The next day onwards, Kikyouin-san’s attitude towards me became even worse. She would click her tongue every time our eyes met, and if I entered within a ten meter radius, she would go off somewhere far away. My heart was getting crushed, but… yeah. Well, whatever. I’m still cheering for you, you know that, Kikyouin-san?
With this and that, the case of fraud was nearing its end to me. Thanks to the returned seventy thousand yen, my sense of crisis had lifted away like the mist. As long as I economized, I’d surely be able to live until the next living expense shipment.
I thought, as I tried to return to my everyday life… and it was at that time.
“There’s someone I want you to meet.”
One day after school, I was called out by Orino-san. When I walked behind her, I found a black station wagon right outside the school gate. We both boarded the back seat.
“Huh? You can’t see outside from this car at all.”
All screens were smoke windows. There was a black wall with the drivers’ seat as well, so I couldn’t see the driver’s face or the scenery up ahead. Because of that, I got the feeling I was being isolated from the outside world.
“Y-you didn’t know, Kagoshima-kun? Lately, these sort of cars are in fashion.”
“Hmm. I see.”
When I settled in my seat, the car instantly started.
“… I kinda get the feeling we’ve been driving in circles a lot.”
“A-aren’t you imagining it.”
It was as if they were purposely taking a detour so I couldn’t infer the location of our destination.
“So, Orino-san, in the end, where are we headed? Isn’t it about time you told me?”
“It’s a secret.”
It was a question I asked a number of times, but she wouldn’t tell me. I guess it doesn’t matter. I’ll know when we reach.
Another ten minutes later, the car finally stopped. I couldn’t see outside, so I couldn’t tell where we were in the slightest. Perhaps we had gone out of town. From the driver’s seat, I heard only, “We’re here.”
When I tried getting off,
“Aah! W-wait, wait.”
Orino-san let out a panicked voice. She started groping through her own bag. “H-huh…? It’s not here, my blindfold isn’t here… no way, I forgot it…” she muttered something to herself.
“Orino-san, I’ll be getting down first.”
“I’m telling you, wait! Please, I’m begging you!”
Hmmm. I wonder what’s up.
Keeping her eyes trained on mine, Orino-san began searching her own pockets and the seat, but it seems she was still unable to find what she was looking for.
“Uuurk… now that it’s come to this…”
After mulling with an extremely troubled face,
“K-Kagoshima-kun, turn around.”
She said. What is she even doing, I pondered as I turned around.
“W-who is it?”
I was blindfolded.
Soft, warm hands were draped over my eyes.
“C-correct! It was me, Orino Shiori all along. You’re amazing, Kagoshima-kun.”
“… No seriously, Orino-san.”
“…… I’m begging you here. I’m begging you, please don’t say anything…”
Her voice was shaking. I was blindfolded so I couldn’t see, but perhaps Orino-san was crying behind me. I wonder what she was trying to do… But so be it. Orino-san says some strange things from time to time. If I start worrying about it, it’s my loss.
After that, still under the effect of ‘who is it?’ I stepped down from the car and started walking.
“… Hey, Orino-san, how long are we doing this?”
“… This is my life’s first and last wish, so please don’t say anything…”
If it’s her life’s wish, then there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll keep quiet.
It was scary to walk around blind, but Orino said, “Turn right,” “Now left”, directing my head in the right direction, so I wasn’t that hard pressed.
“Stairs, be careful.”
At some point, the sensation under my feet changed from soft dirt to something hard. I stopped feeling the wind. It seems I had entered a room.
After climbing and descending stairs,
The clicking sound of an opening door, I took a step in. It seems we’d finally reached our destination. The ‘who is it?’ ended and my sight was cleared.
When I turned, the door was already closed.
Looking around, I was in a tasteless white room. When it was far more spacious than my own room, the lack of windows made it feel constricting. There were security cameras operational in the four corners of the room.
In the center of the room was an isolated island of table and chairs, but nothing else to be found.
“I guess it’s been a while. Kagoshima-kun.”
The man in a suit sitting at the desk turned to me and said.
I had some recollection of him.
It seems the person Orino-san wanted me to meet was Masaki-san (stage name). Last month, I was wrapped into a certain incident. Well, it might not be serious enough to call an incident, but I took part in the filming done by the movie club Orino was part of at the spur of the moment. Masaki-san (stage name) was something of the boss character in the movie.
He betrayed the organization and carried out acts of terrorism, but was defeated by Orino-san (stage name Orino), and Kirako-san (stage name Kugayama), being dragged back to the organization in the end—was his role.
