Mitsuki’s sharp pout became even more pronounced as she sulked in the back seat of the car. Her eyes were focused on Sapore’s rear entrance. Another escort car stood by at the front entrance to cover all the bases, but no report about Ageha’s arrival came.
Was Ria lying?
Valeriya had told her about Ageha’s workplace, but even after several days of staking out, he was nowhere to be found.
No, she wouldn’t lie to me.
From time to time, Valeriya kept secrets from her for her own safety, but tricking her was not something her mother would do.
Do I just have bad timing?
Mitsuki had tried waiting at different times on different days, from early morning to late afternoon. Valeriya would worry if she stayed out too late, so it was possible she missed Ageha because he went home later than she did.
The deep orange sun began sinking into the city’s skyline.
She checked the time on her mobile. “Let’s go back for today, Viktor.”
The driver, a grey-haired Russian in a suit, raised his burly arm and pointed outside the car window. “Mitsuki.”
From the direction of the station, a young man was heading towards Sapore.
Nagging Valeriya persistently for information had paid off. She moved to open the car door, but her fingers suddenly froze up.
What should I say?
Mitsuki wanted to meet Ageha, but she was not sure why. A number of reasons swam around in her mind, like challenging him to a rematch to regain her honor or asking why he suddenly quit. Regardless, she could not decide exactly what to say.
As she gathered her thoughts, Ageha walked past her heavily tinted vehicle and went inside Sapore’s service entrance.
I missed my chance!
No, I can just wait for him to leave.
“Viktor, tell the other car to watch for him at the main entrance. We’ll continue to wait here.”
Mitsuki was prepared to wait until closing hours if need be, but her resolve turned out to be unnecessary. In a little under half an hour, Ageha, holding a cardboard box, appeared from the service entrance.
She stepped out of the car and began crossing the street. Before she could get his attention, a full-size SUV pulled in between them. Her ears caught the dull sound of the SUV door closing. The vehicle pulled away leaving her staring at the empty sidewalk.
He got in!
Mitsuki sprinted back to her car, dove inside, and slammed the door. “Follow that car!”
“It might be dangerous,” said Viktor.
“That’s why you’re here, right?”
Viktor was strong. Ria calling him back from overseas to be Mitsuki’s exclusive guard guaranteed that.
He scratched his short grey beard and released the parking brake. “You take after your mother.”
Viktor smiled wryly. “Well, I’d be more surprised if that little rascal raised a prim and proper lady.”
Kaika, Ageha, and Arashi stood at the top of the shrine’s stairway. Dozens of stalls with colorful signs and lamps decorated the stone path. Waves of people passed by each other, occasionally melding together, like schools of fish.
“So this is a summer festival,” said Kaika.
Kaika, who had never been to a festival before, was impressed. The aroma of various fair foods tickled her nostrils, and the lively noise enveloping the area felt invigorating.
“It’s larger than I thought. Too bad Saya couldn’t make it,” said Ageha.
“Don’t blame her. Duty called.”
“Your duty, to be exact.”
“She insisted on taking my place. You know how stubborn she is.” Kaika, palms up, lightly shrugged her shoulders. Her white nape, a little moist with sweat, peeked out of her white kimono. Straight and angled blue lines decorated the sleeves and ran down the length of the dress.
Kaika began walking towards the forest of people. Arashi trailed after her like an excited pet dog. In contrast, Ageha trudged along behind them.
Noticing the gap between them increase, Kaika stopped and turned around. “What’s with that lack of enthusiasm?”
“Who would be enthusiastic about babysitting?”
“What a greedy guy. There are billions of guys who would die to be my escort.” Kaika twirled in place like a dancer. Her ribbon-tied twintails and navy blue obi fluttered as she gracefully came to a stop.
“Saying billions instead of millions is so like you.”
“I won’t give you a raise even if you compliment me.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
“Of course it was. Anyone would be happy to be likened to me, including myself.”
Ageha closed his eyes and shook his head. “You really are amazing.” He began walking again.
“I know right?” Kaika matched his pace. “You should’ve worn the yukata I prepared. A shirt and jeans don’t fit this atmosphere at all.”
“Look around. Most men are wearing casual clothes. And did you really expect me to change with you two in the car?”
Kaika narrowed her eyes and stared at Ageha’s body. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
“Arashi is still a kid.”
“You do know I’m technically younger than her, right?”
“‘Technically’ being the operative word.”
“What’s with this difference in treatment? Do you really like quiet types that much? That’s so unfair.”
Ageha’s brow twitched.
He took the bait.
“Fine. How can I make it up to you, Ojousama?” he asked.
