Kaze no Stigma:Volume2 Chapter 1
 Chapter One - Banquet for Victory -The Chosen Ones-
It was a common occurrence.
You could say it’s something that had become a part of their lives.
However, Yukari and Nanase could both sense the tension.
A tension that was hard to ignore.
“Didn’t I say so already? You girls definitely won’t be bored. I know a great club! I just need to show my face for us to get in.”
“Come on! Let’s go! What fun is there to be had with only girls?”
As the two exchanged glances, a group of men with weak appearances made a vulgar speech in a flippant manner. They didn’t look too bad, but their idiotic speech and actions showed no class at all.
In simpler terms, they were trying to pick the girls up.
It was a common occurrence.
Even though their appearances may have differed, the three were beautiful girls that made one’s eyes light up. They knew exactly how to deal with such pick-up artists. Or at least they did, until now.
Suddenly, the third girl, who had not spoken a word until now, began to move. She slowly raised her head and looked into the eyes of the man in front of her.
“That place is frequently visited by idols, stars, and models! We have many such friends, and if you are interested, we can introduce them to you...”
Glared at by cold eyes that chilled to the bone, the originally glib man was unable to speak another word.
The men left pitifully. Yet the girl did not even look at them and instead put on an unchanging, cold expression and left as if nothing had happened.
The girl, Ayano Kannagi, seemed rather displeased, and turned her head with those words.
“You seem to be really harsh to the people who’ve tried to pick us up recently.”
“It’s just your imagination.”
Ayano replied, straying from the point.
Yukari lifted her head to look at Nanase with pleading eyes.
Nanase nodded and said, “Yup, you’re really overdoing it recently. Let’s take last time for example: you actually used the corner of your schoolbag to hit the guy’s temple.”
“Ah, that one was really scary. The whites of his eyes showed, and blood was flowing from his ears and nose–”
“...Does it matter, anyway? We called an ambulance for him.”
Nanase looked hard at the moody Ayano and slowly closed in on the main point.
“Ayano, something happened between you and a guy, didn’t it?”
“Wh–what... What are you talking about?!”
The sudden question left Ayano unable to hide the stir in her heart.
Nanase gave off a smile deep with meaning.
“You, a girl with a father-complex, finally seem to be starting to show interest in guys other than your father.”
“I am not a father-lover.”
Ayano swiftly regained her composure, and said strongly, “I’ve just never met a guy better than my father. That’s all.”
Nanase met Yukari’s eyes, as if to say “What a headache,” and sighed.
“I admit, your father is indeed a mature and relaxed middle-aged man, but you cannot possibly find that kind of feeling in a young guy, right?”
“That’s not true. Father was young once too, so as long as I find someone similar–”
Halfway through, she shut her mouth and frowned, as the conversation had somehow reminded her of that detestable man.
Seemingly difficult to approach, yet uncommonly relaxed – a person undoubtedly qualified to be compared to her father.
He was not like Juugo at all. Indeed, he was the total opposite.
But... he was very powerful. Not just his strength, but his entire existence. In that sense, he was comparable to Juugo, the strongest man that she knew–
Hearing the call rife with laughter, Ayano, who had stopped moving, returned to her senses.
“You are thinking of the guy you like right now, aren’t you?”
“Of... Of course not! That kind of guy!”
“What kind of guy?”
Having been asked such a question, Ayano lost her strength for a moment.
“Nanase... Even you...”
“Be honest! It’s such an interesting topic. I bet even Yukari won’t let it go easily either, right?”
“That’s right. That’s right.”
Yukari nodded happily. Ayano stared at her two friends who intended to extract every single detail with antagonistic scrutiny.
Yukari Shinomiya and Nanase Kudo. They were both students of Seiryo Academy, where Ayano studied, and also her best friends – even though there were times when she wondered about the friendship between them.
Yukari’s shoulder-length, beautiful hair moved up and down like waves, her face always showed a gentle smile, and her speech was slightly slow. It was unclear whether she should be considered “mellow” or just “slow.” Regardless, from this description, you can probably imagine that she is a laid-back person.
In contrast, Nanase’s hairstyle was a refreshing, blunt bob. She seemed casually calm, and her swift movements and tone showed no sign that they belonged to a girl, giving people an unsettled feeling, making her the type to receive a lot of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
These two girls were opposites no matter how you look at it, but what was truly remarkable was that when they teased Ayano, they exhibited perfect harmony in their cooperation – although to Ayano, this was something unbearable.
“Come on. Tell us. What kind of person is he?”
“I already said there is no such person! By the way...”
Ayano stared at Yukari with accusing eyes.
“Aren’t we going to eat some cake now?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Then why are we on this road?!”
In the direction which Ayano pointed her finger stood a long row of accommodations designed for a very specific purpose.
Just as with a haunted house in a backcountry area, though there was nothing particularly odd about their appearance, they possessed an atmosphere unlike that of a normal hotel.
That’s right. For, as the three (except for a certain someone) were chatting happily, they had unintentionally come to the entrance of a street of love hotels.
