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23 This Rich Girl

 With a composed smile on his face, Shion Hozaka replied: Long time no see indeed, Cousin Mizuko...

Ai stood still, shocked by the turns of events. So... they were cousins ah... but looking at the two men, other than both having tall towering frames, the two of them were nothing alike. One extremely moody and one extremely quiet, one likes to make trouble and the other prefers peace. The two cousins were the complete opposite, like fire and ice.

But Ai Shizuka didn't want to meddle in someone else's family matters so with a dismissive look, she said: Ahh...you two, catch up, I will go look around...

But soon after she walked away to a distance, a hand suddenly grabbed her. From the familiar tingles shooting up her arm, she knew who that was.

Tired of other people constantly seeking her out, Ai dragged out with irritation clearly evident in her voice: "Yesss? Young Master Omaru?"

Jin Omaru smiled at the annoyed girl: "So you know how to make weapons?"

Seeing that the girl had no intention of answering him, he continued with a slight tilt of his head: "That's a very useful skill, I want to learn too. Wanna teach me?"

Of course, if anyone asked Ai if she wants to teach, her normal answer would be...absolute no. The lady hated being bothered and not even eloquent in her day-to-day speech, teaching someone would be a complete disaster. But she was also curious.

In her past life, Jin Omaru hated that hobby of her. With every chance he got, he would reprimand her for harbouring such unladylike interests.

But looking at this current almost puppy-like Jin Omaru, she suddenly felt conflicted. What on earth is wrong with him...

Yet a high-pitch voice saved her from her dilemma: "Young Master Omaru is very busy... perhaps now is not a good time for you to take up such hobbies. And since young master Hozaka is working with her, he surely won't allow his workers to dilly dally, no?"

Ai wanted to roll her eyes. ...Who died and made you everyone's manager, Miko?... Stop acting like you hold a leash for everyone in your life...

Just wanting to get out this little drama as soon as possible, Ai single-mindedly agreed: "Yes, my master won't allow."

Jin and Miko froze: "Y-your Master?!"

"Why yes, I designed those weapons for him, and he gives me a sum of profit. So yes, he is my master" Ai explained with a closed-eyed smile, looking completely like a contented cat.

Miko Yamato felt baffled. She wanted to insult Ai Shizuka by degrading her status, but obviously, that damned woman was not at all bothered, and rather she looked happy.

On her mind, Ai had a different way of thinking: ...Is she Shion's subordinate or is she not, who cares... It doesn't matter what her status in Hozaka, the point was to get as much profit as possible and become rich. Plus all these profits were from her favourite hobby, she earned and enjoyed at the same time, that's considered good enough.

Jin Omaru looked like he wanted to protest. But with no words to reply, his mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water before mastering a smile on his face.

"Miss Yamato, could you leave us for a while? I would like to speak with Miss Shizuka. Alone.", Jin said with emphasis on the word "alone" as he cast a glance to both Miko and Akiyo, his intentions very clear that he wanted them gone.

Akiyo stared silently at Ai, his cyan blue eyes filled with concern as he stood stubbornly, not moving an inch.

...That kind of look, in fact, Ai was very familiar... In her past life, whenever she was feeling down or alone, it was that exact same look at accompanied her. At the Omaru household, away from the family that supported her, Akiyo was the only one who stood by her side. Be it that she was being brazen or unreasonable, that look of concern and care never changed, only sheltering her and protecting her to his utmost abilities. Even when she was confined near her final moments, the young general had callously barged in, tried desperately to carry her out to safety as she refused him stubbornly.

Looking at her only friend from the past life and seeing that same look of concern again, Ai suddenly felt choked up with emotions. But she immediately forced a smile to her face, showing Akiyo that she was alright.

On the other side, Jin stared at the pair who were exchanging looks. They looked as if they were very close and understood each other, and he suddenly felt like an outsider who couldn't ever get in. ..Yet was he truly an outsider?...

From his "dreams" he knew... They were too real to be just dreams. He remembered the look of adoration on her face, the way she looked at him as she shyly tried to approach him closer. But all these affections... none of that was the reality. Like the fragments of imagination shattered by a force he could not foresee, they all just dissipated into thin air.

"Ai..." Jin Omaru came closer. "Talk to me, okay?", he spoke softly with his eyes cast down.

