Chapter 2: In Days of Aoi (Full Text)

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1

—It was in the middle of April.

The Saiō representative1 had just been announced, and the streets of Kyoto were in a sudden fit of energy.

“Hey, hey, did y’all see the news about this year’s Saiō representative? I hear the lady’s studying in a women’s university and is from a family who owns a long-established dry-goods store! It’s great that we got such a beauty this year.”

Mieko-san was gleefully chatting about this year’s Saiō representative while visiting Kura, an antique shop in Kyoto’s Teramachi Sanjou.

She was the middle-aged woman who was present when I got a part-time job here.

Apparently, she was a friend of Owner, but didn’t have much knowledge about antiques.

After expressing her excitement, Mieko-san brought a cup of coffee brewed by Holmes-san to her lips.

“Oh right, Aoi-chan. Did ya find out why Kiyotaka-chan managed to guess your address when you just told him your name?” She suddenly turned around, as if having suddenly remembered something.

“—Ah… Yes, I know.”

I muttered as my cheeks turned red, while Mieko-san and Holmes-san giggled.

It was the day I decided to work here.

After hearing my name, Holmes-san asked, “Do you live in Sakyo ward, quite close to Shimogamo Shrine?” Since that was spot-on, I remember having a shocked look on my face as I replied, “Yes, that is right, how did you know?”

At that time, I was amazed that he could deduce my address just from my name, but I soon figured out the reason afterward.

I had always taken the bus to school, but since I started working at Kura, I started using my bicycle.

Doing so allowed me to see things that I had not been able to see before.

“Aoi Elementary School”, “Aoi Cleaning Shop”, “Aoi Mansion”, “Aoi Bookshop”, “Aoi Café”, “Aoi Building”, and so on.

…The area around Shimogamo Shrine was filled with buildings with the name “Aoi”.

There were so many of them that someone from Osaka would say, “Y’all sure like ‘Aoi’!”

Apparently, that name originated from ‘Aoi Festival’, which was one of Kyoto’s three largest festivals.

Even I had heard of the name “Aoi Festival”.

But I never thought that the people of the neighbourhood would use the name to that extent.

I now knew that Holmes-san’s ability to pinpoint the area I was living in solely based off my name was not at all anything mysterious. Equating “Aoi” with “close to Shimogamo Shrine” was just something that locals understood intuitively.

Incidentally, the “Saiō representative” that Mieko-san was talking excitably about is the leading role of the Aoi Festival.

This year’s representative was just revealed yesterday, causing the city to heat up with anticipation.

“…Being chosen to be the Saiō representative is quite amazing, isn’t it? I was surprised that they even hold a press conference on Kyoto TV.”

Mieko-san enthusiastically replied to my monologue.

“Of course! Being the Saiō representative is the greatest honor a Kyoto girl can get!”

“G-Greatest honor?”

“Yup. The best lady is selected with serious consideration to intelligence, character and parentage. It ain’t just a beauty contest! That’s why they’re looks might not be the best, but they’re all of good character. Even so, this year’s representative sure is a beauty. She’ll look great in a Jūnihitoe2! I’ve gotta take some photos of that!”

In response to Mieko-san’s energetic explanation, I could only reply with “I see.”

While I was struggling to empathize with her, the corners of Holmes-san’s mouth rose as he spoke.

“The Aoi Festival is one that has a long tradition, dating back to the Heian period, and even appears in The Tale of Genji3.”

“Eh, even in The Tale of Genji? I’ve read it, but does it really appear there?”

Even though I proclaimed that I had read that piece of literature, it was only the manga version.

“Do you know of the scene where the principal wife of Hikaru Genji argues with his lover and fights for space to stop their ox carriage?”

“Ah, are you talking about the scene with the collision between Aoi no Ue and Rokujou no Miyasudokoro?”

It was the scene where the Genji’s lover (Rokujou no Miyasudokoro) was slapped by Genji’s rightful wife (Aoi no Ue) and had to dejectedly retreat. In any world and timeline, the main wife is always the strongest, but that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

“Exactly. That festival was the Aoi Festival. In the Heian period, the word ‘festival’ always referred to the Aoi Festival.”

“I see. By the way, what is the ‘Saiō representative’?”

Thinking that it was quite a stupid thing to ask, I did so anyway.

“Why, she’s the star of the show! She’s the one who’ll be wearing the Jūnihitoe and be carried around on a mikoshi4 during the parade!”

Mieko-san answered proudly.

…I felt relieved knowing that there were people in the flesh who were excited about this festival without knowing much about it, despite having lived in Kyoto for such a long time.

“The Saiō is a shrine maiden of royal blood. During the Heian period, unmarried imperial princesses were chosen to serve as shrine maidens at the Kamo Shrine or the Ise Shrine. Today, normal women are chosen to act as the Saiō, or become the ‘Saiō representative’, just for the festival.”

“Ah, I see. They represent the Saiō, so they’re called ‘Saiō representative’.”

“They’re ladies of honorable origin who represent Kyoto, and can be described with the phrase ‘gifted with beauty and wit’. Being chosen to be the representative is naturally of immense prestige.”

“Exactly. If yer chosen, ya won’t need to worry about getting married!”

“I-Is that so? So, how does one get selected?”

“This isn’t public information, but I’ve heard that the people from the shrine will judge if you’re worthy.”

“I’ve also heard that if you take lessons in tea ceremony or flower arrangement, the teachers might ask for you to be considered as a candidate.”

“I see…” For some reason, I was overwhelmed by their words.

As I thought, there are many things that only locals can know.

For a common civilian like myself, all I can do is watch the festival, with the Saiō representative being completely unrelated to me.

But that thought only lasted for a passing moment.

I had no idea at the time that I, the commoner, would be connected to the Saiō representative via Kura—

2

—A few days later.

It was a weekday, and as usual, I went to help out at Kura after school.

“Well then, I was thinking of changing the displays by the window, so could you take the current items down, Aoi-san?”

I energetically nodded and replied, “Yes,” as Holmes-san approached holding a box.

My role here was usually limited to cleaning and manning the shop counter, so I was a little thrilled to do something that involved more work.

The store was already really clean when I got here, so I couldn’t help but feel that my cleaning was absolutely useless. On the other hand, Holmes-san and Manager seemed to be the type to leave the shop at irregular intervals, so my presence as someone who could look after the shop was unexpectedly useful. That being said, I still wanted to be more useful, so I was extremely happy about this development.

The items at the display corner were tea utensils.

After carefully wiping the dust off each of them, I wrapped them in paper and placed them in the box.

Those tea utensils had cherry blossom motifs on them.

“…The cherry blossom season in Kyoto is already ending, huh.”

Gazing at the cherry blossoms on the tea utensils, I earnestly murmured. Holmes-san quietly nodded and said, “Yes, it is,” as he wrote in the account book.

“What should we do with the display, then?”

“I was thinking that we should go with some items related to the Aoi Festival.”

“Ah, I see.”

As we were talking, I noticed an ageing man striding towards the shop with vigor.

“Hey, Kiyotaka.”

He opened the doors with quite a violent force.

I wonder who this person is?

He had a moustache and wore Japanese clothes as well as a brimmed hat. It looked quite retro, but I could sense the “chic” stylishness and immaculateness from his outfit. Also, this gentleman seemed to give off an intimidating air for some reason.

“…Owner.”

Seeing Holmes-san’s blank look, my eyes widened.

Owner? Does that mean that this person is the “national appraiser”, Yagashira Seiji-san?

In other words, Holmes-san’s grandfather?

“It’s great to see that you are well.”

After letting out a hearty laugh, Owner took a glance at me.

“Who’s this, Kiyotaka, your girlfriend? A pleasure to meet you.”

I was taken aback by those words, but before I could say, “No, I’m not”,

“She’s Mashiro Aoi-san and she’s helping in the shop. I told you that we hired a high school girl as a part-timer, right? Did you forget?”

Holmes-san heaved a sigh of exasperation.

 “Right, you did say something like that. Aoi-san, as you know, I have such a weird grandson, but I hope to get along well with you.”

Owner extended a hand for me to shake.

“Ah, I hope to get along with you as well!” I hesitatingly shook his hand.

“My, you look really cute. How would you like to have some coffee in that corner?”

Owner said while pulling my hand. In response, my eyes widened, and I exclaimed, “What?”

