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T-Toh

4 (part 1)

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Blues in her Name/It is in Aoko Aozaki

So to come right out with it, I'm a magician.

I basically live inside a fairy tale, where miracles can come true with a point of the finger, and I live far away in a really remote forest somewhere.
It's not an accurate picture, but I think I'd take to it since I can sort of shoot at a mark.

The things I can't do? I can't use a broomstick to fly into the great beyond in the sky.
I can't change into an animal. I can't talk to birds.
It might seem right out of a dream, but I'm what you would call a modern-day magus.

Crazy as it is, it's a true-to-life thing.
You'd think with all this power, I wouldn't be so downsized.
Though I'm proud of myself for the odd things I've done here and there, my true calling isn't at school. I've got big plans for my life. Big, big plans.

There is just one snag: all of this has to be kept a secret.

'A magus does everything to hide his godly work.'

As the first of the ten conditions made by the Association, this is something I will never, ever, ever talk about to people who don't know these things.

I go along with the whole honor student front, so God please help me if it gets out to the entire school that I'm some kind of wizard.
It hurts my head to think which of these two is me.
That's why I keep dumb stuff like that in check.

To make things worse, I'm still nowhere close to filling the shoes of a respectable magician.
For all of my double life, I just want to feel happy for myself when I become a full-fledged magician lady.

Yeah. It's gonna be a real play on words owning up to my biggest, most important secret, by saying something like, "It is I, Aoko Aozaki, magician extraordinaire!"

It feels weird and funny to imagine how that scene'll turn out for everyone. Also, it doesn't matter what the Association wants for us -- as long as I don't have a death wish, this secret of mine has to be kept under lock and key.

When I mentioned this stuff to my grandfather, he just reached out and patted me on the head.

I don't know if he was giving me the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down, but I thought he was being nice to me about it.

The day I became a magu---- The day I was made to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, was also the day I graduated junior highschool.
When I got back home, he just says,

"Your sister's gone on a trip. From now on, you'll succeed the family secrets."

and that was it.

I always knew the Aozakis passed down some ancient voodoo magecraft, and let's be real here -- I never thought it'd fall to me to take center stage.

In a family of magi, choosing the next kid to run the magic show defaults to one successor.

I had no place in the middle of all this hoopla about hundreds of magician seats relating to all kinds of practices -- that was my older sister's job. I had plans for my life, which was extremely normal before any of this happened.

Which is why when they joyfully told my sister to go find a life of her own and party like it's 2000 instead of me----
They waited for the send-off to literally explode in their faces.

Ever since, I've been deposited in a world that I only ever gave a sidelong glance up until now.
I never even wanted to enter highschool, yet here I am!

But, it's fine. This isn't a bad way to start my new life.

......Which brings us to the present day.
As boggling as my job is, I actually got through two years of doing this.

So far, I haven't run into any serious trouble......and for our honor's sake, I won't count that my housemate and I are killing each other for half a year......even at my talent for being a magician, I still don't have a limit when it comes to being the best that I can, that's what I think.

When it comes to normal people, there's two or three that are headache-inducing. Still, as of now, I'm not worried about how my future's gonna go.
Life's good, and I believe things are gonna keep on being as good as they are right now.

What's too bad is, last night changing all of that.
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"How did today go?"

The instant Aoko Aozaki arrived home at the Kuonji residence, Alice Kuonji was there to pin her with that question.
Whatever pressure or threat she was being affected by, her calm voice masked those feelings. The pupils behind those glassy black eyes alone stressed the gravity of the situation.

Aoko's unflattering coat went onto the hanger. She sat at one sofa,
the other taken by her housemate, Alice.

"What about you?"
"Not so well. I sent seven of them to do some scouting. I didn't have time to get them all ready after I just used them."

Tearing her eyes from Aoko, Alice went back to staring at the box on the table.

"Weren't any of them watching the town that night?
These things're the best when it comes to surveillance, aren't they?"
"Only during the day. It's too risky to let them out after sundown."

'Then they're no use where it's needed the most.' Aoko sighed at that.

