Chapter 116: Interlude Part 2
… … …
A few days after Miharu, Aki and Masato were taken to Saint Stella Kingdom—
Sendou Aki had a dream of when she was a child. It was nine years ago, before Haruto’s and her parents divorced.
The Amakawa house was dual income. With both parents working, they didn’t have much time to take care of the kids.
For the still-young Aki, rather than her parents, the work of raising her was left to Haruto and Miharu.
It was only natural for her to love the two of them as much as she did, and they made an ideal brother and sister to her.
Although their intimacy often took them to their own little world, Aki was happy just being able to see them together.
The young Aki in the dream called to them.
It felt strange.
Usually there was only a feeling of resentment whenever she thought of the boy, but at the moment there was none.
The Aki from her dream was absentmindedly watching Haruto and Miharu.
Their surroundings were covered in jet black darkness, the three of them in the sole white space.
It was a memory of them playing house; Haruto and Miharu were the parents, and Aki playing the part of their daughter.
It was the exclusive privilege of Aki’s to be pampered like this.
「Onii-chan, Onee-chan, let’s play house!」
As always, they answered with a smile.
These moments of bliss should never end, she thought.
「I want us to stay like this forever…」
「We can’t. Tomorrow’s not a holiday.」
But Haruto turned her down with a troubled look.
「Ehh~ but I want to sleep with Onii-chan and Onee-chan.」
She wanted the three of them to always be together.
Aki was a bit envious of what Haruto and Miharu were to each other, they never left her out.
「You see, we can only do that when the next day’s a day off.」
「Can’t you do something, Haruto-kun?」
His only weakness, Miharu, timidly interjected.
「Well, if Mi-chan asks, I guess so… Do you want to sleep in my room tonight, Aki?」
「Ah, is that okay?」
Like a switch being flipped, Aki brightened up in the blink of an eye.
「Yeah, but, you’re always sleeping with Mom and Dad. Are you sure you won’t cry in the middle of the night?」
「I-I won’t cry! I’ll be okay as long as it’s with Onii-chan!」
「Alright, then let’s sleep together tonight, Aki.」
Off to the side, Miharu was muttering something under her breath.
「So… That’s so unfair, Aki-chan…」
Haruto stopped, stunned, then smiled wryly.
「Did you want to sleep with Aki, too, Mi-chan?」
「Mm, that’s right, but…」
「You can stay over on our next day off.」
「Can I sleep with you then too?」
Haruto and Miharu turned back to Aki, answering together.
「Ehehe~ it’s a promise.」
「Yeah, it’s a promise.」
「Onii-chan, Onee-chan, you’ll always be with me, right?」
So she requested, beaming innocently.
「Yeah, we’ll be here for you, Aki-chan.」
When the two of them nodded to her, the white area around her darkened.
She couldn’t see her own fingers, much less anything else.
She called anxiously.
Then she heard Miharu respond from the darkness.
She was relieved.
—Miharu-oneechan didn’t break her promise. Even after the divorce, she stayed by my side, and slept with me when I was sad.
—She’s not like him. Even though he said we could sleep together. Even though he promised we’d always be together.
She couldn’t suppress those feelings of hers.
She couldn’t help being frustrated.
Of course, she understood the situation.
Aki knew her resentment wasn’t justified.
But emotion and logic were two different things.
「Aki-chan, wake up… Aki-chan…」
Someone was shaking her.
The words slipped from her mouth.
Aki’s eyes shot open.
Miharu’s confusion reached her ears as light filled her vision.
They were in a room in the Saint Stella royal palace that was given to the two of them.
Miharu looked worried for her.
「Good morning. Are you not feeling okay? Your face is a little pale.」
「Morning. I’m fine. More importantly, did I say something just now?」
She had a pretty heavy dream. She was curious if she said anything strange, but Miharu just shook her head.
「Eh? No… Nothing in particular.」
Relieved, Aki let out a gentle breath.
「I’ve finished preparing breakfast, but, do you think you can eat?」
「Thank you. Miharu-oneechan, that’s…」
Her eyes widened seeing Miharu having donned one of the royal maids’ uniforms.
「I can’t just sit around idly. I asked Liliana-sama if there was anything I could do, so she requested I take care of you and Masato-kun. It’s better for the both of you, too.」
Miharu was originally supposed to stay in the castle as a guest.
She could have asked for anything and gotten it without a fuss, but Miharu stubbornly refused.
「Is that so. I guess you’re right that it’d make us more comfortable…」
Aki thought back to the uproar of a few days ago.
It lasted the entire ride to Saint Stella and then some.
Miharu and Takahisa never stopped fighting even while they were being guided to the castle.
The entire thing was just one extended argument, a continuation of what happened when they first took off.
Takahisa was being obstinate, repeatedly refusing Miharu’s requests to be sent back to Galwark.
