“Doesn’t this remind you of yakuza movies?” Yuusuke said.
“I can see why you’d think that, but please shut up.”
Not only was it terrifying, it was no laughing matter.
We walked down the cobblestone path to the manor. As Mayuzumi passed by, the people with concealed faces bowed deeply, looking like black waves crashing. Mayuzumi walked past them coolly, but not Yuusuke and me.
“Save your surprise until we enter the manor,” Mayuzumi said. “So far, it’s not so different from the Mayuzumi clan, is it?”
Just because it’s the same doesn’t mean I’ll get used to it.
I followed closely behind. As soon as I stepped into the manor, I was rendered speechless. The walls, the ceiling, the floor—everything was made of pure-white calligraphy paper. The long hallway felt oddly crushing.
I couldn’t imagine people living here.
“Isn’t it wonderful? All the rooms are like this too,” Mayuzumi said with a chuckle.
A closer look revealed sliding doors, but since they were the same color as the walls, it was hard to spot them. I wondered why they built the place this way. No sane person would blanket their entire residence in white.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Mayuzumi said, as if reading my mind.
We were led to a room deeper inside. As we walked through the labyrinthine corridors, the color black would sometimes cross my vision, moving swiftly and disappearing before I could check what it was.
Something was crawling on the walls. That’s what it felt like.
Squirming frogs sprang to mind. A knot formed in my gut. When I tried to identify it, it hid again. Eventually, we reached the innermost room. The double sliding doors opened.
The floor, walls, and ceiling—everything was painted white. The ceiling was strangely low, giving the room a stifling, oppressive atmosphere. In the middle of the room, a girl was sitting with her hands on her hips. Our female guide moved behind her, laying prostrate with the rest of the black-clad retainers. The girl’s figure stood out in the pool of blackness.
Only her kimono was pure white.
“Hello,” Mayuzumi greeted casually.
The girl didn’t answer, as if snubbing her. Her long, glossy black hair was cut sharply down her back. Her skin was as morbidly pale as a doll or a corpse.
The girl lifted her head. Her large black eyes blinked. Her tightly pursed lips looked incredibly red, perhaps from lipstick. Her icy expression was the exact opposite of Mayuzumi’s, but she was just as beautiful.
The girl pulled a fan from her waist and opened it. She ran a brush across its surface. Her handwriting was too fancy to read.
Mayuzumi spoke to translate. “It’s an honor to have you visit us, Lady Mayuzumi Azaka.”
But the girl did not look welcoming at all. She was glaring at Mayuzumi like she was an enemy.
“I’m glad to see you well, Minase… you are the new head, yes?”
The girl quickly waved her fan in a graceful motion, and the letters vanished. He ran her brush once more.
“My name is Minase Shirayuki, head of the Minase clan.”
The girl held her fan out in front of her, still staring at Mayuzumi. Despite her doll-like appearance, there was tenacity in her eyes. At first I was surprised to learn that she was the head of the clan, but I could see why.
She had a proud look in her eyes.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Likewise. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t establish a friendly relationship with your father.” Mayumi’s lips twisted into a nasty, animalistic grin. “I hope we get along well.”
I smell bullshit.
I swallowed the words. The girl did not respond to Mayuzumi’s obvious provocation. Mayuzumi said what she said because she knew the girl would not react. They understood each other well.
There was no need for pretense. Feeling each other out was a waste of time.
“I’ll cut to the chase,” Mayuzumi said. “I heard that the defector has finally decided to summon a god. Do you have any estimate as to the progress of their preparations since receiving the intel?”
The girl glanced at me and Yuusuke. She raised her eyebrow slightly and opened her fan.
“I will tell you about it. However, I would like those two behind you to leave.”
“You can keep it from them, but it makes no difference. I will tell them about it myself. Besides, it is my belly that will be ripped open because of your negligence.”
Mayuzumi opened her parasol. A red flower bloomed in the white room.
