Starting over from the beginning, everyone sat around the table.
With Yukimiya's permission, I also had Taotie and Hundun appear. The upper bodies of the two "Evil Spirits" manifested and Yukimiya greeted them while perplexed.
"Good evening, Taotie. I'm glad that you seem well."
"Hey, Yukimiya. It seems that you've had it rough."
"Nonsense...and Hundun, I believe this is, more or less, our first time meeting, right?"
"Yeah. We only battled once at the riverbank. This is my usual form. Unlike Tie, I can't move around freely."
Come to think of it, this is the first time Hundun and Yukimiya have interacted, isn't it? I really hope he won't be as crude as he was with Aogasaki. Yukimiya will be living here for some time, after all.
...There's a reason why I brought out the "Evil Spirits."
I need to tell everyone that the "plan to convert Tao through depleting her power" won't work, something I realized during lunch.
With a sad face, I told everyone that...Ryuuga's team and Tao couldn't fight.
"What do you mean, Sonny? You're saying that you didn't want to seal Tao?"
There was someone who already knew about the flaw in the plan. It was Hundun.
"Y, you noticed, Uncle Hundun?"
"That's right. When an 'Evil Spirit' exhausts their power, they will steal their vessel's life force. In order to prevent that, they'll have to fall asleep. Even an idiot could understand that."
"Guh, I can't refute that..."
"I thought that your goal of having Hinomori's team fight Tao was to seal her. I'm afraid that you've overlooked something very important."
I can't refute that either. Now that I think about it, Hundun put the life of Kyouka, the one he's infatuated with, at risk. I suppose it's only natural that he would be aware of this matter.
"Isn't it fine, Sonny? You've already reconciled with Tao, right? Even if you put her to sleep, it shouldn't be a problem for──"
"N, no. I will not let you seal Tao."
Thereupon, Yukimiya interjected in a panic.
She was in her school uniform when she arrived, but she's now changed into some loungewear. She wore a light tunic and leggings, a surprisingly casual outfit.
"As long as she wants to reconcile with humans, there's no need for it. I want Tao to know more about the human world. I want her to become fond of humans."
Seeing the "Shrine Maiden of Life's" sincerity, Hundun scratched his head. No matter how often I see him, he still looks like a bandit.
"Hey, 'White Tiger.' There's no reason to support Tao that much, is there? You've only become acquaintances after yesterday's video messages."
"Time doesn't matter. I've already written with Tao several tens of times. This is what I've decided on during our exchanges. Isn't labeling her as an 'Evil Spirit'──a mistake?"
"If she's not an 'Evil Spirit,' what is she?"
When asked that question by an "Evil Spirit," Yukimiya faltered and said "Umm..." She contemplated, organizing her feelings before soon speaking hesitantly.
"If I'm being honest, Tao feels like...a younger sister to me, I suppose."
In response to that, Hundun's mouth was agape.
Next to me, Taotie was the same as well. Furthermore, Mion, Jyuri, and Kiki had the same reaction.
"Since I'm an only child, I always wanted a sibling. Tao is honest and cute. It's like I became an older sister somehow..."
"D, do not arbitrarily make an 'Evil Spirit' your sister."
"Good grief, how impudent can you be?"
"Very rude. This is why I hate the bourgeois."
The three princesses all quickly objected to Yukimiya's problematical statement. That's natural. Their lord's being treated like a little sister. A longtime enemy turned into a little sister.
"But those are my honest feelings. That's why I want to 'convert' Tao. I want us to speak face-to-face without relying on writing."
"I'm thinking about eventually asking my parents to have Tao adopted into the Yukimiya family."
"D, do not arbitrarily decide to adopt an 'Evil Spirit'!"
"Stop trying to give her a mother or a sister!"
"Take Baron Taotie instead!"
"Why me?! Don't treat me like an unwanted child!"
After soothing the three princesses by saying "Now, now," and soothing Taotie by saying "Please consider the offer," I turned towards Yukimiya.
In any case, I have no choice but to leave Tao to Yukimiya. Pushing her to Kyouka would be reckless and Hundun probably wouldn't approve of it.
"Yukimiya, I understand your feelings, but...'converting' Tao when she's at full power is no simple feat. Are you still willing to go through with it?"
"Yes, leave it to me. So, Kobayashi, once I succeed──will you allow me to introduce Tao to Hinomori and the others? It'll be coming from my own mouth."
"Then could you keep Tao's position a secret until then?"
"Yes. I want to introduce Tao with the responsibility of an older sister. 'Converting' her will be the ultimate proof of that."
...If she's that attached to Tao, then I will respect her feelings.
I believe that Yukimiya will 'convert' Tao.
What a vessel needs to overpower an 'Evil Spirit' is a strong mental strength...that is, a great willpower. If Yukimiya establishes a stronger bond with Tao than ever before, perhaps there's a possibility that it can happen. That may just be a pipe dream though.
(In the meantime, our immediate enemies are Qiongqi and Agito, right...? Once the school festival's over, it seems that we'll rush into part three.)
While I was thinking about such things...
Yukimiya suddenly straightened her posture again. Her face was more serious than ever.
"By the way, um...I have another request. Can I ask?"
While everyone paid attention to her, only Taotie silently looked down.
I thought that he was pouting about being put up for adoption, but I immediately found that he was reading the manga magazine I set down earlier. It seems that he's quickly gotten tired of this meeting.
"If Sebastian appears before us again...please find a way to avoid combat. I want to speak with him just once more."
"Unfortunately, we can't accept that."
Someone immediately rejected Yukimiya's proposal. It was the Yukimiya Group's natural enemy, the king cobra apostle.
"Even Tao's angry at his recent actions. That being the case, to us three princesses, Renie is a target to purge...there's no room for discussion."
