August 4th, AD 2092 / Okinawa - Vacation House ~ Hotel Party
Although we came here on vacation, the bonds of society and family cannot be severed, regrettably. I have just barely become a middle school student but that does not mean that there are no people whose invitation I cannot decline.
Only blood relations which are not very many people, as it is said even the darkest cloud has a silver lining… however, I had completely no intimation that any of those people would be in the same place at the same time as me.
The one who sent the invitation was Kuroba Mitsugu-san. This person is Okaa-sama’s cousin.
The hand of the clock is pointing to 6 PM. It is nearly the time that I have to depart the vacation house.
I sat in front of a mirror with a brush in my hand.
Without thinking, I allowed a sigh to escape from my mouth. The me in the mirror was wearing a distinctly dispirited look.
I am not ill at ease at parties. However, I have just traveled from Tokyo to Okinawa this very day. I wanted to take it easy for at least this evening.
"Miyuki-san, have you finished getting ready?"
After a knock, a voice sounded through the door. It seems that Sakurai-san has come to call on me who is lingering in her own room.
I, who had been contemplating the whispers of my thoughts, reflexively stood up to give my answer.
Interpreting my reply as permission to enter, Sakurai-san opened the door. —Certainly, it could be that kind of signal, so I did not get particularly flustered but,
"What’s this? Aren’t you all ready to go?"
Seeing that I had changed into a cocktail dress, put on a necklace, a hair band and also had my purse in my hand, Sakurai-san let her feelings show with a painful smile.
"Don’t make such a sullen face or all your finery will go to waste."
Could my face be so easy to read?
"……Do you understand?"
It was Sakurai-san I faced; nay, that did not change the fact that it was the eyes of another person. I had no intention of letting anyone be aware of my unhappiness.
"As for me,"
While saying that Sakurai-san purposefully gave an exultant wink. …Is she telling me that it is alright to show other people this kind of face?
"Stop…making fun of me, please."
Without thinking, I made a pouty face. Flustered, I focused on smoothing out my expression into something more ladylike, but...
I could feel my cheeks turning red as I watched Sakurai-san release a giggle.
I am already a middle school student, I thought I had stopped this sort of childish behavior.
You would not think she was 30 years old — you could only think that she was in her twenties at the most — after she giggled for a while looking cute, Sakurai-san quickly modified her expression.
Naturally, I reined in my emotions as well.
"There are people with sharper ‘eyes’ than me, since there are many people in this world. Indeed, it is because I know you so well, Miyuki-san, that I’m also very aware of the things you dislike. However, it is also possible that someone who can read your face with a glance might be at the party. Because you, Miyuki-san, are not an ordinary middle school student, I believe you must appear as if there are no gaps in your defenses."
No rebellious feelings were aroused by this well aimed advice.
"….Might there be a good way to do it?"
"No matter how well you intend to conceal them, regrettably, feelings are always portrayed in the color of your eyes and every change of your facial expression."
…Is she saying that nothing can be done?
"What you need to do is to skillfully deceive your own emotions, do you get it? First, you bring you, yourself, in alignment with what you would call your false face."
Possibly because she read my discontent, Sakurai-san continued in greater detail in a soothing manner.
As she instructed me to, I shrouded my heart with a false face; since I was still very much a child, I could not stop my spirits from falling as I approached the site of the party.
Kuroba Oji-sama  was not a bad person. (Strictly speaking, he was not my uncle.)
It’s just that, probably because his wife died young or something, the way he dotes on his children is a little… well, extremely annoying.
Gosh, just what does he think he is doing, bragging about his children to another child? No, this is not how I should feel. He is surely not thinking at all, but I do wish he would confine that topic to his fellow adults.
...Hoo; a sigh escaped my mouth.
Without thought, not consciously.
This was not the time to be expelling sighs. If I am doing this now I may not be able to control myself at the actual party.
I am already within the hotel grounds.
How pointlessly ostentatious — this was only my subjective opinion, but — I could already see the entrance.
The driverless commuter car stopped.
With quick motions, Ani got out of the car, held back the door and begun waiting for me to get out.
