A Reluctant Master
Tenjou Mikado (End)
"Trying to get me to betray my friends? You certainly deserve the title of 'Judas'."
I glanced at Tenjou as I spoke.
"Betray? You're dead wrong. Do you have any particular reason to oppose us? It's actually the opposite, Kurogami-kun. It goes without saying that money won't be a problem for you if you join us. And more importantly, we won't target your friend's Artifact anymore. She'll be safe," Karasawa said.
Tenjou still made no movement. He simply continued observing my conversation with Karasawa. He almost seemed at ease, despite the current situation.
What she said was true. The offer that Karasawa had proposed wasn't bad at all. Aside, of course, from the matter of having to make myself a criminal.
But Karasawa was aware of that herself.
"`Course, you can't agree while this Agency kid's still here, but I'll get rid of him. There won't be any problem then. No one will know that you've joined us."
Karasawa grinned and gave me a thumbs-up. There it was again. That blatant disregard for human life. 'Get rid of'? Don't talk of killing so easily like that. It disgusts me.
And Tenjou made his own move.
"Hey, listen up, hag," he said, jabbing a finger in her direction. "There are two reasons why Kurogami-san won't join you. The first is easy to understand. You can't beat me. So he won't have any opportunity to accept your offer anyway, even if he wanted to."
Karasawa pulled out a coin, but kept it clenched in her fist. "It's gonna be easy as hell to prove that wrong, kid. So, what's the second reason?"
"I'll let Kurogami-san tell you that himself."
"Hey, hey. I didn't know you knew me so well. And actually, doesn't this go beyond that? You make it sound like you can read my mind," I retorted.
I'm still okay with it if it's a cute girl reading my mind, but having another guy know what I was thinking was far too unsettling. Well, but it's not like Tenjou could actually read my mind. As far as we knew, it was not possible for two copies of the same Artifact to exist at the same time, or for two different Artifacts to have the same power. At the very least, such an occurence had never been documented before. Since Rei was in possession of the 'Lens of Truth', that meant that Tenjou's 'Blood of the Savior' couldn't have an ability like that.
Tenjou chuckled. "Heh. I don't even know you that well, Kurogami-san, but there's one thing about you that I'm sure won't ever change. Something that stops you from joining the Green Knights."
"And what would that be?"
A reason like that...Perhaps he thought it was my sense of justice. After all, the Green Knights were criminals, and I could not accept their methods or way of thinking. Or maybe he believed that I was simply not greedy enough to risk breaking the law for material wealth.
"It's simple enough, isn't it?" Tenjou said.
Well, everything that had come to my mind earlier was true. All of those reasons were valid.
"You can't join a group that gathers and sells Artifacts, Kurogami-san. Not someone like you with an 'Artifact-hating' disposition. The only reason you work with us, the Agency, is because you can destroy Artifacts. That's the kind of job that you get from us. Otherwise, you want nothing to do with them."
Yes, more than ideals like a sense of justice, or instincts like self-preservation. It was my goal that prevented me.
'I don't know you all that well?' You're such a liar, Tenjou Mikado. Is it really that easy to understand the way I think?
Or could it be that your real target here - is me?
I won't try to destroy your Artifact. That is self-evident. Your Artifact that nullifies other Artifacts is perfect for my own purposes. You said that your Artifact made you perfect for staying near Rei, but the same holds true for me too. An agent with a different Artifact wouldn't have been safe from me either.
I closed my eyes, shelving those thoughts to the back of my mind. There's no point in thinking about such things now.
Instead, I said, "It's just as he said, Karasawa-san. I can't accept your offer. My only aim is to destroy Artifacts. Our goals are too different."
Karasawa sighed and plunged her hands into her pockets.
Negotiations were over, then.
Tenjou and I tensed up. Even if we knew how her coins worked now, it was still difficult to react to her incredible speed. Tenjou, who was capable of attacking her from his own blind spot so effortlessly, was nothing but exceptional.
The thief pulled out her fists. Which one contained the coin that she was going to use?
That question was answered when she slapped her right hand against her forehead. "That's just too bad, Kurogami-kun," she said.
"You're way too stubborn for your own good, you know that?" And having finished what she wanted to say, Karasawa slid her palm down her face. At the same time, the fingers on her left hand unravelled and, sure enough, revealed the silver coin that she had kept concealed within it. She tossed it lightly in the air.
Tenjou began his attack almost before Karasawa activated the ability of 'Judas' Treasury'. As she faded from view, he spun around and sent his leg high into the air, causing it to lash like a whip.