Having realized that they were arguing in a special area, Ayano couldn’t help but blush. But Yukari’s smile did not change at all.
“This is a short-cut.”
“Even so, this kind of place...”
“Don’t worry. No one would think that we are going to play 3P.”
Ayano’s face carried a pained expression as she looked at this innocently smiling friend who had just said something very shocking.
“You... Don’t use that cute face to say something so shocking, okay?”
“Kay~ But this kind of thing is nothing compared to your normal behavior.”
“... What do you mean by that?”
Against Ayano’s squinting eyes, Yukari put on her usual smiling face. Though she may have looked easy-going, she was definitely not on the losing side.
Ayano, who realized that she was at a disadvantage, decided to forcefully end the conversation.
“Anyway, let’s not walk this way. Let’s go another way!”
“Geez, you are so squeaky clean.”
“Squeaky clean? That doesn’t even need to be said! This kind of hotel, whose only use is for people to share a bed – who knows what the people going in are thinking?!”
Ayano sounded violent and scowled angrily at the love hotels as though they had killed her father, when suddenly, her expression froze.
Yukari and Nanase followed Ayano’s line of sight. What lay there was...
“As agitated as always.”
A man and a beautiful lady, sticking closely together, walking out from the hotel street.
His age appeared to be about twenty-something, with an upright face that could be considered handsome, but his expression seemed to be rather sloven. A light smirk appeared on his mouth, forcefully pulling his grade down thirty percent.
“You should at least think about where you are.”
The man made fun of the dumbfounded Ayano and continued to speak.
“You're already a high school student. It’s about time you knew what shame is...”
The man before her eyes was Kazuma Yagami. This was the man who Ayano hated most. As for the woman beside him, she had never seen her before. In addition, this was a love hotel street.
Having caught up to this point, Ayano’s brain, which had finally returned to a normal temperature, suddenly began to heat up. Gripped with an inexplicable fury, Ayano shouted, “You... What are you doing in a place like this?!”
Yukari and Nanase shared a puzzled look, looking at their friend who had suddenly fallen into a rage. Neither pair of eyes showed any indecision, and they seemed to be asking simultaneously, “What is she talking about?”
It wasn’t a question that needed to be asked. Just as Ayano had said, there is only one thing to do in a love hotel – even if there are many different ways and methods of doing it; there is basically only one reason to be there.
On the other hand, Kazuma, who had drawn Ayano’s rage upon him, simply showed a light smile, as usual.
“Asking me what I am doing... Ah, it is so hard to say it out loud~ ♥”
He acted shy, daintily using his hand to cover his mouth as he spoke.
At that moment, the dozens of logic-related neural synapses in Ayano’s brain snapped all at once.
Feeling the furious spiritual energy coming from Ayano, Yukari and Nanase couldn’t help but move back. But even when engulfed in such a strong murderous intent, one that even normal people would notice and fear, Kazuma and the woman beside him did not change the relaxed smiles on their faces.
The woman ignored Ayano’s furious eyes as if they were nothing. She put her lips close to Kazuma’s ear and asked, “This girl, is she your girlfriend?”
“Kirika... That joke isn’t funny at all!”
After such a semi-derogatory question, Kazuma answered with an irritated look. Listening, Kirika glanced at Ayano and laughed lightly.
(...! This darn woman–!)
Seeing the seemingly taunting attitude of this person, Ayano viewed Kirika as an “enemy.” As if seeking a weak spot, she sized up Kirika from head to toe. But...
Though slim, she had a good figure filled with femininity.
From the angle of a “woman,” Ayano had no way to compete.
Ayano was also a rare beauty, but her state of maturity was far below Kirika’s. Future development or hidden potential had no effect now. Because in a battle in the real world, current capabilities decide everything.
Even so, if her opponent were just someone who devoted all nutrients – even those that should go to the brain – into her breasts and hips, Ayano would not concede defeat.
But Kirika was different. Those thin, long eyes of hers carried the light of wisdom, clearly indicating that she was not just some vulgar woman who only knew how to fawn on guys.
Slightly older than Kazuma, she looked as if she was around twenty-five. From the way she could casually face up to Ayano’s killing intent as if it were not there, she was clearly not an average businesswoman. Maybe they were in the same trade?
Ayano bore the silent torture of inferiority and continued to glare at the two with angry eyes.
Kirika accepted Ayano’s eyes generously and held her body even more closely against Kazuma’s arm. Rather than a demonstration of love, this action seemed more like she was trying to hang on tightly.
“Should I arrest you for lewd acts against an underage female?”
“Don’t be like that.”
Kazuma seemed very displeased.
“She is just a distant relative. I’ve done nothing, nor have any intentions of doing anything.”
“Then why is she angry?”
“She’s always angry. Just ignore her.”
Kirika looked towards Ayano once more, her face showing a smile with deep meaning. Ayano noticed, her mind tangling in an instant.
“I think it would be better to explain.”
“There’s no need for that. It’s too troublesome. Let’s go!”
