The first morning of training camp.
When I opened my eyes, Kagurai-senpai was sitting by my pillow.
“Good morning, thirteenth Kagoshima. This may be sudden, but listen to me. I’m–”
And I received an explanation on the situation we were wrapped up in.
It was an astounding story, but as Kagurai-senpai knew I loved widows for some reason, I had no choice but to believe her.
According to her, we were currently on the thirteenth loop.
The world had repeated itself thirteen times.
No matter how long we waited, it would never be the second day of training camp.
My memories were reset every time, but Kagurai-senpai retained her own.
“I checked the girls’ room when I woke up, and Kurisu was the only one there. The ones who disappeared this time were Orino and Kikyouin.”
I certainly remember the two of them having urgent business to attend to.
Kagurai-senpai said that each time the world looped, the members attending the camp would change.
Within the thirteen loops, the absentees would always be chosen from Orino Shiori, Kurisu Crimson Kuria, and Kikyouin Yuzuki at random.
What’s more, it happened twice before that two people were absent.
“For some reason… me and you are always here. I don’t know why. Perhaps even this is part of the culprit’s objective.”
Only me and her… we couldn’t be absent from the story.
If you’re asking what the only (presumably) person to keep her memories, the time traveler Kagurai Monyumi, and Kagoshima Akira who heard her story had been doing over the course of thirteen loops, we were searching for the masked man who might be the culprit, apparently.
A far-too-suspicious masked man I met on loop number three.
Naturally, I don’t remember meeting him. So when the third me’s explanation of his appearance was told to me again, it became a strange game of telephone.
“But we couldn’t find him no matter how hard we looked.”
Even if we headed for the crags where I encountered him, or searched the area around Guesthouse Sunflower in the time permitted, the masked man didn’t exist.
And at the end of her tether, Kagurai-senpai’s next course of action was an internal investigation.
“An internal investigation?”
“To investigate whether the culprit is manipulating someone among us. Kagoshima. This time, I’ll have you observe Kurisu. I’m not telling you to do anything to her. Just stay with her, and if there’s anything strange about her, then report it to me.”
“… You want me to suspect a friend?”
I frankly expressed the fuzzy feeling in my chest.
“Not at all. I want you to believe in her. And it’s possible that one of those three is related to this incident unaware of it themselves, right? Like a postman who delivers a box not knowing it contains a bomb.”
“And wait, this is the third time I’m giving you this explanation.”
“The time before, and the one before that, I had you look into Orino and Kikyouin… good grief, you react the same way every time. Trusting your friends is splendid, but I’ve just about gotten tired of that response.”
By the way, judging by my report the time before, and the one before that, there was nothing strange about Orino-san or Kikyouin-san.
“… I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but can you really rely on my investigations and reports?”
I’m quite confident I can let anything suspicious or strange slip by at a tremendous speed.
Kagurai-senpai said honestly. That honesty hurt a bit.
“I’ve already operated alongside those three a number of times, and only after I’ve determined ‘nothing abnormal,’ I’ve asked to have a go. It’s like checking answers.”
There, Kagurai-senpai made a tired face.
“… For now, we can only do everything that comes to mind.”
The air turned a little dark. She gracefully stood, and in a cheerful voice to erase that dark atmosphere, she said this.
“Well, I’m counting on you a bit. Perhaps you might see something I was unable to see myself. Perhaps those girls will show you something they won’t show me.”
My task was to play together with Kurisu-chan.
“It’s not half bad. This is the first time I’ve eaten shaved ice.”
She said, all smiles with a spoon in one hand.
On the bench at the side of the guesthouse’s entrance, Kurisu-chan and I gazed at the sea as we ate our shaved ice. Mine was blue Hawaii flavor while Kurisu-chan was strawberry. We had the owner make them.
We did discuss going to the beach, but as playing on the beach just the two of us sounded lonely, we gave up on that one.
“Kagurai-senpai should’ve come out and eaten with us. I wonder what she’s doing?”
“Who knows. But she took it when I brought it to the room, so she should be fine.”
Kagurai-senpai was holed up in the room, moving to break through this situation. I didn’t hear the specifics on what she was doing. Either way, I doubt I’d understand if I heard them, and my memories would reset at twenty-four, so there was no point in me learning detailed information.
I would simply move on her orders.
This time’s… the thirteenth me’s job was to observe Kurisu-chan.
I stayed with her from early morning and observed her in my own way, but as things stood, nothing was amiss. It was the usual Kurisu-chan.
“Ah, come to think of it, Kagoshima-senpai.”
As I turned my thoughts on various things, Kurisu-chan turned the conversation to me.
She spoke with a truly innocent smile.
“Are you a virgin?”
My thoughts froze. I narrowly avoided dropping my blue Hawaii.
What did this kid just say so innocently?
Was she that sort of character?
Is it really alright for me to report this to Kagurai-senpai as suspicious behavior?
“…… W-ww-well, well, let’s see, I might be… it might just happen to be a lie if I told you I wasn’t a virgin. But, well, there are a number of ways to interpret that sort of thing, and in the end, the lifeform called humankind can only speak from a personal subjective position, so I can’t say anything unconditionally, and it’s dangerous to assert one’s own thoughts as the thoughts of the whole, so I can’t really say anything.”
