“What am I doing here?” asked Ageha.
“That’s my line,” said Mitsuki with a glare. She took off her white robe and dropped it on the floor.
“This is your mother’s fault.”
“No, it’s not. Ria has something important to do. It can’t be helped.” As usual, Mitsuki’s lips were bent like an upturned V. A one-piece racing swimsuit snugly wrapped her limber figure. Her ivory skin looked even more dazzling against the dark blue fabric.
“If you understand that much, stop blaming me.” Ageha was sitting on the edge of a poolside chair, his elbows on his knees. He was barefoot because shoes were not allowed in the pool area, but his shirt and jeans showed that he was not there for fun.
He could have worn anything he wanted, though. The indoor pool was vacant except for the two of them. He was used to seeing Mitsuki work up a sweat, so he sometimes forgot that she was an insanely rich heiress. Renting out a public building for a swim had served as a good reminder.
“I’m not blaming you. Having one guy around is better than ten.” With both hands, she gathered her long hair at the back of her head. “There’s no way I can relax with that many people. If anything, I’m grateful.”
That’s a surprise.
Ageha had always thought she hated him in particular, but her statement indicated she might just dislike men in general.
“Then why do you seem so angry?”
“I’m always like this.” With a snap, she covered her head with a white swim cap, carefully tucking in any rebellious strands of hair.
“Not when you’re talking to Valeriya.”
“That’s Valeriya-sama to y-”
“Save it. I’m here as your bodyguard, not your servant. I have no reason to listen to your unreasonable complaints.”
A look of surprise flashed on her cute, roundish face. “You were so obedient just a couple of days ago.” She stretched her shoulder by pulling her straightened arm towards her chest.
“I only humor you because of your mother. She’s not here to spoil you right now.”
“That’s awfully honest. Aren’t you scared I’ll tell on you?” Mitsuki raised her bent right arm and pulled on her elbow with her left hand. Beads of water still lingering from her pre-swim shower trickled down her stretched triceps and gathered on the hem of her swimsuit.
“No. It’s just annoying when she badgers me to indulge your demands. Me and Valeriya don’t have the kind of relationship you’re imagining.”
Mitsuki quickly lowered her arms. “W-What do you mean!?” A faint blush was on her cheeks.
“No, what do you mean? I was saying that she and I are equals. We do things for each other, that’s all.”
“…I’m not sure if you’re surprisingly pure or unexpectedly perverted.”
“Of course it’s the former!”
“That immediate answer means you know why I considered the latter.”
Mitsuki fell silent, her blush reddening. She took a deep breath and coughed. “In any case, there’s no way I can accept that you and Ria are on equal terms. You’re working for her because you lost in a match, right?”
Ageha frowned. “That was… no, you’re right. But that just means she gets the better end of our deal.”
“That doesn’t make sense. That’s not equal at all.” With her legs perfectly straight, Mitsuki bent down and touched her forehead to her knees.
Flawless form, as always.
Ageha, who had been observing her pre-workout routine from the beginning, resisted the urge to whistle in admiration. Mitsuki’s ability to manipulate her limbs transcended practicality and belonged to art.
“The terms of our deal aren’t equal, but our positions are. Both of us are getting what we want. We’re partners.”
A feeling of guilt towards his former mistress bubbled up, but he forced himself to ignore it.
“Sophistry,” she said.
“You admit it?”
“I like being right, but I don’t need to be. My argument was kinda forced.” Ageha smiled.
Mitsuki’s face twitched. She then closed her eyes and nodded in a mature manner. “It’s good that you’re honest.”
“Is that an imitation of Valeriya?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“You two like each other too much.”
“What’s wrong with that? Are you jealous?”
“Nothing wrong with it.” He dipped his head slightly. “…Maybe I am a little jealous. About your relationship, that is. I never knew my mother.”
“…I see.” Mitsuki’s expression softened. “I’m like that too.”
“You mean your real mother?”
“Yeah. She died when I was a baby. I never knew what a mother was like until I met Ria.”
“Not to burst your bubble, but even though I didn’t have one, I’m pretty sure Valeriya is nothing like a typical mother.”
“Even I know that.” The corners of Mitsuki’s small mouth rose slightly. “But that doesn’t matter. I love her very much.”
