‘Confess under the cherry tree, and you’ll definitely find love, eh…’
‘I thought it was the sort of absurd urban legend you’d find anywhere, but I was right to look into it. There really was a youkai involved… Umm, are you listening, Tamane-sama?’
‘Y-yeah. We’re listening. But it’s about this seelphone thingy you handed us, we just can’t grow accustomed to it. Is our voice truly reaching you…’
‘Don’t worry, I can hear you just fine.’
‘I’ll get back on subject. The ghosts inhabiting the sakura tree were a warring states-era princess, and a samurai. They could never be joined from their difference in stature, a sorrowful two.’
‘We recall hearing there used to be a castle around that area. We see, so the regrets of princess and retainer continue to persist in the world. That old chestnut again.’
‘By old chestnut, you mean it’s a common tale. The two are on the verge of forgetting the fact they were human and becoming youkai.’
‘Such is yet another common tale.’
‘If they stayed like this, just meddling a bit in human love affairs, I wouldn’t mind leaving them be… but it’s not goin’ to go down like that anymore.’
‘A ‘curse that forces one to stay within a certain distance from a man’ was it. Hmm. Certainly, that is a troublesome curse.’
‘Yes. Well, thankfully, I managed to seal ‘em in charms before they turned into true youkai. Takin’ them home, and goin’ through the proper exorcism procedure sounds like our best bet.’
‘Hmm. Very well.’
‘Yes. Then I’ll be starting back… Mn? Huh? The charm is–’
I got the feeling something rushed through my body.
The moment I slid the door open, something.
“Ah, Kikyouin-san. Howdy.”
An energetic greeting to Kikyouin-san as she gazed at the paper charms on the table. But after she took a fleeting glance at me, she returned her gaze to her charms.
… Yeah. Ignoring me as always. “Ah, it’s fine if you just ignore that guy. He’ll go away” sort of feeling right there.
“Huh…? They’ve gone docile. I thought they were goin’ to go on a rampage.”
“Are you the only one here today?”
“Yeah, looks like it… was it my imagination? I felt a strange power just now.”
Arbitrarily dealing with me, Kikyouin-san continued her staring contest with the charms. Well, I at least got a reaction out of her today, which is better than usual.
“What are you here for?”
“Nothing in particular… I just thought I’d study or something.”
Giving that curt response, Kikyouin-san suddenly began stuffing things into her bag.
“You look like you’re in a hurry.”
“I’m goin’ home. Don’t want to be alone with you.”
Instead of an insult, I got the feeling she was just saying what she really felt, so it bent my heart for real. Watching over Kikyouin-san as she rushed out without saying her goodbyes, I took a seat. Now then, study time I guess. I’m not lonely alone. And it was at that moment.
As she was trying to leave the classroom, just one step away, her movements came to a complete stop. She really was frozen in place; unable to lower her raised leg. It was roughly around three meters from me.
“D-don’t tell me…”
Wrrr, with stiff, robotic movements, she turned towards me.
“I-I’m cursed…? With this guy…? I can’t get a set distance away from this guy?”
She said with a stiff face before falling into a slump on the spot.
“You’ve got to be kiddin’ me… there’s no way, no way, no way. And for him of all people to be the centerpoint… I’m the only one who can’t get away…”
After mumbling to herself about something, she stood back on her feet and tried leaving again, but as expected, her movements game to a complete halt once more.
… Just what is she doing? Practicing that pantomiming she’s so good at?
“It’s no good… I really can’t get away.”
Her words mingled with a sigh as Kikyouin-san returned from the entranceway and sat across from me.
“Huh? Weren’t you going home?”
“… I thought I should study a bit myself.”
My heart brightened right up. What’s this, so she doesn’t hate me as much as I thought. I didn’t have to worry so much.
“… Annoying. This guys grin really pisses me off…”
I got the feeling Kikyouin-san said something in a terribly low voice, but it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
So our two-person study session began.
“And I’m stuck like this… I’m sorry, Tamane-sama. My mistake has made this more trouble than it had to be… umm, could you come save me… exorcising myself is proving too difficult, and there are too many restrictions placed on me… yes… yes. Thank you.”
Right at the onset, she immediately went to a corner of the room and made a phone call, but she did eventually return to the table.
“Was that Tama-chan?”
“Yeah. She’ll be here soon.”
“Nothin’ to do with you.”
She glared me into silence. I mean, she’s scary.
Just like that, the two of us continued studying in silence.
… This isn’t very fun at all. The two of us are finally studying together, so I’d like us to study with some more pleasant conversation.
“… Yes ma’am.”
She’s scaring me. Why is she in such a bad mood? Did I do something wrong? I didn’t have the energy or courage to take on the challenge, so I matched Kikyouin-san and studied in silence. As I was copying out English sentences, the tip of my mechanical pencil lead snapped and flew behind me.
Normally, I’d leave it be, but Kikyouin-san’s eyes were bothering me, so I decided to go get him. Alright, let’s show here I’m not a litterbug.