Upon saying this, Kazuma pulled Kirika and walked away. As his eyes meet Ayano’s, he put on a serious expression and warned Ayano, “Go back quickly! This is no place for children.”
Kazuma walked past Ayano with ease, who was so angry her whole body was trembling. As the two sides passed one another, Kirika looked at Ayano before departing in an utterly relaxed manner. Those eyes, filled with sympathy, totally enraged Ayano.
Yukari remained where she was, silently sending off the close pair with her eyes. She looked to the side and coincidentally met Nanase’s eyes.
At that moment, silence was golden. The two exchanged bitter smiles, and as if they had discussed it much earlier, looked towards Ayano who still had not turned back.
“So that’s it.”
Nanase nodded heavily.
“No wonder you were so harsh to those people who tried to pick us up.”
“That’s right. It is really tough to like someone like that.”
“But what a surprise. I never thought Ayano would like flippant guys like that.”
Ayano turned slowly.
In a gentle, but equally chilling tone, she answered, “What are you two talking about?”
Yukari answered straightforwardly.
“Ayano, you like that guy right? Although it looks one-sided.”
“You... What makes you two think that way?”
“Just think about your reaction just now. No matter how we look at it, it is the reaction of ‘a jealous girl seeing the guy she likes getting snatched away,’ right?”
“There is no such thing! It is definitely not that way!!”
Ayano shouted out, blushing. Her voice was so loud it almost seemed to reach as far as the eye could see.
“Ayano, you’re too loud.”
Ignoring Yukari’s warning, Ayano furiously continued to say, “Why would I like that kind of lowlife?! That is the type of person I hate most in this world! If I could have, I would have sliced him into pieces!!”
“Then why are you angry?”
Yukari rebutted with a calm voice.
“If you really didn’t like him, then it wouldn’t matter who he sleeps with, right? What would there be to be angry about?”
“That... That’s because... That...
...I just cannot bear to see someone like Kazuma sleep with that kind of beauty! They are not at all compatible!”
Ayano gripped her fist tightly and tried her best to explain, as the other two looked at her with cold eyes.
(What do you think?)
(She doesn’t seem to be lying... Could it be that she hasn’t even realized it herself?)
(If that’s the case, then she’s not just slow – there’s something completely wrong with her...)
(But... that is just like Ayano.)
(Yeah, that’s true)
“You two! Don’t whisper among yourselves right in front of me!”
Having gotten shouted at by Ayano, Nanase swiftly straightened her body. Following this, she used a very serious expression, like someone who is faking marriage just to grab a hold of the password to a credit card, in order to say, “Ah. Okay, okay. I get it, you really hate that man.”
“Yup, completely understood.”
Yukari chimed in instantly. They were indeed Ayano’s best friends, their actions matching flawlessly.
Ayano’s expression revealed her continued suspicion.
Ayano nodded, though her expression still showed displeasure. After everything had come to an end, and the two of them had given a sigh of relief–
“Ah, that is the girl. Mr. Hanagi.”
Those guys had chosen the worst possible time to appear.
“These are the ones?”
The man they called Hanagi pointed his finger towards the three and said...
“You guys were scared off by these three girls?”
“Because the girl in the middle has a really scary stare...”
“That girl is really arrogant. Please teach her some manners, Go-san!”
The men who were saying these things were the punks, numbers one and two (temporarily named), who had been driven off by Ayano earlier. It seemed that because they had been rejected so vehemently by Ayano, resentment had arisen, and so they had found someone to help them take their revenge!
– They don’t come any lower than that.
“We invited you so nicely to have some fun, and yet you told us to ‘get lost.’ That was really rude. Now apologize.”
Ayano stared at the group of men, her eyes indicating that they were unworthy even of notice. Seeing those ice cold eyes, punks numbers one and two couldn’t help but retreat several steps, though Hanagi showed no sign of fear.
“That trick of yours won’t work! Hanagi-san knows Shaolin fist techniques!”
“Please do it! Go Hanagi-san!”
Numbers one and two cowered behind Hanagi and continued to shout. Ignoring the two who were merely relying on Hanagi’s strength, Ayano stared at Hanagi alone.
As they had mentioned, the man before her eyes seemed to have undergone a certain level of training. As he wore only a thin, sleeveless sweater under his leather coat, his protruding muscles could be clearly seen. It was a body specially made for combat.
“For a woman to be so arrogant, that’s why you are having such an unlucky encounter. Don’t try to go against men from now on.”
Hanagi reached his hand out in a rough manner, intending to grab Ayano’s chin to lift her face.
At the instant his fingertips touched her chin, Ayano moved swiftly.
She angled her body and moved forward, while at the same time dodging Hanagi’s hand. Ayano cleanly swung her bent left arm into Hanagi’s defenseless chest.
Ayano’s elbow struck the lower region of Hanagi’s earlobe, where his jaw was. This was a sudden, full-force attack and a powerful strike that even contained ki. It would not have been surprising if his jaw had fallen off of his face.
