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Approximately a month prior, a certain meeting was being held in the Tsuchimikado household of Kyoto. Participating were the Tsuchimikado and related Onmyouji. Each and every one of them had positions within the Bureau of Onmyou, and the Tsuchimikado family held the true power within the organisation.
The chair of the meeting began in a dignified voice — he was Tsuchimikado Harechika, the head of the family, and chief of the originating families of Onmyou. He was a director within the Bureau and had been one of the head Onmyou that unified the organisation, reigning above all Onmyouji.
"I offer my gratitude to all of you who have answered my call today, allow me to give my thanks as the representative of this family."
He had the stature of a frail man over seventy, and coupled with his hair that had lost all colour, gave the impression of a dead tree. However, the dark light dwelling within his eyes seemed to pierce through all that faced him, seeing all.
"I have gathered you all here today to hear your views. And so… Haretake."
He surveyed them all imperiously, and then directed his gaze to the man at his side.
"The other day, we received a request for aid from Salem Witches Academy, they said 'We would like the help of the Bureau of Onmyou in solving the case of the multiple disappearances that is currently occurring'."
It was Harechika's son that answered his words and began explaining, Tsuchimikado Haretake. He had the position of an Assistant Onmyou, alloted the role of aiding the Head Onmyou. Haretake also held the post of Onmyou Professor, and had the most power following the Head Onmyou, Harechika. He would be the next head of the Tsuchimikado household and that would mean he would finally reign at the pinnacle of the Onmyouji.
"Oooh, is that true, Brother!? The time to make our name know overseas has finally arrived!!" Tsuchimikado Haretsuna cheered out in joy at Haretake's statement. Haretsuna was Harechika's son with a concubine, and Haretake's half-brother. "Normally you, the Onmyou Professor would be the first considered, but in these busy times, please leave this monumental role to me, Haretsuna! I will be sure to live up to your expectations!"
"Haretsuna-dono, I advise you to not forget your standing and trouble your elder brother with these words."
A cold voice flatly restrained Haretsuna as he tried to curry favour with Haretake. Haruna had opened his mouth with a bored expression after having silently listened up to this point.
"Why you… what do you mean, Harunaa!?"
"Nothing more or less than what I said. Frankly, I am saying that you lack the ability, we have no shortage of Onmyouji better than you."
"Haru…naa, are you mocking me, the Almanac Professor, you whore-son…!?"
"And are you judging me, the Astronomy Professor? You must want my opinion after the raise in rank." 'Almanac Professor' was one of the four professors, but its rank did not compare to that of the Astronomy Professor, which matched the Onmyou Professor. In other words, Haruna held a higher position than Haretsuna. And as if to reconfirm this, Haruna's mouth curled in scorn. "And could you revise your insulting address of my mother perhaps? Publicly, both my mother and your own are concubines, addressing her like that is also insulting your own mother."
Haretsuna was right, Haruna was not a legitimate child. However, neither was he.
Harechika, the head of the family had three children, Haretake, the legitimate child, Haretsuna, a concubine's son, and Haruna, another concubine's son. Haretake, the legitimate one, had a great deal of power as an Onmyouji, and many people called him the successor to the family in both name and deed. However, next in the hierarchy were Haretsuna and Haruna and there was a clear separation in their positions.
Haretsuna was a legitimate concubine's wife, but had been unable to grow past average as far as his ability as an Onmyouji went. Haruna, on the other hand, had not been treated as a legitimate child for a long time because of the circumstances around his birth, but his natural talent and the blood and sweat he had put into his efforts had seen him viewed as a genius and he ascended to the position of the Astronomy Professor at twelve years of age. They both had a complex towards the other, so when they met like this, there was no escaping the insults that would follow.
"Silence. That will suffice, Haretsuna, Haruna. You are in the presence of the head of the family are you not?"suffice,
Haretake's voice resounded overbearingly in the silence.
"I-I apologise, Brother… I am ashamed at falling to Haruna's provocation…"
Haretsuna suddenly returned to himself at the scolding, and apologised as a cold sweat ran down his back.
"I was merely stating the truth."