"......Let's hear your side. You seemed very sure of yourself this morning."
"Hm? Oh, it's going according to plan.
We'll probably be able to narrow it down by tomorrow. This morning, Tobimaru ran a check on all the students in our school -- concerning their houses and what they do all day.
It's pretty easy to tell that nobody there has a habit of being anywhere near the park during that time."

"Is it really that simple?"
"Of course. I don't just sit on my butt at the student council. That's how well-informed I am! My coverage goes as far as part-timers on a once-a-month basis and the time they get to work after hanging out at their best friend's house.
I didn't want to show anybody that list, but we can't waste time, can we? So, I'm having my vice chief do it for me."

On a little side note, Aoko's compilation of a secret file was from being the student council president.
Its sheer presence set off rumors at school, with her being the center of all the students' worst fears. The file was definitely made with an ulterior motive in mind.

"......Of course, it's just like you to be so thorough."

Alice shrugged off the tiny shock she felt towards the other girl.
Soon, it was going to be two years since they started living together.
Once Aoko Aozaki had made up her mind, she ran with it from start to finish. Alice knew this just as well as those close to her.

"Yeah, but I didn't think it would be handy for this situation. I guess this is what you'd call being well-prepared."

Nevertheless, the incident last night was a highly unusual one.
Their situation was far from anything that normally happened for them.

"Which reminds me. Have you figured out what happened yet? I need you to explain to me how you screwed up at closing the barrier."

Aoko's eyes burned with a cold fire.
Alice was supposed to put the finishing touches on the barrier.
If last night's incident was caused by said barrier being faulty, there was only one person to be blamed for that.

These two girls may be housemates and partners, but that was how far their interests with each other reached.
Even as far as their familial relations with each other went, these two had a better chance of being enemies than the allies they should be.
In the end, Aoko Aozaki and Alice Kuonji were just too different to get along with each other.

One would take points from the other if the latter committed a fault.
One would go in for the offense if the other slackened their guard.
----For every chance they had.
Provided the opportunity, they would simply vote to fight to the death without a hesitation.

Alice took Aoko's staring head-on.
The girl's glare was unsettling enough to make a grown man flinch, but Alice was unimpressed by the sub-zero treatment.

"......This is my excuse for now. Let's say that things went wrong because of the barrier I put up. That makes it a problem we get most of the time with it then, right?"

Aoko nodded her head in agreement. All it took for her to believe Alice was by putting her on the spot.

"Your barrier sure is flawless, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't really say that, to be honest."

There was no real feeling to Alice's voice when she replied.

By its very name, a barrier was a compact world in sealed space.
At any location, barriers established situations happening away from the rest of the world. These situations were created using whatever means necessary.
There were numerous types of barriers.
Physical ones created sections with actual walls.
Visual ones hid what went on inside the enclosure, be it with a forest, clouds of mist, or a mirror effect.

Yet still, in order to keep the rest shut "inside", barriers brought peculiarities in "the outside world" to light.
Even as off-limits as the magus could make the location, barriers generally had no power to keep its actual conditions from being walked into.
At some point, those drawn to the 'closed-off area' by their curiosity would compromise the hidden location.

It was therefore illogical.
A true barrier was an oddity built on two functions: to go unnoticed by the rest of the world, and to forbid anything from getting past its wards.

On the previous night, Alice Kuonji's was the sort that made for the 'ideal' barrier.

"......No matter how busy people are today, they don't go anywhere near any place when they think now's a bad time to be there.
A barrier that brainwashes people into staying out of it for a while......is no big deal, but getting it to do that for over an hour is more than your standard barrier.
It was a topnotch piece of work that didn't fall apart halfway through while it was using your mirror. In all seriousness, the only thing that came through that barrier of yours was the puppet we were after.
If that isn't perfection then what do you think is, Alice?"

"......I wouldn't really know myself. The forest I set up was perfectly normal.
It was a barrier that I took care of for a day or two, so it still would have lasted up to now. Still, if there's an exception to my case, I might not have found the real problem just yet."

