It was the next day, Sunday. I was in the midst of heading towards a plaza in front of the station so that I could meet with Yukimiya.
I readied myself and attempted to consult with Taotie.
He's hopeless as someone to consult with, but given the circumstances, he's the only one I can talk to. It's only 10 am. It's unusual for him to be awake this early, and he even showed up for breakfast.
(Well, that was surprising. To think that an apostle had a child.)
However Taotie already knew about Shizuma without me needing to bring it up.
Now that I think about it, that's only natural. We've been acting together day and night. He occasionally goes out on his own without my permission though.
(You've gotten into some strange trouble again, didn't you? Actually, couldn't you be the protagonist in this 'Story of Supernatural Battles', Boss?)
(Don't joke around. Have you taken a look in the mirror? There's no way that I have the qualities of being the star.)
I continued to walk along the road while holding a remote conversation with him. I didn't even have ten minutes to get there, so naturally, I was going at a quick pace.
(In this current age, it's not uncommon to see a protagonist without any special physical features. Rather, the ones with quirks are the heroines.)
(You have a point, but the protagonist needs some kind of charm. Take me for example. Would you want to own a toy figure of me?)
(I wouldn't want one.)
(Even if you could move the joints and freely pose the figure?)
(I wouldn't want one.)
(Even if the face was swappable? There could be a smiling face, a crying face, an embarrassed face.)
(I wouldn't want one, even if it was second-hand.)
(There you go. I'm suited for the supporting role.)
(Actually, I would only buy a figurine of Ryuuga. I don't need any of the other heroines.)
(Stop that. We're meeting one of those other heroines right now.)
...Today, I was assigned to accompany Yukimiya in the "search for Elmira".
Frankly, Kyouka's condition worsened last night, so we decided to remove Ryuuga from the search team.
I'm just as worried of Kyouka as the other three heroines...and though Ryuuga didn't agree to our suggestion at first, she eventually gave in after we sent her a barrage of messages arguing otherwise.
Now, there are only four people in the search team. Yukimiya, Aogasaki, Kurogame, and me, split into two groups that patrol around.
So, my partner today is Yukimiya.
Tomorrow after school, it will be Aogasaki, and then Kurogame after that.
(Leaving that aside, the real problem is the matter regarding Shizuma. Tie, what do you think we should do?)
(How about tossing him out at the Chigayama mountain?)
(Why would I do such a heartless thing?! If anyone were to be tossed out, it would be you!)
(Then what about handing him over to the spirit world? I can move over there if it's just for a short time.)
(Huh? You can go to the spirit world on your own?)
That's new to me. Though, thinking about it, it wasn't impossible.
If the four fiends had been in the human world for the whole time, there would have been no contact between the "Evil Spirits" and the spirit world. It would have meant that the three princesses, among other apostles, had never gotten into contact with their "Evil Spirit" for many months and years.
(I do go back home each time I revive, you know? Though, I can't open doors to the spirit world like Hundun does, so I'm the only one able to travel. Oh, and I can only be there for about ten minutes.)
(I, Is that so? So you're able to travel...hmm? You said that you're the only one who can go there?)
(Then that plan wouldn't work! You wouldn't be able to take Shizuma with you!)
(Oh, you're right. You're perceptive, Boss.)
(Can't you smarten up a little?! At least understand your own setting!)
(Boss, we're in front of the station. I'm going to take a nap, so don't wake me up.)
While saying that, Taotie cut off communications.
Just as I thought, he's a useless "Evil Spirit". It was indeed a mistake to consult the guy who's only interested in Ryuuga.
(*sigh*...I'm not feeling too great.)
──As I reached the plaza with a gloomy mood, I found that Yukimiya was already waiting there.
Just like her name suggested, she was once again dressed neatly with a snow-white blouse and a chiffon skirt today. From appearances alone, she had an elegant grace, telling onlookers that she's a "prestigious daughter". (TLN: The "Yuki" in "Yukimiya" means snow)
Spotting me, the "Shrine Maiden of Life" waved her hand slightly. She had straight, long, beige hair that ran down to her shoulders.