Haruna murmured idly, and Haretsuna glared spitefully at him.
"Brother. We were gathered here for our opinions, so this is not a simple matter?"
Haretake nodded at the question from Haruna, who had now regained control of himself.
"This consultation has a single requirement on it from the Witches Academy."
"What… they are so brazen as to make demands of us whilst asking for our aid?"
"Now, don't say that, Haretsuna. It is a legitimate request considering how the academy is run." He pacified Haretsuna and put that 'requirement' into words. "Witchcraft has historically only been taught to women. So inevitably, only women are enrolled at the academy. In other words, their demand is that the Onmyouji we send is female, and that they are of a suitable age to enrol as a student."
When he spoke, the people surrounding him looked at each other and began to murmur.
"It is a valid request. Being able to put themselves in the same position as the students that have vanished would be more advantageous than an investigation. There is also the avenue of being a teacher, but it would be easier for a student."
If they sent a man to a school that only accepted women, then it would be undeniable they would be obstructed, and that might also hinder the investigation. So it would be advantageous. However, there was a problem.
"Still… a woman, and one of student age, that certainly narrows the candidates down."
That was Haruna's concern. Onmyouji were overwhelmingly male. And naturally, just as there were few women Onmyouji, there were even fewer young enough to me students.
At Haruna's words, everyone's gazes gathered on a point. A point where there was a girl sitting with her legs crossed, listening to the conversation silently, without moving in the slightest.
Her chestnut hair fell to her shoulders and was tied at the side of her head, and she was wearing something like a monk's stole which should both muscularity, and a soft feminine appearance.
She was the next in line to be the head of the Kamo family, one of the heads of the Onmyou, Kamo Kamome.
"I certainly have no objections to Kamome's strength, but…"
Even as everyone looked at her, Kamome didn't move slightly and Haruna spoke non-committaly.
The Kamo family studied the secret teachings of Onmyoudou founded by En no Ozunu, and in the past had fathered the master of one of the Tsuchimikado's ancestors, Abe no Seimei. They had relinquished the power within the Bureau to the Tsuchimikado family, but were historically one of the foremost family, and were famous for continually producing excellent Onmyouji.
Kamome was experienced in combat with exorcisms, and was known for being near the level of Haretake who was currently hailed as the strongest. There were no problems with her strength, however, Haruna's expression didn't clear.
The silence continued and Kamome showed no sign of moving.
"Wake up, you utter moron!"
After she continued to not respond, he finally decided to smack her on the back of the head and yelled at her.
"Gah — Uwaahh!? Sorry, Gramps! I wasn't asleep! I wasn't!!" Kamome shook in surprise and waved her hands around as she shouted imploringly. "Huh, Haru-bou? What'cha here for? Weren't I meditating in the mountains?"
"Are you awake, moron? …This is the Tsuchimikado household, and you came here for the meeting."
"Ahh, I get it. Gramps forced me to leave the mountains for some meeting. Maaan, I'm glad I remembered."
Kamome put her hands together as if it had nothing to do with her and Haruna looked sourly at her.
"Though you fell asleep right in the middle of that meeting…"
"Well, y'know… frankly, it was boring."
"Don't be frank! Seriously… even if you are the Kamo family's successor, why do you act like that?"are
"Ehhh, I only agreed 'cause Gramps said that I could eat tasty things if I did. Frankly, isn't the meal after this the main thing?"
"Looking at you, a power struggle really is pointless…"
Seeing Kamome answer without a trace of shame, Haruna let out a long sigh.
She was first class as an Onmyouji, but was a slovenly person in every other way. If she was left alone, she would spend her time meditating in the mountains and touring the country performing exorcisms. She left the family business to her grandfather, the current head, and was far removed from the Onmyouji that embroiled each other in power struggles.
Haruna had seen that over many years of being her childhood friend and understood her wildness all too well.
Everyone was aghast at her lack of decorum, but Haretake cleared his throat and asked.
"…Kamome-kun, shall I explain everything once more?"
"Nope, you don't need to worry, Haretake-san."
Kamome shook her head widely and put her index fingers on her temples.