As I sweat and acted suspiciously, Kurisu-chan’s face flushed a little red.
“H—huh? Did I possibly ask something strange? I-I’m sorry!”
“Umm, uh, the truth is… I don’t know the meaning of the word virgin…”
“Oh, so that’s it. That’s how it is.”
That makes sense. From time to time, Kurisu-chan’s surprisingly distanced from common sense. It’s almost like she came from another world.
“The other day, when you weren’t around, I was talking with the others, and the word came up a few times…”
Looks like the ComClub girls have some considerably deep girls talk in my absence. Is that how it gets when girls are only around girls…
“When I asked Kikyouin-senpai, ‘Hah!? Hell if I know! Why don’t you ask Orino? She’s the closet pervert.’ she told me.”
“… You’re good at impressions.”
“When I asked Orino, ‘… U-umm, you’re better off asking Kagurai-senpai that sort of thing. Yeah, that person’s always playing strange games, she should be knowledgeable. I’d rather not teach you something wrong.’ She told me.”
Looks like Kurisu-chan was deferred.
“And when I asked Kagurai-senpai, ‘It means someone like Kagoshima’.”
Oy, that’s too direct, senpai.
“And so I asked you, but… umm, did I ask something strange?”
When she said it so apologetically, “No, not at all. Don’t worry about it,” was all I could manage.
“Is that true? Then please teach me what it means to be a virgin!”
Since I didn’t reject her, she latched on.
Ah, now I get it. How my mom felt when I asked her, “Hey, hey, mom. Where do babies come from.” In the end, my dad taught me, “Babies, you see, they come from sex, sex I tell ya!” and got into a big fight with mom, but thinking back on it now, it was a good memory.
Kurisu-chan stared at me with glimmering eyes of curiosity. With her gazing at me in such a way, I couldn’t even keep silent.
“V-virgin means… t-that. A reserve magician. If you stay a virgin up to thirty, there’s a legend you become a magician…”
“A reserve magician!? Virgins can become magicians!?”
Ah, crap. By the time I noticed it, it was already too late.
“No way… To think there are people who can use magic in this world too. The people over here shouldn’t have the necessary constitution to use magic… but, if that’s true… Kagoshima-senpai! Please give me the specifics!”
She bit on super hard. I went and did it. Magic’s taboo around Kurisu-chan.
Losing the battle to her gaze that increased twenty percent in intensity, I winced back. Dammit, I can’t escape from those pure, untainted eyes.
I was cornered and troubled… but at that instant, I was hit by a flash of inspiration.
That’s right, a pinch is a new opportunity!
“A virgin is actually a type of food.”
“Eh? It’s food? Then why did you just say they were magicians?”
“Oh, leave that aside for a while. It must’ve been a homonym or something. Anyways, a virgin is an extremely tasty type of food.”
“I heard the virgin reached our soil from southeast Asia and northern Russia, it’s a traditional staple food. Once already prepared, it’s referred to as virginity. They’re often prepared for cooking in a special way that involves plucking the petals of a flower, so in technical terms, eating a virgin is referred to as deflowering.”
“I know a few people, so I’ve got some virginity with me. The finest quality virginity. Kurisu-chan, do you want a taste?”
“Let’s see. If it’s tasty, I’d like to try it.”
“Yeah, then try saying it a little sweetly, and action!”
“I want to eat up Kagoshima-senpai’s virginity.”
I thought I was going to die, in various ways. W-what destructive power…
Two great regrets pressed down on my heart.
First was a regret drawn from the guilt of tainting such an innocent young girl.
The other… was a regret drawn from anger towards myself for not having a recorder at the ready.
We’ve messed around enough, I’d better properly tell her. Dropped the cherub down far enough. I’ll have to take responsibility.
“… Kagoshima-senpai? Why are you suddenly kneeling on the bench?”
“Kurisu-chan. You should do the same. We’re about to have a serious discussion.”
While she blankly tilted her head, she kneeled on the bench as I told her and faced me.
Now, Kagoshima Akira presents the birds and the bees for all the good kids out there.
I properly taught her accurate information. Without even running off to figurative expressions or euphemisms, I looked her right in the eye and faced her fair and square. As expected, Kurisu-chan did have a certain level of knowledge pertaining to sex, she soon understood the meaning of virginity.
Throughout my careful and thorough explanation, “Eep,” she averted her eyes a number of times, but in a tone more serious than I’d ever been, “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s a path everyone must pass through,” I gently showed her the way.
Once I was done, Kurisu-chan hung her bright red face.
“I-I’m terribly sorry for asking such a strange thing…”
She let out a mumbling sound that barely registered as a voice as she deeply lowered her head. Since she was on her knees from the start, it looked like the greeting of a tea ceremony or kendo match.
“It’s fine. If you didn’t know, there was nothing you could do about it.”
I called out in a kind, senpai-ish voice and pat her on the head.
Now that’s case closed.
“… Huh? Then what did you mean when you said it was a type of food…?”