She's the school's idol with impressive looks, good conduct, and excellent grades...but, I've been feeling that her noble setting has recently been backfiring.
The other heroines have strong quirks, causing her to be overshadowed. Her character and self-assertion aren't very strong either. The same could be said for her chest.
(Her meals are so bad that they alone could kill someone...)
While setting such thoughts aside, I responded to Yukimiya's smile.
"Sorry for the wait, Yukimiya. Am I late?"
"No, you're right on time. Though, If you were okay with it, I was thinking about meeting you at your house to pick you up. On a helicopter, I mean."
"Um, my house doesn't have a heliport."
Perhaps her view of the world could be considered as part of her character?
"Now then, Kobayashi, let's start our search right away. Let's start with some information gathering...oh."
"W, what's wrong?"
"Sorry, I forgot my notebook. I'm not sure what to do for information gathering now..."
"We're not detectives, so I think it's fine to go without it."
Perhaps this earnestness of hers could be considered as part of her character? When I think of it that way, perhaps everyone's quirks are equally strong.
...So, we wandered around the streets, working hard at the fruitless "search for Elmira". While I had zero motivation, Yukimiya was full of vigor.
"It's hard to get useful information. Elmira, where on Earth did you go...?"
"Really, what a distant vampire. She's making everyone worried."
Yukimiya and I both sighed at the same time.
"If we're talking about our worries...then there's actually another thing on my mind."
"I think it started from around the time we had that battle against Getsushiyoukan. I feel that Hinomori and Rei have become──quite close."
"How do I say it? It's like they've gotten closer than ever...and even during these searches, they form a group together...I wonder if perhaps they're going out together."
"C, couldn't that just be your imagination?"
Though I tried to play it off, Yukimiya's suspicions were right on the mark.
It happened when Aogasaki found out about Ryuuga being a girl. In response, Aogasaki revealed her hobby as a fashionista to Ryuuga.
Their interests aligned, and they built new bonds as friends.
They had a taste for similar amusements, cosplay shows and fashion shows, and so it was reasonable to assume they would hit it off. I know that they call each other "Rei" and "Ryuu" when they're alone.
"I've always admired Hinomori, so...I don't know how to feel."
"Couldn't it just be that their guardian deities are getting along rather than them? They're both dragons, after all."
"Though, I'm a little surprised that my desire to cheer them on is stronger than my feelings of gloom."
When Yukimiya said that, she got just a tad bit closer. She closed the distance as we were walking, similar to what Ryuuga did the other day.
"I'm sure that's thanks to you, Kobayashi. Haha, I have my interests."
"W, wait, Yukimiya. Ryuuga and Aogasaki really have nothing between──"
I tried to dissuade her, but I didn't know what to say.
Even if I tell her that those two aren't lovers, that wouldn't mean Yukimiya has a chance. As long as Ryuuga is a woman, none of the heroines can be her lover.
That being said, I'm not fond of Yukimiya getting close to me either.
I want to be a friend character. I want to a be a pro at being a co-star. For that reason, I'm even prepared to die a virgin.
"S, sorry, Kobayashi. I said something strange."
Sensing that things had turned a little awkward, Yukimiya was soon flustered. When she looked over at the watch on her wrist to shift her attention, I noticed that her cheeks were red.
"Oh right. It's already noon, so how about some lunch?"
"I made some boxed lunch, so let's head to the park. I've got sandwiches for today."
...I'm not going to lie, this is the biggest reason why I wasn't feeling great.
I already guessed that Yukimiya had made a boxed lunch. Everyone knew what it meant to have lunch with the "Shrine Maiden of Life" on Sunday.
