Part 6Music: play track 1
My mother died from illness after Akiha was born, so the Tohnos had dwindled down to me and my sister.
Being the eldest son, you would think I would stand to become the Tohno heir... but I have no such privilege.
To become the Tohno heir means being bound by a strict upbringing.
I have lost count of the number of times my father scolded me over my dislike of not being able to live freely.
That was when I got involved in that accident, and my body became weakened... My father saw it as a good opportunity to get rid of me.
His reasoning was something along the lines of "someone who could die any moment can't become the heir, even if he is the eldest son".
Sadly for my father, I betrayed his expectations by making a recovery, but my sister Akiha was already deemed to be the heir to the Tohno household.
And so I've heard that Akiha, who was already being raised harshly in order to become a proper daughter of the Tohno household, received an even harsher upbringing since then.
That was a long time ago--I played together with Akiha in the mansion back before the accident. After that, I never saw her again.
My old man died and I received word telling me to come back.
To be blunt, I had no intention whatsoever of returning to the Tohno house.
But Akiha is at that house.
So many characters are described as having black hair, even when they obviously don't. Akiha is far from the worst offender here.
I am worried about her living all alone in that big mansion, with the old man gone. But more than anything----I feel guilty, after pushing all the Tohno family responsibilities on her and selfishly living a free life by myself.
The garden, surrounded by trees, is more like a forest. The mansion is at the heart of that forest, and there are a few other buildings separated from it.
I didn't think anything of it when I was a child, but now that I have lived in an ordinary household for eight years, the excessive size feels almost criminal.
The gates aren't locked.
I push them open, and head towards the mansion doors.
Shaking off my nervousness, I press it.
There isn't any affectionate "Ding-dong" chime from the doorbell.
The oppressive silence continues for a few seconds.
Then, the sound of pattering footsteps behind the door indicates someone's presence.
Music: play track 3
"We have been waiting for you."
The door opens with a creak.
Inside lay the lobby I remembered, and a young girl in an apron.
"Ah, no--that's... uh..."
I am so taken aback by her outdated mode of dress that I can't even form a proper sentence.
Perhaps attributing my hesitance to distrust, the girl tilts her head a little.
"You're Shiki-sama, aren't you?"
"Eh--Yeah, but you don't have to call me '-sama'."
"You are, right? Oh, please don't scare me like that! I was beginning to think I had made another mistake back there."
The girl's mannerisms are like those of a mother scolding her child.
But in spite of that, there's a smile on her face, and it doesn't break the warm feeling about her.
...... She wears an apron over a kimono;
she comes out to greet guests and addresses someone like me with '-sama'.
This must mean that she's...
"Um, uh... are you one of the maids here, by any chance?"
The girl answers my question with nothing but a smile.
"Come; you must be tired. Please do come in. Akiha-sama is waiting for you in the sitting room."
The girl quickly crosses the lobby and heads towards the sitting room.
Turning back as if she just remembered something, she makes a bow, a full smile on her face.
Music: play track 1
"I've brought Shiki-sama with me."
"Well done. You may return to the kitchen, Kohaku."
It seems that maid's name is Kohaku.
Kohaku-san gives a small bow, as if to say farewell, and leaves the sitting room.
This leaves me, and--two girls I don't recognize.
For the love of... that hair is not black.
...... All my thought processes stop at once.
My mind goes blank, and I can't think of any words of greeting. All I can do is nod with a "Yeah."
...... I don't think it can be helped.
This Akiha that I had not seen in eight years is not the Akiha I remember. She's completely transformed into a proper young lady of a noble family.
The black-haired girl tilts her head slightly.
FOR THE LAST TIME...
Pathetically, all I can say are dumb-sounding things.
My mind is turning in somersaults as I try to recognize the girl before me as Akiha, but it seems like Akiha already recognizes me as her brother.
"You do not look well. Would you like to rest before we talk?"
Akiha throws a sharp glance in my direction.
...... Is it just my imagination that she looks like she's in a bad mood?
"No, you've definitely changed, Akiha. You've become more beautiful than before."
