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The boy’s arm was wreathed in red flame.
A wordless scream escaped the boy’s mouth.
So hot – there was no room in his mind for anything but the heat, all thought being stolen by the crimson flame.
He continuously rolled on the ground, attempting to extinguish the flame. Nearby, some children observed his pitiable state.
I say children, but that belies the range of their ages. The smallest were young children of only four or five while the oldest were full-grown teenagers of fifteen or sixteen.
Their sole common denominator could be seen on their faces.
This group of children joyfully surrounded the burning youth, laughing with mirth.
An unfeigned laughter that came from the heart. Innocent. Naive. Cruel.
The cruelty of a child who cannot differentiate between right and wrong. Like children who pluck off the wings of a dragonfly just to watch it struggle, they enjoyed the youth’s predicament as he painfully struggled the same way.
“A member of the main family getting burned by fire!”
“‘A humiliation to the clan,’ my father said!”
“Someone as worthless as you has no right to bear the name ‘Kannagi!’”
The boy could only hug his burnt arm, his face showing a painful expression as the others continued to mock him, one after another.
“It’s my turn!”
A young girl around ten years old raised her hand to declare.
“Oh– Go on. Quickly now!”
The children cheered. The girl, encouraged, held her fist to her chest and began to concentrate.
Following the cute shout, a red flame suddenly appeared like a ghost above the cringing youth.
The fire slowly descended until it touched the boy’s back.
The sound of burning meat could be heard. The youth’s body, originally curled into a ball, straightened out forcefully. This scene served only to amplify the mocking.
“My turn next!”
“I wanna go too!”
His legs, his back, his shoulders – all were continuously tattooed by the ferocious flame. Each time the boy’s body instinctively twitched. Each time it gave off a burning smell.
Despite the horrid cruelty of their actions, none present felt the least degree of guilt. To them, fire was nothing to fear.
Were they to be put in his shoes, they would not experience the smallest discomfort. Even for those whose “power” was ‘weak,’ the most that would burn would be their clothes – their bodies would remain completely unharmed.
This was because their clan had been blessed with fire‘s protection.
Because of this, these children were completely unaware of the dangers of fire, and they did not understand the pain of being scorched.
You cannot imagine what you do not know, and because they were unable to imagine the pain, they saw nothing wrong with what they were doing.
The boy silently endured the innocent and naive torture of the other children in the clan alone.
By the time the children were finally satisfied, the youth was left to painfully contend with his smoking body.
“Ahhh– that was fun.”
“Bye bye. Let’s play again~”
As part of their exit ritual, everyone present gave the twitching body a merciless kick. But before anyone could leave, the eldest and largest boy went further and stomped on the boy’s head.
“What’s wrong with Toru?”
Hearing the large boy, Toru Kuga, let out a pathetic cry, the others turned in surprise.
“You... You foolish idiot!”
The head that Toru had forcefully stepped on was now slowly lifting itself upward. The youth used his hands as support against the ground and stared intently at Toru from below.
“You... What are you trying to do...?”
Seeing those eyes, filled with murder, Toru couldn’t help but retreat in fright. Immediately filled with shame at his actions, he became angry.
“What’s with that look? This worthless scum actually dares to resist?!”
Toru summoned a flame, angrily throwing it in the youth’s direction.
The youth quickly rose and dodged the incoming flame. Dragging his heavily wounded frame, he dashed at incredible speed, closing in on Toru.
Aiming directly at the terrified Toru’s face, he exerted all the strength in his body to strike him with his palm.
Pachunk! [SFX: something breaking]
Toru’s nose had broken.
While the group could only stare, aghast at the sudden incident, the boy attacked two more people. Driven in his berserk rage, his fist broke the first’s cheekbones and the second’s chin, causing them to roll in pain as he did earlier.
But his mad rush ended there. The burden his actions had placed on his pained body was beyond the limits of his will. His stomach heaved, and as if trying to reject everything, he vomited over and over.
“You...! How dare you...!”
Realizing that they were no longer at risk, the others took heart. In order to punish this thing that didn’t know its place, they began to focus their mental energy.
“All of you... Get lost!”
A weak, yet furious voice stopped them. They looked back in fear, and before their eyes was...
“I am going to slaughter you...”
Fresh blood streaming from his nose, Toru gazed at the boy with bloodshot, insane eyes, devoid of reason.
“I am so going to slaughter you–!”
An insane fury amplified Toru’s abilities several-fold. Stretching his right hand directly upward, he summoned a huge fireball that seemed encased by a pair of hands.
“Go and die!”
