When I looked into it, I found that, in the first place, Sesshouseki didn’t refer to a single large stone, but a wide array of fragments of all shapes and sizes.
Upon her death, the nine-tailed fox shifted shape into a massive, toxic stone, severing the life of any living being that got close. The name Sesshouseki came from the exceedingly brutal virulent nature of the stone. While it was feared by the people who lived around it, during the period of the northern and southern dynasties, a Soto Buddhist monk by the name of Gennou smashed the Sesshouseki, its destroyed fragments dispersing all over Japan.
Meaning the item currently located near Nasu’s Yumoto Onsen was one of the fragments.
(TL: Sesshouseki: lit. life destroying stone, killing stone)
(TL: Period of (Japanese) Northern and Southern Dynasties: 1336-1392)
That being the case, it’s not like the nine-tailed fox ever existed in the first place. That’s why that bit about toxicity was most likely inspired by the hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric dioxide, and other noxious gasses that break out in the vicinity of hot springs.
At present, it seems the Sesshouseki had become a relatively popular tourist spot.
Among my friends, I did know one individual who had paid it a visit.
‘Hello, this is Kikyouin Yuzuki. Could you state your business?’
It was the self-proclaimed onmyouji.
A few months ago, when I had only just met her, I heard she dropped by the Sesshouseki when she made a trip to the Tochigi Prefecture.
“Well, it’s nothing important, but,”
‘Then I’m hangin’ up.’
“Wait, wait! I’ve got business, loads of business!”
Good grief, Kikyouin-san’s as cold as ever. Recently, she finally unblocked me, so I was sure our friendship was growing bit by bit.
“They were running it on the evening news yesterday,”
Once I had said that much,
‘Oh, are you talkin’ about how the Sesshouseki was stolen?’
Kikyouin-san took a shortcut to the answer. She was so perceptive I was mildly shocked.
“I’m surprised you could tell.”
‘Somethin’ ya’d call me for, and it was on the news. Is there anythin’ else it could be?’
“No guarantee about that one. I might have just called because I wanted to hear your voice, you know?”
‘… So you wanna die?’
Scary. Sometimes joking around is a life or death business.
“Well, if you know, that’s good. I had a hunch you’d be the type of person who’d like the Sesshouseki, rather, I thought you’d be interested, so I just kinda thought I’d tell you.”
‘Well thanks for the trouble. ‘n wait, it’s too late. I’ve already been moving from the crack of dawn. Right now, I’m just about standin’ right in front of it.’
Isn’t she a bit fast!? Isn’t she a bit too proactive!?
‘Tamane-sama snapped for real. If it’s for Tamane-sama’s sake, there’s no way I wouldn’t move, see.’
Snapped for real?
Why’s that? Is Tama-chan one of those rock enthusiasts.
“No but still, that’s amazing. It happened yesterday morning, and you’re already in Tochigi.”
‘Not particularly. If Tamane-sama gets serious, that distance’s one bound and poof.’
A question marker hung over my head at that perplexing statement.
Umm… oh, I see. I’m sure she forcefully declared the grade-schooler Tama-chan as younger than that to get her on all the transportations systems for free.
Gosh darn, that’s underhanded.
I’ll have to start calling her Pay-no-in-san next time onwards.
“You sure are Kikyou, Paynoin-san.”
I promptly got to it. One of those light slip-up jokes.
All of a sudden, I got the feeling a frigid malice was leaking through the phone’s receiver.
‘… You’re gettin’ carried away thinkin’ I can’t punch you across the phone, aren’t you.’
“No, not at all!”
Well, honestly, she’s right!
‘… You’d better watch your ox hour.’
(TL: Ox Hour, 2 a.m. on the pre-numerical zodiac based time-scale)
What’s with that novel threat? Don’t tell me she wants me to watch my back at night?
While I was trembling in fear at her ox hour visit declaration,
‘Hmph. Someone like you should just get too scared to sleep at two at night, so your biological rhythm gets thrown way out of whack!’
Kikyouin-san’s aim was far pettier than I expected. Thanks to the long break, my biological rhythm was already all over the place. Though it’s gotten somewhat decent now that Kurisu-chan’s living with me.
As I thought, she puts up a strong front, but Kikyouin-san’s really a kind person, or so I was nearly moved to tears when, ‘Oy, Yuzuki,’ I heard Tama-chan call Kikyouin-san from beyond the receiver.