“Now Kurisu-chan! Let’s move on! Ah, I’ll wash both our shaved ice bowls!”
I sprung off the bench, stacked the two empty bowls, and rushed into the guesthouse interior. Kurisu-chan seemed somewhat unsettled, but, well, I somehow managed to play it off.
I headed for the kitchen, rinsed the bowls in the sink, and called out to the owner.
“Thanks for the shaved ice, it was a real treat. Where should I leave these?”
“Ah, thanks for the wash. Just leave them on that table.”
As directed, I left out the two bowls.
“I’ll get the bowl from the person eating in the room later.”
“No problem. But I wonder why that lass shut herself inside. When it’s so nice out.”
“She’s got some stuff going on. She’s not particularly sick or anything, don’t worry.”
The owner turned the faucet to stop the water before wiping his hands on his apron as he walked towards me.
“Let me guess. It’s a lover’s spat?”
He offered an off-the-mark question.
“Not at all.”
“You were with small jugs the whole time, so I’m sure you got upper-middle-class sulking, surely.”
He prodded his elbow into me. Honestly, it was a tad annoying. Just because the girls aren’t around, he’s exhibiting his old man power.
“You make me sound like a small-breast fetishist. If I had to say, I go for the larger ones.”
“Hmm. So the one you’re gunning for is big jugs. For your honey bunny to be out, you’re seriously outta luck, bro.”
“Orino-san’s chest certainly is… no, anyways, that’s not–”
… Wait, what?
“Oh? What’s up, bro? Freezing up like that?”
“Yeah, no. It’s nothing. I’d better be off.”
And I left the kitchen in a hurry. First I made for outside the guesthouse and spoke with Kurisu-chan.
“Kurisu-chan, wait here a bit. I’ve got something to discuss with Kagurai-senpai,” I informed her, and while she made a perplexed face, “I understand,” she said. She really is an honest and good kid, I recognized anew.
And I made for the girls’ room on the second floor.
I had naturally… broken into a sprint.
When I stopped before the screen and called out, Kagurai-senpai instantly answered.
“What’s up? Are you here for the bowl?”
Sensing the acceleration of my heartbeat.
“The owner maintains his memories.”
Kagurai-senpai shut her own mouth partway through and whispered. “… Come in,” she said and let me into the room.
Into the room with only two peoples’ worth of luggage. Kagurai-senpai’s expression turned grim, she lowered her voice and demanded an explanation.
“What do you mean, Kagoshima? You’re telling me the owner, that middle-aged man keeps his memories between loops?”
“Yes. Most likely in the same way you do.”
I spoke the off-feeling I was getting as-is.
“That owner knew that Orino-san has huge breasts.”
“Hah? What about that is…! I see!”
While she showed irritation at the words huge breasts for an instant, it looks like she noticed quick enough. Right. When there was no way he should know Orino-san’s appearance, the owner knew her rack.
I mean, Orino-san wasn’t taking part in this training camp.
The only ones on this thirteenth training camp are Kagurai-senpai, Kurisu-chan and I.
The other two were off on urgent business. Or so it became.
It can’t be helped if Kagurai-senpai didn’t notice the moment I said it. She had experienced thirteen iterations of camp. I heard Orino-san took part a number of times. Then perhaps there were times when Orino-san met the owner.
But in this time, the owner and Orino-san never had the chance to meet.
“So he keeps his memories just as I do…!”
Kagurai-senpai’s breath was rough, she clenched her fist.
“… But Kagurai-senpai. I have a question… you’ve already looked into the owner, haven’t you?”
That was the only part holding me up. She said she had already investigated all the individuals around this guesthouse. Naturally, that should include the owner. In a sense, he was the existence close to us, and the first person to hold in doubt.
It’s impossible that I noticed something Kagurai-senpai overlooked.
“… Kagoshima, have you ever played the one hundred poets, one hundred cards game?”
(TL: This is a form of Karuta played with one hundred famous poems of one hundred famous poets)
I never had so I shook my head.
“I’m not saying I’m able to do it, but I remember all the poems. In an attempt to do something about my classics grade, I started practicing the game, and there was a time I found it considerably interesting and got hooked.”
Using the hundred poet hundred card game to raise one’s classics grade doesn’t sound totally wrong, but isn’t that far too inefficient? I thought, but I didn’t want to break the back of her argument, so I held my tongue.
“In the hundred poets hundred cards game, you must have the ability to memorize the location of all of the lined-up cards within the time limit… and the ability to forget what you’ve learned just as fast.”
“The ability to forget?”
“When you have a number of matches in one day, the previous match’s memories become a hindrance, apparently.”
The previous match’s memories become a hindrance.
The last time’s memories—become a hindrance.
“Don’t you think that’s similar to the current situation?”
Kagurai-senpai said, lightly shrugging her shoulders.
“I just noticed. In this looping situation, if someone who keeps their memories is trying to cover that fact up, it will become more difficult for them with every new loop.”
“… I see.”
Even if they carried memories all the same, it was a different story when Kagurai-senpai had no need to hide that fact.