The youth’s eyes didn’t blink. They could only stare at the fireball. Despite his body’s inability to move, he refused to give in. Like a wounded beast with death fast approaching, he searched for any sign of weakness in his enemy.
“Hmph! Now you know my strength!”
Seeing the youth wrapped in flame, Toru smiled.
The flame gradually dispersed. But amidst the disappearing flame, what appeared was...
Contrary to Toru’s expectations, the boy yet lived. Parts of his body were burnt black, but his limbs still remained; he had successfully withstood Toru’s flame.
Using every last drop of his ki to create a defensive barrier, the youth had just barely managed to survive.
“You... You asshole...”
Toru’s expression grew more sinister. If he were to prove unable to beat this youth who lacked even a hint of ability as an En-jutsu, he would forever be looked down upon and despised by the others.
This scream, filled with displeasure, failed to reach the boy’s ears. His body had long since surpassed its limits, and having spent all his ki, he was no different from a walking corpse.
Not content to simply leave the youth to die, Toru prepared to give him a fatal strike. Against his fate, the youth was helpless.
Kazuma suddenly opened his eyes. This was a rare occasion for him – he usually had a hard time waking up – but his consciousness was fully awake.
But it was only to be expected. How could anyone refuse to wake up after having a dream like that?
Maintaining his waking posture, Kazuma faced upward and he looked silently at the ceiling. Unblinking, he remained like this for a full half-minute.
“Frankly speaking, what an unpleasant dream.”
Closing his eyes, he emptied all the air in his lungs with a moan.
Something that had happened exactly ten years ago, a painful experience that caused nightmares.
Of the eighteen years he had spent among the Kannagis, that was his most painful experience. Had no one put a stop to it, he might have died.
Due to the level of his injuries, despite receiving the highest level recovery jutsus daily, it had taken him a month to recover.
But that was not what was important. To Kazuma, it was his first defeat.
Not in terms of the injuries he sustained.
But for giving in to despair.
Once he had understood that he could not win against the Kannagis’ flames, that he would forever be a weakling, Kazuma had given up on fighting back.
He had given in to those that scorned him.
From that day forward, Kazuma had continued to run away. Not resisting, pitifully pleading for mercy, enduring endless torment, endless public humiliation.
But it no longer mattered.
Because he was no longer willing to partake of that misery.
“...I can’t forget.”
Kazuma realized that his memories of his past humiliations were as clear as if they had happened only yesterday and murmured to himself.
“I don’t even mind.”
Even though he was now in Japan once more, he had never even considered taking revenge – even though doing so would have been a painfully simple task.
To bend his pinky three centimeters; if the effort needed to kill Toru were converted to energy – that would be precisely how much would be required. Any strength Toru had gained in the last four years would be inconsequential.
Kazuma’s train of thought was suddenly interrupted. He realized he could not picture Toru.
“Have I not seen him yet?”
Despite meeting several groups of branch family jutsushis, he hadn’t spent any time verifying their identities, so he was unsure whether or not he had met Toru.
“...Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
Pushing the question to the back of his mind, Kazuma covered himself with the covers once more. Though fully awake, he had nothing in particular to do, and didn’t feel like getting up just yet.
(Let’s get some more sleep...)
Alas, the heavens did not seem to agree with this unproductive decision.
Kazuma glared at the ringing phone, openly displaying his irritation.
What a crafty ring. The more he tried to ignore the ringing, the more insistent it seemed to get, and yet it wasn’t so loud that he would wreck the phone in frustration.
Left with no other alternative, Kazuma reached for the phone. But instead of leaving his bed for the phone, he brought the phone to him.
“...Who’s making a call so early in the morning?” he grumbled in a mournful tone, despite the fact it was already late morning.
He spoke in a sluggish tone – giving away the fact that he had just woken up – but his tranquil mind was pondering the courteous reply from the other end.
This time, Kazuma was fully awake. There was no longer any sign of fatigue on the face that suddenly emerged from the covers.
“Today? Ah, sure. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
Kazuma answered politely, and then hung up. He flipped the covers back and crawled out, stretching lazily.
With his usual complacent smile now on his face, Kazuma muttered.
“Looks like it’s gonna be a busy day.”
While she was walking home after school, Ayano’s eyes caught a small shadow about ten meters away from her.
She was just about to call out when she suddenly stopped, and a mischievous smile crept onto her face.
Ayano snuck up on the shadow slowly, step by step, it not having yet noticed Ayano’s presence.
Standing immediately behind her target, she grabbed her victim in a bear hug, as if to envelop the entirety of the small figure. Ayano secured the youth caught in her embrace – now giving off a cute scream and struggling to escape with all his might – so that he couldn’t move.