“Owner, please don’t hit on the high school girl who’s here on part-time work.”

Holmes-san flatly chided.

H-Hit on me? This grandfather was going to hit on me?

“You make me sound bad. I was just thinking of expanding my social circle.”

As I stood dumbfounded, Owner pouted with a slightly bored expression on his face.

“More importantly, you’ve brought in another annoying case, haven’t you?”

Closing the account book with a slam, Holmes-san took a deep breath.

“As expected of my grandson,” Owner praised as he folded his arms haughtily.

“…There’s a mother and her daughters outside the shop, looking confused. They’re customers that you called over, right?”

After hearing those words, Owner forcefully turned around.

“Please, come in.”

He politely opened the door like a gentleman.

“…Thank you.”

The customers who entered the shop while greeting and bowing were a refined-looking middle-aged woman in Japanese garb, a beautiful girl in a dress who looked to be a university student, as well as another girl who looked to be the about the same age as myself.

…Wait, that person’s…

The similarly-aged girl looked somewhat familiar, so I focused my attention on her.

 “Could it be… Mashiro-san from Class 1?” The other girl spoke up.

“Y-Yes. You’re Miyashita-san from Class 2, right?”

Yes, that girl was in the same school, and the same academic year as me.

Since our classes were different, I didn’t know what kind of person she was, but we knew each other’s faces and names from the times when we had combined lessons together.

—She was Miyashita Kaori-san.

“Why are you here, Mashiro-san?”

“I have a part-time job here.”

“Ah, I see.”

 “What, you’re friends with Miyashita-san’s youngest daughter? What a coincidence!” Owner laughed after witnessing our awkward exchange.

No, I wouldn’t go as far to say that we’re friends…

However, Owner was indifferent to my hesitation.

“Come, Miyashita-san, please take a seat. Kiyotaka, go make some tea. Aoi-san, take the standing signboard in and change the placard to ‘Closed’.”

Owner showed the visitors to the sofas, while I did as he instructed.

“Y-Yes.”

I’m surprised that he would close the shop for this.

What in the world’s about to happen?

Feeling a little nervous, I turned around the placard at the door so that it read ‘Closed’, and took the signboard into the shop.

3

“—Miyashita Draper’s Shop of Nishijin5 is a long-established shop with more than three hundred years of history and deals with all sorts of clothing, from Kabuki6 and Japanese dance costumes to the kimono worn by leading enka7 singers.”

Owner spoke as he took a seat on the sofa.

Having finished the task of bringing the signboard into the shop, I closed the door firmly as I looked up, startled.

Wow, three hundred years!

The oldest store in my hometown was only about a hundred years old.

As expected of Kyoto. Even the histories of old shops here are impressive.

“It’s just old. That’s why even if we put up another shop in Roppongi, it probably ain’t going according to our expectations.” Miyashita-san’s mother said with a wry smile.

It seemed like they had opened a branch store in Roppongi. Nonetheless, the Miyashita family were amazing for having tailored even the clothes of big-name enka singers.

That was what I thought as I started sweeping the floor with feigned ignorance while peeked at the situation.

“So you’re from the Miyashita Draper Shop? I congratulate you for your recent achievement.”

Holmes-san bowed and gave a sweet smile.

What did he congratulate them for?

“Thank you. It has always been my dream to have my daughter be the Saiō representative.”

Miyashita-san’s mother placed a hand on her cheek and smiled elegantly.

Did she say Saiō representative? I whirled around.

The figure of Miyashita-san’s sister entered my eyes as she shrugged in embarrassment.

Come to think of it, Mieko-san did say that this year’s representative was from a long-established draper shop8.

So Miyashita-san’s sister is this year’s Saiō representative.

As Mieko-san enthusiastically exclaimed a few days ago, she was indeed a refined-looking beauty.

Miyashita-san was also a beauty with well-defined facial features, but her sister had by far a better appearance that mesmerized the eyes.

“…So, I presume this visit is related to the Saiō representative?”

Holmes-san folded his hands by his chest and asked. In response, Miyashita-san’s mother twitched in surprise.

“Kiyotaka, threatening letters started being delivered to Saori-san right after the announcement of the Saiō representative.”

Owner spoke in a low voice, as Holmes-san frowned.

Miyashita-san’s sister, Saori-san, shrunk back. By the way, Miyashita-san’s given name is “Kaori”. Their family seemed to be obsessed with the “ori” character9, as might be expected of a draper store.

“Threatening letters, you say?”

Saori-san said “Yes” and nodded slightly, then retrieved a manilla envelope from her bag.

“This is it.”

“…May I inspect it?”

“Yes, please do.”

Saori-san nodded. As always, Holmes-san put on his white gloves and slipped a hand into the envelope.

After staring at the envelope for a while, he took out a white sheet of paper.

“YoU aRe NOt fiT TO BE ThE SAIō rePreseNTaTivE. aNNounCE yOuR reSIgNAtiON imMEdiATely.”

“…It’s made up of newspaper cuttings pasted on a piece of A4 paper. It’s certainly the very picture of a ‘threatening letter’.”

Holmes-san spoke with what seemed like a bit of admiration.

 That statement was somehow quite amusing to me, causing me to make a face, which was thankfully not noticed by Miyashita-san’s mother.

“Have you consulted anyone else regarding this?” Holmes-san followed up with a question, to which Miyashita-san’s mother shook her head.

“It’s unpleasant, so the best course of action would be to go to the police, but no actual threats were made, and we didn’t want to make a big fuss right before the important festival. I asked my husband, and he suggested that we consult Seiji-san’s grandson.”

I see. So Owner and Miyashita-san’s father were acquaintances. I imagine that they must have had some lateral communication from a long time ago, being shop owners in Kyoto.

“U-Um, my father said that Kiyotaka-san is a sharp person who’s known as ‘Holmes’ by everyone around.”

Saori-san suddenly piped up.

Her cheeks were tinged with red, which was quite surprising.

Holmes-san might be quite a mischievous, weird person, but he gave off an elegant impression and possessed outstanding looks. This year’s Saiō representative might even fall for that handsome guy.

“No no, I’m only called ‘Holmes’ because my family name is ‘Yagashira’.”

Holmes-san gave the usual reply.

Even though that was not true.

“How were the threatening letters delivered?”

“They were placed in my bag,” Saori-san said and shrugged.

“In your bag?”

“Yes, after returning home from university, I removed the contents of my bag, only to find an envelope that I didn’t recognize.”

“…Did you go anywhere other than the university?”

“I also went for flower arrangement training.”

“By the way, was that the only letter you received?”

“N-No.”

Saori-san shook her head, while her mother leant forward.

“When we first saw the letter, we had a bad feeling about it, and were wondering what to do. But then again, nothing happened, so we were thinking that it was just someone being jealous, when another one was delivered.”

“This is it.”

This time, a piece of paper that had been folded down four times was presented.

Holmes-san accepted the letter and carefully opened it.

“hUrrY uP AnD rESigN. YOU’re aN eYeSOrE.”

“This one’s also made up of newspaper cuttings, I see. Was it delivered in a manilla envelope, like the last one?”

“No, it was found in the bag, just like that.”

“I see. Saori-san, you have an idea about who could have sent these threatening letters, don’t you?”

Holmes-san looked Saori-san squarely in the eye, causing her to quiver.

“W-Why do you think that?”

“For someone who’s received a threatening letter, you seem quite calm. Rather than having absolutely no clue about the sender, you must have thought, ‘Could it have been that person?’, right?”

He had probably hit the nail on the head, for I could hear Saori-san take a breath, even from over here.

“…Yes, there is someone who I think could have done this.”

Saori-san revealed.

“What, really? Why didn’t you tell us?”

Her mother exclaimed in surprise. Right after that, Miyashita Kaori-san, who was in the same grade as me, spoke up with a stern expression on her face.

“Mom, that’s because you would overreact even when there’s no evidence! During that time when Sis was being left out of a group, you stormed over to their house and shouted at them and it was so embarrassing! After that, Sis was bullied even more, right? Mom, you just don’t understand.”

“…Kaori.”

Her mother muttered, apparently shocked. In return, Kaori-san lowered her eyebrows.

 “It’s fine, Kaori. I was actually wondering if the culprits were from the family that my mother intruded on.”

