“She’s late,” said Rokurou, one of the directors seated at the boardroom table. Ten of the eleven board members had gathered in a room with a large U-shaped table. Saya Saionji was the only one missing.
“It isn’t even one minute past the appointed time,” said Makita, NGC’s interim CEO who took over for the deceased Kazuki. “Aren’t you being a little too harsh?”
“If she’s going to be leading our group moving forward, I think it’s common sense to be on time for her own meeting.” He closed his eyes with a dissatisfied expression. “She’s the one who requested a physical meeting for her inauguration. I don’t think she understands how much of an inconvenience this is.”
“I completely agree,” said Akane. “Besides, I think we should not rush such an important decision. She still lacks the experience for such a post.”
A woman in her fifties snorted and rolled her eyes. “A pot calling the kettle black? At least the kettle has proven somewhat useful.”
Akane wanted to retort but could only grit her teeth in silence. What Nishino, one of the more conservative members of the board, had said was true. Akane was only an interim representative to the board while Kazuki’s faction was selecting from several candidates. She was one of them, but until a final decision was made, she did not have nearly as much clout as everyone else in the room. Just like Saionji who represented Kaika, she was just a stand-in. Even worse, she was a newer face with nothing of note under her belt. While she had accomplished a lot as Kazuki’s trusted secretary and second-in-command, she was still just that.
Kazuki had left a significant amount of his property to her. There were a number of possible reasons for that, such as preventing his sister Kaika from inheriting a cent, but Akane firmly believed that he had entrusted his goals to her.
“Now, now, Nishino-san,” said Makita with a placating smile. “I understand your reservations, but weren’t we once just as inexperienced? Wrinkles weren’t the only thing we lacked when we first started out, right?”
Nishino sighed. “I ought to smack you for mentioning the word wrinkles and me in the same sentence, but… yes, you’re quite right.”
“Saionji has done more than enough to deserve this promotion. The partnership with Excell wouldn’t have been possible without her efforts.”
“Not to mention the deals she brokered with several chemical energy research groups,” said Yamahashi. He stroked his grey beard as he looked at his colleagues. “For someone so young, no, even without considering her age, those are impressive achievements. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Saionji was the one who pushed NGC forward after we lost Kazuki’s leadership.”
Most of the directors nodded.
These geezers are all enamored by that vixen!
Akane had never met Saionji in person, but she had seen her in video conferences before. While she had not paid much attention to her face, it had still left an impression on her. Saionji, who belonged to Kaika’s faction, was her enemy, but even she could not deny the young woman’s beauty.
Deep inside, Akane knew that Saionji was the only viable candidate for the position of CEO. She was not particularly impressive, but the rest of the board simply had no recent achievements to boast about. Everyone had stagnated, content with their current positions. Petty personal rivalries also prevented most of the older generation from voting for each other. Makita was an exception, but he did not want the responsibility that came with being the head of NGC, an economic Jormungandr. Even with these reasons, Akane still attributed Saionji’s promotion to her feminine wiles.
The boardroom double doors parted open.
Nishino rolled her eyes again and said, “Finally, I was getting tired of-”
She lost her words when a little girl, followed by Saionji, stepped into the room. The entrance of the unexpected visitor caused a stir among the board members. The girl, garbed in a minimalist one-piece frock, casually strode towards the table. Her wavy ebony twintails lightly bounced with each spry step. Her unblemished complexion, glowing under the bright lights, displayed an almost mystical contrast with her pitch-black dress. She unabashedly but gracefully sat down on the open chair at the head of the table. Exuding a mixture of regality and innocence, she looked perfectly at ease on the CEO’s throne. Her inexplicable charisma, along with the sheer incredulity of her presence in that room, confused the directors for several moments.
Akane was one of the first few to regain their wits. “What is the meaning of this, Saionji-san? This is not a place for children. There is a childcare facility on the ground floor if you require one.”