“Cut the sarcasm for starters. Hmm, how about you praise my good looks?”
“That blue and white kimono looks unexpectedly good on you.”
“Unexpectedly? Do you even know what praise means?”
“I just meant that it’s not your usual style. It’s a little scary when everything you wear looks like it was made for you.”
“Expect a twenty percent increase in your pay starting this month.”
“You’re actually giving me a raise for complimenting you!?”
“Not that I’m complaining, but you just said the exact opposite earlier.”
“Unlike earlier, I got to hear your honest opinion this time.”
“I’m always honest.”
“About as much as I am.”
They chuckled at the same time.
“Please cheer him up in my place.”
Saya probably asked Ageha to do same thing for me.
Kaika realized how devious Saya could be. Sending Kaika and Ageha to help each other was surprisingly effective. They had been too busy trying to fulfill Saya’s request to feel depressed.
As they passed a particularly delicious-smelling food stand, Arashi, garbed in a pink kimono, tapped Kaika on the shoulder and held out her hand. Kaika sighed and handed her two one-thousand yen bills. Arashi trotted up to the stall while licking her lips.
“Only two thousand yen? That’s rather cheap of you,” said Ageha.
“I’m trying to teach her the value of money. Besides, if I give her a wad of cash, she’ll spend all of it on food and get fat. I don’t want a chubby guard.”
Arashi returned with several skewers of yakitori and ikayaki in each hand. Though unused to her clothes, she moved faster than usual, clearly affected by the energy whirling through the festival grounds. The subdued floral design of her kimono contrasted with her boyish charm, showing off her youth and innocence.
“I can’t believe you spent all your money on one stall,” said Kaika. “Don’t eat so quickly. You’ll get sauce on your clothes.”
Arashi was busy gorging and did not heed her command.
“It’s kind of refreshing seeing you play the big sister instead of the spoiled brat,” said Ageha.
“It can be entertaining at times.” Kaika tried to grab Arashi’s hands to stop her from eating, but her strength could do nothing against the enhanced teen. “And a pain.”
“Let me handle this.” Ageha placed a hand on Kaika’s shoulder and gently pulled her away from Arashi. “Arashi, banzai.”
Arashi flung her arms up, tossing the skewers into the air. Ageha nudged her out of the way and caught the sticks of grilled goodies. A bit of sauce got on his shirt, but it was hardly noticeable due to the fabric’s dark color.
He handed a yakitori stick to Kaika. “Here.”
“Thanks.” Kaika received it. “…Hey! Why can you do that too!? I had to train her for weeks!”
“Saya told me about it.” Ageha gave an ikayaki stick to Arashi. “Eat one stick at a time, and slowly. That dress is really expensive, so don’t get sauce on it.” He took a bite of yakitori himself. “Not bad.”
Arashi did as he said.
“And why is she listening to you but not me!? I’m her employer and mistress!”
“I’m her god.”
“…Point taken,” she grumbled before biting into her chicken. “This is good.”
With a bit more vigor than earlier, Ageha resumed his stroll. “It’s partly the atmosphere. Food tastes better in the right situations.”
“Interesting. This reminds me of the street food in Manila. I enjoyed that.”
“You should go to Thailand. They have better stuff, like spicy beef salad.”
“Can’t you just make it for me?”
An apologetic frown showed on his face. “Sorry, Kai. I can’t.”
“I see. Don’t worry about it.”
Ageha had stopped cooking altogether since he quit his chef job. Kaika missed his food, but she cared much more about his well being. Ordering him to cook was out of the question.
A swarm of people approached them. Ageha gently held Kaika’s shoulder and pulled her close. Kaika pressed her body to his waist to avoid contact with the human avalanche. Eventually, the crowd passed, leaving them stuck together in the middle of the empty path.
“Not bad, Mr. Escort,” said Kaika.
“Do I get another raise?”
“Don’t push it. Looks like everyone is going to see the show. Arashi, do you wanna-” Kaika swiveled her head. “Arashi? Where did she go?”
“Probably dragged into the crowd. Should we go look for her?”
“Let’s head for the stage and check out the show. She’ll probably be there.”
“Wait, there’s a takoyaki stand. I’ll go buy one first.” Ageha marched away.
Arashi, your god just prioritized takoyaki over you.
Mitsuki peeked out from behind a tree.
So that’s Saya Saionji.
She had been stalking Ageha’s party since arriving at the shrine. Her sporty outfit, consisting of a white tank top and short jeans, had allowed her to move quickly and avoid detection. Her thin shirt clung to her sweaty body in the humid summer air, but she was too engrossed in her mission to notice.
