Thursday, May 11, 2023 @

Chapter 85, Part 4

  "...Princess Hina." I spoke her name softly, trying to break the tension.
 "Stop!" Hina's voice was sharp and cutting, her frustration palpable. "This matter has already been settled. I won't allow you to rehash it now," she continued without making eye contact or even facing me.
 "But why...?" I asked.
 It was clear that Hinata had some involvement in the culmination of events in that meeting room, which had most likely followed a predetermined script.
 Moreover, I remembered faintly -- but with certainty -- the silhouette that had rescued me, carrying me from Hotoya Village at my near-death state. It was undeniable that it was Hina, given her height.
 In other words, my fate was in Hina's hands. This had sparked outrage and disdain from Uemon and the people around her, leading to her house arrest.
 I didn't understand why she would go so far for me. I mean, I didn't deserve that much from her. On the contrary, I had even abandoned her once and fled, and had ended up working for her little sister as a lowly servant.
 "Don't misunderstand. I'm the one who recommended you to Yun-shoku. If you cause any trouble, it will be my responsibility. It's only natural that I would clean up the mess," Hina said matter-of-factly, as if fulfilling a duty. But that doesn't convince me. It is too weak a reason to protect me.
 "But... no, I understand," I try to ask further, but I stop myself. It's beyond my place as a lowly servant to pry any further. I had no choice but to withdraw.
 "Very well. I have been ordered to go under house arrest, so I shall take my leave here," Hina spoke with a cold, yet composed tone. "Yun-shoku, you're not fully recovered yet, are you? You should tend to your own health in your quarters."
 With that, Hina swiftly turns on her heels and walks down the corridor of the mansion, her steps echoing ominously in the silence. But stops briefly and glances back at me as if she's hesitant to leave.
 "Huh. It's still hard to keep up the formality when I'm being referred to as Princess (-sama)," Hina says with a hint of nostalgia and amusement.
 Caught off guard by her sudden remark, I let out a dumbfounded cry. Seeing me like that, Hina's expression, which had been hardened for a long time, relaxed slightly.
 She was smiling as if she had been playing a trick on me when I was a child.
 "Ah..." I mutter, trying to comprehend her thoughts.
 "Well then, farewell."
 But that was only for a moment and the next moment, she returns to her usual dignified and cautious expression as she walks away. I tried to reach out to her, but realizing my position, I let my hand drop and just silently watch her back as she fades into the distance.
 And I finally understand. This farcical exchange was done out of pure goodwill.
 "Goodwill, and fairness, huh...?" I whisper to myself, feeling a strange sense of gratitude as Hina disappear around the corner into the hallway.
 That's right. She is a person who is staunchly loyal to her principles, compassionate towards everyone, never forgets even the smallest of favors, and shows great kindness even when others make mistakes.
 Her actions were calculated, and I think she understands that now, if not then. Nevertheless, she must have felt indebted to me for my actions. And then, she probably accepted the rationality of my actions this time around.
 (But where did she get this information from...? Maybe from someone like Gorilla-sama?)
 Anyway, this time, Hina's actions were a kind of repayment for my connection with her in her childhood. She really is honest, even though she could be disappointed with my actions at the last minute…
 "I'm sure this is the only time... but it's a relief."
 It would be cheeky of me to ask for her help again and again. Just surviving with just my skin intact this time is already fortunate.
 "After all, this is where the true test begins."
 In terms of time, the tutorial must have just ended. There are many deviations from the original story... but whatever it is, there is always a way if the protagonist is still alive. Well, it can't be helped that the protagonist who become woman is unreliable. At best, I hope my sisters in the countryside are well taken care of.
 "Come to think of it, what happened to Iruka…?"
 I wonder what happened to her? Not only that. Botan and the White Spider Brat have also disappeared. I think Botan and the others are doing well, but I'm worried about my men I left behind with Uemon.
 (D*mn, I thought it was all over... I didn't think ahead enough. Though it's better than dying, but still…)
 I can't help but laugh at my own irresponsibility and recklessness. And it was thanks to Hina that I could laugh at my own foolishness like this. Thinking about this made me feel even more pitiful.
 "For now, let's go back…"
 My body was far from the best condition, exhausted and suffering from muscle pain as if ordered to do so. And something about my body felt dry… maybe it was due to dehydration? I wanted to wipe myself with a warm hand towel, even if I couldn't take a bath…
* * *
 The time was approaching evening, and the sky was beginning to turn a deep shade of red. I head toward the small hut, ignoring the curious glances of the residents as I pass them by.
 "Hmm? What is that over there?"
 I tilted my head for a moment when I saw white cooking smoke billowing from the hut set up in the corner of the residence. But I immediately realized that it probably belonged to Magoroku and the others who were taking care of my absence, and I felt uncomfortable.
 For two people who live in the hut like my servants, this turmolt must have made them uneasy.
 If I were to be punished, they would have nowhere to go. They would have been immediately kicked out of the estate, without any job or place to sleep. It would be incredibly difficult for them to survive in the harsh northern lands, especially the blind, weak, and fragile sister. If that happened, their future would be bleak... and I felt guilty, realising that my reckless and selfish actions had caused all this.
 (And what's worse, even if I had realised it at the time, I probably would have gone ahead with it, just to help my sister. I'm truly a terrible person.)
 I sigh, realizing that I'm causing too much trouble. Although they probably won't say anything, I am sure they are displeased with my behaviour. As they were both in a largely dependent position, they could not speak frankly to me.
 "Perhaps being scolded would be easier... but, that would be selfish too."
 My return home would be uncomfortable, but I had no choice. It's a fair price to pay for what I've done - a just consequence for my sins. And I resolved to accept it.
 Now, I walk up to the cabin, a little unsteady, hesitate for a moment, and then slowly open the door, ready to go. And then...
 "Here, 'Gokou (五光)'," said the half-youkai wolf, sitting like a boss, as she looked over at the purple-haired girl. "Looks like you're...paying the price. So I win, huh?"
 The purple-haired girl let out a scream of despair. "Aaah!!? Whyyyyy!!?" she cried.
 She slammed her hanafuda cards on the floor in frustration, while the half-youkai grinned with satisfaction.
 "Now, as promised, I'll take that obi of yours," the half-youkai said, reaching out to grab the obi from the flailing girl.
 "Nooooo!! You can't just take everything....Kyaaaaaaaaah!!?" The bobbing-headed girl protested, but the half-youkai showed no mercy as she snatched the obi away from her with a smirk. The girl was already dressed only in a thin white kimono, and beside the half-youkai, laid a mountain of treasures that must have come from her earlier victories.
 "Well, what do you want to do? You want to stop now?" The half-youkai asked.
 "Uuuuugh...!!! Not yet! I can't go home like this....! One more time!! I'll play again...!! I'll win this time!! Come on!!" The half-naked girl declared, blushing and whimpering as she covered her white underwear with the untied obi.
 "Hehehe...You got some spirit, don't you? Good luck. And I'll give you back everything I've pawned if you win even once," the half-youkai said, shuffling the deck. She couldn't resist cheating to ensure her victory this time, and only 'zurazu' cards were left for the purple-haired girl.
 Anyway, I'm getting away from the topic at hand. Yup. I go back outside the hut, take a deep breath and calm down to assess the situation. Okay, okay. That's how it goes. Alright then...now what?
 "Wait, wait, wait?! What are you doing in someone else's house!!!??"
 I shouted as I rushed to the door.

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