Ryouko stopped coming to school.
“What do you think happened to Ryouko-chan?”
Pretending to immerse myself in the homework that had just been issued the class before, I let Kobato-san’s voice slip by. Granted, my mechanical pencil didn’t seem to be doing any moving for all the work I was supposed to be engrossed in.
Air. An existence that doesn’t stand out. Assimilate with the classroom surroundings as much as possible.
“Ichirou-kun, did you hear anything?” Itou asked me.
“Did you try calling?”
“She’s keeping her phone off.”
In order to feign uninvolvement, I ended up telling yet another small lie. I didn’t make any calls, nor did I receive any.
This was the peace I had gone as far as to thrust out divorce papers to obtain.
… And yet, I was still in the dumps. Thanks to the unease Ryouko left behind, I wasn’t talking much with Kobato-san or Itou anymore. With the hindrance eliminated, we should have been able to spend a fun and wacky time together. And yet we couldn’t. If I was going to be alone in the end anyway, I didn’t have to subjugate myself to Ooshima’s threads but did I really have to go so far to earn the right to submerse myself in a world of Ryouko’s wildest dreams? Even I had to say it was pathetic to cling to a daily life that had already fallen apart.
The break time ended without my homework progressing a single line. When Dorisen came, we stood and bowed. Classes began. I couldn’t put my heart into it.
At this rate, midterms were going to be a catastrophe.
What was I supposed to do? Was there another clear shortcut I could take?
“Satou, have you heard anything about what happened with Ladies?”
That break time, Dorisen interrogated me.
“I don’t know… she suddenly stopped coming.”
“She was searching for something, wasn’t she? Could she be busy with that?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know… umm, I have to use the restroom so…”
It would be next to impossible to fool Dorisen. I fled to the bathroom and returned without using its facilities. While it seemed Dorisen had withdrawn to the faculty room, Ryouko was there, waiting in his place.
There was only one reason she would come to the classroom.
“Ichirou, upon considering the particulars of the document in question, it has become clear that it details the production process of the Dragon Terminal. By the plenipotentiary power holder’s expectations, the profit this discovery will bring to the Central Assembly is tremendous. Therefore, The Researcher is currently considering temporarily placing all missions on ice to return to the organization at once.”
“Construction of the temple has already proceeded in secret. Very little time is required until its completion.”
“A temple, eh…”
This is bad. If I talk with Ryouko too much, it could cost me my life. As luck would have it, Ooshima was in the classroom. The sharp-sighted queen bee had no reservations to stare straight at us. Perhaps my wariness of her was transmitted, as she purposely opened her phone and waved it around for me to see.
I tensed up. It was precisely because I had experienced hell that the fear brought my body to cower.
I couldn’t let it get out by any means. This wasn’t logic, it was primordial instinct.
So I plainly told her.
“I can’t help you.”
Since I couldn’t expect a proper response from Ryouko, I took a page out of her book and went ahead with my own schedule.
I one-sidedly said only what I wanted to say.
“I can’t help you anymore. Not in the search nor in the construction of your temple. I do think I’ve fulfilled my obligation, and while I’m sorry, this is as far as I go. You can handle the rest on your own.”
You’re the only one who needs to be wrapped up in your delusions.
I took my seat without waiting for an answer. From the front, “Oh, it’s a lover’s tiff,” someone in the front jeered. I ignored them, naturally. With sluggish gestures, I prepared for class. Ryouko stood beside me.
“The site to erect a temple has already been decided. All that remains is to build it. Simple and convenient. As the structure need not be deemed habitable, many essential steps can be skipped in construction with no issue. It can even be an Aneha-class fabrication.”
Opposite the usual, I was the one ignoring Ryouko.
“What the temple construction requires is the accurate deployment of resonance to bring about a ritual effect, and that calculation will make use of the numerological system known in this world as gematria. To implement operation, a third party’s mutual observation-type direct social link must be distributed to varying degrees, but as The Researcher will become defenseless in that timeframe alone, a cooperator with high scanning abilities will prove necessary—”
Just give it up. I sluggishly pulled out my textbook as I waited for the pressure to leave.
“And when the temple is completed, by imputing the desired special coordinates through numerological disassembly, the gate, an exceedingly ambiguous domain between two worlds will be generated.”
When my preparations were over, I stretched my back and closed my eyes. Even as I put on an inorganic disguise, the incessantly bounding voice continued dancing in my ear with no end. A never-ending nightmare. I prayed silently it had to end someday. When I suspended my thoughts, a sense of guilt began oozing in.
Please. Just give up. Do something to protect yourself.
It was painful enough to want to cry out. Was this my recompense? Was my recompense for spending three years in folly not over yet? I broke my family apart, lost myself, and spread pictures to how many hundreds… are you saying I still have to atone?
The voice ceased. Did she finally leave?
I thoughtlessly turned my head and immediately regretting. Ryouko was still stood right before me.
She was suddenly sounding admirable.
“Consideration has definitely been lacking. Apology.”
“That’s a bit late… I’m not particularly angry, you don’t have to apologize.”
“The Researcher does bear a minor understanding of a resident of the phenomenal realm’s sense of values.”
From the gap in her robe, she stuck out the top of her staff. Her fingertip flipped open one of its multiple lids. As the inner pressure released, the crude stacks of bills sloppily saw the light of day.
“Your reward was never paid.”
Cash, notes, bills. A large mass of ten-thousand-yen notes. The easily few hundred thousand I’d witnessed once before were scooped out in their entirety and held out to me.
“This is all Ichirou’s. So…” as if that would resolve the matter. “Please help again.”
The chill I felt at that moment surpassed any I had experienced before.
“… Are you serious?”
“It is possible to procure local currency. Although it isn’t unlimited… with this much, if you still require more… it will be provided. Immediate is impossible, but in the near future.”
“Wait,” who was giving her money? “That’s your parent’s money, right?”
“The Researcher does not possess parents.”
“Stop. Don’t even joke about that.”
“It is a fact. No blood relatives exist in this world. While there are provisional parents in place… they are, in the end, no more than a mimesis.”
Why do we have to be so similar, I wanted to cry out. I tasted the feeling of finding m y own faults amplified. If she was a man, I’d have smacked her.
“Are you an idiot?”
I unconsciously stood. Pointing at the door, I put out a voice imbued with anger from the heart.
“Get out. Don’t ever talk to me again.”
Words can never perfectly convey the message.
What you feel in your heart will never perfectly reach. Even between those who understood one another. It was never as easy as sending an image.
But at that time alone, I felt the sensation of my anger being delivered in full. It came with the discomfort of a blade embedding into flesh.
Ryouko’s eyes dropped to around the tips of her toes, “… Meaning,” she muttered before leaving the classroom in a sprint. The power suddenly left my body, I sunk into my seat.
“W-why? What happened?”
From the seat one up and two the right, Kobato-san directed a perplexed face.
Yeah, I wonder why. There’s no way I could answer that.