“…Is that guy really planning to stand with those girls? She’s poison to him too, and that would make us completely hostile to him. There’s no profit for him at all,” Busujima said.
Rokudo lowered his brows in a display of genuine concern for Busujima. He literally just said a moment ago that the Mask had allowed them to escape, yet this guy still couldn’t understand. Still, it wasn’t as if Rokudo couldn’t understand where he was coming from, so he just made that look and didn’t say anything unnecessary.
That Mask, which had been invincible until now, declared that he himself would be protecting the very poison that could destroy him. How was that so hard to understand? Did he subconsciously not want to understand it because he didn’t want to admit that they were similar?
After all, if Busujima were to be told to spread a toxin worldwide, so long as it benefited the organization, even if it was harmful to only him, he would gladly carry those orders out. How was that any different from the Mask?
At most, any difference would be due to the difference in their sensibilities and organization, but that was all. Rokudo sighed with frustration. This was why fanatics were so useless.
“He doesn’t think like that, so don’t judge him by your standards. People like him value their own psychological satisfaction above all else. The drawbacks you mentioned are no different from insignificant pebbles by the wayside for him. He’s just that unyielding.”
“W-We’re insignificant pebbles!?”
When Rokudo expressed in a relatively indirect manner, Busujima’s face contorted into one of obvious discomfort, but Rokudo just wryly smiled as he changed from his stained attire to a neat suit.
“Your showboating ended up being lucky for us. Thanks to you, we were able to learn that an extraordinary knight has joined the princess. Moreover, they’re expecting us to come again tomorrow. This is a big deal, you know?”
Switching his expression in the blink of an eye, Rokudo smiled as if to say that they could take advantage of that. However, on Busujima’s face was not confusion or hesitation but a sense of powerlessness mixed with resigned acceptance.
“But that makes it difficult to talk with that family…”
“You were planning on negotiating with them tomorrow anyway.”
“That’s true, but… Our trump cards are all basically worthless now, aren’t they?”
Though Busujima was loyal to the point that he was willing to sacrifice his own life and even defy orders, he knew just how reckless it was to fight the Mask unarmed.
Conventional weapons and armaments were powerless, and even their apostle weapons, once their most prized possessions, proved no different.
He found that frustrating, but above all, he couldn’t help but make a pitiable expression as he realized how powerless they were. As it turns out, Busujima was capable of seeing reality from time to time. Rokudo was surprised by that, but he neither affirmed nor denied his words, and instead offered a speculative remark.
“Tomorrow that guy will probably try to crush us during negotiations, put pressure on the main office before we can even make our next move. The woman that was with him is also from a major organization, so it’s not impossible for people from our line of work to become hostile. If that happens, even the main office won’t be spared.”
They would have no choice but to withdraw. Rokudo conveyed that with a gloomy look, and as that sank into Busujima, Rokudo adjusted his ill-fitting suit.
However, he couldn’t help but twist his mouth when he saw Busujima contort his face from anger and humiliation and clench his fists. For him, who revered the ‘Snake’ as sacred, to acknowledge defeat in the hands of but one person was no different from sacrilege.
“But that will happen only if they can beat us.”
“…So you have a plan?”
Busujima looked at Rokudo with hopeful eyes, and Rokudo fearlessly laughed.
“We fought directly, and while it was only a rough outline of it, I was still able to figure out his actual condition, and by chance, we were also able to discover his weaknesses. He’ll try to counter those, of course, but it’ll be difficult with less than a day’s worth of time.
We have more data on that too, and we obviously have the advantage in terms of tactics. Even if the woman’s org interferes, they’re basically just a small elite group anyway.”
In other words, they could win, and that painted Busujima with a stroke of joy. Ah, what a simple man. Rokudo hid his disdain and dangled even more bait for the man.
“Above all, our objective isn’t to destroy the Mask but to negotiate with the girl. That’s why I had your disposal postponed. You still want to negotiate with her, right? I’ll leave it to you.”
“Oh! I see! So that’s how it is! By all means, please, let me do it! This time I’ll succeed! Sorry, Rokudo! I owe you so much!”
Busujima immediately smiled upon picking up on what Rokudo was indirectly saying, and he briskly moved to get ready, making up for the time that they’d lost.
Evidently, Busujima wasn’t just a man of blind faith. He had a sharp mind, he was skilled in undercover operations, and his combat abilities were superior to Rokudo’s other subordinates, yet…
“…He’s spent too much time among normal people.”
Rokudo sent a cold glare at him for a moment, but it was only for a moment, and he quickly got rid of it. After all, he wasn’t worth wasting his time. Instead, he thought of their plan tomorrow.
──Masquerade, I’ll play along with your plan.
──So that we might be able to destroy you.
It wasn’t important to target Monica Chantal in tomorrow’s live. In fact, they would normally refrain from taking any action for a while upon discovering that she was under the protection of the Mask. However, if the goal was to eliminate Masquerade, then tomorrow was their only chance. Because tomorrow, they would be able to strip away the three significant advantages of the Mask.
The first advantage was, of course, the significant weakening of his abnormal combat abilities. The location was Monica’s live venue, after all, a place filled with her songs, all of which were basically vaporized poison for the Mask.
Rokudo knew firsthand just how powerful the Mask was, but at the same time, he knew from the information gathered by the ‘Snake’ that he was weaker than what they had on file.
Given his mysterious powers, it wasn’t unlikely for him to eventually come up with a countermeasure, so the only chance to strike before those could come into play was tomorrow.
The second advantage was that, for just tomorrow, the Mask would be predictable. Masquerade was the embodiment of elusiveness, an entity that could be anywhere at any given moment, making it extremely tricky to both attack and defend against him.
However, the songstress was scheduled to be assassinated during tomorrow’s live performance. The Mask had shown genuine admiration for her and even scolded Rokudo for shamelessly attempting to take away her voice; hence, there was no way the Mask would leave her alone, and he should be present tomorrow.
The third advantage was the emergence of a figure that the Mask needed protect. Up until now, attacks against the enigmatic person behind that featureless facade has been impossible, as the Mask’s identity and affiliation was unknown.
Consequently, the Snake was forced to be on the defensive. However, this time was different. Because the Mask has decided to defend the defenseless Monica Chantal. So long as the mask didn’t abandon her, an attack on the songstress was synonymous with an attack on Masquerade. As strong as Masquerade might be, however, he was just one person in the end, so if he were to be put on the defensive, then the advantage was exceedingly theirs.
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If they were to let this chance slip away, they will have to live the rest of their lives in constant fear of anything that might produce Monica’s songs, while also being haunted by that unpredictable Mask.
Those powerful weapons developed only after centuries of development and only through exorbitant amounts of research funding that rivaled even national budgets – the Apostle Weapons – would also become useless. Completing them had been one of the Snake’s long-standing aspirations.
Unfortunately, negotiation, coercion, and pleading were all futile against the Mask. The Mask moved solely according to his own principles – principles that were completely incompatible with theirs; hence, tomorrow was their only chance.
Having experienced the abnormal combat prowess, elusiveness, and difficulty of communicating with the Mask himself, Rokudo knew that they would eventually be at a disadvantage against that unidentified entity.
It was an absurd thought, but Rokudo could not find it in himself to laugh. His fight with the Mask earlier had been nothing but a game to him, yet they lost and were only able to escape because he permitted them to. Before he knew it, Rokudo was grinding his teeth. He shook his head.