Ageha did not reply. Parental love was something he had forgotten long ago. Even so, he did not want to tarnish another’s sentiments because of his own parched outlook. He understood how precious that affection was precisely because he had lost it. A memory of Kaika saying something similar to him before came to mind, but he hurriedly chased away her image in his head, afraid it would leave a deeper mark the longer it lingered.
After finishing her stretches, Mitsuki put on her black-tinted goggles and dove into the pool. She popped her head out of the water and said, “Okay, I’m in. You can remove the blindfold now.”
“Oh, about that.” Ageha shook his head, causing the blindfold on his face to fall. “It was tied too loosely so I could see the entire time.”
“Say that earlier!!!” Mitsuki slapped the surface of the water with her palms. Her face was glowing like fanned coal.
“I wanted to learn from your stretches and warm-up routine. I might be able to use them during training.”
Mitsuki pressed her lips together for a moment. “I-In that case, then I guess… it’s okay.”
As serious as always.
Ageha found her earnest personality charming. He smirked and said, “I was lying. All my limbs are made of alloy. I don’t need to stretch or warm up.”
“You!!!” shouted Mitsuki as she threw a tantrum while floating in water much deeper than her height.
Ageha, who could not swim, was honestly impressed with her astounding, albeit absolutely useless, skill.
“Don’t get your swimsuit in a bunch. Even if I can’t use the routine, I enjoyed watching. You looked beautiful.”
Of course, he meant her form and technique.
Mitsuki stopped moving and disappeared from the water’s surface. Her hands sprung out of the water near the pool’s edge, and she quickly climbed out using the handrails. The young girl was wearing her most severe expression yet, but her movements were as calm as the eye of a storm. “I challenge you to a match,” she said in an icy voice.
“A match? What kind?”
“Any kind. A fight to the death is fine too.”
“Calm down. I can’t harm the person I’m supposed to be protecting.”
She snorted and made a derisive grin. “Excuses. Are you going to accept the challenge or not?”
Ageha got a little ticked off.
It’s high time I teach this brat a lesson.
“Okay, fine.” Ageha displayed a confident smile. “Let’s make it more interesting with a wager. Whoever wins can order the loser to do one thing, no exceptions.”
“You read my mind. Are you okay with me choosing the event?”
“I proposed the wager, so that’s fair. But nothing violent.”
A devilish smile, not unlike Kaika’s, spread across Mitsuki’s face. She pointed her thumb over her shoulder. “A 50-meter freestyle swimming race. We’re already at the pool, so we might as well.”
I fell for that hook, line, and sinker.
“Banzai,” said Saya.
Arashi did not move a muscle.
Kaika shook her head. “It won’t work unless I’m the one saying it.”
Saya placed a hand on her chin. “How inconvenient.”
“It’s fine. Arashi, banzai!”
Arashi briskly raised her arms to the azure sky. Her face and most of her upper body were tanned. Her cybernetic parts, however, remained fair. A cerulean halter neck bikini top accentuated her modest chest, and her string bikini bottom showcased her perfectly round buttocks. The contrast between her patches of golden skin and snowy legs gave her a bizarre appeal, like that of an exotic endangered animal.
Saya ran her long fingers along Arashi’s left arm, applying sunscreen on her skin. The butler was clad in a yellow ruffle bikini. The girlish frills did not match her mature elegance, but that gap, like a forbidden fruit, aroused a sinful temptation. Her untanned skin boasted a radiance that rivaled the tropical sun above them. Her beauty felt completely natural, as if she herself knew not of its existence.
In contrast, the girl stretching her back beside them emitted an otherworldly allure. An incongruence completely opposite to her butler’s produced that irresistible magnetism. Kaika was almost completely tanned, save for her midriff and slivers of unpigmented skin peeking from underneath her black micro bikini. The playful pixie had ripened into a nymphetic succubus.
Kaika scanned her own delicate figure. “I gotta say, these tan lines are really sexy.”
“You two should have put on sunscreen the moment you landed in Manila,” said Saya. “And please do not say such indecent things.”
A sensual moan escaped Arashi’s lips.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to complain,” said Kaika with an accusatory smirk.
“There is nothing indecent about what I am doing.” Saya gently applied lotion to Arashi’s underarms.