Mayuzumi stared fearlessly into the girl’s eyes. “Don’t play games with me. I won’t make any unreasonable demands. But you must show your sincerity. I don’t bemoan my own misfortune, but I can’t stomach others’ mistakes either. Having my belly ripped open is not funny to me, you see. I find it irritating, in fact.”
The parasol spun. Red shadows danced on the walls.
“Don’t drag me into your mess,” Mayuzumi said in a mocking tone.
The woman behind the head of the clan opened her mouth to say something, but the girl raised her white hand to stop her, and unfolded her fan.
“I apologize. I am sorry. You are right, Lady Mayuzumi. I will tell you everything. But know this.”
The corner of Mayuzumi’s lips lifted. The clan head moved her brush with blinding speed.
“Your belly will not be ripped open. Any trouble that comes from our clan will be dealt with by our clan.”
The head closed her fan, and snapped it open again.
Mayuzumi read the sentence with amusement.
“Do not underestimate us.”
A chuckle echoed through the room. Mayuzumi switched to a friendlier tone.
“I see. You’re more feisty than I expected. You’re an amusing fellow. Worth observing, even. As long as I’m entertained, I have no complaints.”
She might have none, but I had plenty.
As much as possible, I would like to avoid life-and-death situations. At all costs.
But she probably wouldn’t care about my concerns.
“Now then,” Mayuzumi continued with a smile. “Tell me. Are you in a tight spot or are you good? I highly doubt it’s the latter, though.”
“You guessed correct. I’m glad you understand.”
Unlike the woman biting her lip behind her, the head of the clan showed not an ounce of agitation, shrugging off Mayuzumi’s remark. Keeping a calm face, she moved her brush.
“I ask that you keep this matter private. My father, the previous head of the clan, was murdered by the defector. He could not stop them. All but one of his retainers who brought back this information were killed. At this point, every second counts.”
“I see. The old man was killed, huh? He was on in years, but he was still the head of the clan. I doubt a clan member could kill him so easily.”
The clan head lowered her gaze a little.
Mayuzumi nodded. “I understand. All the more reason to settle the problem on your own. Do you have a chance?”
“I am better than my father. I do not gamble unless I have a chance of winning.”
The fan folded. The head, as if expressing her determination, opened it with a mighty flourish.
“My drawings will prevail.”
Mayuzumi closed her parasol. The red shadows on the wall disappeared. Holding it to the floor like a walking stick, Mayuzumi turned to the clan head.
“But are you sure you should have invited me here? He can’t be stopped now. There is not a moment to lose. He will come to rip my guts out. I get that. But to go to war in the main family’s residence is insane.”
“This place is our castle. Going against the main family is the same as going against the entire clan.”
“I see. An all-out war. Should I bemoan the fact that you’re forced to take this course of action, or should I commend you for giving it your all without hesitation?”
In response to Mayuzumi’s mocking remark, the clan head replied calmly, “Neither.”
The brush stopped moving. Silence drummed in my ears. Ink dripped from the tip of the brush and onto the floor. Mayuzumi smiled as the ink spread like a bloodstain.
“Gotcha. We’re done here. Odagiri-kun, Yuusuke-kun, let’s go.”
Mayuzumi turned and walked away. The lady-in-waiting quickly rose to her feet to lead the way, but Mayuzumi ignored her and continued walking. She seemed to know where she was supposed to stay. She seemed in a better mood than before.
Mayuzumi was enjoying herself.
A sense of foreboding crawled up my spine.
“Looks like you’re having fun, Mayu-san,” I said.
She giggled. “You can tell, huh? I thought it would be boring, but this might, in fact, be interesting after all. We’ll have premium seats to a spectacular show. I’m so looking forward to it.”
Mayuzumi purred like a cat. The sense of foreboding grew stronger. Mayuzumi right now was like a cat with a dried bonito flake held up in front of her.
Or a raven with a carcass lying before it.
“Relax, Odagiri-kun. Have some fun.” She turned around and smiled. “Have you ever seen a dragon?”