Due to that, Aogasaki and Kurogame quickly formed a group for today's patrol. "The two of us will go around town on Sunday. Definitely. Even if it means death, we're still forming a team," is what they said to me as they made me into their sacrifice.
(Her meal disaster attribute hasn't gotten any better, has it?)
The character who normally has a good sense would go crazy when it comes to cooking...that is what the typical meal disaster attribute is. Yukimiya Shiori is one of those types of people.
"Oh, we need to buy a drink before that. Let's stop by that convenience store there."
With a sweet smile, Yukimiya led me by the hand to a convenience store. In a good mood, she hummed a tune.
(I need to buy as much water as possible. Three 2 liter bottles should do...)
As we stepped through the automatic door, a chime played and the store clerk said "Welcome," to us. As expected, the young man, who seemed to be a college student working part-time, was captivated by Yukimiya.
...As soon as we entered the store, her feet stopped.
For some reason, Yukimiya solidified while facing the magazine corner of the store. Her mouth was agape, her eyes had widened, and she stared mysteriously in front of her.
"What's wrong, Yukimiya?"
While asking her that question, I turned my sight towards where she was looking.
Standing there was a boy in an Oumei High School uniform, browsing through a comic book.
He had a medium build, an ordinary hairstyle, and seemed to be one of the seventy thousand mobs in the country. He eagerly turned through the pages, muttering "Tsk, and it was getting to the good part..." to himself.
It's no wonder why Yukimiya was confused.
That's because the guy looked just like me.
Yep, it was Taotie. The "Stupid Evil Spirit" who told me not to wake him up earlier.
"Hey, you! What are you doing?!"
I immediately yelled and rushed towards Taotie.
"Oh oh, sorry there, store clerk...B, Boss?"
When Taotie looked in my direction, he had a facial expression that said "Oh no!" to me. So this guy was planning to sneak out from the very beginning!
"I thought I told you to inform me whenever you're going to move around on your own! if you're going to do these cheap tricks, at least wear a disguise! Yukimiya found you in two seconds!"
"Guh, and I thought I formed the perfect alibaba!"
"I think you mean alibi!"
As I was scolding him, Yukimiya timidly raised a question from behind me.
"U, um, Kobayashi. Could that person be..."
Before I could answer, Taotie put the magazine back in its shelf and puffed up with pride.
"Hey, it's been a while, 'Shrine Maiden of Life'. I am the strongest of the four fiends, the 'Evil Spirit' Taotie. Also known as Kobayashi Taotierou. Or Yasuke."
"Y, Yasuke? I was told about it before, but you really look just like Kobayashi..."
"Don't worry. I won't do anything bad. Right now, I'm in the midst of reconciling with Ryuuga. That's all there is to it."
I saw that Yukimiya was holding a Kagura suzu in her hand.
By ringing it, she can slow down the movements of apostles. Perhaps it won't have any effect on Taotie though...
Yukimiya put the Kagura suzu back into her bag for now, and stared at Taotie.
"Taotie. You say that you won't do anything bad, but weren't you reading that magazine without buying it?"
"I can't help it. I used up all of my allowance for this month."
"What did you use it on?"
"Sweets. Things like taiyaki, ice cream, and crepes."
"You have no self-control."
"Shut it. Can a rich girl like you understand the pain of having to make do with two thousand yen each month?"
"You should hold back on the sweets and save up enough money to buy magazines."
"Hmph. There are weekly magazines and monthly ones as well. I can't buy all of them with two thousand yen."
"In the first place, I think it's improper for an 'Evil Spirit' to be reading manga."
"If you're going there, then what about the fact that the 'Evil Spirit' is eating sweets?! Wouldn't that be strange?!"
"Don't point it out yourself! That's why I'm telling you to hold back!"
...They began to get into a strange argument.
Or rather, if buying sweets is all Taotie did, then that must be why he was moving around on his own. I really need to give this guy his due punishment.
So, I formed a plan and decided to calm Yukimiya down.