I went to claim the lead that had fallen quite a distance from the table—roughly three meters. When I dashed to get it as fast as physically possible—
A groan rose behind me.
“What’s wrong, Kikyouin-san!? You sound almost like you slammed your solar plexus into a desk!”
When I hurriedly rushed over, she was crouching and holding her stomach.
“… It’s… no… thing…”
She glared at me with fearsome eyes. Those were eyes that sought vengeance for her parents’ death.
“Are you okay…? You look like you’re in extreme pain…”
“Leave me be…”
She said in a faint voice as she suppressed her solar plexus.
It’s no good. I’m unable to leave a girl in such pain be!
“Stay where you are, Kikyouin-san! I’ll go get the school nurse!”
I raced to the door. By the way, this might not have anything to do with the current situation, but I was sitting with my back to the door, so inevitable, Kikyouin-san had the table between her and it.
I exercised a starting dash sharper than I had ever managed before. For the sake of my friend, I could put out speeds exceeding my limits… I think. I can understand it now. How Dazai Osamu must have felt when he penned out, ‘Ruun Melos’. Probably. I far exceeded my full strength, I sprinted with one hundred and twenty percent of my might.
It was remarkable louder than the last time.
It happened when I was around three meters from the table.
When I turned, Kikyouin-san was bent over the table, her whole body twitching. She reacted almost as if in such a short time, she received an additional impact to the same point.
“What’s wrong, what happened!? If there’s anything I can do, just say it!”
When I approached, she firmly grasped me by the shoulders.
“… I-I’m beggin’ ‘ya, don’t go anywhere. No wandering around, just stay with me…”
She said in an uncharacteristically weak voice, looking at me with moist, upturned eyes.
“Just stay by my side forever and ever…”
She sounded terribly desperate.
Misplaced as it was, my heart skipped a beat. I got the feeling I was hit with a surprise attack.
I nervously asked.
“Was that a proposal?”
Headed by a Kikyouin-san whose face was red as an apple, I received heavy damage. The pain was so great, “UgyaAAh!” I writhed around the floor, and when I got around three meters from the table, I heard another, “Ugoh” from Kikyouin-san.
… It was a catastrophe in various ways.
Kikyouin-san’s pain of unknown origin was contained, the studies restarted.
“Ah, come to think of it,”
… Her mood’s progressively worsening, that girl. But as I was gaining a resistance to her toxicity and boos, I continued talking without shrinking back.
“Come to think of it, was there a difference in lesson progress with your other school?”
Not too long ago, Kikyouin-san transferred from Kyoto. While she clad herself in a thorny atmosphere at first, she was considerably softer now.
It doesn’t’ look like she has many friends, but she was getting by without any other particular problems. As far as I could tell, she didn’t seem to be struggling in studies.
“… This school was a little ahead, but I managed.”
“Hmm. Did one of the teachers help you out?”
She said stiffly, drumming her fingers against her printout. The letters decorating it weren’t Kikyouin-san’s fine penmanship, but a round, girly handwriting.
“Is that possible a copy of Orino-san’s notes?”
“Right. She said she’d give it to me, so I’m thankfully putting it to use.”
That’s a bit of a surprise.
I was sure Orino-san and Kikyouin-san didn’t get along.
“At first, I thought I’d try asking Kagurai-senpai. She’s a senpai, for argument’s sake. But, you know…”
“Yeah, I getcha…”
That person’s no good at studies.
She was especially hopeless with literature, and her other subjects were, well, just plainly poor. Her knowledge related to computers was amazing, but everything else was lacking. “W-we never had to learn this sort of thing in my era!” the way she gave incomprehensible excuses was also hard to watch.
“And then when I didn’t even ask her, Orino-san lent me copies of her notes on all subjects. Well, I wasn’t that troubled to begin with, but I felt sorry to turn her away, so I took ‘em off her hands.”
Her cadence was especially fast in the latter half. She could just be honest that she was helped out.
“Sounds like Orino-san. But I’m a little surprised. When did you reconcile with Orino-san?”
“Why would we need ta reconcile? ‘n wait… we were never really fighting to begin with.”
By my memory, I got the feeling there was a stormy mood between them from the first day she transferred in. Rather, I get the feeling Kikyouin-san was the one trying to pick a fight with all her might…
“I just hate kids like Orino who put on the diligent honor student act. Could never stand those sort of nosy busybodies. It’s irritating to watch.”
… How rebellious.
“Don’t you feel bad for Orino-san when you say something like that… she let you copy her notes, so you know…”
“… I just…”
Kikyouin-san averted her eyes and spoke softly.
“… I just said I hate kids like her, I never said I hated her…”
I noticed her cheeks relax on the murmur.
Kikyouin-san really is a good kid after all.
“I see. In that case, is that also the reason why Orino-san was always going at your throat? Like she’s not good with your type?”
