Nine-fifty in the morning. The meeting point was the fountain in front of the station, and I arrived ten minutes ahead of schedule to wait. Still, in my remaining two weeks of summer vacation, I had mulled over what I should do, but I got more appointments than I expected.
Starting with Kurisu-chan’s raid, I’ve been busied with a wide assortment of things.
For example, today’s schedule is needlessly tight. As I had my rematch with Griel-kun in the afternoon, I’d have to return home for my cards before heading off for Asahi Park.
I could’ve just brought the cards to start with? Well about that—considering the person I was going to be meeting, instead of carrying around a bag filled to the brim with cards, I was better off emptyhanded.
A voice from afar. With features that drew eyes even in a crowd, she noticed me and raced over.
A light sky-blue camisole, and considerably short denim pants. I’ve realized it as of late, but when she’s not in uniform, it seems she just doesn’t wear skirts. By that, I don’t mean she was indifferent to fashion. With her splendid proportions, a style making full use of pants suited her well.
The one I waited for was Kagurai-senpai.
“So I kept you waiting. When I’m the one who called you out, my bad.”
I just got here myself, I intended to unveil the template phrase for meet-ups, but seeing Kagurai-senpai’s form I was at a loss for words. Specifically speaking, her hair. Her silky hair that grew to her waist had now been cut down to her shoulders.
“W-what happened with your hair…?”
“Mn? Oh, you noticed? They say there are plenty of men in the world who can’t notice when a woman changes her hairstyle; good going.”
“Hey, when you shorten it that much, anyone would notice.”
It was definitely fifty centimeters shorter.
It was cut quite drastically.
“Well I’m just going for a new look, changing things up. How about it, does it suite me?”
Kagurai-senpai said, brushing up her hair. I gave a resolute nod.
Long hair fit her too, but a semi-short cut that just barely draped over her shoulders looked the part as well.
“But I kinda get the feeling it’s a waste. When you grew it out so long… you don’t regret it?”
“Regret, regret huh…”
Kagurai-senpai gave a troubled smile.
“I’d be lying if I say I didn’t. When I’m supposed to have already made my decision, I can’t help but… feel like my hair’s caught on something behind me…”
Her whispering voice carried with it a sorrowful ring.
…And her mouth formed a broad grin.
That was definitely a, “Whoah, did I just say something clever,” sort of smile, definitely.
“When did you get back?”
“Yesterday. I got in touch with you, first thing.”
“Hmm. That’s quite sudden. Did you have some urgent business or something?”
“No, nothing in particular.”
Kagurai-senpai said nonchalantly.
“In yesterday’s call, you said you were free today morning, so I just thought we might as well meet. Do you have any problems with that?”
“No… I don’t.”
“Then what is it?”
She gave a complacent smile, and spoke teasingly.
“I can’t call you if I don’t have any business?”
Oooh. My heart skipped a beat.
I just got irritated when Saijou-kun said it, but I don’t mind it at all with Kagurai-senpai. Rather, I’d like her to say it again and again.
“If I had to say, I wanted to show you my new hairstyle.”
“… In the time I have left, you don’t mind if I spend it playing around, do you…”
As she said it almost as if to herself, I couldn’t help but ask back.
“The time you have left? Are you talking about summer vacation?”
“Mn? Hahah. Yes, of course.”
Kagurai-senpai gave a small laugh, “Now let us go. Come on,” she held out her hand.
It was a bit embarrassing, but I silently gripped that hand. It wasn’t as if the crowd was so thick we’d lose one another if we didn’t hold hands, but we walked with arms linked.
If you ask what we did after that, just some shopping.
You can say that plain shopping is a splendid date, but in essence, we just bought some manga and games, so it didn’t feel very date-like at all.
To the letter, it just felt like I tagged along with senpai’s shopping.
With shopping over, we entered a nearby casual diner for lunch. I get the feeling I saw a girls opinion, ‘Casual diners are a huge no go for dates,’ in some old book somewhere, but the one who said it was fine was Kagurai-senpai. She had bought so much she was low on funds, apparently.
“Ah, that was fun.”
A congested midday restaurant. When we sat a four-person booth in the corner, Kagurai-senpai smiled.
“Sorry about that, having you carry my bags.”
“I don’t mind.”
Said I, lowering my gaze to the large numbers of paper bags at my feet.
They contained… mountains upon mountains of dating sims (adult games included). She had also bought manga and novels for all ages, but a majority of them were items with age restrictions attached.