That person would need to keep a constant grasp on where last time ended, and this time began. It might not be too hard the first few times. But each additional loop should have them second-guessing. The more proficient they are, the stronger their memory is.
And the owner finally made a mistake this time.
“Of course, just keeping his memories does not determine he is the culprit. At present, I also keep my memories for some reason—but.”
“The way he covered up that fact is the mark of the culprit!”
Large nods around.
The sort of smile she couldn’t hold in spread across Kagurai-senpai’s mouth.
In a situation where she was groping around in the darkness without any idea what to do, she finally spotted the light. By my senses, the investigation didn’t even last half a day, but from Kagurai-senpai’s point of view, she had investigated for close to two weeks, and was only now approaching the culprit.
“Alright, Kagoshima, we’re going to draft a pl–”
“Ah man. So the cat’s out of the bag.”
The sliding screen abruptly slammed open. Kagurai-senpai and I reflexively raised our guard.
“Just as Monyumi said, it became a bother the thirteenth time around. That’s right, that’s right, it’s not big jugs, it’s the flat one this iteration.”
The one who breached the girls’ room—was the owner.
But he was clearly acting strange. At the very least, the owner I knew, the owner of the thirteenth loop didn’t talk like that.
“You could call it my mistake, and you’d be right, but I’ve just about gotten sick of this closed world, so you could just as well call it good timing.”
“… What are you?”
In regards to the owner whose smile had distanced itself from peaceful to an irritating grin, Kagurai-senpai responded with a voice of hostility.
“Don’t say my first name like we’re friends.”
“Mn? Ah, right, right. How thoughtless of me. No way you’d recognize me in the body of this fatty old man.”
Said the owner.
“It’s me. Shakujii Hihihiko.”
Kagurai-senpai’s eyes opened wide at the name.
“You know him?”
“… He’s a colleague.”
Kagurai-senpai answered without taking her eyes off the owner—Shakujii-san.
Colleague. Which means, this person also came from the—
“Oy, oy, Monyumi. Watch your Japanese there. Phrase it like that, and you make it sound like we’re on the same level. Properly tell the boy we’re boss and grunt.”
“Hm. I have no reason to revere you when you’re not my direct superior.”
“You’re as shrewd as ever, Monyumi.”
Good grief, Shakujii-san breathed a sigh, with an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders.
“… What are you trying to do, Hihihiko?”
“What am I trying to do?”
“Don’t play dumb! What did you come to this era for!? What was your objective in sealing me in this loop! And what theory did you use to produce this situation! What’s more, you…”
“Hey, hey, calm down why don’t you. I’m an elite, so it’s possible for me to process three or four questions at once, but even so, a human has only one mouth to speak.”
All her yells were lightly parried. Kagurai-senpai only grew more displeased, but without holding on that, Shakujii-san went on at his own pace.
“Umm, first was what I came here for, was it? That’s simple. Monyumi, I came to observe you.”
“Right. You can exaggerate your own reports all you want. To make sure you’re properly doing your job, surprise inspectors are sent at regular intervals. It’s not like it’s never happened that the people pursuing terrorists turn to the enemy’s side themselves, it’s a countermeasure for that.”
“… I see. I did hear I’d have an inspection eventually, but to think you would be the one to come for me.”
“Don’t make that face. I’m just doing my job too. So, what was next? Ah, that’s right, right, this situation—in regards to this loop where you and your merry companions can never move on to tomorrow.”
Shakujii-san stuck up his index finger, twirling it to draw a small circle in space.
“Round and round, round and round. Round and round and round and round. Unable to move forward, you continue turning circles in the same place forever. Almost like our human race, now doesn’t that sound all pessimistic and cool?”
He said in jest, stopped his finger, and pointed it at Kagurai-senpai.
“What’s bothering you most at this very moment is probably this loop. But forming this paranormal phenomenon is impossible with our level of technology.”
“That’s right! That’s what I thought, so how did–”
“Hold it. You’re making a fundamental misunderstanding.”
That snarling scream was contained with a flippant wave of the hand.
“I’m not the culprit.”
“… Say what?”
“I haven’t done a thing. I gazed upon this loop from the outside, and thought it looked like a convenient way to observe you, so I simply made use of it.”
Kagurai-senpai’s expression turned even grimmer.
Shakujii-san said this loop wasn’t caused by him.
“The culprit is elsewhere?”
“Yeah, that’s right. It’s just as you say, kid. The true culprit is elsewhere.”
“You make it sound almost as if you know who it is, Hihihiko.”
“I know everything. But I won’t tell you. Rather, I don’t think I even have to.”
Shakujii-san said easily. In a light tone holding the contempt that we couldn’t even solve a problem on this level.
“Only once I held an accurate grasp of the situation as a whole did I borrow this guesthouse owner’s body and watch over your farce. Only watched, without taking part in the situation.”
“Borrowing his body, you make it sound easy, but transferring your personality into a person of the past to manipulate them is forbidden, last I checked. You broke that regulation just to observe me?”
“Yeah, this time’s an exception.”
“An exception, you say?”
“You’ll understand eventually. No matter how much of a dunce you are, eventually.”
