Time is a nimble beast, and by the time I noticed it, I had gone through more than half the summer vacation of my second year of high school.
Remedial lessons for skipping exams, the ComClub’s training camp, and dropping by my old folk’s place to pay a visit to my family grave, I was relatively busy, spending relatively fulfilled summer days up to the point I realized there were only two weeks of summer vacation to go.
While this and that happened on ComClub training camp, I’d call it a great success. The first and second days passed by without any particular problems; we managed to spend our time truly enjoyably.
And at present, I was groaning to myself in my house’s living room.
As per usual, I was living alone in my two-story detached residence.
When I returned to my old folks’ place in the sticks for Obon, my dad and mom returned to Japan for the first time in a long while, but once it was time to go, they immediately made off overseas.
It did feel a tad lonely, but, well, I was already adjusted to living on my own.
“Still… it’s that.”
I muttered, looking at the mountainous heap of printouts and textbooks before me.
“Why must summer vacation have homework?”
I was quite likely speaking in proxy, the shared sentiment of students all over the nation. The vast amount of work on the table. As I was simply, plainly busy (admittedly an excuse), I had left it completely unattended. I did think that now was the time to do it, but the very fact I’d left it untouched so long contrarily prevented any outburst of motivation.
“I’ve still got two weeks, so you could say I’ll be fine. But it’s only two weeks, so you could just as well say I’m screwed if I don’t start right around now…”
Should I do it or not? That is the question.
…… “No, just do it!” I felt like I had been retorted by the world at large, so I reluctantly reached a hand towards the mountain of homework. Yet, just a step away, my hand stopped.
It’s been like this all morning.
Today’s the day I do it! I grew enthusiastic, listed all my work out, and thinking it would be terribly inefficient to go at it blindly, I first tried drafting up a perfect schedule, but along the way, I grew sluggish and frustrated, in which case, the next step was to clean my room; you can’t make progress in studies in a messy room, I thought as I cleaned, after which I spotted an issue of Corocoro from around two years ago and– overcome with nostalgia– I gave it a readthrough, grew curious about the continuation, searched for the next volume, read that, and searched out the next one anew, repeating on and on until before I knew it, I had reached the latest issue of Corocoro released right before Obon—
And it was night.
The current time was around ten thirty.
“… My day ended with Corocoro.”
How depressing. It felt as if my already-non-existent motivation had been snatched away.
Dammit, curse you Corocoro Comics.
Why do you have to be so interesting?
… Yeah, it’s just, that. If I start at this hour, I’ll have to stop in the middle of something, which’ll only make it harder to pick up, so let’s give it a rest. They often say you should break out your new shoes in the morning. I can do my best tomorrow.
“… Didn’t I think that yesterday……”
My thoughts have completely become that of a hopeless person. I see, so summer homework exists to prevent us from deteriorating like this.
“Very well! Let’s do this!”
I slapped both my cheeks, injecting myself with fighting spirit. Now I should be up to the task. Holding a blazing resolve in my chest, I reached out for the homework–
— Or so I tried, but crumbled down the moment before.
“… Who could it be at this hour?”
Just when I had finally gotten motivated. At this point, is God telling me this homework should never be done? Feeling a light irritation, I headed for the entranceway and forcefully pulled open the door.
I was greeted by a surprise.
A small-built physique, hair tied up on both sides. A white robe she inherited from her talented magician mother—was the setting she went by. A junior one year below me, Kurisu-chan.
She was an appealing young girl with wide, beautiful eyes, but at present, those eyes were overflowing with tears.
“W-what’s wrong? Dropping by so late? E-eh? Rather, why are you crying?”
She answered my confusion in a tear-muffled voice.
“I can’th uthe mmagic henymore…”
Kurisu-chan’s full name was Kurisu Crimson Kuria.
An earnest hard worker, and while she was a bit of a scatterbrain, a terribly cute little girl. I heard she was a mix between Japanese and some country out there, but I don’t know specifically where. Kurisu-chan was terrible at geography, and even she couldn’t really say what country half the blood flowing in her veins belonged to.
… Thinking about it carefully, I get the feeling she exhibited a level of idiocy that made me seriously worry for her future… but Kurisu-chan had a fatal flaw that made her devastatingly bad geographic skills seem inconsequential.
It went by the name of— eighth-grade syndrome.
Kurisu-chan was head over heels addicted to an already-out-of-print publication called Kuria’s Grand Adventure, and she would wander around town cosplaying as one of its characters, at times blurting out incomprehensible terminology.
Every time I spotted her eccentricities, I’d think whoah, that’s harsh, I’m cringing. I did think to do something to treat her terminal disease, but I got the feeling this was behavior strictly restricted to puberty, so I decided to silently watch over her.
Someday, Kurisu-chan is sure to notice. Just how cringy she is.
And right now… Kurisu-chan said it.
She can’t use magic anymore.
“U-uu… Kagoshima… senpai. I’m sorry for dropping by so late…”
I closed in on her, firmly grasping her shoulders. I smiled with all my might.
“Congratulations!” I blessed her from the depths of my heart.
“Congratulations, Kurisu-chan! You’ve become an adult! Congratulations! Congratulations!”
I repeated the word over and over again. I repeated it more than the last episode of Evangelion
Ah, to think the day would ever come.
The patient of a severe case of eighth-grade syndrome had finally graduated. What a wonderful day it is!
Kurisu-chan looked at me with a blank, perplexed expression. Her face was still wet with tears, but the source itself had been completely cut off.
“Splendid, that really is wonderful news! And now, Kurisu-chan, you’ve taken a step up on the stairway to adulthood!”
“Time to celebrate. This calls for some red rice! Umm, what did you put in red rice again? Was it cayenne?”
“That’s no red rice I know of!”
“Ah, don’t tell me, you’re the type that uses Habanero? I knew you looked the part.”
“I’m not complaining about the spice level!”
Kurisu-chan threw in a forceful retort, after which she firmly shook her head.
“… Wrong, that’s not it, Kagoshima-senpai…… I, I really, really can’t use magic anymore…”
Her tears gushed up again. Her entire body quivered finely like a small animal.
Hmm. Looks like it wasn’t an auspicious occasion.
That’s right. Now that I think about it, that’s strange.
Kurisu-chan usually never called herself a magician. More-so, she obstinately insisted that she was not a magician (I was well aware of that even if she didn’t insist it). But here she was, telling me she couldn’t use magic anymore.
Meaning that’s just how great her panic is at the moment.
Which means, this might be a far more severe situation than I was imagining.
“I can’t… enter my house, if I, can’t use magic… that’s why, that’s why, I have no way to go home, and I don’t know what to do… I was considering, sleeping, in the park but… urrgh… it’s summer, so it’s full of bugs and scary…”
“I can usually return… through any mirror just like that…”
She shifted her eyes. What she focused on was a mirror adorning the entrance-way. It was a bit on the larger side, a full-body mirror for one to check up their appearance before they headed out.