This was why I came lightly equipped and cardless. I had an anticipated I’d probably be holding bags for Kagurai-senpai.
These sorts of games had oversized boxes. Their contents were small, so they didn’t weigh much, but they took up way too much space.
“Why do the boxes have to be so big for these sorts of things?”
I tried asking.
“Hm? It’s going to be a long story, but do you still want to hear it?”
Kagurai-senpai’s eyes were rather serious so I cut the topic without hesitation.
Those eyes were the eyes of the sort who could never stop when they started talking about something they loved. If I went on to ask her, it was certain the strings would start to unravel from the history of the game industry, and she’d have enough fuel for a long time to come.
“Anyways, thanks for today. I’m happy I got to go shopping with you.”
She said the sorta thing that’d make a man happy with just the right smile, but I honestly didn’t have the leisure to enjoy shopping. I mean, this girl casually wanders into the adult corner. She swaggers in her back straight, an air of dignity about her.
… How can she have an underclassman of the opposite sex accompany her to buy this sort of thing? As if the times we lived in were different, it felt like we held different values.
Well, even so, I got to see Kagurai-senpai’s smile, so I did feel glad I tagged along.
There, I suddenly felt a glance.
I wondered who it was… but it was no one.
No human at least, a stuffed animal’s gaze. The stuffed animal slightly popping its face out from Kagurai-senpai’s bag stared fixatedly at me.
“… What are you goin’ all dere for, Monyumi?”
Speaking in a blatantly displeased voice was Kagurai-senpai’s partner and beloved phone strap, Gakuta-kun.
“G-Gakuta!? Don’t pop out like that!”
“Making that slack face of yours, I’m the one getting embarrassed just watching.”
“I-I’m not making any such face!”
“Your air really has changed ever since you got back from training camp, you know that? I’d like to think not, but don’t tell me you and this brat–”
Kagurai-senpai hurriedly sealed up Gakuta-kun’s mouth.
As always, when she’s doing her ventriloquism, she’s a rowdy party on her own.
When she stuck him out of her bag herself, what is she panicking for?
“I see Gakuta-kun’s been repaired.”
“Yeah, finally, I’d add on.”
“Hey, brat, bastard, quit acting all buddy-buddy with that -kun schtick.”
“Eh? That’s a bit late.”
That’s been working fine since the first time I met him.
“It ain’t late. I just happen to be marvelously generous so I overlooked it up to now. But this is a good opportunity, so how about I properly educate you? Starting next time, call me Gakuta-san or otherwise Gakuta-sama. Call me brother-in-law and you’re dea–”
“Stop moving, Gakuta! Quiet down! There are people watching!”
Slipping out of the bag, Gakuta-kun tried to walk off towards me, while Kagurai-senpai frantically tried to suppress him… or so it looked like, but Kagurai-senpai was just moving him to make it look so, surely.
A true-to-life puppet show.
Flopping down on the table, Gakuta-kun discontently turned to face the other direction… or so Kagurai-senpai placed him to make it look that way. I don’t really get it, but Gakuta-kun’s in a bad mood today. He’s displeased like a father whose daughter just introduced him to her boyfriend.
“So anyways, Kagoshima, you said you had plans this afternoon, but is something happening?”
“I wouldn’t really call it a plan. I just promised I’d play with one of the neighborhood kids.”
“Hmm. What led to that?”
“Well, this and that.”
“I see. But you look like you’d be good at that sort of thing.”
She said the same thing as Kurisu-chan. Just what sort of image does everyone have of me?
“… I do like playing with kids. When I returned home this year, I spent all my time playing games with the relatives’ kids. The parents said, ‘Go play outside,’ and were terribly angry.”
“Hahah. Those words sting the ear of an indoor girl like me.”
“What about you? What did you do back home? Just normally visit a grave?”
“No—I had something I wanted to look into.”
“Oh, about that, that.”
Gakuta-kun abruptly barged into the conversation.
“Monyumi. Why did you suddenly start looking into that plan?”
“Gakuta… no, I didn’t have any special reason.”
“… Did Hihihiko say something?”
“Tsk, that blasted Hihihiko. Doing whatever he wants when I’m not around. He’s always been so roundabout, sarcastic and wily, that guy.”
“I’m telling you, that’s not it, Hihihiko really has nothing to do with it. It was just out of curiosity. I heard the plan I thought was no more than a fictional drawing on paper was going smoothly, so I just wanted to get another look into what sort of thing it was.”