Her target, a female in a pink kimono, was crouched over a tub of goldfish.
Her mother had described Ageha’s girlfriend that way. Valeriya had gotten the wrong idea and had tried to dissuade Mitsuki from meeting Ageha by telling her about his lover.
I just want to settle the score.
Despite thinking so, she could not help but be curious about Saionji.
I’m just gathering info about the enemy.
She should know him really well.
That’s all this is.
According to Valeriya, Saionji excelled in both academic and martial disciplines. The woman in front of her did not look too smart, though. Her face seemed a little young, too.
Could she be someone else?
Luckily, Saionji had gotten separated from her companions. Mitsuki decided to approach her and confirm her identity.
“Good evening,” said Mitsuki.
Saionji looked at her with a bored expression then quickly returned her gaze to the tank of small fish.
Mitsuki called out to her again. “My name is Mi-, um, Fujiko Mine, an acquaintance of Ageha-san.”
“Ageha?” Saionji focused on Mitsuki again.
“Yes. I happened to see you together with him earlier. What’s your relationship with him?”
What am I saying!?
That was too straightforward!
“Ageha is… god.”
Mitsuki’s doubts were quelled. This woman had to be his girlfriend. This also reconfirmed how perverted a man he was.
Wait, she might be joking.
No one in their right mind would call another person a god.
“What exactly does that mean?” asked Mitsuki.
The woman turned her eyes away for a moment. “I give my… everything to him. With my body… I-”
“Please stop! Do not say anymore!” said Mitsuki, her cheeks as red as beets.
Saionji stared at the fish tank again.
Finding her behavior strange, Mitsuki asked, “Why are you watching the goldfish?”
“I want… to play. But my money… is with Kai.”
Kai must be that other girl.
“I can loan you some cash if you want.”
Without hesitation, Saionji grabbed her hands, eyes glittering in anticipation. “Please!”
“O-okay.” Mitsuki took out her money clip and gave Saionji a ten thousand yen bill.
Saionji asked the stall owner for six poi, small round paper scoops, and handed half to Mitsuki. “Together.”
“Ah, er, okay.” Mitsuki nodded. She grabbed a bowl from the stall counter and crouched in front of the fish tank. Targeting the largest fish, she dunked the scoop into the water.
The paper soaked in the liquid and broke before reaching its target.
This is harder than it looks.
She turned to the woman beside her. Saionji had already caught five goldfish.
“Wow. Do you do this often?”
Lauded by her mother as a genius, Mitsuki was shocked at the gap in their abilities. She tried again with the same result. Before using the last of her three scoops, Mitsuki carefully watched Saionji’s technique and engraved it in her head.
Taking a deep breath, she targeted the closest fish and executed the movements. The moment her scoop touched the water, the fish swam away. She tried to chase it down, but the paper broke again. On the other hand, Saionji had caught her tenth fish. It was as if she could read where the fish were going.
What amazing motion perception.
A competitive flame sparked within Mitsuki.
I don’t know why, but I don’t want to lose!
“Let’s go to the next stall,” said Mitsuki.
“…Okay.” Saionji dropped all her goldfish back into the tank, causing the shop owner to sigh in relief.
The two of them moved to the ring toss stall. With perfect accuracy, Saionji tossed the rings around the pegs and demolished Mitsuki again. She chose candies for prizes and snacked on them as they walked around the festival.
Next, Mitsuki chose to challenge her in a cork shooting game.
If it’s shooting, her ridiculous throwing skill shouldn’t matter.
Saionji aimed the toy rifle at an anime figure. The model depicted a blond girl in a white one piece with a donut in her mouth. She pulled the trigger. The cork bullet bounced off the prize without even shaking it.
Heh, some targets are impossible to knock down.
First timers don’t know that!
This is my win!
Mitsuki shot and knocked down a small rabbit toy with her first bullet. She turned to her rival with a proud smile, but Saionji was concentrating on her second shot.
What is she doing?
Saionji pointed the rifle straight up. Her eyes focused on the anime figure again. She swung the gun down while pulling the trigger, but the cork went in a completely random direction.
That won’t hit.
Mitsuki missed her second shot and hit with her third, but the prize did not topple over. Preparing to declare her victory, she put down her rifle and watched her rival’s last shot. Again, Saionji pointed her rifle to the sky. Repeating the same motion as before, she launched the cork. This time, it hit the anime figure, causing it to waver. After rocking back and forth, the item finally lost balance and fell over.
