「I shall decline.」
A stern voice echoed inside the quiet Japanese room.
A man past middle age was sitting in admirable seiza posture at the seat of honor.
He was casually wearing a kimono that was obviously high quality from a glance as though it was an everyday clothes. There was no restlessness at all that could be felt from him. It was as though he was wearing tranquility and solemnity like his outfit.
He had a medium build and his physique wasn’t particularly well built, but the way he seiza gave an impression of a giant rock that was fixed in place to his talking partner.
That atmosphere and gaze that was like a calm lake, together with his voice made the gulping sound that the other person made to resound louder than it actually was.
From the side, he looked completely overwhelmed by this person.
Looking only from the age, he was far older than the man sitting on the seat of honor. The white haired old man was also wearing Japanese clothes and there was dignity that corresponded to how long he had lived hiding inside him, even so he looked small when in the presence of this middle aged man.
「I want, to hear your reason.」
The old man firmly pushed down the feeling a block of ice getting thrown into his back to the bottom of his stomach and asked with a sharp gaze.
「You should be aware of it yourself.」
The old man’s heart was dyed in anger by the curt reply. He threw fuel into his overwhelmed heart and regained his fervor.
「Taisei-dono, are you aware of the dearest wish of Tsuchimikado?」
His voice trembled. There was heat in it. The depth, no, the weight of his feeling could be glimpsed from there.
But, the voice of the middle aged man called Taisei was laced with coldness that was in inverse proportion of that. His reply was still as curt as before.
「Dearest wish? You must be mistaking it with deep-rooted delusion.」
「I can’t pretend to not hear that-」
The old man reflexively got on his knee and leaned forward. Taisei’s aura flared up just for a moment in respond.
His words were polite. His tone was also still calm.
However, it was effective. The blood that rushed into the old man’s head drew back quickly.
「……That’s a splendid “kotodama”.」(Note: kotodama, mysterious power of words to alter reality.)
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Taisei casually bowed his head a little. The old man fixed his posture while making a face as though he had bitten a sour grape.
「Please stop that, Taisei-dono. The head of the main house shouldn’t do something like lightly bowing your head.」
「With all due respect, that’s only a thing of the past.」
「Even with how easily you were able to display such power? Do you think that I haven’t prepared any “talisman” beforehand? I’m breaking out in cold sweat with how easily you broke through it.」
That’s exactly why, the old man tried to argue vehemently about his objective for coming here today――of his intention to obtain Taisei’s agreement for a certain plan, but……
「Please forgive me if what I’m going to say will sound rude but」
Taise interrupted the old man’s words,
「How terribly old fashioned.」
And cut down his argument mercilessly. Before the old man could say anything, he told him clearly that he was just wasting his time meaninglessly here.
「Tsuchimikado’s dearest wish? The irrationality and disgrace that the clan once received from the government in the past? Ludicrous. We have abandoned everything and live in the modern time. Tsucihimikado is, yes, it’s already perished.」
「How dare you!」
「It’s not like I can’t understand your feeling. I have gratitude and admiration for the pride you hold for Tsuchimikado’s name and all your effort for its continuation.」
「However, to cause ripples of disturbance to spread in this era of peace by counting on this power that suddenly erupt out of nowhere, don’t you think that such act in itself will tarnish our pride?」
「……You cursed capitalist loser. So you have fallen into this materialist world until that far.」
Finally all respect vanished from the old man’s voice after hearing what Taisei said. His face was dyed red.
「It’s the will of our ancestral spirit that we have regained our strength like this, why won’t you understand that already!」
「Because I don’t remember ever hearing our ancestral spirit telling us anything.」
*Snap* That snapping sound was definitely the sound of the old man running out of patience.
「If it’s the princess then she will definitely listen!!」
「By no means. I don’t know what you are talking about.」
「Enough! I shall meet with the princess! I’ll persuade her directly! She will definitely show understanding if it’s her!!」
「What are you planning with such young girl. Are you intending to turn her into your puppet?」
Taisei took everything in stride even when faced with the old man’s angry yell that must have echoed throughout the mansion, in contrast the old man gritted his teeth and turned speechless when it was him who got bathed in Taisei’s anger.