“Hmph. I’d rather not be called a dunce by someone who was seen through by the likes of Kagoshima.”
Kagurai-senpai went on the counteroffensive.
But… did she just casually throw me under the bus?
“Haha. You hit where it hurts. I was wary of you, but honestly, I was completely making light of the boy.”
Shakujii sent me a sidelong glance.
“That boy seemed painfully dense, so I thought he wouldn’t notice.”
Now that you mention it, that’s definitely strange.
For me to feel something off in a conversation with someone, and actually pay attention to it, that’s never happened to me before. It’s not like me.
I wonder if something was changing.
Did my noticing that Kagurai-senpai came from the future start changing something within me?
“And with that, I’ve answered all your questions. Let’s get my other job done with while I’m here. Monyumi, I have something I need to report to you.”
“Normally I’d have the boy leave, but… does it matter? You’ll have forgotten it all once the next time comes around.”
Gazing at me with belittling eyes, Shakujii-san entered the main topic.
“The mini-garden plan is proceeding at an astonishing pace.”
Kagurai-senpai’s eyebrow twitched.
“What did you say? That can’t be… it’s absurd. That plan founded on nothing but idealism is actually going well…?”
“I don’t blame your surprise. Honestly, it shocked all the Inoue Big Three. It was a plan they thought no more than an empty theory, but once we actually began, it proceeded idiotically smooth. We calculated it would take a thousand years, but they say we might be able to actualize it in less than half that time.”
“Perhaps the world was waiting for humanity to actualize this plan.”
Shakujii-san made a somewhat cynical smile, Kagurai-senpai stayed silent with a conflicted look on her face. I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were talking about. A future conversation between future people.
“Nooow then. It’s about time I headed back. I finished your inspection long ago, told you what I had to, and have thoroughly grown sick and tired of this situation.”
As Shakijii-san turned his back to us and tried to leave the room, Kagurai-senpai frantically called him to a stop.
“What? I’ll just say it, I’m not telling you how to get out. If you can’t resolve a situation of this level on your own merit, you’ve got no future prospects.”
“Oh, but I don’t mind telling you the results of the inspection.”
“H-hah? The hell are you on about? There’s no way you’ll get off reporting the inspection results directly to the inspectee.”
“Precisely. That’s why what I’m going to say is my personal inspection result.”
Said Shakujii-san, erasing the frivolous smile unsuited for a middle-aged man that had hung on his face the whole time.
“I’m disappointed in you, Monyumi.”
The words he came out with were unexpectedly sharp.
“This unforeseen unique loop made your weaknesses come to the surface. You can’t do a thing without your brother.”
Kagurai-senpai’s eyes widened.
“You’re definitely talented. In results alone, you stand a head above any agent sent to any era. You have a strong sense of responsibility towards the mission, and I’ve no complaints with your skillset—however.”
He looked at her with the sort of cold eyes as if he was belittling her from the depths of his heart. In his tone as well, I couldn’t feel the slightest hint of warmth.
“If you keep depending on your brother, you’ll be hopeless.”
“If I make a mistake, my brother will correct me. You’re sure of it somewhere in your heart. You might think you’re the one regulating your flippant, irresponsible hopeless oaf of a brother, but it’s actually the opposite.”
Kagurai-senpai grit her teeth with a vexed face.
But when her reputation was run through the mud to such an extent, she didn’t return a single word. No… perhaps, she couldn’t.
“Well, don’t be so down, Monyumi.”
He lightly hit his hands together, changing to a cheerful tone.
“The inspection the people up there asked for doesn’t concern whether or not the inspectee is a brocon. You’ve been assigned to a two-man-cell for what it’s worth, so as long as you leave results, your individual capabilities really don’t matter. So that was my personal take on it.”
“I’ll be taking my leave. Monyumi. Send your brother my regards.”
He declared as he stepped out of the girls’ room. The sliding screen shut behind him, yet, a heavy stagnant air alone remained in the room.
I couldn’t move for a few seconds, but once I returned to my senses, I immediately chased after the man.
“P-please wait, Shakujii-san!”
I slammed open the screen and called out to his back walking down the corridor.
“Yes? What’s up, bro? Screamin’ your lungs out like that?”
Hearing his reply, I instantly understood.
Shakujii-san was already gone.
The one here at the moment was the owner of the guesthouse. The one I met yesterday… the one I met before the loop began, the owner of Guesthouse Sunflower. What technology did Shakujii-san make use of to transfer his personality into the owner, and from when had he become him? I didn’t know a single specific, but I could instinctively tell that he was no longer present.
“… No, it’s nothing.”
I said and returned to the room.
Inside sat Kagurai-senpai, leaning her body weight against the wall. It looked like she was hugging her knees in a sulk, but she could just as well have simply collapsed into that position.
“In the end, who was that man?”
“… I told you, a colleague. That’s all there is to it.”
“You seemed pretty close for that.”
“Is that how it looked to you? … Well, I guess he’s not just any colleague.”
Kagurai-senpai made a weak smile and spoke in a weak voice.
“Hihihiko was Gakuta’s best friend.”