Ai looked away from her trance-like state, snapping out from remembering her past life as she nodded resolutely at Jin. Sooner or later, she would need to resolve this. She didn't know what was wrong with him but the earlier he understood that he should stay away, the better.

The pair walked towards a quieter corner of the fair, near the little alleyway.

"Speak." she said, leaning against the wall with one leg propped up in front.

Jin stood staring. There was a slight wind in the air and her silver hair flew softly against the wind, making her looked... ethereal. A short while later, the sleeve of the light blue kimono fluttered. With a wave of a hand in his face, she impatiently prompted: "Please start. I don't have much time."

Jin was silent for a while before he spoke: "...Ai...why do you hate me so much?"

Ai stared at him.

...Hate?...

Well...even though she didn't necessarily like him in this life, what she was feeling for Jin was perhaps... not hate, but rather the feeling of wanting to get away...

While Jin Omaru is definitely not the most intelligent of the bunch, he was simply, just an ordinary man... It is fairly common for the noblemen to have many wives but Ai Shizuka, who was spoilt from young and used to being the centre of attention, couldn't accept that. Blinded by her jealousy, she did, in fact, caused a lot of menaces, trying to bind him to her in desperation, not realising that her actions were widening the growing gap between them. Yet it was only in her final moments that she realised what was truly important to her. Her family...

"...I don't hate you, young master Omaru..." Ai spoke slowly, remembering that the punishment she received was caused by her own actions. Jin, as clueless and naive as he was, only watched and acted in a way as any normal man in this era would. In a sense, he could be considered a victim himself...

But human emotions are truly complex, even gods cannot decipher. Though she didn't wish him an ill will, she still couldn't fully forgive him for indirectly causing her family's death. For that, all these actions that she had been doing towards him was all in the name of driving him away.

"...But I do not wish to do anything with you..." She continued, wiping away the smile that lit up his face.

"...why?..." Jin asked.

"Am I not good enough? I will improve. Just tell me what's wrong..." he whispered, suddenly coming very close to her with his both arms caging her from both sides of her head.

Ai tried to move away but her exits were blocked. She was just about to push him off and kick him down on the ground, suddenly "crack!" a whiplash sounded and Jin immediately kneeled down on the ground and bringing her down altogether.

Warm arms held her against his chest in a firm embrace and Ai suddenly wanted to cry. Being held by Jin Omaru was definitely not today's agenda and but as unlucky as she was, she would always end up in this kind of situation. Ai wanted to push him away but something dripping caught her eyes. Near the area just above his left eye, there was a bloody gash and it was bleeding profusely. The barbed wire in the whip had seemed to cut through his skin and Jin slightly hissed.

Looking up, Jin Omaru saw a young master with braided hair stood on a rooftop with an angry expression. "Tamaki Yunes?" He asked confusedly.

Tamaki scowled as he looked down at the pair below. He was just on his way to the harbour, madly furious that some mofo* dared to steal from him when he noticed this little scene along the way.

Already raging from the previous incident, Tamaki yelled callously: "Oii you dumb fuck, get your dirty hands off her!"

Jin was highly offended. Out of nowhere, Tamaki Yunes whipped at him for no reason. And now he was openly insulting him. Grabbing his sword, Jin shouted: "You come down, I will fight you."

"Ahahaha! I'm busy now but I will entertain your request next time", Tamaki laughed, before blowing a flying kiss in Ai's direction and leapt off.

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(Author: Look at this Tamaki making a cameo appearance lol)

Looking at Jin's badly bleeding face, Ai was suddenly feeling bad. Standing in front of her idly was not the cold and cruel regent general she was familiar with, but rather a young man who looked lost and had been mercilessly kicked down numerous times.

Feeling slightly bad, Ai took out her little handkerchief. Wordlessly, she dabbed away the blood as the young regent gazed at her in wonder.

"Ai..." he whispered, drawing closer.

The pale golden eyes flashed. "Stay still or I will blind both of your eyes."

Reluctantly, Jin drew back as he watched her slowly stood up and walked away. With a smile, he clutched the now-bloody handkerchief gingerly. ...I will really make you mine...

Half an hour later, the fair would soon come to an end and Ai sighed happily as she looked down at the large stack of banknotes. There were a lot of orders for her weapons and apart from the little drama, overall, it was a good event!

