Late that evening, Xavier lay in bed, trying to ignore the raspy feeling of Princess's vine wrapped lightly around his wrist as he fell asleep.
Not that falling asleep was working all too well for him. His thoughts were absolutely refusing to settle down, darting from topic to topic with nervous energy.
It wasn't hard to figure out why, either. The plot had just caught up to him with a vengeance, and he was reasonably certain that his life was about to get a lot more exciting thanks to his introduction to Princess.
Unfortunately, for the time being he didn't have much choice besides waiting and seeing where having a mononoke in his life would take him. Princess was obviously going to complicate his life with the bakuhito in a big way—nerves over his second meeting with the elders tomorrow morning was a big contributing factor to his inability to sleep—and given that isekai manga tended to love events and conflicts that affected entire countries, if not the world…well, it seemed likely that the manga would be providing him an incentive to leave Henka since life here was pretty much just focused on day-to-day life.
He briefly considered trying to extricate himself from the mononoke, but he couldn't ignore the likely opportunities that would arise from having access to a creature that had personally experienced ancient history. Plus hey, who knew? Maybe the mononoke would offer him a path to being an over-power protagonist, and although he wasn't sure he'd want to make that choice, having options would be a great change of pace from just frantically learning the language in hopes he could make himself useful before the people he was dependent upon decided he was more trouble than he was worth.
Mononoke aside, it was about time he gave some serious thought to what he could likely expect, and make some plans so that he didn't have to allow heat-of-the-moment decisions to guide him down a path he would rather not walk.
He'd been in this world for a couple months now, by his rough count, and had noticed relatively few coincidences that were obviously driven by the Genre. Stumbling into the midst of Yukio and friends' hunt for a youkai was obviously a manga coincidence, as was Kahina's being in town. Otherwise, however, most of the things that had happened seemed to flow from everyday life.
When he thought about it, isekai manga tended to start in similar ways: either the protagonist was thrown into an existing political situation where he was dependent upon the people in power for getting by day-to-day, and then expected to fight on their behalf; or the protagonist was left to their own devices, and forced to build up some sort of survival strategy of their own. Some manga would transition from one to the other, but it was pretty unusual in Xavier's experience to find an isekai that bucked both of those trends.
The fact that his own situation didn't really fit either trend meant that one or the other was likely imminent in one form or another. The lack of any royalty and the survival-oriented nature of the desert made Xavier suspect that the "base building" approach was more likely, but that wasn't very consistent with him making a bunch of friends who were currently supporting him—although if one or more of them were planning to betray him in such a way that he would be forced to live alone in the desert with just the mononoke for company, that might push him into the over-powered survivalist sub-genre. Assuming the mononoke was able to unlock his magical ability or something, of course.
On second thought, Princess had flat out said that she couldn't do that. Hmm.
He just couldn't see how he was likely to become embroiled in a politically-driven struggle, though. From what he had gathered while learning the language, the bakuhito were not politically associated with anyone other than scattered towns and clans of other bakuhito across the desert. He'd heard mentions of an empire to the north, and Kahina had mentioned a confederacy of some sort, but they both seemed far removed from Henka.
Well, as long as he didn't end up stranded, he would honestly prefer the base-building approach since it would provide him with some self-sufficiency. Manga protagonists who allowed themselves to be caught up in a broad conflict tended not to have any time or energy to spend on finding a way home, and Xavier was completely unwilling to give that up.
Of course, that was all well and good, but from a practical standpoint, how could he influence the plot in that direction? First and foremost, he needed to pay attention to the things the people around him needed. Classic manga protagonist would be to just sweep everyone around him along with whatever injustice snagged his fancy. Trying to meet the needs of others would definitely push him in the "building a power base" direction, so that was a good start. Other than that, he'd need to be leery of blindly following the directives of authority figures.
Not that there were many authority figures around, at the moment. He'd just need to be on his guard with the elders tomorrow, he supposed. Until now, if they'd requested something of him he wouldn't have had much choice, but now that he knew Princess might open new doors for him he could potentially leverage that to make a living. He needed to remember to talk to Kahina and figure out what her short-term plans were. She was his most obvious ticket out of here, although he'd also noticed Yukio talking as if he wanted to travel more than once. The cat-boy was certainly free-spirited enough that he could provide a way to escape Henka with a bit of prompting, assuming he didn't freak out about Princess the way most every bakuhito except Sumiko had done.
Which reminded him: what was the deal with Sumiko? He hadn't seen the wolf bakuhito who had escorted him to the wayhouse since he and his squad went outside to keep watch, so he hadn't had any opportunity to ask why he caved and let Sumiko stay so easily. Had she encountered a mononoke before?
He kind of regretted the fact that he likely was going to need to leave Henka soon, because he was incredibly curious about Sumiko's backstory. Given how easily she knocked around the agile Yukio and her evident comfort handling monsters like a mononoke, it was odd that she in charge of a wayhouse instead of helping out the youkai hunters. And evidently her family or clan or whatever was famous or something?
Plus she told great stories, was always willing to help him in the dead of night when he needed help preventing himself from turning into an icicle, and had endless patience helping him through his language problems.
Alright, new plan: figure out what Sumiko was looking for and see if she might provide an unexpected route out of Henka. Perhaps Kahina could serve as a fallback.
At long last, Xavier started drifting off imagining conversations with Sumiko, although as he drew closer and closer to sleep she somehow stopped sounding like Sumiko and started sounding like a certain blonde-haired girl he'd lived with until recently.
A sudden jolt of adrenaline sent Xavier right back awake. Now he thought of it, isekai stories were almost universally harems, weren't they?
Well, shit. Maybe he wasn't going to sleep quite so easily tonight, after all.