Saori-san spoke with a sorrowful countenance. Holmes-san did not say anything, instead waiting for her to continue.

“…There were two girls I was close with in high school. They were the daughters of a small restaurant and a ryokan. Since our families owned fairly well-known shops and we attended the same flower arrangement class, the three of us hit it off and we became good friends. After a small incident, I was left out from that group and became quite troubled…

“I talked about it with my mother, who flew into a fit of rage. She then forced her way into their houses and yelled, ‘I ain’t forgivin’ ya for leaving out our Saori. From now on, we won’t have anything to do with yer businesses, and we ain’t introducin’ our customers!’”

…Wow, a monster parent.

I frowned as I listened to her story.

“As a result, my relationship with the two of them deteriorated even further, to the point that it was hopeless to salvage it. However, my high school and university are on an escalator system10, and we’re still in the same flower arrangement class, so I still have to see them all the time.”

That must be really awkward. I would certainly feel like running away from that situation.

“When the Saiō representative was decided, the flower arrangement teacher was the first to tell us about it. Delighted, she announced, ‘Everyone, the Saiō representative has been selected from our class.’ At that time, the two of them became quite excited, thinking that their names would be called out.”

Upon hearing that, Mieko-san’s words floated at the back of my mind.

“I’ve also heard that if you take lessons in tea ceremony or flower arrangement, the teachers might ask for you to be considered as a candidate.”

—Those two might have heard about that and could have momentarily thought about being referred by the teacher.

“After that, when the teacher said, ‘That person is Miyashita Saori-san!’, the two of them made faces that I will never forget. Up until now, it had been something of a cold war in which we didn’t talk to each other, but they openly showed their malicious intent…”

Saori-san cast down her eyes, while Holmes-san nodded and said, “I see.”

“Could we meet these two people?”

“You want to meet them and ask them directly?”

Saori-san asked, her eyes wide in surprise. Holmes-san shook his head.

“No, I want to meet them while hiding the fact that I’m acquainted with you.”

“If so… our class will be holding an exhibition on flower arrangement this weekend. All the students will be attending.”

“I see, that would be great. I would certainly like to visit.”

Holmes-san said, a sweet smile on his face.

4

After the Miyashita family had left, Holmes-san stared at the two threatening letters while sitting on the sofa, as if he were digesting them.

His eyes were serious, but his mouth showed the hint of a smile.

“…Did you figure something out?”

“Yes, just a little.”

He then closed his mouth. I could tell that he was not willing to say anymore for now.

“Right, I’m leavin’ it to ya, Kiyotaka!”

 Holmes-san openly frowned at Owner, who had swiftly put on his hat.

“Where exactly are you going?”

“Ahh, well, to Ponto-chō11.”

“Seriously, just when I think you’re back for the first time in such a long time, you push off an annoying case to me, then go off and play. In the first place, why is it that I’m the one who has to deal with this?”

Holmes-san sighed heavily in exasperation with the threatening letters in his hand. In response, Owner laughed.

“Well, of course! The Miyashita family didn’t want to blow up the situation, which would give rise to unpleasant rumors about them, and also couldn’t go to the police, so they were uncertain about what to do. Seeing them like this, I just had to go and say, ‘Why not consult Kiyotaka, that grandson of mine is known as the Holmes of Teramachi Sanjou!’”

“Really, you ‘just’ had to say that? In any case, you’re always leaving your shop and doing whatever you want without closing it down. Father and I have our own jobs to do, while you always pretend that you’re busy being the national appraiser and actually going on holiday overseas with other women. On top of that, you even tried hitting on Aoi-san, who’s helping out with the shop!”

Through that scolding, Owner was shutting his ears and chanting, “Can’t hear a thing!” in a loud voice.

…Is he a kid?

“I’m the one who developed your abilities, and now you’re being ungrateful and telling me off like this?

“This and that are completely unrelated problems.”

“Well, anyway, that’s me. Meeting with people and talking to young girls are both part of my job of polishing my sensitivities. Alright, I’ll be off to the geisha district12, then!”

Owner hurriedly escaped through the front door of the shop.

“I had something to confirm with Owner, too. Looks like I’ll have to call him later.”

Holmes-san talked to himself, then took a deep breath.

I wonder what he needed to confirm?

Also…

“Holmes-san and Manager give off the same vibe, but Owner is a totally different type, huh.”

I murmured, causing Holmes-san to show a wry smile.

“You’re right. My father and I respect my grandfather, but some parts of him leave us laughing only for the wrong reasons.”

“…I, I see. Come to think of it, Owner initially said that he was going to Ponto-chō, but when he was leaving, he said he was going to the geisha district. Which one is he actually going to?”

“Ponto-chō is also known as a geisha district.”

“Oh, really? I always thought that geisha district referred to Gion.”

“Yes, that is right. Kamishichiken, Gion Kōbu, Gion West13, Shimahara14, Ponto-chō and Miyagawa-chō are all known as geisha districts. Together, they’re called the ‘Six geisha districts of Kyoto’.”

“I see.”

I only knew about Gion and Ponto-chō, but Kyoto’s geisha districts always gave me an impression of grace and elegance.

“That reminds me, Aoi-san. Do you mind coming along with me to the Saiō representative’s flower exhibition? Going there as a lone young man would make me stick out like a sore thumb.”

Holmes-san raised his head and grinned.

“Yes. I’m also curious about it, so please take me with you,” I said, nodding strongly.

“Now, this makes it seem like I’m hitting on you, albeit in a different vein from Owner.”

Holmes-san chuckled, while I was at a loss for words, and I could feel my cheeks turning red.

“Just kidding. I don’t have any impure thoughts, so don’t worry.”

Tension drained from my muscles after hearing his smooth continuation.

“…As I thought, you’re mean.”

I shrugged, causing a cheeky grin to appear once again on Holmes-san’s face.

Thinking that I was just being made to dance on the palm of his hand, I felt a little irritated.

…I wonder how far Holmes-san is in this case of the threatening letters.

No doubt he’ll figure something out after going to the exhibition and meeting the two suspects (?).

As I had that thought, my heart suddenly beat faster.

In many ways, I was looking forward to the flower exhibition.

That was probably imprudent, since the Saiō representative was grieved at heart over the threatening letters.

Then again, in order to clear up her sorrow, it would be great for this incident to be solved as soon as possible.

Firmly wishing for that to be the case, I clasped my hands tightly.

5

—And then Saturday arrived.

Leaving the running of Kura to Manager, Holmes and I headed towards the flower arrangement exhibition, which was being held in a hotel.

It was apparently being held in the event hall of Kyoto Hotel Okura, which was in the direction of the city hall.

In other words, it was at a walkable distance from Kura.

“Aoi-san, did you say anything to Kaori-san in school?”

Holmes-san asked during our walk to the hotel, and I replied, “Yes, I did.”

“The day after our meeting, she was waiting outside the school gates, and warned me not to tell anyone about it.”

“Well, if news of the Saiō representative receiving a threatening letter reaches the ears of a young girl, it would spread within a moment’s notice. She must have been awake at night worrying that you had already revealed the secret to someone else, don’t you think.”

“You’re probably right. But even if she worries about it, I haven’t talked to anyone about it, and I don’t plan to.” I smiled wryly, and in response Holmes-san’s eyes narrowed.

“Do you currently have any friends in school that you can trust?”

“…Currently, no.”

After being stabbed in the heart by the fact that the best friend I had trusted the most was going out with my boyfriend behind my back, I stopped being able to trust friends.

We would go to school, chat idly, eat together, wave goodbye to one another, then go home.

If that was all we did, I wouldn’t be troubled at all.

Since I didn’t divulge my sorrows and hardships to anyone, I currently didn’t have any friends for me to secretively whisper someone else’s secrets to.

“I really do think that Aoi and Katsumi make a good couple! I’ll watch over him to make sure he doesn’t cheat, so don’t worry and go to Kyoto!”

As the words of my former best friend Saen’s words echoed in my head, I felt another stab in my chest.

Saen… why? Why did you go out with Katsumi?

You should know how I would feel, right? Do you think I no longer matter since I’m nowhere near the two of you? Or did you always have feelings for Katsumi while pretending to cheer us on? Was it painful for you?

If that’s the case, were you happy that I left?

I found it hard to breathe.

