“────Though it’s painful to hear such a terrifying story, it appears we must thank you for that incident as well,” a voice said.
While Tomoe and the others were stunned after realizing what could have been a bad end, the Japanese sliding screen opened, and Mikoto entered the room.
What was it that she felt? Was it self-admonition, or fear, or gratefulness? Or could it be…
『…If you were just going to stand outside and listen, you could have just entered sooner. I wanted these two back before dawn, but before I knew it, we’ve spent so much time talking already.』
“My apologies, I just happened to overhear. I’ve just finished with the arrangements, so I’m very sorry to have kept you waiting, Ryou-kun, Tomoe-chan.”
The Mask said in a rare display of an upfront complaint, while Mikoto apologized for taking so much time to finish her arrangements, then she positioned herself not in the upper seat but in the same seating level and prostrated herself before Tomoe and the others.
“Tomoe-chan, Ryou-kun, Masquerade-dono, for the incident with Michizane-kun just now, as well as the incident with the excommunicated Ootsu family, as the representative of the clans, I deeply apologize. I am sorry, and at the same time, I am grateful that there were no casualties on either side.”
“T-There’s no need to go that…”
This was someone who they had been indebted to for a long time, but now, here she was prostrating herself before them, alas that only served to sharpen the light behind the gaze on the Mask.
Whether she realized that or not, Mikoto gently raised up her head and lamented.
“My clansmen have been left alone only because of our contributions and the considerations of some people for those monsters other than raybeasts. Unfortunately, most of my people failed to understand that and have overestimated their own power.”
That’s why such things occurred, Mikoto lamented.
She spoke with exhaustion, but the only response she got was that of a sharp voice.
『Yet you sound like it’s got nothing to do with you. You’re the leader of this organization, are you not?』
“Harsh, indeed it was my mistake. Unfortunately, no matter what I tried, I could not change the way they think.”
『That doesn’t sound like the words of someone who has lived for over a hundred years… Is your age merely for decoration?』
Mockery amidst anger. Indiscernible as the voice may be, emotion could be clearly felt from it as the Mask blamed the old woman without sympathy.
The three girls were terrified by that, while Ryou and Tomoe were shocked.
The Mask was acting strange.
“H-Hang on! Why are you being so belligerent! I get what you’re trying to say, but can’t you deal with this more appropriately!?” Tomoe said.
“L-Let’s calm down. What are you so unhappy about?” Ryou said.
Tomoe’s voice was full of rebuke, but the color in her eyes was that of concern.
Ryou wasn’t as straightforward, but he too shrugged his shoulders toward the Mask’s displeasure.
Though the words they used were different, it sounded as though they were asking him if he was alright.
Perhaps, the Mask was exhausted, after all.
Perhaps, the Mask was trying to direct the hostility toward himself to cover for them.
Or so they speculated, and the Mask understood that, so he sighed.
『…Sigh, they’re so dazzling, it makes my chest ache.』
Not because of astonishment, but because of
Ryou and Tomoe tilted their heads at the Mask’s incomprehensible mutterings.
『I spoke knowing that… Tsuchimikado-dono, I shall accept your apology and your gratitude, but we’ll have to discuss the compensation at a later date… Do you have any questions left?”
The Mask spoke flatly despite saying what he had to, then turned to Tomoe and said that last part in a somewhat gentler tone.
“Huh? N-Not really…”
『in that case, let’s clear the issue regarding them.』
As the Mask said that, he moved his arms and pointed at the three girls.
They trembled for a moment, but they knew Tomoe was present, so they straightened their backs.
『Upon hearing their reasons, you decide whether to forgive them or not, whether to continue your friendship with them or not.』
She had intentionally driven those thoughts away, but the Mask nonchalantly reminded her of them.
The tone behind that voice suggested that running away wasn’t an option.
That’s why she didn’t feel like responding, but…
『You could get angry, punch them, kick them…』
『You could cuss them, curse them, kill them, bury them in concrete, destroy them socially…』
“W-What kind of person do you take me for!?”
Dangerous words just kept popping up one after another from the Mask’s mouth, so Tomoe couldn’t help but retort in her usual tone.
『Ku ku, it’s a joke───Take your time talking.』
Which the Mask returned with his usual mischievous laugh.
At the same time, he placed his black hand on her head and gently patted her.
Normally, Tomoe would have already run away from embarrassment, but this time, she just allowed him to touch her.
For some reason, the comfort his warmth brought her was greater than the embarrassment.
“You… Seem to know a lot.”
Still, her face was flushed red.
Perhaps because she didn’t want that to show, she asked the Mask that question.
『Just conjectures. 30% of it is my fault… No, half.』
“What did you do?”
『You’ll know if you ask.』
Tomoe asked with suspicion, but the Mask just brought her back there and made her groan.
It was as if there was someone laughing behind that devilish visage mocking her attempts to buy time.
“Sigh, you three, let’s go somewhere else first, and can you give me back my Foster already?”
Tomoe sighed in resignation as she said those words apologetically and stood back up.
The Mask could tell that she was planning on standing up, so he’d already pulled away his hand.
The three girls didn’t know what to do, so they glanced at their master, and when they saw her nod at them, they too stood up and opened the sliding doors that led to the hallway.
“Ah, Tomoe-chan, can you wait for a sec?”
“Huh? Yes, what is it?”
“Can you lend me your Kamunagi for awhile? I want to see if there’s any damage left on it after clashing with that demon sword.”
Mikoto spoke with an agreeable smile, but Tomoe froze.