"Haaan, I see… right, right, that's what it is."
Kamome moved her fingers in circles and nodded in understanding. This was a special skill her hers, she was going through what was said while she was unconscious. It was apparently used in Taoism, but Haruna had never seen it used besides when she had dozed off.
"Umm, Haretake-san, don't you think there's someone more qualified than me?"
"Ohh… More qualified than yourself?"
"Yes, of course. I'll recommend them."
"Well then, who is it you will recommend?"
"I'll bring them right now, wait a little would you?"
Kamome smiled suggestively at his question, and for some reason took Haruna's hand and left the room.
"O-oi, why do I have to come!?"I
He couldn't help but protest as he was dragged from the room.
"Nfu fu~ don't worry, don't worry~♪"
However, she disregarded his protests and just tugged him along.
"I'm coming in then."
She led them to Haruna's room and then opened the door and marched in with a complete lack of restraint.
"It's been a while since I've been in your room, Haru-bou. I used to be here all the time."
"So… who's this suitable person other than you?"
Haruna himself entered his room and shut the door, urging her to explain.
"That reminds me, y'know… back then we had a pretend marriage, didn't we?" Kamome avoided the question and muttered nostalgically. They were indeed close in age and had often played together when they were young. Kamome was two years older and back when Haruna hadn't been recognised as legitimate, she was the one person that socialised with him. It was up to her to drag him out of the house where he shut himself away and was shunned. "Do you remember that…?"
She smiled in embarrassment and blushed. He was normally unaffected by the opposite sex, but seeing Kamome's good looks like this frankly speaking charmed him. "Hey, Haru-bou… close your eyes?"
"Eh, ah, this… this isn't really the ti-"
Their gazes met and Kamome whispered.
"Please… would you close your eyes?"
Her somehow begging whisper next to his ears made Haruna resolve himself and close his eyes. He still questioned if it was the time for this, but he wouldn't embarrass a girl by making her go any further. With that in his heart, he screwed his eyes shut.
"Haha! It's makeup tiiiime!!"
A gust of wind blew through the room.
The situation he had resolved himself to didn't happen and he felt something flutter quickly across his face.
"Nfu fu fu~ My choice was definitely right." Ignoring his confusion, Kamome giggled and murmured in satisfaction. "Hey, hey, Haru-bou, look in the mirror."
He opened his eyes at her urging and looked into the mirror.
"The mirror… Wait, what the heeeelll!?"
And standing there was a beautiful girl.
Her silky, black hair fell to her hips, her pale, white skin was showing and her round and cute eyes looked out on Haruna from the mirror, like black quartz.
"W-wait! That's me!? Is that me!?" As an expression of shock made its way onto his face, the same happened to the girl's. Looking closely, there was some makeup, but it was without a doubt Haruna. The hair that he usually tied up behind his head hung free, and his androgynous looks that were just like his mother's now easily passed for a girl's. "Don't mess with me! Don't you mess with me! You hear? It's important so I said it twice!!"
"Uwahh… it suits you so much it might ruin it. I don't know."
"Why are you doing this!?"
"Tee hee hee."
As he protested, Kamome just stuck her tongue out and giggled. At the same time, Haruna remembered something.
"Riight, I'm the groom, so you're the bride, Haruna!""Riight, I'm the groom, so you're the bride, Haruna!"
"Eh… N-no way… I'm a boy…""Eh… N-no way… I'm a boy…"
"Shut up! You're more feminine than me, so you're the bride!""Shut up! You're more feminine than me, so you're the bride!"
"Eh, buuut…""Eh, buuut…"
They had certainly played at getting married as an extension to playing house, but the groom was always Kamome, so Haruna was only ever the bride.
"Do you remember that…?""Do you remember that…?"
Apparently, Haruna had misunderstood her earlier line.
"Uuhh… If I'm seen like this, I won't be able to take a bride…"
"It's okay, if you can't find a bride, I'll do it."
"Well, that's a jok-"
"You'd mess with me so much for a joke…"
Haruna let out a murmur with empty eyes as he saw Kamome try to return to the main topic.
