitiful creature, but I can hardly let you live, so I’ll dispose of you here and now. Farewell.”
The rabbit pulls the trigger, firing its mana payload with a sharp little BANG. The werewolf’s head is blown neatly off his shoulders. I lament the perhaps excessive use of force as I survey the bloody mess scattered throughout the alley.
I tell Shiro to stand down, and with another sweep of his little arm the musketeer rabbit retreats into the folds of my skirt. I wish it weren’t quite so ticklish, but regrettably there’s no other place to store my karakuri. Extradimensional pockets can only be created out of sight, after all.
“…Wow. You’re really strong, aren’t you?”
“Compared to a certain someone who was cornered by a worthless buffoon, I suppose I would appear that way.”
“Ah… ahaha, I guess you got me there…”
She lets out a heavy sigh, slumping against the wall beside her. She seems rather weakened… I would love to go about my way now, but if anyone were to see me leaving her in such a state my reputation would be in tatters.
“…Shall I call an ambulance for you? You’ll be paying the fees, of course.”
It’s only polite to offer, after all, and I can’t imagine she would take me up on my offer.
“Shouldn’t you cover the fees in a situation like this…?” She weakly shakes her head. “Thanks, but no thanks. There’s no point. I’m not human, after all.”
I hadn’t expected her to reply so frankly. She’s clearly harmless and I can’t detect the scent of blood or an aura of malice anywhere near her. I suppose there’s no need to slay her, but…
“…I am a fiendslayer, you know.”
For her to willingly offer such information, however, knowing full well I have an obligation to end her life… what on earth could she be thinking? She must have a death wish to confess such a thing in front of a model fiendslayer such as myself. Not that it matters to me either way, of course. In fact, I couldn’t care less about her life.
“Fufufu, so you’re gonna kill me now?”
“I can surely arrange that. I do charge a fee for assisted suicide, however.”
Without hesitating, the woman pulls out her wallet and throws it at my feet.
“Go ahead, help yourself.”
I look at her, then at the wallet, then back at her. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that. I’m only apathetic about her life on the pretext that she herself holds it dear. Never did I imagine she honestly wants to die. Is she a complete idiot? To be fair, I didn’t place much stock in her relative intelligence to begin with, and yet I cannot begin to comprehend why she would go so far as to do this. I saved her life mere minutes ago, after all.
“Take it. You said you wanted a service fee, right?”
“You called me a gut-wrenchingly hideous, absolutely worthless piece of inhuman filth for trying to abandon you, and yet here you are asking me to kill you. Your mind works in… mysterious ways.”
“…I get the feeling you might have a bit of a victim complex… I definitely didn’t insult you that much.” A faint smile appears on her lips. “The important thing is, though, I really can’t let a vampire get ahold of me again. Dying is one thing, but I don’t wanna be a living drink bar for the rest of my life. I’m really glad you came right when they caught up to me… I was pretty scared for a while there.”
“…Thank you for your completely irrelevant explanation. I’m still not sure I understand your circumstances, but to put it simply you want to die, yes?”
“Uh, no. I’d kinda like to live, if I can.”
“You just saved my life… really, I’d be in real trouble without you. That kinda means my life’s yours to do whatever you want with me, right? Or something like that. So if you want to kill me, go on ahead.”
Not even my unfathomably vast intelligence can decipher this poor woman’s words. I still cannot bring myself to understand just what exactly she’s after. The only thing I can clearly understand is that she clearly can’t be understood. Having wasted my invaluable time and effort to no apparent avail, I let out a deep sigh.
“I’m afraid I don’t have the time to look after you. Go on, shoo. Live your own life, I’m setting you free.”
“Free? Hehe… That’s good to hear…”
With a small laugh, she closes her eyes tiredly. Well then, now that I’ve established that she’s nothing but trouble, I’d best leave her well alone.
Just as I turn to leave, however, I hear something fall behind me, something soft, heavy, and of an appreciably size. With a sinking feeling, I turn back to face her. Seeing precisely what I had feared, I let out yet another sigh.
