“W-Wait a moment! I’ll acknowledge that I completely forgot about the finger prints! But the only thing that proves is that I touched your katana several times. If the mask had gloves on, then…” Shinichi said.
“Were that the case, the previous finger prints would have broken down. Such traces could indeed be found on Kamunagi, but it was only because the fingerprints overlapped with each other, and if you analyze how they overlapped, you could easily tell the order in which the fingerprints were left on the handle.”
As Tomoe said that she pressed her Foster, and projected a screen into the air, showing the order the fingerprints were left on the katana.
On that projection was displayed that only two people’s fingerprints had been left on the handle, one of which belonged to Tomoe; hence, the remaining fingerprints must belong to the same person.
Since Shinichi has in fact touched the katana barehanded once, it was hard not to suspect him.
Moreover, given the order the fingerprints appeared on the handle, it wouldn’t make sense unless he was the mask.
“If you want, we can try matching these fingerprints with yours right now,” Tomoe said.
“…You may be using a foster, but what a scientific way of investigating!” Shinichi said.
“Kyu, kyui?” Youko said.
Shinichi ignored his confused servant and held his head while eating his salad as realization dawned on him that this was the true identity of that foreboding feeling he got earlier.
Although he couldn’t taste any of that bitterness or sweetness unique to vegetables, and it felt like he was eating paper, even without that, he would have still wanted to scream because of this huge mistake.
This was a result brought about because he’d looked down on his home world’s technology, and just focused his attention on Garesto’s technology and magic, as well as the spiritual techniques.
Despite knowing that the introduction of otherworld technology had bolstered Earth’s technology as well, and recognizing how versatile fosters were, he still messed up.
And yet he still racked his head in search of an excuse.
At that, he remembered how confident he was in the mask’s ability to interfere with any recognition system, and realized that there was no way they could prove that the mask was even human in the first place.
“Oh, and there’s no way that the mask won’t leave any fingerprints.”
But even that faint hope was shattered into pieces when Tomoe brought out her last card.
A sheet of paper had been placed on the table, on it was printed a certain image.
The moment Youko saw that, her jaws fell, and Shinichi’s foster dropped.
“Because as you can see, the mask is barehanded,” Tomoe said.
In other words, that was just the printout of the image data.
Moreover, it was the black-and-white sort that no one would normally print in unless they wanted to give the picture a retro feel.
But black and white was more than enough to show the crucial point.
“H-Hey, Tomoe! Don’t tell me, this is!?”
Ryou must’ve also been seeing this picture for the first time. He didn’t even try to hide his shock.
After all, what was shown on that picture was something that should have never be shown, and the part that should’ve been shown have completely been removed.
It was the image of a person wearing out-of-fashion black clothes.
Were that all it was, the picture wouldn’t have been enough, but unfortunately, that ‘white mask’ they’d seen just recently was there too.
The black mist that saved them, and the mask that was the only part of it that could be seen was clearly there.
Although the area around the face was blacked out, the rest of the silhouette could easily be made out, and it could easily be seen that there was indeed nothing covering the figure’s hands.
“…Wait! Then does that mean he was like that that whole time!?” Ryou said.
“I was shocked too when I first saw it. Even I didn’t think he was fighting unarmored,” Tomoe said.
The silhouette that had been obscured by the black mist clearly belonged to a human. Moreover, it was likely a man.
The black clothes covering his entire body seemed to be made of leather, and a mantle like overcoat covered them.
Tomoe wasn’t sure at first if that mask had really been fighting while looking like this, but that was only a given, and were any other modern human in her place, they would have held the same doubts knowing the power the mask had shown.
After all, the mask wasn’t even wearing a simple exoskeleton.
In his left arm was a black
“T-This can’t be real…”
Although Ryou wasn’t in the right mind at the time, he had still been defeated by Shinichi without relying on any exoskeleton.
Despite that he figured that that victory must’ve largely been due to Kamunagi and the special traits of spiritual power, so while he did feel that Shinichi was much more experienced in battle than him, it was nothing to this extent.
Did he really display that power without any armor? With just those bare hands?
As awe surfaced on Ryou’s eyes, sweat began to run down his skin.