“No, whenever Orino went at me, it was always because she was sticking up for–”
Kikyouin-san’s words stopped, she stared fixatedly at me with appraising eyes.
“Umm… s-something wrong?”
“Not reeaaally. I was just musing how some people have terrible taste.”
She said nonchalantly, leaning her body forward a bit.
“Hey. What’s yer relationship with Orino?”
“Our relationship… we’re just normal friends.”
“Hmmm. ‘n how did you get that way?”
How I started out with Orino-san?
On Kikyouin-san’s casual question, I thought back, back to the day I first exchanged words with Orino-san—
Orino-san and I went to different middle schools. Our first-year classes were different, so I only learned of her existence when I became a second year. When we decided class officers in the first term’s first homeroom, Orino-san nominated herself for class rep, and I lost at rock paper scissors and became vice rep.
“I’ll be counting on you, Kagoshima-kun.”
“Yeah. Pleasure to work with you, Orino-san.”
That was—our meeting.
When I finished the story, Kikyouin-san retorted.
“That was totally normal! The hell are you staring off into the distance with sorrow in the air? I was wondering what happened, but that’s the sort of high school meeting you could find anywhere!”
“Well yeah, because we’re the sort of normal high school students you could find anywhere.”
It’s a bother if you expect anything strange of me.
It’s not like we actually met before in my youth, or some romantic development like that. Kikyouin-san took a large sigh.
“Ah, come to think of it, a letter for you came in from Tsuchimikado Senzou.”
She said only just recalling.
Tsuchimikada Senzou was the con artist who tricked me out of one hundred thousand yen. I got seventy thousand of it back but was still waiting on the remaining thirty.
“… Good grief. Just ‘cuz he doesn’t know your mailing address, he had it sent to me.”
What Kikyouin-san took out with a complaint—was a folded crane.
“A letter. It flew into my place this morning. You can read it if you unfold it.”
I hadn’t the slightest idea why it was a folded paper crane, but pondering over that one wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I undid the folds, and read the letter inside.
“What’s it say?”
“He drones on a bit, but… to summarize, ‘I lost at horse racing, so you’ll have to wait a bit more on the money’ he says.”
Kikyouin-san seemed too fed up for words.
“Well, not much we can do about it. I’ll wait patiently.”
“You’re sure takin’ it easy. Don’t you have a grudge against that guy?”
“Mnnn. Honestly, not really. He got me good, but he did return seventy thousand yen, and he promised he would return the rest eventually.”
And also, said I.
“He didn’t seem like a bad guy to me.”
“… Hah. How idiotic. There should be a limit to bein’ good-natured.”
In a small voice, she rolled the words around her mouth.
“In that incident the other day, I can’t say for certain he was the only one who did wrong. But that doesn’t change the fact he did wrong.”
“From what I can pick up from his story, it seems like he had a cooperator—no, an accomplice. They’re the one who ordered Tsuchimikado Senzou to conduct scams in this town.”
Ordered would mean that this accomplice had a higher standing than Tsuchimikado-san. In that case, they would no longer be just an accomplice—but the real criminal.
“And who… would that be.”
“No idea. Apparently, Tsuchimikado Senzou only ever met their proxy. Unfortunately.”
She declared, with a cynical laugh. But her smile soon vanished as she stared out the window with sharp, narrow eyes.
“… It all feels too well-put-together.”
The words leaked.
“Tsuchimikado’s scam started at practically the same time I moved to this town. Almost as if—it was all meant to match up… but I really wasn’t scheduled to transfer to this high school.”
As she said it so matter-of-factly, I impulsively returned the question.
“I was originally supposed to go to a high school near Mt. Osore in the Aomori prefecture. But some sudden trouble happened there and it never worked out, so I was sent over here in a hurry.”
That’s why I transferred at such an arbitrary period, she said uninterestedly.
So she had that sort of circumstance…
Kagurai-senpai said, “In Heisei Literature, it is only inevitable that transfer students transfer in at arbitrary times, and you’re not supposed to say anything about it. If you’re troubled how to develop the story, throw in a transfer student, that’s how school stories work. Just tack on the convenient excuse, ‘for my parent’s work,’ and you’re set!” she spoke knowledgeably on the subject, but contrary to that, it seems Kikyouin-san had a proper reason.
“That’s why I can’t shake this off feeling. If the Tsuchimikado case was timed aiming to overlap with my transfer…”
Her mouth bent into a frown as she thought. It seemed the atmosphere was going to get heavy, so I changed the topic in a bright tone.
“But I’m glad that your transfer was suddenly changed.”
“I mean, it’s thanks to that, that I could become friends with you.”
After a brief instant dumbfounded, Kikyouin-san let out a tremendous sigh.
“… Good grief, I was an idiot to try talking seriously with you.”
While sounded fed up, there was a slight bitter smile on her lips.
