“To tell the truth, Nee-sama, there is a matter of some importance.”
When her beloved little sister arrived and said that with a serious look, Ram narrowed her pale red eyes.
The time was evening, and the place was Ram’s personal room in the Roswaal manor. She had already finished her work as a maid for the day, and had bathed as well, and was about to take on one last task before sleeping.
Ram entrusted the bulk of the mansion’s maid work to Rem, but secretly, she was assisting Roswaal with his tasks as he carried out his role as a margrave. While her master usually seemed to be aloof and rarely looked busy, his responsibilities included a wide variety of tasks, and his workload was far beyond normal.
As well, due to there being more than a few jobs that certainly could not be called cheerful, Ram deliberately avoided letting Rem see what she was doing as she assisted Roswaal.
“Understood. Ram will just tidy her room a bit, if you’ll wait for a moment?”
“Yes, Rem will wait.”
Hence, as part of allowing Rem into her room, she needed to begin by stashing the offending documents in a clothing rack. Shoving the roll of documents into the rack with a pop, she closed the door tightly. Then, so that the door could not accidentally open again, she used her wand in place of a latch. Now, there would be no problem.
“Rem, sorry to keep you waiting. Please come in. Now, what’s the matter?”
“Yes. ……Well, it’s about Subaru-kun.”
After she invited Rem into the newly-tidied room, Rem (wearing a light blue nightgown) responded to her question. Understanding the content of the matter she wanted to discuss, Ram (who had more or less guessed at it) nodded with a difficult feeling.
Lately, half of Rem’s life had been entirely concerned with the black-haired boy in question. Where previously Rem’s thoughts had been entirely focused on Ram, it felt like the boy had run away with half of them. To Ram, who had felt worried over Rem until only a short time ago, this was both something that she felt she should welcome, as well as something she might also be a bit envious over.
In short, as someone who doted on her little sister, to be thought of by her less often wasn’t fun.
“But Ram wouldn’t want you to hate her for saying it, so she won’t say that.”
“It’s nothing. So then, what’s the matter with Barusu? If you’re too sweet to him, he’ll take advantage of your generosity and become arrogant, so I think you need to hang him out to dry now and then, too.”
“No, if anything, Rem would like Subaru-kun to depend on her even more, and hanging him out to dry would just be cruel, but…… there is that.”
“There is that?”
Ram tilted her head as she didn’t quite follow the meaning of Rem’s words.
As she did so, Rem said “Yes” as she nodded deeply, and gently took Ram’s hand, sitting next to her on the bed. Then, with her pale blue eyes moist, she continued.
“Nee-sama, have you ever heard of a game called ‘pretend oni’?”, she asked. (translation note: the Japanese term here would usually be translated ‘tag’, but the more literal ‘pretend oni’ may make more sense in this story.)
According to what Rem said, it was this sort of thing.
After lunch today, Subaru and Rem had set out to do some shopping in the nearby Arlam village. There, as usual, Subaru had lost track of time while playing with the village children, and skipped out on his work. It seems that he’d promised to play with the children. And the name of what he’d promised to play was…
“So it was ‘pretend oni, then.”
“Yes. It seems there are variations such as ‘frozen oni’ or ‘high oni’, and ‘color oni’ as well, and Subaru-kun was inviting Rem to play along too, but……”
“You couldn’t imagine what sort of game it was. With the example of what happened at the Snow Festival, this must have been a custom of Barusu’s backwards hometown. Honestly, how bothersome.”
While comforting Rem (who was drooping dejectedly), Ram inwardly cursed Subaru’s thoughtlessness.
Since it was Subaru, most likely there was no ill will behind it, and he was simply lacking in consideration for others. It was a result brought about by his unfounded sense of trust that everyone was familiar with everything that he was.
How much worry that would cause for gentle Rem was surely something he did not imagine.
“How infuriating. …But wouldn’t it have been good enough to simply go ahead and ask him directly?”