Saionji, who stood beside the girl like an attendant, looked at Akane and smiled. “I assure you there is no mistake, Kogami-san.”
Akane noticed something odd about Saionji. She looked different from her appearance in the few video conferences Akane had attended.
Saionji’s hair was combed up, fully exposing her exquisite features. It was the same face that Akane saw the night Kazuki had been killed. As if acknowledging Akane’s suspicion, Saionji returned her gaze with narrowed eyes.
Akane froze like a deer in headlights. Her mortal enemy, the one who tricked her into killing her beloved, was right in front of her. And she was smiling.
Akane had managed to keep calm after Kazuki’s death by convincing herself it was necessary for vengeance. However, with the culprit before her eyes, her mentality quickly clouded. Her vision turned blood red.
Before Akane opened her mouth, Saionji moved her gaze to the other board members and said, “Members of the board, please allow me to introduce the lady before you. She is the majority shareholder of the Nikaido Group of Companies and the mind behind all accomplishments attributed to myself-”
The little girl raised her left hand, pausing Saionji’s extended introduction. A mischievous yet charming grin spread across her lovely face.
“Kaika Nikaido. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you all.”
Such interesting reactions!
Kaika found it difficult to contain her laughter upon seeing the exaggerated responses of the board members. She peeked at Akane’s face and immediately realized that one of her plans was proceeding smoothly.
Brilliant strategists never had only one plan. Success only came from numerous layers of contingency strategies, each one designed to steer the situation to the desired outcome. Even setting up a physical meeting and adjusting her chair’s height in advance were all building blocks for the tower she was building.
“Is this your idea of a joke?” asked Nishino.
Kaika met Nishino’s gaze. “While I’d be ecstatic if you found my introduction entertaining, I’m completely serious.”
Whispers filled the spacious room.
“Why are you all so surprised?” Kaika tilted her head. “Saya is my representative. This is quite a cold welcome just because I never showed up in person.”
“That’s exactly the problem,” said Makita. “Everyone knows about Karasuma’s daughter, but no one knows who you are. How can we believe someone who just appeared out of nowhere?”
“With all due respect,” Kaika shook her head, “no, scratch that. Anything I say will sound disrespectful to your ears, so I’m going to ignore such pleasantries. I recommend focusing on the content if we’re going to get anywhere.” Kaika clasped her fingers and placed both elbows on the table. “It should be undeniable that I’m the real thing after seeing Saya’s introduction. For someone about to be appointed CEO, there’s no merit in doing something like this if it weren’t true”
Nishino glared at Kaika. “Be that as it may, it doesn’t change how you deceived the board. How can we trust the words of someone who hid behind a puppet all this time?”
“It’s obvious why I had to do that, so I’ll skip that part.” Kaika raised an index finger. “Trust isn’t something given. It is earned. That’s why I chose this time to reveal myself. Think about it. I could’ve just waited for Saya to be appointed CEO and then kept moving behind the scenes like before.”
“Then you have no reason to go out into the open,” said Makita. “Without knowing your motives, there’s no way anyone in this board will recognize you.”
Yamahashi, one of Saya’s supporters, said, “Saionji-san, this is just a gag, right? There’s no way anyone here is going to accept a snot-nosed brat as a board member, much less CEO. If you tell everyone this is a joke, your promotion might still be salvageable-”
Saya’s eyes instantly sharpened. “Hold your tongue, cur. You shall not speak about Ojousama-”
“Apologies, Ojousama.” Saya bowed.
“I understand your misgivings, so allow me to explain,” said Kaika, dispelling the tension with a bright smile. “I have two reasons for revealing myself. The first is to gain your trust. I want you to hear my proposition and voluntarily agree to it. What I plan to achieve is something that requires a united front, not a patchwork fortress that could come apart at the seams at any time because of internal conflict. I cannot do it alone. I need everyone’s assistance for there to be any chance of success.” A brief chuckle escaped her lips. “If all I wanted was to be the CEO, I can just appoint myself. I’m the majority shareholder, after all.”