In that half-lax, half-tense dubious sort of air, we continued our study meet. A while later, I left for the bathroom. The small one. The urinal in the very back was the cleanest, so I decided to do my business there.
Around the time I reached a hand to my zipper, I sensed a strange presence beside me. Come to think of it, it seemed like someone entered when I was around three meters from the entrance but was it that person?
I turned to the side—and jumped back.
There stood Kikyouin-san, red to the ears. “… Why has it come to this, why has it come to this…” she muttered as she gripped her skirt tight.
“Why are you doing!? This is the men’s room!”
You gave me a real surprise there. I almost spilled.
“Made a mistake…”
“You made a mistake!?”
So she was a klutz?
No, but when she said that, I had no words to return.
Nothing I could do if it was a mistake.
“I see… h-haha, how silly of you…”
“… Yeah. I’m a silly person.”
“H-haha. How very troublesome…”
“I’m uh… I’d be very thankful if you left.”
With eyes of, if I could do that, we wouldn’t have a problem, she glared at me. As that fiendish look startled me, Kikyouin-san spoke in a rough tone.
“Hey, how long are you going to stand there!? I-i-if you’re gonna do it, just get it over with already!”
“You intend to watch!?”
So she doesn’t plan to correct her mistake!?
I think some old guy said, to err and not change one’s way is what it means to truly err or something like that! (TL: This is Confucius)
“Umm… uh, could it be you actually want to see me… discharge?”
“No, um, I have yet to reach that state of mind, or should I say… my preferences’re exceedingly normal, so I don’t think I can keep up with your abnormal fetishes.”
“Hold it right there! Why are you under the impression I’m abnormal!?”
“… I mean Kikyouin-san, you do baby play with your sister.”
“Wha!? Y-you… still remember that.”
Well yeah. It’s not something easy to forget.
I fully intend to take it with me to the grave.
“Ah, of course, I haven’t told anyone, so don’t worry.”
“… Well Thanks For That.”
Kikyouin-san’s cheeks twitched as she gave a monotone thanks. It felt cynical, but instead of reading too deeply into it, let’s just honestly accept her gratitude.
“… Hey, instead of the one in the very back, use this toilet over here, This one might just barely work out.”
“Ah, for Christ’s sake! Just get over here!”
Grasped by the lapels, I was forcefully dragged to the urinal beside Kikyouin-san—shoved in front of one around three meters from the entrance. Once she positioned me, she hurriedly left the men’s room. While the inside of my head was filled with questions, for now, I did my business and left. For some reason, she was waiting for me outside, and the two of us returned to the club room together.
… Huh, it’s almost like we’re really close friends.
I didn’t know what was making Kikyouin-san so displeased.
Tap tap tap tap, her fingers were drumming at a faster tempo, and she would frequently check the time on her cellphone. The wrinkle on her forehead dug in so deep, I worried it might get stuck there. Even I didn’t have the courage to start a conversation here, so I silently went over my notes.
“You piss me off, die!”
“Just like that!? I haven’t done anything yet!”
“Your existence pisses me off… ah, god. What is Tamane-sama doing. She said she’d be here fast…”
She sounded annoyed; she started fidgeting restlessly.
Rather than irritated, she looked like she was panicking—
Suddenly, loudly, pushing back her chair, Kikyouin-san stood. Her shoulders trembling all over, she spoke desperately.
“.. H-hey, you.”
“Don’t you want to go to the restroom?”
“Eh… no, I just went a moment ago. Less than half an hour, even.”
And wait, you were there too.
Kikyouin-san mortifyingly bit her lip. She directed me a look of embarrassment and anger.
“I-I really want to go to the bathroom.”
“Eh… oh, I see. Have a nice trip.”
She didn’t have to go out of her way to say it. Don’t girls usually try to hide that sort of thing?
“S-s-so y-you’re coming with me…”
I really don’t get the meaning behind her ‘so’. This girl is using her conjunctions wrong. Asking me to follow her to the girl’s toilet, that would just make me a pervert!
It’s not like she has some circumstances that prevent her from going to the bathroom without me.
“That’s… y-you know, there’s a rumor that ghosts show up in the stalls, and I’m scared.”
“You of all people!?”
Kikyouin-san seemed so at her wits end, I reluctantly tagged along to the girls’ bathroom.
“You got that!? Think about something else the whole time! Don’t turn your ears this way! If you hear anything, you’re seriously dead!”
“… Then I’ll be a little away from the door.”
“Y-you can’t! You have to stay right next to the door! Otherwise, I can’t reach!”
I don’t get her.
After screaming at me, Kikyouin-san entered the stall. But I really shouldn’t wait in the lady’s room to long. People rarely came up to this floor, but it’s not like no one ever came at all. That being the case, I quickly moved from the door.
I heard a well-rung sound from behind. Judging by the noise alone, I surmise Kikyouin-san hit her head against the door.
“Kikyouin-saaan, you’re not supposed to headbutt doors.”
