The fierce battle on the ceiling came to an abrupt end. White powder filled the room, and the dragons vanished. I sprayed the body of the headless dragon with a fire extinguisher as well. Behind me, Yuusuke was pulling out another fire extinguisher from a box. One after another, we sprayed white powder on the painted dragons, and they disappeared without a trace. All that was left were clan members covered in foam. A stunned silence fell over the room.
Their eyes said: What on earth did you do?
I looked away from their gazes. I could feel cold sweat trickling down my neck. Yuusuke looked unconcerned, while Mayuzumi crossed her arms, wearing a smug grin. There were no longer any moving shadows on the white walls.
Thus, the battle between the two dragons ended, just like that.
By our own hands.
The clan head turned around in the manner of a doll with rusty joints. Half of her face was covered with white fire extinguisher powder. Her beautiful, expressionless face was twitching.
Needless to say, she was probably furious.
“Don’t get me wrong, Mayu-san,” I said. “I think this is a hundred times better than people dying, but this ending is rather, uhh… boorish.”
“What are you saying, Odagiri-kun? The show was magnificent. But there was no need to go along with it until the end. Did you want to get dragged into their ways? If you pour water on paper, the writing will bleed, and if you burn it, it’s gone. Spray it with fire extinguisher powder and it’s white. You call our actions boorish? Are you serious? It’s their fault for fighting in this antiquated manner.”
“You’ve seen it firsthand, Odagiri-kun,” she went on. “This is the reason why they don’t like me. The Mayuzumi and the Minase clans once had a dispute over whose ability was superior. One day, we burned down the dueling grounds set up by the Minase, no questions asked. I’m not going to waste time on trivial disputes. I’ve got to hand it to them, though. After all that, they still haven’t learned.”
Behind her, the clan head’s shoulders quivered. She strode toward Mayuzumi and suddenly raised her right hand. Her expressionless face contorted. I was surprised by her reaction, but I guess she was that furious. I quickly grabbed her hand, and she turned her face to me.
“I understand how you feel,” I said. “But your dragon was about to lose. I’m sure this is better than having more casualties.”
I understood her frustration of having the fight abruptly stopped in that moment. But no matter how boorish the ending, it was surely still better than defeat.
“Countless have died already.”
The clan head silently waved her arm, slipping from my hand. She glowered at me as she ran her brush across the fan.
“You do not understand a thing. You have wounded our pride. This is our battle, not yours. Compared to losing our pride, death is nothing to fear.”
The moment I saw the words, a familiar sense of disappointment filled my chest. As I read the rest, I stifled the sigh that rose to my throat.
It was the same here. All of them. Every last one treated life like it was nothing.
Whether it was for entertainment or pride.
Well, I don’t care about any of those.
“The evil born of the clan’s mistake will be dealt with by the clan. Even if it costs all of us our lives. Outsiders like you should stay out of this.”
“True, I’m an outsider. But you can’t expect me to stay out of it when I’m getting dragged into your mess. You’re being ridiculous.”
The clan head’s eyes widened a little. Perhaps no one had ever talked to her like this before. I grabbed her arm. She tried to resist, but I dragged her out into the hallway, where the remains of the tigers’ meal lay. A dead woman, her stomach ripped open, was leaning against the wall, her eyes wide with fear. Her innards had spilled to the floor. The sight of the wet organs made me gulp.
I exhaled slowly. I turned to the clan head and pointed at the torn corpse. “Can you still say the same thing after seeing this? You think it would have been better if you lost and met your end like this?”
The clan head bit her lip. She shook off my arm and returned to the room. Yuusuke, carrying a new fire extinguisher, exited to check for any other drawings left in the hallways. The clan head stood in the middle of the room with her back to me. There was a long silence. Moments later, she turned around, her face as cold and expression as before.
“Yes, it would have. You overstepped your bounds.”
How could she say such a thing in front of the dead?
I thought my veins were going to burst. The clan head moved her brush again. The motion ticked me off. She relied on her supernatural ability, thought proudly of it, and didn’t mind casualties. I hated the attitude. She possessed the same way of thinking as the Mayuzumi clan.
The same clan that gave birth to that fox-masked monster.
