It was at the same time as those words.
The wolf leapt over the rough mountains and I was airborne, soaring through the air with the wolf.


 

 ”Whoa…!!!?” I shouted.

 

 With each leap, we covered a distance of fifty paces, landing on a rocky ledge and then taking off again.
It was a remarkable feat, considering that just moments ago, we were struggling to climb the mountain at a sluggish pace.

 

 Aside from the uncomfortable ride, it was a thrilling experience.

 

 ”Ggh…? If only I had a saddle and reins at least!!” I exclaimed, feeling the vibrations and the unrelenting wind hitting me, as if I were on a roller coaster without a seatbelt.
If I was even slightly distracted, I would fall off.
And on top of that, what's with the rush?

 

 ”……!! Seriously, are you in such a rush!? What are you so anxious about? At this speed, we'll make it in plenty of time!” I exclaimed, annoyed.

 

 ”Come on, be a bit more considerate of those riding with you,” I continued.
But the response I got was a snarl of irritation.

 

 ”Iruka…!?”

 'Guu…!? Don't talk to me from the side…
It's distracting!!'

 

 I wondered at her angry reaction, but soon realized the reason behind it.
Iruka also regrets her words and quickly explained the reason, '…my thoughts tend to scatter when I'm in this form.
If I don't concentrate, I'll be swallowed.
Haven't you been swallowed up before?'

 

 ”Don't push yourself too hard.
If you think it's too hard, we can switch to foot.
We'll still make it in time at this speed,” I suggested.

 

 'That's not going to happen.
You'll have to make preparations over there, won't you? We're doing this after all, we have to do it thoroughly,' The wolf said, grinning.
The grin that escapes her voice, however, seems to be a sign that she is trying to endure something.
It appeared that maintaining her sense of self and reason while deviating from her human form was not easy.

 

 ”Seems like you're a pretty loyal guy,” I remarked.

 


 'I'm surprised you believed me.
But really, you're not just a servant, are you? Not with that attitude,' Iruka retorted.

 

 ”No, I'm just a nameless servant,” I stated firmly, dismissing Iruka's probing question.
I didn't want to be a servant.
I didn't want to go under the line of death again and again.
I just wanted to live in peace.

 

 'Just a servant, huh? Then why are you such a servant or why are you doing this stupid thing? No matter what the process is, you and I are both going to be executed in the end, aren't we?' Iruka asked, probing further.

 

 ”That's….” I hesitated for a moment, unsure whether to answer or not.
But…

 

 (The beast has good instincts.)

 

 I surrendered to Iruka's piercing gaze from above.
It would be futile to deceive or lie at this point.
.
There was no point in creating further distrust.

 

 …above all, if we've come this far to deceive, I wouldn't be showing any 'sincerity.'

 

 '…if you can't say it, it's fine,” Iruka murmured, sensing my hesitation.
But I apologized, “No, it's a natural question.
I don't mind, don't worry about it.”

 

 ”Although it's like a secret to the grave, I'll tell you.
But don't tell anyone, okay? Actually…”

 

 In an instant, my words were drowned out by a gust of wind.
But as a half-youkai, her senses are sharper than a human's.
I notice her wolf ears twitch at my words, and her wolf eyes opened slightly before narrowing them.

 

 '…Seriously?' the wolf asked.

 

 ”What's the point of lying here?” I ask back, smiling.
It's not a lie worth telling in this situation, and the wolf in front of me should have known if I was telling the truth or not.

 


 '…are you going to confess it?' the wolf asked.

 

 ”Sometimes it's better not to know,” I replied.

 

 'Heh, I agree,' the wolf said.

 

 We both laughed, looking amused, but to an outsider, we might have looked pitiful.
At least that's the look I saw on the wolf's face.

 

 '…Should we hurry then? I want you to be ready.
Don't bite your tongue, okay?' And then the big wolf leapt higher.
She scrambles up the steep, almost perpendicular rock face, using the slightest unevenness as a foothold.

 

 And this time I say nothing.
I just grab her fur tighter and hold on, careful not to bite my tongue.

 

 The clear sky from moments ago was now covered in thick clouds…

 

* * *

 

 Preparation for the ceremony began around noon.

 

 First, the shrine maiden bathed carefully in the hot springs to wash away the impurities.
In many villages, the cold water of the springs is used, making it a difficult time for the shrine maiden and priests, but Hotoya Village is exceptional in this respect.
Other villages who saw them using imported soap may have envied the treatment of this village's shrine maidens.

 

 As her bodies cooled in the water, the shrine maiden role player was carefully massaged with fragrant oils by her female attendants in the anteroom.
This was also a luxury product bought from outside the village.
The room itself was scented with incense, which transferred its fragrance to the shrine maiden's attire.