"So? You should be able to infiltrate the Witches Academy like that, right?"
"Kamome… was this…"
Haruna's face suddenly cleared in understanding at her smiling question.
"Well, you've got a good base, so a natural makeup look is plenty. Ahaha, though I guess it don't hold much weight coming from someone like me."
"No… thank you, Kamome. This might work."
Haruna quietly shook his head and looked at himself in the mirror again. It made him look pathetic, but there was nothing better for infiltration.
"But… why are you supporting me so much?"
"Hmm… well, I'm great at exorcisms and fighting, but I'm bad with delicate stuff like investigating. Frankly, it's bor- I mean I think that it's your area of expertise. Yup, yup, you know, the right person in the right place? It's like that. Man, I said something good."
When asked about her true intentions for preparing this much, she answered indifferently. Her actual intentions leaked through mid-way, but that showed her trust in him.
"Besides, I'm like your older sister. Honestly, I can't approve your goal, but… well, wanting to help her little brother is a sister's fate."
She laughed uncomfortably, with a somewhat conflicted expression. She had been his only friend since they were young. And after his mother, who he had used as his foundation, had died, it was her that had supported him through his isolation within the Tsuchimikado household. That was why Haruna had talked of his goals with her without a word of a lie.
"No matter what I have to do, I will become the head of this family, and end it completely, with my own hands.""No matter what I have to do, I will become the head of this family, and end it completely, with my own hands."
The eradication of the Tsuchimikado family was Haruna's revenge that he would spend his life to accomplish. He would give this family, that had killed his own mother in lust over power, its final rites. That was why Haruna had desperately learnt Onmyoudou and risen to his current position.
"Let's go back then? I'll recommend you."
Kamome stood and held her hand out with a smile.
Seeing her lack of change since those days, Haruna could practically see them. Him crouching in his room, and her holding her hand out to him…
"Right, got it… I'm honestly not interested in it, but it's for my ambition."
Just like then, he took her hand and stood. They pretended not to notice their paths and ambitions, now different, as they returned.
And thus, we return to the present. Haruna was in the living room after his chance meeting with Titch in the bathroom.
"How on Earth did this happen…?"
The flush on his face from the bath had drained and his face was pale, and he hadn't even dried his sodden hair. He had at least changed into his sleepwear, but he was panicking over how to salvage the situation.
Titch was sat on the opposite sofa and hesitating over how to speak to him as she looked at Haruna who seemed like the world had ended. He spoke pitifully as his eyes roved rapidly around, as if he was about to cry.
"I hid my shame and came here for my goal… but I was found out on the first day? That's pathetic, it's not even funny… what am I doing…" He grit his teeth and could only moan in regret, remembering his determination as he took on this mission. If he could complete this as he hoped and create a connection with the Witches Academy, he would make the next head, Haretake, indebted to him, and be able to beat Haretsuna. "I shouldn't… I shouldn't be allowed to fail… and yet…"
"U-umm… Tsuchimikado-sama? You look pale, are you okay…?"
Titch asked worriedly after watching him grumble to himself, ashen-faced.
"Ha! As if I would be, my fate now rests in your hands." He snorted self-recriminatingly and spoke sarcastically. "This is a Witches Academy. And as the name would imply, only women can attend. I'm here, breaking that rule, I won't be able to avoid expulsion if I'm found out. How does it feel to hold someone's fate in your hands?"
If he was revealed, it would even cause political problems. Haruna hadn't told Marie about his sex, so it would invite censure to the bureau, and make their reputation plummet, severing any ties between the two institutions. If that happened, there would be no place for Haruna within the Bureau of Onmyou, all of the status he had established, his sweat and blood, his vow, it would all amount to naught.
"N-no! I-I-I won't say anything!!"
"I wonder… I don't believe in people, no matter how virtuous they may be, they grow weak in the face of immediate gain. You might say that now, but I'm sure you'll fall to temptation." Haruna practically spat, looking at her doubtfully. "Make your demands. This is my failing, so I'll compromise as much as I can, even if it's an unbalanced demand."