“…… kill kill kill kill…”
The door creaked open, and from inside, a demon… no, a high school girl with the eyes of a demon appeared. She grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and forcefully made me kneel in front of the stall door.
“You’re staying right there until I come out! You got that!?”
I wasn’t any more enlightened on the situation, but losing to the intensity of a raging god, I nodded and nodded.
“T-that’s right! Lend me your phone for a second!”
When I followed orders and took my phone from my pocket, it was snatched right away. Kikyouin-san hammered in a number and returned it to me.
“That’s Tamane-sama’s number. Instead of thinking about me, concentrate on talking to Tamane-sama! Also, while you’re at it, tell her to hurry up!”
She said as she entered the stall once more. I followed orders, still kneeling, I placed a call to Tama-chan’s number left on the screen. So even elementary school students have cellphones these days, I thought when,
I heard a familiar voice,
‘Yeah…? Was it ahoy hoy? No, just hello…? Hmmmmm.’
‘Gnn. So it was hello…’
“Yeah. Hello’s right. It’s been a while, Tama-chan.”
‘Mnn, who are you?’
Ah, right. Since I’m the one calling, my name won’t show on her screen. Listening to her awkward voice that wasn’t yet used to a cell phone, some mischief sprouted in me.
“It’s me, you know me.”
“Mnnn!? Don’t tell us, you’re one of those, ‘it’s me’ scam people! We won’t fall for your foul trickery! Yuzuki properly instructed us!”
It really was cute how she fell for it so cleanly.
“Haha, sorry. It’s me, me. Kagoshima Akira.”
‘Kagoshima Akira? Don’t know him. No one like that in our memory. If you’re going to lie, think up something better.’
Could it be I’ve been forgotten? Or wait, does she not know my name?
Crap, I’m going to cry.
I thought we got along well enough…
“Umm, r-remember? It’s me. Kikyouin-san’s, Kikyouin Yuzuki-san’s friend Kagoshima.”
‘Hmph! Yuzuki has no friends!’
Things were getting unpleasantly deep, so I fell silent a bit.
But how troublesome. Tama-chan isn’t going to remember me.
‘Wait. That voice… don’t tell us, you’re that whelp who got wrapped up in that scuffle with Tsuchimikado Senzou, aren’t you?’
“T-that’s right! The whelp from back then!”
That’s good. Looks like she remembers.
‘Good grief, if that’s who you are, just say so. What’s your business? Rather, why do you know our seelphone number?’
“I got it from your sister. Right, right. So Kikyouin-san told me to tell you to hurry up.”
‘Whaat? … Ah, ahaahaaa, that’s right. We were called by Yuzuki. We completely forgot.’
‘Indeed. We got entranced in this mobile game, and by the time we came to, it was already this time.’
“… So that’s the reason you’re going with?”
So Tama-chan plays mobile games.
It feels kinda off… just for her character.
‘We aren’t yet accustomed with phone calls, but this thing called mobile gaming is truly interesting. Indeed. Well, we understand your business. Tell Yuzuki we’ll be there soon.’
“Yeah, I’ll tell her.”
‘… We’ve been thinking it for a while now, but,’
Tama-chan spoke in a curious tone.
‘Why do you refer to Yuzuki as Kikyouin?’
‘You could just normally call her by name… well, you’re free to call her whatever you want, but when you say Kikyouin, it brings way too many people to mind, truly misleading.’
“Oh I see.”
Her last name’s also Kikyouin. They’re sisters after all.
“Yeaah, I don’t have any particular reasons.”
Calling people by surname was just my general stance. Though I often call small kids like Tama-chan by given name.
The only one I really call by first name… is that childhood friend of mine.
‘We see. We were simply a tad curious, don’t pay it much mind. Well then.’
The call cut.
Kikyouin-san wasn’t out yet. She told me to use the phone to cover my ears, but all I could hear from outside was the sound of flowing water. Since I had the time, let’s try thinking about names.
It would be a bit embarrassing to start calling Kikyouin-san Yuzuki-san at this point. Rather, it’s a bit strange for her to be the only one I call by first name. Since it’s come to that, am I better off calling everyone else by name as well?
Perhaps I should use a nickname or something more friendly.
“… Alright. At a time like this, your best bet is to consult with someone.”
I placed another call. The dial tone rang out a few times, but it connected soon enough.
‘What’s up, Kagoshima?’
The person I called was Kagurai-senpai.
I get the feeling I might forget if I didn’t concentrate, but this person was my senpai, one year older than me. She’s supposed to have more life experience and should be the best person to discuss this sort of thing with.
“Do you have time right now?”
‘… No, I apologize, but I’m in the middle of combat—in a game. So if you’ve got business, please make it quick.’
Her voice was filled with impatience. I could hear tension almost as if she had fallen into an enemy trap and was pressed hard against the corner.
It really wasn’t anything serious, so I made it short and simple.
“Can I start calling you Monyumi?”
‘Go f*** yourself.’
