In The Fox-Witch's Wake, Pt3: Sword Raised High, Head Higher




Epilogue: Kitsune-san… Arigato.

Swish, swish, swish.

An apple core, a fish tail, and a crumpled piece of paper roll into a dustpan. A pair of amber eyes gleam beneath the roofed shade, watching the straw broom go.

"Oi, human."

Said human jerks to attention, pausing her sweeping. "Yes, Miss Fox?"

"…I'm bored."

Honoka turns to the side, uneasy with making eye contact. "W-well… Perhaps you could explore the streets at this time?"

She perks a little more, raising a finger and daring to be a little excited at the possibilities. "…Get to know the locals better beyond me and my friends! Be an active part of our community!"

"Oi. Human. You do realize who's been blamed for the disease and car crashes, yes?"


"Not that they're wrong."

"Mmm…" Honoka chews her lip uneasily and gets back to cleaning the alley. "So… Only exploring at night?"

"Yes. We're only supposed to be walking your lands from dusk anyway… Old rules or something. Not that it seems to matter now. Everything's just so different…"

"Miss Fox still has not found other Yōkai?"

A loud, weary sigh comes out from behind Honoka.

"I haven't… Unless you count the local stupid cats. You hear the horse-shit they screech to me? 'This is our town, you're not welcome here, get out'??? I swear, one of them's got to be a bakeneko in disguise. Bak-A-neko1, ha!"

"I'm-I'm confident none of them are Yōkai…"

"Doesn't stop them being pains in the butt and begging for a fight when I pass by! I swear, next one to swipe at me gets kicked straight to the moon!"

Honoka sputtered with suppressed laughter. "Miss Fox! You can be so immature at times-!"


Honoka sweats nervously and looks away from the figure rising from the cardboard box behind her, raising a hand to vulpine ears that flap irately in Honoka's direction.

"What was that you just said?"

"I mean… passionate?"

"That's more like it!"

Honoka exhales in relief as the box behind her gets filled up once more, and gets back to cleaning…

Three girls walk across one of Takachiho's many bridges. Above, a bright blue sky painted in streaks of white. Below, a babbling brook coursing with life and motion.

One of these girls gradually hobbles behind the other two. She despairingly loses all energy, bringing herself to collapse on all fours.


"Mizuka-chan?!" The girl who was skipping forwards daintily spins about in abrupt alarm, dashing over to her fallen friend.

"Why, why, why why why, WHY did Togai-kun have to transfer out?!"

It was quite sudden, after all. The following day after that 'perfectly-normal-day where absolutely nothing out of place happened', Miyata Togai did not show up to school. People thought it slightly off given his punctuality, and assumed he had an emergency or fell sick.

On the day after, it was announced with a matter-of-fact tone that he was transferring out and would no longer be enrolled in Takachiho Juniour High. Those who knew him as a studious and helpful classmate simply nodded with quiet acceptance. Others who adored his good looks, hundred-dollar-smile and suave manner of speaking mourned their loss. Such as Mizuka, in particular:

"I'm going to shrivel into an old woman in this school! I'm fated to never find love! Why, Kamis, why?!"

Misaki leans down to shake Mizuka's shoulders to no avail. "Mizuka-chan! Get a grip on yourself! Stop exaggerating! Etto, there's still college, university, then work-"

Misaki squeaks as Mizuka's left hand (right shoulder still smarting from a sprain she can't quite remember getting) shoots up to pull her down by the collar.

"THAT'S TOO LATE. Don't you know the best romances start in school???"

Misaki scrunches her face and uncomfortably looks away from Mizuka's grim countenance. "Mizuka-chan… I think you watch too much anime."

"No! I swear, it's true-That's it!" Mizuka reaches up past Misaki and waves in the distance.

"Honoka! Be the tiebreaker!" No response.

"…Honoka?" The third girl continues walking on, completely lost in her thoughts of the night that truly was.

Miyata Togai… He was dangerous and crazed, of that there was no doubt. But at the same time, he truly did mean to help.

Sarada Honoka looks down to an open hand. That fateful night, blood-stained, it grasped the bokken without fear nor hesitation. The other day, bandaged-over, it presented a reapplication form for the Kendo Club to a pleasantly-surprised Captain Futsuda. Was Togai not ultimately successful in breaking her free of her former state?

It was not out of some newly-grown desire or affection that she thought forlornly of Togai - certainly, she was glad to see the last of him. Rather, it was a wistful 'What if?': What he could have been, if only he weren't so broken and twisted in mind…

That open hand closes, clutching at her chest. No longer to grasp at a hidden charm of malicious protection, but to firmly hold onto the last physical evidence of a certain fox's existence.

Tried as they did to erase her, the strangers overlooked one thing: Honoka's phone is old and would glitch out regularly. Those shared photos of Mishio that Mizuka desperately tried to look for? Transferred out into a memory card no larger than a postage stamp-

"Earth to HonokaaaaaaAAAA-!"

Honoka jolts back to reality, spinning about to see Mizuka furiously catching up and Misaki struggling to keep up.