According to Orino-san,
‘Masaki-san is a talent it would be too much a pity to lose, so he wasn’t disposed of. Of course, he wasn’t acquitted. His powers were sealed with electron cuffs, and he’ll be confined in the facility for a while—umm, how does that sound for an epilogue?’
“I just had to meet you face to face and apologize. I begged Orino to take you here.”
Masaki-san said as I sat across.
His grown-out beard had been shaved, and his carelessly long hair had been put in order with a buzz. Perhaps because of that, he gave off quite a different impression from before.
No, it wasn’t just his outer appearance. His menacing aura had vanished and I felt that his entire atmosphere had softened up. But I guess that was obvious, back then, he was playing a part on camera, after all.
“I’m really sorry for what I did back then.”
Masaki-san deeply lowered his head. It was such an earnest apology, I ended up panicking.
“I-it’s fine. You don’t have to… and wait, I’m the one who just went and barged into your movie. I should be saying that to you.”
Masaki-san definitely tried to kill me, but that’s all the events of a motion picture.
“… So you really are like that. It’s just as Orino said,” Masaki-san gave a troubled smile. “But this is a problem of my own feelings. Something like settling the score.”
“I see, in that case, well… Um, so where are we right now, anyway?”
“The set for our next movie.”
Masaki-san slickly answered. I see, it’s a set. Judging by the inorganic and cold atmosphere drifting through the room’s entirety, it’s supposed to be something like an empty space beneath a secret research facility.
“This club really is nice and proactive. The members all seem to get along well. Have you known each other a long time?”
“That’s right. I’ve known Orino for around five years, I guess?”
“Five years, huh. Hmm. So Orino-san’s been working on movies for five years.”
Five years would put her in elementary school. I guess she did her best as a child actor.
“No,” Masaki-san shook his head. “When I say five years, I mean the five years since I entered this movie club.”
He left a space before going on.
“Orino’s been here since she was born.”
“… Since she was born?”
“Yeah. I’m part of the group who were gathered after their talents were discovered. Kugayama’s the same. But Orino’s different. She was born and raised here.”
Both Masaki-san and Kugayama-san (Real name Kirako-san) joined later. But Orino-san… Orino Shiori was born and raised here.
So she’s been in movies since she was a baby. Orino-san’s amazing.
“… I’m sorry, could you keep that one a secret form Orino-san? That girl’s convinced she was ‘brought here at a young age’.”
“Understood. Well, that sounds about right. It’s a little embarrassing to see footage of yourself as a baby.”
“… Yeah, you’re right.”
Masaki-san gave a bitter smile, before wearily narrowing his eyes.
“… Last month, during filming, do you remember how I used jamming equipment to seal away Orino-san’s powers?”
“Yes. That scene left quite an impression.”
Masaki-san used a jamming device that only worked on specials to torment Orino-san. While that device was active, special class psychics weren’t supposed to be able to use their abilities. And yet, even if it was just a small pebble, Orino-san managed to use psychokinesis.
That scene was burned hard into my brain.
It was far too convenient of a development.
As if it was a movie.
“I thought there was a problem with my jamming equipment. It was a prototype, after all.”
But Masaki-san went on as if talking to himself.
“By the result of the higherup’s investigation, there were no problems with that device.”
No problems with the equipment. Which means…
“… But if it’s a movie, isn’t it fine like that? When someone’s in a pinch, their dormant abilities awaken, a common development.”
“… That’s right. In a movie, I’m sure that would be fine.”
Masaki-san furrowed his brow, his expression turning grim. It was the face of someone who had seen firsthand an incomprehensible something he couldn’t bring himself to fathom.
On the way back, I followed pretty much the same steps as when I came. The only difference was that Orino-san didn’t do “’who is it?’ for me. She bought a blindfold while I was talking to Masaki-san, apparently.
… No, I didn’t find it disappointing or anything. I’m not sad about it at all.
I’m not thinking in the slightest what would happen if I suddenly stopped in a ‘who is it?’ state, and Orino-san ran into my back, what’s more, her hands occupied with covering my eyes, she wouldn’t be able to catch herself, inevitably having her press her chest up against my back. Perish the thought.
“Why do you look so disappointed…?”
Walking beside me, Orino-san asked perplexedly, so I told her it was nothing. After I hopped off the car at school, we started off home together. I didn’t know where Orino-san lived, but it seems it was the same path half-way, so we accompanied one another.
“Ah, that’s right, right. Since I’m here, I should give this to you.”
As she said that, Orino-san handed me an envelope. Its contents surprised me.