—It was always like this.

My soliloquy would always go on and on without me finding any answers.

It was painful, unbearable, and I wanted to make their treachery clear no matter what.

“Aoi-san, the weather is great, don’t you think?”

Holmes-san remarked as he looked up at the sky, bringing me back down to earth and causing me to look up as well.

The cloudless, deep blue sky was sparkling with beauty.

“…You’re right, the weather is great.”

Come to think of it, the time spent in that loop of painful thoughts had decreased since I started working part-time at Kura. Even if I had these bitter feelings, Holmes-san’s simple words would pull me back to reality.

I looked at Holmes-san, and he returned a bright smile.

My cheeks heated up.

There were times when Holmes-san would be so sharp that it was frightening, but there were also times when he would save me like this.

At that time, I was a bad kid for trying to secretly sell off my family’s antiques, but I truly believe that it was the right thing for me to go to Kura, which let me get to know Holmes-san.

—Thus we walked into the event hall of Hotel Okura.

The first thing that I noticed was a sign with the words “Hanamura School Flower Exhibition”, placed at the entrance.

They had probably gotten a famous calligrapher to write it for them.

In the middle of the hall was a large flower arrangement to welcome guests, while the four walls were lined with student works.

“This is magnificent!”

Holmes-san joyfully exclaimed as he narrowed his eyes to get a better look at the large flower arrangement, which was larger than a hand.

Apparently, he also liked flowers.

“…This looks like it was done by the instructor.”

“Yes, and it expresses the brilliance of spring. It might be huge, but it is delicate and daring. I can tell that a lot of spirit has gone into preparing for this exhibition.”

Upon hearing his comments, I gazed at the flowers again.

I could only think, “Wow, it’s huge!” earlier, but now that he mentioned it, the flower arrangement was indeed really intricate for something so big. Its details had been taken care of thoroughly, just like the leaves on the blue-and-white jar.

I see, so the realm of flower arrangement is a deep one as well.

“As expected of the head of the school. The event looks to be a successful one.”

“Indeed.”

Most of the attendees were ladies in traditional Japanese garb, and many of them were old. However, I also spotted a few people here and there who looked to be students like myself, as well as pupils of the flower arrangement school, including Miyashita Saori-san.

 “Umm, you’re pretending to be unrelated to her, right?”

“Yes. Shall we take a look around for now?”

“Alright.”

I nodded energetically, then turned to look at the works on display on top of a pure white cross.

There were two works from each student.

After looking at all the works, I heard a voice.

“Oh, that’s the work of this year’s Saiō representative! Simply beautiful!”

The figures of Saori-san, who was bowing in gratitude, as well as a visitor appeared in front of my eyes.

Saori-san noticed us and stopped moving for a moment, but she caught herself and continued bowing elegantly to other people.

We also bowed and looked at Saori-san’s work.

One of them used a tall flower to express a grand scale of liveliness.

The other was small, but had a exquisite balance between the flowers and branches extending to the side.

They were works that were delicate and transient, yet made me feel that they were filled with inner strength.

“…”

But those two works were…

I unconsciously folded my arms.

“Those two works show quite different faces.”

 Holmes-san muttered to himself, apparently having the same thoughts as me.

Hearing those words, Saori-san opened her mouth to say, “Ah, that’s…”

“Yep, those two works have a difference in their craftsmanship.”

Before she could complete her sentence, a strong voice reverberated from behind.

Shocked, I turned around to see a middle-aged woman in traditional Japanese clothes maintaining an elegant smile.

“This is Hanamura-sensei.”

Holmes-san bowed, while my eyes widened in surprise.

So this was the teacher for flower arrangement.

And Holmes-san actually knew this person?

“Well, well, if it isn’t Kiyotaka-kun from Seiji-san’s place. You’ve grown bigger since the last time I saw you.”

“Long time no see.”

“If I’m not mistaken, you’re studying at the prefectural university, right?”

“I’m now studying in Kyoto U, just as I’d hoped.”

“Oh, you entered by side-entry? That’s impressive.”

“It’s nothing. I’ve been told that it’s a crafty way of getting in.”

“Oh, don’t say that.”

Seeing the two of them laughing together, I felt somewhat overwhelmed.

It seemed that Holmes-san was also acquainted with the flower arrangement instructor through Owner.

As expected of Kyoto. The lateral connections between people are amazing.

“These are the works of the Saiō representative, right?”

Looking at the two works, Holmes-san changed the subject. The teacher nodded strongly.

“The big one was done in class, while the small one was completed at home. Miyashita-san was able to showcase her potential by doing the flower arrangement at home, and as a result, the small one turned out to be of better quality.”

Upon hearing the instructor’s words, I nodded.

Yes, out of those two works, the small one was much better.

Just like with the teacher’s arrangement, it conveyed a sense of tension from every minute detail.

She might have been disturbed by classmates she’d fallen out with in the classroom.

It must be impossible to be in the perfect frame of mind to arrange flowers delicately while being next to people who could have sent the threatening letters.

By being alone at home, she could produce something good.

There is no doubt that Saori-san felt that she was lying on a bed of thorns.

“Works done by young people are better since they’re more vivid. Are there other youths like the Saiō representative?”

Holmes-san nonchalantly asked, causing the teacher to chuckle.

“Young people, you say? As usual, you talk like an old person, Kiyotaka-kun.”

“You know how my grandfather is like, so I came to be like this.”

“I understand. Seiji-san’s so mischievous, after all. Yes, we have two other university students like Miyashita-san in the same class.”

The teacher walked off for a while before stopping before some works.

There were two female university students clad in kimonos, standing in front of the works.

“Oh my god, a handsome guy!” “Wow, he’s coming here!”

The two people who could have sent Saori-san the threatening letters chattered excitedly as Holmes-san approached.

“Kiyotaka-kun, this is Kawase Yoshiko-san from the Japanese cuisine restaurant on Ponto-chō, and this is Mikami Yuuko-san from the long-established inn in Gion.”

Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san. They seemed to give off extremely normal vibes, and I couldn’t imagine that they were the type to send threatening letters.

They were really too normal, and if they weren’t wearing kimonos, I wouldn’t have thought them to be daughters of old, historical shops.

“The two of you, this is Kiyotaka-kun, the grandson of Yagashira Seiji-san, the famous appraiser. He’s a student of Kyoto University, and has been working at Kura, the antique shop at Teramachi Sanjou, for a while now.”

After the teacher introduced them to Holmes-san, they bowed and said, “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

Holmes-san bowed in a refined manner, and the two girls blushed.

At that moment, the instructor noticed my presence for the first time.

“Kiyotaka-kun, is that person next to you your…?”

“No, she’s a high school student working at our store. She’s here today to learn.”

“Oh, is that so. You’re a cute high school girl, so get a good look around.”

I hurriedly lowered my head at the teacher, who was facing me with a kind smile.

“Y-Yes, thank you.”

“We’ll take a look at Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san’s works, then.”

Holmes-san immediately turned to look at the works.

There were flowers and branches extending to the heavens. I wonder if I’m describing the works this way because I see antiques at Kura on a daily basis?

From the two girls’ works, I could feel a sense of vivaciousness overflowing with vigor. Is this what they call “youth power”? The works themselves might be clumsy, without delicacy, transience or sensitivity, but I was somehow fascinated by them.

“These arrangements really convey your bounding energy.”

Holmes-san produced a polished smile. As if being hit by a punch, the two of them blushed again.

“Exactly. They are works that can only be produced by the youth of today.”

The teacher giggled.

“Sensei, you must also be proud for having the Saiō representative chosen from your class.”

Hearing Holmes-san suddenly touch on the core issue, I froze in shock.

H-He’s asking about that already?

Peeking at the two girls’ faces, I noticed that they had disgruntled expressions.

At that moment, Holmes-san went “Ah”, and took out his smartphone.

“Sorry, my phone is ringing, so I’ll excuse myself. Aoi=san, please stay here.”

I could only dumbfoundedly watch as Holmes-san swiftly left the hall with his smartphone in hand.

Wait, what’s going on?

With Holmes-san gone, the teacher also left with a polite bow. As I lingered in the area wondering what to do, I received a message on my smartphone.

“Aoi-san, I think that you can draw information out of them as a fellow woman, so please ask Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san all sorts of questions. It would be a great help it you could ask ‘Are you vexed that the Saiō representative was chosen from the same class?’”

