We walked on the path that led to the white-roofed gazebo.
It seems as if a Taisho era school girl was being led astray by a shifty hustler.
The young lady wore a kimono with short hakama.
This wasn’t a case of an unscrupulous man luring away a young maiden you know?!
The woman that Nanami had driven away had been dressed like an unimpressive night butterfly.
While she’d been wearing an elaborate cabaret dress, its poor craftsmanship and overall cheapness had been on full display.
It was the type of dress I felt nostalgia for.
When my class did a crossdressing café for a culture festival or something, we could only afford one piece summer dresses on our budget.
It’d been a fun festival.
It was regrettable that Shinonome Academy didn’t host such events.
The reason there were no festivals was that there was no disappointing protagonist to raise the 『Let’s have a Summer Festival』even flag, like in the game.
Not really… the actual reason was that letting outsiders onto the campus would be problematic.
Even if a ticket system were used, it would still be an issue if a student gave one to a student from another school.
That was the way things were.
Nanami hadn’t given me much of anything to work with, and my mind was seeking out any escape available.
I’m also a hustler, so that came with the territory.
Ah. I needed wrap things up quickly and head to the game room!!
I’d stay here as long as time permits.
The white-roofed gazebo came into view.
The gazebo was all white, but the ivy made it look like a green and white birdcage.
Behind the gazebo was a slight slope that had a small brook flowing through it, which eventually ended in a small waterfall.
Because of the cascading water, the oppressive summer heat was only half as bad.
“Now then, Shiori-sama. No one should come here.”
“It is quite a lovely view. This place is also rather cool.”
The entire reason I’d walked this far out with her on such a muggy night was this cool spot.
No one would intentionally walk out here without knowing about it.
So, no one should bother us.
“It’s a so-called natural air conditioner. I’ll listen to any- and everything you have to say. Consider it a gift for your engagement.”
“You already know?”
“I learned about it a little while ago.”
“Kaori-oniisama…… Onii-sama was infatuated with you Mizuki. It won’t be enough, but I am truly sorry for what I did back then.”
Shiori dropped her shoulders as she took a sit on the bench.
“Would you mind if I ask you something?”
“Whatever you want.”
“What duty prevents you from dying?”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at Shiori’s question.
“To live is to be useful.”
“The Sagara clan started out as feudal lords. However, it was a tiny territory, surrounded by mountains on all sides. The land was poor and the river tended to be unruly at the best of times.”
I’d been told the origins of the Sagara family since I was young.
“But even such a poor stretch of land was targeted by other people. The bloodstained earth only worsened as the fighting dragged on. Then they employed martial artists to block the passes. By damming the river, they were able to revitalize the land, making it fertile once more. A succession of wise leaders directed and improved the territory. The Sagara house was built on the backs of warriors and sages. The Sagara’s role is the enrich the province and not give in to adversity. The head of household alone cannot achieve that. Therefore, the responsibility falls every inheritor of the Sagara blood.”
“That was in the past wasn’t it?”
“No. It’s the same even now.”
I immediately corrected Shiori.
“Although the territories and peasantry have disappeared, the conglomerate and its employees have taken their place. Since I am a member of the Sagara family, I must protect my employees and family. That is why the Okabe follow us, and why we are allowed to marry for love. The Okabe are the first of our subordinates and if we can’t protect them, how can we protect other people? The selfish ones were disqualified. The Okabe and our spouses became our reminders.”
“That doesn’t sound like a reminder……”
“It is a reminder. The thought of Hayate being ashamed of me kept me from becoming lazy. I would still be hospitalized if that weren’t the case. I have to secure assets for use later on. Once we reach adulthood, the Sagara show their ability in corporate management. There is little I can do as a child. Accidentally, I seemed to be blessed with artistic talent, but that’s merely an amateurish pursuit.”
I wryly smiled as I spoke.
My skill in Yuzen designing was something from my past life, not a skill the original Mizuki learned.
Personally, I think my skills were too unrefined to be considered talent.
“That’s… There are plenty of people trying to get a hold of your handcrafted kimonos, for you to consider them amateurish……”
“It’s useful to me right now. It’s allowing me to make connections.”
“Drawing yuzen is a means to an end since doing it allows me to befriend the influential ladies of society. Those people are a treasure trove of information.”
“You know that assets aren’t limited to just money, right?”
While the money obtained from selling yuzen was a nice benefit, it was the information the customers were privy to that made Kikkneesan dance with joy.
I was taught that +α was more valuable than money.
However, it still came up short concerning its usefulness.
Various limitations prevented Mizuki Sagara from listing yuzen designer as a future occupation.
More than anything else, it failed to serve Sagara employees in a meaningful way.
It was a source of information, but that wasn’t enough on its own.
Therefore, I sought a different occupation.
However, I couldn’t afford to lose the connections I gained as a designer either.
I think I should get a job where I can manipulate my surroundings.
If the information I obtained could be beneficial to the Sagara conglomerate, then I would be able to bear the less than favorable looks anyone would give me.
Even the scars that remained on my body, if they could draw the interest of the right people, I would use utilize them to their fullest.
