The words that are eventually spoken are somewhat hollow.
「What are you going to do to me?」
Chihiro wondered if she was angry, puzzled, or sad. Maria is looking down at him, but he can’t feel her eyes even when he looks at her.
Eventually, he’s scared.
[It’s hard for you to understand people, isn’t it?]
Chihiro wants to know what’s in people’s hearts. When he doesn’t know, he gets scared and anxious and can’t move. For the first time in a long time, he really feels that.
...And because he doesn’t know how, he answered Maria’s question honestly.
「I hadn’t thought about what to do with Maria」
What he is thinking now is what to do about the mind-reading ability.
Is there a way to get it back? Or would he be able to live without it?
And one more thing.
When Maria heard what happened, what should be "done"?
But Riko is the first to question.
「What do you mean?」
「Maria’s a human being. I don’t expect her to obey everything I tell her to do, seriously. If she doesn’t like it, she can refuse, she can terminate the relationship」
A slave may be an object of ownership, but she is not truly a thing.
As long as they have a will, there is still the possibility that they will rebel against their Masters. So, in order to prevent that, it is necessary to make them surrender, or make them enthralled, or have enough power to overpower their rebellion.
And Chihiro has no power to control Maria.
「And one more thing」
Maria took over what Chihiro had been trying to say.
「Now that your mind-reading is gone, our relationship is fundamentally broken. You are not the [Master] I want now」
Chihiro understood this fact.
He knew it, and he was afraid that Maria would confront him about it.
「I chose Izumi-kun to be my Master because his mind-reading ability was what I wanted. So I made a contract and I became Izumi-kun’s slave」
But Hana took Chihiro’s mind-reading ability.
So, he can no longer sense Maria’s desires. The memories of the past will never be erased, but Chihiro, who will never receive her desire again, will not be qualified to continue as Maria’s master.
On a more fatal note.
If Hana has the ability that was taken from him, then Maria can simply serve Hana anew. Miraculously, this would be in line with Hana’s own needs.
Call it selfish, but it’s selfish.
「What’s that? Isn’t it too late for that...!」
「But... Izu... Master...」
He stopped Riko’s protest with a shake of his head.
However, Riko stared at Maria, seemingly unconvinced by his words.
Maria seemed to understand and did not blame Riko.
「Don’t worry, Nishizaki-san, you don’t have to change even if my relationship with Izumi-kun changes. It’s none of your business if he’s a mind reader or not, is it?」
Maria says in a gentle voice.
She looks up at Riko, and she looks back at Chihiro. They stared at each other for just a second, then smiled and nodded.
「Of course. I don’t care about Izumi’s ability now」
The girl who had expressed her dislike for Chihiro’s ability and had attacked him for two months.
Riko, who was in a way the most obsessed with Chihiro’s mind-reading, simply said so.**b
（...I expected that she’d laugh at me）
The girl who had tortured, humiliated, terrified, collared, and dominated Chihiro declared that she would still be on his side, even after seeing his weakened state.
Even Maria’s eyes narrowed in admiration for a moment at the sight.
Then Maria looked down at Chihiro.
「Izumi-kun, I have another question for you. ...What do you want me to do?」
She’s not asking about his policies as a Master, but about his feelings as an individual.
Aware of the separation between her and Maria, and the change in their relationship, Chihiro spoke his mind.
A girl he had just met about a month ago.
The one who needed Chihiro, the one who had embraced Chihiro’s heart. A person who never wavered in her conviction.
「...I want Maria to stay by my side. If it’s possible, I want our relationship to continue as before」
「That’s true. I’d like to keep it that way, too」
Maria’s reply was in the past tense, unlike Chihiro’s.
Her eyes, devoid of any emotion, pierced Chihiro’s.
「But, Izumi-kun, what good would it do for me to give up my own hopes to serve you? You don’t have any intention of getting your ability back, do you?」
As it stands, the only chance of regaining the ability is to accept Hana’s condition. If Chihiro obeys Hana, he’ll give Maria to her.
The terms are repulsive.
「There is no guarantee that Mishuku-san will keep her word. If she’s going to the trouble of demanding a slave, she must have some way to train or restrain me. If she keeps her promise and Izumi-kun regains his ability, will I choose to stay with you?」
A Master to satisfy her endless desires. For Maria, who wants this, Hana is a perfect match, who will go to great lengths to enslave Maria.
Although she had said before that she didn’t want to fall into the darkness of pleasure and die early.
But after what happened to Chihiro, to whom she had given her purity, there is no better way to deal with the situation.
「Do you understand? If you understand...」
She grabbed his neck and pushed him back.
It’s not gentle at all, it’s rough.
「Get out of here right now. I’m not so open-minded as to give up my room to a stranger.」
「Hey, you, that’s enough...!」
Riko shouted. She reached for Maria’s neck, who was still holding onto Chihiro, and pulled her hand away.
And Riko’s voice rang out again, not even trying to hide her anger.**c
「I’ll kill you for real!」
But Maria is unfazed.
「You can’t. You can’t kill me」
Riko shuddered and pulled her hand away. She looked like she was about to cry, but he did his best to make a calm voice and said.
「...Let’s go. [Fukami-san] is right」
It took a full minute for her to reply.
He then left the bedroom and returned to the living room, grabbing the sports bag full of stuff. He also picked up the uniform he had just taken off, folded it so it wouldn’t wrinkle, and packed it.
（Maria brought this bag to me, but now I carry it back with my own hands, huh?）
While thinking so, he put the duplicate key on the table in the living room. And as if in exchange, Maria threw Chihiro a small key. It was the key to his dorm room, reflecting the light.
（She’s been keeping it too, huh?）
Since Maria and he came to this apartment until today, he hadn’t been back to the dormitory once. In fact, he recalled that he was even considering moving out of his dorm room.
While Chihiro finished his preparations in a surprisingly short time, Riko returned from her bedroom with the sound of her footsteps. A rough noise then came from the open door. She seemed to be throwing all the clothes in the closet into her luggage.
When she came back, Maria said,
「I don’t mind if Nishizaki-san has a duplicate key」
「No, I don’t want it!」
Another key is placed on the table in the living room, almost as if she had been beaten.
And that was it.
Walking down the hallway with Riko in tow, they arrived at the front door.
When Chihiro turns around, a belt-shaped object is flying toward him. It’s Maria’s black collar.
「Just dispose of it properly. ...And I’ll contact Hana-san as soon as I’m ready. Don’t worry, I’ll tell her about you too」
And, she said good-bye.
Then, Maria turned around.
☆ ☆ ☆
「...I didn’t know this room was so big」
She muttered to herself as the room suddenly became lonely.
The girl put a small item in her hand - a key with a slightly dulled shine due to hand scratches - next to a row of matching keys, and quietly turned her head down.