Kchk. Boop, boop, boop.
Yeah. Let’s stick with surnames.
When Kikyouin came out of the bathroom and we returned to the clubroom together, there was Tama-chan. Tapping away at her cellphone.
When did she get here?
It hadn’t even been five minutes since that last phone call.
For some reason, the window that was supposed to be closed was open, but, well, I can’t think that had anything to do with Tama-chan. The only one who could come in from there would have to be a witch, a psychic, or a youkai perhaps.
Kikyouin-san beside me let out a voice of relief from the depths of her heart. Those were the eyes of one bearing witness to a hero’s fashionably late arrival.
“Seriously, just what were you doing? If it was you, Tamane-sama, I thought you’d be able to get here in under a minute… because of that, I was, I was…”
Kikyouin-san was a little teary-eyed.
… This kinda uncontainable sense of guilt, and a dreary urge to say, “Was it really that bad…” welled up on my chest. I wonder why.
“Our apologies, Yuzuki. No, we started this way the second you contacted us. But along the way… we were surrounded by youkai.”
“Youkai? D-don’t tell me the survivors of the ones we took care of the other day…”
“Mn? Ah, yeah. That’s precisely right. Even if this necklace has lost its effect, if we used the power of nine tails, there’s no telling who might sniff us out. It took us some time.”
“Oh no… my apologies, Tamane-sama. I didn’t know what you were going through.”
“Oh, don’t mind it, Yuzuki. They weren’t foes to write home of.”
“……” I was at a loss for words.
Tama-chan… was lying…
Not a word about mobile games. What a fearsome child.
“Now then. We must strike while the iron is hot. Let us get this over with.”
Following Tama-chan’s directions, Kikyouin-san and I stood face to face with one another. Tama-chan began scrawling out a star symbol between us. I warned her, “Hey Tama-chan, don’t doodle on the school floor,” but Kikyouin-san stopped me.
She really is soft on her little sister. Well, I just have to erase it later.
As a mature high school student, let’s just tag along with a grade schooler’s games.
When the star was done, Tama-chan took out two paper charms decorated with complex patterns. Placing one at each of our feet, she closed her eyes and put her hands together. From there, Onkoro~ or Sowaka~ she started chanting some indiscernible spell,
Finally, in one stroke, her chop severed the air between me and Kikyouin-san.
In that instant— I got the feeling something, a something that had been linking the two of us was cut. A something that could never be reclaimed. Suddenly, a rending regret started to well up in my chest— actually not really. It was a link born from some shoddy mistake, so I didn’t really care.
“Alright. It has been lifted. All that’s left is to take our time exorcizing.”
Tama-chan wiped the sweat off her brow, putting the two charms away. If she’s done, I’d better wipe away the drawing on the floor, I thought, but it had already cleanly faded away.
… Did she use that type of ink that disappears as time passes? How considerate.
“Ah~, thank god.”
Letting out a relieved breath, Kikyouin-san immediately began putting the notes and stationaries on the table away in her bag.
“Let’s hurry home, Tamane-sama. There’s no reason to stay here. I don’t want to spend another second taking in the same air as this idiot.”
She jeered me as per usual. It made me a bit sad… but Kikyouin-san’s face seemed far more cheerful than it was, so I was happy.
I don’t really get it, but it looks like she’s perked up.
“… W-why are you smiling like that? How idiotic…” She mumbled something quietly before turning to Tama-chan.
“Now let’s be off, Tamane-sama.”
“Don’t be in such a rush, Yuuki. No need to panic.”
As she sat in a chair and made herself at home, Tama-chan added on an, “Also,”
“Since we were making the trip, we brought along what you forgot this morning. Be thankful.”
“I forgot something?”
She placed something wrapped in black cloth on the table. Once the wrapping came off, the inside was revealed to be a lacquered, multi-layered food box.
“We wondered what you got up so early in the morning to do… we never thought you’d take to making sweets. As we recall, it’s a western treat called a kooky? When you don’t even normally cook, what twist of fate be this?”
“What’s more, to forget it. You’re surprisingly absentminded, Yuzuki. How about it? Since we’re here, let’s eat it together. Whelp, you have some too.”
“Are you sure? Then I’ll thankfully have some.”
Kikyouin-san raised her voice, but she was already too late.
Tama-chan had already opened the lid of the box.
The moment she bore witness to the contents, Tama-chan grimaced. I followed on to look. What was in the expensive-looking lacquered box was… a black substance.
Black, or rather, dark brown, or rather ash.
To put it simply, it looked like the bakery work of a master rooftile maker.
“… I didn’t forget it, Tamane-sama. I failed, so I left it behind.”
A self-harming smile on her face, Kikyouin-san spoke softly.
“O-our apologies. Yuzuki. We were sure…”
“No, it’s fine. Now let’s hurry home.”
The moment Kikyouin-san tried to shut the lid.
“You’re not going to have any? Then give it to me.”