“That is true, but…… Subaru-kun looked like he was enjoying himself greatly, so Rem hesitated to spoil his mood…… Also…”
“Rem didn’t want Subaru-kun to think she is an ignorant girl… is that strange, perhaps?”
“No no, it’s just very cute. Also, Barusu is loathsome.”
The way Rem held herself so bravely was so adorable, Ram almost gobbled her up without thinking. It was an impulse that had attacked her now and then since she was little, and this time, too, she just barely managed to endure it.
Setting that aside,
“Even so, ‘pretend oni’, is it…… What a deeply meaningful name this must be.”
“From the way that Subaru-kun was talking about it, Rem would guess it’s a game that uses the body. Do you know what kind of game it could be, nee-sama?”
“Sadly, Ram does not know of this game, either. However, if it’s something that children and even Barusu can play at, then the content of it can’t be all that complex. Let’s see……”
Tapping a thin finger on her chin, Ram turned her imagination around the unseen game of ‘pretend oni’.
It was a terribly simple name, but it’s meaning could be derived from ‘pretend’ and ‘oni’. Regardless of what ‘oni’ implied, ‘pretend’ should mean some sort of behavior or imitation.
“In other words, one should think of it as a game where one acts like an oni, or in some way imitates an oni.”
“That, that’s definitely true. When presented with an unknown phrase, Rem entirely failed to try and imagine what it might mean. Very impressive, nee-sama.”
“Don’t fret about it. No matter what, there’s a way to break through it. Well then…… from here, what becomes most important is what oni they’re trying to imitate.”
“Rem sees! Well done, nee-sama, such keen insight!”
With her eyes sparkling, Rem cheered as she began to see the breakthrough.
Since Ram was the sort of older sister that would feel empowered by Rem gazing at her like that, and she could be thought of as a symbol of love for younger sisters, to put it plainly, she started getting full of herself.
In truth, she felt like she had a good lead in inferring the meaning of ‘pretend oni’ from its name. Naturally, there would be nothing to the sort of game that Barusu could think up. There could be no doubt that it would be as simple and obvious as it could possibly be.
“And so, the oni in question…… He went to the trouble of bringing up such a topic as ‘pretend oni’ deliberately while speaking to Rem, after all. Certainly, he did so with some sort of intention.”
“Some sort of intention, is it? Subaru-kun’s deep thoughts are surely something that Rem could never imagine…… Can you grasp them, nee-sama?”
“Hmm, well, just as an example…… to you, Rem, what is an oni, perhaps?”
“It’s you, nee-sama!”
Raising her hand in a flash, Rem answered with a smile that reached every corner of her face. In response to that answer, Ram felt a sense of warmth, along with a bit of amusement, as she softened her expression.
“Correct. But it should mean you as well, Rem.”
“Oh…… that’s right. However, we were speaking about what it means to Rem, so without thinking…”
Observing her younger sister as she looked down with an air of embarrassment, Ram could see that there was nothing forced in her expression, and a short sigh escaped her.
…Being a member of the oni race, the problem of whether one had horns or not was inescapable.
Even while understanding that, Ram had dared to push forward into that, wrapped in an air of unconcern. However, Rem’s reply to her had been natural, and Ram carried a sense of relief over that fact.
“To Rem, speaking of an oni couldn’t mean anyone other than nee-sama. So naturally, the oni being imitated in ‘pretend oni’, too, could only be nee-sama……”
With her chest held proudly, and speaking of her feeling of respect towards Ram, Rem’s face carried a look of surprise. Bringing a hand to her own mouth, she whispered “Could it be……”.
“Nee-sama, could it be that ‘pretend oni’ is……”
“Yes, that’s right. Everyone will have a different ‘oni’ that they picture in their mind. In short, an imitation of what that person thinks of as an ‘oni’. That’s the essence of ‘pretend oni’.
“That means that, to Rem, ‘pretend oni’ is imitating nee-sama……!”
Rem was stunned by the conclusion she had arrived at, and beside her, Ram was similarly shocked.