That stuffed animal man I had always thought of as a character Kagurai-senpai thought up. I heard this morning that Gakuta-kun was actually her brother. Though she didn’t tell me the specifics.
“So some stuff happened. It’s a long story, and one I don’t want to tell, so I’d rather you don’t ask…”
Not wanting to show me her expression, she covered her face. There was no way I could ask her anything, I simply stayed silent.
“… The masked man you met was most likely Hihihiko.”
Eventually, Kagurai-senpai quietly spoke.
“You mean… before he took over the owner’s body, Hihihiko-san’s real body?”
“Yeah. A low voice. A little taller than you. Hair that goes to his shoulders. Testimony that he came from the future… all the information you gave me matches up.”
The masked man I supposedly met on the third time.
I don’t have any memory of it, but if Kagurai-senpai says so, I can only believe.
“Which means that’s one mystery solved.’
“But even with the mystery solved, it didn’t solve a single one of our problems…”
I had no words.
In the end, I didn’t understand a thing. It had all returned to the starting point.
What’s more, the person who suddenly appeared said whatever he pleased…
“… I’m sorry, Kagoshima. Could you leave me alone for a while?”
She touched a hand to her forehead to hide her face; Kagurai-senpai spoke with a faint voice on the verge of fading away. Without saying anything, without having any idea of what to do, I followed her orders like a machine and quietly left the room.
that was all I could do.
The thirteenth first day of training camp was about to reach its end.
By the time I noticed it, Kagurai-senpai had disappeared from the guesthouse. Perhaps she didn’t want to see me or Kurisu-chan. I considered searching for her, but her plea to “Leave me alone,” wouldn’t get out of my head, and the night came without me able to do a thing.
Well, while I said it wouldn’t get out of my head, as I don’t keep my memories, I’m sure I’ll have forgotten by the next time around.
That person’s mortified face, her fading voice, all of it.
I’ll forget, and then the next time.
If that one fails, then the next.
“… It’s more troublesome than I thought, this loop.”
I slipped off my clothes in the dressing room as I thought over such a thing.
No matter how easy a problem may be, when given a time constraint, it is often that humans find themselves unable to think straight. When pressed by time, they might make mistakes they would usually never make.
But that doesn’t mean it all works out with infinite time.
That was the pattern this loop took on.
Time was unlimited. That’s precisely why you end up thinking, “If this one’s no good, I’ll just have to do my best the next one.” Such a NEET-like notion made it clear there was no future. One must strongly regulate themselves. One must continue to maintain their motivation.
“Though there’s no use in me thinking about it.”
Let me make it clear. The lead role this time is Kagurai Monyumi.
I… when I don’t keep my memories, I can’t serve as the protagonist.
If she didn’t exist, I wouldn’t even be able to comprehend what was going on.
The one thing I figured out: I’m—far too unentwined with the story.
When I was small, I dreamed of suddenly being wrapped up in a mysterious phenomenon; a development where I would save the damsel in distress. Once I was actually dragged into one, I learned my own powerlessness all too well.
I couldn’t do anything, to a loathsome extent.
My sleeping power won’t awaken, I won’t revive any memories from a past life. Or could it be that I’ll conveniently awaken once the climax hits? Or could it be, could it be I have to die once in order to awaken?
“… How idiotic.”
Stripped and naked, I moved from the dressing room to the bath.
The bath of Guesthouse Sunflower was a stone open-air bath. But it was a little cramped for that. What’s more, it wasn’t separated between men and women. I don’t even have to mention that it was currently the men’s timeslot.
When I slid open the glass and stepped outside, the mild chill of a summer night’s wind stroked my skin.
The stone bath surrounded by a wall of bamboo. The steam that rose from the white-tinted bathwater (it’s apparently connected to a hot spring) swayed as it disappeared into the night sky.
I was surprised to find it already occupied. Turning their back towards me, submerged in the bathtub. Their head was wrapped in a towel the way a woman might.
Strange. I heard we were the only guests.
For a moment, I wondered if it was the owner, but just a glance told me it wasn’t that stout physique. I could only see the back of their head and neck from here, but that slender neck didn’t belong to the owner.
Rather, that’s an incredibly beautiful and sexy nape. I don’t want to believe that’s a man’s. Perhaps a new guest suddenly appeared. Which means, I met this person last loop as well? Ah, but Kagurai-senpai did say it’s not a perfect loop, which means, this person might have come to the guesthouse for the first time on the thirteenth iteration…
After thinking that far, I stopped. Just thinking about it’s not going to get me anywhere. I took a bit of distance from that person and got into the bath myself.
“A nice bath, ain’t it.”
As I entered the bath, the previous occupant struck up conversation. “You’re right,” I gave a reply that didn’t leave anything to linger. I’m sure from here, “So where did you fly in from,” we would have a non-lingering conversation… wait, what?
Wait a second. That voice just now was a woman’s.
Rather, it’s a voice that sounds extremely familiar…
“What’s more, tonight… the first day of training camp’s a full moon. Being able to look at the moon as you sink into the bath is wonderful. Open-air baths are a wonderful thing. Right, Kagoshima?”