Kurisu-chan reached her hand towards the mirror, gently stroking its surface as,
“—He who returns all manner of light, become my gate of safe passage–”
She chanted something spell-like.
“… Usually, that’s how I can get back… but now, after I chant, when I try sticking my head in…”
As she said that, Kurisu-chan faced our mirror.
She thrusted her head in.
She smacked it with her forehead. Headbutted it.
Kurisu-chan collided with such momentum as if she thought she would go through it. When she did such a thing, naturally, the mirror shattered. Countless fractures ran down it, as it scattered light in all directions like stained glass.
“… Urgh. Why, why…”
While I was at a loss for words, Kurisu-chan kept mumbling in a voice mixed with sobs.
“I can always… do that and… go home…”
She turned to the shattered mirror again; just as before, she pulled back her head and readied herself.
The cracks in the mirror multiplied.
“… It’s strange, this is strange.”
Kurisu-chan headbutted, she headbutted again.
Silently, at a set rhythm, she repeated the motion.
A majority of the mirror was now shattered, while a majority of the fragments had scattered around the entranceway, even so, that didn’t stop her.
Her form was almost like a high-paced shishi-odoshi.
Calm down. Be cool.
It’s at times like these, that an objective viewpoint must take charge.
If I had to analyze this situation objectively…
A girl suddenly came late at night, “I can’t use magic anymore,” she repeated some incomprehensible deposition before wholeheartedly thrusting her head at my mirror.
… Objectivity made it even worse.
This is bad. Just what is this girl doing…
If I called the police, they’d arrest her for that one. It’s an incident that would grace the front page of tomorrow’s paper. On the evening news, “The darkness that plagues the hearts of our younger generation,” would have a special segment.
Well, of course, I’m not calling the cops. While I was taken aback by this outrageous scene, I managed to calm my heart.
That’s right. As her senior, saving this girl is my duty!
“Stop it already, Kurisu-chan!”
As she continued conduct I could only imagine from a crazy person, I got her into a hold from behind. Still, she struggled within my grasp.
“Please let go of me, Kagoshima-senpai! I… I’m going to go home!”
“No you’re not! That mirror isn’t turning into a warp gate!”
“Yes it will! I’m a magician, so I know I can do it!”
“Well you’re not doing it!”
“That, it must be… my magic is… uwaaaaaaah……”
Kurisu-chan began to weep.
Hey now. I’m the one who wants to cry here…
“For now, let’s calm down, Kurisu-chan! Deep breaths, deep breaths! We’ll do it together. In, in, out. In, in, out.”
“That’s the Lamaze technique!”
“Then let’s count prime numbers! Primes know how to live on their own, so they’ll fill us with courage! 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11…”
“1 is not a prime number!”
Uwah, I accidentally played dumb. What a disgrace.
“Anyways, Kurisu-chan, humans can’t enter mirrors! There aren’t thirteen riders holding a battle royal in the mirror!”
“I am not trying to enter the mirror! I’m just trying to use transfer magic!”
“They’re the same!”
“They are not!”
Kurisu-chan seemed considerably panicked. I got the feeling she was indiscreetly speaking on some important details, but now wasn’t the time to lend an ear to her nonsense.
Kurisu-chan continued to squirm in my arms, but a young girl’s power was unable to brush off the restraints of a man.
Wait a second.
Come to think of it, wasn’t Kurisu-chan supposed to be stronger than me? Last time we held an arm-wrestling contest with the ComClub members, I remember losing with an overwhelming difference. (By the way, I lost to all the girls. They all have way too much brute strength).
And yet, when she was strong to an unnatural extent, I was currently able to normally hold her down.
The power I felt from her was the strength of a normal high school girl… no, perhaps even lower. A normal, or feeble young girl’s power.
“Let go of meee!”
Paying no heed to my doubts, Kurisu-chan continued squirming her body.
It was at that moment.
Thanks to her violent movements, her white robe fastened at the front snapped open, making it possible to peer inside. Of course, I was holding Kurisu-chan from behind, so I was unable to take in her form head-on. But at this very moment, we were standing in front of a mirror. The dazzling fragments of glass reflected back what I would see had I been standing in its place.
With a jerk, Kurisu-chan and I froze on the spot.
A number of fragments had fallen on the floor, so it never did come to pass that I saw the entire contents of her robe. Despite that, the interior that did reflect from the mirror fragments that persistently remained… were largely covered by the color of skin. Or rather, completely skin. The missing mirror fragments showed black, but everything else was skin.
… No, let’s stop using ambiguous expressions to escape from reality.
She was naked under the robe.
Stark naked, her socks and shoes the only thing she had on.
An appearance I personally saw as more erotic than pure nudity, nude with socks.
“… Kurisu… chan.”
My own face in the mirror had turned to an expression despairing for the world. As a healthy high school boy, perhaps I should be quivering in delight at this lucky pervert-esque situation of witnessing my junior in the nude; but that joy was overwritten by a far greater despair encroaching on my heart.
I had forgotten.
Kurisu-chan was… an exhibitionist…
Before summer vacation, when I took a bath with the dog Chris, Kurisu-chan charged naked into my bathroom with no forewarning, and it was then that I had to reach the conclusion. I had completely forgotten—no, that’s not it. I had forced myself to forget. I didn’t want to accept my junior’s bad taste, or rather abnormal disposition that verged on felony.
I could no longer avert my eyes from the problem. I mean, she was seriously naked under the robe…
For real. She really was a pervert…
No, I get that magical girls and nudity go hand in hand!
I get that they strip down in the transformation sequence!
Her head finally catching up to the situation, Kurisu-chan raised an adorable scream and hurriedly covered up her front. It was too late, in various ways.
“D-dd-did you seee?”
“… Yeah.” I gave a solemn nod. “Ah, but, umm, how should I put it, well… the mirror was perfectly chipped in all the important parts, so I didn’t see…”
“… Hey, Kurisu-chan. Um… you know? I really don’t think you should keep up with that hobby of yours. Yeah, one wrong step, and it’ll be a crime.”
“You-y-you‘re wrong! T-this is just a coincidence.”
Kurisu-chan firmly shook her head, giving an excuse in a voice stained with bitterness.
“The robe’s an artifact, but the clothing underneath it needs mana to maintain… so they disappeared the moment I couldn’t use magic… what’s more, the school uniform and, umm, u-underwear inside the storage gem… I can’t take them out without magic… that’s why, that’s why there really is nothing I can do…”
I offered a level-headed response to her desperate defense.
“I’m sorry, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
Right after, Kurisu-chan started wailing loudly.
On that occasion, she raised her head in emotion, the top of her short head colliding with my chin as I held her from behind.
Like a boxer who’d taken on a killer uppercut, I was down for the count. My brain swayed, in an instant, my consciousness was reaped away. Right before I lost consciousness,
“I can’t do this anymooooooore!”