Hanagi’s body flew into the air in a spiral. His legs, which had left the ground, tangled together like twisted bread and subsequently splayed outwards with reactive force.
Hanagi’s body kept on spinning, and after a sickening three and a half round rotation, he naturally had a failed landing – his whole body flattened against the outer wall of a hotel.
A wet sound propagated along the entire street. This was definitely not a sound made by a human body. If a freshly slaughtered piece of flesh, with blood still dripping, were smashed into a wall, it would probably make this kind of sound.
Several seconds after Hanagi has been hammered into the wall, he fell to the floor like a flattened cockroach.
On the red bricks of the hotel wall, a fluid even more red than the bricks formed an eerie human figure.
Seeing Hanagi, blood pouring out of seven holes and his body twitching, Nanase drew a cross towards the sky. Beside her, Yukari placed her hands together and closed her eyes to pray.
“Huh... Huh huh...”
The remaining two guys gave voice to pitiful cries in tones that had reached the utmost limit of fear.
Ayano silently walked past the two men, who were unable to move their feet, and could only stand there like idiots.
She fired off two kicks at lightning speed. The tip of her foot hit right in the center between the legs of the two men.
The tip of her pointed shoe hit the pelvis, while the most important part was struck heavily. Ayano contemplated the two, now rolling on the ground in pain with a pink foam of blood and spittle coming from their mouths, with disgust.
“Ah– Please send an ambulance over. There are three heavily wounded people.”
A cold voice came from behind. Behind her, Nanase was using a public phone to contact 911. She read out the number of the phone booth to inform the other party of the location.
“Please be quick. One of them doesn’t seem likely to make it.”
After that, she hung up, ignoring their inquiries for her name. This action could be said to be very well-trained since the reason she didn’t use her own cellphone was to avoid leaving any trace.
“So, have you vented your anger?” Nanase asked Ayano calmly.
“...I didn't do it on purpose.”
Ayano pouted and replied unhappily, but the two did not believe her.
They had known very well since the beginning that she had just been redirecting her anger at Kazuma. If she had not met Kazuma earlier, Ayano would not have been so cruel!
But there was one thing they did not understand. Nanase leaned in close to Yukari’s ear and quietly asked...
(By the way, is that guy really that good?)
(Hmm... I feel that he is above average, but...)
He did not seem like a man that would make Ayano feel jealous. That was their opinion.
For though they had known Ayano for a long time, they still did not know what the Kannagis did for a living, nor of the power that was within their bloodline.
They would still have a few days to wait before witnessing for themselves the true power of Kazuma.
“Has Kazuma still not arrived?”
“Why are you asking me?”
Ayano replied to the Soushu’s, Juugo’s, question in a sour tone of voice. She appeared to have drunken some alcohol, and her gaze seemed blank.
Stared at by his daughter, who was radiating malcontent, Juugo blinked.
“What is it between you and Kazuma?”
Ayano slammed the wine cup on the table with a bang.
“I hate that guy! I don’t want to see his face or hear his name ever again! That sort of guy can just go have a good time with some old woman!”
“...So that is it.”
Juugo could roughly guess what had happened and decided not to probe any further.
“In celebration of the annihilation of the Fuuga clan!”
“Cheers to Hyoue who is now roasting in hell, suffering for all eternity!”
Vulgar toasts like this one abounded. Everyone seemed exuberant, and the air was filled with the sound of cups clinking in toasts.
The cause for celebration was something that had happened about a week ago.
The subordinates of the Kannagis, the Fuuga clan, had suddenly revolted. The leader of the Fuuga clan, Hyoue Kazamaki, had allowed his son Ryuuya to be possessed by a powerful youma, and many of the Kannagis had been killed.
The ones who had fought them were Ayano and Ren, practitioners of the Kannagi main family, and Ren’s brother, Kazuma Yagami, who had been exiled due to his ineptitude as an En-jutsushi and had eventually become a Fuu-jutsushi.
After a fierce battle, the three had finally defeated Hyoue and Ryuuya. On the fourth day following, that is, that evening, a banquet for their victory was being held.
The banquet was unlike any before it. Just about every member of the Kannagi family able to attend was in attendance. They had all joyfully joined the banquet and were now raising their cups in celebration of the annihilation of their hated enemy.
This reaction came as no surprise. For these people, who claimed to be the strongest, Hyoue and Ryuya, had been existences who could not be permitted.
The fact that they had been able to possess a youma beyond their powers was in and of itself unforgivable. Furthermore, they had been of the Fuuga clan, a group of low level jutsushis who they had stepped on for a long period of time.
For them, to fear weaklings like the Fuugas to the extent that they had had to go into hiding was a humiliation that could never be vindicated.
However, since the Fuuga clan had been completely destroyed, that shame, if not erased, was at least forgotten. In their joy, it wasn’t at all odd for them to be going somewhat overboard in their celebrations.
“Hmph! For those dogs to forget who had raised and fed them and to even go so far as to bite their masters’ hands! Those ungrateful bastards!”
“How dare they resist us? We, who are blessed by the Spirit Lord! What an outrage!”