Though Jyuri's opinion is probably biased, Tao is definitely mad at Renie's actions. After all, she doesn't want an alliance with Qiongqi.
"Renie said it himself, didn't he? 'It will be difficult for me to continue as Sebastian,' and 'For my lord's sake, I'm willing to use you and perhaps even eliminate you,' were his words. Come to your senses, Yukimiya. He betrayed you."
In response to Jyuri's harsh words, Yukimiya said "But..." and leaned forward.
"Sebastian and I have been together for seventeen years! He's like a part of the family! He can't become our enemy that simply..."
Yukimiya, with a face filled with grief, bit her lip.
At one point, even I thought that Renie didn't abandon his identity as "Sebastian."
However, I'm not sure right now. I can't say with certainty that...he still cares about Yukimiya.
"I've spent more time with him than with my parents. He was always by my side when I was lonely, hopeless. To me, Rikushou Renie is...still Sebastian."
Seeing that Yukimiya had tears in her eyes, the three princesses exchanged glances of discomfort.
Soon, Mion made a deep sigh and spoke. As always, in situations like these, the heron girl will speak on behalf of all three princesses.
"I don't want to say this, Yukimiya. However, your words won't reach Renie. He sees everyone other than Tao as an insect."
"That applies to his brethren as well, not just humans. Perhaps that goes for other 'Evil Spirits' too. He's an apostle who values pride over anything else, and his pride──is his loyalty towards Tao."
"That's why he's distant, even among the top eight. The only one who can talk with him is Saihiru."
It seems that the rhinoceros beetle monk is surprisingly good as socializing. He was even able to form a team with the wild Shima. Not only is his defense power high, but so is his communication ability.
For a while, a heavy atmosphere pervaded the living room.
"Isn't it fine? If Yukimiya says that she wants to speak with him, then let her."
Taotie suddenly broke the silence while snapping the manga magazine shut.
"Yukimiya can see firsthand whether or not talking to him will work. We can tolerate a little bit of her self-indulgence. Don't forget that she's part of our group as long as she's in this house."
Yukimiya's tears increased upon seeing Taotie surprisingly defend her.
Come to think of it, Taotie ate the entirety of Yukimiya's grim cooking before. Him taking her side again...really makes him seem like an adopted sibling, doesn't it?
"Thank you. You really are a nice 'Evil Spirit,' Taotie."
"It's fine. By the way, Yukimiya."
"There's this video game that I want. However, I'm in a bit of a pickle since my allowance isn't enough to cover it. Whatever shall I do about this crisis?"
Seeing Taotie trying to extort cash from Yukimiya, Hundun immediately retorted with "That was quick. He already revealed his true motives." Well, I had a feeling it would come to this.
Still, since Taotie is the direct leader of the three princesses, they must follow his orders.
We concluded the meeting by deciding that as long as Renie doesn't use force, we'll try to settle things peacefully.
"So Yukimiya, let's get along. Though, I hope you're okay with sleeping in this living room."
"Yes, that's okay."
"We'll try to find Renie as soon as possible and invite him to this house. Let's confirm his true intentions and arrange a discussion between you and him...so please wait until then."
"I'm sorry for burdening you with all of this."
After Yukimiya gave her apologies, Kiki immediately spoke up.
"Yukimiya. Don't forget that we are your superiors in this house. Newcomers will show respect."
Already patronizing Yukimiya, Kiki sat down in front of the TV. She then grabbed the remote control and played a recording of a TV program.
Needless to say, it was "Spectacle Man." It's a special effects-heavy show about a giant hero who fights monsters, and Kiki's greatly attached to the monsters that appear.
The amount of toys in her monster figure collection is already in the double digits. Though, she doesn't own a figure of Spectacle Man himself. As far as Kiki's concerned, he is the enemy.
"Oh, Spectacle Man..."
Before long, a giant silver man appeared on the screen. Seeing that, Yukimiya muttered to herself.
"You know him?"
Kiki turned around in surprise, asking Yukimiya that question.
I'm also a little surprised. I didn't expect the daughter of a world-famous corporation to know about Spectacle Man.
"An affiliate company of ours is the main sponsor of this program."
"M, main sponsor...!"
Kiki's eyes widened as she gasped. It seems that the bobbed-haired girl knows that for a show, sponsors are like gods.
At any rate, I didn't know about this. Who knew that the Yukimiya Group was sponsoring Spectacle Man...?
"That reminds of me, the other day, I got a figure that's not for sale. If I remember correctly, it was of the lightning monster Pikarubol..."
"T, the not for sale Pikarubol...!"
Ignoring the TV, Boushou stared in amazement at Yukimiya. Pikarubol is a monster that only appeared briefly and probably wouldn't be merchandised. Kiki always grieved about that.
"C, could you show me that Pikarubol...?"
"If you'd like to, you can have it. It'll be something to show my appreciation for last night."
"Chief Yukimiya! Let me massage your shoulders!"
Seeing Kiki immediately change attitudes, Hundun once again retorted with "That was quick. She already revealed her true motives." It's shameful to think that they only care about money.
"Mion! Make tea for Chief Yukimiya! Bring some rice crackers too!"
"Listen...should a general give in to bribery that easily? Sorry Yukimiya, but since you'll be living here, you'll also have some chores to do. Those who won't work, won't eat."
"Right. Are you good at any kind of housework?"
"Yes. You can leave me in charge of the cooking──"
"No! Anything but that!"
In a flash, I immediately covered Yukimiya's mouth. I can't let the entire family suffer food poisoning at this busy of a time.
Before I knew it, Jyuri also covered the "Shrine of Maiden of Life's" mouth.
...Come to think of it, she ate Yukimiya's rolled egg before, didn't she?
I believe she collapsed from it.