‘Ah,Tamane-sama. Did you find somethin’?’
From there, Kikyouin-san abandoned me and began conversing with Tama-chan.
‘The piece that was stolen was the one that served as—— core, it was ——’ ‘This was not the work of—— ordinary——’ ‘From analysis of the residual power, —— enemy is——’ ‘How they take our mother’s husk——’ ‘Tamamo no Mae’s long daughter—— spare no merc——’ I heard bits and pieces of Tama-chan’s voice, but I hadn’t the slightest idea what was being said.
All I could tell— her tone carried with it a fearsome rage. As if she was desperately trying to contain her overflowing anger, forcefully maintaining a level cadence.
I couldn’t think of it as the voice of a nine-year-old little girl
Almost what a Youkai would howl—it was a sinister voice.
‘Hey, sorry but I’m hangin’ up. Got somethin’ to do.’
“Got it. By the way, when will you be back?”
‘Within the day.’
“It’s a day trip?”
‘Seems the one we’re after is in your direction. ‘Cya.’
The line was unempathetically cut.
I tucked the phone in my pocket and looked around.
I was currently in the yard of a Japanese-built house. A roof tiling that had completely fled out of sight nowadays. While it was narrow, a garden with an atmosphere to it. Near the tap lay a bucket and ladle to scatter water with.
A somewhat weathered detached house that’s construction easily dated back over fifty years ago.
I had gone outside to make a call, and once that was done, I returned through the porch.
In the tatami room, Nobuko-san and Kurisu-chan sat across from one another. There were cushions placed over the aged tatami, and on top of them, they amused themselves with a game of Hanafuda.
Right, this was Nobuko-san’s house. Kurisu-chan was invited again, and today, I intruded along with her. I sat to the side of the two making serious faces, watching over their match.
What they were doing at the moment was apparently a game for two called ‘Koi-koi’. While it did seem Kurisu-chan had learned all the rules last time she came around, I had barely any idea how to play with hanafuda cards.
I had hammered many a modern card-game into my head, but hanafuda was beyond my reach.
It’s kinda that, you know.
In elementary school, maybe this is what those girls feel like, watching over the boys playing card games. Or perhaps, that feeling when watching that certain summer movie whose climax has them playing hanafuda in a virtual world.
You don’t know what they’re doing, but it kinda gets you heated. That sort of thing. And while I was thinking that, the match had ended.
“Who won, Kuria-chan?”
I couldn’t tell what happened, so I tried asking.
“It was my complete loss… onii-chan.”
So answered Kurisu-chan.
We had both changed what we called the other.
If you’re asking why it came to this, the story rewinds to last night.
Kurisu-chan had just gotten out of the bath, and gazing at her mildly reddened cheeks, I want to touch them, I want to squish them up, I was thinking when, “… And that’s how it is. I’m counting on you.” Kurisu-chan sat beside me on the sofa, lowering her head.
“Ah, I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening at all, could you run that by me again?”
When I replied honestly, Kurisu-chan’s shoulders dropped.
“God! You’d better listen this time.”
“Sorry, sorry. I was just thinking a bit about the problems with annuity nowadays.”
I arbitrarily played it off and formed a firm expression.
“So what were we talking about again?”
“Please make it so I’m your little sister when we’re in front of Nobuko-san.”
Kurisu-chan’s expression turned especially serious on that one.
“Umm, last time I went, I let it carelessly slip that we were living together… and from there, I kinda ended up explaining that we were brother and sister.”
“Oh, I see. If we’re not even related, it’d be strange for a man and woman of age to be living together, after all. But that being the case, it would be difficult to explain the situation you’re in, so…”
“Because you’d have to start explaining from your exhibitionist tendencies.”
Kurisu-chan gave the sort of nod to kill her own emotion.
“That’s why I want you to call me by name… please, just don’t call me Kurisu.”
So that’s it.
In the end, that was her aim. I don’t know how much of the slipup story was true, but her deeper objective was to prevent me from calling her ‘Kurisu-chan’ in front of Nobuko-san.
To conceal her surname.
To conceal her identity.
When I thought calling a girl by first name would be a considerable event… I never thought it would go down like this.
“Yeah. Got it.”
Without asking anything else, I took up her request.
“Then how ‘bout we practice a bit? Umm… K-Kuria-chan.”