Only Kurisu-chan’s teary lament unpleasantly remained in my ears.
By the time I regained consciousness, the clock needles had rounded twelve; my scarce remnants of summer faction had grown fewer still. After letting it all out, Kurisu-chan seemed to have calmed down, this time giving a calm explanation of the situation she had been placed in.
It did seem she had failed in developing a new technique, and as a side effect, lost her ability to use magic. Her residence was located somewhere they couldn’t be accessed without the use of transfer magic, and to top it all off, her clothes and wallet were stored away in the gem she used for storage space, so she was at her wits end with no way to go on.
“No, you can drop that eighth-grade mental setting, just tell me what really happened.”
As she said that mixed in with a sigh, Kurisu-chan sitting on the sofa nodded with a terribly conflicted expression. By the way, at present, she wasn’t in her robe; she had changed into the middle school jersey I’d lent her. The size didn’t match, it was considerably baggy.
… She wasn’t wearing a bra or panties, but I’ll do my best to ignore that.
“Umm, that was all my mental delusion, and the truth is…”
Her field of vision loitering around as if she was thinking on the spot, she started explaining again.
When she was wandering around town in cosplay as per usual, she apparently lost both her wallet and house key. Her family just happened to be out on a trip, and because of that, she was lost with no way to go home.
“I see, you have it hard.”
“You have no idea…”
“… I hope you’ve learned your lesson from this. Let’s stop wandering around town in nothing but a robe, okay?”
When I spoke with a deep sorrow resting on my words, Kurisu-chan’s face flushed bright red.
“You’re still a high school student see. Don’t you think you’d be better off getting a bit more experience before you dive into a specialized fetish like exhibitionism?”
“No matter how experienced you are, exhibitionism isn’t… not that! T-that’s not it… there’s a very deep reason as to why I’m not wearing clothes…”
“A deep reason? You couldn’t contain the exhibitionist impulses welling up from your depths?”
“Wrong! That’s an extremely shallow reason, isn’t it!?”
“Hey, I get how you feel. There are times I just feel like tearing off this shell I call self, and exposing all I am.”
“Please don’t sympathize! Wro- you’re wrong… the reason I’m not wearing clothes doesn’t have to do with e-e-exhibitionism or anything like that…”
“Oh? It doesn’t?”
“Apart from exhibitionism, I can’t think of any other explanation that would lead to a situation with you wearing a robe and nothing underneath.”
“…… Yes. You’re right. I am an… exhibitionist pervert…”
Kurisu-chan nodded with a face as if she had cast aside everything as a woman. As if she had run out of every tear she had to shed, her eyes became empty to the point I couldn’t tell what they were looking at.
She seemed to be repenting from her heart. Good girl. Let us pray that this incident will cure Kurisu-chan of her exhibitionist tendencies. That being the case, I’ve managed to gain a general understanding of the situation.
“… I’m sorry, Kagoshima-senpai.”
After exhaling a slight breath of resignation, this time she spoke in a minute voice.
“I barged in so late at night… you were the only person I thought I could rely on.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about it.”
It made me a little happy to hear I was the only one she could rely on, but sifting through her story, it could just as well be that she simply didn’t have any other friends nearby.
At present, the ComClub members weren’t in any state to be depended on.
Kagurai-senpai and Kikyouin-san had returned home, and Orino-san didn’t live in the area (rather, I have no idea where her house is).
“… I’m sorry I broke your mirror. I’ll properly compensate you for it when I can.”
Recalling her prior chaotic self, Kurisu-chan’s expression blended with embarrassment and sincerity.
“You don’t have to worry about that. It wasn’t too expensive.”
“I heard it’s a sentimental mirror mom bought with her first ever paycheck, but you don’t have to worry about it.”
“… I’m really sorry!”
Jumping down from the sofa, Kurisu-chan groveled on the floor. That was a splendid leap.
“Ah, I’m sorry. That was a joke, don’t take it so seriously. We just bought it at the general store in front of the station, it didn’t even cost five hundred yen.”
“… P-please don’t tease me like that… my hands are full as it is. They really, really are fully loaded…”
She said earnestly, making the expression of someone truly on the brink.
It was painful to watch, so let’s not tease her anymore.
“By the way, Kurisu-chan. Did you contact the police? About your wallet and key.”
“No, it’s not like I lost them, so…”
“Ah! I-I’m fine. My phone was safe, so I put in a call on the way here!”
“I see… the wallet’s one thing, but your house key’s a heavy loss. Around when are your parents getting back?”
“Umm… p-probably, give them a week and… I’m sure in that time I’ll be able to—no, I mean, I think my parents will be back.”
A week, huh. It’ll be harsh to spend that long without a house to return to. What’s more, she’s penniless, so she can’t sleep at a hotel or manga café, or use any means of transportation.
“Kurisu-chan. Have you planned out your course of action?”
“… I haven’t.”
She sullenly hung her shoulders. Gazing over her unreliable form, I offered a single proposal.
“Then want to live here?”
Kurisu-chan raised her head in amazement.
“If it’s just for a week, it won’t be any trouble. See, I live alone so you don’t have to worry about bothering anyone.”
And considering her financial straits, I get the feeling that would be for the best. Rather, I didn’t have it in me to drive her out into the desolation of night.
“But I couldn’t possibly cause you so much trouble…”
“It’s no trouble at all.”
“And wait, when you barged into my house at this hour, it’s a bit late to talk about troubling me.”
A little meanness and Kurisu-chan shamefully hung her head. A while of mulling later, she slowly raised it.
“… Then, you have my humblest apologies, but I’ll take you up on that offer.”
She reluctantly lowered it back down.
“I-I-I may be inexperienced, but I I hope you’ll put up with me.”
With two weeks left, summer vacation had entered its final stages. And like that, Kurisu-chan and I had begun living together. Rather than a girl coming over to live, it kinda felt like I had gotten myself a little sister.
Night opens into the next morning.
The first thing I did was clean the house. To get the house prettied up to a level I wasn’t embarrassed to show people, and to hide anything funny.
“Mn? This is…”
Once I gave the house a good once-over and returned to clean my room, I spotted something nostalgic in the back of my closet. Several hundred cards contained in a long-served candy tin. The cards of a trading card game I had desperately collected when I was young.
“… Wow, that takes me back.”
The various thoughts born in my heart converted into a sigh and leaked from my mouth. The reminiscence of reuniting with an old friend you haven’t seen in ten years, and… the embarrassment towards my youth summarized in the phrase, how much did all of these cost? I’m sure these are feelings any man who’s played a card game will experience.
“Kagoshima-senpaaai. Breakfast is ready.”
As I was gazing over each individual card, Kurisu-chan’s voice came from the first floor.
When I descended the stairs and made for the living room, she was standing in the kitchen equipped with an apron. Under the apron, a bright-colored T-Shirt and shorts. My clothes from middle school. While they were men’s clothing, she was pulling them off in a tomboyish fashion.