「I have kept listening to your numerous opinions about my daughter, but……」
His beloved daughter possessed a special power and the greatest talent in the clan.
After the old man came to the mansion, he talked about how she should be treated and how her future should be as though his proposal was so wonderful and only natural. When Taisei recalled, it, he emitted an unseen pressure unconsciously.
「I can’t bear to listen to your words. I shall ask you to keep your distance from my daughter.」
No argument would be accepted. There would be no compromise. This was a decided matter.
Taisei’s will was implicitly declared through that. His will was placed into an unseen power that struck the old man more eloquently than using any words.
It was pointless no matter what the old man said from here.
The old man realized that, however he was unable to accept it. he gritted his teeth and turned his back on Taisei.
「Certainly, it seems like your family isn’t of Tsuchimikado anymore. You can’t be counted on. But, Tsuchimikado’s bloodline won’t perish. As long as my, our clan still exist!」
The old man spat out those words as parting line and went out of the room with violent steps.
Taise listened to that footstep as well as the sound of the servant seeing him off in a hurry while letting out a deep sigh.
「……Good grief, what a bother.」
Those words didn’t seem to be pointed toward the old man at all.
He lifted his hands in front of his chest, with his palms facing up as though to scoop water. He dropped his gaze t there. A faint light could be seen faintly there.
Until now, he could only feel it at most, but he was never able to see it with his eyes by any means. But now, he could see it clearly.
「Why, after all this time……」
He shook his head and sighed once more.
Taisei fell into thought for a while, then he suddenly gasped and checked the time. He couldn’t stay like this. He hurriedly took out a tool from the closet at the back of the room.
It was a square board that was 30 cm long at each side. A round rotating plate was placed at the center. Some kind of kanji, line, and what looked like the Big Dipper were drawn on it.
Taisei started to fiddle it with a gaze that was even more serious than when he was talking with the old man.
He was concentrating intensely. His hand that was rotating the center plate was clad in faint light once more after some time. His eyes were also seemed to be tinged with the light of wisdom.
The atmosphere felt like a solemn ritual. The room’s air was tense.
It was unknown how long he was doing that……
An adorable voice that sounded like a little bird’s chirping cleared away the tense air.
It was the voice of a girl that was filled with youth. The voice of his beloved daughter.
It came from the other side of the sliding screen. It was really clear that the girl sounded fearful. She must be anxious whether she was disturbing her father by calling out like that.
「Hinata, what’s wrong? Come in.」
The sliding screen opened smoothly and a small girl entered inside.
Her age was around eight or nine. She must hadn’t reached ten yet. Her height also hadn’t reached 130 cm.
She was wearing a light pink yukata. Her straight and beautiful black hair that reached until her waist was let down. Her front hair was cut evenly. Her looks that should be described as “beautiful” despite her youth could be seen clearly.
「Has the elder gone back yet?」
Her proper word choice didn’t suit her age. Her gesture was also refined. It stressed her impression of beauty even more.
She was the daughter he was proud of. Even the old man calling her a “princess”――actually there was a reason for that other than her appearance――wasn’t something exaggerated at all. Taisei nodded while hiding that idiot parent opinion inside his heart.
「Indeed. He departed jauntily. That person is always energetic no matter how much time has passed.」
Hinata’s finely shaped eyebrows were knitted with a troubled look.
「……What did he talk about?」
「It’s nothing that you need to be concerned about.」
Her expression looked completely unconvinced. Even without his idiot parent side coloring his thought, Taisei thought that she was an intelligent child. Most likely she had guessed the content of the discussion.
「Or perhaps, you wish to live in the same way as they wished?」
「! ……No. I don’t want to say this to the elders but, I think their thinking is too old fashioned.」
Hinata shook her head while making a heartfelt expression of distaste, but 「But……」 she continued with that word.
「It’s a fact that there is abnormality occurring with the clan. Other than us, there are also other cases like the mysterious incident of the “returnees”, or the incident of Vatican. There are too many abnormalities disturbing the society.」
「And above all else, there is also your hunch?」
「……Yes. At this rate, the peace won’t last. It’s not only about the yearning of the elders, there is something, it feels like something bad will occur……」
Hinata dropped her gaze, as though she wanted to say whether her father was also feeling the same like her. She was looking at the tool that Taisei had been using just now――the shikiban. It was a tool to tell the fortune that had been continuously passed down within the clan this whole time.