“What is this ‘proposition’ of yours?” asked Nishino.
“I’ll get to that in a moment. The second reason is much simpler. It’s a pain, you see.”
“”“Excuse me?””” asked a number of board members in unison.
“It’s a pain having to relay instructions through Saya. It would be much easier to discuss matters with all of you directly. Don’t get me wrong, Saya is an excellent stand-in. But in the end, she’s just that. She cannot replace me.”
Saya’s poker face did not move in the slightest after hearing her mistress’s evaluation.
“A united front and direct communication. Those are my two reasons for appearing before you now. If you have no more questions, I will move on to why both are necessary.”
The room fell silent.
Kaika nodded. “Saya.”
Saya operated a terminal, causing the display behind Kaika to come to life. On it were various charts, graphs, and abundant text information.
After listening to the overview of Kaika’s plan, some of the people in the room faintly gasped.
“This is absurd! Such a high risk strategy will never work!” shouted one of the directors.
“…But if it did…” said Makita.
As expected of the interim CEO.
Father had an excellent eye for talent.
He did choose me as his successor, after all.
Time to be a good daughter and fulfill that wish.
“This all looks good on paper, but there’s no way it will go that well,” said Nishino. “Besides, taking over KyberCorp is impossible. They’re our biggest rival!”
“I’m well aware of that,” said Kaika.
“There’s no way you would agree to this, right, Makita-san?” asked a relatively younger board member.
After a few moments, Makita shook his head. “…I, we cannot entrust this company to someone who would lead it to financial suicide, especially if that person is of uncertain caliber.”
Even taking into account my contribution in establishing the Excell partnership, they need more proof of my competence before they’re ready to hear the details.
Just one more push.
She glanced at Akane.
It’s your turn.
Kaika closed her eyes and shrugged. “I completely understand where you’re coming from. Your previous leaders have been weak, after all.”
Akane’s facial color turned bright red. Her fists were shaking.
“My father and brothers were satisfied maintaining this little garden. They never ventured out and eventually rotted away.”
With her expression twisted in fury, Akane stood up and shouted, “What do you mean rotted away!? You were the ones who killed them!!!” Akane pointed her finger at Saya. “That night, I saw you! It was you-”
“Silence!” shouted Kaika.
Akane flinched from the forceful command and ceased her outburst.
“Kogami, was it?” asked Kaika. “You dare call me a child earlier when you cannot even discern what arena you are currently in? Such testimonies do not belong in this room. We are here for business. If you want to play the innocent victim, do it in the courts, missy.”
None of the people in the room were guiltless. A plea for justice was nothing more than a tantrum of an immature child who did not know her place. That exchange clearly showed to the board that Kaika was no mere girl.
Everyone in the room stared at Akane, their faces showing pity, ridicule, or both. Her face red in shame, she grabbed her coat and left the room.
“Where was I?” asked Kaika.
“I believe you were talking about leadership, Ojousama,” said Saya.
“Ah, yes. Unlike your previous leaders, I don’t believe that NGC is fine where it is. I can give you all the inspirational speeches in the world, but I’m sure none of those will move you. What will move you is reality. I’m sure all of you know KyberCorp is quickly catching up to us, and soon we won’t be able to touch them. In a few short years, their advances on cybernetics will leave us in the dust.”
“Moreover, their company name is superior to ours,” said Saya.
Kaika shot Saya a scolding look, and the latter flashed a faint expression of remorse and then quickly bowed in apology. The mistress sighed internally while lamenting her aide’s abysmal sense of naming, humor, and comic timing.
She coughed and continued, “I won’t say that treasuring what you have is wrong, but currently, that is in danger.”
“But this kind of aggressive and widespread expansion is unheard of,” said Yamahashi as his fingers ran through his beard.