I was hit with déjà vu. When she stayed at my house a few months ago, she cooked for me just like this. The table was already lined with breakfast. Miso soup, white rice, broiled fish, salad. Not the slightest sign she had stayed her hand, cooking with some heart put into it.
“Thank you for the meal.”
“Thank you for the meal.”
When I reached the table, the two of us ate breakfast together.
“Yep. It’s tasty.”
“Y-you think so?”
“I do. But, I feel kinda bad. Having a guest cook breakfast and all.”
“Oh no… it’s fine. You’re letting me stay, so please let me do this much.”
Kurisu-chan said apologetically.
“Yeaaah. I feel bad after all, leave today’s lunch to me.”
“No, I’ll make it.”
Kurisu-chan suddenly turned serious, making a clear declaration.
“While I’m here, I’ll make every meal. You don’t have to do anything.”
I wonder why. From her words, I felt more coercion that gratitude. It looks like she was wary to never let me cook. Well, I had no complaints if I got to eat Kurisu-chan’s delicious cooking, so the Kagoshima House kitchen would temporarily be left to her.
“In that case, could I leave groceries to you? The fridge is going to run empty soon. The menu’s up to you. Of course, I’ll be the one paying.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I get the feeling you’d be better at groceries than me.”
It was possible for the two of us to go together, but considering how we would be living together for the next week, I had my qualms about sticking together too much outside. Strange rumors in the neighborhood would be nothing but trouble, for both me and Kurisu-chan.
After Kurisu-chan heartily accepted my proposal, “… Umm,” she continued her words somewhat awkwardly.
“I know I’m making an unreasonable request, but… if possible, could I borrow some money outside of food as well?”
I asked back, to a powerless nod of, “… Yes.”
Ah, come to think of it, Kurisu-chan’s living here because she suddenly couldn’t return home. She’s surely lacking in various everyday necessities.
“I don’t mind lending whatsoever… but Kurisu-chan. If there’s anything you need, just tell me. We’ve got quite a few things around the house, so you might not even have to buy it.”
We’ve got some unused toothbrushes and bath towels; in regards to shampoo and facewash, some of my mother’s female products are around somewhere.
There, Kurisu-chan shamefully hung her head. Fidgetingly entwining her fingers, she spoke in a faint voice I could only narrowly pick up.
“… I-I want to buy some undergarments…”
I had completely forgotten.
At present, Kurisu-chan wasn’t wearing a bra or panties. She was wearing my middle school clothes commando.
The air surrounding the morning dining table grew a bit dubious, we continued eating our breakfasts without exchanging another word.
After a late breakfast, Kurisu-chan immediately left for shopping. It did seem she wanted to put on some panties ASAP. While going out without panties would be a considerably high-risk action in a skirt, Kurisu-chan was wearing my trousers, so it would probably be fine. Additionally, as a habitual exhibitionist, she would surely be accustomed to this sort of situation.
After I saw off an embarrassed, restless Kurisu-chan walking like a clear suspicious individual, I lounged around a while before leaving the house myself.
My goal was the pawn off the large load of cards I’d found in my closet. If I wasn’t going to be using them, I was better off selling them off. I had a number of rare cards, so they should amount to something.
I carried the tin of cards in hand as I walked down the residential block. The pawn shop wasn’t too far away, so I’d probably be home before Kurisu-chan got back.
Even so, would Kurisu-chan be alright?
When I lent her money,
“Oh? Are you sure you’re fine with that small amount? Umm… you’re buying undergarments, right?”
“Yes… But it’s just a temporary measure, and I don’t intend to buy anything too expensive.”
“I won’t claim to be an expert, but don’t women’s undergarments go for quite a bit? You have to match size and such…?”
“Umm… there are some people who have trouble finding the right size, but I’m…”
“Ah, sorry. That was rude of me.”
“Aren’t you catching on too quickly!?”
“Sorry. I was lacking in tact.”
“Don’t look at me with those eyes of pity! Your tact just makes it harsher!”
We had such an exchange. It didn’t look like size would be a problem… Kurisu-chan looked like the sort whose size would be sold everywhere, but I was a bit worried if she could really buy undergarments with that paltry sum.
Well, I heard they’re selling underwear at the hundred yen store these days, so she might be fine.
Whatever the case, my worry won’t amount to anything. She might have even made her purchase already.
But I always find myself thinking it.
That girl really isn’t used to relying on people.
She was in an emergency situation where she couldn’t go home, so I’d like to lend her my power by all means, yet, Kurisu-chan refrained at every possible turn.
I got the feeling it was something different from humility.
I’d been thinking it for a while now, but it seems that girl doesn’t see relying on people as a favorable option. I think she has a terrible oversensitivity towards showing her weakness to others.
When she boasts such a frank personality, she always pulls back a step.
Or so I thought various things as I walked, and just as I approached the intersection.
Someone suddenly appeared before my eyes.
They didn’t come from down the road. There was barely anyone out, so I’d be able to tell if someone came walking from upfront. That person suddenly descended before me and landed without a sound.
They likely jumped down from one of the walls on the side. I mean, it’s not like they could’ve used that transfer magic Kurisu-chan was talking about and emerged from the convex mirror attached to the telephone pole for safe turning.
Whatever their situation, only one thing was certain. When they appeared all of a sudden, they were impossible to avoid.
I grandly collided with that someone, the two of us collapsing to the floor. The candy tin in my hand hit the floor, the lid popping open, the cards inside it grandly spilling into the air.
What’s with this person?
A transfer student you suddenly bump into at the corner?
“Oww… um, are you alright?”
I quickly raised myself, raced over and reached out a hand.
“A mere plebeian like you needn’t touch me so easily.”
My hand was slapped away. I was dumbfounded.
The person soon stood and pat off the dirt on their clothing.
It was a small-built young boy. His age was around ten. Considerably shorter than me, either the same, or lower than Kurisu-chan.
When the summer sun still beat down harshly, he wore a sweltering black mantle. There were sinister ornaments stuck to his shoulders.
“Hmph. To let plebeian come in contact with me, how the mighty have fallen.”
The person… no, the kid scoffed and unveiled an arrogant line.
But his voice had yet to drop, making his utterances ridiculously high…!
A boy’s soprano that put my heart at ease.
Alongside his childish face that showed off his youth at full throttle, it was kinda super cute.
He said and looked up at me. While he seemed to be trying his best to make a scary look, he had a pretty baby face, so it wasn’t scary in the slightest. Still, his tone the whole way had been especially self-aggrandizing. Granted he was probably at an age where he thought that sort of thing was cool.
That mantle that made me want to retort, are you supposed to be some otherworldly noble or something, could be explained if I thought he was trying to show off at his age.
“Oy, are you listening?”
“Ah, sorry, sorry. Did you need something?”
“Are you one who lives in this world?”
I tilted my head to the incomprehensible question. I wonder what he meant. Perhaps that was an extremely philosophical question?