Mitsuki and the stall owner stared in disbelief. Saionji had just knocked down an impossible target using the force of her swing, as if wielding a gunblade. The match ended in Mitsuki’s defeat. The owner begrudgingly bagged the figure and handed it to the winner. To Mitsuki, the most vexing part was that Saionji did not seem to care about winning at all. Her sleepy pokerface had not faltered even once.
I won’t let it end like this!
A loud rumble erupted from Saionji’s stomach.
“…Are you hungry?” asked Mitsuki.
Even after eating all that candy?
With a rosy blush, she nodded.
Mitsuki remembered that she had not eaten anything since lunch.
They visited the yakisoba stall and ordered a box each. Seeing Saionji wolf down her food, Mitsuki decided to race against her, only to lose for the fourth time in a row.
“I can’t win at anything… You’re amazing, Saionji-san.”
The woman tilted her head and pointed at herself. “Not Saya.”
She’s a completely different person!!!
Mitsuki fell to her knees, her palms hitting the ground.
“Are… you okay?” asked Arashi.
This is so embarrassing!!!
“I, I’m fine. I just need a moment to rest.”
Arashi crouched beside her. Mitsuki took this chance to ask about who she was. It took a while, but Arashi managed to vaguely explain her identity and relationship with Ageha.
“So you’re Ageha’s coworker…” said Mitsuki. “But why do you call him god?”
“Food. Strength. He helped me… many times.” A different expression appeared on her face.
It was longing.
“…Do you love him?”
“Love? I don’t… know.”
She doesn’t know what love is?
Being unfamiliar with romance herself, Mitsuki decided not to pursue the matter. She stood up and dusted off her palms. There was no meaning for her to stay with Arashi anymore.
“This… is fun,” said Arashi.
A smile naturally rose on Mitsuki’s face. “It is, isn’t it?”
I guess a little more can’t hurt.
They went to the next food stand and saw a single candied apple sitting on the counter.
Arashi looked at the stall owner without saying anything. The old man looked confused for a moment but soon realized that she wanted to buy the last apple. He picked it up and offered it to her, but someone suddenly snatched it.
A girl with a ponytail tossed a five-hundred yen coin to the old man. “Thanks.” She twirled the candied apple with her fingers.
Four girls stood behind her. All of them wore the same high school uniform. Arashi stared at the sugarcoated treat but did not say anything.
“What? You got a problem?” asked the girl holding the apple.
Arashi did not respond.
Why aren’t you saying anything?
“Hmph, didn’t think so.” The girl joined her group and began walking away.
“Did ya see the look on her face, Karen?” asked one of her lackeys.
Karen flipped her ponytail over her shoulder. “Like a deer in headlights!” She laughed.
I won’t let the girl who defeated me get shamed like this!
“Wait,” said Mitsuki. “My friend was here first. That candied apple is hers.”
Karen stomped back and glared at her. “I’ve already paid for it, so it’s mine.” She shoved the apple in front of Mitsuki’s face. “Any more complaints?”
“I’ll pay you back the five-hundred yen. Give it to her.”
Karen held her stomach and laughed. “You got guts brat, but that’s no way to talk to your elder.” Her smirk turned into a scowl. “Maybe I should teach you a lesson.”
So these are bullies.
I’ve seen them in the anime Ria watches, but to think they really exist.
“Um, could you please not make trouble in front of my stall?” pleaded the old man. “I might get banned from participating next year…”
“Well that’d be a problem. I like your apples.” Karen cracked her neck. “You two, come with us for a bit.”
This is getting out of hand.
It doesn’t make sense to get riled up by these jerks.
We should just ignore them and leave.
After making her decision, she tried to grab Arashi to make a run for it. However, the teen was no longer beside her.
“Hey!” shouted Mitsuki. “Why are you obediently following them!?”
Arashi was in the middle of the high school group, her eyes locked onto the apple.
Mitsuki finally realized that her new friend was a fool.
She jogged to catch up. Unable to pull Arashi from the human cage, she followed them to a clearing behind one of the shrine buildings. Unlike the main festival area, the place was dark and deserted. Mitsuki went to Arashi’s side as the bullies moved to surround them.
I can’t let her get hurt.
Mitsuki felt responsible for starting the conflict. Arashi might have been good at festival games, but that did not mean anything in combat. Judging from how lethargic she looked, Mitsuki decided not to count on her fighting potential.
“We don’t want any trouble,” said Mitsuki. “I apologize if I offended you.”
“It’s a little late for that now.” Karen stepped forward menacingly. “You two really messed up. We’re karate club members. Know what that means?”
Mitsuki wanted to avoid a fight. Valeriya had taught her not to abuse her skills. Though not complete amateurs, the high school girls were still children. Mitsuki was younger, but she was confident that her training and experience far surpassed those practicing in a school club.
