The boy led the way at a trot. He glanced back occasionally, saw what we were carrying, but couldn’t muster up the courage to say anything. He avoided the path straight to the head of the clan. Instead he chose a narrow branching corridor and went left, stopping in front what seemed like a toilet. The boy felt around the wall and took a brush from his chest. As if tracing over an image, he drew the word “Unlock.” Some kind of mechanism made a clicking sound. A crack appeared on the wall, and it opened, revealing an old staircase.
At the bottom of the stairs was a narrow passageway that ran through the basement. It seemed like a labyrinth, but the boy’s steps were sure. Left, right, right, left, right. After walking for about fifteen minutes, he suddenly stopped. He touched the wall, which appeared to be a dead end at first glance. He took up his brush again and painted “Unlock”. There was no sound this time. The boy also took something from his pocket and pasted it on the wall. A talisman with words gracefully written on it, probably from the clan head. There was a creaking sound, and suddenly it was bright. We passed through the narrow exit into the clan head’s room.
Yuusuke turned to look at the square opening on the white wall. “Wow. A hidden door, huh? Talk about cliché.”
“Keep your thoughts to yourself,” I said. “Don’t say a word. Keep your mouth shut.”
Figures in black were gathered in the pure-white room. Apparently, all the remaining members of the clan had grouped up here. In the middle of the black crowd stood a dignified white silhouette, as white as the walls. Her form, wrapped in what seemed like burial clothes, was a light in a sea of blackness. Funeral attendees and the dead was what came to mind.
Then I noticed something. Her kimono had sleeves on which letters could be drawn.
So she could fight even when she was the only one left.
She turned around slowly. We quickly put down the stuff in our hands. But there seemed to be nothing to worry about. Her gaze was fixed solely on Mayuzumi.
She opened her fan. “I am glad you are safe. You took some time, so I was worried.”
I could read the words this time. Perhaps she took me and Yuusuke into consideration. I glanced at the boy, and he flinched.
Mayuzumi ignored him, and said, “We had a bit of trouble with our guide. But that’s not really important right now. What’s your next move?”
The clan head did not answer. She just gazed at Mayuzumi with sharp eyes.
“An all-out war is pointless,” Mayuzumi added. “You’re the only one who stands a chance against him.”
“I understand. That is why I called you here.”
More like we forced the guide to bring us here.
The clan head received something from a lady-in-waiting. A long sword with a brush instead of a blade. A slim dragon was coiled around the end of its long grip. The tip of the brush gleamed black with ink.
“Rest assured. There will be no more deaths.”
“Is that your pride talking?” Mayuzumi teased.
But the clan head did not waver. Her black eyes stared at the sliding door. There was a strong presence just outside.
Undaunted by the tigers’ roars, the clan head responded, “No, my confidence.”
The clan head readied her long sword and pointed its tip at the ceiling, touching it. With a graceful motion as if dancing, she drew a character.
The white ceiling turned into a stormy sky. I crouched down on the floor as I watched the letters swirling. The baby stirred in my stomach, thrashing about, emitting a bizarre, animalistic cry from its toothless mouth. “I know you’re scared,” I whispered as I clutched my belly.
I, too, had never seen anything like this.
A nonexistent being was about to come to life above.
There was no such thing as dragons in this world.
“That notion is what makes you an ordinary mortal, Odagiri-kun,” Mayuzumi said, as if reading my mind. Staring raptly at the swirling ceiling, she continued. “It is our own notions that define the world. What you think doesn’t exist, does not exist. It’s impossible because you think it can’t possibly be. When in fact, what you don’t know may actually exist. No one can deny that possibility. People decide what is impossible for themselves. It’s what they call common sense.”
The dragon’s body gradually emerged from between the clouds. Hard scales formed. Its long body gracefully extended, completing its serpent-like physique. Gentle breaths spilled from robust jaws, and its thin whiskers swayed like whips.
“But by transcending common sense, you reach the realm of the supernatural.”
The dragon howled, and ink rained down all over the room. The clan members gasped in awe. Even Yuusuke whistled in admiration. The clan head, standing in the middle of the room, raised her finger straight up. Sweat was beading on her forehead.
As soon as she brought her finger down, the sliding door was torn apart. Two tigers burst into the room, sprinting and leaping toward Shirayuki. The dragon descended. Halfway out from the ceiling, it caught a tiger in its jaws, gnawing it with ease. Mangled flesh hung under its long jaw. Guts spilled from the ripped belly and fell to the floor, turning back into ink. The other tiger turned its body and leapt, aiming for the dragon’s neck. But its teeth couldn’t penetrate the scales. The dragon dragged out more of its body from the ceiling and wrapped itself around the tiger, slowly crushing it. The beast let out an agonized roar that grew ever louder until it was squeezed back into nothing but ink blots.
It was a flawless victory.
People exclaimed praises to the clan head. But her face remained grim.
“It’s not over yet,” Mayuzumi muttered.
The child in my belly went wild in response. I felt a powerful presence, incomparable to that of the tigers.
Something was coming. Something in a different class of its own.
I stared at the open sliding door, my heart pounding in my chest. It was quiet. Suddenly, there was blackness.
“Clan head!” Mayuzumi shouted.
A black dragon appeared from the entrance, its open jaw closing in toward the clan head. Her eyes widened, and she quickly thrust her long sword vertically into the dragon’s mouth. The black dragon wriggled for a few seconds, unable to close its jaws. The clan head’s dragon dug its teeth into the black dragon’s neck. The long sword snapped, and the two dragons entwined, roaring. Clan members caught in the middle of the fight screamed as they were blown away, slamming onto the walls and rolling on the floor, leaving trails of blood. The two creatures paid no heed to them. The tangled dragons flew around the walls and ceiling, sometimes jumping out to devour the other. I watched with eyes wide open. Eventually, the clan head’s dragon started howling in agony. Copious amount of black blood was spilling from its wounded body. The black dragon, on the other hand, seemed unharmed.
I knew then that she couldn’t win.
“I guess it’s time,” Mayuzumi murmured.
Yuusuke and I exchanged glances. I picked up the heavy “thing” in my hand.
Really? Right now?
“I’m glad we came prepared,” Mayuzumi said. “Looks like she’s in an unfavorable position. We’re stepping in. Shows are fun to watch, but I don’t want to get dragged into this mess.”
“Uh, Mayu-san… Are we really doing it here, now?”
She ignored my plea, of course. The clan members, screaming and praying, did not pay us any attention. Neither did the head of the clan, who was staring at the ceiling. Everyone had their attention arrested by the scene before them.
We unpacked the things inside the boxes and held it up. They seemed clearly out of place.
“Don’t hold back!” Mayuzumi bellowed.
We pointed the nozzle of the fire extinguishers at the ceiling.
“Will this really work?” I asked.
My question, of course, was ignored.