“… Haha, it’s kinda embarrassing.”
“Ahaha… you’re right.”
The two of us laughed bashfully. It was an awkward feeling words failed to describe.
“Then next up, Kurisu—I mean Kuria-chan, it’s your turn.”
Kurisu-chan took in a deep breath before looking up at me.
Oh, I see.
The setting’s brother and sister, so it’s come to that.
Crap, she took me by surprise.
Out of the bath, flushed face, moist hair, baggy clothing. Those upturned eyes that gazed into me inquisitively.
Each and every component she was composed of launched an all-out assault on me…!
“O-onii-chan, what’s wrong?”
“No… it’s nothing. I just felt like my entire body was tickled relentlessly…”
“Is that so.”
“… Alright. Kuria-chan. How about we try a different pattern?”
“A different, pattern?”
“That’s right. It’s not good to take up a challenge with a fixed perspective. Only on top of layered trial and error can we choose the most appropriate solution, or so I believe.”
“Oh I see.”
“Then try calling me by something else!”
Kurisu-chan thought for a bit and raised her head.
“It’s not bad, but not great…”
“Yeaaah. A bit iffy.”
“… Oh, that’s nice. Not half bad.”
My heart was shot through.
Nice. Splendid, Nii-nii!
… No, wait a second, I do get the feeling the simplest option of Onii-chan is still the best.
“Alright, Kuria-chan. Let’s narrow it down to Onii-chan and Nii-nii, and think about it from there.”
“… Sure. U-um, you don’t have to get so serious about it…”
“What are you talking about? A perfectionist such as myself would never permit such negligence.”
“… Never in my life have I ever considered you a perfectionist, senpai.”
“Hey now. It’s not senpai, is it?”
Good. I stuck up my finger and commended her.
Now let’s spend ample time thinking over which one to go with.
The night is still young.
After thinking and thinking, the conclusion was the nice-and-simple ‘Onii-chan’ after all… I get the feeling we started with a relatively serious conversation, but why did it come to this?
Well, whatever the case, that’s just how it is.
For a short while, Kurisu-chan’s designation would be ‘Kuria-chan’, and mine would be ‘Onii-chan’.
“I was no match for Nobuko-san. I’m still a greenhorn.”
Came Kurisu-chan with a sad, yet somewhat festive smile. Seeing that, Nobuko-san also gave a delightful laugh.
“Girl, you’re weak because you’re still focusing on nothing but your own hand. ‘Koi-koi’ is the same as Mahjong, you’ll lose if you only look at your hand.”
“Urk… I don’t really know mahjong, so even if you make the comparison… onii-chan, can you play mahjong?”
“No, I can’t either. I’ve only ever played donjara.”
(TL: Donjara is a kids’ version of Mahjong with anime characters or child-friendly pictures on the tiles)
“What’s this? Kids these days don’t even play mahjong with the family anymore? Mahjong and hanafuda are things your parents are supposed to teach you, right?”
Kurisu-chan and I exchanged a look and shook our heads.
“Good grief,” Nobuko-san shook her head and breathed a deep sigh.
Nowadays, I get the feeling games with a strong gambling image like mahjong and hanafuda are dying out among the youth.
I’ll admit, mahjong’s getting popular again through manga and anime, but these days, the most I hear of hanafuda is some misc facts on TV like, ‘The word to ostracize comes from the fact the deer on the october card in hanafuda is turning its head away, deer and ten make ostracize’.
(TL: To ostracize is shikato, deer(shika) + ten(tou))
“In our house, we’d all get around the kotatsu every New Years playing family mahjong. Grandpa, Tooru, Kanako and I, we’d watch the festive decorations, sitting around the table.”
Of course, the elderly woman cynically smiled.
“That all came to a stop once Tooru disappeared.”
The air in the tatami room grew heavy in one fell swoop.
Mahjong is a table game played with four.
You can’t… play with three.
One missing family member, and the game couldn’t be set up.
“Instead we played sanma. But I always like the normal four-person mahjong better.”
Apparently, mahjong played with three people is called sanma. There are even mahjong clubs out in the world that specialize in sanma.
So you can play with three.
You can set up the game.
… I never should’ve tried to sound knowing and dramatic.
“Now then. Next up, I’ll teach the boy hanafuda.”
