success are immeasurable.


 (Well, in other words, no one is willing to do anything except for profit.
…It's very obvious, isn't it?)


 Kochou was silent again in response to Hina's question, and she commented mockingly in the back of her mind as she watched the heavy atmosphere in the seats.


 ”I know what you're talking about, but dear sister, do you really want to go?”

 ”What about you? I'm skilled in swordsmanship, but you, who uses a fan, are not a good match for them, are you?”


 …It was Aoi again who broke the silence.
When she declared this to her big sister as if she was trying to provoke her, Hina calmly responded to her, but with a sting in her words.


 ”Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.
To be told like that by someone who has no special skill but playing with fire…
and don't worry if it's swordsmanship.
If it's just swinging a stick, I'm sure I can refine it if you let me watch it a couple of times.”



 The obvious abuse from the little sister made Hina's eyes widen and she was unintentionally sending out a deadly fury.
Aoi, however, who was directly receiving it with a cool expression, gave a cold smile in return.


 ”My little sister…
you are joking too much! Do you know what you're doing here!!”

 ”Oh, I'm not joking at all.
I'm always serious.
I'm much more serious than some people…
who make an emotional and irreversible mistake.”

 ”Don't be stupid…!”


 If there had been a sword by her side, Hina would have pulled it out without hesitation.
However, it can't be said that she is fortunate that she doesn't have a sword.
After all, she had been covered with a terrible fire all over her body for the first time.
In a sense, it would have been better if she had pulled out her sword, considering the characteristics of the flames created by her spiritual power.


 ”Hina-dono!? Please stop! That flame…
that flame is too much!?”

 ”Aoi-dono, that's no way to talk to your sister…!”


 The people around them, or the adults belonging to both factions, were frightened and tried to admonish them.
However, it was out of self-defense.
If the two girls were to collide with them with all their might, everyone would almost certainly be swept away like insects, and their lives would almost certainly be collateral damage.


 ”Huff~, Shisui.”

 ”Yes, ma'am.”


 Kochou, who had been watching the situation, sighed…
called out the person's name with a sigh of utter disgust.
Kizuki Shisui answered at the same time, his eyes reflecting the two sisters who were on the verge of a confrontation.



 ”Oh my, oh my…”


 At the same time, the sisters are bound as if their bodies were bound by invisible ropes.
Although this was only to buy time…
it was still enough to throw cold water on the two sisters.


 ”Princesses, please calm down.
A quarrel in a place like this will only degrade both of you.”


 One of them was hostile and the other one was cold, but Shisui admonished them without hesitation.


 For a while, the air is heavy with a sense of hatred…
The people around the sisters are nervous and watch their every move uneasily.
And then…


 ”…You're right.
The servants' head is right.
It's not proper to make a fuss here.
Thank you for your admonition.”

 ”Huh!? …I know.
I'm very reluctant to do so, but I'll settle the matter here in deference to your face.”


 Aoi pulls back first in a cheerful manner, and Hina bites her teeth and withdraws reluctantly as if in response to her words.
Both of them are relieved and look at Shisui, who has settled the situation, with an apologetic look.
They must think that Shisui is an excellent candidate for the former head of the family.


 (…What a funny thing.)


 And the advisor gave a small laugh at the sight of him.
She laughed indifferently and with a clear mockery.
Aside from Shisui himself, Kochou thought the rest of them looked like a bunch of fools.
It was not because of Shisui that the sisters were attracted to him.
It was only because he was the head of the servants' group.


 Kochou knew that even if they did not like Shisui's behavior, it was not an option for either of them to hurt him or even kill him.
Shisui was indeed a skilled fighter, and he would be quite difficult to kill.
But more than that, she knew very well that killing him would only cause indirect pain to the young man whom the sisters were both in love with.


 Unfortunately, no one in Kizuki's family could be called the best than Shisui, who had the rank of a servant's head at the moment…
That was the only and the biggest reason why they did not make a fuss at this moment.