That was how much confidence he had that she would target him. Then again, that was only natural. There was no reason for her to go after a non-combatant such as myself. Taking me out would achieve nothing, whereas the battle was as good as won if Tenjou was defeated.
As we had all expected, the outline of Karasawa's body reformed next to Tenjou. His kick was in prime position to cannon into her head.
This time, though, Karasawa was prepared. She knew now that we knew about her ability. She could make the necessary adjustments to the way she fought.
She raised an arm and deflected Tenjou's kick, before twisting her hand around to try and get hold of his leg. Tenjou hastily pulled it back, and he stumbled a little as the forceful movement caused him to lose his balance. Recognizing that he was in a disadvantageous position, the agent began retreating in order to put some distance between Karasawa and himself.
Karasawa slid her hand into her pocket yet again, pulling out a number of coins. Simply allowing one coin to slip from her grasp was enough to allow her to warp behind Tenjou in an instant. Tenjou flung out his elbow behind him, but such tactics were no longer effective. Instead of blocking this time, Karasawa chose to use her Artifact once again. Another silver coin bounced against the ground.
And she disappeared from my sight.
Where she had teleported to was obvious. Tenjou's eyes widened and his legs pounded against the ground as he sprinted towards me. At the same time, I spun around, even though I knew that there was little that I could do.
A fist filled up my field of vision. I didn't even have time to prepare myself from the strike. Fortunately, I did not need to. Karasawa stopped her fist right before my eyes. There must have been a difference of a mere millimeter. She opened her hand and allowed the coin hidden within it to fall.
The form of her body disappeared. Following that was a resounding thud, followed by the rustling of clothes as Tenjou's body slid next to me. I turned around to see Karasawa rubbing her knuckles with a wide grin on her face.
The young man spat out some blood and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "She got me while I was distracted," he said.
"Still think you can take her?" I had to ask.
"Of course I can," Tenjou replied as he got to his feet. "I just need some more time."
"Well, good luck, then. There's nothing I can do now," I said, frowning.
"You've helped out enough by figuring out what her ability does. Leave the rest to me." He gave me a thumbs-up before walking towards Karasawa.
Even though Karasawa's ability had been discovered, it wasn't as though it had been completely nullified. The only thing we had taken from her was the element of surprise. The Artifact still had other uses - it was almost impossible to escape from her, and she could still use her ability to move at inhumanly fast speeds.
Compared to that, Tenjou was at quite the disadvantage. There was nothing that his Artifact offered him in this fight. An Artifact that nullified other Artifacts - it sounded like quite a powerful ability, but Karasawa's Artifact was a good example of an Artifact that the 'Blood of the Savior' could do nothing about.
Well, even if I knew all of that, it was still pointless. I had no plans. The situation was out of my hands now, and I could do nothing but watch the melee between the two and hope that Tenjou would win.
And at once, something become immediately clear to me. Tenjou was losing. Despite his best efforts, Karasawa's speed and agility were at another level, no matter how telegraphed her movements may be. Each strike that Tenjou aimed at her was dodged - either normally or via teleportation - or blocked, or parried, all with no difficulty. Tenjou himself was having trouble fending off Karasawa's attacks. It was possible for him to defend himself against most of Karasawa's blows, but every so often, a punch or a kick would slip past his guard. Despite all of his struggles, he looked like nothing more than a sentient punching bag.
Come on, damnit! Aren't you being completely overpowered here? Just what the hell was all of that confidence of yours based on?
Karasawa dropped yet another coin, and flashed behind him. The ground would have been littered with silver by now if the coins had not disappeared after they were used. Tenjou's blow was avoided with a slip of her head, and she swung down her right fist like an axe. The force of the strike blew Tenjou backwards and off his feet. One look was enough to tell me that he had been knocked unconscious. Even if he wasn't, he was in no condition to fight. He was beaten up even more badly than during our first encounter with Karasawa. Blood streamed down his face and purple patches dominated the visible parts of his body.
Karasawa dusted off her hands and walked away from the fallen boy.
A hand gripped onto her ankle.
Tenjou's eyes flickered open and he yanked on Karasawa's foot before she could react, bringing her down on her back in one swift movement. Her hand plunged into her pocket -
And was stopped by Tenjou, who grabbed onto it with his own free hand.
That was all he said. He slammed a fist against her cheek. After that, he did it again. And again. And again, and again, and again...It seemed as though his barrage of strikes would never end. But just when it seemed as though the fight had been won - Karasawa gathered the remaining ounces of her strength and tilted her head, dodging his attack. Her head came up and crashed against Tenjou's, but he managed to maintain his hold on her despite the headbutt.