Taisei chuckled and stood up.
He didn’t say anything and caressed his daughter’s silky hair as he walked passed her toward the corridor.
His daughter followed behind him with adorable tottering footsteps. Taisei looked back across his shoulder while stopping her with one hand.
「I have to go.」
「Now? Where to?」
「To the battlefield. My, battlefield.」
Hinata’s expression changed seeing his father’s sharp gaze and hearing those words.
It was because she knew. What kind of time it was when her father was making this kind of face. And what the battlefield referred to.
「P-please wait, Otou-sama! Don’t tell me, the fortune telling just now!」
「You don’t need to worry. There wasn’t any bad omen from it.」
「What are you saying! Didn’t you taste crushing defeat just the other day after saying the same thing!」
「No problem. This time I shall return victorious.」
As you can see, my preparation to recover from the painful defeat is also perfect. He said while showing a glimpse of the many stacks in his pocket.
However, that was exactly why she couldn’t let him go! Hinata thought as she leaped toward her father.
「I won’t let you go! Have you forgotten how much Okaa-sama lamented that day!?」
「Hinata, this is a battle that men of Kuzuhara cannot avoid. As my companion, your mother also understand that. That’s why you too, please understand it.」
I don’t even want to understand! Hinata blocked her father’s path as though to say that, but muscular men in black suits who appeared from who know where pulled her away from her father while soothing her with words like 「Come Ojou-sama, over here」「You mustn’t trouble the family head too much you know?」.
「Kuh, you have predicted this beforehand!?」
「If it’s about Hinata then there is nothing that can escape Otou-sama’s sight.」
It seemed that Taisei planned to go to the battlefield no matter what. His resolve and determination had been fixed in stone.
「It’s pointless even if you stop me, Hinata. After all the battlefield today is special.」
Taisei swiftly turned his back on her and left with a quick stride. Hinata desperately reached her hand toward the back of her father even while the black suited man getting in her way.
She knew. That it was pointless even if she stopped him.
After all her father had been like this from before she was born.
Today too was simply a repeat of it.
However, as a daughter, she had witnessed the figure of his father stricken with grief over and over.
She didn’t want to see her father looking like that anymore, that was why……
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That was why!
「Stop, stop already-, Otou-sama! Please, pleaseeee-――」
「Please stop betting a lot of money into horse racing――!!」
Hinata’s dozing off consciousness was awaken together with her hand that was reaching toward empty air.
She stared at her stretched hand in a daze for a while.
A scenery that was completely different from the mansion just now entered her eyes.
The plants growing thickly in abundance, the faintly spreading mist, the moonlight shining down. The hard texture under her thin butt told her that she was sitting on the ground.
She was in the middle of a dim mountain.
「Just now……was a dream?」
Her mind finally caught up with reality.
She lowered her hand. Light purple kimono that was different from what she was wearing in the dream entered her sight. It was worn out and slightly dirty from soil and grass’s sap, perhaps from walking a lot inside the mountain.
Her tabi (Japanese socks) were also very dirty. Perhaps it was a silver lining among all these that her zori (traditional Japanese thronged sandals) had been admirably protecting her still immature feet.
「That person is, my Otou-sama? ……I am, Hinata……Hinata of Kuzuhara family?」
She muttered to ascertain it. She immediately coughed violently. It was as though her body suddenly remembered of the thirst for water. Her throat was assaulted by a sensation of spasm.
Her hands unconsciously groped around, then something fell on the ground. What fell was a bamboo cylinder. It had a wooden piece acting as stopper on it.
She took it also unconsciously, roughly pulled the stopper, and gulped the inside. It felt like she could hear her own angry voice 「Immodest!」 scolding her at a corner of her mind, but right now she was busy tasting the water as though it was nectar.
*Gulp gulp* Her small throat was audibly swallowing the water in one breath.
「Puhah, haa haa……t-that’s right. I’m completely tired……」
After she had wet her throat and came to her senses, she naturally recalled her present situation.
She was relieved by recalling it.
The reason was that currently Hinata didn’t have the majority of her memory. Yes, it was the phenomenon commonly referred as amnesia.