“… This is?”
“Kagurai-senpai entrusted it to me. Said she wanted you to hand it to Kikyouin-san.”
Oh I see.
I see. I guess Kagurai-senpai would do something like this.
“She has some novel ideas. But why me?”
“That’s because Kikyouin-san hates you, right?”
“… I see.”
Come to think of it, the reason Kikyouin-san wouldn’t enter the ComClub was because I was there…
“Yeah, got it. I’ll do my best to be liked by Kikyouin-san.”
“… Y-you don’t have to try that hard. Well, umm… if Kikyouin-san comes to like you for real, we’ll have a huge mess on our hands… yeah. Kagoshima-kun, you’re better off just a little bit hated.”
I got the feeling she just said something horrible to me, but, well, I’m sure it was my imagination. Tucking the envelope away in my bag, I started walking again.
Without any forewarning, Kai suddenly appeared. As elusive as a youkai, by the time I noticed it, he was sitting on the guardrail in front of me.
“What’s up, Kai? It’s rare to see you in a place like this.”
“Just out on a walk. No, maybe a patrol.”
I’ve been getting a bad feeling about this town lately, he added on something incomprehensible as he walked over to me.
“Akira. Who’s this cute little lady?”
“Eh, oh me?”
At the sudden compliment, Orino-san’s cheeks turned red. So even poser lines don’t sound creepy if Kai’s the one saying it. I see. So this is the, ‘must be said by a hottie’ guarantee.
“Orino-san. Orino Shiori-san. She’s my classmate, and the class rep.”
I introduced her without beating around the bush, and Orino-san lightly lowered her head.
“And this is Kai. Shinose Kai. My childhood friend.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Orino Shiori-san.”
Kai smiled wide. In contrast, “Ah, yes. A pleasure…” Orino-san made a puzzled face for some reason. Still with that look on her face, she turned towards me.
“So Shinose-kun is your childhood friend…?”
“Yeah. That’s right… is something wrong?”
“… Kagoshima-kun, weren’t your childhood friends Daiki-kun and Yoshiko-chan?”
“Huh… didn’t you tell me about it some time ago? That those two were the ones you always played with…”
“Did I…? No, I don’t remember that…”
I wonder what it is, this feeling that something’s out of place. Like some discrepancy was born in our recollection of events.
Was Orino-san remembering something wrong?
My only childhood friend is Kai.
A dubious air began flowing between the three of us—at that moment.
A familiar cry echoed through the air, as lightning raced across the sunset sky.
And a few dozen meters ahead, from the roof of the tightly packed buildings ahead, a single shadow quietly leapt down to the asphalt.
It was Kikyouin-san. She was wearing the onmyouji costume I’d seen sometime before.
“Aah, god! That blasted Tsuchimikado Senzou… he used his shikigami as a decoy to get away……”
She irritatedly muttered as her sharp eyes glared at what should be empty space.
“… She’s always letting loose, that Kikyouin-san.”
“Hmm,” Kai beside me let out a breath of admiration. “One of the twelve heavenly generals, prepared by the great onmyouji Abeno Seimei, Touda. All the twelve generals should be with Seimei’s direct lineage, the Tsuchimikado House, so why is it in this town…”
“Huh? Did you say something?”
“No, I was just wondering if that cute girl over there is also an acquaintance or yours.”
“That’s Kikyouin-san, the transfer student. I told you about her, right?”
“Ah, I remember… I see, so that’s how it is.”
He found understanding on his own, smiling as if he had a grasp on everything.
“The ones fighting Touda are… three pipe foxes, eh? I see. Quite fitting for the clan possessed by the kitsune. That being the case, they’re at a disadvantage against one of the twelve generals… if Tamamo no Mae’s daughter was here, it’d be an easy win… but it doesn’t look like she’s anywhere around.”
Kai started whispering some incomprehensible things, so I peeked at Orino-san.
“What… are those monsters…”
Her eyes were open wide, her face pale.
“Monsters? What are you talking about, Orino-san?”
“They’re right there, aren’t they… a red snake as large as an anaconda, and three white foxes floating in the air…”
“You can’t see them… Kagoshima-kun…?”
“So you can see those, Orino Shiori, san?”
“… See them or not, when they’re that vivid… but Kagoshima-kun says he can’t see… then what Kikyouin-san’s fighting right now… really is…”
When I was about to call out to Orino-san in her confusion,
Kikyouin-san crumbled to the ground. Rather than taking on an attack, her way of falling was more like she had put too much force into her dodge, and fallen over as a result.
“Hey, are you alright!?”