I said as I grasped a single black cookie and delivered it to my mouth.
Nom. Crinkle crinkle, crunch crunch, gulp.
“Whoah, it’s delicious. Kikyouin-san, so you were good at cooking.”
When I gave my honest impression, the cookie maker closed in with an incredible look of anger.
“W-what do you think you’re doing!?”
“Eh? Tama-chan said I could eat it so… I wasn’t supposed to?’
“No, that’s not what I meant… i-is it alright?”
“What about it?”
“What… um, the taste and such.”
“Taste? It’s delish, no complaints there.”
It was gravelly and hard, silky smooth like I was licking sandpaper, and aggressive as if it was launching a direct attack on my mouth. If I had to accurately express the taste–
“Truly, ‘dryer than the desert sands’.”
“Is that really tasty!?”
“As if it was buried deep in the earth’s crust for thousands upon thousands of years, a flavor with some depth to it.”
“A fossil! You’re talking about a fossil!”
“If I had to raise a low point, it’s a little burnt, but… not enough to be a problem. It’s got some nice savory un, und… under. Umm… what was it again?”
“… Are you trying to say undertones?”
“Wrong, wrong. Umm… that’s right. An underworld of taste. Makes for a true life or death struggle!”
“Just say it’s bad already!”
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem my impression was getting across.
Erk. When it really is tasty.
“… Burnt isn’t enough to write this one off. We wouldn’t be surprise if the immortal bird rose from it at any moment.”
With a fearful expression, Tama-chan cautiously reached out a hand. A number of jet-black cookies disintegrated to dust just by the touch of her small hand. It seems hardness varies by product.
Hmhmm. What a smart production you’ve got there, Kikyouin-san. Meaning we’re able to enjoy an element of randomness in the flavor.
Nom. Chchchchchchchchchch! Gulp.
“Yep. They’re great.”
“Really!? Your mouth just made the sound of a ninja using a chidori, you know!”
Nom. Gogogogogogogo! Gulp.
“Yep. They’re great.”
“A stand just manifested in your mouth, didn’t it!”
Nom. Zukyuuuun. Megyaan. Gulp.
“Yep. They’re great.”
“What’s even was that!? Did Dio just force a kiss in your mouth, then get Hol Horse to summon the emperor!? Wait a second, just what’s happening with my cooking!?”
“I must admit, I made the last three sound effects, yours truly.”
“Don’t screw with me!”
I was hit considerably hard. Looks like I took it too far. But as expected of the unexpected manga lover Kikyouin-san. It’s satisfying to receive such precise retorts.
“But joke or not, they really are tasty.”
There, Kikyouin-san suspiciously furrowed her brow.
“… Could it be their appearance is just like that, but they actually tasted good?”
She said as she timidly reached out her hand and ate one of the black substances.
Immediately after, she held her mouth as she looked restlessly around the area when she spotted a tissue box, she violently tore out around ten sheets and used them to spit out everything in her mouth.
What a waste.
“… Y-you, I’m telling you to stop eating those things already!”
“Why, you ask…”
“Yuzuki. He is a man.”
Tama-chan looked at me with eyes of respect.
“To avoid shaming a woman, a man will eat disgusting sweets that look no different from a clay mask or pot, and call it tasty. This here is a man amongst men.”
For some reason, my stock seemed to be on the sudden rise, and having her food called disgusting, Kikyouin-san turned a little despondent. So I stuck up for her.
“It’s not disgusting. It’s really tasty.”
“… That’s enough. ‘n wait, for you to eat that and call it tasty, are your taste buds alright?”
“Yeeaah. If I had to say, they’re weak. I don’t really get it myself, but I’m apparently what the world calls taste deaf.”
“Hmm. So you’re even taste-dumb. Are you the protagonist of some shonen manga?”
She was toxic, but her lines seemed to contain some vague praise.
Sure enough, a lot of shonen manga protagonists have no sense of taste, and sturdy stomachs. Take Kochikame’s Ryou-san, he’s fine eating soap.
“Hmm. What’s with you? It’s not just your head, even your taste buds are stupid? Aah, I’m an idiot for feeling a little happy when you said it was delicious.”
“Eh? You were happy?”
“I-I wasn’t happy at all!”
Looks like she wasn’t happy.
Even so, judging by Kikyouin-san and Tama-chan’s reactions, these pitch-black earthen wear cookies do not taste good by the world’s general standards. After thinking a bit, “Kikyouin-san,” I called out.
“When you boil it down, humans cannot feel the joy of the world lest they go through the filter called self.”
What’s with this guy, he’s suddenly talking about the world, her stiff expression said, but I continued on without heed.
“For example, even if we look at the same object, each person has their own way to see it, and their own way to feel. Of course, this isn’t only limited to sight. Touch, smell, hearing—and taste.”
“What other people think when they eat these cookies is something I’ll never know. But when I ate them, I thought they were tasty. So in my world, that’s how they are.”