As she said that, Nobuko-san began dealing cards.
“Eh… I’m fine. I don’t know the rules.”
“Rules are supposed to be learned as you play. Isn’t that how life works? You learn society’s rules as you live them.”
The air was one where I had no choice but to accept it, I reluctantly joined the game.
“Then I’ll go brew some tea.”
“Thank you, dear. Do you remember where it is?”
With an energetic nod, Kurisu-chan left the tearoom.
I picked up the eight cards I’d been dealt, and tried going over the rules I knew in my head.
First off, there were forty eight cards in total.
The forty eight cards had twelve suits, represented by each month’s symbolic flower (pine, plum, sakura, wisteria, iris, peony, clover, silvergrass, chrysanthemum, maple, willow, paulownia) with four cards in each. The four cards in each month weren’t exactly the same, there were variations with wild boars, and deer, with red and purple stripes and such, what’s more, the pattern changed the point value. ‘Koi-koi’ is a game for making sets, so it starts with remembering the possible sets, and there are more then ten types of sets you can make. Like five light cards, or boar deer and butterfly, or field of flowers…
This game is way too convoluted!
There are too many things you have to remember just to play it. I know I’m not one to say it, but if it’s this complex, there’s nothing we can do if it goes out of use.
These days, games are often made easy to start. Though in exchange, once you get hooked, they’re a huge sink of time and money.
“… That girl’s a good kid.”
As I was frantically trying to recall the rules, Nobuko-san spoke heartily.
“Honest and sensible, on top of that, her face isn’t bad. That one’s going to be a splendid wife someday.”
She had my vehement agreement. I nodded with incredible force.
“I’m proud to have her as my sister.”
There, Nobuko-san suddenly narrowed her eyes.
“… But, it sometimes looks like that girl’s pushing herself.”
“Pushing, is it?”
“It’s different from playing the good kid. I wonder what it is… like she’s pushing herself to act out her perfect self.”
She had my vehement agreement. Though I couldn’t nod this time.
It looked like Nobuko-san had her own thoughts on Kurisu-chan as well. As expected of a blood relative, perhaps I should say?
“Well, when you get to my age, your personality starts twisting, and you can’t help but be suspicious like me. When you spot a girl with great personality, you end up thinking there’s got to be something beneath it.”
Nobuko-san laughed cynically. I gazed at the door Kurisu-chan had left through, absentmindedly leaking words.
“… This house is quite big, isn’t it.”
It wasn’t two stories, but it was considerably vast, a Japanese-style detached residence. It seemed there were a number of rooms that weren’t even in use. It wasn’t a house meant for one to live alone. It was a house to live with a family.
“Hn. You don’t have to dance around the subject. I may be alone, but I’m living life to the fullest.”
I thought I was taking a considerable detour, but Nobuko-san saw through it.
Hmm, casual tact is difficult.
“I hit up the mahjong club two to three times a week.”
“… You commute to the mahjong club?”
“You can’t count on the country for anything. You’ve got to earn money with your own hands.”
What a gambling soul.
There should be a limit to standing sturdy.
“I go to the pachinko a lot too. That place is nice, always rowdy like a festival. The other day, I got along with the college student sitting next to me.”
“You’re the active sort…”
She really is a lively old woman.
And while she denied Famicom and Nintendo 64, a pachinko is fine…
Well, I’m sure this sort of pliability is the key to good health.
“When it comes to pachinko, that machine’s getting heated these days. Umm, what was it again, that, purple slender robot…?”
Nobuko, that’s no robot, that’s an Ultimate All-Purpose Humanoid Decisive Battle Weapon! Like so, I thought I’d put in a sharp retort, but, “Hey, how long are you going to be yapping? You’ve got first move, hurry up,” she urged me on, so I dove into hanafuda unretortable.
I gazed at my hand once more.
“What was I supposed to do with this again?”
I said as, unstylish as it was, I exposed my own hand to her. While president Kaiba might shake in humiliation at another seeing his hand, I was no president, so no problem.
The hand I was dealt contained four pairs of cards from the same month.
Seeing that, Nobuko-san opened her eyes wide.
“That’s kuttsuki, ain’t it?”
“When the hand you’ve been dealt forms a set, it’s a special combination. A hand in Koi-koi that finishes up the match the moment you’re dealt the cards.”
“Ummm… you mean–”
“It’s like getting a Tenhou in Mahjong.”