Ai was very excited, she didn't realise someone had crept up to her again.

With an amused voice, Hayama teased: "...Heartless little thing, you really love money... your face is literally glowing..."

Ai was in a good mood, so she laughed and replied: "of course! Who doesn't?"

Hayama was quiet for a while before he said in a strangely urgent tone: "Then...why not marry me... I'm very rich, I have lots of money..."

Ai Shizuka was stunned. This kind of simple-minded words, surely he was jesting.

"Aha! Stop joking around, but no thank you anyway! I want to make my own money and I also don't want to owe it to anyone...", she replied happily, her spirit was high, nothing could bring her down.

Hayama, on the other hand, gazed at the happy young woman in front of him. Her smile was so bright, he didn't see her this happy before. Yet his heart ached. Once again, he was rejected. He meant it when he asked her to marry him. The woman is so rare and eccentric with shocking capabilities, he was sure he would not be able to come across another Ai Shizuka. Plus even though she normally looked cold and unfeeling, she didn't have any evil bones in her and he quite liked how objective she sees things. This kind of qualities, they were truly meant to be by his side and he really wanted to make her his Empress. So for that, if it was the money she wanted, he would give her all she wanted.

Perhaps it was a weak attempt, trying to lure her with the promise of money, but Hayama was running out of time and was growing restless. The second General Omaru something said his envoy was here this morning. That means Isamu is here and she would drag him back to Kukio by hook or by crook. Even though Isamu is his shadow guard by right, that woman listened to his mother like a loyal dog and would do every one of her commands without any question.

Thinking of the super-strength red-haired shadow guard, Hayama suddenly felt unease. If she was here, he really couldn't be out in public. Reluctantly, he said: "I need to go back first, see you at home, Ai."

Ai gave him a nod and waved her hands dismissively. Hayama scowled and with one last warning glare at his "cousin" nearby, he turned and left.

Thinking of all the profits she was gonna make, Ai was feeling giddy with pride. Sure, the large majority of the orders had come from Omaru defence alone and there were even some from Yamato Magistrate. Ai was pretty sure Miko got cowed into buying by Jin Omaru and she laughed out loud. That dumb Miko, playing clueless also had its side effects...

If people knew her story, some might say: "Oh didn't you hate them? Why would you accept their money? Didn't you have any pride?"

And she would answer: "Huh, who cared whose money is whose, money is still money, it's all the same." In the end, their money or not, it all went into her pocket. If she became the richest woman in Shinto, she would have more power.

Happy with the prospect of being all-powerful, Ai was on cloud nine.

"This much amount of money, how are you gonna manage?" a low baritone voice asked gently beside her.

Ai turned to look at young master Hozaka who silently took a seat beside her. With a gentle sweep of hands, the young master brought out a handkerchief and started dabbing the sweat on her forehead...

Ai stared at him blankly. What happened to this young master...

Even though she was considered to be a bit brash and sometimes clumsy, she didn't really need someone to wipe the sweats for her. But considering Shion's noble and caring character, it might just be something normal for him...

"I don't know what to do with this money, I never really had that much before so I will probably place in the bank for now."

Shion smiled slightly. "I can help if you want...", he offered.

Ai was overjoyed. From start to the end, this noble young master guided her selflessly. Sure the profits were, of course, shared among themselves from this weapon business, but she really didn't do much. All she did was to shake legs and design the weapons when Young master hozaka was the one who took care of everything, from distribution of manpower to providing the starting capital.

Overwhelmed with gratefulness, Ai's face was almost close to tears. It was highly-spoken among the staffs that Shion Hozaka was truly noble and pristine, respected by his peers and elders alike and helpful to others with not a single trace of smudge in his reputation. But to receive such favours from someone like Shion Hozaka, this unworthy woman, did she truly deserve it?

With a shaky voice like the leaves in the wind, she said: "Young Master Hozaka, I truly do not know how could I ever repay you..."

Shion cast his eyes down and with almost an inaudible voice, he spoke: "Well... you can...you can have dinner with me....at my place... I don't like going out to the public..."

Ai thought for a while. Shion Hozaka was doing so many favours for her but only asked for a simple dinner. This kind of man, so humble and so kind, truly one in a million. He really is an angel...

Ai immediately nodded: "Sure! I'm hungry now anyway!"