That was all Karasawa had needed, however.
She stuck out her tongue. Resting on it was a piece of round silver.
I thought back to what had happened before the fight had properly begun.
The thief pulled out her fists. Which one contained the coin that she was going to use?
She had revealed a coin in her left, but the real answer was that there had been a coin in both.
"You're way too stubborn for your own good, you know that?" And having finished what she wanted to say, Karasawa slid her palm down her face.
She had done it at that time. She had concealed one coin in her mouth, as a safety measure. And that was also why she had been so quiet the entire time. She did not want to risk revealing that fact.
The coin fell off her tongue.
"Just my luck to run against two freaks like you guys. You kids are scarier than adults, you know that? I take back what I said earlier, fighting you wasfun, kid," Karasawa said to Tenjou, grinning. "Cancelling the effects of other Artifacts isn't your only ability, is it? There's no way a human being could have stood up after all of those hits that you took."
"Why don't you find out yourself?" Tenjou asked. He did not bother to make any further attacks. There was no point.
"Hah! I'd like to, kid, but the boss probably won't send me here again. Not when I've already lost. See you around - maybe."
And with that final parting line, she disappeared.
There was no point in trying to chase after Karasawa. She could have been anywhere.
"Are you okay? You look like a damn zombie," I said, staring at Tenjou.
He shrugged. "Yeah, I'm good."
It had to be as Karasawa had said. Ability nullification wasn't the only ability that Tenjou's 'Blood of the Savior' possessed. There was no way a human could take that much punishment and still be fine. It didn't even seem as though the damage that Tenjou had taken was affecting him.
"I don't like to talk about this, but I'm also sure that you want to know, so I'll just say this. It's true that my Artifact increases my endurance. I'm quite alright now, and I don't need to go to the hospital or anything.I just need some time to heal."
"But I'll agree that I probably look super scary right now, so can I head over to your place to rest? I don't want to stand around here."
I nodded. "Okay. I'll be fun to see the look on Alice's face, anyway."
Rei screamed and latched onto my body, knocking me onto the floor. Behind her, Alice and two men in dark suits sat on chairs, seemingly unperturbed by Tenjou's appearance. I could not help but feel a tinge of regret that Alice had not been bothered at all, whereas Rei had been clearly shocked. It looked like Rei had brought along her bodyguards, as well.
"Get off me, Rei," I said. I struggled into a sitting position and asked, "And what are you doing here?"
"Oh, nothing at all. I was just having a little chat with Shirogane-san," she said innocently.
I raised an eyebrow but decided to dismiss the matter. I wasn't particularly interested in what Rei and Alice had to say to each other, anyway. I very much doubted that it had been a pleasant conversation.
"I see," I said simply.
"What happened to him?" Alice asked, pointing a finger at Tenjou.
"We met Karasawa Miho again. I beat her up, though, and she's probably not coming back," he replied. It was an admirably concise and easy to understand summary of what had happened.
"Does this mean that there isn't anyone targeting my Artifact anymore?" Rei asked. She got off me - aided by some not so subtle nudges from me - and rose to her feet.
I stood up as well. "Not exactly," I said. "It's possible that they'll send another person, but we don't have to worry about Karasawa Miho for now, at least."
Rei nodded and bowed towards Tenjou. "Thank you."
As expected of a young lady of her social status. Despite all of her earlier displays, she was not going to allow her personal animosity against Tenjou to stop her from being polite to her benefactor.
Tenjou nodded as well. "Don't worry about it. I was just doing my job."
I wonder if I was being too optimistic in hoping that the relationship between the two would improve eventually.
"So, everything ends well, then," Alice said. She had completely ignored the level of injury that Tenjou had suffered, but I restrained myself from making any retorts.
It had just been a couple of days, but a lot of had changed in just such a small amount of time. The relationship between Rei and I was no longer the same as before. We had come to an understanding of our own, and the situation was no longer as murky. I had come to appreciate Alice as well. If it were not for her advice, I would still have been stuck in my old way of thinking. As for Tenjou, there were still many things that we did not know about him, but I had acquired a firm belief that he was definitely an ally of ours, even if there was the possibility that he would some day stand opposite me.
There was, of course, the shadow of the gang of thieves that were still after Rei's Artifact, but I couldn't be bothered to think about their next move right now. That was too much to bear, even for me.
I walked over to Alice and squeezed her hand.
"It sure looks that way."