“Completely off-guard. That means you still need more training, Ren.”
“To say that now is really... Anyway, just let go of me first, Nee-sama!”
“No way~ Free yourself!”
Looking at the two fooling around, passersby couldn’t help but crack faint, bittersweet smiles.
Judging by their appearance, the two were a rare and beautiful pair of “sisters.” Though one of them only looked to be around the age of ten, they were still pleasing to the eyes.
“Nee... Nee-sama! Really...”
Realizing that they had become the center of attention, Ren’s face reddened. Despite all appearances, he was, after all, a twelve-year-old boy. So, it wasn’t strange for him to feel shy about female physical contact.
After finally being released from confinement, Ren demanded, “Seriously... What are you thinking?!” as he gasped for air.
However, his expression, along with wet, pleading eyes, instead generated the feeling that he was really cute, and not scary in the least. More than likely, it wouldn’t have scared even a three-year-old.
“Ahahaha! Sorry. Sorry. This is a display of love for you too.”
It goes without saying that Ayano was not in the least bit afraid. She patted Ren’s shoulder and cheekily ignored Ren’s complaints.
Unable to vent his displeasure, Ren’s expression soured instantly.
This method was very effective. Because it was simply too cute, there was no way to ignore him.
“I’m really sorry. How about I treat you to a meal?”
“I won’t let you change the subject.”
Ren’s mood showed no sign of improvement. He turned his head to the side, unwilling to meet Ayano’s eyes.
Ayano used both hands to grab Ren’s head and forced him to turn his face back toward her.
“If you still won’t listen...
She slowly moved her face closer, almost touching his nose.
“Then I’ll kiss you! ♥”
This was how easily Ayano toyed with the youth, who was dancing in the palm of her hand.
“Huh? So something like that happened.”
On the second floor of the hamburger shop near the station, the two were chatting about the victory banquet that had happened a few days earlier.
Hearing Ren’s innocent reaction, Ayano revealed an evil smirk and answered.
“Yeah, when you were asleep.”
“...Geez. Don’t bring that up anymore!”
Ren’s cheeks flushed red. He’d been asleep that day, from beginning to end. The shock and shame of waking up on Ayano’s lap showed no sign of subsiding even now.
For the first time, he truly felt what it meant to want to hide his head in the ground.
“What will I do if Father finds out about this...”
Seeing the uneasy Ren, Ayano grabbed a french fry and said with ease, “What else can you do? He already knows doesn’t he? There seems to be quite a few people visiting him these few days.”
Ren’s father, Genma, had not participated in the battle against the Fuugas, having earlier lost to Kazuma in a quarrel between father and son, and was still resting in the hospital.
Ren collapsed on the table, hugged his head, and moaned.
Genma, already very strict with himself, was even stricter with his relatives. It wasn’t hard to imagine his reaction when he finally heard of his son’s blunder.
“It’s fine. Don’t be so down.”
“But I am ‘so down.’”
Ren reproached Ayano’s irresponsible remark in an incomparably downhearted voice.
“Because once Father’s angry, he’s really strict.”
Ayano replied in a carefree tone. Whether or not he would be angry was another matter entirely. The image of an “easygoing Genma” was beyond imagination.
(Will that guy smile in front of Ren’s face?)
Even though she had only ever seen him either mocking or whole-heartedly laughing.
“When the time comes, you can just place all the blame on Kazuma.”
“Placing blame on someone else would only make Father even angrier.”
“...That's true... He's the kind of person who's really hard to deal with.”
Ren spread himself out on the table and moaned.
It was a coincidence, but...
If he had been sitting upright, his view would have been blocked by protruding branches, causing the scene to have escaped his notice, but because he had collapsed on the table in despair, he instead became witness to an incredible sight.
“What is it?”
Ayano lowered her head to look in the direction that Ren was indicating.
Lying directly ahead, at the edge of her field of vision, a woman was standing. A beautiful, mesmerizing woman with shiny black hair, wearing a clean, pure white coat, the starkly contrasting colors making her even more attractive.
Ayano smiled at Ren, with mischief in mind.
“What a beautiful woman. Do you know her?”
Ren ignored the implication, and muttered, “That woman, isn’t she Misao nee-sama?”
Ayano quickly looked back to inspect the woman below more closely. After a few seconds...
“It seems to be her...”
Indeed, it was Misao Ogami. However, she had changed completely from how she was three days ago. Even the simple fact that she was not wearing a kimono made her give a completely different impression. Though Ayano had known Misao ever since they were little, as far as she could remember, this was the first time that she has ever seen Misao in Western clothes.