I said, starting into the remaining cookies.
Under the half-fed-up eyes of Kikyouin-san and Tama-chan, I polished off all the remaining cookies in the box. I was hungry.
“Thank you for the meal.”
I properly put my hands together, said my prayers, and closed the lid.
“Thank you, Kikyouin-san. They were delicious. Don’t be discouraged, please make and bring them again sometime.”
Kikyouin-san began wrapping the box back in the cloth, she hung her head in silence. Eventually, she mumbled in a small voice.
“… If I feel like it.”
“Come to think of it, Kikyouin-san. Why did you suddenly think to make cookies? Today was the first day you ever made them, right?”
Around the setting sun-dyed school gate, I nonchalantly asked.
After eating all the cookies, my stomach was full, and I’d completely lost the will to study, so I decided to return with the Kikyouin-sisters. At present, the three of us were walking amiably side by side.
“… No reason. Nothing in particular.”
“Mn? What’s that, Yuzuki, we were sure you were making them for this whelp. Are we wrong?”
As Tama-chan said it, staring puzzlingly, Kikyouin-san stopped her feet, her expression freezing over.
“Yesterday night, we heard you mumbling, ‘That idiot helped me out, so I have to give my thanks when they’re due…..’ or so, right? That’s why we proposed we eat it with mffffm.”
Tama-chan’s mouth was hurriedly muffled.
“Umm, they were for me?”
In that case, I should have savored the taste some more. So were cookies Kikyouin-san made for my sake.
“W-wrong. I didn’t do it for–”
There, Kikyouin-san made a blank face.
“… I give up. This is stupid. I ain’t a freakin’ tsundere.”
She said, with a large sigh.
“That’s right. I woke up early and worked all morning for you. You’d better be thankful.”
“Yeah, I’m thankful. Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
“…… Wrong, something’s wrong… why am I the one being thanked? After they came out so terribly…”
Kikyouin-san put her hand on her forehead, she began mumbling in agony.
When I tilted my head, Tama-chan beside me said, “This is that. Yuzuki’s contrarian nature and her inborn honesty are grappling neck and neck in her heart,” making the face of a little sister watching over her big sister. I get the feeling this young girl actually really likes explaining things.
Gngnnn, groaned Kikyouin-san, but eventually, she turned forcefully towards me.
I stuttered my response. Kikyouin-san rarely ever called my name, so when she actually used it, it ended up making me nervous.
“Umm, the other day, that time with Tsuchimikado Zenzou. You helped me out quite a bit…”
“With Tsuchimikado-san Umm, did I really?”
Did I do anything? I only remember getting scammed and catching a cold in the sudden downpour. And wait, why is Kikyouin-san’s face that red?
“I feel ashamed for letting a civilian like you meet with such danger… and if you weren’t there, I doubt it would have gone so well.”
No, seriously, why is she making such a suffering, embarrassed, uneasy-mixed face of conflicted emotion?
“So there’re some things I’ve just got to say…”
She said, her harsh eyes glaring at me.
While those sharp eyes were usually scary, just for now, for some reason, they didn’t frighten me at all. Leaving a bit of silence, Kikyouin-san spoke.
“Tha? Is something wrong with your thigh?”
“Tha, tha, tha, than, than.”
“… Seriously, then what?”
“That’s all folks!”
With a wave of her left hand, she made off like a raging hurricane and disappeared from view. At the school gate, a dumbfounded Tama-chan and I were left behind.
“… Whelp. What was that supposed to be?”
“… It’s from before your time.”
But Kikyouin-san chose an amazing time to make a reference.
[IMAGE OF KIKYOUIN YUZUKI STRIKING A POSE]
This is something of a sequel.
The next day, Kikyouin-san was absent with a stomach ache.
‘Don’t screw with me… seriously, you’re dead… dead… u-urp…’
I heard a pained voice across the phone. I winced back from that call that was definitely made for the sole purpose of cursing me as I spoke.
“I didn’t do a thing. But you know, didn’t you spit it all out into the tissues?”
‘I swallowed a bit… it was lethal in small doses… I’m surprised you could eat something like that…’
“No, you’re the one who made it. And I didn’t force you to eat.”
She got what was coming to her. Rather, played a part in her own play.
After grumbling an endless stream of curses, the call was one-sidedly cut.
I returned to the clubroom from the men’s toilet and called out to Orino-san. I wanted to learn remedies from a professional on stomachaches.
At first, Orino-san made a, what? Why me? Sort of face, but afterward gave me some good advice of, “… She should be fine if she takes some medicine and gets some good sleep.”
I get the feeling that was an exceedingly normal treatment, but when you get to Orino-san’s level, you go around the whole circle, and arrive back at normal, eh. The fundamentals are everything to a pro, it’s something like that. Surely.
To convey that valuable advice, I went to the men’s room again and placed a call to Kikyouin-san.
I was still blocked.
… So she gets to call me, but she doesn’t want me doing it?!?