“What are you talking about? More importantly, what kind of effect would carrying this have? Can I count on this thing to tell you when there’s an emergency and expect you to come swooping in immediately?”
Was she hoping for that?
Or was she telling him to do at least that much?
Either way, Shinichi’s reply was vague.
“Either way, it’s another question altogether whether I’ll be able to make it immediately or not,”
Shinichi shrugged, and Stella’s expressionless face twisted a little.
Strictly speaking, she was ‘off’ the mark, but the result was close enough.
It had a similar function, so there was a high chance it would end up like that.
“…Is that how you should be talking after going out of your way to hand this to me?”
“Well, I’ve always made it just in the nick of time for some reason… But don’t worry, no matter what, I’ll definitely come. Even if a god or a demon gets in my way, I’ll definitely come. That alone I promise.”
Though he couldn’t promise that he’d be able to make it in time, he promised that he would come.
His gaze was powerful and carried with it an awkward honesty that was difficult to judge for either sincerity or insincerity.
Regardless, Stella didn’t doubt him and just said.
“I understand. Should something arise, I will wait without expecting anything.”
“Thanks. It’s still best if nothing happens, so just think of it as a charm.”
She responded with a nod, then silently continued on her way to the dining room, as if to resume guiding them. Shinichi followed suit.
Then the three maids too hurriedly followed after them, while Shinichi grumbled.
“I hope it’s just needless fear on my part, but… This premonition of mine is usually right.”
He had more to say, but he swallowed the words that threatened to come out.
He was more than half convinced that it would ‘happen’, so he didn’t want to say anything and invoke a kotodama that might increase the probability of that.
A small resistance on his part, but that couldn’t be helped since──
──Death was written on their face.
“A little too late.”
“There’s still five minutes before the appointed time!”
Shinichi said those words as soon as he woke up and was met by a firm denial.
Youko stroke his head a few times with her tail, and before long, it finally dawned on him what happened.
It was early morning, and they were currently at the restricted rooftop of the inn.
He had asked the proprietress for a private open area, so she opened this place for them.
Of course, they also erected barriers and wards to prevent people from noticing them.
“…Just talking in my sleep. Don’t mind…”
“Oh, I see… Wait! You were the one who called me, so don’t fall asleep!”
He’d blurted that out thinking that it would have been great for that dream to appear before that appeared on Tomoe’s face, but after thinking about it, it was likely just a coincidence that he dreamed it now and was likely just a continuation of all the dreams he’s been seeing lately.
In the end, he still had no idea what the dreams were warning him about.
But of course, Ryou had no way of knowing that, so he was just angry that Shinichi had the gall to sleep after calling him out here.
“Don’t worry, I was just having a power nap while standing.”
“…Ah, damn it! I don’t even know how I’m suppose to throw a tsukkomi at that!”
Ryou, who had come here wearing a comfortable jersey, dropped his shoulders.
Whether it was about sleeping while standing, or his treatment toward him, or the fact he saw no problem in any of those things…
Ryou realized that the things Shinichi said when he wasn’t laughing were actually true.
Indeed, just how was he supposed to throw a tsukkomi here? Meanwhile, Youko just laughed.
“…More importantly, where is Tomoe? It’s rare for her to be late.”
“I told her to just go to sleep. She used up a lot of strength and spiritual power last night, so she needs to recover plenty, or she might get in trouble. It wouldn’t be funny if she couldn’t do anything when needed because she over-trained.”
“Hmm… Okay. Wait! Does that mean we’re fighting one-on-one today!?”
When realization dawned on Ryou, he looked as though the world had collapsed.
Ryou could somehow keep up with his eyes and movements in a vast space where the use of equipment was permitted, but at this distance, what more in a one-on-one and a purely physical battle, that was simply impossible.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hold back and train you properly.”
Ryou’s whole body seemed to be saying that, but Shinichi just smiled wickedly.
“That’s all the more worrying!”
Ryou looked like he was about to cry, but Shinichi ignored him and just spoke at his own convenience.
“By the way, what did those kids decide? When we met up, Tomoe was acting unusually grumpy, so I couldn’t ask anything…”
When he put his mask back on and rendezvoused with her, she had ‘I’m not happy!’ written all over her face, so he just prioritized getting her back to the inn.
Even Shinichi couldn’t bring anything up when she was like that.
Meanwhile, Ryou’s screams were completely being ignored, but this was Shinichi, after all, so he could only give up.
“Umm… You know that they’re meant to be Tomoe’s guards and her friends, right?”
Ryou asked that to confirm, and Shinichi nodded.
So readily in fact that Ryou couldn’t help but twitch a little.
“…You knew and yet you treated them like that? You really are merciless.”
“I only found out about them being her guards after the fact. Besides, there are plenty of people who would lay a hand on their loved ones if ordered to.”
“What kind of hellhole have you been living in?”
Shinichi said he was just being wary of that, and Ryou wryly smiled in response.
He felt sorry for those girls for his excessive worry, but considering that that was just him protecting Tomoe in his own way, there was wry smile there too.
“Well, if we’re going to talk about the result, Tomoe decided to wipe the slate clean under a few conditions.”
“They can’t address her with a sama, they are no longer to be her guards but just her friends, and they are to provide assistance whenever Tomoe has to deal with something related to spiritual powers. Oh, and they said they’ll also pay for all the meals we’ll be having at Osaka today.”
“Well, I figured it’d be something like that. Considering her feelings, there’s no way she’d be able to punish them more than that.”
It was too light of a punishment for someone who lied to get close to her and even kidnapped her.
But they didn’t mean ill and were already friends with her, and she also didn’t get hurt anyway.
As such, there was no way she could have given them a heavy punishment.
In the first place, it was absurd to ask a good 16-year-old girl to judge her friends.
“…I thought you were going to criticize her for being too soft.”
“Just me being near Tomoe is plenty threatening. And for the record, I never condoned such short-sighted conduct.”
If they still want to get carried away or go on a rampage on their own, they should just give it a try.
Or so Shinichi’s smile seemed to say, and Ryou finally understood.
There was no greater punishment than to be glared at by him.
If anything, Ryou started praying that they might come out of this safe.
“But why was she so unhappy?”
“That’s because… Fu fu, she wanted to get mad but couldn’t.”
Shinichi felt a strange sense of discomfort at the meaningful yet happy expression on Ryou’s face as he suddenly smiled as though he were reminiscing.
Shinichi could tell that this conversation was about to take a strange turn.