“Precisely. No one will see it coming, and that’s why it’ll work. One of the reasons I wanted to do this meeting in person is for information security. What we discuss in this room shall not leave it. I had this location secured for that purpose.”
The faces of Kaika’s audience stiffened. They seemed to have caught on to her veiled threat. Kaika knew that these people were veterans in their field. A threat or two was nothing new to them. That was just a show to prove her worth to her future subordinates. Only power moved power.
Kaika changed her expression to a more serious one. “I don’t have the temerity to claim that this will definitely succeed. However, I will say that the chances are pretty good.”
Better than the gambles I’ve made so far, at least.
Whispers could be heard among the directors. Some operated their terminals, probably consulting with the groups they represented or each other in secret. After a while, they seemed to have reached a consensus.
“Let us hear the details,” said Makita.
“With pleasure.” Kaika smiled broadly. The screen behind her switched to a different image. “WIthout further ado, let’s begin the game of monopoly.”
A shuriken sliced Ageha’s left brow as he dodged to the side. He held his kite shield up and tried to cover as much of his face and torso with it as possible. Peeking over the top, he saw a slender young woman, his opponent, playfully hopping around while spinning the iron weight of her kursarigama above her head. Ageha winced and adjusted his grip on the spear in his right hand.
This is more difficult than I expected.
“Is that all you’ve got? I heard you’ve been racking up wins recently so I got a little worried. What a disappointment,” said the raven-haired woman.
Her braided twintails danced in the rhythm of her hops. She was wearing a kunoichi uniform that exposed her shoulders and upper thighs. Thigh-high tights hugged her lithe legs. It was an absurd outfit for combat, but it served a different purpose in this instance.
“Go! Kill him, ninja-girl!” shouted a blonde gentleman from the audience.
In contrast, an old Japanese man in a suit yelled, “Hey, stop hiding behind a shield and attack! Tear off her clothes!”
Ageha found their cheers amusing because they all focused on the woman’s clothing rather than the actual fight. Costumes like hers garnered attention, and that was precisely the woman’s aim. Most of the fighters in the arena wore fancy costumes for that reason.
Though not of his own will, Ageha was no different. He was wearing his usual black combat suit, but for some reason, he was told to wear black shorts on top of it. A black mask with a terrifying grin painted on it covered his face. An eyepatch covered his right eye, but fortunately, it was only a cosmetic accessory that allowed him to see through. It did not impair his depth perception, but the slight color difference between what he saw with his left eye versus the other felt uncomfortable.
The profiles of a stickler butler and a sleepy teen surfaced in his mind.
I wonder how those two can fight so well like this.
A loud clank erupted from his shield as he deflected the iron weight hurled in his direction. The dense metal cylinder flew past him and crashed into the concrete wall.
Still not good enough…
The kunoichi retrieved the weight with a powerful tug and started spinning it over her head once again. “What’s wrong? You won’t win if you keep defending!”
That’s easy for you to say.
Ageha did not know how to use a spear. Seeing her chosen weapon, he had known that she could attack from a distance. He wanted to provoke that, so he had grabbed the spear from the vast array of weapons available to deter her from close combat.
He swung the shield again to deflect another attack. He then jogged towards the enemy and gradually closed the distance.
“Too slow~” she said.
The kunoichi dashed to the side and and pulled on her chain with her cybernetic arm. With incredible velocity, the iron weight flew towards Ageha from his blind spot and smashed into his right shoulder, causing him to drop his spear. He clenched his jaw and reined in his frustration. Blood from his cut brow slowly dripped into his left eye.
The woman dashed around the arena and circled around him as she spun the weight overhead. She used her cybernetically enhanced legs to sprint at incredible speed. While keeping his shield up, Ageha rotated to keep her in front of him.
She unleashed another throw. Ageha braced his shield with his now free right hand and parried the hurtling weight, but that motion left his side and face uncovered. Several shurikens flew at the openings. Ageha reflexively raised his right shoulder to block the small spinning blades aimed at his face. The sharp edges tore through his suit and skin but did nothing against his alloy muscle.