“It’s like summoning Exodia in Yugioh.”
We both tilted our heads at the other’s comparison.
The hell’s a Tenhou?
Is that supposed to be amazing?
“Anyways, this match goes to you.”
Looks like I won.
Yeaah. I don’t really get the rules, so I don’t feel accomplished at all.
And it ended without me understanding what was supposed to be fun about it.
While I couldn’t find it in me to be delighted, Nobuko-san could no longer contain her laughter.
“To suddenly pull a kuttsuki in your first ever game of Koi-koi…”
She looked straight at me, speaking delightedly.
“I’m sure you’ll make it big someday.”
Kurisu-chan’s business was over, so next came my own.
Today again, I was to have a duel with Griel-kun.
“You’re really going to come along, Kurisu-chan?”
I asked Kurisu-chan walking beside me.
“You can go home ahead of me. You’ve got a spare key, don’t you?”
“No, I’m here anyway, so I thought I’d try watching this duel thing.”
“I want to learn a thing or two from my big brother as well.”
To make sure the seams didn’t come apart before Nobuko-san, while we were living together, I proposed we keep our names changed. That wasn’t my personal preference or anything. Perish the thought.
“Well then, I’ve got to do my best to show you how cool I can be.”
“Do your best, onii-chan.”
We arrived at Asahi Park.
But there wasn’t a single child in sight.
“Huh? He’s not here yet?”
The two of us wandered aimlessly around the park, but the kid in the black mantle was nowhere to be seen. The table we usually (though it’s only been two times so far) conducted our duels at was vacant. All that was there was a single white paper. To make sure it wasn’t taken off by the wind, it was affixed with a single stone.
When I took it in hand and gazed at it,
I now must take on the fox and curse user, so today’s duel is on hold.
However, I will not allow you to get away with a win.
Tomorrow, same time, same place again.’
Was scrawled out in scribble-like penmanship.
At the end, something else was written in jumbled up bizarre lettering I couldn’t think of as coming from this world. I could guess the end portion was Griel-kun’s signature, but I couldn’t tell what country’s language it was supposed to be in.
He probably arbitrarily scribbled it. He’s a kid after all.
“Yeah. Looks like it’s a letter for me. Said he can’t come today.”
But Griel-kun sure thought up a roundabout excuse.
The fox and curse user?
He could’ve come out with something halfway more decent.
“Is that so? That’s unfortunate.”
“Nothing we can do about it.”
With nothing left to do in the park, we stepped back onto the road home.
“You can’t get back?”
While Kurisu-chan was taking a bath, a call came in from Orino-san, who had gone off on a trip. Lounging around in a living room, I found myself repeating the question.
“What do you mean you can’t get back, Orino-san?”
‘Ummm, it’s a long story, and I don’t really get it either, but… it kinda seems like the gate was closed down…’
‘Yeah, umm… by gate… I mean, yeah, there’s some sort of strike going on, and the public transportation’s all jumbled up, so I can’t get back.’
“That sounds terrible.”
It was rare in Japan, but apparently strikes are relatively common overseas.
For example, in Italy, I hear that strikes called sciopero often break out, and have become a national speciality in a bad sense. When scioperos happen, the trains and all else shut down, and you can’t get anywhere, apparently. I guess the same sort of strike’s going on in the country the movie club party ventured to.
“Specifically what are they striking about?”
‘I’ve only gotten hearsay, and I don’t really get it either, but… apparently, at present, one of the country’s bigshots went out, and that person caused a problem somewhere…’
‘That person is called the Devil’s child or something, and I heard something about some stone, but that’s about it. I still haven’t gathered much information…’
“I don’t get it at all.”
‘Yeah… I don’t get it either. What should I do…’
Orino-san said in quite an unreliable voice.
Isn’t she a bit too cornered from a little strike? I thought, anyone would feel faint of heart in a foreign land. I can’t blame her if she took on an anxious attitude as if she’d been left behind in some other world.
“What about Saijou-kun? He was supposed to be the coordinator, wasn’t he?”
Orino-san struggled to say the rest.
‘Saijou-kun, he disappeared…’
‘…… Yeah. Left the members aside and went off somewhere… I don’t know what he was thinking, but—Saijou-kun had the eyes of someone backed into a corner……’
Saijou Mutsuki, whereabouts unknown.