I snatched the fan from her hand. “Enough. You’re just wasting time. At least use your mouth at times like this.”
The clan head looked around, confused. Was she saying that she doesn’t want to talk? For some reason, the clan members gulped. I sensed something off, but I ignored my gut and went on.
“Why are you so obsessed about your ability?”
“Stop it, Odagiri-kun. You’re asking for the impossible. It’s cruel.”
I turned around. Mayuzumi shook her head grimly. Clueless as to what she meant, I looked at the clan head. She lowered her head, then lifted it back up and opened her mouth.
I peered past her red lips, and swallowed.
There was no tongue in her mouth.
“Heirs of the Minase clan have their tongues taken away as soon as they are selected as candidates to be the next head,” Mayuzumi said. “Using an ancient method. It’s not that she doesn’t speak. She can’t speak. From the day they lose their tongues, they give up on the idea of ever saying a word again. Since then, they never speak.”
The clan head closed her mouth and nodded. She didn’t use her brush to deny it. I knew—understood—what she meant by using an ancient method.
Her tongue had been cruelly cut off.
I didn’t know what to say. I uttered words of apology, but they sounded silly to my ears. I handed the fan back to her.
Keeping her head low, she brandished her brush. “I apologize for lashing out. I am in the wrong. I should not have been rude to our guest. Please, forget what I said.”
I gritted my teeth hard. I had no idea what to say to her. Apologizing further would probably only be rude. Regret stabbed me in the chest. I wanted to punch myself in the face. And I couldn’t ignore the other emotion surging within me.
I raised my head and looked at the clan members sitting around us. I had no right to vent my anger, but I had to get it off my chest. I wanted to scream at them.
Why would they do this?
No one should be allowed to take away a person’s voice.
Suddenly, I heard a bizarre-sounding scream. It was Yuusuke. Before I could ask him what that was about, a shadow zipped past my vision. A large number of ravens swooped into the room, their shrill cries splitting my ears. Perhaps drawing a dragon consumed a lot of energy, preventing them from drawing any more tigers. A raven is far less deadly than a tiger, but it was still enough to catch us off guard. The clan head’s eyes widened. I quickly lunged at her and pushed her down on the floor. A raven flew over my back. Its beak grazed my skin, and blood spurted out. I stifled a scream, and looked up. I expected the raven to come back, but it headed straight to a different target.
To Mayuzumi, who was standing still.
“Mayu-san!” I cried.
I held my hand out, but I couldn’t reach her. Mayuzumi calmly tilted her parasol. There was no way it could protect her. Just as I imagined Mayuzumi collapsing in a pool of blood, I heard the sound of heavy rain hitting an umbrella.
Something dripped onto the floor.
It was the ink of dozens of ravens.
Black trickled down the red parasol.
As soon as the ravens came in contact with Mayuzumi’s parasol, they reverted back to ink.
“I told you, Odagiri-kun. For me, this scene is nothing more than entertainment. Now you know what I mean. You can’t kill Mayuzumi Azaka with supernatural abilities. If you want to kill me, you’ll have to physically rip my belly open. If you stick a knife into me, I’ll die easily. This just isn’t enough.”
Mayuzumi closed her parasol and shook it dry, spraying ink all over the floor.
“A creature created with supernatural abilities will lose its form and dissolve if it touches me. Such fragile things could not possibly kill me.”
Is that why she was wearing a smile all this time? Why she just kept staring at the scene in front of her as if she were watching a play?
Suddenly, I was kicked in the belly. My stomach nearly turned over, and I reeled back. Paying no attention to me, the clan head rushed to her feet. She pulled out a brush and drew a word on the floor.
The enemy might not have realized yet that all the ravens had been annihilated, and she was taking advantage of that opportunity. The hawk flew away at bullet speed. Several seconds later, a scream sounded from far away. A man’s voice. We exchanged glances and started running. We passed a long corridor, jumped over Yuusuke, who was down on the floor, and arrived at the front door to find no one there. Only the remains of the tigers’ victims’ darkening blood. A crude, expressionless mask lay in a puddle.
Once white, it had been dyed a different color.
A deep red.
“Is it over?” I muttered as I picked up the bloody mask.
No one answered.
The clan head lowered her gaze bitterly.