The kunoichi stopped her dash and smiled at him. “Hmm~ Not bad. That’s some amazing reflexes you have. It would’ve been a tougher fight if you weren’t so top heavy. You’ll never catch me with your speed. It’s a bit sad this won’t see much action,” she played with the scythe in her left hand, “but better safe than sorry, right?”
Ageha did not reply and turned his sights to where the iron weight landed.
“How cold~ You don’t have to be so unsociable, y’know? Just ‘cuz this is a deathmatch doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun!” She hopped left and right and then pulled back the metal weight.
Ageha followed the weight with his eyes and sighed.
I can’t believe using two hands made it this easy.
Ageha regretted using only his shield arm to deflect the blows. Normally, he would immediately notice such an error, but his condition had not been optimal for a while now.
I really need to get out of this slump…
“Well, I don’t hate ‘em silent types. They’re kinda cool? I know! After I beat you, I’ll rip off that creepy mask. If you’re cute, I might just let you live? But I guess that all depends on the audience… Nah, not happening!”
The kunoichi kept bouncing around like a bunny as Ageha observed her. Her cloth mask hid the lower half of her face, but from what Ageha could see, she was a beautiful young woman.
It was common for participants to wear masks in the arena. Along with protecting the combatant’s identity, the mask could feed into their alias and help create a persona for the crowd. The spectators often came up with nicknames for their favorite fighters based on their appearance and fighting style. In the kunoichi’s case, her constant hopping and her bouncing braided twintails had earned her the name Rabbit.
“Still the silent treatment, huh? I wonder how long you can keep that up!” Rabbit spun the chain rapidly and launched the iron weight towards Ageha.
Expecting the attack, Ageha held the shield with both hands and deflected it. The iron weight scraped against the kite shield and flew past him. Due to the angle of his deflection, it hurtled upwards and into the audience stands. It smashed into the collarbone of a middle-aged man in a gaudy white suit. The heavy projectile crushed his chest, killing him instantly. The impact threw him backwards, causing him to crash into an old lady cheering behind him. She fell down and hit the back of her head on the corner of a concrete ledge. Shrieks and cheers erupted from the surrounding spectators.
“Oops… “ said Rabbit, her eyebrows scrunched together. “I’m gonna get an earful from my sponsors after this.”
“You don’t have to worry.”
“Eh?” Rabbit looked surprised after hearing Ageha’s voice for the first time.
Ageha looked up at one of VIP boxes. Its window lost its reflective coating for a brief moment, just enough for him to receive confirmation. Ageha then popped his alloy knuckles and said, “I’ll take care of it.”
Sumire looked at her opponent and felt the hair on her body stand on end. She got the feeling that this was the first time he had ever focused on her. His gaze frightened her. To begin with, she had always been the shy type. She did not like fighting despite her talent for martial arts. However, she needed to pay for her brother’s medical fees. That was why she had become an assassin, had killed so many people, and had even joined the underground arena.
“I know about your brother,” said her masked opponent, his unnerving grin of paint sneering at her.
Sumire immediately lost composure. Was he blackmailing her? Was he asking her to forfeit the match after taking her brother hostage? She tried her best to act as haughty as ever. She needed to force him to rush towards her so she could immobilize him with the chain and deliver a fatal blow with her scythe. That was why she had been taunting him with a fake annoying personality the entire time.
“W-what are you talking about? I’m an only child!” She hurriedly recovered the iron weight with a resolute tug. “Stop blabbing and come at me. Or are you too afraid-”
The kite shield came flying at her. She instinctively rolled to the right and searched for her enemy. The masked man had already covered half the distance between them.
He has cybernetic legs!?