A child had gone missing in a foreign land.
Normally, that might be a situation I should worry about, but, “As I thought, it was impossible for that kid to coordinate a trip,” I muttered.
Good grief. For all the high and mighty things he said, in the end, it seems like it all came apart. Was he the sort to just throw it all out the window once a bit of an irregularity broke out?
‘… I think you’re a bit wrong there, but… yeah, let’s just go with that.’
Orino-san said and breathed a resigned sigh.
‘Anyways, right now, the remaining members have split up to search for a way to return, but I don’t know when exactly I’ll be getting back… so I thought I’d better report it to you.’
‘I might not make it in time for the second semester…’
There’s more than a week to the second semester.
No matter how big of a strike it is, don’t you think it’s dragging on too long?
‘Ah, but it really is just a possibility, that’s why, in the million to one chance I can’t get back, all the class work for the opening ceremony will be pushed onto you, so I had to make this call to apologize. Just in case.’
Consideration fitting of the earnest Orino-san.
Our class rep—Orino Shori. Vice rep—Kagoshima Akira.
Come to think of it, I’m vice rep, aren’t I? Thanks to summer vacation, I’d completely forgotten. I got the feeling I just heard one of the initial settings from a manga that everyone had forgotten about.
“Yeah. Got it. Thanks for going to the trouble.”
‘Don’t mention it.’
And there, it occurred to me.
“Come to think of it, did you meet the founder?”
The goal of this trip was, it’s core was there, so I’ve heard.
‘… Kagoshima-kun, why do you know about that?’
Orino-san asked in a grim voice.
“I heard it from Saijou-kun. He said the movie club’s founder was at the trip destination. That everyone was going to meet that person, right?”
‘Saijou-kun did…? I see, so he told Kagoshima-kun that much…’
Orino-san came to terms with it in a mutter to herself, and continued on.
‘We haven’t met that person yet. Everyone did try their best, though.’
“That’s a shame.”
It looks like Saijou-kun’s surprise ended incomplete.
‘Hold in a second… in that case, could it be the reason Saijou-kun left us behind was to–’
The moment Orino-san was about to say something that sounded like it was nearing the crux of the matter.
“Onii-chaaan, the bath’s open.”
The voice of an out-of-the-bath Kurisu-chan resounded its way to the living room.
Her voice really carries.
I could hear the sound of the dryer, so, she was most likely drying off her hair in another room. Therefore, she must have been wringing out her voice so as not to lose out to the hair dryer, but whatever the case, she was loud.
Loud enough to hear over the phone.
I heard silence. I know you’re not supposed to be able to hear silence, but I picked it up by instinct. At this very moment, Orino-san was keeping quiet with a straight look on her face.
This is bad!
‘K-Kagoshima-kun…? W-what was that just now? I thought I just heard a cute, girly voice…?’
‘Onii-chan? The bath?’
Orino-san pinpoint caught only the critical words.
“O-oh, you’re joking, Orino-san. If someone’s calling me onii-chan, then, of course, it must be my little–”
‘You’re an only child, right?’
Why did she bring up something so inconsequential?
‘Umm… this is that, that, you know, that.’
She said, painstakingly urging me on. Her level voice was contrarily terrifying.
“Umm… just over summer vacation, I’m looking after one of the relative’s kids!”
‘A relative’s kid?’
“Right, right! My father’s little sister’s grandfather’s cousin’s niece’s nephew’s daughter, somewhere around there, and anyways, a distant, distant relative’s kid!”
‘If she’s your father’s little sister’s grandfather’s cousin’s niece’s nephew’s daughter, then I think the probability of her being younger than you is considerably low, you know?’
She calculated it!?
That’s right, Orino-san’s idiotically fast at calculations!
Almost like she’s a psychic who underwent special training!
That was also part of the initial setting!
“T-that’s well, there’re marriages with age differences, divorces, remarriages, we’ve all got a lot going on.”
“So anyway, I’m looking after the kid. Hey hold your horses there, she’s just a younger relative, so none of those indecent things you’re imagining–”
‘I’m not imagining anything indecent! Rather, why does everyone always think I am!?’
No, I mean, Orino-san’s a closet pervert.
Everyone in the ComClub knows that.
‘Hmm. Well, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever you do to a relative’s kid doesn’t have anything to do with me after all.’
