All that was needed was a trigger, for the rest to start falling into place.
It was a keyword literally becoming a key which, once realized, made it completely unnecessary to flaunt copious references.
In fact, it was something I ought to have arrived at when I had first heard the words from Gaen-san.
Yes, I did not even need go to the library, as it was a piece of writing that could be found in middle school language textbooks — an idiom that anyone would have heard of at least once.
No fiercer a tiger than the inflaming of tyranny.
A verse from the Book of Rites, Tangong 2.
I doubt this is necessary but, to explain as a refreshment, here is the story.
There was once a woman whose father-in-law and husband had been eaten by ferocious, man-eating tigers, and then even her son was eaten. When asked why she would not leave this place, the woman answered thus: “It is better to have fierce beasts, than a country dominated by the rule of tyrants” — tyranny here certainly meaning the unyielding rule of heavy taxation and conscription and such, or put simply, of tyrants.
If things were as Gaen-san had said and I would name that tiger the Inflaming Tiger — then that phrase would unmistakably be the source. This was because, when I first found out about those words as a primary schooler, I had strongly felt that it was ‘not true at all’, and could not quite understand them.
Any sort of rule would be better than man-eating tigers — so I had thought.
It was not because I was a child who could not grasp the subtleties of the text. At the time, what I had found most unacceptable, the one thing I truly could not understand, were the feelings of the mother, the woman who would push her own ideology onto not only her father-in-law and husband but even her own child.
Of course, now that I have learnt about vicious forms of government far more cruel than tigers, it could not be said that I did not understand her feelings at all — but the sensation, of not quite understanding her, remained.
“That’s why, I think, the Inflaming Tiger isn’t just a simple abbreviation of ‘no fiercer a tiger than the inflaming of tyranny’, but actually ‘a fiercer tiger than the inflaming of tyranny‘, making it is a tiger beyond tigers, like a tyrant of tigers. What do you think?”
Hearing my hypothesis at the other end of the phone, Senjougahara-san remained silent for a moment and then responded negatively with, “I wonder about that”.
And very blatantly negatively, as well.
“It just feels to me as though you are being led around by the nose. This ‘Gaen’ — as I hear it, it wasn’t you at all who named the abnormality. It was obviously her.”
“Yes, well, that’s true.”
That was more difficult to explain.
It did not seem to be in the nature of the person called Gaen Izuko, the one who had called herself Oshino-san’s senior, to allow others to understand through her words — to be honest, even I, who had seen, met, and talked to her face-to-face, did not fully understand her.
I could not possibly explain it.
However, there was simply no clear reason for her to lead me on at all — unlike the clear reason with which Senjougahara-san had led the Fire Sisters on.
I was someone of no concern — to be pushed to the wayside.
“How could we understand something like that? She might even be lying. There might have been some inexpressible reason behind it.”
“In any case, it’s likely that she is somehow related to Kanbaru.”
I was shocked.
I did not think that Kanbaru-san’s name would appear here.
“As I recall, Kanbaru’s mother’s surname was Gaen. I heard this from Kanbaru during middle school — that she used to be called Gaen Suruga. Incidentally, her mother’s name is Tooe. It’s nothing conclusive until I can ask her directly, but I’d be quite taken aback if it was just a coincidence, or they were only distantly or not at all related.”
With Suruga, Tooe, and now Izu, it would be strange not to suspect a connection.
They were not exactly common names.
“Besides, Kanbaru said she had inherited the monkey’s paw from her mother in the first place — the way I see it, that Gaen is quite suspicious.”
“Yeah — well, I can’t say she’s not suspicious, myself.”
That was how I truly felt.
It was not only because of the way she seemed to be able to order Episode-kun around, or the way she correctly guessed various details about me without reserve.
— There’s nothing I don’t know.
It was that.
That phrase — pierced my heart.
Like a thorn.
Like a stake.
“Speaking of which, doesn’t ‘Gaen’ also mean ‘fireman’? Would it be so strange if she were the culprit behind the fire at your house, and at the tutorial center? In an ironic way.”
“Um, probably not.”
In an ironic way?
That wasn’t a good line of thought.
“Oh, by the way, Senjougahara-san, did you try to get in touch with Kanbaru-san?”
Senjougahara-san did not known about the tutorial school burning down until I told her just a bit earlier, but she must be worried about the well-being of her precious underclassman. Seeing as she had had plenty of time to spare due to her “influenza”, there was no doubt that she had already tried to call her.
As expected, Senjougahara-san nodded.