“That so? Well, I don’t think that’ll get you anywhere. That’s a plan the higher-ups are keeping under strict wraps. The confidentiality level’s Triple S, it don’t get any higher than that. Anything outside of the information they’ve permitted will never come around to us by any means.”
“… You’re right. In the end, I didn’t learn a single new thing.”
“What plan are you talking about?”
I forcefully tried including myself in the talk. Normally, I’d just supervise when Kagurai-senpai got into her ventriloquism, but as we were playing outside today, being abandoned was harsh.
“Eh? Y-yeah, no, that’s… l-look, it’s almost Orino’s birthday, right? So we’re just planning what we’re going to do.”
“Hmm, sounds nice.”
“D-doesn’t it? Right, that’s right. And I decided I’d entertain her with ventriloquism so I’ve been practicing long and hard as of late. That’s why, it just ended up coming out at a place like this.”
“Eh… You can actually do ventriloquism shows?”
Kagurai-senpai’s ventriloquism was pretty much an everyday occurrence at this point, without any novelty left to it… ah, I see.
“Since you’re going out of your way to entertain, I’m sure you’re going to do something amazing!”
“Wow, I can’t wait. What sort of fun things will you be doing?”
“I’ll finally be able to see senpai’s one hundred and twenty percent. I’m getting hyped here. Since you’ve played out your normal tricks day in and day out, you must have incredible confidence, right!?”
“… Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Fu, fufu… you’d better look forward to it. I’ll do it, I will, yes, I’ll be pulling it off. I’ll show you me at one hundred twenty percent…”
While Kagurai-senpais laughed triumphantly, for some reason her cheeks were twitching. What’s more, right after, she slumped down as to say, I really went and said it.
Quickly recovering, “Gakuta! Anyways, we can have that talk another time. Don’t come out until we reach home!” she shoved Gakuta-kun back into her bag.
She really was busy all on her own.
“Hah… well, my bad. Looks like I didn’t set a firm on and off.”
“Eh? To you, shouldn’t ventriloquism be your off? It’s a hobby, isn’t it? Why are you apologizing like you suddenly brought up work on your day off?”
“N-no! That’s, look, when you get to my level, it’s already something like a job.”
“I see. Well, your ventriloquism definitely is at pro level. Good enough to put on a show and all.”
“I know, right! Ahahaa. Maybe I really should just go and become a pro.”
“… Kagurai-senpai. If ‘maybe I really should just go and do it’ is how you feel, I think you’re better off calling quits. With half-baked resolve, you’re surely going to regret it later, and you’re disrespecting the people who really do perform on that path.”
“… Yep. Yep, that’s right. I’m glad to have an underclassman like you who seriously thinks about me…”
With a conflicted face, she breathed out a conflicted sigh.
From there, she thought a bit, “Hey, Kagoshima,” as if that farcical air from before was a lie, she spoke in a serious timbre.
“Do you think… there is a God?”
“… Why are you asking?”
“No reason. Just wanted to chat.”
“I see. Is that so.”
After responding blankly, I tried thinking a bit seriously.
“God, eh… I wonder. Maybe he really doesn’t exist? Honestly, I feel like it doesn’t matter either way.”
As I gave an exceedingly Japanese answer, Kagurai-senpai nodded with a bitter smile.
“I feel the same way. To elaborate further, it doesn’t really matter whether god exists or not, and thinking about it won’t get me anywhere, so I think about other things, I guess.”
It was a reasonable Kagurai-senpai-esque response.
Mine wasn’t so forward-facing, it was a more counterproductive lazy opinion.
I did think he wasn’t there, but I still prayed to him, visited the shrine every New Year. On my school bag, I had a charm for good grades and safe driving. In the end… I just didn’t think deep about it. Thinking about it seriously was a pain. I just adequately fit myself in with my surroundings.
I was being wishy-washy.
This is conjecture, but aren’t a majority of Japanese people like that?
“From the start, due to the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism, Japan got all jumbled up religiously. Perhaps you could call this sort of thing an adequately Japanese way of thought.”
“In manga, God often gets power from the faith of the people, right? On the other hand, there are publications where God loses power because faith dies out. It comes out a lot.”
“I see. Meaning, looking at it the other way, you can think of it that there is a God as long as humans believe in him. That’s interesting, it’s a bit like quantum physics.”
“You’re right. A bit like quantum physics.”
I nodded as if I knew what she was talking about.
