The book, bound inconspicuously in soft reddish leather, appeared quite suddenly upon the small bedside table. It was not dropped there, nor even placed there carefully, but rather settled in, cloaked in its very own layer of dust between the box of pale blue Kleenex and the old alarm clock. It did not—most decidedly did not—belong to Watanuki.

But it was there anyway, and no matter how he tried to hide it or throw it out or lose it somewhere on a busy road, it would not go away. Each time he thought he had rid himself of it he would return to see it lying, unmoved, in exactly the same place.

Watanuki fretted over it. He attempted to place a glass of water in its spot and then throw it furtively into the dumpster around the corner, only to find that it merely balanced itself upon the delicate glass lip. Next he tried wide pan of water, hoping to destroy the demonic thing when it attempted to land once again in its favorite spot. But it easily evaded him, slipping beneath the pan as though in mockery of his efforts. At long last Watanuki dragged the book to a small autumn celebration, in hopes that the bonfire might eat away the treacherous paper, freeing him of it. And watching the flames consume the neat and tidy ruled paper was indeed something of a liberating experience.

That is, until Watanuki opened his satchel to dig out a pencil for Himawari-chan, and found the worn leather cover nestled between two textbooks.

He cursed it, he placed seals upon it, he attempted to exorcise it using knowledge gleaned from Yuuko's infinite supply of magical texts, but still it would not leave him in peace. Since the burning incident it seemed to have taken up permanent residence nearby him, as if determined to punish him for his foolish behavior. In his book bag during the day. Crammed into his locker when he went to PE. Hiding in his stash of cookbooks whenever he approached the stove—especially, he noted, whenever he attempted to cook lunch for Doumeki or himself. It would figure, he thought grimly, that something as bothersome and unfathomable as that piece of junk would be connected with His Supreme Uncommunicativeness.

Watanuki eventually resolved to refrain from paying the thing any attention, in the hopes that it would eventually get tired of tormenting him and go away. Not that that had ever worked on Doumeki, but it was still worth a shot. After all, a magical book (and it certainly had to be magical) must at least obey magical laws, whereas the assiduously annoying archer was not known to obey any laws natural or supernatural.


"What on earth are you hiding behind your back, Watanuki-kun?" Yuuko asked him, brow furled ever so slightly. Watanuki stared at her dumbly, registering only precarious relief at the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Yuuko couldn't read minds after all. It wasn't like her to ask such a frank and factual question; she specialized more in suggestive tones that bent listeners to her nefarious will.

"You mean... you don't know?" he gasped.

"No, there seems to be a rather powerful cloak upon it, one that even I cannot see through. I was hoping you would enlighten me, Watanuki dear." She looked at him half-amusedly, one eyebrow cocked in anticipation. "Not that I don't have a hunch, of course."

"It's... ah... it's nothing, just a little trinket..."

Yuuko looked smug. "Not a little something with pages and a cover, perhaps?" When Watanuki turned an even deeper shade of red, she continued with the slightest giggle in her voice. "Well, you don't need to worry, then. It's not something dangerous...just a little issue that needs to be dealt with."

Watanuki managed a strangled gurgling sound.

"Yes?" asked Yuuko expectantly.

"Can you... tell me how to get rid of it?" he mumbled. His employer laughed in earnest, tossing her long legs from the dais where she sat and sweeping across the room to meet him on dark bat wings. The star-dotted material of her kimono swept against his face, enfolding him in a world of woven night.

"No, that's one thing I cannot help you with," she told him, spidery fingers running lazily over the bridge of his nose. Watanuki crossed his eyes, then uncrossed them to look her in the face. Dark red eyes stared back at him, contemplating the secrets of the universe with a perverse mixture of amusement and responsibility. Watanuki, thoroughly cowed, went back to crossing his eyes again. "The price would be too great for you to pay," Yuuko continued. "There are things no mortal should ever wish away, do you understand me? You may create your own future to some extent, but there are other pieces, other components, which are hitsuzen. They cannot be altered, Watanuki, cannot be bartered off. I have the idea," she whispered, "That the book behind your back is one of those things."

"Yes..." Watanuki murmured, caught in the spell.

"Ooooof course," added Yuuko loudly, suddenly straightening and assuming the plastically cheery demeanor of a particularly talented used car salesperson. "As your employer and dear friend, and for a very reasonable price, I could offer some heart-to-heart advice on the subject. Ne, Watanuki-kun?"

Watanuki rubbed his eyes wearily with the heel of his palm. He would understand Yuuko someday—if she would ever remain the same damn person for more than a minute.

"All right, fine. What should I do?" he asked exasperatedly.

Yuuko pouted.

"Ah-ah, that's not a very nice way to ask, Watanuki-kun. You really ought to show more respect."

"...Please tell me what I should do, Yuuko-san," Watanuki sighed.


"Fine! PLEASE, your humble servant begs of you to share your infinite and unimpeachable wisdom with his lowly self, O Great, Powerful, and Mysterious Yuuko-sama! Happy now?"

"Quite," Yuuko said cheerily.

"So where's my advice?"

"Right here," she said, leaning in toward him and speaking in a nearly inaudible voice, so that he had to strain to hear each word. Her voice gave him the impression of gauzy spider webs floating over water on a muggy day, delicate and suffocating all at once.

"The book... read it, Watanuki."

Yuuko leaned back, the spider webs clearing from the air. Watanuki waited.


"And you'll be serving me breakfast for the next two days, so be sure to stock up on sake!"

Several minutes later, a tall youth vaguely resembling a clarinet in his gold buttoned uniform, could be seen with shopping bag in hand, frantically pounding his forehead against a fence that wasn't there at the edge of an abandoned lot. At this point, Watanuki didn't really care if he frightened the neighbors.