“Just to be safe, I compared your body with this picture, and the result was a good match. I also compared your speech patterns with the mask’s too, and that ended up being a good match,” Tomoe said.
But even as she looked at him, and even as she gave him the results of her analysis, Shinichi didn’t budge.
He had completely petrified. Shock was written on his face, and even his fork dropped.
“…Hey, hey are you listening? Hello!? I know I’m the one who exposed you, but… Are you okay?”
Shinichi’s lack of reaction was too much to bear, so Tomoe called out to him, but then he started laughing hoarsely.
There was a dark and chilling feeling emanating from that laughter.
“Ha, ha ha… You’re asking me if I’m okay?”
As veins bulged out on his forehead, he turned to them with a fake smile.
When Youko saw that, she immediately drooped her ears down to block them, and shrunk.
“Like hell I would be okay!!!!”
In not for the barrier, that yell would’ve been loud enough to be heard outside.
Both of them covered their ears when they heard it at close range, but it was too late.
The voice was so loud that they went dizzy and it seemed as though it was reverberating even inside their heads.
“You idiots!! Do you realize how dangerous this information is!? I’m the enemy of the world, you know! What are you going to do by knowing my identity!? Get rid of that right now! Forget about it, no, you said something about seeing it for the first time, right? Who was it? Who analyzed this picture!? Tell me, and then forget everything!!” Shinichi said.
“Wa, wait a moment!?’
He leaned forward and shook Tomoe across the table, grabbing both of her shoulders.
She kept being shaken back and forth that she couldn’t talk properly.
“C-Calm down, Nakamura! There’s no way she can talk like that!”
Shinichi’s sudden change spurred Ryou to grab Shinichi’s shoulder and call out to him.
That might’ve been enough to bring him to his senses, as he stopped shaking her, but his hands were still on her shoulder, and as he brought his face closer to hers, he asked her once again.
“Who’s responsible for this?” Shinichi said.
“Ah, like I said, that’s what we’re going to be negotiating…” Tomoe said.
“Who, was, it!?”
Shinichi moved his face even closer and spoke to her in a threatening voice.
He was so close to her now that the only thing reflected on her eyes was him.
Meanwhile, for some reason, a blushing girl was reflected on his eyes.
“Y-You’re close! Too close! Get away from me for a bit!”
They were too close, so close in fact that their eyes and nose were right at each other’s.
Having never before seen a guy’s face this close to hers, she couldn’t help but be flustered.
After all, they were so close that if she just moved her face forward, a certain something she won’t mention would touch.
Hence, her asking him to move away for a bit was the natural reaction for a maiden such as herself.
“…I don’t really mind if we stay like this, though.”
Meanwhile, after calming down for a bit, the man found her reactions amusing, and he touched her chin with one hand and lifted it up a little, giving rise to a mute scream as Tomoe’s cheeks flushed a deeper shade of red.
“Maybe I should just continue like this and take everything from you.”
In the face of that face of his that seemed to have been struck by some kind of insight, there was no way she could not be flustered.
“W-W-W-What are you!?!?”
Perhaps it was because of the difference from how he usually acted, but despite his face being so common in Japan, an abnormally powerful scent attacked her.
And because it might really touch if she were to move even a little bit wrong, she couldn’t afford to budge even an inch.
“…Ha!? W-W-What are you two doing in public!?”
Ryou’s eyes had been transformed into dots by the sudden turn of events, but after finally recovering his senses, he said that.
It was curious what the boy could’ve imagined that led to his face flushing red so furiously.
“Well, what do you think we should be doing?”
As Shinichi fixed his eyes upon the girl right in front of him, he caressed a line from her chin to her cheeks.
The touch of his slender fingers was gentle, too gentle in fact, for a boy such as himself and for someone who could fight so hard.
It was ticklish, and yet at the same time, uplifting. Tomoe gulped.
Not only did Shinichi not stop, he even increased the pace. By this point, Ryou was just at a loss for words.
Meanwhile, Youko’s eyes were sparkling. She had her paws balled up into fists, her expression seemingly saying, “That’s it! Go!”
But then Shinichi tilted his head as though he couldn’t understand.
“…Whatever you want,” Tomoe said.