"I-I really won't say anything! Believe me please…"
He had thought of dealing with her, but leaving no trace would be difficult. And they were in the midst of a spate of disappearances, he couldn't implicate himself. He'd also thought of altering her memories, but if someone else salvaged them, it would be an issue. As long as she herself wasn't aware of it, their weakness could be taken advantage of with no one noticing.
She doesn't seem to be lying… but…She doesn't seem to be lying… but…
Haruna thought to himself judging by the conversation thus far. It was probably just her natural personality, but she couldn't seem to conceive of threatening someone.
If I don't give her a warning here, it will be an issue in the future. Keeping someone nearby is more troublesome than a clear enemy, so I need to win her over somehow.If I don't give her a warning here, it will be an issue in the future. Keeping someone nearby is more troublesome than a clear enemy, so I need to win her over somehow.
He couldn't just send her away. Even if he could carry on like this and rely on her good nature, it wouldn't change the fact that her knowing that would be a weakness for him. Maybe he could look into her memories, dazzle her with money, and use her sick mother as a hostage.
That had risks, and he couldn't leave Titch unattended.
"Let's bargain. I might be able to save your mother."
"Eh… W-what do you mean…?"
After silently thinking, Haruna quietly displayed his bargaining chip.
"I have an idea from the symptoms you described earlier. Of course a doctor wouldn't be able to find the cause, because it's from a 'hex'."
"Hexes are a type of magic, they mainly cause harm to others. It's known as Voodoo and Black Magic on the dark continent I believe. There are many areas of Onmyoudou that deal with hexes, the secret teachings, Taoism, Ascetic Shamanism, Shinto and ancient Shintoism. Within them, curses that you use to kill an enemy are called Onteki Choubuku."
Onteki Choubuku, or Curses. In Onmyoudou, they were curses used to make demons — malevolent spirit like existences — submit, to exorcise wicked or heretical people, or perhaps curse them to death.
The distinguishing feature was that even without the direct intervention of the caster, people could come under its effects, and depending on the severity, lose their life. There were many kinds of techniques that caused those effects, but the symptoms that Titch had spoken of made a hex look likely.
"T-then… you, you can save my mother!?"
"I can't tell without examining her, but as long as the symptoms aren't too severe I should be able to. I'll go meet your mother after I've fulfilled my role here."
"R-really…!?" At his calm nod, Titch let out a sigh of relief and slumped where she sat. "Thank… you… Tsuchimikado-sama, thank you so much…!!"
Large tears were welling from her eyes and she gave her thanks through her crying.
"D-don't get me wrong, this is a 'hostage situation'." Haruna was flustered seeing her, but he immediately restrained his unease and continued to warn her. "Do you understand? I won't save your mother if you betray me, if you really want to save her, don't get any stupid ideas. Just don't offend me by trying to flatter me."
He warned and smiled cruelly. It was more effective on people like Titch to have someone they cared about depending on their acts rather than their own safety.
"Right… I mean, you're a benefactor to me, so if it's something I can do, I'll do anything!"
However, the girl in front of him smiled. She wiped her tears off on her sleeve and smiled through tear-stained cheeks. There was no confusion or fear in her expression, just gratitude.
Haruna was silent, his eyes open wide in disbelief and terror at the girl in front of him.
He had just threatened her, was just using her for his own goals, so why was she this grateful. She should be afraid, frightened, and yet she was smiling?
He averted his eyes from Titch and picked up the phone in the room. After dialling a short number and the phone had rung three times it made the pickup noise.
"Hahh… hahh… hahh… what colour panties are you wearing, little miss?""Hahh… hahh… hahh… what colour panties are you wearing, little miss?"
The next thing from the speaker was a sigh of arousal. Haruna immediately threw the phone away and ended the call, but it rang immediately.
"Geez, why did you just hang up? I'm super angry☆""Geez, why did you just hang up? I'm super angry☆"
The voice from the speaker — the academy's headmistress Marie's voice — protested poutily.
"Anyone would do the same if they were answered like that."
