The woman said that they needed help. Mayuzumi replied that she was lying.
I, Mayuzumi, and Yuusuke were currently in the woman’s car. Inside the spacious interior, Mayuzumi bit into a chocolate truffle that she had brought with her. She didn’t care about the cocoa powder falling on the leather sheets.
“Mayu-san,” I called. “Could you clue me in? I’m completely in the dark here.”
“Ah, yes. I suppose I can fill you in a bit on the details.”
Mayuzumi licked off the cocoa from her white fingers and looked back at the vehicle following behind. The boy from earlier was on it.
“You saw the moving ink drawings, didn’t you? That’s the work of the Minase clan. They can materialize what they draw, or I suppose it’s more accurate to say that they end up materializing what they draw. Unlike the Mayuzumi clan, where almost everyone except me has no special powers, all members of the Minase clan possess this ability. Of course, they’re not all at the same level. That’s why they keep a tight control over the clan. But apparently one kid ran away.”
Mayuzumi turned her face back to the front. She shrugged, and the lace around her neck bobbed.
“Normally, they would have retrieved him right away. But for some reason he got mixed up with a group of hooligans and began devoting himself to street art. The information should have reached the Minase clan, but they believed that the boy would never do such a thing, so they discarded the intel before it reached the higher-ups. I was surprised myself. To think that that prehistoric clan would be wearing bandanas around their mouths and scribbling graffiti. I thought they had gone insane.”
Mayuzumi chuckled at the thought of the young boy.
“Yeah, didn’t really suit his image,” Yuusuke muttered beside her.
“And yet you sent me to look for him,” I said, flaring.
“I knew that a youngster from the Minase clan was missing. I also knew that they would come to me soon to ask for help. So I thought I’d get a head start. Some cases you just have no choice but to take. It’s best to be done with those as soon as possible, even the most trivial ones.”
The driver and the woman in the passenger seat should be able to hear us, but they didn’t say anything. Yuusuke, losing interest with the conversation, took his earphones out of his pocket and listened to some music. Quite some time had passed since we got in the car. Unfortunately, the tinted windows prevented me from seeing anything outside.
“So that’s the truth behind the moving drawings,” I said, staring intently through the glass. “Tell me, Mayu-san. We caught the culprit, but why are they taking us with them?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? They came to pick us up for a whole different reason.”
After finishing the chocolate truffle, Mayuzumi opened another box. She picked up a rose-shaped chocolate. It crumbled between her teeth. Fragrant liquor wet her small lips.
“They’ve been contacting me for a while now, so it wasn’t really surprising,” she said. “I just thought they finally arrived. There is a chance that I’d get killed by their negligence, so they came to protect me, someone they see as less than a worm.”
I ruminated on the disturbing word. Yuusuke flinched and quickly reduced the volume on his portable player.
Mayuzumi picked up another piece of chocolate and giggled. “Apparently a defector from their clan is out to kill me. Ah, how unpleasant. It sounds amusing, but I find it grim. Having my belly ripped open is not exactly my idea of a good time.”
Chocolate crumbled between her teeth. The liquor oozing out from within reminded me of blood.
Chocolate-soaked belly must smell sweet when sliced open.
“Do you know why they’re trying to kill you? Maybe a grudge or something?”
This girl could easily incur someone’s resentment.
Yuusuke snickered, then burst out laughing for some reason.
Mayuzumi clapped her hands in amusement. “I like that, Odagiri-kun. I think your candor is a kind of virtue. But there’s no grudges involved this time. Nothing that simple. In fact, the motive makes grudges pale in comparison.”
I didn’t understand what she meant. Grudges sometimes made skulls sing. It could impregnate someone with a demon. I’d witnessed such cases firsthand. What could be bigger than grudges?
A completely different motive for killing, not just a simple grudge.
Conceivable, but unpredictable.
“I give up,” I said. “What’s their motive?”
“It should be obvious, no? A Minase clan member is trying to kill Mayuzumi Azaka.”
“Lady Mayuzumi,” the woman called to stop her.
Mayuzumi ignored her and grinned. “To summon a god.”
We got off in the middle of the mountains. Bamboo thickets lined both sides of the straight road. I turned around and saw an empty road stretching onward, flanked too with bamboo grooves. Perhaps the mountain was privately-owned. The winding sensation I felt on the way must’ve been the car going up the mountain. Where on earth did they take us? I shook my head and turned my gaze forward.
The pleasant rustling of leaves brushed my ears.
A red parasol walked in front of me. The way she strolled along the cobblestone path, flanked on both sides by bamboos, would have been a beautiful sight if she was wearing a kimono. Instead her figure, wrapped in a luxurious dress, looked ghastly. Her black clothes under bright crimson seemed like an incongruous mourning attire.
“What you said earlier, Mayu-san,” I said. “Do you believe gods exist?”
It seemed comical that she, who detested being worshiped by the Mayuzumi clan as a living god, would speak of divine beings.
“That’s an awfully non-specific question,” she replied without looking back. “Are you trying to narrow things down by yourself since I’m not sharing any details?” She twirled her parasol. “If someone points in front of them and says there’s a god there, I’d say cool.”
I frowned a little. I didn’t expect her answer. I thought for sure she would reject the abstract concept of gods.
Mayuzumi spun, and with a smile as if reasoning with a child, she said, “That’s what gods are. If someone believes in them, then they’re everywhere. Whether they exist or not is completely up to the individual. There are few concepts as free and handy as this. Some embrace it, while others abhor it. But I won’t mock any of them for their beliefs, as long as they don’t treat me like a god. Because it’s annoying.”
Mayuzumi gave a derisive smile and dropped her voice low. “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world. Or perhaps not. Both are wonderful views. Gods can be whatever people want them to be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there this time.”
Shaking her head softly, Mayuzumi spun back around. She twirled her parasol and resumed walking.
“I’ll tell you more about the whole summoning a god thing. For now, follow me.”
No need to tell me. I started walking. If she told me to follow her, my role was to obey like a dog. I looked over my shoulder. But why is he here?
“Yuusuke… What are you doing here?”
“Ah, yes. Mayuzumi-san said it was okay,” he answered, removing his earphones. The intense tune suggested he was listening to rock music.
If Mayuzumi let him come, then there was nothing I could say. Clicking my tongue, I asked him the same question.
“Yuusuke, do you believe gods exist?”
“It would be nice if they did,” he said flippantly. “Sounds handy.”
He fiddled with his player, probably searching for some song. On his right arm, a bat hung like an extension of his hand.
I turned my gaze back to the front. Mayuzumi was standing still. Up ahead was a gate, where the woman who was walking ahead was waiting.
“We’re here, Odagiri-kun.”
The gate creaked open. People whose faces were covered with black cloth were lined up on either side like there was some sort of a funeral procession. Sweat slowly trickled down my back, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the sunlight pouring down on us.
“Welcome to the Minase main family,” Mayuzumi said as if she owned the place.