Perhaps because of that, what could be seen of her legs extending below her coat looked exceptionally appealing.
To describe the feeling in a single word, it would be coquettish. Though normally she seemed plain, as if wanting to escape notice, now she made a magnificent impression. Actually, within the five minutes the two had been watching, there had already been three attempts to pick her up.
Misao serenely rejected their advances, and as she had showed them respect despite the rejection, all left without causing trouble. If Nanase and Yukari had seen this scene, they would have chastised Ayano, saying “Learn from her.”
After staring, awestruck, for a while, Ren grumbled.
“She seems to be waiting for someone.”
“That... is really surprising.”
Ayano sounded as though she still could not believe her eyes because this was unimaginably different from what she had thought earlier.
“Is it a date?”
“...Is it not?”
A girl like Misao would not dress up in such an extravagant manner to meet a friend of the same gender!
Ayano’s interest grew.
“I wonder who she’s dating.”
Inattentively sipping her orange juice, Ayano observed the scene outside the window with great interest. Given the intensity of her gaze, anyone watching from the side would have found her actions very suspicious.
Ren looked at Ayano, who was spying on Misao with a bitter smile. He himself turned to follow the scene outside. At that moment, the other party appeared.
He couldn’t help but doubt his own eyes. But it was indeed Ren’s brother, Kazuma. His appearance was no coincidence – the proof being Misao, smiling broadly and running to meet him.
Before Ren, who was dumbstruck, the two intimately held hands and walked off.
Even after the two disappeared from view, Ren was still frozen, staring dumbly at the window. It was an absolutely impossible occurrence, because to Misao, Kazuma was “the man who had killed Nii-sama.”
A faint sound brought Ren back to his senses.
–squish– [SFX: something being squashed]
Something light and soft was being squashed. Not a rare sound by any means, and yet hearing it fills one with unease.
Ren faced Ayano with unease. As he did not dare look directly at her, he shifted his eyes upward from below, following the table upward toward Ayano.
The first thing he saw was Ayano’s hand. Her slender fingers gripped the paper cup, still full of juice, and crushed it into the shape of her fist. The juice spilled out, forming an orange-colored ocean. Her fries and hamburger were completely soaked and no longer worth eating.
Ayano’s hand crackled – the sound of ice, unable to escape from the cup, being pulverized by her hand, which continuously trembled.
Ren was so frightened that he dared not look up.
Though he didn’t understand the cause, he recognized Ayano’s extreme anger. If he wasn’t careful, he might just become her target.
Suddenly, Ayano slammed her hands on the table and stood up.
To the cringing Ren, Ayano said softly...
“...I’m going to follow them.”
Before Ren could open his mouth, Ayano had already run out of the shop.
“Wait... Wait a minute...”
Ren hurriedly picked up their plates, and, in one go, handed them to the shop assistant lady waiting at the trash bin.
“Thank you for your patronage.”
With his back to the shop assistant, who showed a professional smile, Ren swiftly ran toward the restroom.
After waiting a minute or so, Ren ran to catch up to Ayano.
But by now, there was no sign of Ayano. After looking around in vain, Ren ran in the direction in which Kazuma and Misao had gone...
...and immediately discovered Ayano, whose actions made her presence immediately obvious.
As a beautiful girl hiding behind an electric pole, sneakily surveying her prey, she stood out more than if she had been doing nothing at all.
For a moment, he strongly considered pretending that he didn’t know her and returning home, but he only entertained the thought, unwilling to do such a thing.
Ren bravely stepped forward and walked up to Ayano, who could now be considered an exemplary example of a suspicious character.
“What were you doing, taking so long?”
Ren, speechless, silently took out a wet handkerchief.
“Please clean your hands.”
“Huh? Oh. Ah, thanks.”
Ayano took the handkerchief and began to clean her hands, sticky from the orange juice.
“You’re pretty smart, Ren.”
“You’re very welcome,” Ren answered calmly, as he observed Kazuma and Misao, about ten meters in front of them.
The two, walking down the road with arms locked, exuded an unusually intimate atmosphere. Although they were unable to hear what the two were saying, it was easy to tell from the occasional smiles between them that there was more to their relationship.
“Don’t just stand there. Hide! We’ll be seen!”
Ayano grabbed Ren’s hand and pulled him behind the pole alongside her, but no matter how you might try, it is simply impossible for an electric pole to hide two people.
“Nee-sama, do you still want to follow them?”
