“Um… actually,” you interrupt, timidly raising your hand. “That isn’t true. There was actually just one youkai there.”
“…Hnn?” Lady Kanako voices her surprise, slowly deflating, her bewildered eyes staring at you.
“We beat each other up pretty bad, but I had it down on the ground,” you say, lowering your hand. “But… well, I didn’t finish him off, hoping for… uh, I don’t… I don’t really know, but I thought he wouldn’t be able to get up so soon, and well… Sanae was knocked out at the time, and I was worried about her, so…” You feel your eyes slowly drifting to the floor, your head lowered.
“…And that’s why you were injured?” Lady Kanako asks, folding her arms together and looking at you with much colder eyes.
You give a shrinking nod, unable to take your eyes off the floor under the god’s gaze.
“…I see. You’re a naïve boy, aren’t you,” she states in a curt, icy tone. “It seems an age of peace softened even the warmongering tengu.”
You give no reply, clutching your knees.
“Your mercy could have resulted in the death of you both,” she continues to scold you. “Sanae’s safety was entrusted to you. If you weren’t prepared to do whatever it would take to ensure her protection, knowing that the situation may be dangerous, you should not have volunteered for it.”
“…I’m sorry,” you say, not daring to look up.
“…Well, your concern for her was admirable, at the least,” Lady Kanako says after a pause, her tone gradually warming up again. “As is your honesty. While I’ve known some of the tengu to be at times untruthful or deceptive, you don’t seem to follow their examples.”
You accept her small praises with silence, still not looking up at her.
“I suppose my Sanae’s performance wasn’t exactly something to boast about, either,” she says with a sigh. “She’s still inexperienced, in many ways. Sending her to exterminate a youkai so soon was too much.”
She falls into silence, and you raise your head in curiosity. Her eyes are narrowed and distant, and slowly, her shoulders begin to shake, as a sudden look of realization falls on her face. At first, it’s just a small twitch or two, until it grows into violent trembling. “Sanae lied to us!” she says in a panicked voice, clutching and tugging at her face dramatically. “Why would she do that!? I never taught her to lie!”
“Pipe down, I can’t hear the music!” Lady Suwako tears her eyes away from the device to shout at the other god.
“You!” Lady Kanako says bitterly as she scoots herself over to her, snatching the device out of her hand. “Stop playing with this thing already! Our Sanae’s integrity is in question here!”
“Ah, hey, give that back!” Lady Suwako says indignantly as she jumps for the device, but the other god quickly moves her hand out of the way, away from her reach.
“Um, please calm down!” you say futilely, as the two of them begin wrestling for the device in front of you while shouting names at each other like kids. They… they really are like this all the time, aren’t they?
The action suddenly grinds to a halt as the door to the house slides open, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching the living room. Lady Suwako takes advantage of the situation, snatching the device back while Lady Kanako’s still stunned. She doesn’t seem to notice it, and she hurriedly shuffles back to her seat on the table, doing her best to look dignified again.
“Ahem, welcome back, Sanae,” she says, clearing her throat.
“Oh, do we have a visitor? There’s an extra pair of shoes here,” Sanae calls from the doorstep. Soon, she walks in carrying a paper bag stuffed with groceries in her arms.
She lets out a gasp of surprise at the sight of you, but she soon gives you a smile and a wink before heading into the kitchen, dropping off her bag of groceries there. She reemerges soon after, hurrying over to the table in the center of the room. She plops herself down next to you, grinning widely. “Oh thank goodness you’re okay,” she says in a relieved tone of voice.
“Ahem,” Lady Kanako clears her throat again, to catch Sanae’s attention. “Sanae, why did you lie to us about the encounter with the youkai?”
“Eh?” Sanae blinks, not understanding the question until a few moments later. “Oh! Ohhh. Well, um, a lot was going through my mind at the time, and I wasn’t really thinking when you were questioning me. I was just sort of nodding to everything…”
“Oh,” she replies in a dull tone. “…Well, I guess that’s… okay.”
Lady Suwako mumbles something about making a mountain out of mole hills, earning a dirty look from her fellow god.
“Actually, this is perfect,” Sanae says brightly, turning to you again. “Do you mind if I borrow you for just a bit?”
“Huh? Um, I’m not sure what you mean by that, but…”
“Good,” she nods cheerfully, standing up on her feet. “Follow me outside, please.”
You stand up with her, and she quickly snatches you by the wrist, practically dragging you along. She rushes you with a “come on, come on,” as the two of you put on your shoes and step outside to the shrine grounds. She leads you to the edge of the lake, where she turns around to face you, her hands clasped behind her back.
“Okay, first of all…” she says, before suddenly bowing to you. “I’m really, really sorry.”
“It’s because of me that you were hurt,” she says, frowning. “I… couldn’t do anything against him. I was too scared. I was so scared I couldn’t even move. I should have been able to exterminate him, but all I could do was be a liability. I’m so sorry.”
“You shouldn’t be sorry for that,” you say. “You weren’t ready. Anyone would have been terrified.”
“And if you hadn’t distracted him at that final moment, Miss Aya might have been too late to save me,” you remind her. “Thank you.”
“Oh,” is all she can say in response, her cheeks reddening a little. “Um… a-anyway. It… was hard, telling those villagers what happened to the people who went in the forest, but… but they thanked us,” she finishes with a slight smile. “And they’re really kind, even if they’re a bit… um, well, youkai-like.”
“I’m glad everything worked out.”
“…Yeah,” she says, nodding. “So, um… are you really okay?” she asks suddenly, concerned.
“Yeah, I’m perfectly okay.”
“Oh. Youkai really are amazing,” she says with a nervous laugh. “Then… I’d like to ask a favor, if you don’t mind.”
“What is it?”
“Please spar with me,” she says, her eyes determined.
“I have to be ready,” she says, nodding enthusiastically. “I can’t be standing around next time. So please, I want you to help me train. Not just danmaku, but real fighting.”
“Um, is that okay? I mean, don’t your gods…”
“Even if I asked them, they’d hold back on me,” she says, shaking her head. “…I can’t train like that.”
[ ] Accept her challenge.
[ ] Decline.
[ ] Recommend someone else.