With a straightforward name like ‘pretend oni’, how could it require such ingenuity to understand the implications. Someone who didn’t have an ‘oni’ in their vicinity would even be required to use their imagination to make up the difference.
Setting Subaru aside for the moment, it was difficult to think that the village children would have an ‘oni’ nearby, and there was no reason to think they were aware of Ram and Rem’s nature, so they would need to be filling that in with their imagination.
“For Rem to do something like imitating nee-sama…… she couldn’t dream of it. It seems this was too heavy a burden for Rem. She should return to Subaru and quietly apologize……”
“No, wait, Rem. Regardless of anything else, that would be getting ahead of ourselves.”
Ram was very glad for the high regard that Rem held her in. But taking that too far was also the true form of a curse that had tied Rem down for a long time.
Thinking of it that way, Subaru’s intention in inviting Rem to join in ‘pretend oni’ became clear bit by bit. There was no ill will, so she had thought at first, but this was outrageous.
Even if there was no ill intent, there was a plan. ……Those were the wiles of Subaru Natsuki.
“He’s endlessly clever. No doubt the bottom of his heart is pitch black.”
Ram thought of it as a dangerous thing to test, much like walking on thin ice, but in truth, for all that she could tell from looking at Rem, it was clear that her fears were needless. Aiming for that kind of change in her feelings was skillful; that was the sort of evaluation that didn’t match up with the way he normally spoke and acted. Such a mismatched boy he was.
Regardless, discarding Subaru for the moment, she focused on Rem, who was right in front of her eyes.
“Ram hates to say it, but the change in you came after what happened between you and Barusu, Rem. You were cute from the very beginning, but you’ve softened. You could say he broke you out of your shell.”
“Nee-sama…… Your thoughts on Rem are too kind.”
“Hence, that sort of Rem could do it. ……A ‘pretend oni’ of Ram.”
On the receiving end of Ram’s powerful declaration, Rem’s eyes opened wide.
However, her hesitation and uncertainty lasted only a moment. Rem closed her eyes as though digesting those words, and then made up her mind and opened them again.
“Nee-sama…… Rem, too, thinks that she would like to try it.”
“That, indeed, is worthy of Ram’s little sister. It will be fine, don’t worry. You’ve been watching Ram for a long time, haven’t you, Rem? With that, a sense of what Ram is should have worked its way into you.”
With her heart soaring, Rem nodded deeply in response to that affirmation. Gazing happily at her little sister’s powerful form, Ram moistened her lips and continued “Well then,”.
“Assuming that’s enough about simple ‘pretend oni’…… you were saying there were variations?”
“Ah, yes, that’s right. ‘Frozen oni’ and ‘high oni’. There was something called ‘color oni’ as well……”
“It’s just a guess, but in this case, ‘oni’ is probably just ‘pretend oni’ shortened down. In other words, one might think that ‘frozen oni’ refers to ‘pretend frozen oni’.
“‘Pretend frozen oni’……! Amazing! The puzzles, they’re all coming unravelled!”
“Continuing like this, it would become ‘pretend high oni’ and ‘pretend color oni’, then.”
While listening to Rem’s praise, Ram closed one eye as she unravelled the puzzles one after another. She was fairly sure that she was grasping the terms correctly, but now the problem became understanding the different variations of ‘pretend oni’……
“Rem, what would ‘frozen oni’ be?”
“Something to do with ice, perhaps? If so, something that makes a very chilly impression……”
“If so, hmm. In other words, it’s ‘pretend cold oni’, then.”
“You are always warm like the rays of the sun, nee-sama!”
When Rem protested after arriving at the answer in a single leap of logic, Ram drew her agitated sister to her chest and patted her head while she sent her thoughts searching for the remaining two answers.
“‘Pretend high oni’ and ‘pretend color oni’…… If high isn’t referring to monetary value, then surely it means pride. As for color……”
“As for color?”
An unpleasant image passed through her mind, but the way Rem tilted her head showed that she was too innocent to grasp what Ram had thought.