With a gentle smile, the one seeking agreement from me was—Kagurai-senpai.
A scream without words leapt from my mouth. I hurriedly turned around, fleeing to the edge of the tub at a tremendous speed.
“Haha. Why are you the one screaming? You sure you don’t have it the other way around?”
I heard her laughing voice from behind.
“I-I’m sorry! I didn’t know you were inside! I was sure this was the men’s timeslot… a-anyways, I’m sorry! I’ll get out at once!”
“No, it is the men’s timeslot right now. You’re not wrong. I simply aimed for the men’s timeslot to enter the bath.”
Which means, don’t tell me. Don’t tell me—
I somehow managed to quell my body quivering in shock as I voiced the shocking truth.
“K-Kagurai-senpai, you were a trap the whole time…?”
I heard the splash of water behind me.
Did Kagurai-senpai trip?
“W-w-why is that your conclusion, you dimwit!”
“I-I mean, if you purposely aimed to enter in the men’s timeslot, that’s all that…”
“There’s no way I’m a man! I’m a woman!”
“… Oh, thank god.”
I felt relief from the bottom of my heart. Ah, that really is something to be thankful.
If Kagurai-senpai was actually a man, that would be more than an unexpected twist. You could call it a cataclysmic disaster.
“… Good grief, you really are…”
A fed-up voice tinged with a cynical laugh. I somehow managed to respond with my chaotic head.
“No, but… if you’re not a trap, then why did you enter in the men’s timeslot?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I thought I’d take a bath with you.”
In a teasing tone, she casually said something amazing.
“Now, Kagoshima. Get out of that corner and get closer. Humans need to get to know one another, skin to skin, now and again.”
Why did it come to this?
No, I’m a man, I won’t say I’m not happy.
When this camp was decided and I learned I’d be living with four women, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fantasize about encountering events where I accidentally peeked on them changing and got told off with, “Kyaah, Akira-san you pervert!”
But I didn’t desire a lucky pervert event to such an extent.
I wasn’t shooting this high.
“What’s wrong, Kagoshima. You can get closer than that.”
“… No, I’m fine where I am.”
I was submerged in the bath around a meter from Kagurai-senpai.
While I was exerting myself not to look as much as possible, I was a healthy male, so I couldn’t help but take fleeting side glances.
How should I put it, the lines from her neck down to her shoulders were exquisite. Her face was faintly red, and that also gave a sense of exhilaration.
Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, the white-tinted bathwater didn’t let me worship her entire body, but just the parts that stuck out of it were enough to convey her charm.
Uwah… Kagurai-senpai was actually ridiculously pretty.
“You’re too high-strung, Kagoshima. Don’t stiffen up like that.”
“N-no, I’m a man, so stiffening up in this situation is a biological phenomenon, or rather…”
I just made an outrageous misunderstanding!
“… Pff. Ahahahahaha!”
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Kagurai-senpai burst into laughter, raising her voice into an energetic laugh. In my embarrassment, I silently shrunk myself.
“What are you thinking, you pervert. Kukuku… ahahahah!”
“Fufu. It’s a bit of a fresh feeling to be the one teasing you. You’re usually the one always feeling me up.”
In a nostalgic, yet somewhat solemn tone, Kagurai-senpai spoke.
“… Umm, why are you doing something like this?”
“Something like this?”
“I’m talking about mixed bathing…”
“Why? Because I felt like it.”
“Felt like it… please don’t let an unmarried girl enter the same bath as a man for a reason like that…”
… No, well, it’s not like I have any qualifications to say that when I got swept up by the flow and didn’t leave myself.
“Once next time comes around, you’ll have forgotten all about it. In that case, isn’t it fine no matter what I do? I thought, and decided to be a bit daring.”
“You’re far too daring…”
She really is manly in that regard.
But I see. Next time, I’ll have even forgotten this mixed bath.
… Can’t we do something about that? Guess not.
Perhaps Kagurai-senpai’s attitude loaded with composure stemmed from that as well. She knew I was going to forget anyways, which let her act this bold.
“Well, I am a little embarrassed.”
She laughed to play it off. Was the reddening of her cheeks from the bath, or was she as embarrassed as me? I was unable to make a judgment.
“… I was sure you’d still be depressed.”
Not a few hours ago, Shakujii-san had put her through the wringer, yet she had completely returned to her normal energetic self.
Did acting on her own calm her down?
… She hasn’t gotten her hands on some alcohol, has she?
“Depressed…? Ah, about Hihihiko…”
She said as if she’d just recalled it now.
“Are you alright?”
“… That’s hard to say. Everything Hihihiko said hit the mark, so it’s honestly taking its toll. Despite what I say, I’m always being spoiled by Gakuta.”
Lowering her brow, she made a self-loathing smile.
“It’s as you said sometime before… I’m a lonely girl.”
“I’m a weak person who becomes no good if someone won’t stay by her side. Thinking back on it, this loop really was the first time I moved on my own.”
Kagurai-senpai said, with some sarcastic smiles mixed in.