Faced with this candid question, Ayano was left momentarily speechless.
“Wh–What kind of question is that?!”
“Because, no matter how I look at it, they are simply on a date. What we’re doing is simply prying.”
Ren didn’t exaggerate but simply said what he truly felt, and Ayano was deeply stung.
“Wh–What prying... I don’t have such an indecent motive! I’m just...”
“Just... Misao...! That’s right! Misao might still intend to take Kazuma’s life!”
“No matter what method she uses, she’ll never beat him.”
Her hastily constructed excuse calmly rebutted, Ayano was left speechless once more.
“Di–Didn’t you know? That guy is a sucker for beautiful women!”
“Beautiful women is it?”
“That’s right! Didn’t I tell you before? That guy even tried to force himself on Misao last time!” Ayano declared unashamedly, finally raising her head.
Ren pondered this for a time before blushing and asking abashedly, “So, we’ll have to continue spying on those two until Misao nee-sama... until Misao nee-sama begins to use her beauty to seduce Nii-sama?”
Ayano couldn’t help but visualize the scene in her mind. She pictured herself hiding in a dark corner, watching the two as they hugged, kissed, and then continued on to the next step...
(...Maybe I kind of hate doing this...)
Thinking about these scenes not meant to be seen, Ayano felt like turning back.
At that moment, if Ren had chosen to continue to persuade her along those lines, Ayano might just have given up. Unfortunately, Ren chose another method – a method so wrong that it couldn’t have been worse.
Perhaps because he thought this reason was more accurate, Ren opened his mouth to ask...
“Nee-sama, could it be that you are... jealous?”
He had no proof, just a feeling. Maybe the wish he held, that “Kazuma nii-sama and Ayano nee-sama will get along” might have been mixed in as well.
In other words, a careless statement.
Seeing a smile that could cause a child to live in eternal fear, Ren realized that he had stepped on a land mine.
This smile, that was not a smile, caught Ren like a deer caught in headlights, unable to run or even look away.
“What did you just say?”
Faced with this question and the smile which, of course, did not reach her eyes, Ren could only shake his head rigidly like a robot.
Ayano reached out her hand and softly placed it on Ren’s face, which was filled with fear.
“You are such a good kid. That’s the way to live to a ripe, old age!”
Ren was helpless to do anything but nod.
“They’re still following us.”
Misao said so softly and happily. Kazuma on the other hand, replied with a tired expression.
Without even needing to look, the two knew that they were being tailed – if it could have even been considered tailing.
Hiding your tracks, disguising the tail, the precise selection of following distance and position... No matter how you looked at it, what they were doing didn’t qualify as tailing. To put it bluntly, even an amateur should have done better. It almost made you want to scream that if they really wanted to hide, they should at least shut up.
(To entrust those two with the future of the Kannagis... Aren’t you worried, Soushu?)
Kazuma couldn’t help but sympathize with Juugo, though he never put it in words. What he was considering now was...
“What is it?”
Seeing Misao with an innocent smile, Kazuma gave her a smile in return.
“It’s nothing. I was just wondering, where are you taking me?”
“We’re almost there.”
Given the way Misao was pulling Kazuma along, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that she was forcing him along, but Kazuma offered no resistance and followed.
(The feeling of waiting for the gallows... I guess it would be just like this!)
That’s what he was thinking.
At an alley corner, Misao suddenly stopped. The place where they were was surrounded by rows of buildings, and, even in broad daylight, it seemed rather shady. Misao remained silently in place while an icy chill filled the air.
Ignoring the rapidly changing atmosphere, Kazuma calmly asked, “Is this place okay?”
“Yup. This is our destination.”
Misao answered in a firm tone, following with an exaggerated bow.
“So... I wish you luck.”
As she said those words, Kazuma’s body flew.
As if hit by an invisible car, or struck in the head by a metallic bat, his body smashed forcefully into the ground.
Several moments later, a veritable explosion of sound shook the air. As if Kazuma hadn’t even been given enough time to recognize the sound of gunfire, the body that rolled on the ground seemed powerless – like a puppet whose strings have been cut.
On the other hand, Misao wore a smile, watching as Kazuma was blown away. She slowly retreated without ever looking away.
As if swapping positions, as Misao retreated, ten men appeared from the shadows of the surrounding buildings. They wore Western suits, seemingly businessmen at first glance, but though their ethnicity and ages were all different, their teamwork was at a very high level.
They spread out in a fan-shaped formation and surrounded Kazuma – who now lay on the ground – extracting the contents of their cases in swift, practiced motions.