“No, never mind. Forget about ‘color oni’. Start with ‘pretend oni’. As well, mastering ‘cold oni’ and ‘high oni’ takes priority. ……Rem, can you keep up with me?”
“Ne, nee-sama…… Oh but nee-sama, Rem couldn’t take up any more of your time.”
The moment the situation showed signs of improving, Rem was once again aware of her surroundings. Perhaps due to at last thinking it wouldn’t do to be dropping in on her older sister just as she was about to sleep, Rem’s shoulder’s drooped, and Ram couldn’t help but smile at her.
Her words a few moments earlier, that Rem had changed, were no lie. However, just the same as before, the cuteness of how she would depend on her older sister, and come to softly grasp her clothing by the sleeve, was not lost.
So, feeling that her little sister was adorable, Ram patted her on the head.
“Trouble Ram as often as you can. Ram is Rem’s nee-sama, after all.”
As she said that, she smiled.
And, after that night of sisterly closeness had passed, the next day……
“Wha, wha, what happened, Rem!?”
Subaru stood with an astonished expression plastered on his face, his jaw dangling, and his eyes opened wide.
In front of Subaru as he gave that exaggerated reaction were Ram and Rem, who had gathered for the morning’s servant work. Subaru’s surprise was a result of hearing Rem’s first words.
Those first words were……
“Why are you speaking so loudly first thing in the morning? Think about the trouble you are causing for others, Barusu-kun.”
“Barusu-kun!? The way that sounds is way too unfamiliar! What on earth happened to you?”
Subaru could only wring his hands in confusion. Standing in front of him as he did so was Rem, with her hair parted on the opposite of the usual side, looking cross with an icy expression on her face.
With the sisters working together, this was the product of Ram and Rem’s efforts over an entire evening. Truly, this was a form that represented the completion of Rem’s ideal ‘pretend oni’.
“Rem is a hard worker, after all. Rejoice, Barusu.”
“Yes, rejoice, Barusu-kun.”
“How’m I supposed to rejoice about this!? Wha… what could Rem have been working hard at to make things end up like this? This has gotta be some kind of prank by nee-sama, right? Two nee-samas would be a nightmare for me…… hey, ow ow ow!”
As Subaru continued running his mouth, the sisters pulled his ears from the left and right at the same time. Normally he’d get away with only Ram doing that, but this time Rem joined in disciplining him without a moment’s delay.
“I, I don’t get what’s going on……! Rem, what kind of bad influence was nee-sama being!?”
“Ha! To call it an evil influence is an outrageous misunderstanding. Rem is always receiving nothing but fresh, rare love from nee-sama. This is a perfect ‘pretend oni’ that embodies that.”
“Nah, when you say it embodies it, where are you seeing love in this kind of behaviour…… huh? Pretend oni?”
In the middle of his sentence, a look of having realized something appeared on Subaru’s face.
While the ear-pulling discipline continued, Subaru mulled over something in his mind. Seeing him look like that, Ram released his ear with a pop.
“Rem, the rest is up to you. Ram feels like she’s short on sleep, so make sure to work Barusu to the bone. You can do that now, right?”
“Oh yes, leave it to Rem. Nee-sama, be sure to rest well.”
As Rem saw her off with a curtsey, Ram gave a little wave with her hand and headed off. Subaru called “Hey, nee-sama!” to her back as she went.
“Let me guess, you put this weird ‘pretend oni’ stuff in Rem’s head, didn’t you!? Even though you know exactly what it means! Darn it, nee-sama! Wait, c’mon, he~y!”
Subaru’s yells echoed through the mansion, but Ram didn’t pause as she walked away.
As the shouts washed over her back, she simply smiled as though they felt comfortable, and stretched her back well.
It looked like she’d have a truly wonderful mood to take her through her morning nap, was the feeling she carried in her slender chest.
*’色’ (iro), the character for color, is also sometimes used to refer to a concept similar to sexual attractiveness. Lust is written ‘色欲’, for instance, with ‘欲’ being roughly ‘a desire’. Basically, Ram is assuming Subaru is referencing something lewd.