Alice was just as puzzled by the incident.

"......Doesn't matter. The important thing right now is the witness probably being our puppet user, which isn't hard to imagine. If it's a magus we're dealing with, getting through the barrier you put up's not hard for them to do.
What I don't get is......how they shook off feeling sick when they got inside."

It would hardly come as a surprise that a master of magecraft would go after these two girls.
A magus who could slip past Alice Kuonji's barrier was more than a match for her.

----By no means was Aoko Aozaki a threat to someone that good.

"......Hardly seems to be it.
He's nobody in particular. Aside from the starlings, Robin himself couldn't find our witness. No trace of any magical energy whatsoever. I doubt he's a victim controlled by someone's magecraft."

So much for that possibility.
Now Aoko was out of ideas.
All she could do was give up hoping on luck, and deal with the fact that last night really did happen.

"......Caught as a magus out in the open, and going after the witness we lost to boot......these are so not the woes of an ordinary highschool student......"

She plopped back on the sofa.
Staring at the brown ceiling above her head, she felt sorry for herself.
The blandness of this house's ceiling was making Aoko bluer and bluer by the minute.

"Aoko. Give me an answer."

Her housemate spoke with a detached voice.
Aoko kept staring at the ceiling. But, she was barely registering the wood panel view.

"......Or else. I'll have it done whether you're in or not."

By saying these words, she meant them to be as cruel as she was going to act.
Ever so slowly, Aoko came to terms with that, doing as much of it as she was allowing herself to.
She could never digest it. It was like eating molten lead.

"......Of course. Didn't I make up my mind about this already?"

She was fooling herself with that thought.
This would never be like last time.
Even if she was doing the exact same thing, who she was after now was the difference.

When she gave her answer, she gave it as a magus.
All enemies were to be vanquished.
All challenges were to be met.
Magi could brush off discourtesies. If they agreed to fight with murder on the table, there were going to be no hard feelings on either party.
They made their choices based on whether to kill, or be killed.
There were no right or wrong decisions for her and for these magi to make from the very start.

But, this time was different.
The person she was going to face was neither enemy nor magus. Even if she were out for his blood, he was completely oblivious to it.
......Therefore in this case, her choice weighed on a moral principle.
Would she be able to carry through on the burden of taking an innocent's life?
Could she, as a magus, treat this as an ordinary venture?

'As if.' she snorted.
Aoko's excuse as a magus can never go down well in human society, and it never will.
When she was unsure,
and when she had no idea, Aoko hated acting rash on anything.
She only took off running once she decided she was going to do it.

"I'm in. I mean, it's gotta be done, right?"

Aoko sat up and spoke frankly. There was only so much of their ceiling that she wanted to see.
And Alice was not one to point out that the girl was being her usual self.

"Alright, here you go."

Aoko's reward for her answer: a little bottle from Alice.

It was small enough to fit in the palm of her hand.
It was the most cylindrical, most ordinary-looking bottle she had ever seen pinched between her housemate's fingers.
The glass was clouded over. There was nothing inside it.
There were still traces of a torn-off label sticking to the glass.

"......What is this?"

She had an awful feeling about this little bottle. Aoko frowned at how dubious it looked.

"A bottle for keeping things in. This is just the one I can spare you."
"'Scuse me?"
"I forget the name, but it's like how that Chinese legend used to go."

Aoko instantly knew what Alice was talking about with such a short description.

"You mean the one about the two brothers who guarded the Lotus Cave? So you're saying that this is basically the Red Gourd?
OK, but uhhhh...is ripping the label off your idea of making people think it's just a bottle?"

Alice eyeballed it. It was nowhere near tasteful, she had to admit.
Whether she approved of its looks or not, though, she was giving said tasteless bottle to Aoko for her use. Alice simply placed it on the table in front of them.

"No, not the Red Gourd. It's based on the Suet Jade Flask."
"That's not the issue here! This doesn't have the feel of being a magus for me, is what I'm saying!"
"You worry about the little things. Why don't you consider yourself lucky that this isn't a big bottle of Seirogan?"
"----Hmph."
She could give a very persuasive argument when Aoko asked for it.