My expression stiffened and I advanced on the battlefield of depression and tedium.
In the lobby, there were hard-faced older men, young men, and dignified young women. None of them were trying to stand out, but they were incapable of fooling the eye of I who had been accompanied by people like them from birth.
It was not any of my business, but they made me want to tell them that they should train more.
Naturally, it goes without saying that I was not accompanied by Ani alone this evening.
Two women bodyguards from a security agency with offices around the country were temporarily escorting me.
At the party and on other occasions, there were numerous places where I cannot be with a male companion and the opposite is also true. If Sakurai-san could be here as usual, there would be no need to worry. However, right now she is remaining at Okaa-sama’s side.
Okaa-sama is a little unwell and is resting at the vacation house even now. None of that could be helped. But, due to that, I must deal with Oji-sama alone.
From the outset, even if Chichi  could be relied upon, the duty of entertaining relatives should not fall to me, who is both younger and a girl, the duty should belong to the eldest male child.
I glared at the back of Ani who was walking ahead of me in bitterness.
"Oji-sama, I am so grateful for the invitation."
As expected, the location was too big a site for a private party. As expected, an extravagant table was being used as a backdrop. As expected, Oji-sama came out to meet me clad in an expensive suit and I made the perfunctory greeting. For this kind of thing, there was no reason for creativity.
"I am glad you came, Miyuki-chan. Is your Okaa-sama well?"
Oji-sama replied with exaggerated friendliness.
Only someone like him, still sticks a ‘chan’ on my name, these days.
And as usual, he ignored Ani’s existence as if he were invisible.
Since Ani only stood behind me in silence, it could be that both of them were ignoring each other.
"Oh how kind of you to be concerned. I think she is only a little tired, but I wanted her to take good care of herself today."
"I am so relieved to hear that. Oh sorry, I have kept you out here talking. Now, come inside. Both Ayako and Fumiya will be glad to meet you, Miyuki-chan."
Things that are called natural naturally occur; I expected the two of them to come but…
Despite all the self instruction not to do so, I felt a sigh threatening to leave my mouth.
I attached myself to Oji-sama and went to a table inside the room.
Leaving Ani behind at the entrance.
There was a so called custom of bodyguards placing themselves alongside the wall, ready for action.
Despite being guilty of treating him badly myself, I always felt extremely annoyed when other people treat him as a servant… I am probably just being selfish.
Be that as it may, I am for now forced to deal with the Kuroba family alone and unassisted.
"Ayako-san, Fumiya-kun, are the two of you well?"
Upon my greeting them, Fumiya-kun seemed happy and Ayako-san seemed like she had been waiting for me; their respective smiling faces welcomed me in the usual way.
"Miyuki-neesama! It’s been so long."
"Onee-sama, you have not changed at all."
Ayako-san and Fumiya-kun are one grade below me, sixth year elementary school students.
Unlike my brother and I, these two are twins.
They were the same age as me, but because I was born in March and they were born in June they were in a lower grade.
For some reason or other, for as long as I can remember, Ayako-san has always blatantly felt a rivalry with me… This is one more reason dealing with this family was so depressing.
Since the other candidate for successor was not Ayako-san but Fumiya-kun, even if she felt competitive with me…. I was supposed to be concealing my true feelings.
Fumiya-kun is adorable because he is openly affectionate to me, but I feel he is a little too adorable for a boy. At any rate, compared to Ani… no, that person is extraordinary.
I see that their clothes are a little too cutesy again today. I must strain myself to keep my facial muscles from moving.
Even with this air conditioning, is it not too warm to wear something like that in this season, Fumiya-kun?
Even if you are wearing it a casual style, to wear a bolero jacket and a cummerbund….since this is a private party, I do not think it is necessary to go so far.
On the other hand, Ayako-san…..well, as usual is called as usual for a reason. Her dress was abundantly adorned with ribbons, trims, and decorative buttons, and even her above-the-knee socks had ruffles with ribbons on them. Her hair was prettily arranged in curls, and a fringe had been added to her hair band. I do not particularly want to quibble over someone else’s taste in attire, but this style is probably a little abnormal at a summer resort.