“The moment the loop started, it was harsh, sad, scary, and painful, there was nothing I could do. It was as if I was the sole being left behind by the world, and within all that, I couldn’t bear the fact I had no one to rely on. That’s why… I opened up to you on everything, and sought your help.”
“But talking to the likes of me won’t…”
“Don’t abase yourself. You’ve saved me plenty. Having you as my ally was more reassuring than anything.”
All I did was divert her loneliness ever so slightly, it seems.
It’s not like I managed anything great.
But right now, she said that was enough.
“You’re not my first kiss for nothing, Kagoshima.”
“Eh. Eeh? W-what are you talking about?”
Her sudden statement took me by surprise. Wait a second. I’ve got absolutely no memory of kissing Kagurai-senpai. Wait, I’ve never even experienced a kiss myself!
“Ah, I see. So you don’t know.”
“You did it without me knowing!?”
When was that!?
When I was asleep!?
“Well, just forget about it for now. I wanted to try saying it. It’s just a joke.”
Kagurai-senpai tossed that story away quite crudely.
I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not, but it didn’t look like I would get any more answers by asking, so I reluctantly agreed.
“… Thinking back, I get the feeling I’m always being saved by you. By your… sinful denseness.”
Kagurai-senpai’s serene eyes gazed at the moon as she went on in a solemn voice.
“Without the slightest look at my—no, our appearances, you looked only at our essence. Titles, and status, missions, and destiny… ignoring each and every one of those complicated, intertwining circumstances, you saw us as simply individual people— treated us as the sort of normal girls you could find anywhere.”
Kagurai-senpai spun her words as if talking to herself. Thanks to that, I couldn’t say a single thing back, simply maintaining my silence.
“To Kagoshima, from the very bottom of his heart, our true identities ‘don’t matter’, I’m sure. Without paying mind to what would usually be the first thing one cared about, the ability to ‘not care’ is your curse… and at the same time, your blessing. While seeming as if you’re averting your eyes from us, you truly face us more sincerely than anyone ever could.”
“Wai-wait a second. Please wait.”
I was starting to feel itchy. I stopped those words.
“… Please don’t say such embarrassing things so calmly. Seriously, what’s up with you?”
“Fufufu. I wonder what’s up. Perhaps bathing with you’s risen my spirits.”
An evasive smile.
“… Rather, aren’t you letting off an air like everything’s over? You haven’t resolved anything yet, have you?”
The way to escape the loop was unclear, the culprit was unknown. To take it further, at the point Shakujii-san wasn’t the culprit, it became unclear whether or not there was a culprit in the first place.
The situation was boundlessly hopeless.
“Yeah, you’re right…”
Kagurai-senpai slowly closed her eyes.
“… Well, we can have that discussion next time. In the time we have left today, our possible actions are limited. That’s why… just let me take it easy tonight.”
Her closed eyes slowly opened to look at me.
They were terribly calm eyes. I couldn’t feel any sense of crisis or tension.
It was… as if the last inning was already played, she had that sort of serenity.
Gazing into her slightly-damp eyes, I had nothing to say in return.
For around ten minutes, we exchanged a conversation so substance-less, it couldn’t even be called idle chatter before, “I should get out,” Kagurai-senpai said.
The sound of falling water arose as she slickly stood from the bath. When she rose from the murky water, naturally, the naked form she had kept hidden was exposed to the open air, and exposed to my eyes while she was at it—
“—Wait, if you’re going to get out, please give me some warning!”
I hurriedly averted my eyes, turning my body around to face the other way.
Seriously, what’s up with you, Kagurai-senpai!?
“Haha. My bad, my bad.”
I heard wet footsteps behind me. She was completely out of the bath, it seems.
Which means, she’s completely naked… uwah, uwah… no, well, she was naked the whole time, but… even so… uwah…
As I worried endlessly, a teasing voice came from behind.
“Kagoshima. I don’t mind if you look this way.”
“D-don’t be stupid!”
“It’s fine, I tell you. The steam’s going to cover up all the important parts anyway.”
“The steam doesn’t do its job in real life!”
I felt I really would turn if I let my guard down, so I frantically contained my worldly desires.
Don’t turn, don’t turn… convince yourself this is a back alley in Morioh. If you turn, they’ll drag your soul away. You can’t turn around, you can’t turn around…
As a violent battle unfolded with myself, Kagurai-senpai gave an intrigued laugh.
“You really are a wimp who could never turn around at a time like this. Fufu. Well, perhaps’ that’s precisely why I can feel at ease naked with you… and precisely why I–”
She didn’t say those words to the end. The sound of the glass door shutting soon sounded out. It seems she had entered the changing room.
But the sound could be a feint, it was possible Kagurai-senpai was still loitering around naked, so I waited around ten minutes before turning.
Kagurai-senpai was no longer there.
Now alone in the open air bath, I let out a deep breath.
“… What was that, back there.”
My spirit was worn out. I get the feeling I was being teased by her from beginning to end.
This sort of hazy something remained in my heart, the inside of my head a muddled mess, but in the end, I’d forget all of today in a few hours.
When I considered that, I didn’t feel like thinking anything. I—stopped thinking.