“Cheers to the Fuuga clan’s demise!”
All around the tables, cups met, and everyone downed their cups in one go.
Just as the banquet was approaching its climax, Kazuma appeared.
“Kazuma-san has arrived.”
As the servant made his announcement, all noise in the hall came to an abrupt halt.
Amidst the silence, a youth walked through the paper door the servant had opened and stepped into the hall with a confident swagger.
Unfriendly eyes gathered upon this youth who walked in without a word. Just for the record, among the glares, the one which bore the greatest hatred was Ayano’s, but let’s leave that matter aside for now.
Actually, it was not without reason that this man was so despised. The Kannagis had had over fifty jutsushis before the battle with the Fuuga clan, and yet there were only a few more than thirty present at the banquet. The total dead and wounded amounted to more than twenty.
Seven were dead, the rest injured with varying degrees of severity. Those seven had been attacked by Ryuya – the only ones attacked by Ryuuya.
In other words, the majority of the casualties were the work of Kazuma. Everyone gathered here had family members who had been sent to the hospital by Kazuma. Under such circumstances, it was only natural that they didn’t wear smiles to welcome him.
Their hateful glares glanced off of Kazuma, who acted as if they weren’t even there. His attitude served only to increase their hatred for him.
This was the sort of feeling you get from being looked down on by someone whom you had looked down on in the past. Needless to say, Kazuma completely ignored their presence. He seemed to consider them beneath contempt. No matter how much Juugo tried to defend him, the negative feelings toward Kazuma only strengthened further.
Kazuma nodded toward Ren, the only one who smiled at him, and then bowed before Juugo.
“Sorry I’m late.”
“I don’t mind at all. I am the one who forced you to join us.”
Juugo smiled, forgiving Kazuma’s tardiness, and told Kazuma to sit beside him. In short order, wine and hors d’oeuvres were placed before Kazuma’s eyes.
“Welcome back, Nii-sama!”
Ren ran over and hugged his brother’s arm tightly like a spoiled puppy. Kazuma didn’t stop him. On the contrary, he reached out his hand to caress his brother’s head. But he didn’t give the customary reply, “I’m back.”
Because, for a long time now, this place had not been Kazuma’s, that is, Kazuma Yagami’s, home.
Ren didn’t seem to notice Kazuma’s thoughts and served him diligently.
“Ah, let me pour you some wine.”
Kazuma lifted the cup with his hands but put it back on the table without drinking a single drop.
Ren questioned hesitantly, “Nii-sama, why not have a drink?”
“I’m not thirsty.”
Ren looked at the untouched food.
“...Won’t you eat something?”
“I’m not hungry.”
Ren felt puzzled and lifted his eyes to look at his brother.
Kazuma continued to look straight ahead, ignoring Ren.
Just as Ren began to panic, thinking he had done something to anger his brother, a big hand was placed lightly on Ren’s head.
The direction of Kazuma’s gaze hadn’t changed, nor did he speak. In spite of this, the feeling of that warm hand was enough to satisfy Ren. Leaning against his brother’s body, Ren closed his eyes and showed a peaceful smile.
To Kazuma, the Kannagi residence was still enemy territory. Not only would he not eat any food placed before him, no matter how relaxed the others might look, he wouldn’t let his guard down even for an instant.
That is why Kazuma noticed immediately when a young woman approached him.
He deliberately didn’t move, observing her as if nothing untoward was happening, waiting for her to take action.
The young woman was around twenty and was wearing a kimono. She seemed to be used to wearing one, for her actions were not the least bit awkward.
Her hairstyle, rather than being a blunt blob, was more of a round and simple hairstyle with its sides cut evenly. Together with small, cute cheeks, she was a beautiful Japanese-style woman that would make you think of the outdated appellation “Yamato Nadeshiko.”
Seeing the girl kneeling before him bow deeply, Kazuma said with a hazy expression, “If I recall... You are Ogami...”
“My name is Misao Ogami. I’ve been ordered to take care of Kazuma-sama. If you have any needs, please just inform me.”
Kazuma used his fingertips to hold Misao’s chin and lift up her face.
Looking at her nervous expression, Kazuma smiled and asked teasingly, “Even at night?”
Faced with such a direct intimation, Misao blushed and her eyes shifted downward. Even though she was embarrassed, she didn’t try to escape from Kazuma’s hand. She murmured in hardly a whisper, “If... that is your wish.”
Seeing that Misao didn’t resist, Kazuma’s face closed in even more. At that moment, Kazuma, as if repelled, suddenly leaned back.
A ray of red lightning pierced the air where Kazuma’s head had just been. With a loud thunk, something embedded itself in the pillar behind him.
“You despicable piece of shit! Get your dirty hands off her!”
Needless to say, the furious girl with the incomparable rage was Ayano. Kazuma didn’t even bother to look at her, but instead turned his head back.
A long, thin red stick was now embedded in the pillar – Ayano’s chopstick.
The chopstick possessed no sharp point, and yet it was half-sunken into the pillar. Guessing at the strength with which she must have thrown it, Kazuma laughed.