Since both they and their parent wore (dress up) such clothes, I think they made things overly formal, however.
While I am contemplating such things in order to distract myself, Oji-sama was continuing to brag about my cousins. During his boasting about inconsequential things like Ayako-san receiving a prize in a piano competition and Fumiya-kun being praised by his riding instructor, I made polite responses in all the right places and waited for time to pass.
I always wondered if this was some kind of punishment game. However, each time I am blessedly saved before my patience wears too thin. Today also at any moment now Fumiya-kun would begin to fidget.
"By the way, Miyuki-neesama…where is Tatsuya-niisama?"
Ah, here it comes.
Fumiya-kun is a very nice child, he treats Ayako-san and I the same. To be brief, he adores me as much as if I were really his elder sister, but he adores Ani more than either of us; or you might say that he reveres him.
No, I wonder if admires might be a better way to define it? Even so, well, I cannot say that I do not understand.
In general terms — that is in accordance with the guidelines set by the Magic Federation — Ani is not blessed with a talent for magic. However, that person compensates for that with a surfeit of brains, muscles and special talents.
His school grades are outstandingly excellent.
No matter what sport, he is first class; or possibly super first class.
And, the counter attack that all magicians are vulnerable to is that person’s sole trump card.
Surely, Ani is the type of person that all boys might revere as a hero.
No. Surely, not just boys.
His outward appearance is neither amiable, lively nor sweet but despite all that.
Ani is incredibly cool……
……Eh, what on earth am I thinking!?
That person is merely my guard, nothing more.
That person and I only share a sibling relationship through genetics, nothing more.
Why I am acting like I have a brother complex…….
"He is on the watch over there."
As if unaware that a black cloud had suddenly appeared in my heart, I pointed to his position beside the wall while wearing my painstakingly constructed smiling face.
Ah, Fumiya-kun’s cheeks are becoming red.
Apparently, I am fooling them.
"….Um, where exactly?"
Next to Fumiya-kun who had taken his eyes off me to search for Ani by letting his eyes wander all over the room, Ayako-san was also sending her eyes hither and thither along the wall while pretending to be indifferent.
Her attitude was unusually easy to read, she was even showing her teeth as she smiled. However, I think that was something she was directing at Fumiya-kun. I pointed out the place where Ani was standing to Fumiya-kun who was standing next to Ayako-san who had allowed her wall of indifference to break.
Ani was watching us.
Fumiya-kun’s face suddenly lit up and he bounded over to Ani’s position.
"Oh well, there?s nothing that can be done."
While voicing a complaint, Ayako-san headed after Fumiya-kun with swift feet. Indeed, she looked as if she was restraining herself from running.
As he watched those two, Oji-sama made a sour face; he did this every time.
Oji-sama slowly walked after them in a completely different mood than Ayako-san’s. I too trailed after them.
Fumiya-kun was enthusiastically conversing with Ani about something.
Ani made countless small nods, the corners of his mouth rose slightly, showing a small amount of teeth — he smiled?
Despite never giving a smile like that to me…….!
"Hey now, Fumiya, Ayako. You shouldn’t interfere with Tatsuya-kun’s work."
In order to maintain my insincere smile, I had to grasp my hands strongly to keep my fingers from curling into a fist, and placed a smile so painstakingly constructed to look natural that Oji-sama would not doubt that it reflected my true feelings.
"Thank you for your work. You are so diligent in performing your tasks."
"There is no need to thank me."
The Ani that faced Oji-sama was the usual Ani. His face was so devoid of expression that the smile that had been on his face a little while ago seemed like an illusion.
"Aw, Otou-sama. Wouldn’t a moment or two be alright? Miyuki-neesama is our invited guest. Making the arrangements to prevent harm befalling one’s guest is the duty of the host."
"It’s just as Onee-sama said. The guards of Kuroba are not so unskilled as to allow a single one of our guests to be less than completely safe. Isn’t that right, Otou-san?"
Eh? Fumiya-kun doesn’t address Oji-sama as "Otou-sama"………
By concentrating on such a trivial thing, I was able to distract myself from my mood.