While I was troubled to respond, “Hmph. A foolish question. There’s no way a whelp I can’t feel the slightest magic from could be a resident of our world,” he reached a conclusion on his own, narrowed his eyes, and gazed at me as if to inspect my every move.
“Your age… the late teens, perhaps. The age one would attend hye school in this country. Oy, do you by chance attend the local teaching institution Adaterra hye school?”
“Oh, yeah. I do. I’m a second year at Adatara High School.”
“I do believe a woman going by the name of Creastia Crimson Cridende Christopher Shuley should be attending, does that name ring any bells?”
I don’t have any acquaintances with such crazy names. For a moment, Kurisu-chan crossed my mind, but surely their names were just somewhat similar.
“I see. I heard the ‘Flower out of Reach’—Allua’s sole daughter was in these parts. But I don’t feel the slightest trace of magic… is she away from this town…?”
“Are you looking for that girl?”
“No, Creastia is just a small aside. I wouldn’t come all the way out here for a single girl. My true objective lies elsewhere.”
Yeaaah. For a while now, I haven’t quite been getting what he’s saying.
I get the feeling he’s using similar terminology to Kurisu-chan, but considering his age, instead of eighth-grade syndrome, he’s probably just playing around.
Which means, I shouldn’t read too deep into it, I should just tag along to a moderate extent.
“What’s your name?”
“I am called Griestar… no, there is no point in naming myself to a plebeian of your level.”
“Eh? Mn? Gri- what?”
“If you truly wish to refer to me, call me Griel. From my youth, a great many have called me so.”
He… Griel-kun said with a snort of his nose. This whole time, each and every one of his utterances seemed to make light of me, and that pompous attitude was even more evident in his pupils.
As if he usually stood in a position from which he could only look down on humans.
… No, but still, Griel, eh? I guess that’s his nickname in elementary school or something. Those grade-schoolers sometimes come out with outrageous nicknames, after all.
“So, Griel-kun. What’s this goal you were talking about?”
When I asked lightly, his young face curled into a menacing smile.
“I am searching for the philosopher’s stone.”
“… Hmm. I see. You have it rough.”
I arbitrarily responded. A warmth spread across my chest.
Come to think of it, I used to explore town searching for Tsuchinoko and Chupacabra, once upon a time. I see, the philosopher’s stone, huh?
I wonder if he just read through FMA or HP.
“I’ll ask without any expectations. Do you have any idea about the philosopher’s stone?”
“No, nothing comes to mind.”
“I see. So be it… if my research is correct, the stone’s main body, or something concerned with it in some shape or form should be in this area. It’s faint, but I sense a mana very similar to the stone nearby…”
“Hmmm. I see. I highly doubt that, but do your best.”
“Yes. The philosopher’s stone definitely is an item of legend. It would surely be impossible for an ordinary magician to find it. But if you put me up to it, retrieving a pebble is of no consequence.”
Once that strangely unmeshing conversation was over, Griel-kun took a step forward towards me.
“I’ve said too much. You’ll be forgetting that conversation.”
“Fret not. I mean you no harm. I’m different from those petty ruffians you find on the street. I’ll only be tampering with your memories a bit.”
As he said that, he gently raised his right hand and touched it to my forehead. As if some unknown power dwelled in that hand, it was warm.
Right before I thought something might happen, his feet caught against something. The cards I had scattered a moment ago. He picked up the card at his feet, and a few more in the area. Fanning them out in his hand, he began gazing at them with intrigue.
“They depict monsters, warriors, and magicians. Different still from Tarot cards… oy, what are these?”
“They’re Duel&Wizard Cards. You don’t know them?”
“Never heard of it.”
“Yeaah. I see, so kids these days don’t know about them.”
I gave a simple explanation of Duel&Wizard.
Around the time Yugioh and Duelmasters started gaining worldwide popularity, some small manufacturer tried to follow blindly and came out with the card game.
It never became the topic of discussion anywhere in the nation, and before anyone noticed it, it had disappeared, maker and all, but as it had gained a dubious level of popularity in this region, I collected them with my friends.
The rules themselves were pretty much Yugioh.
“Hm. Meaning they’re a tabletop game like trump.”
“Strictly speaking, yes.”
I began collecting the scattered cards. Once they were all in a pile, the moment before I accepted the portion Griel-kun had collected,
He said, sounding especially merry.
“I’ve changed my mind. You will play me in this Duel&Wizard.”
“Eh? But you don’t know the rules, do you?”
“I’ll learn them in five minutes.”
He sounded all-too stuck up, but it seemed he wanted me to teach him. After thinking a bit, “Yeah, sure,” I nodded. It’s not good to refuse a small child’s request, and it had been quite a long time, so I was right in the mood for a duel.
If I started back after a game or two, I’d make it in time for Kurisu-chan’s return.
“Hmph. I’ll say it now, but don’t hold back thinking me an amateur. In this sort of tabletop entertainment, whether dealing with child or adult, never once have I faced defeat. May you paw at the earth with all your might.”
The moment I heard that line I was convinced. Ah, I’m totally going to win this. It’s one of those things the world calls a premonition.
“Are you done shopping yet?”
‘I just finished up, and was thinking it was about time to return.’
“Aah, I see… um, look, I’m really sorry about this, but could you go kill time somewhere? I’m currently out, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be home for a while.”
‘Did something happen?’
“No, nothing in particular. Just some minor business.”
‘Understood. Then I’ll loiter around a bit longer.’
“Sorry, and thanks.”
‘Oh no. I had somewhere I wanted to go, so this came at the perfect time.’
After notifying Kurisu-chan by phone, I returned to Griel-kun.
The location was Asahi Park. A park with a wooden table set, and where I would often play card games with friends in elementary school.
“… Um, you know, Griel-kun.”
Cleaning up the cards spread out across the table, I said with a sigh.
“Next time really is the last time, okay?”
Ignoring my wish, Griel-kun groaned out in irritation.
“Why can’t I defeat the likes of you……!”
He covered his face with both hands, shaking in humiliation.
Since then, including the mock battle to explain the rules, we had dueled ten times.
The result was my complete victory.
I know I shouldn’t say it, but Griel-kun was ridiculously weak. It was as if he lacked experience in the concept of trading card games themselves and was still failing to grasp the knack.
But I never thought he would be such a sore loser.
Each time he lost, “One more, one more,” he’d say…
“Darnit. I’m building my deck again! Hand over the cards.”
Griel-kun started constructing his deck once more. In regards to decks, first Griel-kun would make his, and I would form mine from the leftover cards. It was the least handicap I could give to a beginner.
As he held a staring contest with the cards, a serious look on his face, I offered him some advice out of the kindness of my heart.
“You can’t just make a deck out of monsters with the highest offense. You have to put in enough low-level monsters to sacrifice, or you won’t be able to make any moves.”
“I’m aware. But this sacrifice system is quite the cynical name. In the end, the weak may only contribute to battle as tribute to the strong. Hm. Like a model of the world.”