“Honestly, the nerve of some people…”
I know well that she isn’t human, and yet what I hadn’t predicted was such frailty. Her aura is incredibly thin, likely evidence of her mana being utterly spent. Without the proper care, she would waste away in less than a day’s time. I give Shiro a light squeeze.
“…At this rate, I couldn’t possibly get a decent sleep.”
Honestly, how troublesome. I quite literally couldn’t care less about her, and yet watching her die before my very eyes doesn’t sit well with me. Letting out my hundredth sigh that day, I resign myself to what must be done.
Unable to abandon the woman, I decided to take her back home, and yet she seems perfectly content to simply snore away.
Mana deficiency is surprisingly common among fiends and spirits alike. Neither possess flesh or blood by nature, their bodies made entirely from mana. That composition is both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness; while they have strength and magic that easily surpasses anything a living creature could produce, running out of mana means ceasing to exist. Judging from her current state, I would suppose that she had attempted to draw the mana she needed from her surroundings, but that she had failed to do so in time. Her pointed fangs may suggest that she is some form of vampire, and as such she can only replenish her lost mana by drinking blood. She must have failed to find a victim… but I digress.
The fact of the matter is that she has made the grave mistake of sleeping so carelessly in my presence. Who does she think she is? I suppose I shall have to watch over her until she wakes up so I may discern the reason for her rudeness.
I lightly stroke Shiro’s cheek from where he sits perched on my desk. He happily narrows his eyes, causing me to smile faintly in turn.
“She’s still asleep…”
Shiro cocks his head to the side in curiosity. I don’t expect an answer from him, naturally. While he does have a certain degree of intelligence and limited free will unlike my other rabbits, he certainly isn’t intelligent enough to hold a conversation. Sometimes I rather regret that limitation, though considering the purpose of his creation, I suppose it can’t be helped. There’s no merit in a weapon that can talk, and that which is unnecessary is unneeded… but nonetheless, I can’t help but find myself wanting for conversation at times. I sigh as I pat him on the head.
The sudden sound of rustling sheets from the bed behind me causes me to jump slightly.
“…So you’re awake.”
“Yeah… thanks to you, I’m guessing?”
Honestly, I thought my heart would stop. I wish she’d had the decency to let me know before waking up so suddenly. What if she’d scared me to death? …Or so I’d like to say, but saint as I am, my benevolent heart stops such nonsense before it can escape my mouth. I sigh as I turn to face her.
“I’m glad you remember that much, at least. Feeling better?”
“Yep, all good… But why’d you save me?”
Shiro stands up on the desk and turns to face her.
“Isn’t it normal to save someone if they’re dying before your very eyes?”
“I was pretty convinced you were going to abandon me for a while there…”
“You must be imagining things. More importantly, I don’t know how one of the commoners would react, but to make me of all people go through such a pointless ordeal… To think you’re worthy of being saved by me is quite absurd.”
“Uh… I guess I must’ve been a bit of a hassle, but ‘absurd’…?”
“Yes, beyond a shadow of a doubt. How utterly distasteful of you.”
Shiro hops into my lap, and I pull my knees up to my chest. For whatever reason, sitting like this with Shiro can always calm me. After I feel sufficiently calm, I nod to myself and cut to the chase.
“So would you care to explain yourself? Why was a vampire such as yourself getting cornered by a weak little mutt like that?”
As I did save her life, the least she can do is explain her situation. There are no small number of curiosities surrounding her.
“I think you’re reading too far into it… wait, you know what I am?”
“Of course I do. You most clearly weren’t just an innocent victim of supernatural circumstances, after all. I took the liberty of checking your fangs while you slept.”
Generally speaking, werewolves are naught but the servants of vampires. Strong, stupid, magicless brutes as they are, few can survive on their own. For that reason many werewolves seek out a cunning vampire to lead their ‘pack’, and in exchange the vampire gains loyal pawns. For them to rely on one another is all too natural… though ultimately, their relationship is one of mutual interests, and werewolves have been known to impulsively turn on their masters. I’d heard that many vampiric ‘masters’ have the tendency to look down on their inferior pawns, and as a result such uprisings aren’t rare. A werewolf attacking a vampire is by no means strange in and of itself.
