“...a troublesome person.”
“What are you saying, even though it’s your fault that I ended up with this many wounds and I had to save your life?” Kirihime replied arrogantly.
Ryou gritted his teeth and stopped his efforts to be gentle as he changed Kirihime’s bandage.
“Ouch!! Ryou! It hurts, you know!” Kirihime protested.
It had already been a week after the incident with Kurokage and Ryou naturally healed first, for he was an artificial Mazoku. Even though he couldn’t regenerate himself, his recovery rate was pretty fast. On the contrary, Kirihime was confined to bed and had to wait for her wounds to heal.
Because she couldn’t do anything fun for a while, Kirihime’s mood soured and she kept demanding Ryou to accompany her. Ryou wouldn’t mind if she didn’t keep teasing and bothering him.
“I’ve already apologized too many times to you, I think it will be enough for my great-great-great grandchildren.” Ryou replied sarcastically.
“Well, at least I don’t have to work until my wounds are healed.” Kirihime shrugged and continued to read her novel.
“You’re always like this.” Ryou protested. “Last time you’re down with fever, you refused to work at all for a month just because you said you’re [not healthy enough to think]. What kind of reason is that?”
“What can I do? My brain won’t think like a genius if I’m not healthy enough.” Kirihime evaded.
“Then how do you explain that blinding light at the end of my battle with Kurokage? I know you did it—I just don’t know how.” Ryou accused her.
“You make me sound like a criminal, even though that saved your life.” Kirihime frowned. “For your information, that kind of thinking is elementary, my dear butler.”
“How is that elementary?” Ryou stared at her in disbelief.
“Well, when I first looked around, I noticed that the room had many chemicals I recognized...”
“You could recognize such things—never mind, you’re not normal anyway.”
“...then, when Kurokage first used [Shadow Realm], I figured that he would use it again to finish you, so I was secretly working on a mix of those chemicals that could create strong light when exposed to oxygen. So, when he used that skill again and crept close enough to you, I simply broke the container and created that light. It’s elementary, right?” Kirihime explained in a bored tone.
“How is that elementary?” Ryou repeated. “I really can’t believe such spoiled girl like you could be that genius.”
“Hehe, that’s what makes me unique.” Kirihime puffed her chest in pride and smiled cutely.
Ryou glanced at her—and couldn’t stop staring.
“How rare...for her to show such child-like expression. She’s usually so mature and makes me forget that she’s only one year younger than me. I wish...she would show her smile more often. I want...to make her smile like that.” That thought came out of nowhere and surprised Ryou himself.
Ryou snapped out of that thought and realized that Kirihime was glaring at him. He remembered that Kirihime hated to be stared at and braced himself for more scolding.
“What are you looking at?” Kirihime snapped at him.
“N-No, just wondering about...about artificial Mazoku!” Ryou quickly lied. “You know, we’ve been dealing with so much artificial Mazoku lately, it just felt weird and makes me wonder if someone was pulling the strings.”
Kirihime thought about it for a moment. “Hm, you got a point there.”
A question came across Ryou’s mind. “Hey, Kirihime. What if someone was able to create a perfect artificial Mazoku like me?”
“Ouch!! What was that for?!” Ryou clutch his forehead, where Kirihime had struck him with her novel.
“What a stupid question!! First of all, there’s nothing such as [perfect artificial Mazoku]!! Even you had one or two weaknesses! And secondly, even if it’s possible, the probability is way too small! The research for creating artificial Mazoku had been spanning for few hundred years, but almost none of them succeeded. Aside from you, the most advanced so far was Kurokage’s army and you didn’t have that much trouble defeating them!” Kirihime finished her scolding.
Ryou sulked. “Well excuse me for asking stupid question.”
“At least you realized that you’re stupid.” Kirihime replied while reading again.
“I didn’t say such thing!! Ah, forget it! I’m going to step out for a bit.” Ryou stood and left his chair, which was next to Kirihime’s bed.
He went to the mailbox outside the mansion, which was overflowed with letters of request as usual.
Ryou dropped the letters and quickly examined his surroundings.
“What...was that? Why did I get the feeling that something—or someone was watching me?” Ryou thought.
Ryou once again scanned his surroundings, but nothing strange came out, so he bent down to pick the letters. Suddenly he caught a faint movement of someone who hid under the shadows of trees. But Ryou showed no sign that he noticed that person. Ryou took the letters and walked to the mansion like usual.
The next instant, Ryou dropped all the letters and shifted his feet into a cheetah’s, then he chased that person. Almost at the same time, that person realized that his presence had been found and quickly fled.
“Stop!!! Whoever you are, stop right now!! I’m warning you!!” Ryou shouted, but that person didn’t stop.