"-AAAAAAAAAAH!" Gasping from the yelling sprint, Mizuka thrusts a finger to a surprised Honoka.

"I… I can feel it… My 'jealousy-radar' power… is going off! HONOKA! You're thinking of a boy, aren't you?!"

So many things she had been pondering all this while, all tying neatly together to such a childish conclusion. And yet, Mizuka wasn't wrong.

The silliness of it all just seemed too much for Honoka to hold it in. It starts with a snort. Then it escalates into giggling, a wide grin spreading across her face with absolute confidence, boldly gazing at her fish-eyed friend with hands confidently placed onto her hips. "…And if I am?"

Mizuka was but a statue at this point, absolutely in shock.

"Aaah… Aaaah… AAAH! WHO ARE YOU, ACTING SO BOLDLY IN HONOKA'S PLACE?!" Mizuka falls backwards on her rear and shuffles straight into a panting Misaki, nearly bowling her over. Without averting her gaze from the strangely-uncharacteristic Honoka, she seizes Misaki and gets up, shaking her vigorously by the shirt.



In the end, this is fine, isn't it?

"Hahaha…" Honoka forgets her worries and all lingering questions she had from meeting the strange people from beyond, and remembers to live life in the moment.

"Ha, hah! Hahahahaha!" A laugh; No longer of crestfallen nervousness or tired resignation, but that of joy, building up to a jubilant celebration of life-

"HAHAHAHAHA!" Honoka throws her head back and laughs out loud, looking into the skies and remembering the last of her recollections…

The shiny candy wrappers that caught the box-dweller's eyes across various dustbins are now in the recyclables bag. All that's left are just the leaves to bag separately-

"You know, human…"

"Y-yes?" Change of tone. The dweller is being dead-serious now.

"I might be outliving you all the same, but I'm not going to be watching over you forever. I'm a Yako for crying out loud, not one of those super-nice Zenkos who go all the way to be the guardian spirit of families and their descendants…"

Honoka freezes briefly as she clutches tightly to her broom, then looks down. As much as she enjoyed her newfound protections, a part of her knew it was too good to last forever.

"I-I understand…" Honoka startles at the sounds of the sides of the box being slapped in crankiness.

"If you already get it, hurry up and get up on your feet!"

With that statement concluded, a calmer set of sounds of settling-back-in ensued. The irate tone delates into a despondent sigh.

"…My little sister is out there, somewhere. I know it."

"I'm sure you'll find her, Miss Fox."

"Worry for yourself more than for me… But thanks."

Honoka turns to address her fellow conversee. "It's… It's not so simple, Miss Fox. You've seen the things that was done to me. I can't just get better from such things overnight."

Her earnest words getting nothing but a blank stare in exchange, Honoka sheepishly goes back to cleaning.

Swish. Swish. Swish.


"Miss Fox?" Honoka didn't need to hear the spoken sound for staring to know she was being focused upon.


Irritation is building in the voice. A nervous shiver finds its way into Honoka's sweeping. "U-uhm, is there anything you need-?"


Honoka squeaks and throws her hands up defensively, dropping her broom as she is descended upon, seized by the wrists and-nothing. Feeling her hands being held and opened, Honoka dares to open an eye.

"…These the hands of a fighter. Why are you letting them go to waste on a broom?"

Honoka's hands are released and the box is returned to, brimming with fuzzy tails once more.

"You're struggling to hide what you once were. You're not really good at it, you know? Go back. Take up the sword once more."

"It's not so simple, Miss Fox…! I just can't-"

"But you can, you know? When you fall down, do you not get back up?"

Honoka said nothing as the tails before her coil about within the box, their owner curling up for a nap.

"I merely handed you the rope. It's up to you to grab and start climbing."

She looked down wanting to give thanks for the sagely advice, but unable to say so…

"Mizuka-chan! Honoka's acting all weird! No wait, is she turning back into a chuunibyou?!"

Honoka snaps back to reality, seeing her friends clutching each other tightly.

"Yeah! What's gotten into you? N-Not that it's necessarily bad, seeing you turning back into the usual… I kind of missed it, in fact. Just a little." Mizuka scratches her temple sheepishly.

"Oh! It's nothing. Let's go, everyone!" Honoka wipes away a tear, smiling brightly. She sprints ahead and waves at them to catch up.

"M-Mou! Honoka-chan, don't make me run so much!"

"Oh, that's right! Misaki! We still owe you lunch, right? I know a good place - 'Arigato Cafe' by the train station! Mizuka! Hurry up, loser between us both pays the bill!"

"He-HEY! That's not fair, announcing this so suddenly-!"

"Mi-Mizukaaa, Honokaaa, don't make me ruuuuun-"

As her friends struggle to pick up the pace she looks up once more to the skies above, and there it was that she repeats the words she thought of then, past and present merging together in this very moment:

"My name is Sarada Honoka. Because of you, Miss Fox, I remember once more what it means to truly live. Thank you, from the very bottom of my heart."

A whisper of a message she hopes the Kamis will carry across this peaceful summer breeze, delivering it to a certain fuzzy pair of ears no matter how far they may be.


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