That isn't flattery. It's how I really feel.
That wouldn't be half as disturbing if this weren't an hgame.
"Indeed. But you, on the other hand, have not changed much at all."
Akiha answers coldly, her eyes closed.
...... Well, I came prepared for something like this.
It is as I had thought. It seems Akiha does not think well of me.
"If you are feeling well, let us finish our conversation. You have yet to hear the details about why you were called back here, Nii-san?"
"I've heard nothing more than a sudden 'Come back to the mansion', though I found out the old man passed away on the papers."
"...... I am sorry. It was my fault that you did not get the news about Father."
Akiha quietly lowers her head.
"It's alright. Either way, it's not like he would come back from the dead if I went. It's not something you should be worried about."
"...... I am sorry. It is somewhat comforting to hear you say that."
Akiha's face is serious, but this is not a topic I care much about.
A funeral is a ceremony for those who cannot let go of their feelings for the deceased to achieve such detachment. For someone like me, who cut off such feelings a long time ago, there is no need.
"Calling you back here was my idea. It would be odd for the eldest son of the Tohnos to be entrusted to the Arimas forever.
Now that Father has passed away, the only Tohnos by blood are you and I, Nii-san. I don't know what Father was thinking when he entrusted you to the Arimas, but he's no longer with us, so there's no longer any need for you to live with them. That is why I had you come back here."
"...... That's all well and good, but I'm quite surprised you were able to get our relatives to agree to this. Wasn't it they who came up with the idea of leaving me with the Arimas in the first place?"
"That may be so, but now I am the head of the Tohno family. I declined every one of the proposals from our relatives.
I would like you to continue living here, Nii-san, but this is a place with rules. You will avoid living the overly casual lifestyle you've been leading up until now."
"...... Alright. I get it. I'll try my best."
Akiha just stares at me, as if she doesn't quite believe me.
"You do not need to try, as long as you get the results."
Her pose is dignified, her words merciless.
"Let's get back to the topic. Right now, you and I are the only ones living here. I do not care for having too many people around, so I cleared everyone out."
"Eh? Hold on a second, Akiha. You 'cleared everyone out'?"
"You wouldn't want to run into one of our relatives in the mansion, would you, Nii-san? I have put off most of the servants, but there are enough for you and I, so there are no problems."
"Wait, 'no problems'? You're going to get attacked at our family meeting if you do something like that!"
"Oh, please be quiet. Rather than have the mansion overflowing with people, wouldn't you feel more relaxed with just the two of us here?"
Well, it's true that I would feel relaxed, but...
"Ahh, enough! Just listen! You don't have to worry about me! Please, just worry about your own life from now on, Nii-san. I can see it's going to be difficult for you in many ways."
Akiha says sullenly, looking away a little.
...... I can't believe it.
Fitting with the western style of the house, the girl in the maid outfit stands there, as if it is natural to do so.
"--Hold on. I'm not a kid, you know. I don't need a servant. I can take care of myself."
"Would that include the cooking and the laundry?"
Akiha is pretty sharp at pointing these things out.
"At any rate, now that you've returned to this house, you will obey my directions. I don't know how you lived at the Arima house, but you're living at the Tohno house now. Please accept everything given to you."
I can't say anything, and I drift my eyes towards Hisui.
As expected, she simply looks back at me expressionlessly like a doll.
"Well then, Hisui. Please show Nii-san to his room."
"Yes, my lady."
Hisui approaches me with a shadow-like lack of presence.
"I will guide you to your room, Shiki-sama."
Hisui heads towards the lobby.
Sighing, I head off towards the lobby as well.
"Your room is this way, Shiki-sama."
Hisui climbs up a flight of stairs.
It seems like my room is on the second floor.
...... Come to think of it, the servants' rooms should be on the first floor of the west wing, so that's probably where Hisui and Kohaku-san's rooms are.
"No, I'm just talking to myself. Don't worry about it."
After staring at me, Hisui bows and starts walking again.
"...... Is this my room?"
"Yes. If you are displeased with it, I can arrange a different one for you."