"Just open the lid, and ask for the name of our target.
Be careful, though -- if he squirms, the bottle will break."
Aoko raised a brow at Alice's detached explanation.
"Hold up. So by him squirming around being a problem, that means he's gotta be asleep then, right?"

"......I've never tried that before.
Do you know anyone who answers in their sleep?"
"......It's a thing that happens sometimes.
But then again, our guy is a weirdo."

Therefore getting him inside the bottle, would be after quite possibly beating him within an inch of his life until he was knocked out.

"Oh, before I forget. Don't put anything, pills or magecraft, inside the bottle or you'll break it. There's only room for one thing in there, afterall."
"I'm not using this thing!
It's just a useless piece of crap then, isn't it?"
"That depends on you."
Alice averted her gaze, saying so.
She was clearly done with this conversation.

"......*sigh*. Alice, I know you like to make props like these, but......this is part of what you do with your spare time?"
As she asked that question, Aoko thought of enabling her housemate's little hobby, and hated it.
"Maybe.
So, what's it going to be? Are you taking it, yes or no?"

Without answering, Aoko briefly hesitated before reaching over and pocketing Alice's magic little bottle.

It could at least come in handy at some point.
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AN UNDERSTANDING OF EVERYONE'S GOURD

China's legend of Monkey and the Magic Gourd and Vase is told in three published books:


  1. Edward T.C. Werner's MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF CHINA, published in 1922,
  2. Wu Cheng'en's JOURNEY TO THE WEST, published during the Ming Dynasty as one of China's Four Great Classical Novels, and
  3. Arthur Waley's MONKEY: A FOLK-TALE OF CHINA, an English adaptation of the Journey to the West novel, published in 1942.

In the story, the two demon chiefs of the Lotus Cave kidnapped Sun Hou-tzŭ the Monkey Fairy's Master and used their two treasures -- a yellow gourd and a jade vase -- to try to seal away Sun Wukong by uttering his name and getting him to answer back. The magic jade vase was used to trap the second demon chief, and Goku sealed him with the "Seal of the Great Ancient of Days".

After the defeat of the demons with all five gourds and the three other treasures, the Four Rejects stumbled upon a blind man, who was revealed to be the Great Ancient of Days and who originally possessed the five treasures before they stole it. The Monkey King scolded him for his carelessness before giving him back the treasures.

THESE FIVE THINGS...

(1) 紫金紅葫蘆 - Purple Gold Red Gourd

  • Also known as "紅葫蘆" (Benihisago), or simply "赤い瓢箪" (Akai Hyoutan).
  • Into which the Ancient kept his pills of immortality, which Goku eats later and becomes immortal.
  • Wielded by the Golden Horned King, one of the two demon chiefs protecting the Lotus Cave.
  • It prevents the target from using Kotodama.


(2) 羊脂玉淨瓶 - Suet Jade Flask

  • () 'sheep', () 'tallow', () 'jewel'. Known for its pure white color, suet jade's appearance is best described as a very glossy and wax-like lump of congealed fat.
  • () 'purify', () 'bottle'.
  • In which the Ancient kept the water of life.
  • Wielded by the Silver Horned King.
  • Seals the target's voice upon having their name called by the flask's owner.


(3) 幌金繩 - Golden Cloth Rope


  • With which the Ancient corded bundles.
  • Binding the target, it dispels the use of Kotodama.


(4) 七星劍 - Seven Stars Sword

  • With which the Ancient subdued demons.
  • It severs the use of Kotodama.


(5) 芭蕉扇 - Palm Leaf Fan


  • With which the Ancient stirred up enthusiasm.
  • Calls upon all the properties of the Five Elements.


ANOTHER OBSCURE MYTH ABOUT A HORRID CONTAINER

From a Russian folktale, a magic sack that scares the living bats out of two big names: Death and the Prince of Hell.

...Use this sack wisely, but a dry biscuit would be a better trade for you.

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