"You meanie! So… what is it at this time of night? Are you too lonely and can't sleep? Where are you? How old are you? Your voice is cute you know? Can we meet? Do you have a boyfriend? Maybe-""You meanie! So… what is it at this time of night? Are you too lonely and can't sleep? Where are you? How old are you? Your voice is cute you know? Can we meet? Do you have a boyfriend? Maybe-"
"I'm not lonely in the slightest, so I will respectfully decline." Haruna interrupted her and moved onto the main reason for calling. "You sent a student here today, right? By the name of Titch Maleficuum."
"Ummm… Ah, right right. What about her? Have you awakened to the joys of maid-play? In which case, I'll wear a maid outfit and serve you-""Ummm… Ah, right right. What about her? Have you awakened to the joys of maid-play? In which case, I'll wear a maid outfit and serve you-"
"…I'll be paying her fees, so you won't mind me having her help with my investigation, will you?"
"Hmm, not really, but… If you need help, I can arrange something.""Hmm, not really, but… If you need help, I can arrange something."
"No, it has to be her. I don't mind her asking price." Marie's suggestion of a better student made sense, but it would be meaningless for Haruna, he then continued to hide that. "Well then, treat her the same as me from tomorrow. Move her residence from the dorms to here as well."
"Oh my, you're so forceful, Haruna… this must be the power of maids! Right!?""Oh my, you're so forceful, Haruna… this must be the power of maids! Right!?"
"That is all I need. I apologise for the hour."
He didn't react to Marie's growing excitement on the other end of the phone and hung up after frankly declaring his terms. All that was left was a sense of exhaustion.
"Eh? Umm… What was… that about?"
"Exactly as you heard, you're now under my custody." Haruna looked at Titch panicking and let out a simultaneous sigh and grimace. "I said I'll pay your entrance fee and your tuition. Rejoice, from tomorrow you'll be a regular student."
"E-ehhhh!? Y-y-y-y-you can't do that! You can't! I can't pay that money back…"
"Hmph… I'm just giving it to you. Relax, I have no intention of that." Haruna continued his warning as her eyes swirled. "You don't need to return the money, that's just pocket change. In exchange, you will be living here, and you won't be away from me during my stay."
"We'll… live together??"
"I already said, 'you're now under my custody'. Sending someone like you, that can't see what people are thinking, out alone would be dangerous. So keeping you nearby and right under observation is better."
He spoke with a bitter expression.
Titch Maleficuum was an unknown variable to him and he had to admit that she couldn't see what people were thinking. So he couldn't leave her alone, he had to solve his anxiety himself and decided to keep her nearby under his observation.
"I'll be going to the academy tomorrow, and so will you. You can at least guide me, right?"
"Ah, yeah, that much, I can…"
"But from now on, you don't need to act like a servant. You don't need to work for your tuition and I can deal with my own needs. Leave that aside and do as you like. As long as it's not something suspicious, I won't interfere."
"I-I couldn't… I'll do that much, please let me!"
"You're annoying, don't think stupidly, just accompany me. If you do that, I'll grant your wish once my goal is accomplished. Have you understood that? You don't need to object." He grimaced slightly and told her more harshly. Even Titch couldn't object further and slumped. "Honestly… you're strange. Your wish will be granted, you don't need to make a face like that."
He let out another sigh at her depression. He felt slightly guilty and distant from her.
"Well, whatever. Come here again tomorrow before heading in. Bring your things when you like and take your pick of the empty rooms." Haruna shook off his hesitation and would make her agree as he spoke with a sigh. "And then I'll give you an amulet to defend against the effects of the hex. If you send that to her and she keeps it close to her, your mother's condition shouldn't worsen. Come to my room later to get it."
"T-thank you so much! Really, how can I thank you…"
"Relax, as long as you don't betray me, I'll do my best to treat her. This I swear upon my name as Tsuchimikado Haruna, the Astronomy Professor. So don't cause any trouble."
"R-right, Tsuchimikado-sama, please, take care of my mother…!"
Titch finally bowed her head in silence after his business like proclamation. Seeing her, Haruna then thought over what the academy life would be like. This was heavier than any developments he had imagined when he arrived.
However, at the time—
Haruna himself didn't notice the relief in his heart.
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