 What a bunch of incompetent and stupid granddaughters…
Kizuki's adviser has a scathing assessment of her two blood granddaughters from their earlier tussle.
The two sisters are like oil and water, when in fact they are nothing more than half-breeds…


 (Both of them have idealized him, pushing their own desires on him and trying to see only what they want to see.
Indeed, they are the most splendid children……)


 Kochou's evaluation of her granddaughters is too harsh, and even though she is prejudiced against the Kizuki family itself, at least she is not wrong.


 (….What a poor child.
He must be in pain.
He must be suffering.
It's so poor.)


 That's exactly what she's known since he came to the house when he was bought.
She has seen it all.
The hardships the boy endured at the behest of the grandchildren, the orders of the adults, and the stares of those around him.
It is a miracle that he was able to survive in that situation at that age.
And it was the granddaughter of the older one who broke the balance and brought the situation to what it is today.


 (And it's my younger granddaughter who is putting him through even more hardship.
Really, I can't say anything…)


 Kochou is appalled at the younger granddaughter who is so lenient at such a critical moment.
…She, her grandmother is deeply disappointed.


 …On the one hand, she loves him blindly but does not try to understand and torments him, on the other hand, she puts him in too dangerous a situation to be with her and fantasizes about an ideal future.


 ”…What a foolish thing.”


 It was a small, really small soliloquy.


 Ah, yes.
Stupid granddaughters indeed.
That boy neither wants nor desires such a thing, and he would be bewildered if it were offered to him.


 All he wants is peace.
Peace of mind.
A simple, ordinary life is the only thing he wants.
Yes, it's like those distant, nostalgic days for Kochou, who has lived too long to be a human being.
Like the smiling days spent with that person…




 Kochou shivers quietly as she retraces her memory of the past.
It is because she has realized how much she has aged along with her memories of the past.


 Even if she looks young and fresh on the outside, it is only a facade.
Her thoughts become sluggish, her soul begins to creak and stagnate, and her memories rust and fade.
Her memories of a naive and naive girlhood, which only a few years ago could be recalled in vivid colors, can now only be remembered in sad black and white.


 No, that is not what is truly frightening.
It is the fact that the image of that person whom she was spoiled by, depended on, and adored in her girlhood, the person whom she loved, is gradually fading away day by day, and she can no longer remember the face of that person.


 ”…Oh, no, I don't like it.
I broke it.”


 Kochou muttered to herself in a small, scornful, self-mocking way.
No one around her noticed, but the smoking pipe in her hand was broken.
She had been so terrified that she had been unable to even control her strength and had crushed it.


 And inwardly she thinks…
She makes excuses.
Defending herself.
She rattles off a long list of reasons in her brain for making this choice.
But an excuse is still an excuse.
The real reason is something else.
Yes, there is.


 (I'm worried about that boy…)


 A servant is still a servant, no matter what position he occupies like Yun-shoku.
Considering how the previous or former Yun-shoku died, how can he feel secure in his position? Moreover, he is the same as her.
He won't send his men to their deaths and stand back comfortably himself.
It's obvious that he'd go to the scene of the crime for any number of good reasons.
And she felt unsafe leaving him in the hands of the first princess who didn't understand him, and the second princess who was always so lax.


 So she declared.
She pretended as if she had no choice, and she feigned a composed attitude, and she said it with an air of composure.
…Hiding her ulterior motive.


 ”I can't help it.
Maybe, I should visit him for the first time in a long time?”


 Despite the sisters' intention, it takes another hour or so for the family to accept Hu Kochou's offer due to the intensifying factional strife and the risk of losing the candidates for the next head of the family…


* * *


 ”Ah, he's gone home, isn't he?”


 a girl with honey-colored hair boasts through the double windows of the trading house, which is prepared for the cold weather of the northern region.
She looks at the boy with a grim look on her face, who is riding on a horse and making some kind of light talk.


 She wanted him to stay overnight, but unfortunately, her request was denied.
Therefore, Kayo decided to look at his back with a sense of regret.
However, the world does not work that way.
After all…


you've done it.
Why are you doing this to me!!”