“But… in that case,”
“Let’s say there is a god. Then what exactly does he exist to do?”
“I mean, doesn’t he help out people who are troubled?”
I somehow or another said.
If you ask when it is that humans pray to God… it’s when they want help, right?
Even if God was concluded to be a product of fiction, it’s likely that humans would still want to be saved and pray for his existence. And if God is the entity born as an entity for people to lean on when troubled, then God’s job, role, duty, reason for existence—would have to be to make people happy.
“If there is a God, I’m sure he’s got to be a good guy.”
“But what’s up with you, really?”
“It’s nothing. Just some idle gossip.”
After parting with Kagurai-senpai at the diner, I returned home.
I still had time to spare, and Griel-kun never specified a precise meeting time in the first place, so without any hurry, I returned at ease.
On the way, I passed by near former Gentle Breeze Park.
It looked like the plans to make it a parking lot were steadily advancing, the play equipment had been removed without exception, and the lot was leveled. Given another few weeks, the asphalt would be laid, and a splendid parking lot would stand.
A prickle of pain abruptly ran through my chest.
This was a place of memories for me.
I didn’t just play here when I was small… ten years ago, I met a lady in a strange suit and a tall lady; I spotted Kurisu-chan here collapsed, I met up with Kikyouin-san here… there were various memories all centered around it.
As I gazed absentmindedly at the park, I spotted a single woman inside of it. Right beside a bench in the corner, for some reason, she was standing straight and still.
Pure-white hair, glass ball-like eyes with no hint of emotion. Her body wrapped in a monotone outfit, a doll-like expressionless young girl.
I ignored the no entry sign, infiltrated the park, approached her and called out.
Kai’s friend, and a girl who resembled Orino-san to an unnatural degree.
To me, that would make her the friend of a friend.
“It’s been a while.”
She turned her neck ninety degrees in my direction and stared motionlessly at me. After taking an ample ten seconds to gaze over my face, she lonesomely spoke.
“Yeah. That’s right. What are you doing in a place like this?”
Umm, was that supposed to be a joke?
It wasn’t funny at all.
“I-I see, you’re standing…”
“Yeah. I do think standing is a good thing, but there’s a bench right next to you, so why don’t you take a seat?”
“… I see. Then I’ll take a seat.”
“Feel free to do so.”
“Ummm, let me guess. You’re on a diet? Like that stand-on-your-tip-toes diet plan?”
… There should be a limit to a conversation not kicking off.
I shouldn’t have called out to her so lightheartedly… the air was a bit better with Kai around last time.
“Come to think of it, Yomiga-san, you’re not with Kai today?”
“Yes. My master is not currently in this town.”
“Hmm. So he isn’t.”
I didn’t know. But I wasn’t surprised. Kai was always an elusive one and he would often arbitrarily disappear without a word to me.
“Did he tell you when he’d get back?”
“No. But I do believe it will be within a not-too-distant timeframe.”
“I see. Say, I never got to ask last time, but what sort of relationship do you have with Kai?”
I thought this was as good a chance as any, so I tried asking what had been bothering me.
“My relationship with my master… is it?”
“Yeah. Could it be you’re going out?”
“Going out, would mean?”
“Huh? Umm… going out is going out. Do you have a relationship of man and woman, or are you just friends? That’s what I’m trying to ask.”
“It must be surmised that I am not in a relationship of man and woman.”
“For I have not conducted sexual intercourse with master.”
“The hell are you saying!?”
I wasn’t trying to probe that deeply!
“Is that not what it means to be in a relationship of man and woman?”
“No, that might be true… if you follow it through to the logical conclusion, you get there eventually…”
“I do not know about master, but I am still a virgin–”
“I didn’t ask!”
I retorted with all my might to her expressionless face.
What’s with this girl.
Ignorant of the world, or rather lacking in common sense. I don’t sense and spite or ill intent, so I do think she’s doing it naturally. I kinda get the feeling she’ll tell you anything if you just ask.
“Hey, Yomiga-san, what are your three sizes?”
“I do believe asking that question to a woman demonstrates a grave lack of common sense.”
“… I’m sorry.”
What am I even doing?
I can’t tell what’s going through this girl’s head in the slightest.
As I hung my head over the bench, Yomiga-san disinterestedly spoke.
“I do think I have a relationship of master and servant. That is the expression that fits us best.”
“Master and servant…?”
She unhesitantly nodded.
“I simply follow my master’s orders. That is my worth in living, and the very reason for which I have received life in this world.”