She panicked and threw the metal weight towards him without giving it enough rotational momentum. He easily dodged it by swerving to the side. He then caught the chain with his hands and snapped it apart. While holding the severed part of the chain with both hands, he spun around and hurled it at her. It was a rushed throw, so she avoided it with ease by jumping upwards. The weight and the chain crashed onto the stone floor behind her.
With her attention focused on dodging the projectile, she failed to notice the masked man’s approach. Sumire felt her body get pulled to the ground with tremendous force, as if gravity had increased tenfold. The impact expelled the air in her lungs and forced stomach fluids to spurt from her mouth.
The arena lights blinded her as she stared at the high ceiling. In a daze, she welcomed the shade her enemy brought as he stood over her but quickly regretted it. Cheers exploded around them, but the buzzing in her ears drowned out the sound.
He knelt down beside her unmoving body and said, “You can rest now. Your brother will be taken care of. He will receive proper medical care. You don’t have to do this anymore.”
She did not know why, but she completely believed his words. Ken was going to be fine. She did not have to kill anymore. She was so tired of it. So, so tired.
Of resisting the urge.
She swung the scythe towards his neck with all the strength in her human arm. Contact. She felt warm liquid drip on her face. It was a familiar feeling. She had hated it at first, but after bathing in it so many times, she had found herself longing for it. Sumire had tried to deny it for as long as she could. She had given her utmost to resist the bloodlust, but despite her fear of being spurned by her younger brother, she had grown to love murder.
Her dazed eyes focused on the masked man she had just killed. However, what she saw was his right hand entwined around her crushed left wrist. Her own blood trickled all over her face and neck.
“You did well,” he said, his uncovered eye filled with resignation and self-pity, as if he was seeing himself in a mirror.
“I’m…Sumire…” she said, straining herself to speak.
She closed her eyes as she felt his grip coiling around her neck.
“You could’ve played with her a little more,” said a tall woman in a loose red kimono. “People will start becoming suspicious. Look at it from the perspective of the audience. You were having such a hard time, then you suddenly finish her off like that. It looked totally unnatural. It’s not like your hair turned blonde or white.”
Ageha sighed. “Don’t ask for the impossible. Killing the target by accident was hard enough. If you want a convincing performance, hire an actor.”
“And have them die on me a few seconds into a match? Even I can’t afford that.” The woman chuckled.
Platinum blonde hair sloped down both sides of her beguiling face. The rest of her long mane was rolled up into a bun on top of her head. Her kimono failed to completely conceal her voluptuous bosom, and her womanly curves produced a blatantly erotic appeal. However, her otherwise perfect form was marred. Her right sleeve dangled loosely because there was nothing to fill it.
“If you understand how difficult it is, please stop making unreasonable demands,” said Ageha.
The two of them walked side-by-side down the empty hallway. Except for their matching height, the ornately garbed blonde and the Japanese in a bargain shirt made for an odd pair. Several men in black suits followed them several meters behind.
“Hmm. Okay, fine. The audience probably thinks you just got lucky anyway.” She turned away from him and mumbled, “It would’ve been better if you killed her in a flashier way, though.”
Ageha caught her whisper and glared at her. One of the men behind them stepped forward and tried to get in between the two.
“We’re just joking around, settle down,” said the blonde.
“But Valeriya-sama,” said the bodyguard.
“I can take care of myself, and it’s not like you can do anything against him.” She laughed.
The bodyguard slumped his shoulders and fell back to join his team.
Renovated from an old office complex, the massive building was like a labyrinth inside. Numerous corridors branched in every direction, many ending in dead ends. Most of the passages looked unused, but the rooms had been repurposed for storage or staff use.
After crossing a hallway intersection, Ageha said, “About Sumire’s brother.”
“It’s already been taken care of. Even if you hadn’t nagged me about it, I would’ve sheltered Ken anyway.”
“He has a cute face, just like his sister. I can’t just leave him alone.”
Valeriya’s remarks reminded Ageha of his previous employer, who was similarly demanding. However, unlike Kaika, Valeriya was far more open about her predilections.