Arashi let out a passionate sigh.
“Stop making weird noises!” said Saya.
“Uh, I think you’re the one making her do that.”
“But I have to cover everything. A woman cannot let her guard down just because an area is usually hidden from the sun.”
Saya began rubbing a bit more roughly in an attempt to prevent the teen from moaning.
Arashi laughed instead. “Hahaha… It… tickles! Hahaha.”
Kaika raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. “This would be a heart-warming scene if Arashi was actually smiling. Laughing with a poker face is nothing but creepy. Her arms being up in the air makes it even worse. She looks like a possessed antique doll.”
Saya glided her palms down to Arashi’s waist. “Did you gain a little weight?”
Arashi simply shrugged her shoulders, her arms still raised.
“I’d be more surprised if she didn’t. She ate a ton of local delicacies during our tour,” said Kaika.
“Oh? Like what?” asked Saya.
“She particularly loved the kwek kwek.”
“Kwek… kwek..? What is that? That sounds so delicious!”
“You’re probably the only person who’d think so after hearing that name for the first time. Anyway, it’s battered and fried quail eggs dipped in spiced vinegar. It’s one of the tamer things Arashi put in her mouth.” Kaika tilted her neck and placed an index finger on her chin. “There was also the kare-kare we had at a restaurant. That was excellent. Even I overate.”
“Kare-kare!? This country has amazing literature!”
“I don’t think you can judge a country’s literature based on food names. Also, you shouldn’t consider repeated words as rhymes, at least not clever ones.”
“Is it a kind of curry (kare)?”
“Nope. It doesn’t use a mix of spices, so it doesn’t count. It’s an oxtail stew flavored by ground peanuts and eaten with a side of shrimp paste.”
“Fascinating. Hey, you are drooling on your bikini!” Saya used a small towel to wipe the saliva on Arashi’s chin and breast. “I am glad you two had a great time. Arashi, do not worry about gaining weight. You were too thin before. If anything, you could use a few more pounds.”
“Are you trying to make her fat as revenge for losing in bust size?” asked Kaika.
“Wha- Of course n-”
“That’ll only make her breasts larger and backfire on you. Uh, I don’t think you can use sunscreen lotion on the scalp, Saya.”
“…Why me too?” asked Arashi.
It took a while before the two teens could pry Saya’s lotion-covered fingers off their heads.
“There. Finally done,” said Saya as she closed the cap on the sunscreen bottle.
Arashi quickly got up from her spot on the beach towel and jogged across the white sandy beach.
“You forgot your flotation device!” Saya grabbed the huge inflatable turtle and tossed it to Arashi.
The teen easily caught it and continued on her way. Though impossible to tell from her sleepy expression, Arashi’s buoyant steps clearly conveyed her excitement.
“What will I do with that girl?” mumbled Saya.
“Don’t be such a killjoy. It’s a dream of hers to go to the sea,” said Kaika.
“I just want to keep both of you safe. Going into the water with ARMS is dangerous. She would sink like a rock without a flotation device.”
“It’ll be fine. Hand me that snorkel. I’ll go teach her how to use it.”
Saya did as she was told. Kaika grabbed her personal inflatable dolphin and headed towards the crystal blue ocean of Palawan. Saya pondered if she needed to accompany her mistress.
The waves are calm.
It should be okay, I guess.
Kaika turned around. “Aren’t you coming?”
“I will be here to keep an eye on our things.” Saya heard her mobile terminal vibrate from within her bag. She took it out and checked the notification.
“Why? it’s not like there’s anyone else here besides us.”
“Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. It seems our hosts arrived earlier than expected.”
Kaika’s face turned serious. “Should I come along?”
“No, I can handle this. Please go and enjoy yourself with Arashi.”
“Fish! Fish!” shouted Arashi, who was already a ways off from the shore. She dipped her face into the water again.
“Looks like she’s enjoying herself alone just fine. She didn’t even need this.” Kaika jiggled the snorkel in her hand. “That’s a really convenient eye. Maybe I should get one too.”
“Ojousama. Please do not say something like that, even as a joke.”
Saya would never forgive herself if she ever allowed Kaika to experience the pain involved with getting and maintaining ARMS.