Orino-san raced over to Kikyouin-san.
“… Why are you here…?” she muttered as she shifted her eyes to me. “That idiot too… ah, whatever, do why you want, just move. You’re in the way.”
Pushing Orino-san aside, Kikyouin-san stood to her feet. Still gazing into empty space, she took a number of paper charms from her breast pocket. RinByouTouSha, she chanted the nine characters and kicked the ground.
“So… Kikyouin-san really was the real deal…”
Orino-san stood on the spot, her expression a blend of shock and acceptance. And she hurriedly turned towards me.
“Sorry, Kagoshima-kun. I have some secret business with Kikyouin-san, so could you go on without me?”
Not giving me time to respond, Orino-san leapt out. As if she was using psychokinesis on her own body, a leg strength I would never expect from a high school girl.
“Akira, let’s go.”
When I mulled unable to follow the situation, a hand was placed on my shoulder.
“Kai… are you sure?”
“It’s fine. From what I could see, that shikigami… Touda wasn’t ordered to kill anyone. It was summoned with the sole purpose of stalling for its summoner. No need to worry, no one’s dying.”
“Oh, slip of the tongue. Yeah,. Well, don’t worry about it. Women have a world of their own. Us men can’t step into girl’s talk, can we?”
Kai continued tugging at my arm. As always, I didn’t get a single thing he was thinking, but I decided to quietly follow along. There was still something pulling at me, I ended up turning around.
There was considerable distance between us now. Only the shouts Kikyouin-san scattered barely entered my ear.
“… Huh? You… what, that… psyc—— wers…? Those —ly exi—fool! You can’t hit a spiritual body with a rock, I don’t know about——chokenisis or whatever—— stay out, ama—r!”
My heart was astir. I couldn’t just let myself be taken away by Kai.
“Ah. Oy, Akira.”
Shaking off his hand, I raced towards Orino-san and Kikyouin-san.
Returning halfway down the path I came… and it was then. In my distant view, Kikyouin-san gave a strong wave of the hand holding her charms. Not to stop an enemy blow, it was a gesture to parry it.
That motion was a moment too late, and on, the three-story multi-residence building to my right, a portion of the concrete on the third floor was indented in a spherical shape.
By the time the destructive sound made me look up on reflex, it was already too late.
The countless fragments of glass covering up my entire field of vision. The reiteration of countless glimmering diffused reflections fell in accordance with the earth’s law of gravity.
Nowhere to run, no time to try.
The rain of glass came down on me.
“Good grief, you really are a handful.”
What entered my ears was the same quiet and gentle voice of my childhood friend as ever.
He was laid-back, showing not a shred of panic, as he lightly waved his hand. With that alone, I felt as if space creaked, time distorted, and the world bent out of place. My body was surrounded in a sweet, gentle light.
I was taken aback. It seems I lost consciousness for a few moments.
“… E-eh? -huh?”
Still confused, I gazed over my body.
I was unharmed. Not a scratch.
Following on, I slowly expanded my field of vision. Over the surrounding asphalt, the glass fragments that fell from the building were scattered.
Only around me, as if a hole had been opened in the rain, there wasn’t a single piece to be found.
“Akira, are you hurt?”
Avoiding the glass, Kai approached. There was a sense of fatigue and relief on his face. As if he used some sort of special power and exhausted himself.
“… I’m fine. Looks like none of them hit.”
“Hmm. That’s some amazing luck you’ve got. A miracle, I’d say.”
“Yeah. Thank god, I’ve still got it.”
“You’re one lucky devil, you.”
I borrowed Kai’s hand to stand. To get out unharmed after facing such an accident, I really am lucky. I must have some good karma.
“Making that laid-back face. Not knowing the effort that took–”
Stopping her words part-way, Kai gazed at a single point. At the end of my vision were Kikyouin-san and Orino-san. The two of them were no longer gesturing of fighting something.
“You… what did you do?”
Kikyouin-san said as if she was giving a cross-examination.
“I don’t know… it was the heat of the moment…”
Orino-san answered with intermittent words.
“Without using a spell, to directly interfere with a spiritual body and revert it… not even Abeno Seimei could do that… so Psychokinesis can even do something like that?”
“I don’t know… I mean, today was the first time I ever saw something like that.”
I felt like something was over. And yet, on their two expressions, I couldn’t pick up the slightest hint of victory.
“Orino Shiori. Hmm.”
To my side, Kai hummed a note.
His eyes colored by hues of intrigue were focused on a single point the whole time. As she gazed at her own hand, an anxious look on her face, at Orino-san.