I hear they call it release instead of sacrifice nowadays.
But come to think of it, sacrifice is a casually terrible term.
“By the way, why does this Satan Summon monster card have the word summon in the name? Every time you summon it, you have to say I summon Satan Summon; is that not largely redundant?”
That’s the eternal mystery.
Griel-kun spent around ten minutes building a new neck. I used the leftovers to quickly throw together my own.
“I won’t lose this time.”
“Alright. Then rock paper scissors to determine turn order, let’s go. Rock, paper, scissors.”
I won. I chose second. I always was the type to strike second.
We stationed our decks and drew five cards each.
Our voices overlapped as we cried out.
You can’t miss that part!
“My turn! Draw!”
Griel-kun raised a heroic cry as he pulled a card with sharp movements.
… Because I hammered some half-truths into him, it seems like he believes all the overreactions from the manga are part of the official rules. I feel somewhat guilty.
“… Tsk. I put down two cards and end my turn.”
“Huh? You’re not laying any monsters? Empty handed?”
“Hmph. I wonder about that.”
Despite his fearless smile, he had clicked his tongue a moment ago, so no doubt he was emptyhanded. I’m sure he filled his deck with high attack-power monsters again. A kid making the textbook example of a beginner’s mistake.
“Then my turn. Draw.”
I drew a single card. Now then. I wonder if it’s about time I lost.
I do have my pride as a duelist, so I’ve gone at him seriously without letting up, but it’s about time to let my junior hold his head high.
Rather, I just want to go home.
With that thought, I lowered my eyes to my hand… and noticed something.
After thinking a moment, I shifted to action.
“First, I use ‘Angel’s Feather Duster’ to destroy all your facedowns.”
“Then I summon ‘Hell Franken’ and activate its effect. By paying five thousand lifepoints, I can special summon ‘Ultimate Dragon’ from my deck.”
“And I activate the magic card ‘Massive Growth’, doubling Ultimate Dragon’s attack power.”
“With nine thousand attack points, I attack your lifepoints directly!”
“You’re at zero, it’s my win.”
Griel-kun in a daze.
I one-turn killed him.
I planned on conceding the trophy, but won in a turn. No, I mean, I had all the necessary cards in my hands. Who wouldn’t!?
As I clenched my teeth in delight at the first one turn kill in my life, Griel-kun began shaking as he hung his head.
Crap, did I make him cry? I thought, when he sprung up his face and grasped at my chest with the force of a raging inferno.
“… Don’t get on your high horse, plebeian!”
I get how you feel. Anyone would snap after a one-turn kill.
“This is mere child’s play, is it not!? Strength on the table is of no use in reality!”
He was being a complete sore loser, but instead of refuting, I handled the situation like an adult.
“Yes. You’re right about that. There’s no point in being strong at something like this. So don’t you think it’s about time we finished up?”
When I said that, Griel-kun was hard pressed for words.
“N-nay. Even if it be child’s play, my pride won’t allow me to let it end with a loss to a commoner of your calibre…”
So which is it?
In the end, he was just irritated that he couldn’t win. He’s a kid, after all.
“Then can we save it for another day? I’m keeping someone waiting, so if possible, I’d like to return for the day. Aren’t you a bit tired?”
“I’m not in the least bit tired, but… hm. Very well. If you insist, I’ll let you off for today.”
… Why does he sound like he’s winning?
“I’m not as free as I look. This time, this park three days from now. Understood?”
If you’re not free, you don’t have to do it, the words came as far as my throat, but I frantically swallowed them down and accepted his rematch.
“… Come to think of it, you live in this area, do you?”
“Yeah. I do, but something about that?”
Griel-kun’s face turned meek. “… To find the stone, the fastest, most efficient method would be to raze this area to the ground, but I can’t have this man die… so be it, I’ll go at it from a different means…” he muttered something I didn’t really get.
Ah. Come to think of it, I haven’t introduced myself yet.
“My name’s Kagoshima Akira.”
“Kagoshima, eh. I’ll remember it.”
Griel-kun fearlessly smiled. He brought about himself the air as if he had recognized me as a single man, but having a kid recognize my skill in a children’s card came didn’t make me particularly happy.
“Kagoshima. Until the day where I triumph over you in cards, I won’t do a thing to this town.”
“Mnnn. I see, thank you.”
“But at the time you fall in defeat, I can’t guarantee this town’s safety.”
“I seeee, then I’ve got to do my best.”
“Yes, that’s right. Now quiver in fear. The fate of this town rests on your measly shoulders!”
My pleasant smile to Griel-kun’s menacing grin.
Good grief. It’s hard work, tagging along with a kid’s reckless games.
From his eyes, I picked up a pitch-blackness as if he could easily destroy a single town if he was up to it, but I’m sure that was my imagination.
“Well then, Kagoshima. We will meet again in three days. If you run… you know what will happen.”
Leaving that dangerous line, Griel-kun made off.
I wonder why.
I kinda got the feeling I just saved the town.
When I left Asahi Park, the sun was a step away from sunset.
I walked down the sidewalk- just about to call Kurisu-chan- only to run into some acquaintances.
One in a ponytail, the other wearing a straw hat. The pony-tailed one was rolling along a large suite-case.
“Huh? Kikyouin-san. And Tama-chan.”
The one who grimaced was Kikyouin Yuzuki. She was in my class, and we got along relatively well (I think). Her slender body was wrapped in a light-colored one-piece dress. Coupled with the pump-like sandals on her feet, she gave off a rather refreshing impression.
“Mn? Oh, if it isn’t the idiotic whelp. It has been some time.”
The young girl in the straw hat speaking like an old man was Kikyouin-san’s little sister Tamane-chan. I call her Tama-chan with love.
… By the way, it seems Tama-chan has still yet to remember my name, instead remembering me as that idiotic whelp.
“Been a while. Let me guess. You’re on the way back from your folks’ place?”
I said, looking at the suitcase.
“That’s right… hah.”
“What’s up, Kikyouin-san? You look like you just ran into a pain you didn’t want to get involved with.”
“… Nothing particular.”
She said listlessly, letting out another sigh.
“Your home’s in Kyoto, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. It was quite a hassle, goin’ around to see relatives and visit graves.”
I heard Kikyouin-san’s house was an old and honored one. As the eldest daughter, she must be quite busy this time of year.
“So you went back. Instead of Kikyouin-san, it’s like you’re Gohomin-sa—Gufu.”
I ate a body blow from her fist.
It was a light strike, but it splendidly landed in my solar plexus, so it plainly did wonders.
“Quit foolin’ around.”
“Urrghh… K-Kikyouin-san, aren’t you raising your hand a bit early? I usually get another two or three words in before you finally snap and hit me…?”
“I blew time away.”
“You’re not King Crimson…”
Just because I know she’s going to snap, it’s unfair for her to go off early. Even if I’m being hit here, I need that little thing called resolve.