“I was gonna say I’m joking, but you’re one step ahead.” Kaika showed a bitter smile. “Sorry. I’ll leave it to you.” Her thin arms firmly wrapped around the dolphin, Kaika turned to the sea and ran. Her crimson pearl-shaped hair ties bounced in rhythm with her trademark twintails.
Saya looked at her mistress’s new hair accessory. While changing into their swimwear earlier, Kaika had told her that she would not wear Kureha’s gift because it might get lost in the ocean.
I won’t allow you to lose anything anymore.
The silhouette of a certain young man appeared in her mind, and she held it dearly, firmly engraving it onto her heart.
Minutes later, that silhouette closely overlapped with the young man in front of her. Shaking off her surprise, she extended her right hand across the table.
“My name is Saya Saionji. Nicolas Estrella, I presume?” She spoke in Filipino.
“Indeed.” He firmly grasped her hand. “I’m impressed. The accent’s a bit off, but that’s pretty good Filipino. But can we speak in English instead? That should be easier for both of us.”
“Of course,” said Saya, switching to the requested language.
“Also, please call me Nick.”
“Would that not be rude?”
“You misunderstand. That’s my real name. ‘Nicolas’ is just a pseudonym I use for my job. It’s a more plebeian-sounding name in this country and gets better reception in a communist group.”
“Is it okay to tell me that?”
“Why not? We’ll be discussing more sensitive things soon enough.” He smiled with practiced confidence.
Saya could not get past the resemblance. Nick was not as tall, but he had a similar wild, almost feral, charm. She had expected considerable charisma from a leader of a rebel organization. However, Nick’s similarity to Ageha had caught her off guard. She inwardly scolded herself for being so easily shaken.
He gestured with his hand. “Please, take a seat.”
Saya took his offer and gracefully sat on the wooden chair. She checked her surroundings by habit. They were on a veranda with a panoramic view of the sea. Three men stood a few feet behind the young rebel leader. All of them were armed with submachine guns or assault rifles.
Nick took a seat himself and asked, “Would you like something to drink?”
“Not right now. I prefer my alcohol after sunset.”
“Of course.” Nick peeked behind him and made a quick nod.
One of his men went inside the beach house to fetch refreshments.
Nick placed an elbow on the table. “I didn’t expect I’d be meeting with someone so beautiful.”
“I am sure you have seen at least a picture of me before this meeting.”
Saya silently wished she had done the same.
“Yes, but that didn’t prepare me for the real thing.” He gestured towards Saya, still in her yellow bikini with a lilac sarong covering her legs.
“I am flattered.”
“It’s not flattery,” he said nonchalantly.
This is pretty hard to deal with.
Saya tried to shake thoughts of Ageha from her head.
Nick looked over to the sea. “What do you think of this island?”
“Right? Do you think humans can put a price tag on something so majestic?”
“I believe that is what we are here to attempt.”
“Straight to business, then.” Nick’s smile disappeared. “About the figure you offered… We want double that.”
Saya had expected he would try to jack up the price, but not to that extent. “But the amount has already been agreed upon. I was under the impression that we were here to finalize the details.”
“We are. But as they say, the devil is in the details. Turns out, dealing with the devil was more expensive than we thought.”
The man who fetched their drinks returned carrying two open coconuts, each with a drinking straw and an umbrella sticking out the top. He quietly placed them on the table.
“You mean the Philippine government?”
“Please, Saya, oh, I hope you don’t mind if I call you that? I don’t like formalities.”
I certainly do mind.
“Not at all,” she said with a pleasant smile.
“I never said those words.” He grinned meaningfully and took a sip of coconut water.
Saya gave a nod and tried her drink. It was quite refreshing, especially in the cloying tropical humidity.
“Anyway, those greedy little-” Nick cleared his throat. “They demanded a lot more than expected after we explained your plan. I guess they realized how valuable that mineral deposit is.”
“We approached you because you claimed that your organization controls this area.”
“And we do. Unfortunately, they control the country. Everything goes through them.”
“Are you not rebels?”
“We are. But rebels need weapons, and they provide that for us. As Weber said, they have the monopoly on violence.” He leaned forward ever so slightly. “The problem is, they are threatening to cut supply if we allow your people to dig in Palawan. They said something about environmental damage, but that’s just an excuse. No weapons, no rebellion. No rebellion, no rebel leader.”