Although Ryou was chasing with all he got, that person managed to keep their distance. Ryou gritted his teeth in frustration.
“No hard feelings, but...” Ryou slowed down and grabbed a giant tree near him, then flung that tree to that person. “...you couldn’t possibly avoid such tree, rig—?”
Ryou was stunned as he saw that person—a boy his age—wielded a giant sword. Ryou could’ve sworn that he didn’t have such sword before. But that wasn’t the only thing that surprised him. That red-headed boy swung that sword easily and sliced the tree cleanly into two halves. Before Ryou could react, that boy threw a smirk at him and disappeared among trees.
“Are you absolutely sure?” Kirihime asked for the thousandth times.
Ryou, who had reported that encounter, fixed his gaze to Kirihime’s face. “For the thousandth time, I’m absolutely sure.”
“But that’s impossible!” Kirihime argued.
“I know what I saw.” Ryou replied with an eerily calm attitude.
Kirihime bit her lips as her brain worked few times faster than usual. “An artificial Mazoku who had a soul and around your age? This is way too convenient. Are you sure you’re not imagining him?”
Ryou shot her a questioning look. “Do you really think a hallucination could cut a giant tree in two? Should I show you the evidence?”
Kirihime waved her hand. “Okay, okay, let’s assume that boy is really out there. Then why did you say he had a soul?”
Ryou sighed. “I’ve seen way too much artificial Mazoku than I wanted for the rest of my life. I can tell whether he had a soul or not, and I’m sure he still had his soul. Right before he disappeared, he smirked at me with a smug face. I’m telling you again, he had free will, just like me.” Ryou argued.
Kirihime let out an irritated sigh. “No, you’re a slave, not someone with free will.” She muttered furiously and Ryou decided to ignore her comment.
“So what are we going to do about him?” Ryou asked.
“I will do something about him. You can just sit around and protect me like usual.” Kirihime ordered.
Ryou unwillingly nodded. “Yes, Kirihime-sama.”
The next day, Kirihime practically locked herself in her study, after insisting that she was healthy enough to work. She even forbade Ryou from coming into the study, so that she wouldn’t be disturbed at all.
“She’s acting so strange...insisting that she’s okay even though her wound hasn’t fully healed yet...refusing my offer to accompany her...what in the world is she planning?” Ryou frowned and stared at the study’s door.
Then an idea hit him.
“I know! I’ll bake some sweets and use it to make her talk!” Ryou quickly headed to the kitchen and spent the whole afternoon making brownies.
Usually, no matter how busy she claimed she was, Kirihime would never fail to show up in the kitchen when the cake was almost ready. But today, there was no sign of Kirihime at all. So, Ryou took the cake and tea to her study while thinking of various ways to interrogate her.
Ryou almost dropped the tray when that ominous feeling washed him again.
“This feeling...that boy must be around here!” Ryou sharpened his senses.
This time, without any hesitation, Ryou threw aside the tray and ran toward the study, where the breaking sound originated. But as he ran, memories of the past incident flashed across his mind, robbing his ability to think clearly.
“No...calm down, myself!! It won’t be like last time!” Ryou shuddered when he remembered how pale Kirihime was when he came to save her. “I won’t let Kirihime be hurt by anyone again!!”
Ryou reached the study and barged inside. His fear had subsided and he quickly analyzed the situation. Kirihime was moving away from the window while that boy broke into the window. Based on his bloodlust, Ryou could easily tell who his target was.
That boy was flung to the wall and the wall cracked, but didn’t crumble. Ryou landed on his feet and placed himself between that boy and Kirihime. His hands had shifted into metal that were strong enough to crush that boy’s skulls.
But when that boy rose again, he was unscathed at all.
“Wha...?! How...?!” Ryou was at loss.
“Such a reliable watchdog, isn’t he? [Mazoku Princess]-sama?” That boy directed his words toward Kirihime, who kept silent.
That boy took off a pair of wristband that were made of metal, which had absorbed Ryou’s attack earlier. Those wristbands hit the floor with a heavy thump. Then Ryou realized that a thin metal armor was covering the boy’s short but athletic body, rendering all physical attacks useless.
“Who are you?! What do you want here?!” Ryou demanded.
“Ah...how rude of me. Let me introduce myself.” His eyes had the same color as deep, dark oceans and filled with enough malice to intimidate even Ryou. “My name is Shinta Kushu, and I’m here for you, [Princess].”
Ryou glanced at Kirihime, who still kept silent.
“If you want to kill her, then you’ll have to defeat me.” Ryou declared.