As I rubbed my stomach, Tama-chan approached me.
Snff, snff, she rang her small nose like a dog or fox.
“You do somewhat smell…”
I fell into a boundless slump. A girl looked me in the face and told me I stink… as expected of a young girl to show little to no tact.
“Something up, Tamane-sama?”
“Indeed. While it’s faint, we sense a curse from the whelp. No… this is no curse. It must be some other power.”
“Then isn’t it Kurisu’s magic? I told you about her before, didn’t I? This girl who’s my junior.”
“No, we remember the girl’s power. But what we feel from the whelp is something different. This is a power far more stomach-churning than the girl’s… far more sinister.”
“It truly is faint, so we can’t make it out. Perhaps it is just our imagination…”
The two discussed something with serious faces, but I didn’t care it about that. The shock of being told I stank was more of a shock than I thought. Without even trying to meddle with my depression, Tama-chan muttered in a low voice.
“We have a bad feeling about this…”
I separated from the Kikyouin sisters right after. I planned to head straight home, but as I left, “Come to think of it, I spotted Kurisu-chan back there,” Kikyouin-san said.
“Really? Where was she at?”
“Towards the mountain.”
“The mountain…? Why would she be there?”
“Don’t ask me. But I can tell you there’s nothin’ but a temple and graveyard over there. Don’t you think she could’ve gone for a bit of a late grave visit?”
And so, I gave up on going home and headed for the cemetery.
Of course, I knew I was better off going home. If I silently went off to pick her up, there was a high enough possibility I’d miss her. More than anything, she had concealed the fact she was, “going to a grave” from me.
I didn’t know why she would hide it, but when I thought she had enough reason to do so, it seemed best to pretend I didn’t know.
But I made for the cemetery.
If I didn’t force things a bit to make contact from my side, I got the feeling she’d refrain from relying on me again. I didn’t care about keeping secrets, but I didn’t particularly enjoy being paid undo mind or restraint.
I set foot in the cemetery outside of town.
Countless lined grey and black stone grave markers. As the time to visit graves had already passed, the place was an unpopular one, and a deathly quiet one at that. Within that silent space… I spotted a single girl seriously putting her hands together.
Thanks to the foreign air she carried, her form looked like that of a pious disciple praying to God.
When I approached and called out, she opened her closed eyes and turned towards me.
“Kagoshima-senpai. Why are you here?”
“I ran into Kikyouin-san by chance, see. She said she spotted you in the area.”
“Kikyouin-senpai… I see, so she’s back from Kyoto.”
“Are you visiting a grave?”
“Yes. Though I missed the time by a bit.”
“I don’t think you’re too off, but you weren’t able to come during Obon?”
“Umm, that’s… if I came at the right time, I might have run into one of my relatives…”
Kurisu-chan’s words muddled, she lowered her face. I looked at the gravestone.
On the inorganic black stone, the words, ‘Kurisu Family Grave’ were chiseled in.
“So this is your place’s grave.”
I said something obvious with no more intent than the confirm the obvious. And yet, “… Right. I think that’s how it works, for argument’s sake…” Kurisu-chan gave an ambiguous response. And in a somewhat discerning tone, she quietly muttered.
“This is where… my father is.”
Kurisu-chan’s father’s name was Kurisu Tooru, apparently.
I had heard before that her father was Japanese, while her mother was not.
But… that was the first time I heard her father was dead.
Was she hiding it? Or did she think there was no need to say it? I don’t know what Kurisu-chan was thinking, but whatever the case, I didn’t know.
“Come to think of it, how was shopping?”
“Went without a problem, thanks to you. Ah, here’s the receipt and the change.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. You might need it for something else, right? And it would be easier for me if I just collected it all back in a lump sum.”
“You’re right. Got it.”
Kurisu-chan nodded and tucked the money away in a wallet. Of course, it wasn’t her own wallet, but the frogmouth wallet I had lent her. We took a rest at the service area right by the graveyard. Lowering ourselves side by side on the wooden bench, we happily drank the drinks from the vending machine (my treat) together.
I didn’t pursue the matter of her father.
I couldn’t ask, and Kurisu-chan didn’t want to talk.
“Ah, right, Kagoshima-senpai. Do you know this one?”
Kurisu-chan produced a loop of string from her pocket. The sort of yarn you could find anywhere, simply tied into a ring.
Handing the string over her hands, she began worming her fingers in and out.
“Tadaa. It’s Tokyo tower.”
I was honestly impressed by her art of string and fingers.
“Kurisu-chan, I never knew you did cat’s cradle.”
“Just a little. Do you know any?”
“Not at all. I’ve barely ever done it.”
In my head, cat’s cradle was- next to napping and gunning- nothing more than one of Nobita-kun’s special skills. Compared to his other skills, it was used less frequently, so I was arbitrarily convinced it was the easiest one to forget about.
“I learned it from mother. My mother told me she learned it from father.”
Without pause, Kurisu-chan spoke with her natural smile.
She said it so plainly, it was as if she was contrarily trying to make an appeal, ‘I don’t really care about my father, so you don’t have to care either,’ but that one was definitely my oversensitivity. Kurisu-chan unveiled her next marvelous technique.
“You can play cat’s cradle with two people, you know.”
She said as she put the strong over her hands in a different shape from before. I didn’t really get it, but she was probably preparing for two-person cat’s cradle.
“Alright. Here you go, Kagoshima-senpai.”
“No, even if you give it to me, I can’t do it, you know.”
“Then I’ll teach you.”
“You will? Then I’ll give it a try.”
“Please take here and here between your index finger and thumb.”
“… Sorry. Where is here?”
As both her hands were occupied, I followed instruction on Kurisu-chan’s line of sight, but I had no idea where she was indicating.
“It’s here, you know here. Oooo.”
Kurisu-chan lightly stuck out her lips to point it out.
Wow. That’s kinda cute.
How she tapered her lips, trying her very best was a bit forcible, a tad idiotic, and kinda wonderful…! It looked like the face of someone approaching for a kiss.
“I-I don’t really get it. Where?”
“Over here. Here. Oooo.”
Now this is fun.
Really heals the heart.
But it wasn’t good to tease her too much, so it’s about time I got serious. I took a close look at where Kurisu-chan was pointing out. However, to a cat’s cradle amateur, just getting serious didn’t make me any better.
“Aaah, I can’t stand to watch anymore.”
There came a sudden, hoarse voice. Right after, a slender, withered hand was inserted between us. With a swoop, it took up the string from Kurisu-chan with practiced movements.
“This is how you do two-person cat’s cradle. Look, this is the paddy field.”
With a fed-up voice, the fingers spread out the string. It didn’t look like a paddy field no matter how I looked at it, but that was what cat’s cradle called the paddy field, apparently.
The one who suddenly appeared was an aged woman in glasses.
A deep blue coat, and white long skirt. The umbrella left open to her side meant she was likely using it as a sunshade.