So they need more money to win over the officials who supply their armaments.
Saya typed on her mobile terminal and showed the display to Nick. “How does this sound?”
“I said double, Saya. This doesn’t even come close to that. You command one of the largest corporations in the world. I’m sure you can do better.”
Easy for you to say.
Most of NGC’s funds had already been allocated to the acquisition of numerous companies. Even Kaika’s personal properties had been appropriated for that purpose. Saya simply could not afford to offer more money. However, Kaika’s plan hinged on siphoning that island’s rare metals in order to produce ARMS alloys.
“Weaponized ARMS supply after one year of mining,” she said.
“Attractive, but a year too late. We’ll lose control of the area before then.”
Saya exhaled as inconspicuously as she could. “What else can we offer you?”
Nick furrowed his brow in thought and rubbed his shaved chin with his fingers. “How about…” he said as his eyes met hers, “you?”
“You see, Saya, I said my organization needs money for weapons, but I can afford to cover for the extra cost until you can pay us. I’m very rich.”
“But this is a business, as you know.”
This man doesn’t believe in his group’s cause at all.
Maybe none of the leaders do.
Their entire organization is a big farce.
Nick continued, “I can’t accept credit without collateral, something you probably can’t provide.” He waited for Saya to interrupt, but she did not. “I thought so. If you did, you would’ve offered it already. Here’s the good news. Since I’ll personally put up the funds, I can be a bit more flexible. Instead of collateral, I want you.”
“…What exactly do you want from me?”
That’s not a bad deal.
Ageha’s face flashed in her mind.
No, that doesn’t matter.
We need the raw materials.
It’s a cheap price to pay.
Her body had been on the bargaining table to begin with. That was why she had come in such a sultry attire. Kaika would not approve, but she did not have to know. This kind of deal was a first for Saya, but desperation dulled her inhibitions.
Before she could reply, one of Nick’s henchmen approached him and whispered in his ear.
The young rebel leader then brought out his terminal and operated it with a few quick finger taps. “My friend here tells me that you didn’t come alone.”
Ojousama is with Arashi.
She kept up her calm facade. “I would suggest not doing anything you will regret, Nick. For your and your men’s own good.”
Nick gave her a dissecting look but quickly formed an amiable smile. “Again, you misunderstand. I’m sure you’ve heard what a hospitable lot we are. We would never harm potential business partners. That’s why you had friends come along in the first place, correct?”
It was actually Kaika who had insisted on coming to this island against Saya’s warnings. Like Arashi, it was the young prodigy’s first visit to the sea.
Keeping her pokerface intact, Saya inwardly sighed in relief after hearing Nick’s reassurance. She took a sip of juice and placed the coconut on the table. “About your earlier proposal-”
“I’m afraid I’ve changed my mind. A better opportunity has presented itself.”
“…I am not following.”
“That young girl you brought along…” Nick showed his terminal to Saya. On it was a picture of Kaika riding her inflatable dolphin. “Give her to us and you have a deal.” He made a lascivious smile. “My fellow leaders like ‘em young, you see. A lass as exquisite as her should get me more than a few favors with the brass. They might break her, but what’s a girl or two, right?”
Saya’s features warped with disdain as she crushed the coconut in her hand. “Hold your tongue or I’ll rip it out,” she said in a voice seething with hatred.
Don’t you dare say any more!
Not with his face..!
Saya could not forgive such an insult towards Kaika, but she would normally control herself depending on the situation. Seeing Ageha’s mouth spout disgraceful things about her beloved mistress had pushed her over the edge.
Despite her outburst, none of Nick’s men raised their guns, and Nick did not look surprised. Instead, his shoulders dropped.
“What a disappointment,” he said while shaking his head.
Saya felt her heart sink.
It was a test.
And the result was obvious.
“The other leaders were sceptical because you and Kaika Nikaido are too young, but I convinced them to give you a chance. Why? I know the feeling of getting the short end of the stick because of my age.”
Saya extended her juice covered hand towards him. “W-Wait-”
“We’re businessmen, you see. We can’t have our partners letting personal feelings like that affect our business. Like money, feelings are flighty. It’s enough trouble looking after one of them. We can’t trust someone who can’t look past an instant.” He stood up. “I was really hopeful, especially after you didn’t budge from my first provocation. I guess it’s my fault for finding your weakness so easily.”