"Yukimiya. Let's leave it at that inside the store."
"How about this? Why don't you offer Taotie a sign of friendship? Your sandwiches, I mean."
"To tell the truth, this guy loves sandwiches even more than his three square meals. Just one sandwich can make up for six small bowls of rice."
"Just one sandwich..."
"If you offer your delicious sandwiches, this guy will probably reflect on his actions. Perhaps he'll even think about smartly using his allowance."
"I, I see."
"So, let me ask this of you. Please offer something to this pitiful 'Evil Spirit'! Treat him to your sandwiches!"
That's right. This is my way of punishing Taotie.
I'm going to make him eat all of the sandwiches. The cruel, blood-spilling wrath of sandwiches can poison all living things.
(TLN: There's a play on words in the original. The kanji characters making up "cruel, blood-spilling wrath" end up being pronounced the same way sandwich is pronounced. The author did this before with another meal she made)
...So, the three of us quickly left the convenience store and headed to the park.
Yukimiya was still cautious of Taotie, but reluctantly agreed to offer her sandwiches. Now I just have to pray that the "Evil Spirit" won't faint with just one bite...since if that were to happen, I would need to prepare myself to eat the rest.
Sitting on the bench, Yukimiya took out a lunch box from her tote bag.
Taotie's eyes sparkled with gleam as soon as he spotted what looked like a normal sandwich.
"Ooh~, it looks good. Is it okay for me to eat this?"
"I'm reluctant about it, but I have no choice. I have a debt I need to repay to Juri...and since you're her leader, I suppose I need to give my thanks."
"Well then, thanks for the grub!"
──However, something bizarre happened.
Taotie ate the sandwiches as if they were normal.
He didn't foam from the mouth, he didn't collapse, and he didn't suffer from anaphylactic shock. He stuffed his cheeks like they were delicious.
(W, what happened?! How is he still alive?!)
While I was astonished, the sandwiches were rapidly disappearing.
...Could it be that Yukimiya's cooking skill improved? I can't explain this strange situation otherwise.
"Boss, if you don't hurry and eat some, they'll all be gone."
Yukimiya made a cheerful expression upon seeing Taotie eat. She smiled broadly, flaring her nostrils. I'd prefer if the school idol paid attention to her nose.
"U, um, Taotie. Are they that good?"
"They've got a strange taste, but they're not bad. I was starving."
"There's some potato salad too. You can have some if you'd like."
"Oh, is that okay...? Hmm, it's okay as well. Way to go, Yukimiya."
"Thank you! Haha, Taotie, you don't need to eat that fast...you've got some mustard on your cheek, you know?"
Yukimiya made contact with the "Evil Spirit", as if her attitude from before had never happened. This is probably the first time someone ate her cooking so vigorously.
(Should I...try one?)
Before I knew it, I reached my hand out towards the last remaining sandwich.
I'm uneasy about this, but if Yukimiya Shiori's meal disaster attribute has gotten better, then that would be favorable. Everyone's continuing to worry about Elmira and Kyouka...so some good news is always helpful.
(Sandwiches aren't that difficult to make anyways. As long as it's actually food, then it's fine if sandwiches are the only things she can make!)
Encouraging myself, I made my resolve and opened my mouth for the sandwich. ──And...
I collapsed. It was still really bad. The sandwich was indeed a cruel, blood-spilling wrath.
As my consciousness faded, I heard the two speaking in a friendly manner.
"I misunderstood you, Taotie. If I make more, will you eat them again?"
"Sure. I suppose that I am known as 'Tie the Eater of Repulsive Things'. I even ate rocks."
...Perhaps these two are a good match. Taotie is definitely the only person in this world who could eat Yukimiya's cooking with a straight face.
As I pondered about such things in the back of my mind, I wandered around the afterlife for a while. Grandfather Kobayashi Kihachiro waved to me once more from the other side.
He said, "Kobayashi. You've been coming here a lot recently."