“What’s that, boy? You’re not satisfied with cat’s cradle? This is why kids these days are… back when we were kids, we had to devise ways to entertain ourselves with nothing but a string.”
The old woman shook her head.
… I’d rather not say it, but she did seem like the stereotypical cynical elder.
“When it comes to kids these days, always on about the Famicom and 64… making all these incomprehensible blip sounds and cooping themselves up indoors…”
Her choice of hardware was half-assedly old.
If she was going with that, she could’ve said mega drive and the gag would’ve worked.
“And then we have toys that shoot marbles from their stomachs, and those spiked top knock-offs, those shiny strange yoyos, those cars that run on battery, and those strange robots… you’ve got way too many things to play with. But only being able to play with such elaborate toys is proof of a needy heart and a lacking imagination.”
I get her game. She’s launching an attack aimed at our specific generation.
If she’s picking a fight with Corocoro, I’m game.
A quiet rage burned in my chest.
“Umm, specifically what do you mean by strange robots?”
First, I have to make it clear what strange robot she’s talking about.
It is my belief that grouping all robot works together is- in a sense- far more insulting than pinpointing and criticizing every piece of a specific work.
That’s why that’s where the talk begins.
If she says Gundam, ‘That’s not a robot, that’s a Mobile Suit’ I’ll tell her.
If she says Eva, ‘That’s not a robot, that’s an Ultimate All-Purpose Humanoid Decisive Battle Weapon,’ I’ll tell her.
“What was it again? That one that looks like a blue tanuki.”
While I had carried out a careful mental simulation on any and all forms of robot works, the old woman’s answer was outside the scope of such simulation.
To think it would be the cat-shaped robot!
No, he’s a robot for what it’s worth, but is it alright to categorize that work under the robot genre? He’s never even appeared in Super Robot Wars…
Ignoring me as I dug too deep into it, the old woman held out her two hands maintaining the paddy field towards Kurisu-chan.
“Now take it.”
“Girl, you can do cat’s cradle, can’t you?”
Hesitant as she was, Kurisu-chan took the string from the old woman and made a shape. The old woman took it again… and so it repeated.
The flowing motions between the two were what one called two-person cat’s cradle.
“You’re quite something.”
The wrinkles on the old woman’s face sunk deeper as she smiled. Under that praise, Kurisu-chan seemed bashfully happy.
“But can you do this?”
The old woman said as she put the string over her hands. And without even looking at them, “These fine movements are to weed out the dunces,” she joked, moving her fingers at a fearsome speed. After repeatedly hanging and undoing string, a single piece of art was born.
“Looks, it’s a rabbit.”
My voice and Kurisu-chan’s overlapped in admiration.
Amazing, how should I put it, it felt like I was shown the work of a traditional master craftsman.
“That’s amazing! How did you do that?”
Receiving the string back, Kurisu-chan asked brimming with interest. Just as her knowledge in cat’s cradle was deeper, so was her admiration, it seems.
“If you want me to teach you, drop by my place anytime. It’s close by.”
“Is that really alright?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. I was just troubled with having too much time on my hands. If a cute girl like you came over, I’d be able to kill some time productively.”
The woman said with a smile, picking up the umbrella she had placed to the side. Kurisu-chan’s expression brightened right up.
“Well, even if I say anytime, no one can say how much longer I’ve got left. Grandpa up in heaven might come for me tomorrow.”
Her face’s wrinkles deepened for a cynical smile.
… Why do the elderly tell such jokes you can’t laugh at? Those black jokes that come from their well of knowledge.
“Do you live alone, Mrs.?”
I asked, and “Yeah,” she nodded. “Grandpa went off a sudden the year before last. My daughter went off with some man long, long ago, and my son—”
The old woman stopped her words, her eyes wandering towards the cemetery.
“—Now he’s been in heaven for a long time now. Ah, no, kids who die before their parents have to spend the whole time stacking rocks by the Sanzu River. Did I get that one right?”
Her tone was quite indifferent, but—from her words came a black joke even less funny than the one before it. Kurisu-chan and I were silenced. Perhaps the old lady sensed the darkening air,
“Ahaha. Don’t make such dark faces,”
She gave a hearty laugh.
“Grandpa lived to a good age, nothing we can do about that. My son too, that was already more than a decade ago…”
The old woman continued on as if talking to herself. Behind her glasses, her eyes trailed off into the distance.
“He suddenly disappeared one day, and just when I thought I’d found him, I hear he’s dead… good grief, just what was going through his head, that stupid son of mine.”
“…? Um, did your son get into an accident? Was it illness?”
I ended up asking. I immediately regretted asking such intrusive questions, but the old woman didn’t look reluctant in the slightest, offering the lightest of answers.
“It wasn’t accident or illness. Our son just suddenly up and vanished one day. Went missing. Couldn’t find him no matter where we looked. It was as if he’d been spirited away.”
“… Spirited away.”
The one who said that was Kurisu-chan. It looked like the words unintentionally spilled from her mouth. She reacted as if… the term spirited away rung a few bells.
“I think it was around a year after he stayed missing. A call came in from the police. ‘We found your son’s corpse’ they said. In the end, everything about that boy’s been left a mystery.”
The old woman said and breathed a deep breath.
“… Oh, sorry about that. It’s no fun to hear an old woman’s old tales.”
“Oh no,” I shook my head.
“Then I’ll be taking my leave. If I take too many detours, my son and husband might get angry with me.”
Leaving those words, she walked off in the direction of the graveyard. While she looked to be a considerable age, her lower back wasn’t bent in the slightest. She stood with her spine straight, her walking posture as beautiful as a model’s.
Kurisu-chan forcefully stood, smashing a high-pitched voice into the old woman’s back.
“Hm? What is it?”
“C-could you tell me, your, name…”
Once the old woman turned, Kurisu-chan asked in a fine, chipped voice. Her wide eyes projected the clear colors of unease.
“It’s Kurisu Nobuko.”
The old woman… Kurisu Noriko-san matter-of-factly stated and started off again.
The surname Kurisu.
It was the same as the one belonging to the girl beside me; of course, there was a possibility it was a coincidence. While it wasn’t a common surname, it wasn’t particularly rare either. Still… I immediately knew it was no coincidence.
Sewing her way between the gravestones, Nobuko-san came to a stop before a single marker and put her hands together.
Before the stone engraved with, ‘Kurisu Family Grave’.
The same grave Kurisu-chan had prayed to a moment before.
The father Kurisu-chan lost before she was born. Nobuko-san’s son lost over ten years ago Kurisu kept her father’s surname. Missing.
Don’t tell me, don’t tell me…
“… Hey, Kurisu-chan. Could that old woman possibly–”
Midway through my words, I swallowed my breath.
Kurisu-chan gave my clothes a firm tug.
Her delicate shoulders were anxiously shaking. In contrast to Nobuko-san walking straight and tall, her back curled smaller and smaller.