Still, it bears confirming this woman’s specific circumstances. Simply being attacked by her former student is one thing, but if by chance there’s another vampire in town and a war is unfolding in the shadows…
“I guess you knowing can’t be helped, huh… though I still don’t get why you haven’t killed me yet.”
“I mean, you’d normally tie a vampire up, or cut off her arms and legs or something, right?”
Come to think of it, I remember hearing something to that effect from my colleagues. Many fiendslayers would certainly take such measures.
“Would you prefer I resort to such barbarism? You have rather… interesting tastes.”
“Nononononono, definitely not. But you are a fiendslayer, so…”
“I’m sure some of my colleagues may disagree with me, but I personally have no interest in such cruelties.”
It’s all rather troublesome, after all.
“I don’t think that sorta thing is as simple as ‘interested in’ or ‘not’…”
“It is to me. Many would take advantage of the fact that inhumans don’t have rights to murder or satisfy their own perverse desires, but I wouldn’t do anything to even a fiend without receiving a concrete benefit in return. If you were a killer or were marked by the Association, I would respond accordingly, of course.”
“…I’ll try to avoid that.”
She quickly averts her bewildered gaze. In that respect, I suppose she’s no different from a human. She naturally has the characteristic aura and smell of a fiend, but aside from that I might even call her more human than most humans I know. She’s a special case among fiends, that much is abundantly clear.
“You don’t smell of blood in the slightest, so I wouldn’t fret so. I can’t imagine you’ve done anything deserving of special attention. As such, there’s no merit in me keeping an insignificant little fiend like you captive.”
“…It hurts to hear you put it that way, but I think I get it.”
For a vampire to smell so pure, she must truly be taking only the bare minimum amount of blood she requires to stay alive. I can’t imagine what her reasons must be, but that must be the reason she was on the brink of death.
“So I can go ahead and think that you really did just save me on a whim, huh?”
“Yes. Nothing more than a whim, a tiny bit of selfish curiosity on my part. As such, you’re welcome to leave now if you wish.”
“For ‘work’ would be a more fitting way to put it. Whether you were being attacked out of coincidence or for some greater purpose changes how I should best react, after all.”
“Come to think about it, you said something about that a little while ago… I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just a coincidence, though. I was probably in another vampire’s territory.”
“I’ve been hunting a vampire in this area for some time now, you see. They’ve given us quite the hard time.”
Their werewolf pawns have been abducting and devouring humans in the dark of night for several years now. This city is in the lap of the Sakagami Family, however, one of six great fiendslayer clans. Normally, even the boldest of fiends would be loath to step foot here, and yet that vampire has evaded the pursuit of Sakagami fiendslayers time and time again. It’s for that very reason, in fact, that an adorable little thing such as myself is forced to fruitlessly patrol day and night. At this point, we don’t even have a decent idea of where these troublesome werewolves are coming from, or where said vampire’s lair might be.
“I see… Sorry, but I don’t think I can help you much there.”
“Well, I suppose it was worth the attempt. Not that I was expecting anything from you to begin with, mind you.”
As soon as I finish speaking, however, I notice my body trembling slightly. I furrow my eyebrows. I must be more depleted than I’d thought, after sharing my mana with the woman.
Mana is a type of spiritual energy that can be frequently found even in the physical world. I suppose it could be summarized as ‘something that can be shaped into anything’, and it not only powers the thoughts of humans and supernatural beings alike but also accounts for every known energy- or mass-related transformation. Humans use this energy unconsciously in daily life but can be trained to shape it consciously, and while it can be a strengthening agent against stress, pain, or other hardships, a lack of it can lead to a rather vicious downturn in one’s physical and mental health.