Honesty must be something that comes with age.
“Were you thinking of something rude just now?”
What luck. They’re both espers.
“Hmm… Well, it’s fine as long as you keep it to yourself.”
After a short silence, he stopped and said, “…Thank you,” with a quick nod.
Valeriya glanced at him but did not break stride. “It’s no big deal. You can show your gratitude by being a bit more careful next time. Kinjou-san almost got killed.”
“The old lady behind your target Wakutsu. She got hospitalized for a concussion.”
He caught up with her. “I see. I’ll be more careful.”
“That’s a good boy.” Valeriya placed her hand on his head and ruffled his hair.
“…What are you doing?”
Ageha frequently did the same to others, but having his head rubbed like that felt strange to him. He was quite tall, after all, and it required someone of Valeriya’s height to reach his head like that. Moreover, Ageha was generally not accustomed to having affectionate seniors.
“It’s your bonus for doing a good job. In the end, no one suspected a thing. I guess those fools were too high on adrenaline to mind the small things.”
I’d rather have information or money, though.
“Small things? Having their colleagues killed by accident is a small thing? And stop touching my hair.”
“Would you have preferred this instead?” Valeriya slid her hand downward and caressed his right cheek.
Ageha was about to pull away when she abruptly removed her hand.
“Just kidding,” she said with a seductively mature smile.
“Stop doing things like that. Your bodyguards are going to die from cardiac arrest.” Ageha pointed at the posse behind them.
The men scrambled to reorganize themselves before Valeriya looked their way.
“Don’t take it so seriously. I’m not desperate enough to put my hands, er, hand on reserved merchandise, and more importantly, you’re not my type.”
His pride slightly damaged, Ageha was unable to hide a subtle frown.
“Oh, did I hurt your feelings? Don’t get me wrong. You’re plenty attractive. It’s just, right. It’s that.”
“You’re the furthest thing from being cute.”
Ageha chuckled. He could not agree more. Even Rin had found it unlike him to show a cute side.
“To answer your original question,” said Valeriya, “those incidents are considered minor because spectator casualties aren’t rare in the arena.”
“But aren’t those spectators VIPs? Why are they risking their lives to watch people killing each other?”
“You don’t get it?”
He shook his head.
Valeriya made a soft smile. “Those people have gotten too powerful. When that happens, life becomes boring. Trust me, I know.”
Ageha looked at her face and noticed a hint of melancholy in her expression.
She returned his gaze and continued, “By going to the arena and watching from the front rows, they can experience the excitement that they’ve lost. Nothing is more thrilling than risking your life.”
“There are other ways to get an adrenaline rush.”
“That’s where arrogance and status come in. Certain forms of entertainment are reserved for the top echelon of society. Among those, the arena is one of the most exclusive. Gaining entry is limited to a select few, and the exorbitant minimum bet on the matches further limits those who can participate.” She dipped her head for a moment and glanced at Ageha. “I guess the fact that most of them aren’t fit enough for more accessible thrills also narrows down their choices.”
“…Extreme sports for lazy aristocrats.”
“Well put!” She laughed. “The arena is a lethal casino to them. They think they’re leaving their lives to chance, but we know better don’t we?”
“Yeah, at least for the ones you’ve got your eye on.”
“It wouldn’t be possible without you.”
“You’re probably right.”
Valeriya shrugged and mumbled, “Not cute at all.”
They arrived at the exit where several security personnel were stationed as guards. One of guards opened the door for them. A cool spring breeze further ruffled Ageha’s hair and caused Valeriya’s kimono to flutter. She gracefully held her robe until the wind died down. Her motions were elegant and precise. Ageha was not surprised because he had already seen her display such refined movements once before.
Several cars were waiting for them outside. One of the bodyguards jogged to the limousine in the middle of the convoy and opened the door.
“Were they waiting for us out here the whole time?” asked Ageha.