Both sides had no intention of backing down, but Takahisa held all the cards, deeming it impossible for Miharu to go back alone.
In the end, Miharu’s been in Saint Stella under what was effectively house arrest with the royal treatment.
Their relationship has gone south, too. Neither of them had been willing to even speak to the other.
And Aki, who cared for both of them dearly, was only able to bite her nails and watch.
「Miharu-oneechan, do you hate Onii-chan?」
「… I’m very angry with him, but I don’t hate him.」
She answered in a harsher voice than usual. Aki knew she was more than just angry.
In all their years together Aki had never seen Miharu, the embodiment of kindness, get truly mad about something.
「Ah—you see, I don’t think Onii-chan is opposing you going back to Galwark out of malice. Onii-chan is worried about you, Miharu-oneechan.」
「I know that, Aki. But, I’m sorry. I can’t accept it that easily. My feelings aren’t going to change.」
Miharu stressed a little as she spoke.
「But, he said that Haruto-san and Satsuki-san were okay with it. I think it’ll be fine. It’s not like we’ll never see them again, and it seems like they’ll come sooner or later.」
Aki was frantically trying to bring Miharu over to Takahisa’s side, but all she gave her was a stiff smile.
「I’m sorry. Aki-chan, let’s stop here. I’m going to call Masato-kun so the three of us can have breakfast together, okay?」
Miharu quickly left the room, and Aki heaved a deep sigh as the door closed.
I can’t let things stay this way. I wonder how it ended up like this. And I can’t even do anything to help them get along again…
Noon of the same day, in the castle’s training grounds.
Takahisa and Masato were dueling each other with a wooden practice sword in their hands.
Masato carried a shortsword and shield, while Takahisa had a longsword in both hands.
A minute had already passed by since they began, and though Takahisa’s physical abilities seemed to give him an overwhelming advantage, Masato was deftly deflecting each swing with his shield.
「Masato-sama only learned swordsmanship after coming to this world, right? Takahisa-sama mentioned he never learned before.」
One of Liliana’s royal knights, Hilda, was watching wide-eyed while talking with Aki.
「It’s the truth. He only started learning after we arrived here.」
「Then, then one who taught him…」
「It was Haruto-san, the person who protected us.」
「I see, so it was the Black Knight. It makes sense if it was under his tutelage.」
Hilda looked on at Masato with admiration, much to Aki’s surprise.
Masato was focusing on protecting himself the entire time, gauging Takahisa’s skill.
Then suddenly, he turned on the offensive.
「Here I come, Aniki!」
He parried another swing of Takahisa’s sword with his shield, and immediately stepped in close past Takahisa’s defense.
「Just try it!」
Takahisa twisted his body, bringing his sword with him.
The sword drew a tight arc, but Masato brought up his shield to match it.
Shifting the point of impact, he broke Takahisa’s momentum and staggered him.
If he’d missed it by a second, Masato would have been blown away.
A rookie would have stiffened up when facing that kind of close-range attack, but Masato didn’t hesitate to step forward into it.
Be it the training that made him feel like his life was in real danger, or his natural courageousness, he was scoring some serious points in Hilda’s eyes.
Masato corrected his stance as he shouted, pushing toward Takahisa with his shield in front.
He was never going to match in strength, but it was easy enough to keep the already-struggling Takahisa off balance.
「Your aim is weak, Aniki!」
Takahisa stepped back, swinging his sword once to gain some distance, but Masato turned on the balls of his feet, knocking the elder’s sword upward with his shield.
Right away, Masato threw his sword arm forward into Takahisa’s chest, but—
He shouldn’t have been able to get into a defensive position, but Takahisa somehow recovered.
He swung with astonishing speed, colliding against Masato’s sword with his own.
Forced into a contest of raw strength, Masato’s weapon was knocked skyward, spinning wildly for a good few seconds before it landed and rolled along the ground.
Masato wasn’t happy with the result, glaring at Takahisa for obvious reasons.
「Oi, Aniki. You used reinforcement at the end. That’s cheating! We agreed before we started: no powers!」
Masato was supposed to win that match, but Takahisa used his divine raiment’s abilities.
「Ah… yeah, sorry. Guess I got too absorbed in it.」
The older brother apologized awkwardly, hand rubbing the back of his neck.
「Tch, it’s fine. But it’s your loss, yeah?」
「Yeah. You win.」
「Then you should do what you promised and go apologize to Miharu-oneechan. I know Haruto-anchan might have left already, and Satsuki-neechan will come here soon enough, so it might be pointless to go back, but you need to stop insisting that we can’t.」
He protested soundly, Takahisa only looking nervous.
「… I got it. I’ll give her a proper apology later.」
It wasn’t enough to satisfy him, but Masato wasn’t going to push it any further.
「I’m holding you to that.」
Ending the conversation on that, Masato started his swinging regimen to clear the gloomy weight on his shoulders.