She was already smack dab in the middle of a thousand torii corridor when she realized it. At that time she didn’t even remember who she was and why she was in that kind of place.
「Am I, recalling my memory bit by bit?」
The trivial memory of her with a person who seemed to be her father. She didn’t know when that memory happened.
But, for the time being she at least understood that her father was in the category of useless adult despite his pretty dignified appearance.
After all, he made use fortune telling with exaggerated method with all his strength just for betting, concealed stacks of money in his pocket, and no matter how many times he lost, no matter how much his wife grieved and his daughter pleaded earnestly to him, he would still run to the race track.
「I think……it was, the day of G1 race? Good grief, what “special battlefield”. No, certainly it might be special but……」
She couldn’t recall the situation of her family, but she could infer that her family was rich from their mansion and outfit. And so, surely her father didn’t play around in a level that could damage their family finance, but with the way she desperately tried to stop her father in her memory and her miserable feeling at that time, perhaps, her father might be a gambler who had never won.
She recalled that it wasn’t because of the loss of money that she tried to stop her father. It was because as a daughter, she didn’t want to see her father’s pathetic state when he was battered by defeat each and every time.
Haa, she sighed. However, the light of hope was lit inside her chest after she was able to remember that little tidbit.
At the very least, she had reached a state where she could scold her exhausted mind and body and brought herself to face the situation.
With that, she immediately recalled something important.
「Ah, that’s right……that child……」
Her gaze moved around busily to the surrounding, but she couldn’t find the existence she was looking for.
A white fox.
At the beginning when she couldn’t recall anything other than some hazy memory that might be from a time when she was still a baby, and she didn’t know when she should go to, she was walking around aimlessly while feeling tormented by anxiety and fear. It was then a beautiful white fox showed itself in front of her.
The white fox stared fixedly at her from a slight distance away. It looked as though it was inviting her to somewhere.
Normally Hinata might be unable to move in such situation, but she started walking at that time.
A part of it was because she was grasping at straws, but mostly it was because she was feeling a divine presence vaguely from the white fox, and it didn’t look like that it would harm her.
Perhaps, it would guide her to a place where there was someone who knew her.
She had such expectation, but……
「Mister fox, mister fox.」
She called around, but as expected she couldn’t see it anywhere. When she slipped out of the thousand torii corridor and pushed through into the mountain, even the fox’s cry kon kon that it made to encourage her didn’t come anymore.
She couldn’t hear anything, not even insect’s cry, or leaves rustling from a breeze.
An overwhelming silence was enveloping herself.
She was instantly assaulted with a sense of isolation when she became conscious of it. The place wasn’t totally dark, even so she was in a mountain at night. She felt bottomless fear toward the darkness.
Her anxiety ballooned up straight away.
「Mister fox……you aren’t here? Have you abandoned me here?」
Her voice sounded like the cry of a discarded cat seeking for warmth.
It was then.
*Rustle rustle, shrug shrug*
What shook her eardrums was the sound of something pushing through the bush behind her. The sound of the grasses being stepped on.
That sound was closing in.
Her heartbeat raced in fear. *Thump thump* The sound of flowing blood sounded excessively loud in her hearing.
Even so, thinking that it might be the white fox that had accompanied her until here, Hinata mustered her courage and opened her mouth to call out.
*Rustle-!? Rustle rustle rustle rustle rustle rustle-!!*
The sound of something moving immediately sped up. She understood instinctually. It wasn’t the white fox that she knew!
Her instinct chose to flee. But, her stiffened body couldn’t move as though it was sewed to the ground.
What she could was only screaming「Hih」 at the rapidly approaching presence.
And then, a large silhouette that didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the fox leaped out――
「Please helpppp! I’m lostttt!!」
Both sides asked for help.
Both sides had their eyes turned into saucer.
Both sides didn’t move while staring at each other.
The time was flowing slowly. Hinata seemed to reach her limit in enduring that strange tension. Tears seeped out from her eyes.
「Awawawah, d-don’t cry! I’m not a suspicious person!」
「You are doubting that part!? I’m going to cry you know!? I’m human!」
A very noisy voice echoed inside the tranquil mountain.
Perhaps that was why. The mysterious atmosphere of the mountain that was shrouded in thin mist felt like it was washed away by the atmosphere of ordinary day.