That was Holmes-san’s mail.

“…”

Wait, what?

He’d planned to use me from the beginning, hadn’t he?

But first, I can’t possibly ask about that!

I glared at the screen.

“Hey, high school girl-chan!”

Being suddenly called, I turned around in surprise and replied, “Y-Yes?”

“Are you actually going out with that hot guy?”

Even while smiling, Yoshiko-san had a serious look on her face as she asked the question, making me feel pressured.

“N-No, I’m just working part-time, really!”

After hearing my denial, the two of them looked at each other happily.

“That’s good to hear. I rarely meet such handsome men.”

“He’s a Kyoto University student, to boot!”

I was lost for words after witnessing them say such words so openly.

“Wait, no, she’ll hear us.”

“Yeah, she was totally staring at that handsome guy too.”

The two of them immediately lowered their voices.

 “…By her, do you mean the Saiō representative?” I asked in a small voice.

“Yup, just look at her.”

I took a fleeting glance at Saori-san.

“She’s such a beauty, isn’t she? She was always popular with the men.”

“She always takes the good stuff. The last one was being the Saiō representative.”

I was again momentarily at a loss for words after these two women spilled their innermost thoughts to me, a total stranger.

“I-It must be vexing that the Saiō representative was chosen from the same class, right?”

I’d thought that something like this would be impossible to ask, but I unexpectedly managed to simply bring it up.

“It’s too late for that now.”

“Too late, you say?”

“Yes, we felt the feelings of frustration from a long time ago.”

“The boys all loved Saori. Even the ones that we liked all went for her.”

“We wanted to distance ourselves from her and get away from being her sidekicks, but then her mother forced herself into our homes and shouted at us.”

“That was so unreal. But thanks to that, we broke all relations with her. It’s good that we’re not longer her sidekicks.”

“Yup, I’m so done with being next to a beauty popular with guys.”

“On top of that, she’s now the Saiō representative. She’s even more like a flower on lofty heights.”

“Actually, isn’t choosing Saori totally unreasonable? Her family isn’t that prosperous, and yet she got selected to be the representative.”

“Exactly. We ain’t very well off either, so she was chosen just based on the name of that old draper shop.”

“That mother must be totally showing off right now.”

All I could do was watch on blankly as the two of them lay their thoughts bare, as if having forgotten about my existence.

Saori-san, Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san were a group that got along well in high school.

However, Saori-san towered above the rest with her superior looks, and always hogged the spotlight.

When the guys they liked said that they preferred Saori-san, the pent-up jealousy in the two girls exploded, and excluded Saori-san from their circle.

After learning about them, Saori-san’s mother stormed into their houses in a fit of rage.

As a result, their friendships completely broke apart.

“By the way, what do you think of him?”

“Does he make you giddy because he’s so handsome?”

The two girls suddenly drew closer, interested in my response.

“Y-Yes, he is handsome…”

…And to be honest, I do feel lightheaded sometimes when looking at him.

“He’s, how should I put it… quite the oddball.”

I said with a straight face, but the two of them stiffened.

Did that really put them off that much? I wondered, when I heard a voice from behind.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Aoi-san.”

As luck would have it, that voice belonged to Holmes-san. My face turned pale.

6

“I-I’m so sorry, Holmes-san!”

In a café-restaurant adjacent to the hotel lobby on the first floor, I clasped my hands and apologized. In response, Holmes-san showed a small grin.

“No no, I don’t mind at all, so don’t worry about it.”

“Y-You sure?”

He couldn’t be angry with a smile on his face, right?

“Yes, I have often been treated as an oddball by friends, so I’m used to it. So much so that I’m thinking of changing my middle name to ‘oddball’.”

Holmes-san nonchalantly said as he took a sip of coffee. However, instead of feeling relieved, my eyes widened.

“Y-You’re totally minding it, aren’t you! Um, I didn’t mean oddball in a bad way. I just meant that Holmes-san isn’t a typical person.”

I desperately explained away, but Holmes-san burst out laughing.

“I was joking, Aoi-san.”

As he laughed mischievously, I realized a flush creeping onto my cheeks.

I was tricked once again.

“You’re such a mean Kyoto guy.”

Pouting, I drunk some coffee.

“Aoi-san, it’s not ‘Kyoto guy’, but ‘Kyoto man’.”

Holmes-san spoke with a long index finger in the air, as if he was chiding me, but his lips wore a bright smile.

“Ah, I see… but for some reason ‘Kyoto guy’ seems to fit you more than ‘Kyoto man’.”

Yes, he gives off the feeling of an elegant, slightly mischievous Kyoto guy.

“…There’s no such phrase, but ‘Kyoto guy’ certainly sounds lighter than ‘Kyoto man’.”

Holmes-san said as his eyes narrowed into little arcs.

He was apparently happy with that description.

“So, did you hear anything from Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san?”

“Yes, more than I thought.”

“More than you thought?”

“It was really surprising that they talked on and on.”

They’re words were so heartfelt that I felt some hesitation in relaying it to Holmes-san.

In fact, those girls were planning to get Holmes-san, and this would unfortunately interfere with those plans. That being said, this was an important investigation.

As such, I told him everything they said, without leaving out a single detail.

“—I see, they exposed their deep envy towards Saori-san. I’m certainly surprised.”

Holmes-san nodded with his arms folded, while I instinctively leaned forward.

“R-Right? You wouldn’t normally reveal so much to someone you’ve just met, right?”

“Exactly. In other words, they’ve gotten accustomed to habitually badmouthing Saori-san.”

“That’s too cruel, isn’t it?”

“This just goes to show how much of a Madonna-like lifestyle she led in school, now as well as in the past. She’s too dazzling, and I imagine that she doesn’t feel much guilt about it.”

Too dazzling, and without feelings of guilt?

“Umm, what do you mean?”

“It’s similar to the situation where normal people calmly badmouth idols, right? Those girls are indulged with the idea that ‘Saori is so beautiful and so popular to the opposite sex, so she’s already receiving a large amount of pleasant thoughts, so it will be find for us to badmouth her as much as we want.’”

So it’s the same psychology as that of normal people who calmly badmouth idols, huh. They were such close friends, and now they’ve come to this.

No, it’s because they were close that jealousy is multiplied.

“But even so, to say all that in public without hesitation…”

“Yes, that’s not good. They wouldn’t have minded if those words reached Saori-san. They might have even thought, ‘It’ll be good for her to receive some unpleasant sentiment.’”

“But that’s terrible! Poor Saori-san!”

“I feel the same way.”

“…Saori-san is certainly beautiful, but is she really the type to charm men so much that it stirs up jealousy?”

In fact, some people might be beautiful, but aren’t popular, I mused internally.

“Yes, she does,” Holmes-san nodded, then moved his cup of coffee to his lips.

“She possesses fragile beauty and helplessness, which arouses the desire to protect.”

The desire to protect. In other words, she had something that made men think, “I want to protect her.”

“Holmes-san, do you also like girls like Saori-san?” I asked.

“Who knows?” Holmes-san cocked his head to the side.

“What’s with that evasive response? You do actually think she’s beautiful, right?”

“Yes, perhaps, but I don’t praise a woman in front of other women on principle,” Holmes-san said as a smile appeared on his face. In response, I went, “Oh?” and my eyes widened.

He doesn’t praise a woman in front of other women… Does he mean me?

My cheeks heated up as I realized that.

“W-What are you talking about? You wouldn’t count me as a ‘woman’, would you?”

“Aoi-san, you’re not a woman? I apologize for not noticing earlier.”

“No! I mean, I’m a proper woman!”

I raised my voice, annoyed. In contrast, Holmes-san laughed, apparently enjoying himself.

Seriously, he’s really wicked. The mean Kyoto guy is going strong.

I puffed my cheeks, but Holmes-san was still chuckling.

At that moment, a woman’s voice came from behind, “Kiyotaka-san!” Surprised, I quietly turned around.

There was Miyashita-san’s mother, Saori-san and Kaori-san.

Kaori-san was in a dress, while the other two were dressed in traditional Japanese clothes.

The three of them had somewhat uneasy expressions on their faces.

In contrast to Holmes-san who quickly stood up, I slowly got up from my seat and faced the Miyashita family.