“Of course not. If all the spectators had their cars waiting out here, the place would be congested. I called my men earlier to pick us up. There’s a VIP parking area too, but this is a shorter walk from my private box.”
Valeriya got into the car.
A girl with a cute voice welcomed the Russian. “Ria!”
“Mitsuki! What are you doing here?”
“I came to pick you up because I wanted to see you sooner,” said Mitsuki.
The girl’s sleek black hair gently sloped down her back and shoulders. Her charming features, like an exquisite flower in the midst of blooming, were unmistakably Japanese.
Valeriya glared at the driver, who merely shrugged in resignation. She then sighed and said, “How many times have I told you that it’s dangerous?”
Mitsuki meekly bowed her head. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it. Please don’t be angry.”
Valeriya’s beautiful face took on an expression more fit for a dirty old man.
“Aww, you know that’s not possible. There’s no way I can get angry at my one and only daughter!” Valeriya passionately embraced Mitsuki, squishing her ample breasts against the girl’s soft cheeks.
Seeing Ageha enter the car after Valeriya, Mitsuki pushed the rabid Russian away and promptly fixed her seating posture. The cheerful smile on her face disappeared without a trace. Her eyes sharpened into a glare, and her lips formed an upturned V. “I didn’t know that this will be accompanying us.”
Ageha stifled a sigh.
Here we go again.
Mitsuki was always hostile towards him for some reason.
“Come on, Mitsuki. He’s just gonna ride with us for a bit.”
“But I don’t feel comfortable being around it.”
Valeriya turned to her guest and said, “You heard her, Ageha. Get out of the car.”
The mother spoils her as always.
And don’t say that with such a serious expression.You don’t look like you’re joking at all!
“No way. There aren’t any buses running at this hour,” said Ageha.
“That excuse doesn’t make sense. Just run. What’re those for?” Mitsuki pointed at his legs.
“Putting aside the fact that I’m too tired for that, I’ll be pulled over by the cops if I run at full speed in the middle of the highway. Not to mention I’ll be on the national news tomorrow.”
“I don’t see the problem.”
Ageha tried his best not to get riled up by a middle-schooler and took a deep breath. “Now look here, Valeriya was-”
“That’s Valeriya-sama to you.”
“…Valeriya-sama was the one who brought me all the way out here. It’s only fair that she provides the return trip.”
“Don’t talk like you’re doing Ria a favor. Someone who gets injured from fighting fodder has nothing to brag about.” Mitsuki pointed at his bandaged brow.
How much is she telling this brat?
Ageha could not deny it because he did not know how much he could reveal to Mitsuki. Besides, it was true that he had gotten injured from fighting a weak opponent.
“Mitsuki, can you do me a favor and let him ride with us just for tonight? Pretty please?” asked Valeriya with pleading eyes.
“O-Of course! If Ria says so, I have no reason to oppose.”
Just how far do these two intend to spoil each other rotten?
“Don’t sit so close to me,” said Mitsuki while maintaining her glare.
Ageha raised an eyebrow. “Uh, this is the farthest seat from you, unless you count the passenger’s seat.”
“Looks empty to me. Go right ahead, we’ll wait. Maybe.”
He heard a vein pop in his head. “That’s it-”
“Ageha, please!” Valeriya bowed her head.
He sighed and opened the car door.
“Good. At least you know how to listen to orders,” said Mitsuki.
“It’s not like I’m doing it for you.”
“Naturally.” Mitsuki’s frown softened a little. “I have no right to order you. All I can do is express my opinion and hope you humor me. I’m nowhere near strong enough to make you obey.”
Her words surprised Ageha. The girl was not as childish as he thought.
“But Ria is different. If you see yourself as a part of the underworld, you should obey her every word. Over here, the winner takes all.”
Ageha kept silent because everything Mitsuki had said was true.
“And you lost to Ria, so you should have no complaints.”