What lay within were not documents, or product samples, but pitch black, metallic objects, devices designed solely for killing – MP5Ks, a smaller type of MP5, an assault rifle designed for portability.
The men casually placed this thing that would not normally appear in a businessman’s briefcase near their waists, as if it were only natural, and then, without hesitation, they pulled the trigger.
The bullets were fired out in full-auto, and several hundred shots crashed into Kazuma’s body as one. Hit asphalt was crushed into a fine mist, staining the surroundings gray.
The men took no notice and continued to spray fire over a wide area in Kazuma’s direction.
It took less than three seconds for them to run through their magazines, and they quickly inserted new clips before resuming fire.
Then this scene repeated itself once more.
When each had expended all three of their cartridges, the men swiftly took cover while something dropped from the sky at high velocity.
The violent explosion blew away everything where it landed.
“...This way... No matter how strong that man is...”
Looking at the dusty scene of the explosion, Misao muttered to herself without emotion.
Indeed, there aren’t many who could survive such an encounter. To expend close to a thousand bullets and over a dozen missiles – to call it overkill would be an understatement.
An attack that would have made you feel that the objective was not to “kill”, but to “eradicate,” to attack to the point that nothing remained. This was just such an attack.
She shifted her eyes slightly, seeing Ayano and Ren hugging each other on the ground.
They seemed to be too shocked to stand, but as long as the two of them were unharmed, it was fine. Even if she had already severed all ties with the Kannagis, she was unable to forget her respect for them, let alone have them as enemies.
On the other hand, in the corner where Kazuma lay, the remains of the destroyed building began to collapse, forming a small hill of concrete rubble. Even were you to search under that hill, it would have been unlikely for you to find even a scrap of cloth remaining.
“We must dig the corpse out.”
Witnessing the horrifying scene before her, Misao said calmly to herself. At that moment, the men bearing the assault rifles ran out and encircled the small hill of concrete.
An awful silence loomed over the area.
Pa-chunk. [SFX: concrete shifting]
A faint sound emerged from the bottom of the small hill, slicing through the silence.
The originally puppet-like, emotionless faces of the men seemed shaken for the first time.
A black shadow appeared from within the misty, white dust, and the sound of steady footsteps flowed forth.
It was a command shouted in a voice that no longer radiated calm. Driven by fear and the voice, the men reflexively pulled the trigger.
The erupting gunfire, loud enough to cause deafness, echoed through the alley. After being hit by several hundred more bullets, the black shadow fell once more.
Someone breathed out in relief, as if released from a heavy burden. Following his lead, the other men began to relax, one by one. At that moment–
A tornado appeared.
The seemingly rampaging tornado was tightly controlled, only cutting the bodies of the ten men. Five bodies, already torn to pieces, danced in the sky. At the same time, the tornado dispersed all the dust. In the blink of an eye, the air had become unbelievably clear.
“Making such a scene, as always.”
Kazuma smiled happily.
After recovering from momentary shock, Misao’s face resumed its gentle smile as she looked at Kazuma.
Other than a little dirt, he had suffered no damage at all. It appeared that he had used a wind barrier to deflect everything.
Misao put her hand in her pocket as if nothing had happened and radioed a signal.
“Just to warn you, don’t waste your energy,” Kazuma advised Misao unhurriedly.
“The snipers are dead – both of them.”
After hearing this snide comment, delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, Misao’s smile vanished instantly.
In addition to the first sniper, over one kilometer away, Misao had prepared a second sniper as a trump card. They had been placed across from each other, two kilometers apart, with Kazuma in the center.
Despite this, Kazuma had killed them. This meant that while defending against such a savage attack, he had calmly been scanning an area with a radius of at least one kilometer without missing a beat.
Though what he said was unbelievable, the radio had yet to respond. Misao offered a bitter smile and discarded her radio.
“Gee, are you a monster?”
“People often say that I am,” Kazuma answered calmly.
“But for you to think of such a method–! Compared to your en-jutsu, modern weaponry is definitely much more effective – alas, it still isn’t enough.”
“So it seems. How about cruise missiles next time?”
Both of them revealed kind smiles.
At that time, the bodies of the men killed by the tornado and thrown into the sky began to rain down.
Kazuma deflected the corpses with his wind–
–KABOOM– [SFX: explosion]
Misao, on the other hand, remorselessly burned them to ash with her fire.
Seeing the corpses turn to dust, to be blown away by the wind, Kazuma asked in a low voice, “Those men were hired by you, weren’t they?”
“I don’t recall hiring dead people.”
Misao replied while smiling.