“Thank you for specially coming here today.”

The mother thanked, while Saori-san and Kaori-san also bowed.

“No, I count myself lucky to be able to come into contact with such fantastic works.”

 Placing a hand on his chest, he put on an elegant smile. Refinement exuded from his whole body.

I really do respect this part of him.

And that is probably why I feel that his weird parts stand out.

“Well, that’s good… So, erm, did you find out anything?”

Miyashita-san’s mother lowered her voice. Holmes-san softly nodded and said, “Yes, about that.”

“I would like to slowly talk about this, so do you have time tomorrow? If possible, I would prefer meeting in the morning.”

“We have to go to Shimogamo-san15 early in the morning tomorrow.”

“What time is that?”

“Nine. And we also have to return to this exhibition in the afternoon.”

“If that’s the case, let us meet at the ‘Forest of Correction’. At that time, there should be no one else, which is perfect for us.”

“A-Alright.”

In response to Holmes-san’s suggestion, the three of them hesitatingly nodded.

“So, erm, did you find out anything?”

“Yes, I have.”

Holmes-san casually affirmed. Surprised, the Miyashita family and I exclaimed “Eh?” in unison.

“Holmes-san, how much do you know?”

“Of course, I know about the sender of these letters.”

With a slight grin on his face, Holmes-san retrieved the stack of folded threatening letters from his inner jacket pocket.

7

“—Holmes-san, do you really know who the culprit is?”

After returning to Kura in Teramachi Sanjou, I numbly asked in a loud voice, while Holmes-san returned a conspicuous frown.

“Please don’t say something like ‘culprit’ in such a loud voice. Don’t you think this is an insecure shop?”

Upon hearing those words, I was taken aback and placed a hand on my mouth, while Manager, who had been tending the store, chuckled cheerfully.

“As usual, Aoi-san looks to be in good health.”

Manager kindly narrowed his eyes as he wrote his manuscript with his favorite pen. As I thought, Holmes-san and Manager were quite alike. Like father, like son.

The grandfather, Owner, was totally different, though… but leaving that aside…

“S-Sorry.” I apologized.

“For now, just sit down and drink some coffee.”

With a light gait, Holmes-san went to the back of the shop.

Even as I sat down on the sofa, I couldn’t relax.

“How was the flower arrangement exhibition?”

Manager asked gently, so I went, “Yes, well,” and looked him in the eye.

“It was really beautiful. All the students’ works were so vivid, but they were overshadowed by the huge arrangement done by the head of the school that was placed in front of the entrance.”

“I see. Perhaps I should go take a look.”

“Okura is a walkable distance from here, too.”

“In fact, I’d like to look at the exhibition, then eat the famous cream-filled bread on the way back.”

“Cream-filled bread?”

“Yes, there is a place in the vicinity of Okura that sells bread filled with plenty of cream, although it’s eat-in only. The fresh cream isn’t too sweet, and is perfect with red bean jam.”

“Wow, fresh cream and red bean jam goes together unexpectedly well, huh!”

As we chatted, the fragrance of coffee swept over my nostrils.

I lifted my head to see Holmes-san holding a tray.

“Aoi-san, good work for today.”

He then placed the usual café au lait in front of me.

“Thank you.”

I really enjoyed the café au lait, for it caused my cheeks to loosen up. After placing his and manager’s coffee on the table, he also took a seat.

“U-Um, could I go with you to the Forest of Correction tomorrow as well? I’m getting so invested in this case that I’m really curious about it.”

I asked, though I found it difficult to fully express myself. Holmes-san responded with a cheerful nod.

“Yes, Aoi-san, please come along with me. Rather than getting invested, you’re already completely involved in all this.”

That’s good. I really want to see the truth for myself.

“So, Holmes-san, who do you think sent the threatening letters?”

I asked in a small voice while leaning forward. Holmes-san took the letters out of his pocket again and laid them out on the table.

“Aoi-san, could you take a good look at these two letters?”

“YoU aRe NOt fiT TO BE ThE SAIō rePreseNTaTivE. aNNounCE yOuR reSIgNAtiON imMEdiATely.”

“hUrrY uP AnD rESigN. YOU’re aN eYeSOrE.”

They were the two threatening letters which had been formed from newspaper cut-outs.

“Do you notice anything looking at them?”

I carefully studied the two notes, and then went “Ah” in a raised voice.

“The two notes are somehow different.”

In the first note, each letter was cut out and pasted tidily, but the other was quite a mess.

“Do you feel anything looking at this?”

Holmes-san asked with a twinkle in his eye, but I was lost for words.

8

Forest of Correction.

That’s the name of the forest in the grounds of Shimogamo Shrine.

There is a large stone monument with the words “World Cultural Heritage” near the shrine entrance that leads out to a granite path. From that point, a walkway extends straight towards the main shrine. The primary forest16 on both sides of that road is the Forest of Correction, and has been designated as a World Heritage Site along with the shrine.

On top of that, it is also a famous power spot. In fact, the concept of “power spot” used to be hard to swallow for me, but since I moved into Kyoto, my thinking has changed a little.

Thus, in the early hours of the morning, I moved over to the Forest of Correction which was devoid of other people, and I could feel something there that made me agree to its classification as a power spot. There was a special kind of atmosphere in the air, similar to that when entering a forest or when climbing a mountain.

 Since I’d reached the forest earlier than the meeting time of eight o’clock, I took a little walk, taking deep breaths along the way.

(Ah, this feels great!)

As dazzling sunlight filtered through the trees, the chirping of birds resonated in the air.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sounds of the forest. I was truly in a deep forest.

At that moment, I noticed some light footsteps.

“Good morning Aoi-san. You’re early.”

Holmes-san’s voice reached my ears.

I silently opened my eyes, turned my head to the direction of the voice, and there was Holmes-san’s figure standing in front of me.

Of course, he looked wonderful.

Rather than being like a prince, his appearance at the deserted Forest of Correction was like that of a noble from the Heian period.

“G-Good morning. I live nearby, so I could get here early.”

“Your eyes are red. Were you so curious about the truth that you were unable to sleep?”

As Holmes-san moved right beside me and peered at my face, my cheeks went hot.

“Of, of course I was curious.”

At the end of yesterday, he’d evaded my questions about the truth with the words, “You’ll find out about everything tomorrow.”

“I see. And just like you, the curious have arrived.”

As he straightened his posture and turned around, I went “Eh?” in confusion and stretched my neck.

In front of Holmes-san’s field of view was the Miyashita family, who was walking into the forest grounds with pensive looks on their faces.

In this quiet forest which contained no one else besides us, where I could only hear the sounds of the birds and the wind, the footsteps of the mother and two daughters resounded as they slowly approached us.

They stopped about three steps away from us, then lowered their heads.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning. I apologize for calling you here so early in the morning.”

Holmes-san put a hand on his chest and bowed. Behind him, I also quickly bowed.

“So, erm, will the culprit who sent the threatening letters come here?”

Mrs. Miyashita answered while looking around at the quiet forest. In response, a grin appeared on Holmes-san’s face.

“Yes. Or rather, the culprit is already here.”

Upon hearing those words, the Miyashita family went “Eh?”, with their eyes widened.

Holmes-san produced a copy of the threatening letters from his jacket pocket, then turned to the concerned parties with a firm look.

“The one who made the threatening letters — is you, Kaori-san.”

Holmes-san clearly announced while glaring at Kaori-san. Shocked, Mrs. Miyashita and I exclaimed, “Eh? Really??” in loud voices.

Kaori-san?

The Saiō representative’s little sister who is in my year, Kaori-san?

In contrast to my consternation, Holmes-san maintained a calm expression.

With her eyes wide open, Kaori-san stood on the spot, her body trembling slightly.

“W-Why do you think that?”

Kaori-san asked in a quavering, unsteady voice.

“Well, first the question came to me. Why does the elder sister, Saori-san, go to a prestigious private university, while the younger sister, Kaori-san, go to the prefectural Ōki High School, which is an absolutely normal high school? I believe anyone would naturally hold that question.”

Upon hearing those words, I nodded. Indeed, I had also thought, “Why does the elder sister go to a school for rich girls, while Kaori-san goes to a normal high school?”