"That is true but……"
Paying my thoughts no mind, Oji-sama spoke ambiguous words while looking bewildered.
I was bewildered as well. However, perhaps, Ayako-san and Fumiya-kun understood Oji-sama’s true intent. Oji-sama did not like his own children — especially Fumiya-kun — directing any friendly interest at Ani.
Fumiya-kun is a candidate who aims to become the next head of the Yotsuba.
Ani is simply the guard of a fellow candidate for the succession, me. Even if we place a special title on them like Guardian, they are servants after all. If I speak cruelly, they are no more than tools to be used and then thrown away.
A tool that, if I can be precise, could not become a candidate for the Yotsuba succession.
Naturally, while Ani is the one who is my guard, since the relationship between Ani and Fumiya-kun is only that of second cousins, there is no real problem with Fumiya-kun adoring Ani. It is the same with Ayako-san. Maya Obaa-sama would probably not be bothered by that.
It sounds harsh when I say it, but Oji-sama is only worried about status. Oji-sama can only see Ani as a servant, a disposable tool. All that means is that the person called Kuroba Mitsugu is probably a "Yotsuba" to the marrow of his bones. Therefore, I feel that I am not mistaken in believing that he feels that having his own children showing empathy for a tool is improper.
That is the natural way of things for a "Yotsuba".
In order for me to become ‘Yotsuba Miyuki’, I must have the same mental attitude as Oji-sama.
That he is a Guardian is more important than him being my elder brother.
That person has the position of my guard. If it is necessary, he will exchange his own life in order to fulfill his obligation to protect me as a human shield.
It is only natural for that person who is a tool not to love me; I too, must not yearn for love from that person.
I gave myself these instructions.
Like an incantation, I repeated them over and over.
Ani has the position of my guard.
He is my human shield.
That is the position granted to Ani. I must become the heir of Maya Obaa-sama, therefore Ani is not my Onii-sama—
I stiffened due to a pain in the core of my brain.
For an instant, I felt as if I had no idea where I was.
Of course that was an illusion. I am at Kuroba Oji-sama’s party that I was invited to; in front of me, Oji-sama is making a discomfited face.
……Somehow I feel like I was thinking about something really important, however….that’s probably just my imagination.
"…Fumiya, do not trouble your honored father so much."
Unexpectedly, the one who tossed Oji-sama a lifeline was Ani.
He called Fumiya-kun, ‘Fumiya’.
In an affectionate tone as if Fumiya-kun really was his younger brother.
Deep inside my mind, I felt a faint pain.
Without thinking, my face started to scowl in discomfort.
I must not.
If I show displeasure on my face now, it will be misinterpreted as disapproval of Ani and Oji-sama’s interaction.
……I wonder if that would be a misinterpretation……….?
No, No, if I think about that!
Uumm, what can I do at a time like this?
Before I left, Sakurai-san told me what to do.
That’s right, I need to skillfully deceive my own feelings—
"Kuroba-san, it is all right to entrust the party site to you? I myself wish to take a little look around outside."
"Oh, really? That is a splendid idea."
Oji-sama showed tremendous surprise at Ani’s suggestion, and even calculatingly praised Ani for it.
"Understood. I will look after Miyuki-chan. This place is under my supervision so I will accept responsibility."
That is probably insincere praise that can be produced at any time.
Since there are diplomatic excuses to get rid of pests, I should use one to rid myself of the biggest one.
A truly convenient false face.
‘First you bring you, yourself, in alignment with what you would call your false face.’
—Ani is faithfully performing the duties allotted to him.
"Aw nuts! We are returning to Shizuoka tomorrow! We do not often get a chance to see each other, and we don’t even get a chance to spend a lot of time talking."
"Fumiya, calm down a little……Tatsuya-san, what Fumiya said is true, so please return quickly."
"Understood. I will take one tour around and then return. So, then Kuroba-san I am going to get a little air."
—Therefore I too, must perform the duties allotted to me with all my strength.
While I listened to Ani replying to Fumiya-kun’s protests and Ayako-san’s requests in a gentle voice, I instructed myself thus.