“… It’s kinda that. You’re beating around the bush wherever you can, but… in the end–”
To the doll-like girl, I looked her straight in the face and spoke.
“You like Kai, don’t you?”
Yomiga-san’s eyes opened wider ever-so-slightly, forming a taken-aback expression. In place of her prior robotic gestures, it was a truly human-like display.
“I do not… know.”
She answered after some time, then proceeded to shut her mouth. As if to say she had no further intent to talk to me, she removed her gaze.
Well, probing any further would be uncouth of me. Or possible sexual harassment.
“That aside, so Kai’s out on a trip? It seems Orino-san’s out overseas… I’m jealous. Apart from club training camp and seeing my old folks, I haven’t been anywhere.”
“But come to think of it, is Orino-san alright? She said over the phone she might not be able to get back…”
While she had entered her ignore-mode, Yomiga-san suddenly bit on.
“Kagoshima Akira. You talked on the phone with her?
“Yeah, well, I did.”
“Your phone… was able to connect?”
“Of course it connected. Didn’t you know, Yomiga-san? These days you can just normally make calls to overseas.”
It’s not like she went off to another world, so there shouldn’t be a problem with at least the phone connecting.
“I see, so that’s how it is. In that case—no problem to report. I am delighted to hear it is proceeding smoothly.”
The monologue Yomiga-san leaked was incomprehensible.
“What do you me—wait, what?”
In the few seconds I had my eyes off of her, Yomiga-san had completely disappeared.
While I tried looking around, she was nowhere to be seen.
“… She must be quick on her feet.”
“O-out of cards!? Darnit, to think there was a strategy like that…!”
“Fu fu fu. Just goes to show lowering lifepoints isn’t the only path to victory.”
Eating his fifth defeat of the day, Griel-kun grit his teeth in vexation. I’ll give it to him that he didn’t toss his cards like he did before. Alongside his skill in card games, it looks like his heart as a duelist was growing as well.
“… Hm? Huh?”
When Griel-kun returned his cards to the deck, I noticed a portion of the black mantle he wore was a little torn.
“What happened to your mantle?”
“Oh, nothing to worry about. It was just chewed up by a fox a bit.”
Are there foxes in these parts? Even if there are, I don’t think they’ll come out unless you go quite deep into the mountains. Looking over his clothes again, they were tattered here and there. While he wasn’t actually injured, the small scratches and dirt stains stood out.
“It’s good to be energetic, but don’t push yourself too much, Griel-kun.”
“Hmph. None of your business. A two-person party- nay, a girl and an animal were never worthy to take me on from the start.”
Looks like he’s found someone to play with him. Since he said a girl and an animal, she probably brought a pet with her. Good grief, that’s quite a friend he has there.
“Kagoshima. We can finish up here for today.”
“Oh? You’re already good?”
Usually, he’d keep coming for revenge until I got fed up.
“While I hate to admit it, it seems taking on the fox was a greater expenditure than expected. I must devote myself to recovering my stamina and mana.”
“So you’re tired. Then there’s nothing we can do about that.”
“But… tomorrow morning, we will have a match here once more.”
“Indeed, let us make it our final match.”
Griel-kun was making a serious expression.
“This card game of yours was interesting. And you were strong. I shall recognize that.”
“That’s quite a stuck-up way of complimenting someone but, well, I’ll accept it.”
“However, in the end, it is nothing more than a simple tabletop game. I cannot occupy myself with it forever. I have my own goals to attend to.”
“I shall triumph over you, lay the finishing blow on the fox, and leave this town behind.”
“You’re leaving? Are you going to your folks’ place or something?”
“No, unfortunately, my situation is that I cannot go there even if I want to. My means to return have been completely cut off… but it isn’t a system they can freeze forever. Half a year at most. Up to that time, I need only endeavor to complete the stone. I will search out a place most appropriate to purify it.”
As per usual, I didn’t get what he was saying, but whatever it was, I knew tomorrow was the last time. Tomorrow would be my last duel with Griel-kun.
“Kagoshima. It’s our final match. Why not bet something on it?”
“A bet? I don’t mind, but what are we betting?”
When I asked, Griel-kun gave a broad grin, glaring at me with fiendish eyes.
“If I win, I’ll be taking your life.”
Ah, yeah, yeah.
Life, eh. There we go again.
Why do kids absurdly and recklessly start betting life?
“Yeah. Well, why not.”
I lightly gave the okay.