Yes, Misao was smiling. Though the mercenaries she had hired had turned a street corner to ruin, causing death and injury to many, that smile held not a shred of insincerity.
Pure and innocent, a smile to be pitied – the smile of someone who has crossed a line that should never be crossed, the smile of someone on the wrong path.
“You’ve changed Misao... Was I the cause...?” Kazuma asked, in a rare, pained tone.
“I changed? Did you know me that well?”
Kazuma waved away his sorrow, reverting to a cold expression.
“So, your plan ends here?”
“Yes, that’s all for today.”
“Is that so? You may go then.”
Hearing these words, Misao was slightly shocked.
“Is it really okay to just let me go?”
“I’ve said this before. No matter what method you try, you’ll never be able to even scratch me.”
“You’ll regret it.”
“Let’s wait and see.”
Misao didn’t reply and silently turned to leave.
Seeing the shadow of her back fade away in the distance, Kazuma sighed softly.
“Ten years... is really a long time...”
His quiet words passed unheard and disappeared into the wind.
“Gunfire broke out at 4pm today in an incident in Chiyoda Ward, Kudankita District, and claimed more than 30 lives.”
The nightly news was reporting on the earlier incident, which was only to be expected. Even though the legend of Japanese security had already long since broken down, things had yet to reach the point where a firefight in the center of Tokyo was a common occurrence.
Because the incident had taken place near the royal residence, all of Tokyo had instantly gone on high alert. As if under martial law, police could be seen everywhere.
Pointing at the ruinous street corner appearing on the television, Juugo showed Ayano a look of suspicion.
“You are saying that all of this is Misao’s doing?”
“Yes... Umm... It should be...”
Ayano answered hesitantly. The more she looked at the scene depicted on the television, the less real it seemed.
Regardless of the circumstances, the Misao the two of them knew would never be associated with such an incident. Normally a very sympathetic girl, even were she to hold a grudge, she would never be so cruel as to involve innocent people. And were she to decide to take revenge, she would choose a method that wouldn’t involve others.
“For an obedient, docile girl like Misao... Once she gets angry, her actions are surprisingly audacious...” Ayano mumbled wholeheartedly.
From speaking with Masayuki, they had learned that Misao had already disappeared two days prior, along with an eight digit sum from the Ogami family account.
It went without saying that she had yet to be seen again.
“Don’t look as though this doesn’t concern you. Why didn’t you grab her on the spot?”
“Because, Kazuma... He–”
In response to Juugo’s reprimand, Ayano responded coquettishly.
“No excuses. After all, you are to be the next Soushu.”
(Just what do you expect me to do in that kind of situation...)
Ayano put on an obedient front in the face of Juugo’s lecture, but the earlier incident was replaying itself within her.
“Ugh, I can’t hear a thing.”
With Kazuma’s safe return, and the subsequent exit of his assailants, Ayano had become a stalker once more, but the distance between them was too large, and she had been unable to listen in.
At such times, en-jutsu was useless. Among the various forms of en-jutsu – which exhibited an overwhelming attack power – there was nothing that could be used for reconnaissance.
In the end, Ayano didn’t manage to catch even a single word of the conversation.
“That guy seems to be enjoying himself.”
“Is that so? He looks pained to me.”
“Pained? That guy? What a joyous occasion.”
The reason why Ayano could have such an attitude was because she thought that it was all over.
She believed that Misao had no cards left to play and that all that was left was the aftermath. Or so she thought.
After the conversation had come to a peaceful resolution, Misao had turned, not to run away, but to calmly walk away.
Kazuma didn’t give chase and just silently watched as she took her leave.
In the moments during which Ayano was too stunned to move, Misao had leisurely disappeared.
“Wa–Wait a minute!”
Coming back to her senses, Ayano ran to Kazuma’s side and grabbed his collar.
“Why did you let her escape?!”
“Why should I capture her?”
Kazuma didn’t seem surprised by Ayano’s appearance and questioned her in turn, as if only natural.
“What do you mean why... This incident was caused by Misao!”
“From the way I see it, they’re the ones responsible.”
In response to Ayano, who was pointing at the remains of the building, Kazuma pointed instead at the corpses of the fallen men.
“That’s what I’m saying! They were following her orders!”
“Is that so? That’s news to me.”
The hand gripping his collar increased in force. From her attitude it was plain to see that what Ayano really wanted to grab was Kazuma’s throat.
“If you let her be, Misao will do the same thing again!”
“Does it matter? There wasn’t any harm done anyway.”
“Are you blind?”
Ayano once again pointed to the pathetic scene behind her.