In addition, inside the eyes of the young man who was getting flustered before her eyes, she could definitely see his feeling that was worried for her. When she realized it the tension left her shoulders in relieve. Her heart that was almost crushed under anxiety and fear was regaining calm.
(This person……feels strange……)
It was someone older, of the opposite sex, and who she met for the first time. Furthermore, the situation was extremely inexplicable, it would still be better if he was a rescuer, but it was a strange story that a young man wearing school uniform like him could run into her here by accident. Thinking objectively, he was extremely suspicious.
That was exactly why, Hinata was puzzled why she could let her guard down so easily.
It was puzzling but……
「Err, for the time being, I’m fine so, calm down?」
The young man showed a naked relieve seeing her tears stopped seeping out.
「I’m a stupid high schooler who got lost in the middle of my school trip. In other words, I’m a human. No, I’m really not a monster or a ghost at all okay? Perhaps my shadow is thin, but I’m also not a living spirit.」
He got on his knee to match his eye height with her. He said that with an over reaction like a clown, perhaps because he wanted to make Hinata smile.
「I don’t know what’s your situation or where is this place but……」
And yet, his gaze was shockingly straight, and strong,
「But well, there isn’t any problem at all. Because despite how I look, I’m also a hero for a little at the side.」
He absolutely wouldn’t abandon her. He would definitely bring her back home, he said.
He said that with full confidence and made a smile that was bright like the clear sky. Seeing that, Hinata could only accept it simply.
Aa, perhaps, this person, is surely a real hero. She obtained such thought instinctually without any basis in it.
「You will, protect me?」
「Ou, even if the opponent is a monster or a demon, I will.」
「I don’t have anything to give as compensation.」
「What are you saying?」
He made an exasperated expression. It made her felt embarrassed.
「Even the demon king who will murder even god if god offends him will protect kid unconditionally you know?」
That was why there was no way a hero wouldn’t do the same with his life on the line.
Hinata blinked. She didn’t really understand the example that he gave. But, he said it extremely confidently, so she strangely felt convinced.
She didn’t know this person’s background or strength, but at the very least, she knew that there was no falsehood in those words, that this person would seriously protect him.
「Can I, ask for your name?」
「Oops, my bad! That should be the first thing I said.」
I’m……he said while awkwardly scratching his head. It made Hinata finally chuckled with a smile. The person gave back a heartfelt smile in respond to that, which made her felt excessively embarrassed.
That was the name of the young man who Hinata would be very close with for a long, long time from here.
She muttered 「Endou-sama……」 in reflection.
A beat later, Hinata straightened her kimono and posture with dignity that was unthinkable coming from an anxious and scared child.
She fixed from her posture that was fallen on her butt to an astonishingly beautiful seiza.
The way she moved her arms to dust off her kimono’s sleeves could only be described as elegant.
She placed three fingers of each hand in front of her knee with a motion that was filled with refinement.
「My name is Kuzuhara Hinata. I shall be in your care.」
She deeply bowed her head.
Kousuke was flabbergasted. It was an unexpected return greeting. She had never seen this kind of polite greeting other than when Rana gave her marriage greeting to his parents based on the teaching of the wive~s of a certain demon king.
From her gesture and attire, he had considered that she might be a young lady from a well off family but……
In any case, this scene, it could be seen like a high school boy was making a girl who from a glance still looked like a student of lower grades of primary school to dogeza and beg in supplication to him.
His commoner sensibility found it hard to endure that!
He reflexively held her up in his arms. Like a father holding up a child while saying uu~p uu~p to amuse her.
The voice 「Ah……」 that was filled to the brim with the feeling of he had really done it now slipped from Kousuke.
Hinata’s dumbfounded expression quietly turned stern. Although she was a girl who hadn’t reached ten years old yet, she wasn’t a kindergartener. This wasn’t how a man should treat a lady who had accorded him with every courtesy.
「This is extremely offending.」
The beautiful little girl was staring down unblinkingly at him while her arms and legs were dangling back and forth limply. For some reason it reminded Kousuke of the pressure that was radiated by the demon king’s first wife-sama. He apologized while sweating coldly.
The encounter that could be said as dramatic in a sense was coming to an end in a very sloppy way like this.
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