───What was I about to do just now?
She knew the answer, but she still asked herself that question.
She just didn’t know what she should do.
Why did things turn out like this? What was she supposed to do? Questions like that just kept on repeating.
She knew more than anyone else that this wasn’t something that she should be doing.
But there was no other choice.
Still, she hesitated because she wasn’t the only one who would suffer.
She was just a normal person with normal morals.
She could sacrifice herself to save those dear to her.
But it was difficult for her to sacrifice other people.
She had cleared the place with her authority, but all she could do after was to stare at the food served.
All of the dishes were prepared by the inn’s chefs. They had carefully selected the ingredients and used their finely honed skills to prepare them.
With polished aesthetics and flavor, the food before her was less food and more art.
She was proud of that.
But it was none other than her who was about to ruin that piece of art.
And through that hurt other people.
She hadn’t done anything strenuous, yet her heart was beating loudly.
As though it was urging her to hurry, or yelling at her to stop.
Her heart raced, yet her body remained cold.
Her profession taught her how to keep her calm even in public, yet now, sweat poured down from her ceaselessly.
Her body trembled, and her breathing grew ragged.
She had been drinking tea just a moment ago to calm herself, yet her throat felt dry.
But even then, she had to do it.
She had no choice but to cling to that glimmer of hope, even though she herself did not believe in it.
For ‘to abandon’ was not an option she could afford.
She gently took that small bottle out of her pocket, and with trembling fingers, placed her hand on the lid…
“That’s enough, Proprietress.”
───But then a gentle voice called out to her from behind.
This was in a large hall void of people, yet that voice resounded quietly, even quieter than the breath she took in her surprise.
It was as though she had been doused in cold water, and startled, she dropped the small bottle.
Time seemed to pause. Even her racing heart had to halt.
And as she turned to the direction of that voice, she found herself unable to pick up the small bottle.
For there, could be seen the child she saw early this morning, carrying with him a strange air.
It was that boy that had poked his nose in her and her son’s business.
But unlike that time, he stood there expressionless, like a death god about to pass judgment for the crime she almost committed.
Shinichi lied when he said that he was leaving the bath to stand guard for more sophisticated peeping toms.
Bathhouses these days – except for those with tight budgets – were equipped with countermeasures against peeping methods that utilized tools and skills.
The security was indeed more lax inside since it was presumed that peeping wouldn’t be easy with all the other patrons, and it was also bad for businesses in the service industry to be openly suspicious of their customers. There were also plenty of other methods that they could rely on to prevent said peeping.
Regardless, it was for that reason that Shinichi’s errand for Youko could not have anything to do with standing guard against peeping toms outside.
The errand he had for her was to investigate the inn.
That was not because he wanted to understand the structure of their lodging.
He had already done that on his own after chatting idly with Frire and the others.
Moreover, he had already checked the layout of the inn the moment it was confirmed that they would be staying here.
So what was Youko investigating? Simply put, she was looking for any place that stood out.
Shinichi felt uncomfortable ever since coming here.
It might have been his sixth sense, his intuition, or simply because the air wasn’t right, but regardless, the moment he felt that something was off, he knew that something was about to happen.
Frire had already asked him to keep watch for him, so he asked Youko to investigate the matter for him.
Fortunately, he was able to finish Frire’s task quickly and begin patrolling himself.
No one was suspicious of him walking around in his yukata as a guest of the inn.
Moreover, he was also minimizing his presence, so most people just saw him as part of the backdrop.
After searching the inn for awhile, he noticed the proprietress acting strange and followed her.
Pale-faced and wobbly, the proprietress headed for the hall where the students were scheduled to gather for dinner.
With a small bottle filled with some sort of medicine, the proprietress stared at the food and trembled.
That was enough to connect the dots.
She wore an expression that said she had to do this or lose something important.
The kind of face a person wore when driven into a corner and forced to commit a crime.
“You should leave it at that, Proprietress.”
That’s why Shinichi called out to her. Because once she crossed the line, she would no longer be innocent.
That wouldn’t be good for either of them. Not for Shinichi, who would be witness, and not for her, who would be the criminal.
“If you intend to keep going, I will have to stop you by force. What will you do?”
Shinichi picked up the small bottle she dropped and showed it to her.
It was curious how she took that, but her eyes opened wide, then she looked at his face and the small bottle, then broke down with her hands covering her face.
Her heart that was being crushed by her conscience finally broke, and she sobbed loudly amidst guilt and relief.
“I-I’m so sorry, I can’t believe what I was about to do!”
“I can more or less guess what happened. I don’t intend to blame you, but there’s no time left, so I will ask you directly───Was that kid taken by these people?”
Suddenly, a group of unconscious men bound in ropes appeared out of nowhere.
The men looked scary, but their expressions were contorted in fear.
“I thought something was strange after coming back from my little tour, so I did a little digging and found out that there were people that were neither guests nor employees, and the kid was also missing, and you were acting suspicious… So, who are these people?”
“They called themselves the Yamagi Group. When I noticed Kouta taking longer to come home, these people came out of nowhere and showed me a picture of Kouta tied up. I heard his voice too!”
“So they told you to do as they asked or your son’s life would be in danger?”
“…Yes, I’m so sorry. I really was a step away from making a mistake!”
“I told you it’s fine… Did they ask you to put this medicine into our food? Sleeping medicine, huh. No, this might as well be coma medicine.”
Results quickly came up when he ran the name on the small bottle through his foster.
Apparently, a small amount of it was all that was needed to make someone sleep. And the person would remain asleep until the drug was completely expelled from the body.
“Hah, these villains really are all the same regardless of the world.”
Just what nefarious schemes did they have in mind?
It was all too easy for Shinichi’s mind, the evil god’s mind, to imagine whatever schemes these villains could conjure.
Whichever of the possibilities it was, it was nothing good.
A sharp light appeared in Shinichi’s eyes.
Whatever came after this, these men only had themselves to blame.
It was over for them the moment they targeted his people and Shinichi found out.
“Not only did they try to lay a hand on us, they even kidnapped a kid and threatened the mother. Ah, how pitiful. Now that you’ve stepped through that landmine, don’t think you’ll be getting off scot-free.”
As the boy laughed without a hint of pity, the proprietress trembled.
For better or for worse, the impression she had of him turned out to be correct.
To the vile scoundrel, there was indeed no death god worse than this boy.