Ayano stalked toward Kazuma and raised her hand for a karate chop, aiming at Kazuma’s hand, which had been on Misao’s face the entire time. Seeing a chop that carried the strength to break thirty tiles, he quickly removed his hand.
Ayano had murder in her eyes as she scowled at Kazuma, who had a smile on his face, and then slowly walked next to Misao.
“Misao, what are you thinking! Why ruin your life for scum like that?!”
“Huh... Ermm... Sorry.”
Faced with such an aggressive aura, Misao couldn’t help but apologize. Seeing such a happy scene, Kazuma purposely put on a hurt expression.
“Why are you making me sound so bad?”
“I was just telling the truth, wasn’t I? You already have a girlfriend. How dare you still lay your hands on other girls?! You jerk!”
“Girlfriend? I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Liar! That one earlier...”
“If you mean Kirika, we’re not in that kind of relationship. She is just–”
“Just your sex friend, right?”
Ayano finished Kazuma’s sentence in an eerily gentle tone. Even though her face showed a smile, upon closer inspection, her temples were pulsing with anger.
Observing her expression, Kazuma smiled at her comprehension, and said, “Yup, you could put it that way too.”
Violent spiritual energy burst forth from Ayano’s entire body, and her body subconsciously entered battle mode.
However, she was stopped just before she could erupt. Confronted with Misao’s appeal, Ayano was reluctantly forced to restrain her murderous intent.
“Please, don’t be angry. It was Kazuma-sama who avenged my brothers. To repay that debt, this sort of thing is nothing...”
“You should be grateful to me instead!” Ayano said proudly.
“This guy only fought because it was his job! We’ve already paid him enough to reward him! There’s no need to thank him. You have a problem with that?”
This last line was, of course, directed at Kazuma.
“Nope, that is largely true.” Kazuma admitted frankly.
“I don’t know what this fiery lass did that you should be grateful for, but at the very least, there is no need to thank me. Leaving Masato and Takeshi aside, you can consider half of the blame that Takeya died to be mine.”
Upon such a shocking statement, a commotion erupted around them.
After making so much noise, it was only natural that they had attracted notice. Their bickering had become the center of attention, and to hear such an alarming statement made everyone prick up their ears and listen quietly.
“What do you mean?” Ayano asked in a sharp tone.
Kazuma brushed off her intensity like a thick-skinned willow tree brushes off the wind and smiled.
“Even though the one who killed him was Ryuuya, he had already been defeated earlier by me. Ryuuya only cut the unconscious Takeya apart. Well, I guess that even if he had still been conscious then, the result wouldn’t have been any different.”
Kazuma said this nonchalantly and shifted his eyes back to Misao. He faced the bowed-down Misao, whose expression could not be seen, and reassured her gently.
“So, you see? There’s no need to be so courteous. How about taking that out of your sleeve?”
At the instant Kazuma finished his sentence, Misao suddenly moved. Her foot forcefully stomping on the tatami, she pulled out the dagger which had been hidden in her sleeve all along.
Screaming wildly, the dagger gripped tightly in her fists, Misao jumped into Kazuma’s chest.
For a moment, everyone remained completely motionless. Though everyone in the hall had witnessed the scene, it appeared that they were unable to comprehend its implications in time and were at a loss for what to do.
Misao and Kazuma both just sat there without flinching, like a pair of intimate lovers, the two in a silent embrace.
Ayano’s quivering voice called out the name of the man she hated most.
He did not reply.
“Kazuma?! Ans... Answer me quickly! Kazuma! Kazuma!!”
Kazuma suddenly raised his head and answered as if nothing had happened. Using his fingertips to pinch the dagger that should have been in Misao’s hands, he raised it before his eyes and waved it.
Maybe because of her relief, Ayano fell to the floor, still in shock, and shouted loudly, “If... If you heard me, you should have at least made a sound! I’d thought that you’d died!”
“Is there anything troubling to you about my death?”
Ayano was momentarily unable to speak. She tried her best to stop all the blood in her body from gathering at her face, while at the same time working hard to come up with a rebuttal.
“I... I don’t want Misao to become a murderer.”
“That makes sense.”
Ayano nodded in agreement, but felt that Kazuma’s reaction seemed off somehow. At the same time, she couldn’t say with certainty what was wrong about it.
Ignoring Ayano, who was puzzling over this, Kazuma placed his eyes on Misao, who had fallen on him.
“So are you still angry?”
Misao forcefully pushed herself off of Kazuma and used the momentum to jump backward. She put a little distance between them and stared at Kazuma with eyes full of hatred.
But Kazuma didn’t seem to mind those eyes at all. He calmly broke eye contact with Misao and passed the dagger in his hand to Ayano.
She took it reflexively and then looked closely at the dagger.
The blade of the dagger was about ten centimeters long. It would serve well for peeling apples and not much more. There didn’t appear to be any poison on it either.
(...Did she really think that a fruit knife could kill Kazuma?)
