“It’s fine,” I said. “I don’t want to be a liability. Could you go without me?”
Mayuzumi exhaled sharply and crossed her arms. “Don’t get it twisted, Odagiri-kun,” she said calmly. “It’s not about you. You don’t matter. But the child you carry inside will be our trump card. Then again, given how you’re so calm despite being pregnant with a demon, I suppose you are valuable as well. But what you want is neither relevant nor necessary right now.”
Harsh as always.
“Of course not,” I breathed out, chuckling.
In that case, I just had to do it myself. As I was about to stand up, my knees buckled. Gray noise filled my mind again. I looked up to see more goldfish outside the window. Emotions and memories were transmitted even through the glass.
I. No. Die. Why? That man. God. My. ■■■ is. I’m sure. Goodbye.
The nausea worsened, and I folded over. A cold hand supported my back. I looked up to see Shirayuki looking at me with a tearful expression on her face. She shook her head as if to tell me to take it easy. Countless arms, with their rugged fingers, suddenly grabbed her face. Her mouth slowly opened. A heated, thick knife closed in on her trembling red tongue.
I thought I heard a scream.
A cry for help.
I brushed her hand aside. The child in my belly laughed. Was that her memory? The demon apparently found a delectable memory to devour. I peered into her eyes.
At that exact moment, I got the right channel.
Will ■■■ forgive me? I doubt it.
Will ■■ forgive me? I don’t think so.
Will Shirayuki forgive me? I don’t think so.
The distortion faded away, leaving only an unbelievably clear image. My vision completely switched. A thin woman with gentle features smiled before me. She squeezed my hand and gave a reassuring nod. Apparently, I could not speak. Still, she nodded several times, smiling, as if to say that she could hear my voice.
Feelings of love and appreciation poured from my chest.
I was happy to be with her. I was glad to have met her. There was nothing else I wanted.
As long as she was with me, I didn’t need anything.
But who was she?
“Black eyes,” I muttered. “Black hair flowing down her back. Morbidly emaciated features. Thin arms and legs.”
Shirayuki looked puzzled.
“Sorry for the vague description, but who are they, Shirayuki-san?”
She inclined her head, confused.
“A memory came through the blood in the goldfish. She’s good at folding paper into cranes. And she was kind.”
In my memory, she was the kindest person ever.
Shirayuki’s eyes grew wide. Her face tensed momentarily, then gradually scrunched up as she held back tears. She grasped her brush tight and moved it across the fan.
The letters were blurred and barely legible, as if written by a child.
“That woman was my brother’s wife. She was a kind person, but she passed away.”
She said nothing more. But that was enough. In that moment, I felt like I understood the emotions of love and sorrow. I slowly rose to my feet. The screen in my mind was now fixed to one channel. No more static threatened to crack my head open. The nausea had subsided. It was no different from my usual state. I nodded at Mayuzumi.
She grinned like a cat. “Now that the full cast is here, it’s time to put an end to the show.”
She held her parasol in one hand and twirled it around. But there were countless goldfish flying outside the window. They were small, sure, but they could easily tear through our windpipes if they all charged at once.
They were no ordinary fish.
Yuusuke’s bat alone was not enough. Killing them all with Shirayuki’s ink would not be easy. And Mayuzumi—supernatural abilities did not work on her, but I doubt she would willingly use herself as a shield. Yukihito was out of the question.
I looked to the side and saw Yuusuke pulling Yukihito out from under the desk where he was cowering. Mayuzumi—god knows what she was thinking—was watching the goldfish fluttering gracefully. Her parasol was even redder than them.
“Blood,” she mumbled. “He can do this much using human blood, a forbidden act. The awareness of committing taboo amplifies the ability of the esper multifold.” Her lips twisted into a smile. “I wonder what would happen if he used a god’s blood?” she said softly.
It would surpass using human blood for sure. But Mayuzumi, revered as a living god, refused to shed blood.
She walked away, then returned with something in her hand. It was a pastry box. There was a newspaper on the bottom, and something was tucked inside. I gulped when I saw the content.
Inside the box was a ball made of glass. It came with metal fittings and a thin string, so it could be worn around the neck. Red fluid was wobbling inside the thin glass, maintaining its liquid form.
A deep red, almost black. I recognized the color.
It was Mayuzumi’s blood.
“Mayu-san… Is that what I think it is?”
“Yes. It’s the necklace I gave you before. Brings back memories, doesn’t it? Not a lot of time had passed since then, but it feels like a long time ago.”
Chuckling, Mayuzumi picked up the glass ball. There was a plop as the blood shook. The sound made my chest burn.
Mayuzumi held the blood up and studied it. “The blood of a god, huh? It sounds ridiculous. It doesn’t actually matter if I’m a living god or not. It’s all about perception.”
Mayuzumi presented it to Shirayuki. The clan head frowned.
“Take a gander, Shirayuki-kun,” Mayuzumi said in a low, sonorous voice. “This is my blood. The one and only blood of a living god. The very thing he covets.” She sounded like a priestess conveying a divine revelation. “It should be enough to draw a ‘god’ to life. Under normal circumstances, you would never lay your eyes on this. But now this is here.”
Mayuzumi’s white fingers let go of the ball. It fell to the floor and shattered. Blood spilled out like yolk from a smashed egg. A crimson color remained in the middle of the scattered shards of glass.
Wobbling, it never lost its shape. It looked like a jewel.
“Use it. Human blood does not compare to the blood of a god.”
As if enchanted by Mayuzumi’s words, Shirayuki moved her brush. Its tip was quivering, as though afraid of blood. Gently, she dipped the brush into the crimson liquid. The next moment, Shirayuki moved it with blinding speed.
Mayuzumi snapped her fingers, and every parasol closed. Cracks appeared on the windows. The next moment, countless goldfish charged into the room. One of them leapt into the air.
It was more graceful and powerful and redder than the rest.
The goldfish rushed toward us with its mouth wide open. The goldfish born from Mayuzumi’s blood flew in the air, and a touch from its fins pulverized the other fish. It all happened in an instant. Nothing was left after the goldfish’s elegant dance, only smears of blood on the floor.
It was on a whole different league. The goldfish wagged its long tail, whipped it once, and soared softly. Mayuzumi extended her hand, and like a little bird, the goldfish swooped down to her fingertips and kissed her nail. Mayuzumi spun, then released the goldfish lovingly into the air.
“It’s time to go,” she said. “The stage is set, and I don’t intend to lose.”