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Painted Robe (画衣)

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I am fairly sure that there is no family unhappy enough to match that of the Asami. I can confirm it, speaking for the Asami family as the only one to currently bear the name legally. As of a year ago, a few problems had incurred due to our sudden change of status to that of tsukimono-suji.

It is an antiquated status. Its relevance is minimal in the cut-throat criminal underworld I live in, save where that underworld intersects with the otherworld – and where they intersect with Akihito.

It is assuredly not Akihito’s fault. Akihito’s fault could only extend to yowling outside my apartment building (highly justified; he’d gotten cursed in his cat-body and couldn’t enter the place, since rectified) and being captured to the animal pound so far. Neutering is an idle threat, now added to my current repertoire to send the kitten into a tizzy. I could hardly fault his choice of occupation for the rest.

“If I don’t do criminal photography, I’m going to switch to paranormal photography,” Akihito had said in not so many words, and far more crassly than I would have put it. “They’ll drag me to Jigoku on the express Wanyūdō. I hope you’re serious about chasing me into the abyss.”

Sometimes I prefer Takaba quiet, or purring, or writhing in the pleasure that only I can give him. Not in his seemingly cryptic communications which more often than not turn out to be literal, given that the bakeneko currently signed under the Asami family goes by the name of Takaba Akihito.

I call him Takaba when he’s human and working, and Akihito when he’s a cat (and possibly working)... ‘that damn cat’ happened once, during the incident of the cursed cat – rectified since then.

Despite our initial difficulties of our meeting, intermittent sex, later extended courtship, and that time in August at Hong Kong where Takaba’s godmother sank a cruise ship and tried to kill Mikhail Arbatov, Liu Feilong and myself all at once, we have settled into a... commitment.

That was the story of how the Asami family became tsukimono-suji; everything more or less began with the revelation that Takaba Akihito was not human, and never was. This was also the start where Takaba’s godmother tried to kill me on a near-daily basis.

I remember an extremely cold French joke that translated ‘bellaque matribus detestata’ as ‘belle-mère détestée’. Now, though, I can understand the sentiment. My main aide, Kirishima, has now adopted the view that gangland warfare is infinitely preferable to my mother-in-law.

Human criminals, I have learnt, tend to be: less bulletproof; less immortal; and, less likely to change shape, breathe fire, or do any of the thousand and one things that yōkai are purported to do, which the hated in-law has yet to reveal in her secret campaign to periodically kill me and thus remove Akihito from my influence. I cannot understand her reasoning. On some days, I can barely understand Akihito when he tries to explain the older yōkai. We have agreed that it would take far more complex minds to figure her out.

Until then, a détente between the godmother-in-law and myself.

It had lasted right until, somehow, Kanou Somuku was pitted against me. How she had managed it, I had no idea right until Akihito managed to steal the item of concern.

It stretched in my hands. It must have been wonderfully soft and warm. Right now, bereft of the body it cloaked, it was a mass of robbery skin with only the vaguest traces of hair to indicate where the bits of the scalp was.

“She stole his skin!” Akihito had repeated his shocking exclamation. “Well, he’s alive... but now we don’t know where Ayase is.”

Ayase Yukiya. The boy at the centre of the consternation between Kanou and myself. In order to frame me, the hated in-law had gone as far as to literally skin Kanou’s lover and spirit him away into the millions of black-eyed, black-haired Japanese with not a single bit of Ayase’s original features.

B ellaque matribus detestata.

Truly, belle-mère détestée.