Saya wordlessly lowered her hand. He was absolutely right. Nothing she could say would change his mind now.
Nick walked away from the table but turned his head to Saya as if he forgot something. “This may sound like the opposite of what I just said, but you should value yourself more. This isn’t about purity, but an issue of dignity. No one worth their salt would exchange promises with someone who has no self-respect.” He turned his back to her and continued, “One last thing, I don’t know why you had trouble looking straight at my face, but you need to fix that if you want to be a negotiator.”
I wasn’t looking straight at him!?
Saya was shocked at herself.
Nick lightened his tone. “You and your boss can stay for as long as you like. It’s a beautiful place, and I guess it’ll keep being that way.”
Nick and his men left the veranda. Saya slumped back on the rattan chair. It had been an obvious test. Alongside Kaika, she had been trained to see through and deal with such situations for years. A mere coincidence, a familiar face, had distracted her enough to forget all that.
In the first place, she had not conducted sufficient investigation for the negotiation. She simply had not had enough time with everything else on her plate. Saya remembered Kaika’s offer to come along with her. Her mistress likely knew of her excessive burdens and had tried to support her, but she had foolishly declined. Kaika’s odd insistence about coming to the island finally made sense. If the prodigy had been present in the negotiations, things would have turned out differently. The butler recalled her mistress’s parting words less than an hour ago.
“I’ll leave it to you.”
She closed her eyes and fists as tightly as she could. Beads of warm liquid fell on her breast and soaked into the frills of her sun-colored swimsuit. They were not tears, but blood dripping from her cut bottom lip. The self-inflicted pain did little to alleviate the turmoil in her heart.
I’m so sorry, Kai-Ojousama..!
Mitsuki raised her head from the water after completing a few practice laps in the pool.
I’m in perfect condition.
Defeat was not an option. She would win the race against Ageha and deal with him once and for all. Mitsuki had been swimming as part of her low-impact training for years. She loved the water, and it loved her back.
Ageha, still sitting on a poolside chair, shot her an impatient look. “Still not ready?”
“I’m ready. Get out of those clothes and get into position.”
“…Are you sure you’re not a closet pervert?”
Mitsuki realized the unintended innuendo in her words. “S-Stop wasting time.” Hiding her blush, she dipped her head into the water, swam to the edge of the pool, and got out. She glanced at her enemy.
Ageha was topless and in the process of taking off his pants.
“What are you doing!?” shouted the teen, who was still in the midst of puberty.
“What you asked.”
“There’s a dressing room right there!” Mitsuki pointed to the direction of the lockers.
“You’re the one who wanted me to hurry. I didn’t bring a swimsuit anyway. Sorry, but I’ll have to swim in my briefs.”
Red up to her ears, Mitsuki looked away as Ageha pulled down his jeans.
This must be his plan!
He wants to make me lose concentration.
From the corner of her eye, she peeked at Ageha’s muscular physique.
There’s no way I’m going to lose against such pretty, I mean, petty tricks.
After undressing down to his underwear, Ageha entered the pool using the handrails.
“What are you doing?” asked Mitsuki as she stood on one of the starting blocks.
“It’s freestyle right?”
“Yes. …Just to be clear, running at the bottom of the pool is not considered swimming, okay?”
“Understood.” Using his hands to pull himself along the pool’s edge, Ageha waded to the starting line.
He can’t even float!
I knew it.
There’s no way someone with cybernetics can swim.
Feelings of guilt pricked Mitsuki’s chest. She had challenged him to the match knowing she had an insurmountable advantage. The contest felt unfair.
No, this isn’t cheating.
He agreed to the conditions.
His back facing the far end of the pool, Ageha gripped the starting block with both hands, placed his feet against the pool wall, and lifted his body out of the water.
Mitsuki had a bad feeling about his starting position but ignored it. “This is a 25-meter pool, so the first one back here wins. I’ll do the countdown. On three.”
“One. Two. Three!”
Mitsuki dove into the pool. Her form was perfect. Like a bullet, her body slipped into the water with hardly a splash.
A perfect start.
She blazed across the water. After passing the halfway mark of the first length, she decided to check the progress of her opponent. She turned her eyes to the side, but Ageha was nowhere to be found.