What a foolish action. Ayano bitterly regretted her earlier display of anxiousness.
At that point in time, the others were finally emerging from their shock. However, none stood up to arrest Misao because all of the people in the branch family felt the same way.
(What about Father?)
Ayano looked toward Juugo.
“What is the matter?”
“What do you mean by ‘What is the matter?’ Don’t just look. Do something.”
Juugo looked at the scene of the crime with cold eyes.
“If you do not wish to deal with her, shall I punish Misao for you?”
Even though his tone seemed calm, its meaning was clear. “If you want to kill her, just do it.” Juugo was usually kind and well-tempered, but he was not so kind as to forgive someone who had just attempted murder.
Kazuma’s reply was totally unexpected.
“I don’t think this goes so far as to require punishment. Nothing happened. Just let her go!”
Upon hearing this reply, Juugo revealed a surprised expression, and Ayano’s puzzled look could be clearly seen.
Ayano finally realized why she has been feeling that something was off. Misao was still alive. That alone was something which didn’t make sense.
On the battlefield, Kazuma wouldn’t have cared about anything else. Even if it was just a little girl, even if she was not moving of her own free will or if she was being threatened or manipulated, Kazuma wouldn’t have gone easy on her.
Given Kazuma’s habits, after he had dodged the attack, no, the instant the dagger had been drawn, Misao’s head should have landed on the floor.
(But this... What was going on?)
Filled with questions, Ayano began to look at the two.
Misao looked pale and weak. Though her eyes still bore hatred, it seemed that she did not have the strength to act again.
Her area of expertise was in defending seals and providing support from behind; she was not a jutsushi who fought on the frontline. Although her abilities were not weak, her personality was simply not suited to battle, let alone killing.
This may even have been the first time she had directed a knife at someone. Her mentality of avoiding causing harm was no different from a normal person’s. Just now she had acted on impulse, but after her failure, she didn’t have the ability to try again.
Kazuma lowered his head and looked silently at Misao. Those eyes carried no warmth, but neither did they show coldness.
(This is too abnormal, too weird! And... this makes me feel very unhappy!)
“What is the meaning of this–?”
“So be it. Since you have said as much, I have no reason to punish her either.”
Juugo interrupted Ayano, who had lost her composure, and came to a simple conclusion.
“But we cannot allow you to stay here either. Go back and reflect on this for a while!”
With that, he ordered someone by his side to take Misao away. Misao struggled to get rid of the hands that were about to catch her.
Ignoring the man who seemed troubled by her struggling, Misao stared at Kazuma and shouted, “Why did Nii-sama have to die?!”
“Because he was too weak.”
Kazuma replied very bluntly.
The hall was filled with rage in an instant. Misao was not alone in feeling that Kazuma has caused deaths in the family. To these people, Kazuma’s words had gone far beyond their ability to tolerate.
Ayano stood up, her face flushed red with anger. She placed her hands on her hips and glared at Kazuma.
“What the hell is wrong with you! Can’t you differentiate between what can and cannot be said?! What do you mean by ‘because he was too weak?’ Don’t joke around! Is it because you have become strong that you have forgotten what it was like to be weak?!”
Kazuma showed Ayano, who continued to lecture him, no sign of remorse at all. Instead, he looked at her coldly.
“Looks like you still don’t understand.”
He then looked around at the people who were staring at him angrily.
“Why are you all putting on the look of a victim?”
“What... What do you mean by that?”
Kazuma’s eyes swept across the room once more. All he saw were puzzled yet angry expressions. Again confirming that no one had understood what he meant, he sighed.
“I don’t think you guys have ever wondered why the Fuuga clan revolted.”
“What do you mean by why... Of course it was to awaken their God!”
Kazuma rejected this flat-out.
“That was just a means to an end, just one of the powers they needed to rise against the Kannagis.”
“Why don’t you tell us the reason then?” Ayano asked without even thinking.
Kazuma gave Ayano a contemptuous look.
“...These people of the Fuuga clan were definitely not a group of useless waste. Instead, they were even rather skilled Fuu-jutsushi. Their combat abilities might have been very weak, but the inherent characteristics of wind are not suited to battle in the first place.”
In terms of attack power, among the four main powers – earth, water, fire, and wind – wind was the weakest.
This was because it was the lightest.
No matter how fast they might be, light attacks did not possess the strength to kill with one blow.
I believe that everyone has had the experience of being cut by a piece of paper before. With enough speed, and if timed well, even a flimsy piece of paper can become a blade. And yet, it can only cut the surface of the skin. A slash without weight is unable to cut off flesh and bone all in one go.
The weight of water and earth is far beyond that of wind, and fire possesses a large amount of energy. If they were to fight against these powers, a Fuu-jutsushi would have to summon and control several times more spirits than they would.
Precisely for this reason, the role Fuu-jutsushis played was to use the wind’s mobility to search and to track, as well as to control the surrounding air while providing battle support. The Fuuga clan could actually have been said to have been a typical example of wind practitioners.