She said, sulking in an easy-to-follow way.
“Yeah, anyways, that’s just how it is.”
I breathed out a relieved sigh.
In regards to Kurisu-chan, various circumstances were complicatedly intertwined, and at this point, it was difficult to explain. So covering it up like this was for the best.
Ah, but thank god. I somehow managed to play it—
“Fufu. But it still feels rather strange to call you onii-chan, Kagoshima-senpai. Ah, but I-I don’t particularly hate it or anything.”
Kurisu-chan. My cute, cute Kurisu-chan.
This is the first time in my life I’ll insult you.
Are you an idiot?
Orino-san’s voice was clattering. Terror, unease, indignation, even across the phone, various emotions were intensely conveyed to me.
‘That voice right there was Kurisu-chan, wasn’t it?’
‘Why are you having Kurisu-chan call you onii-chan? What’s more, the bath…’
“Y-you’re wrong! There’s a very deep reason as to why Kuria-chan’s calling me onii-chan and–”
‘When did you get around to calling Kurisu-chan by name?’
Crap. The habit I picked up to keep it together in front of Nobuko-san was completely turning on me.
‘… Y-you’ve never even called me by… ah, there was that one time… but I get the feeling that one doesn’t count…’
Orino-san started mumbling to herself.
Did I ever call her by name before? Though if you’re talking about her little sister Oshiri-chan, for some reason, there was one time she made me call her Shiori.
‘Anyways, Kagoshima-kun, please explain the situation.’
At her tone that wouldn’t take no for an answer, I broke into a sloppy cold sweat.
“I’ve gotten quite used to sleeping with you around, onii-chan. Fufufu, it really is like we’re m-married, isn’t it.”
… I don’t want this anymore.
Am I paying the price for all the times I teased Kurisu-chan in one lump sum?
Can’t we settle on installments, oh God in heaven?
“Orino-san! If I don’t hang up now, the fees will be crazy high! International calling is extremely expensive! Well then I’m sure you have it hard, but do your best! Bring back something coooool!”
I one-sidedly cut the call. And the power while I was at it.
I don’t know a thing.
Special technique: postpone the problem.
“Huh? Onii-chan, were you on the phone?”
Finally arriving in the living room, Kurisu-chan looked at me blankly.
She made a truly innocent expression.
“Yeah, I was.”
“Oh, so you were. Then I’m really sorry for being loud.”
◇ ◇ ◇
“Good grief. As always, it sounds fun around Akira. But Orino Shiori-san, no need to worry. You don’t have to cultivate your imagination so. I’m sure that wimp Akira won’t do a thing.”
“Still this time once more, the story’s going all over the place. Though I’m sure in the end, Akira himself will remain without a care in the world. Kagoshima Akira’s like a slick-polished gear without any teeth. Even if you put him in the center of the story, he’ll never mesh with anyone. That’s precisely why, around him, the story spins emptily without any real operation.”
“It’s the second time we’ve met like this. But last time, thanks to a disturbance, we couldn’t sit down and talk, so this might as well be our first meeting.”
“Right. I’m Akira’s childhood friend. Do you remember my name.”
“Shinose Kai-kun, aren’t you?”
“Correct. I’m glad you remembered. I’ve also properly remembered yours. You’re Orino Shiori-san.”
“Orino Shiori, eh? That’s a nice name. Do you know who gave it to you?”
“… I heard my mother was the one who named me.”
“Just kidding. It’s a joke. Just wanted to try saying it. That’s why… you don’t need to be so scared. If you look at me like I’m sort of monster, it stings a bit right here.”
“… Shinose-kun, why are you in a place like this?”
“I’m not supposed to be?”
“I mean, this is–”
“That doesn’t really matter, does it. What’s more important than anything right now, is how you’re going to return to your original world. Even you would be troubled if you were sealed in this world forever.”
“Do you want me to send you back?”
“–! You know something, don’t you!”
“It’s quite simple, really. To you, it must be cruelly so.”
“What do you… mean by that…?”
“Orino-san. Would you, by any chance, like to follow me without a word?”
“I understand that you’re wary. But I want you to believe in me. I, a friend of Akira… and in Akira who trusts me.”
“I know it’s tough. Thank you.”
“You really… really do know how to get back?”
“Yeah. I really do.”
“You’re not lying.”
“Swear to God.”
◇ ◇ ◇