Well, that way I might still be pure when I finally reach my forties, you know?
“Mizuki, you see beyond what I could ever hope to.”
“Has this answered your question?”
“Yes. But…… I have become like Icarus.”
Such a phrase left Shiori’s lips.
As in the mythological Icarus?
The young man that yearned for the sun so much that he created a set of wings to reach it, only for them to burn up as he approached the target of his affection.
In Greek mythology, the gods are too human-like and were the source of many outrageous stories.
“Is Suwa Iori the sun you yearn for?”
“Yes. That child is also part of it. The sun I wanted to protect. Him, and the other one. There are two suns I yearn for.”
Shiori cast her eyes away when she made that confession.
The sun in hand and the sun out of reach.
I could understand such nuances.
“I thought anything would be better than the boys the same age as me. Everyone says that I have to tediously do everything on my own. However, people who could do things better than I ever could eventually appeared. Even though he’s younger than me, I couldn’t match him an anything. I was so fascinated by him that I couldn’t even be frustrated by that fact.”
Well, Suwa was quite outstanding, so that was unavoidable.
Now, the other sun?
Yakumo-niisan was older that Shiori, so who was the other child near her age?。
No, based on the flow of the conversation, the other one must have been the old Mizuki.
“They handle every task handed to them without issue. They’re a calm person that rarely gets upset. Their pretty smile can attract anyone you want. They’re like the sun itself.”
Was it some else after all?
Yakumo-niisan was the reliable one.
I was in a position to get help if I needed it.
He may have seemed calm because his facial expressions rarely changed.
“I realized back in elementary school that my parents only wore the mask of a happily married couple. Father rarely came home most days, and I learned that I had a younger half-brother somewhere. My younger brother wasn’t recognized, and my family denies his existence. By then I knew my father liked to gamble and was throwing private funds into his habits. I knew that he was racking up a sizable debt, but I thought it was fine so long as my lifestyle remained unchanged.”
My research had revealed as much.
Despite being a child of a branch family, there was no way the Suwas would recognize an illegitimate child.
“Looking back at my childhood, I didn’t feel hatred for my father. I just felt lonely. That’s the reason I cherished lori’s affection as much as I did. It was pleasant to play with a child that idolized me.”
Having an enthusiastic follower could be fun.
And in Iori’s eyes, Shiori was his princess.
“However, the other sun didn’t look at me in that way, but their smile led me into trying to close the distance between us……”
Why was everything suddenly uncomfortable?
Was the word stalker appropriate in this situation?
I’d certainly be scared if I caught you peeking out from the shadows.
“I immediately realized that the attack had something to do with my father’s debt. I panicked when Iori attempted to defend me. A branch family won’t survive if anything happens to the legitimate child of the main family. As I tried to find an escape route, I caught sight of my second sun.”
So…… that sun was me after all?
I wanted to deny it with all my might.
“I thought things would be fine if I entrusted Iori to my sun. I would have gone crazy if they took Iori as well, so I did my best to detain you. Little did I know that calling your name would lead to a nightmare unfolding before my eyes.”
She bit her lip to hold back the tears in her eyes.
“I didn’t know they would run you over and try to kill you. I only realized the depths of my stupidity when Ritsuko-sama slapped me.”
This was a confession.
A confession of her actions and the stupidity of those actions.
She was waiting for her sun to condemn her.
I couldn’t say anything.
Even at this point, she didn’t try to apologize for what she did.
“Is that all you wanted to talk about?”
My voice was cold as I asked the question.
“No, there is more.”
“I think I will hear you out, but I’m starting to grow tired of this.”
It was a story I’d heard from Suwa many times.
It would be strange if a person didn’t get tired of it.
“Shiori-sama, are you gonna say that you made a mistake?”
“I see. At the time, there were many things you could have done, but do you want to know the best course of action you could have taken?”
She, who had intended to entrust Iori to me, seemed puzzled by my question.
“It was to do nothing.”
“Do nothing? That’s……”
“How much time passed between you calling out to me and the car running me over? It was only a few minutes.”
Shiori fall silent.
“The method to save everyone was 『to do nothing』.”
“It’s true. However, I can only say that theoretically.”
If Shiori had remained silent, she could have bought a little more time.
The guards would have arrived by then.
The criminals would have been captured without anyone dying.
“You made a mistake in your judgment. Two people died, and a child was seriously injured as a result.”
Shiori stared at me as I spoke monotonously.
“You will pay your dues from now on. Finally.”
“Late apologies are meaningless. I am not a sun. I’m merely human. I have nothing to say to someone who doesn’t see me as a person. Even if we meet again, I will not speak to you. None of this matters anymore. For you, or me.”
Nothing is more painful than indifference.
That’s why I didn’t have any interest in this person.
I had no intentions of seeing her again.
I wouldn’t help her.
I began walking away from Shiori.
She called out to me, but Shiori didn’t move.
I wasn’t going to dwell on the disappointment I felt in the other party, but it would have been better if she’d chased after me.
I wasn’t going to stop for a shout.
I walked back to the main building as if I hadn’t heard her.
Then, I saw another familiar face near the garden entrance.