“I asked your grandfather, and according to him, the two of you went to the same private school until after middle school, when you, Kaori-san, enrolled into a prefectural high school. Apparently, you pleaded to your parents that your friends were all entering Ōki High School, so you wanted to go there no matter what. Since Ōki High School is quite a well-known school with a long history, so your parents allowed you to enter without objection.”

Holmes-san said, while Mrs. Miyashita nodded silently in response.

Come to think of it, Holmes-san mentioned that he had something to confirm with Owner. I suppose that was it – the reason why Kaori-san moved to a prefectural school.

“However, that is only the ostensible reason. Kaori-san, when you were in your second year of middle school, the Miyashita Draper Shop opened a branch store in Roppongi under the advice of an acquaintance, but business didn’t go well and they shut it down after a year. You were concerned about your family’s financial situation, so you decided to switch to a prefectural high school, right?”

Holmes-san asked in a kind manner, but Kaori-san clenched her fists without a word.

“A few days ago, Saori-san was selected to be the Saiō representative, you were worried about your family, weren’t you?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“U-Um, why would she be worried for her family when her sister is selected to be the Saiō representative?”

“I’m not sure how much of this is true, but I’ve been told that the preparations are mostly paid out of the pocket of the representative. The clothes alone costs five hundred thousand, and I’ve heard rumors that the total goes up to one million yen.”

“O-One million…”

“That’s why they say that the role is only given to girls from well-established families.”

I see, so that’s why Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san were saying that it was totally unreasonable.

Finally accepting it, Kaori-san bit down on her back teeth with a grinding sound and lifted her head.

“Exactly! We’re only an old shop in name, and we’re in the red! That famous enka singer might have come to us to have their kimonos made and brought us some prosperity, but that was a long time ago. No one gets their kimonos made at such an expensive shop anymore! On top of that, we fell for that scam to open another branch, and made another huge loss! I thought we were about to recover, but with Sis being chosen to be the Saiō representative, that ain’t happening! My father and mother are such show-offs, so they ain’t rejecting that offer easily, so I thought that a threatening letter would give them a just reason! That’s why I took it upon myself to write that letter, but…”

Kaori-san explained in a vigorous stream of words, but suddenly stopped short.

Holmes-san gently narrowed his eyes.

“…Ah, it’s exactly as I thought.”

“Eh?”

“You wrote the threatening letter, but didn’t actually use them. Am I wrong?”

Hearing those words, Kaori-san twitched strongly.

Bullseye. She clenched her fists and nodded.

“…Yeah. I’d completed the letter, but I still had some reservations. At that time, my father and mother said, ‘Fair winds must be blowing in our direction for Saori to be chosen as the Saiō representative. The preparations may be expensive, but they’re a trifle for advertising.’

“Hearing that, I realized I’d done something foolish… so I decided to dispose of the letter.”

Kaori-san said as she looked down in shame.

“But the letters that you were meaning to dispose of disappeared before you noticed it, and appeared in your sister’s bag, right?”

Holmes-san asked for confirmation, to which Kaori-san responded with a nod.

“Since it was in a manilla envelope, I was thinking that it got in by some sort of mistake.”

“It was no mistake. You found the letter and placed it in your own bag, right, Saori-san?”

Holmes-san swiftly changed directions to look at Saori-san.

“…” Her face turned pale in an instant.

“Eh, really? Why? You’re happy that you got chosen to be the representative, aren’t you? You were also worried that you received those threatening letters!”

Saori-san looked on gravely as her mother asked in surprise.

“On top of that, Saori-san, you also created another threatening letter on your own. This is the second letter.” Holmes-san said as he retrieved the other letter from his jacket pocket.

A temporary silence fell.

“…How did you know?” Saori-san quietly asked while looking down.

“…The two works at the flower arrangement exhibition. The small arrangement done at home was not done by you, but by your little sister, Kaori-san, right?”

After hearing that, Saori-san and Kaori-san instantly looked up, as if they had been caught off guard.

“H-How?”

“The instructor mentioned ‘a difference in craftsmanship’, but that’s not the problem. I couldn’t see them as anything other than as works that were produced by different people. If the one you made in the classroom was your own, then the one created at home was done by another person.

“Also, the threatening note. The first note shows surprising sensitivity in the cutting and pasting of each letter, but the second was not on the same standard.

“The person who created this note probably also noticed this difference, for it contains much fewer words than the first note. Two different people wrote the threatening notes, and two different people created the flower arrangements. Naturally, Saori-san and Kaori-san came to mind. However, the two of you had different motives for producing the notes.”

Holmes-san calmly asserted, while I gasped in surprise.

Kaori-san’s motive was that she was concerned about her family’s state of finances.

Then what about Saori-san?

I secretly looked at her.

Crestfallen, she hung her head, seemingly about to burst into tears.

“I-I didn’t want to be… hated even more.”

After a brief pause, Saori-san spoke in a voice that seemed like it was about to disappear.

“…In high school, Yoshiko and Yuuko suddenly shunned me, and my mother berated them for that, which led to the dissolution of our friendship. But I wanted us to return to our previous relationship. Finally, the antagonism of that incident looked to be fading, and we could have restored our friendship if things stayed the way they were for a while, but then I was chosen as the Saiō representative.

“If they had congratulated me after hearing that news, we could have reconciled, but in reality, the opposite happened. I was hated even more than before…

“It’s just so painful. I thought that if I received a threatening letter and resigned from being the Saiō representative, they would be worried and act kindly towards me. Then we can go back to being good friends again…”

Saori-san said as tears rolled down her cheek. However, we couldn’t say anything in response to her revelation.

Her painful feelings were understandable, but she did all that just for the sake of getting her friends to sympathize with her, to repair their relationship.

In actual fact, the two of them were extremely jealous of Saori-san, so I don’t think they could become good friends again no matter what happened.

It just seemed so foolish and shallow that I couldn’t say a word.

But then her sobbing, quivering figure was exactly like mine at that time.

That figure of mine as I tried to sell my deceased grandfather’s antiques and return to Saitama.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed totally unnecessary, but it meant the whole universe to that person.

Saori-san was always feeling pain as she studied with her former friends in school and in the flower arrangement class.

“—Sis, you dummy!”

As Kaori-san’s shout reverberated in the forest, I raised my head in shock.

“I thought ya were also worried about the family, but ya did it just for something like that! It’s so stupid I could cry!”

Wow, Kaori-san. I agree with your sentiments, but that’s quite a harsh thing to say.

“You don’t understand, Kaori! You don’t understand how much I’ve been ostracized!”

“Yeah, I don’t! Why do ya insist on sticking with those useless folk? Ya don’t even like flower arrangement, so why do ya continue with it, just to try and reconcile with those two girls! They don’t know your merits, so ya should stop being attached to them already! Graduate and see a whole new world! Become a woman so amazing that those two girls can shamelessly say, ‘I was friends with that person!’”

I was taken aback by Kaori-san’s forceful shouts.

It also seemed to resonate with Saori-san, for she muttered, “Kaori…”, as tears returned to her flushed face.

In the silence that fell and surrounded the area, Holmes-san clapped his hands.

“That was amazing, Kaori-san.”

Upon hearing those words, Kaori-san blushed, apparently having come to her senses.

“Here, Miyashita-san, I shall return these to you.”

Holmes-san handed over the two threatening letters.

“…This has been embarrassing for us. Thank you.”

Mrs. Miyashita weakly accepted the two sheets of paper.

“Kiyotaka-san, I sincerely apologize.”

Saori-san and Kaori-san bowed, but Holmes-san shook his head.

“Saori-san, I agree with what Kaori-san said. I hope that you will be a great Saiō representative who can charm everyone.”

Saori-san responded with a nod as she wiped her tears off with a finger.

“And Kaori-san, I have a question to ask of you.”

“Y-Yes?”

A look of caution appeared on Kaori-san’s face.

She must be feeling afraid since he was straightforwardly pointing everything out.

“You moved to a prefectural school for the sake of your family, and you did flower arrangement for the sake of your sister. How did you become so dedicated? You’re the one with an interest in flower arrangement, but you allowed your sister to get lauded for it, didn’t you?”

Kaori-san’s eyes widened, but then she gave a light chuckle.

“Ah, it’s nothing much. I’m the second daughter, so I have the freedom to leave the family. But Sis has to get a husband and continue the family line.