As she gulped, she closed her eyes, and the expression on her face changed.
When she opened her eyes again, a powerful, unflustered will was there.
But that was only on the surface.
She must’ve thought she was hiding her emotions well, but Shinichi’s eyes weren’t so easy to fool.
For how long did she think he has been teasing women?
He could all too easily see past the wall she’d erected to know that she was still flustered and even a little scared of what he might do to her.
But that’s precisely why he twisted his face into a scowl, while the girl spoke without noticing his feelings.
“My debt with you is already too large to pay. I know that I’m a terrible person for exposing your identity and trying to negotiate with you like this, but I don’t have a choice anymore! The only way I can get stronger now is to cling to you!”
Though no tears moistened her blue eyes, they looked like they were crying.
She knew that she wasn’t good enough yet, but she didn’t want to stop.
However, she didn’t know where to direct her efforts, as there was no one who could teach her anymore.
She could already see the limits of her own efforts, and even the instructions of the otherworld were of no help.
“…I’m begging you, Nakamura. We probably don’t understand even one bit of what you’re thinking, but! We can’t keep going like this! We’ll pay the price together, so!”
When Tomoe cried out to Nakamura to help them, Ryou too begged for help and bowed his head.
It would be easy to chide them for the narrow-mindedness so commonly seen in young people in dire straits.
After all, they also had the choice of biding their time.
They could also choose to develop their other strengths instead of focusing on the parts of their abilities that have already reached their limit.
Whether it was through a weapon, through connections, through authority, or through oneself, it was not as though they had no other options left to them, but… It would take too much time.
The girl before him trembled inwardly with a shallow resolve, a bold front, and feelings she held true, while the boy beside her was filled with immature and shallow thoughts, and yet at the same time, resolve and the ardent enthusiasm of youth.
Shinichi flicked at their foreheads consecutively, and then sat back on his seat.
The two rubbed their slightly reddened foreheads and glared at him.
They were about to shrink, thinking that they must’ve angered him, but their intuition told them that wasn’t the case.
And then he exhaled in exhaustion.
It was a deep, long sigh, as though he had been trying to hold his breath as long as he could.
Neither Ryou nor Tomoe could understand what was happening, but Youko joyfully smiled because she could sense what kind of emotions were swirling within Shinichi.
But Shinichi ignored her smile and poked her a little, causing the two in front of them to cower.
──Maybe I should keep hitting Youko like this and give these two a heart attack.
By this point, Shinichi was irritated enough that he could think of such vicious things.
As for why? It was simple. It was because he was unhappy with everything.
“Let’s get one thing out of the way, while I take pride in being a wicked man, I hate the idea of doing stuff to women in exchange for some kind of reward, and it’s regrettable that you would actually think even a little that you could get me to accept you with that,” Shinichi said.
“And then you go off and admit that you don’t understand what I’m thinking, while still saying something so thoughtless, while pushing a demand so selfish and irrelevant to me, without the slightest concern for my situation,” Shinichi said.
Without any mercy, he criticized their desperate plea, and stabbed them deeply with his words.
Youko was smiling at the side as though she understood everything, only for another fist to drop onto her head.
But what irritated him even more was that there was no choice left to him anymore.
“This is such a pain. Unfortunately, it’s already more convenient to just use you two as maids that know of my situation.”
Finding it stupid to worry about this matter any further, he decided to approach this matter with that mindset.
Because there was no way he could. Youko said it herself a few days ago.
──I know you love stupid, clumsy kids like these──
“Nothing could be a worse match, damn it…”
For a moment, he wanted to curse at them, but he swallowed those words.
How could he possibly abandon a pair of lost children about to cry?
At this point, he even felt like
“Huh? What?” Tomoe said.
“What did you say?” Ryou said.
“…Talk. I’ll hear you out this time. Spill it out, all of it, before I change my mind. You gotta pay at least that much in advance, or I won’t be able to get in the mood,” Shinichi said.
The corner of his lips lifted into a wicked smile, but that did little to appease them, and in fact, pressured them instead.
Because while he might’ve been smiling, his eyes weren’t laughing at all.
That’s why it took them a while to realize that he was actually agreeing to their request.