"No, there's no way I could be displeased with it. It's--"
It's just a little--no, really too fancy for me.
"---It's fine. I'll gladly use this room."
"Yes. This room has not been touched since eight years ago, so I do not believe you will find anything unsatisfactory with it."
There's something a little odd about the way Hisui said that.
It's as if she was implying this was once my room.
"...... Hey. Is this by any chance my old room?"
"That is what I have been told. Am I mistaken?"
Hisui inclines her head to the side slightly.
...... I feel relieved.
It seems this girl can express emotion after all.
"You're right. I've got to do my best so I at least look like it on the outside."
With a thump, I drop my bag on the table and stretch my back.
---I've been feeling a little stressed out with everything that's happened so far, but I guess I've got no choice but to adjust from today onwards.
"Shiki-sama, all of your luggage has been brought here. Is there anything more you require?"
"---No, not really. Why do you ask?"
"...... There was very little delivered. If there is anything you need, I can have it prepared, so please do not hesitate to ask."
"Anyways, you don't have to worry about the luggage. This fancy room is more than enough for me."
"...... I understand. Well then, I shall come to call you in an hour's time."
"An hour? For dinner, you mean?"
"Yes. Please relax until then."
As expected, Hisui says everything with an expressionless face.
...... But even if she tells me to relax, just how am I supposed to do that here?
The clock says it's six o'clock.
Usually, I'd be watching TV in the sitting room around this time, but I'm having serious doubts as to whether there's any such thing in this mansion.
"Hisui. I know it's kind of a trivial thing to ask about, but is there a television in this mansion?"
Hisui's eyes narrows slightly.
...... I know I'm the one who asked, but it really is a stupid question.
I feel there's something wrong with asking about the presence of a TV in a luxurious mansion like this.
"Hold on. Visitors? Like who? For how long?"
"Relatives. The eldest son of Kugamine-sama from a branch of the family, Touzaki-sama's third daughter and her fiancee, and Kishima-sama's eldest son came to stay for close to three years."
"...... Three years, huh? Hisui, that's what you'd call freeloaders, not visitors."
Hisui does not reply.
No matter what kind of people these freeloaders were, it seems that servants can't say anything bad about them.
Well, at any rate, it seems like those relatives had brought, and taken back, their own luggage with them.
My old man hated the products of modern culture, thinking them all vulgar. There was no way he would ever watch a TV. Akiha, who had been educated by him for the last eight years, would probably be the same.
"--Well, it's not like I'll die without one."
Hisui is silent.
...... Like a perfect example for servants, Hisui says nothing unless she is being asked a direct question.
This is, of course, kind of depressing for me.
I want to make that expressionless face break into a smile somehow, but that seems impossible with just any old half-hearted effort.
Looks like we're back to That burst of emotion was short-lived.
Hisui doesn't say a word.
Suddenly, she looks straight at me.
"I believe there is one in Nee-san's room."
I have no idea what she's talking about.
"...... Uh... there's one of what?"
"A television. I remember seeing one in Nee-san's room."
Hisui says, as if remembering something from many years ago.
"Hold on. Nee-san? Don't tell me you're talking about Kohaku-san?"
"Yes. Right now, the only people working at this mansion are Nee-san and I."
Now that she mentions it, they do look alike. I just couldn't connect them as sisters because Kohaku-san is always smiling so warmly, and Hisui is always expressionless.
"I see. Kohaku-san does look like the type of person who'd watch those variety shows."
But I balk at going to Kohaku-san's room to tell her, "Let me watch your TV."
"Alright. I'll be in my room until dinner, so just come and call me when it's time. You've got other things to do, don't you, Hisui?"
Hisui nods in assent, and turns around.
Silently opening the door, she leaves the room.
I should mention at this point that I've totally forgotten anything related to table manners by now.
Well, I do remember little pieces, so it's not like I'm a complete amateur, but humans tend to pack away unused memories into the corners of the mind.
The tension was actually quite thrilling, with every one of my movements causing Akiha to raise an eyebrow.
...... When I think about how I'll have to go through this every day, though, it's really depressing.