“That’s why I think that it’s only natural for her to go to a good school and learn things like flower arrangement, for the sake of the family’s honor. I respect and pity her at the same time, so I try to support her wherever possible. Sis has good looks, but is absolutely hopeless at other areas.”

Kaori-san spoke with a sunny smile, causing me to brighten up as well.

“Mother, we need to get to the shrine office soon.”

Kaori-san looked at her watch. Taken aback, Mrs. Miyashita and Saori-san looked up.

“You’re right. We’ll be going off then, Kiyotaka-san. I am truly sorry for causing so much trouble. Erm, if possible, please keep this case…”

“Yes, you can be rest assured that we will not divulge this to anyone else.”

Upon hearing those words, the three of them heaved a sigh of relief, bowed deeply, then headed towards the main shrine.

 I stared at the retreating figures of the three women.

“K-Kaori-san.” Before I noticed, I had called out her name.

She turned back as if to say, “What is it?”, while my heart suddenly beat faster.

Hang on, why did I even call her back?

 “U-Um, I heard that there’s a place with cream-filled bread near Hotel Okura. A-Apparently you can’t order it for takeout, and I-I can’t go in alone, so if it’s alright with you, shall we go together next time?”

I asked with a raised voice. Kaori-san had a look of surprise for a moment, then replied.

“I’ve certainly heard of the famous bread at Okura! I haven’t tried it before, so yes, let’s go next time!” A wide smile appeared on her face.

“T-Thank you,” I waved my heart, as my heart beat even stronger in joy.

“That’s great, to be able to meet someone you naturally wish to be friends with.”

Holmes-san commented with a kind smile, but all I could do was nod wordlessly.

Yes, there wasn’t any reason behind it, but I did think, “I want to be friends with this girl.”

I took a deep breath and looked at Holmes-san.

“…It’s great that you managed to solve this case without it turning into a big incident.”

“Yeah. The location probably helped quite a bit in getting the two of them to speak from their hearts.”

“You’re right, this place does have a very dignified atmosphere.”

“That is true, but do you know the origin of the name, ‘Forest of Correction’?”

“Eh? The origin?”

“The name comes from the legend where the enshrined deity, ‘Kamotaketsunumi-no-mikoto’, holds a trial in this forest. In this context, ‘correction’ means investigation17.”

Holmes-san explained as he looked up at the sky, while my eyes widened.

—The courthouse of the gods. I never knew this was such a sacred place.

A cool wind blew past.

“Now then, shall we go to the main shrine?”

“Ah, yes. Since we’re here, after all.”

I nodded, and we also followed the walkway.

Behind the vermillion archway was an imposing tower gate that was also vermillion in color.

On the left, there was a weird cluster of trees, with two trees overlapping on one other tree. Apparently, it’s known as a matchmaker.

We passed under the gate and continued on to an area with altars deifying the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac surrounding the large main shrine in a circle. There were no bells in this area.

I’ve heard from a tour guide that very old shrines often don’t have bells18.

After the shrine visit, Holmes-san looked at his watch.

“—It’s still nine o’clock, huh. Aoi-san, if it’s alright with you, would you like to come with me for breakfast?”

“Y-Yes, please. I actually haven’t eaten anything in the morning.”

“That’s great. There’s a café nearby that I highly recommend.”

“Wow, I’ll look forward to it, then. Ah, before that, could I draw a fortune?”

“Sure. Shimogamo Shrine’s fortunes have all sorts of aphorisms written on them, so it’s quite interesting.”

“As expected, you’re well-informed about everything.”

After that conversation, we drew our fortunes and turned our backs on the shrine.

9

And then the main day of the Aoi Festival, May 15th, arrived.

The Aoi Festival, which is officially known as “Kamo Festival”, is one of Kyoto’s Three Big Festivals, along with Gion Festival19 and Festival of the Ages20.

Kamo Festival is also the oldest festival still practiced in Japan.

In the Asuka period21, the people of Japan were suffering from numerous natural disasters22, so the Emperor at the time, Emperor Kinmei, consulted renowned soothsayers, who provided the solution: “Offer prayers to the deities of Kamo”.

That was the beginning of the Kamo Festival.

During the transition to the Heian period, Emperor Saga sent his favorite daughter, Imperial Princess Uchikonai, to serve as a shrine maiden in Kamo Shrine. Since then, the ritual of offering one’s body to the gods and serving as the “Saiō” became the Aoi Festival, celebrated throughout the whole country.

The imperial princess sits on a palanquin to dedicate herself to the gods, and the populace celebrates.

That is the shape of the Aoi Festival. In modern times, an unmarried lady living in this imperial capital is chosen to be the “Saiō representative” in place of the actual Saiō. That lady sits on the palanquin and plays the leading part of the festival.

After learning of the festival’s history, I thought again that it must be such an honor to serve as the representative.

While a lot had happened, Saori-san resolved herself and took the leading role this year.

Wrapped in a jūnihitoe, she became an especially beautiful Saiō representative who caused sighs of admiration from the crowd as she exited the old imperial palace.

I could feel some strength in her countenance, meaning that she had probably moved on.

With her superlative beauty, the news of the Aoi Festival, which usually only circulates in the Kansai region, was picked up by national news this time, causing Saori-san to even receive requests for an appearance on TV, but that is a story in the near future.

While I gazed at the figure of the Saiō representative Saori-san from the stands along with Holmes-san, I felt thankful that the incident of the threatening letters was solved without complications— as a comfortable breeze blew past, in days of Aoi.


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  1. A Saiō was an unmarried female member of the Japanese imperial family sent to serve at the Ise Grand Shrine from the late 7th century to the 14th century. People in Kyoto celebrate the Aoi Festival to re-enact the march of the Saiō to the Shimigamo Shrine, and someone is chosen every year to be the Saiō representative and act as the Saiō.
  2. A twelve-layer ceremonial kimono worn only by court-ladies.
  3. A work of Japanese literature written in the 11th century by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, and it is said to be the first novel ever written in the world.
  4. A divine palanquin, used to transport a deity during a festival or when moving to a new shrine.
  5. A district in Kyoto, well known for the traditional textile produced there.
  6. Classical Japanese dance-drama that begun in the 1600s and is known for the elaborate make-up used.
  7. A popular music genre that resembles traditional Japanese music stylistically.
  8. Errata: I translated it as “Dry goods store” in part 1, which is the usual translation for 呉服店, but a dry goods store sells things other than clothes like toiletries, and I don’t think that’s the case here, so I changed it to “draper shop”.
  9. The character in question, 織, means “woven items”.
  10. A system by which students automatically advance to high school and university without having to pass an entrance exam.
  11. A district in Kyoto home to many Geisha houses.
  12. On the topic, geisha are not prostitutes (contrary to popular belief) but women who entertain through art, dance and song.
  13. Not very sure about this, but I presume that Gion Kōbu and Gion West are two different parts of the Gion district.
  14. In fact, Shimahara is already defunct as a geisha district and is usually excluded from such lists.
  15. Another name for Shimogamo Shrine.
  16. Primary forest are forests that are largely undisturbed by industrial-scale land uses and infrastructure such as logging and mining, have unpolluted soil and water, and are more likely to possess the full complement of their evolved, characteristic plant and animal species with few if any exotics.
  17. I translated the forest’s name, Tadasu-no-mori, as Forest of Correction, since that was the name given on Wikipedia. However, the Shimogamo Shrine’s website says that Tadasu (the word for Correction) could mean delta or justice, but since the name is so ancient, it is uncertain. Another possibility is that the name is a double-entendre meant to encompass both possibilities. I’m not sure how Holmes’ explanation fits into all this, unfortunately.
  18. I believe these bells refer to the large bells draped over the entrance at some Shinto shrines. It is said that ringing them calls kami, allowing one to acquire positive power and authority, while repelling evil.
  19. The Gion Festival originated as part of a purification ritual to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. During the Festival, floats and mikoshi (portable shrines) are paraded around the city.
  20. Also known as Jidai Matsuri, Festival of the Ages is commemorates the founding of Heian-kyō (Kyoto) in 794.
  21. A period lasting from 538 to 710, characterized by the introduction of Buddhism from China, which led to significant artistic, social and political transformations in Japan.
  22. According to historical documents, a succession of disastrous rains with high winds ruined the grain crops, and epidemics had spread through Japan.

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