That’s the initiative of the Senjougahara-san I knew.
“But it didn’t go through — I was transferred to a messaging service, so it was probably because her phone was off, or somewhere that couldn’t be reached. Of course, there’s been no word from their end, either — they really are the kind of children that grow up to become university students who never come home, not even over the New Year.”
“That’s in the very near future.”
Somehow, it even felt like it would likely be a future filled with livelihood for those two.
I wonder if they can actually leave their homes, though?
Araragi-kun, in particular.
I got the feeling that his sisters would not let him go. If he ever told them he was going to move to a boarding house, I got the feeling he would be confined in a manner much like Misery.
“Well, if Araragi-kun and Kanbaru did manage to meet, I doubt they would do anything reckless… but I wonder. Now that I come to it, the reason why Gaen-san is here in town seems highly likely to involve Kanbaru. In other words, there is also the possibility of Araragi-kun and that vampire-half boy meeting and battling again… sigh.”
Just what is he up to, sighed Senjougahara-san.
Hmm. I couldn’t think of any words to comfort her with.
While I of course had my own views on the two of them, this was likely to be more painful from the position of Senjougahara-san.
“Well, in any case.”
Although she said this, it seemed as though she had to hold herself back, swallowing the many things she had wanted to say.
On that front, her capacity for endurance was truly as terrifying as her initiative.
I suppose that was what you would expect from a girl who had accompanied an abnormality for a period of over two years.
“I am not too fond of giving up on things, but I am good at waiting — so I will wait for their return, as a proper lady would.”
“I’ll just have to take it out on them once they’re back.”
Is that ladylike?
It would seem that even if Araragi-kun and Kanbaru-san escaped the predicament that had befallen them, another one would have risen up for them to overcome.
“Putting that aside, we have a more pressing problem. Let’s go back to the issue at hand.”
“They might be in a lot of trouble, but so are we — the Inflaming Tiger, was it? Suppose that we take the risk of trusting that Gaen-san.”
The wariness with which she emphasized the word “suppose” was likely backed by her own experiences of having been deceiving by five swindlers before. Speaking of which, one of the men who had deceived her was Kaiki Deishuu who, like Oshino-san, would also be an underclassman to Gaen-san —
(More wordplay which I can’t translate.)
“Personally, if you mention the ‘Inflaming Tiger’ (苛虎 kako), I just get reminded of the ‘past’ (過去 kako).”
“Yes — that seems more likely than a flaming tiger (虎 tora), does it not? And we can also link it to ‘trauma’ (トラウマ torauma).”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry, that was just a bad pun — ”
It’s not very original, said Senjougahara-san embarrassedly.
While she would normally make puns like this unabashedly, as though there was in fact nothing else she loved more, if she really did say that just now on purpose, then that was just horrible.
But I knew what she was trying to say.
The past — and the Tiger, huh.
” — Well, we can’t just sit here telling jokes.”
Not that anybody is laughing, said Senjougahara-san in an overly serious manner.
“Naming aside, and ignoring the question of whether it is a new species of abnormality or not, isn’t it actually quite dangerous? After all, unlike my crab, or Mayoi-chan’s snail, its intentions are aimed outwards rather than inwards, very similar to Kanbaru’s left arm — ”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“What do you mean, what do I mean…? How could you not know?”
Said Senjougahara-san with exasperation, but the truth was I really did not.
What was she saying?
I had called her simply to ask her about her overall thoughts on the naming of the Inflaming Tiger which Gaen-san had taught me (its formation being somewhat puzzling) — seeing as Senjougahara-san became quite negative about this, I had in fact begun to calm down.
“No, not that. Both your house and the tutorial school have been met with fires one after another, no?”
‘Yes, that’s right. Well, unfortunately, there hasn’t been any proof linking what happened to those places with the Tiger yet — ”
“It doesn’t matter whether that sort of connection exists or not. It’s simply that, aside from the macroscopic, long-term commonality of being places you know well, isn’t there also another, more microscopic, short-term commonality as well?”
In spite of all that she had told me — I still did not understand.
No, it was likely that I did.
was turning my eyes away.
“Well, fire started in those places right after the day I met the Tiger — ”
“No, not that.”
She might find it difficult to say — she might have wanted me to realize it myself wordlessly — but she said it clearly.
“Aren’t the places where you have slept immediately burning up one after another?”
“In other words, if this continues, won’t my apartment or the Araragi house also suffer fires some time tonight?”
Although she said this in a disinterested voice, truly,
it was — more real a threat that anything else.