 Behind her, the old maid, who had been sent to the store for shopping in a desperate attempt to get her way, looks at her with a tone of half anger and half dismay.
It seems that she has heard the story from the other maid, and she is sure she will be lectured for a long time to come.
But Kayo was prepared for that from the beginning.


 ”Hehehe, please forgive me, Tsuru.
It's true that I said I wanted to eat this, right?”


 She took a glance at the dumplings sold at a common sweet shop where middle-class people in the city eat.
The dumplings were still warm and steaming on the ceramic plate.
The only difference is that the owner of the sweet shop is from the central part of the country, so the dumplings are seasoned in a capital style.
At any rate, it is not something that an upper-class Kayo would go to buy in person in this country where the status system is strictly regulated.


 ”…By the way, the child accompanying him does not look familiar to me.
Was there such a person in Kizuki's house?”


 Kayo says her question as she looks at the back of the person who is leaving.
No one noticed because she was looking out the window, but Kayo's eyes narrowed.
She glares at the two of them, or more precisely at the young child on the horse, with a jealous look in her eyes.


 ”By the looks, that must be a child of the temple, isn't it? Children with spiritual power are often entrusted with such children.
It is also common for them to be sold off to exorcist houses.”


 Tsuru guesses without any particular curiosity.
Without the isolation of exorcists, being a spiritual person would be an inconvenience.
Especially in a rural village, it is not surprising that they are avoided because of their ability to attract youkai.


 And the case that parents, siblings, or village chiefs offered such troublesome children to temples and shrines in exchange for a small amount of money and children was, however, much more relaxed than it had been in the past.
In the olden days, they would have been thinned out or thrown away in the mountains the moment they were discovered to have spiritual power.
On the contrary, it was for a kind of social salvation and goodwill that temples started to take care of them as children.
…at least in the beginning.


 ”Heh~ I see.
A child…
yes, a child.”


 For a moment, it seemed to Tsuru that the indescribable tone of her lord voice, which seemed to be both listening and not listening at the same time, contained a sense of disgust.
But when the old maid felt something disturbing, there is an impressive and light sound of a gulp.


…ehhh, I accidentally bit my tongue….”


 Kayo turned around and opened her mouth with a deceptive smile.
Her expression is somewhat embarrassing, like a brat who has found out about her mischief.
Tsuru noticed this attitude.


I don't suppose you were licking candy throughout the whole meeting?”

 ”Hahaha ……”


 Again, a deceptive smile.
And then she popped a small white lump out of her mouth.
A small white lump is put back into the drawstring bag in her pocket.
This bag of candy, which seems to be the favorite of this girl since she left the capital, is always at hand.
….and Tsuru is taken aback by this.


 ”What a disgrace! Miss, I know you're trying hard to follow in your father's footsteps, but you'll ruin it if you behave in such a bad manner!”

but, my mouth is lonely.

 ”Don't heh-heh!”

 ”Geez! Don't be so angry…
you bought the dumplings so let's eat them together, okay?”


 Kayo's shoulders trembled at Tsuru's reprimand, but she suggested as if she was trying to put the angry old maid in a good mood.





 ….Naturally, Tsuru gives her a further sermon, as if she is disgusted by such an attitude.
The sermon was long and seemed to go on for a while.


 (But still…)


 Then, in the middle of the sermon, the old maid suddenly thought.
Come to think of it, wasn't this honey-colored girl not so good at the candy? But the candy that she took out from her mouth was indeed white…


 But such a question is trivial.
It does not matter what kind of candy it was.
The problem is her rash behavior and rudeness.


 Therefore, Tsuru lectures and disciplines her like a nagging stepmother.
She did not care if it was disgusting to the other girl and she herself would be hated by her.
After all, Tsuru sincerely hoped for Kayo's sake that she would become a respectable woman, a refined and cultured businesswoman with good manners, and a lady…

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