But Kushu simply laughed. “Defeat you? Sure, why not? You may be an artificial Mazoku just like me, but I’m way out of your league.” He stopped laughing and fixed his gaze to Ryou. “Your name, [watchdog]?”
“Satomi Ryou, and I’m Kirihime’s knight. Why did you target Kirihime?” Ryou prepared himself for a fight.
“Hmm...there are many reasons...” But instead of doing the same, Kushu had just dropped his guard. “Well, I have two main reasons. First is to become human once again. And second, I want to kill my creator with my own hands.” Kushu clenched his fist.
Ryou was taken aback when he heard Kushu’s words. “B-But...that’s just...”
“The same like you?” Kushu smirked. “Of course it’s the same. Because we were made by the same creator, [brother].”
Ryou was utterly shocked. “T-Then...you came here...to ask for Kirihime’s help, just like me?”
Kushu stared at Ryou with clear pity. “It seems you knew nothing, Ryou. And here I thought you had been brainwashed. But ignorance is bliss after all. Yeah, you could say I want to ask for the princess’ help.”
“Then...!” Ryou took a step forward. “Who is that nobleman that created us?!” Ryou asked with impatient tone. All this time, he had been searching for answers, and now Kushu had all the answers he was looking for.
“Nobleman?” Kushu frowned. Then he seemed to understand. “Aah, that person is—”
Ryou was shocked when he saw a sword materialized out of thin air and deflected the knife that was thrown from behind Ryou.
“Tch. Conjuration, huh?” Kirihime finally spoke up after her attack failed.
“Unfortunately, only Metal Conjuration. But that’s an impressive attack you had there, [Princess]. If that hit me, my throat would be destroyed and I would never be able to speak anymore. Isn’t that convenient for you?” Kushu smirked.
Kirihime gritted her teeth. “Ryou. Kill Shinta Kushu. This is an order.” Her tone was filled with anger.
“Huh?!” Ryou turned at Kirihime in disbelief. “Kill him?! B-But...he’s the same like me! That time, you reached out to me! Why won’t you do the same for him?!” Ryou argued.
Kushu laughed again like a psycho. “I’m offended, seriously. So I can’t be a good pawn to you, [Princess]? But it doesn’t matter. Even if you beg for me, I won’t accept your so-called kindness!! I’m not blind, you know!”
“You heard him. No matter what I say, he won’t listen. He’ll only bring destruction if we let him alive. So kill him, Ryou.” Kirihime ordered.
Even so, Ryou refused to move. “But he knew who my creator is! There’s a lot of things that I want to ask him! Not to mention, he’s my brother!! You may not know how it feels to have a sibling, but I do! And I don’t want to lose another sibling!!” Ryou refuted.
Kirihime flinched when Ryou mentioned sibling. “Sibling...? You think of that psycho as sibling...? Don’t joke with me!! You would rather choose him than me?!” Kirihime raised her voice.
“No, that’s not what I meant!! Kirihime, you’re acting weir—!”
“Satomi Ryou!!!” Kirihime’s gaze pierced Ryou’s.
That very moment, Ryou felt like electricity had run through his body. All he could see was Kirihime and all he could hear was her voice.
“If you still choose me over him, then you will do my order. I won’t repeat myself again. Kill Shinta Kushu right now.” Kirihime spoke with so much rage that Ryou couldn’t even think to disobey her.
“...yes.” Ryou turned to face Kushu, who watched their argument with an amused face.
“Already finished? I thought you’d put up more fight than that, but it seems you’re a really wonderful pawn, Satomi Ryou.” Kushu fell into his stance.
“Shut up.” Ryou shifted both his arms into a pair of swords. “I’ll have you spit out all that you know, so prepare yourself.”
“Already deciding the winner? How arrogant of you.” Kushu shrugged. “Well, at least in this fight, I’m pretty sure I could win.”
The next instant, Ryou’s instinct told him that Kirihime was in danger. Ryou dashed at her, right when a sword materialized in front of Kirihime, ready to stab her heart.
“Stop it!!!” Ryou managed to block that attack before it reached Kirihime. “I’m your opponent!”
“But unfortunately, she’s my target.” Kushu smirked. “So try your best to protect her, [Knight]-san.”
Kushu created even more bladed weapons and unleashed all of them to Kirihime, who didn’t waver despite the barrage of attacks. Ryou gritted his teeth and parried most of the weapons. He couldn’t evade because Kirihime was right behind him, so Ryou had willingly took the attack with his body.
“Impressive.” Kushu cheerfully clapped as the weapons which fell to the floor disappeared. “A hundred weapons and no scratch on the princess. Then, how about we make it one thousand?”
“Bring it on!!” Ryou fearlessly challenged him, despite his wounded body and ragged breath.