I squeeze Shiro a little more tightly to my chest. In addition to serving as my little rabbit lieutenant, Shiro also acts as a mana tank of sorts. While I was born with unbelievable genius and bewitchingly good looks, I was sadly not blessed with a great volume of mana. Even though karakuri use a fraction of the mana most magic arts do, I get depleted after even short periods of activity, and in that respect alone it could be said I’m hardly better than the average passerby. Naturally, supplying that woman with the mana she lacked must have depleted me just as much. My own selflessness brings a tear to my eye as I sigh contentedly.
That being said, Shiro is growing close to empty, and I likely won’t be able to refill him for some time yet. I take care to only draw out the bare minimum I’ll need.
“…Hey, are you okay? You look kinda sick.”
“I ran a little low on mana is all. I wonder whose fault that is, hm?”
She gives me an apologetic look, but averts her gaze a moment later and sends it restlessly around the room, not saying another word all the time. I truly did pick up a strange one, didn’t I?
I relax my grip on Shiro slightly. I can’t say I’m in top form yet, but I’m certainly better now than I was moments before. I shake my head clear of the last fog clinging to my mind before turning back to the woman.
“How are you feeling, by the way? I believe I gave you sufficient mana to survive for a short while at least, provided you don’t do anything stupid.”
“I really am feeling a lot better now, thanks to you.”
“Good. Never forget the gratitude you feel for me now; I imagine you could spend the rest of your life trying but never adequately express your gratitude. I suspect something to the effect of ‘ahh, Kagura-sama, how could I ever repay your infinite kindness,’ would be a decent start.”
“…So you’re Kagura-chan, huh? Hehe, that’s a really cute name.”
“Of course it’s a cute name. I’m an unbelievably cute person.”
“Ahaha, yeah. I totally agree.” I furrow my eyebrows at her, but she continues regardless. “You really are wonderful… I’ve lived a pretty long life so far, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like you.”
She giggles to herself, stealing a glance at me. I wordlessly turn my back on her and clutch Shiro tightly to my chest.
“Hehehe, so you compliment yourself nonstop but can’t take compliments from others without blushing, huh?”
“I’m not blushing. You must be seeing things, and you’re being incredibly rude.”
“Oh no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, really. You really are cute, especially with your little ears all red like that.”
I put a hand to my ear reflexively, only to realize she’s telling the truth. I quickly turn to shield them from her sight — and yet she still has the nerve to laugh!
“You’re downright adorable, y’know.”
“……Well, I happen to hate you. I wish I’d never saved you.”
“I think I’ve really taken a liking to you, though… Hehe!” She’s silent for a long moment before talking again, this time with a more wistful tone. “Sorry… It’s been so, so long since anything good actually happened to me. I’m not a human so humans hate me, but I’m not much of a fiend so they hate me even more…”
“I’m just in a pretty awkward position, I guess… I’ve been running ever since I lost the one place I could call home, and just as I was ready to curl up and die, I met you. Hehe, I guess life really is mysterious, huh? For the first time in forever, I’m glad to be alive.”
“…How ridiculous. You sound almost like a human.”
“Ahaha, sorry, I guess you’re right. It is ridiculous, isn’t it? Maybe if I had more experiences like this, though, life might even be fun.” There’s an almost lonely tone to her voice. “Not like that’s ever going to happen, though. I can’t imagine staying here would turn out well for you…”
“…I suppose not.”
“……Okay! Well, thanks for everything. As you said, I, Suzune, will live the rest of my life filled with gratitude for you. Thanks again, Kagura-chan.”
Honestly, what could be going through that head of hers? I repeat her name several times in my head before nodding, still facing away from her.
“I’m glad to see you realize how important I am. Excellent. Of course, it’s only natural you would feel that way.”
“Ehehe, you can be kinda cold sometimes, but that’s okay.”
I hear the rubbing of sheets, then the bed creak. I imagine her getting out of bed.
“…All I meant was, don’t make me regret saving you.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll never forget.”
I hear her footsteps carry her from the bed and out of the room, towards the front door. I listen to her put on her shoes, then open the door. Then silence.
“Bye, Kagura-chan. I’m glad I met you.”
The door closes. I let out a small sigh, throw myself onto the bed wearily, and shut my eyes.
Honestly, why on earth did I have to save her?