“The Kannagis were born with combat abilities, and the Fuugas excelled at information gathering and battle support. To provide for the other’s inability, to coexist peacefully and equally, that should have been the way that they interacted.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Kazuma observed Juugo, who was showing a bitter expression. He was the only one there who understood the truth of Kazuma’s words.
“Unfortunately, you, who only know how to use raw power as a standard, looked down on the Fuuga clan, who had no combat abilities. But without the Fuuga, you would not even have known where the enemy was!”
“What you are trying to say is... because we have always looked down on the Fuuga, we deserved to be killed by them?” Ayano pouted unhappily.
But Kazuma shook his head in denial.
“I never said that what you did was wrong. The strong are always right; that is the unequivocal truth.”
“But as you execute your right to crush the weak, you must also bear the burden of being crushed by people even stronger. Even if you are killed, you can have no complaints as this is the very thing you have done.”
Ayano’s expression changed drastically. She seemed to have understood what Kazuma was trying to say.
“Just because the Fuuga clan was ‘too weak,’ that was why you all looked down on them. Just because you are ‘too weak,’ that is why you were crushed by Ryuuya. It is a very simple thing to understand.”
This was not a question of who was right and who was wrong. Since both sides believed in the “law of power,” in the end, only the strong survived. That was all.
“If you people have acknowledged everything that you have done toward the Fuuga clan, then the Fuuga clan can also only acknowledge what they did to you. To crush the weak, does it not allow you to be crushed by those even stronger? Just who do you think you are?”
This merciless accusation reached the ears of everyone present like the roar of thunder, but it failed to touch their arrogant hearts.
“This, I am unable to accept.”
A voice of disagreement emerged from a place very close to Juugo’s seat of honor.
“Kazuma-san, your argument seems to have neglected one very important fact.”
The man spoke in a vicious and unrelenting tone. He was Masayuki Ogami, the head of the Ogami family, and Misao’s father. But he did not seem to care at all about his daughter, who had her head lowered and was keeping quiet.
“The value of our lives is definitely not equal. We, the Kannagis, are blessed by the spirits – a chosen clan! Yet you put us and the Fuugas, those lowlifes, on the same level. That is very appalling. Not to mention, it...”
He stared furiously at Kazuma, as if Kazuma was the killer of his son.
“Not to mention, it gives those scum the right to kill us!”
Hearing Masayuki’s words, Kazuma answered with a calm smile.
“Who is it that was chosen?”
“Those words. Why don’t you wait until you have power like Ayano’s before saying them! To hear a weakling boasting about his bloodline, how pathetic! It is as if you have nothing else to boast about except your bloodline.”
“You... You asshole...!”
Masayuki instantly became agitated. In comparison, Kazuma’s mocking tone still hadn’t changed.
“By the way, you should be thanking Hyoue instead!”
“He helped you to get rid of Masato, who was a nuisance in your eyes. At the very least, go burn some incense and pay your respects!”
“...! You...! What did you just say...!”
When Masayuki Ogami’s younger brother, Masato Ogami, had been alive, he had been known as the strongest practitioner of the branch family. Everyone knew that had he not left his home to train because he had hated fighting with his brother over the succession, he would have been the one to lead the family.
Seeing the shaken Masayuki, Kazuma said as if taunting him.
“It is a nuisance to have a younger brother better than you, isn’t it?”
“Damn... Damn you, you asshole!!”
Masayuki’s face changed color as he shouted. He stood up from the tatami, and with blood red eyes, stared murder at Kazuma.
This time, there was an almost palpable tension between the two. The killing intents around the room formed a whirlpool and gathered around Kazuma, who was still sitting in his original spot.
At that moment, Ren, who had been leaning against Kazuma’s shoulder, moved. He wriggled his upper body, his whole body stuck on Kazuma in a tight embrace. He looked as if he was trying to stop Kazuma and lacked the strength to do so.
Seeing this, a question went through Ayano’s mind.
(This kid... Since when did he become so quiet?)
Even when Misao had attempted to stab Kazuma, she had not heard Ren’s voice. No matter how much faith he had in his brother’s strength, it was unnatural for him to not so much as cry out.
Under everyone’s stare, Ren’s upper body slowly slid down along Kazuma’s body. He placed his face on Kazuma’s leg, and after a few seconds like this...
“So he is asleep!” Ayano couldn’t help but say.
Before the blissful sleep-talking, the originally tense atmosphere dispersed in an instant.
His bloodlust gone, Masayuki sat down once more. His expression was solemn, but he no longer was in the mood to maintain his anger.
Masayuki’s reaction did not matter to Kazuma, as he had not cared from the beginning.
Juugo understood everything very well, and because of that, his voice sounded abnormally bitter.
“It is impossible to dream of these guys reflecting upon this. But please do not forget, it is the Kannagis’ arrogance that sparked this fight. If there are no changes, the same thing will just repeat itself.”
Kazuma lifted Ren’s head and placed him on Ayano’s leg.
“There is nothing left for me here. I am going back.”
With this sentence, Kazuma left the residence without looking back.
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