After a brief moment of contemplation, Kazuma corrected himself.
“No harm to me.”
“You bastard! Just stand there and receive your punishment!”
A flaming fist (Note: not a metaphor) struck at Kazuma. Dodging the strike with ease, Kazuma began to chat with his brother, who walked up to him.
“Oh, Ren. How’ve you been?”
“Damn it! Die! Die this instant!”
Kazuma closed the distance as Ayano drew her fist, and lightly twisted her right hand upward.
Ayano’s elbow was flipped up, and the joints in her arm, elbow, and shoulder were all stretched to the limit at the same time. In such a condition, Ayano could only arc her body, tip-toe and bear with it. Her body completly lost balance, and all she could do was surrender.
Ignoring Ayano, who was trying her best to recover her balance, Kazuma warned Ren, “I’m heading back. You guys should leave too. It’ll be troublesome if the police see you.”
“See ya then.”
He carelessly waved his hand and swept his eyes toward Ayano – who was now stumbling on the ground – with an expression of victory.
With his back to Ayano, who was glaring at him, Kazuma walked away.
“Nee-sama, are you okay?”
Treating Ren’s words of concern with the regard she would give a gust of wind, Ayano silently watched Kazuma’s back.
(That guy–! One day I’ll definitely teach him a lesson!)
Ayano forgot that she was listening to her father lecture her and grew angry at the thought.
Juugo did not fail to notice. When he saw that Ayano was not paying attention, he stood up – Ayano showed no reaction – walked forward – Ayano still didn’t react – and knocked his fist on the top of her head.
An extremely exaggerated sound came forth. Ayano was in such pain that she couldn’t even scream, and her entire body collapsed on the tatami.
Having suffered the blow on the top of her head while kneeling, the impact had nowhere to go but straight down. Agonizing under a blow that seemed as if it would crush her skull, Ayano could only endure it.
“I... I object to violence...” Ayano protested with tears in her eyes.
“Don’t just say the words. Change.”
Juugo, of course, ignored her protest.
“It seems that I’ve spoiled you too much in the past. I will have to be more strict from now on.”
Disregarding Ayano’s pitiful expression, Juugo returned to the topic at hand.
“So? Did you notice any other clues?”
“Kazuma is very suspicious!” Ayano shouted at almost exactly the same time.
Juugo simply looked at Ayano without saying a word. To call his gaze critical would have been conservative.
“...Is that all?”
“Be... Because it’s weird, isn’t it?! Why didn’t Kazuma kill Misao?!”
Juugo grew silent, not speaking a word. Seizing this opportunity, Ayano pressed on.
“Otou-sama, just think about it. Doesn’t Kazuma resent the Kannagis to the core? To not even kill a single person up until now, it just seems too weird.”
“He seems to have told Ren that he ‘no longer hates the Kannagi family’.”
“Who knows? Even if that’s true, if someone took the initiative to attack him, that shouldn’t still be the case. Didn’t we see it already? The fourteen or fifteen men who surrounded and attacked him, he beat them to a pulp. That’s Kazuma’s ‘usual’ way of doing things.”
Juugo nodded. He had no objections to her point.
“But in that case, why didn’t he lay a hand on Misao?”
“I have no idea. But anyone can see that Misao is very special in Kazuma’s eyes. There must be something between them,” Ayano said bluntly, with a stern, or rather, sharp expression.
“He has fallen in love with Misao?”
Ayano’s body trembled slightly. She looked at her father with the unsure eyes of a lost child.
“Otou-sama thinks so too?”
Juugo answered vaguely. He hoped that he was just thinking too much.
(Kazuma must return to the Kannagis. But Misao is unable to be his support.)
To say that he did not expect Kazuma to replace the Fuugas would have been a lie. In addition, Juugo had not forgotten the danger Kazuma posed.
Kazuma had shown his scars once before. Juugo couldn’t pretend not to have seen that unhealed wound.
(Kazuma needs a place to return to. And for that...)
Juugo looked at Ayano with eyes that held deep meaning, but at that moment, Ayano was too focused on her own troubles and failed to notice those eyes at all.
“Anyway, let’s find Kazuma and ask him about it first.”
Ayano returned to her senses and nodded in agreement.
“Ye... Yeah... By the way, why is that guy always so mysterious?”
Juugo gave a bitter smile. He felt uneasy precisely because he understood that it was due to Kazuma’s mistrust of the Kannagis.
“Somehow, we must find a way...”
In the end, Juugo never got a chance to ask Kazuma about the circumstances between him and Misao. And by that point, the opportunity had already long passed.
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