He must’ve quit.
He didn’t drown…
Mitsuki’s internal debate about whether to verify Ageha’s safety or not was interrupted by a creaking noise.
What’s that sound?
A thunderous boom caused her to freeze up. Curiosity getting the better of her, she lifted her head from the water and looked for her opponent.
Ageha was already at the far end of the pool.
What just happened!?
She then saw Ageha grip the pool edge with his fingers and place his feet on the pool wall. Poised like he had been at the start of the race, he gathered power in his legs as his fingers clawed into the cement.
Another explosion followed.
Ageha’s body skipped on the water’s surface. His bullet-like dive passed three-quarters of the pool length before he stabbed into the water. His remaining momentum carried him to the very end.
The match ended just like that. Mitsuki did not even reach the other end of the pool, much less finish the race.
Ageha dried himself off with a towel, removed his underwear, and quickly put on his clothes. He had gotten completely naked at one point, but Mitsuki had been too shocked by his stunt to protest.
When the girl finally came to and climbed out of the pool, she walked up to him and stuck a finger in his face “That doesn’t count.”
“Of course it does.”
Her usual frown returned. “That’s not swimming. That was more like… flying. That’s it. Flying is cheating. Your body wasn’t immersed in the water for most of the race.”
“Sophistry,” he said with a charming smile.
Her heart skipped a beat.
You really are a cheater.
“…Touché.” Mitsuki’s shoulders dropped.
She had lost.
“So, what do you want?” she asked.
“You mean the one-time only order? I’ll have to think about it.”
“I see.” Mitsuki removed her goggles and swim cap, releasing her silken black locks. “I know it’s a little late to complain, but you really should do something about your stripping. Especially in front of girls.” She lowered her head a little and mumbled, “I saw everything the second time.”
Apparently not hearing her last comment, he merely chuckled. “I hear that a lot.”
She furrowed her eyebrows in disgust. “Are you an exhibitionist?”
“No. I just don’t feel anything about showing this.” He forcefully jabbed his upper chest with his thumb, producing a clank. “There’s not enough of myself left to feel embarrassed.”
Mitsuki caught a hint of loneliness in his voice.
The price of power, huh?
Wait, does that mean his p-p- …thing is also metal!?
Echoing gunshots blew away her blush and salacious thoughts in an instant. She and Ageha immediately turned their heads to the pool entrance.
One of her bodyguards rushed into the pool area. “Mitsuki-Jou! We’re under attack! Please-” Several bullets pierced his chest, and he fell to the damp floor. The smell of iron mingled with the sharp scent of chlorine.
Ageha sighed. “Easy job my ass. What a day.”
Mitsuki trembled ferociously as she stared at the dead guard.
Because of me.
A sharp ringing noise polluted her hearing. Her vision blurred, and her legs wobbled.
“We need to get out of here,” he said.
“I… I… “ She did not focus on him.
“Hey! Snap out of it!” Ageha shook her by the shoulders.
A horde of men stormed in from the pool entrance. Black suits sat on top of their tieless white shirts. Their unbuttoned collars revealed colorful tattoos on their chests and neck. One of them pointed a handgun at Ageha, but a taller man beside him pushed down his hands before he could get a shot off.
“You idiot! You’ll hit the girl!”
“At least there’s some good news,” mumbled Ageha. “Stay here. I’ll take care of this.”
Mitsuki could not even nod. While staring into nothing, she slowly sank to the wet floor.
Ageha kicked a poolside chair towards the men in suits, surprising them with the unexpected projectile. He then dashed forward and grabbed the handgun of the man closest to him. He squeezed the gun’s barrel shut and threw it at the face of a ponytailed man to his left. Ageha then tackled the man he just disarmed and pushed himself into the middle of the group.
“Hold your fire! We’ll hit each other!” shouted a man with a dragon tattoo on his neck.
Ageha stepped back and slammed his palm into the unarmed man’s solar plexus. As the man fell on his knees, two more enemies approached Ageha from both sides. He parried a punch from the man on his left and countered with a backhand blow, crushing his nose.