 

 Finally, after changing into her clothes, putting on her make-up and offering her props, the shrine maiden is ready to go.

 

 ”Now, now, Miss.
We're finished.
Please take a look.
You look absolutely stunning!” The elderly maid holding a mirror showed the young lady, who was playing the role of the shrine maiden.


 

 ”Ah…”

 

 Whose sigh was it? It could have been the young lady or those around her.
It was probably both.

 

 She was dressed in a pure white shrine maiden costume, with her hair shining with perfume oil and tied up in a bun, wearing a crown and holding a kagura bell in her hand.
Her make-up is modest and thin, consisting of white powder and vermilion lipstick, which in fact enhances her beauty.

 

 In the mirror, the shrine maiden exuded a pure, sacred, and ethereal aura.

 

 ”……”

 

 Suzune was once again mesmerized by her master appearance, having completed most of the preparations and awaiting the ceremony.
The sight of her master sitting inside the curtain, far from her usual tomboyish and mischievous master, accentuated her beauty and left an impression on her.
The maid now realizes that she and her master live in different worlds.

 

 ”Um, so…
What do you think? It's not funny, is it?” Tamaki asked with a hesitant tone.

 

 ”It's incredibly divine and beautiful,” Suzune replied in awe.

 

 At first Suzune doesn't know to whom the question is directed.
But when she realized the shy gaze was directed at her, she praised her respectfully.
It was not flattery.
It was her sincere opinion.

 

 ”Yes, it's truly beautiful,” one of the maids replied with a warm smile.

 ”It can rival the princesses of the capital,” another maid remarked with admiration.

 ”It's a pity.
If only you could join the court, the nobles wouldn't leave you alone,” another maid said with a hint of disappointment.

 ”Next time the Lord goes to the capital on a Joraku (act of a sovereign or imperial ruler travelling from the capital city to the provinces), would it be possible for Miss to accompany him,” another maid asked hopefully.

 


 The maids around her praised Tamaki one after the other.
Half of it was flattery, but the other half was the honest truth.
That's how sacred and beautiful Tamaki's appearance was at the same time.

 

 ”I see.
I'm glad,” Tamaki said with a small smile of relief.
Her fleeting appearance stimulated a protective desire.

 

 Up to seven out of ten boys, who see her smile, must have been captivated.
It was truly overflowing with charm.
But to Suzune, the expression on her face was as weak as a shriveled flower.

 

 Of course.
The last few days have been too much.
Youkai attacked me and took my friend away.
She herself has been placed under house arrest and is not allowed to leave the house except to perform her duties as a shrine maiden.
The stop is the news of the early morning arrival of the early horse.

 

 The news that the city was attacked by youkai, the place where the trading company and the exorcists who had stood up the other day planned to stay, and of course her friends were obviously also there.
Suzune was told not to speak of it because it would cause anxiety, but the news reached Tamaki's ears in half a day.
Rumors spread no matter how much one tries to hide them.

 

 And when questioned with a pathetically pained expression on her face, Suzune had no choice but to answer.

 

 Of course, she chose her words carefully.
She didn't want to make her master more anxious with poor phrasing.
She carefully conveyed that the attacking youkai had already been repelled with the help of nearby exorcists and the army, there were many casualties and damage to the city, but no one had died, and they were currently in pursuit of the fleeing youkai.

 

 However, even Suzune herself was not unsettled.
She knew it but she was shocked to learn that the servant she had spoken to just the other day was now in danger of losing his life.
Still, she was not upset and tried to reassure her master.
In this sense, Suzune was more mature than her master.

 

 In any case, Tamaki tried to regain her composure, but the tension of the upcoming sacred ritual and the news of the attack still weighed heavily on her, making her complexion less than optimal even after her bath.
This was simply a matter of the heart, so there was nothing that could be done about it.

 

 However, Tamaki was not allowed to just wait around by others until she recovered.

 

 ”Miko-sama, here's the sacred sake.
Please have a sip,” said an old maid, offering the sacred sake to Tamaki who had been resting.

 

 ”Ah, yes.
Okay,” Tamaki replied as she drank the sacred sake, which was meant to purify her body and soul.
According to tradition, Tamaki was only allowed to drink one cup there, and the rest would be offered at the shrine and she would drink it again.
It is said that in the past the shrine maiden used to drink more, but since the drunken shrine maiden stepped off the stone steps and was seriously injured, drinking has been discontinued after a total of two cups.

 

 This, however, seemed convenient from Suzune's point of view.
Alcohol brightens and warms people's hearts, and borrowing the power of alcohol in moderation was necessary for her current master.

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