“Ryou.” Kirihime touched his shoulder. “Listen carefully...”
Kushu grinned like a mad man as he materialized even more weapons and flung all of it to Ryou, who was desperately trying to block all the attacks.
“No matter how fast you are, there’s no way you can block all of them, right?” Kushu thought to himself.
“What a hassle!!” Suddenly Ryou did a roundhouse kick and sent all of the weapons flying back to Kushu, who quickly evaded.
“Hah, nice try! But that kind of attack won’t be enough to def—!”
“Then, how about this?”
Suddenly Ryou threw Kirihime at Kushu.
“Wha—?!” Kushu quickly created a sword to block Kirihime’s sword.
“It’s useless.” Kirihime smirked.
Kushu’s eyes widened when he saw his swords slowly broke apart. “How?!”
“Your ability is not Metal Conjuration. I’m not so foolish to simply believe every word that you said. Your real ability...” Kirihime pushed her sword and Kushu’s sword fell apart. “...is Mental Blade.”
Kushu hurriedly distanced himself from Kirihime, who confidently wielded her sword.
“If you really use Metal Conjuration, your swords shouldn’t disappear. But it couldn’t be an illusion, because those swords could really inflict pain. So another possibility is that the sword is a mere decoy to hide the truth—that you could hurt people and things with your mind.” Kirihime continued.
“Mind? What a farfetched deduction.” Kushu laughed. “Then why can’t I just simply hurt you without having to create swords?”
“Because that ability is most likely still imperfect. You need a media to actually cause damage. As a proof, if you really possessed Metal Conjuration, you should’ve materialized something inside my body and killed me instantly instead of fighting us head-on. It’s not because you don’t want to—it’s because you can’t.” Kirihime knew she had hit bull’s-eye when Kushu paled.
“So this is actually a damage caused by his mind?” Ryou examined his injuries. “That’s kind of scary.”
“What will you do, Shinta Kushu?” Kirihime pointed her sword to Kushu. “You still want to continue this game? Unless you still have some kind of trump card, I can assure you that this is your checkmate.”
Kushu chuckled, then he started laughing maniacally. “Amazing!! Simply amazing!! You’re a true genius, [Princess]! I’ve spent one year training to hide my true ability and you saw through it in less than an hour! To honor you, I’ll take my leave for today.” Kushu stopped laughing and smirked.
“Wait—!!” Ryou lunged at him, but Kushu was a step faster.
Instead of weapons, Kushu materialized a mist and disappeared.
“So that’s how it is...” Kirihime muttered to herself as she examined the mist carefully. “Only harmful things could bring harm, so he used swords to attack and mist to escape...”
“Kirihime!! Why didn’t you grab him?!” Ryou turned to Kirihime, enraged.
“Why should I? If he wants to run, then let him run.” Kirihime turned away and sat behind her desk again.
“But there’s a lot I want to ask him!! What if he ran away and...?!”
“He won’t.” Kirihime calmly cut him. “He said it himself. That I was his target. So he won’t easily run away.”
Ryou furrowed his eyebrows, but he couldn’t argue.
“I have to get back to work, so would you clean up this mess and leave me alone?” Kirihime asked without lifting her face from her work.
Ryou crossed his arms and Kirihime could feel his mood darkened. “Kirihime, I may be stupid, but I’m not blind. You’re clearly acting strange the moment Kushu attacked—no, since Kushu appeared outside the mansion. Do you know him? Who created him and me? What did he meant by pawns and brainwash? Are you trying to silen—”
Suddenly Kirihime stood and interrupted Ryou’s words.
“Kirihime?” Ryou looked confused when Kirihime walked to him.
“Huh?” Ryou was stunned by her words. For this past year, no matter how angry she was, Kirihime had never used such tone to him. As if he was an enemy.
“I said, get out.” Kirihime repeated coldly.
Kirihime pushed Ryou out of the study and slammed the door in front of him. As if it wasn’t enough, she locked the door.
“Kirihime?! Kirihime!! What are you doing?! If you keep acting like this, I’ll get out for real, you know! Kirihime!!” Ryou called out to her.
For a moment, there was only silence between them.
“...that’s fine.” Kirihime whispered from behind the door. “Hate me. Doubt me. And then leave me. I deserved it after all.” Then she walked away.
Ryou stood motionless in front of the door, staring at it in confusion.
“What does she mean? Is she really chasing me out from the mansion? Or...” Ryou hesitated. “I want to find Kushu and find out what Kirihime had kept away from me, but...as I thought...it doesn’t matter if Kirihime didn’t say it directly to me. I want to hear everything from her. So...I’ll wait.”