He ducked down to avoid a horizontal katana slash. Before the swordsman could recover, Ageha grabbed his legs and scooped him up. The swordsman tried to smash the katana’s hilt into his skull, but Ageha rotated his hands in a wide circle, causing the swordsman to spin in the air and crash to the ground.
I… taught him that.
Mitsuki, though dazed, could still vaguely comprehend the battle unfolding in front of her.
“Mitsuki!” shouted Ageha.
She flinched and looked at him.
Ageha pulled down the arm of the man with a dragon tattoo, breaking his guard, and landed a throat chop with his other hand. The man violently coughed as his eyes rolled back. “Three more behind you!”
Mitsuki turned her neck and saw three men heading towards her. They had entered from the pool’s rear entrance.
Because of me, Ageha will-
“Stand up!!!” he shouted.
Mitsuki’s eyes were drawn to him.
Ageha ran to the pool and pulled out a handrail with his bare hands. He got shot in the back and staggered forward. “I can’t fight this many while protecting you!” He straightened the curved metal pole, turning it into a makeshift sword. “There’s no way I’m getting killed for you, so get up and fight!” He tossed the pole in her direction as bullets ricocheted off his arm.
The metal weapon hit the ground with a clang and rolled to her side.
“Fight!!! That’s an order!!!” shouted Ageha.
Mitsuki found herself reaching for the pole. After taking hold of the weapon, she put all her strength into her legs and slowly stood up. Her enemies were only a few steps away.
“You, get the girl!” said the first man while pulling out a handgun. Ignoring Mitsuki, he ran past her and aimed at Ageha.
The second man also readied his firearm and lined up with him. The third man trailed a few feet behind them and approached Mitsuki.
Ageha was occupied with his current opponents. He would not be able to defend against a pincer attack, at least from Mitsuki’s perspective.
I have to fight.
I can’t let anyone else die!
She gritted her teeth and took a kendo stance. It was far from her usual flawless form. Her knees were shaking, and the tip of her weapon wavered. Vertigo assailed her senses, but she held her breath and pushed it all away with sheer willpower.
Her weapon snaked towards the man aiming at Ageha. The shiny pole smashed into the back of his head, instantly robbing him of consciousness. Drops of crimson stained her weapon. She wrestled with the urge to retch at the sight of the blood.
The second man saw his comrade drop to the floor. “What the hell!?”
Vertically rotating the pole using her wrists, Mitsuki used the centrifugal force to power her next blow. The pole hit the second man’s forearms, causing his gun to point downward. He accidentally squeezed the trigger and shot himself in the leg. Screaming in pain, he curled forward. Mitsuki swung the pole upward and obliterated his nose.
She battled the nausea aggravated by her brisk movements and steadied herself using the pole as a crutch. Exploiting her moment of weakness, the third enemy wrapped his arms around her from behind, restricting her arm movement. Mitsuki felt her consciousness falter. The sight and smell of blood caused cold sweat to drench her body. In the midst of her heartbeat hammering in her ears, she heard her own voice.
“You did well.”
“You don’t need to go through this.”
“You can rest now.”
“Close your eyes.”
She recalled Ageha’s call to arms.
She bit into the man’s forearm and gnawed at his flesh. Unable to resist the pain, the man released her as he spat out curses. Mitsuki turned around and slammed the hilt of her bladeless sword against his groin. She hopped back as the man fell to his knees. Darkness crept up around her, and her vision narrowed. Using the last remnants of her strength, she stepped forward and drove an overhead slash into the man’s forehead. Beads of water flew off her half naked body. The impact caused the damp hair clinging to her face and shoulders to spread open like jet-black wings.
She staggered forward and dropped to her knees. Her fingers lost strength, and her weapon fell to the ground. The world swirled around her, but she forced herself to check on the situation. The three men toppled around her were unconscious. Ageha seemed to be holding on against more than ten enemies. Her cheek hit the ground, and she vomited all over herself. She could no longer open her eyes.
I have to… fight.
He needs… help.
Amidst the boisterous melody of combat, she heard Ageha’s voice.
“Good job, Mitsuki.”
Forcing her eyelids open, she focused her fading consciousness, knowing it would last only a few more seconds. Mitsuki could barely make out Ageha standing in front of about a dozen armed men.
“Looks like she fainted,” said Ageha. “That means you guys are out of luck.”
Then men in suits started flying through the air.