“I understand, so please let us go with an apology,” said Mitsuki while keeping her eyes on the girls.
“What’s with that apology? Don’t you even know how to bow? Didn’t your parents teach you anything?”
Something snapped inside Mitsuki.
Mitsuki recalled another thing Valeriya had taught her: “Girls over fifteen are grannies!”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Mitsuki. “Between me and a bunch of cowards who gang up on the weak like hyenas, who do you think lacks parental guidance?”
Karen glowered at her. “You little bitch…”
“Are you just gonna stand there mumbling like a kid who dropped her ice cream? Come at me.”
Tossing away the candied apple, Karen dashed towards her and threw a straight punch. Parrying the blow, Mitsuki threw her over her shoulder.
“Guh!” Karen coughed violently after hitting the ground.
Seeing the counterattack, the other girls took fighting stances. None of them stepped forward.
Not as stupid as I thought.
In that case.
Mitsuki dashed to the closest enemy and thrust her fist into the girl’s solar plexus. As her first victim fell to the ground, two girls approached her from both sides. She hopped back twice to keep both of them in front of her. The faster girl reached her first and launched a roundhouse kick.
For an amateur.
Mitsuki lowered her head, allowing the kick to pass just above her hair. Her palm uppercut slammed into the girl’s chin and knocked her out. The slower girl stiffened in surprise after seeing her friend defeated in an instant. Taking this chance, Mitsuki tensed her toes and thrust them into the girl’s crotch. The teenager screamed in anguish and fell to her knees. The last high schooler standing lunged at Mitsuki. In one motion, Mitsuki spun to avoid the tackle and smashed her elbow into the kneeling girl’s nape, finishing her off.
The girl who missed the tackle faced her, knees trembling. Choosing fight over flight, she rushed towards Mitsuki. Without giving the high schooler a chance to attack, Mitsuki stepped forward and drove a front kick into her solar plexus. The girl staggered backward, tripped over the downed Karen, and fell on top of her.
Because of her size disadvantage, Mitsuki had targeted the girls’ vital points. The entire battle had unfolded according to her calculations.
But she had forgotten another of Valeriya’s lessons: “Battle is exciting because calculations hold no power over the unpredictable.”
“You hurt my friends..!” Karen, tears streaming down her cheeks, stood up unsteadily. “I’m going to kill you!”
Mitsuki put up her guard and focused on the revived enemy. Then her body froze up.
Karen’s nose was bleeding.
Mitsuki had taken care not to hit the enemies’ faces to avoid spilling blood, but the last girl she defeated had accidentally fallen onto Karen and elbowed her in the face.
Karen charged at Mitsuki, thick red liquid dripping down her lips and chin. She pressed her elbow to her waist and gathered power for a karate punch. It was a completely telegraphed strike, but Mitsuki, paralyzed by the sight of blood, could do nothing. Karen screamed as she unleashed the full strength of her fist.
A pink whirlwind materialized in front of Mitsuki. Arashi stretched her leg wide, tearing her kimono skirt open, and drove a spinning hook kick into Karen’s neck. A dull thud and a sharp snap reached Mitsuki’s ears. Karen tumbled to the ground, her neck sharply bent at an impossible angle. Arashi stopped her rotation as her torn dress fluttered down and covered her legs once again.
A moment after the surreal spectacle ended, Mitsuki came back to her senses. “Why aren’t you wearing panties!?!?”
Arashi’s pokerface moved. As if looking at an idiot, she stared at Mitsuki and tugged at her dress with her fingers. “Kimono, duh.”
I can’t believe this girl treated me like an idiot!!!
Mitsuki did not know whether to laugh or cry.
Arashi took a bite from the half-eaten candied apple in her hand.
And you were eating the whole time!?
Mitsuki almost dropped to her knees in mortification. As she wallowed in self-pity, Viktor appeared from the shadows and approached her.
“Mitsuki, I’ll have the men take care of this. Please come back with me to the car.”
“Ah, oh, right.” Mitsuki looked around for Arashi who had suddenly vanished.
“That girl ran away the moment she saw me.”
“You do look really scary.”
“What!? T-That’s not-”
“And you should’ve come out to help us if you were watching the whole time.”
“It was just a fight between kids. At least it was supposed to be.” Viktor nudged the corpse on the ground with his foot. “We need to go.” He turned around and headed for the car.
“Okay.” Mitsuki noticed the paper bag containing the anime figure on the ground and picked it up.
I should return this.
I wonder if I’ll meet her again.
Mitsuki hopped over Karen and followed her driver.