“Hm. You acquiesced frightfully easily. Are you on your high horse believing there’s no way you could lose to me? Or are you so fearful you are incapable of proper thought?”
No, I’m just not taking you seriously.
For some reason, it seemed like Griel-kun was threatening enough to easily reap a life on my level if he was up to it, but that must be my imagination.
“Kukuh. As you cower in fear, I can’t wait to see if you can properly plan out your strategy. When you do these, these tabletop games of mere child’s play become quite interesting indeed.”
“So if I win, what do I get? I’ll just say it, but I don’t need your life.”
“Let me see, if you win… hmm. I’ll grant any one wish of yours. Money, or women, or status or fame, ask for anything. I’ll give it to you.”
“You’re shooting big.”
“Once the stone is complete, I will become an existence that stands at the summit of all forms of life. Once it reaches that point, any and everything will be to my whim. If you wish, shall I give you a single country?”
In the young boy’s eyes, a flame of ambition blazed black.
Perhaps this entire back and forth was Griel-kun’s way to try and put pressure on me. In order to bind a victory over me, with desire and fear… he was trying to use the carrot and whip to put shackles on my heart. Well, it was simply so unrealistic, it unfortunately had no effect.
“Got it. Then I’ll think up a request after I win.”
“Hmph. Now’s the last time you’ll be acting so composed.”
And like that.
It was decided I’d be risking my life in a duel.
I returned home before the sun set to find a letter from Kurisu-chan.
‘I’m going to buy ingredients for dinner.’
Gazing at the pink stationary on the living room table, I found myself smiling. We’ve grown quite accustomed to one another, haven’t we? We’ve only lived together a few days, and yet I got the feeling my life with Kurisu-chan had started to feel only natural to me. At first, I wondered what would happen, but now that I’d spent the time, it went by before I knew it.
Still, this fun time was soon to end.
Since the time she was shut out of her house owing to her parents’ absence and launched an assault on my house with the mysterious declaration, “I can’t use magic anymore”, tomorrow would make it one week. Kurisu-chan’s mother was supposed to return from her trip.
“… Ah, that’s right. We’re almost out of toilet paper.”
The thought struck me just in time, I made the call to Kurisu-chan.
When I did, I heard the sound of vibration in the house.
With a bad feeling about it, I headed towards the sound only to find Kurisu-chan’s small, white cellphone lying on the sofa.
“… So she forgot it.”
I dropped my shoulders. I’ll have to buy toilet paper next time.
Putting my own phone in my pocket, I picked up Kurisu-chan’s. A white flip-phone, with a small strap attached.
A silver six-pointed star. The design looked like it had been made from a single strand of metallic wire bent over itself.
“That’s an expensive looking strap…”
It happened when I was staring at the phone for no particular reason.
The six-pointed start abruptly began to fill with a mysterious light.
Was it the type of strap that lit up in response to calls? But I don’t think it lit up when I called before… or so I thought when—
‘Hello!? Crea!? Do you have time? No wait, even if you don’t have time, talk with me a bit!’
From the still-closed cellphone, I heard a woman’s shout.
Surprised by the sudden happening, I involuntarily found myself opening the phone and pressing the answer button.
‘Huh? You’re not Crea, are you? Who might you be…?’
“My name’s Kagoshima.”
‘Kagoshima!? Ah, yep, right, the rumored Kagoshima-senpai. I’ve heard loads about you from Crea.’
“Umm, and who are you?”
‘Me? I’m Crea’s mother. Her mama, you know.’
“S-so it was her mother!”
I hurriedly lowered my head. She couldn’t see it over the phone, but it was a Japanese reflex.
“Umm… uh, you’re always looking after me.”
“Ahaha. No need to be so stiff. I’m the one who should say you’re always looking after my daughter.”
Kurisu mama said lightly. Her voice and tone were considerably young. She gave birth to Kurisu-chan, so she should probably be over thirty, but it didn’t feel like that at all.
And… while it didn’t really matter, for some reason, I got the feeling I was hearing this person’s voice coming from the six-pointed star strap. I wonder why. Was I imagining things? Yeah, must be my imagination.
‘Anyways, Kagoshima-kun, is Crea around? If possible, I’d like to talk to her.’
“Ah, I’m sorry. She forgot her phone behind and went shopping for dinner.”
‘Shopping for dinner?’
‘What’s that supposed to mean, Kagoshima-kun? What’s the situation?’
This is bad. Staying over at the house of someone of the opposite sex wasn’t a permissible situation for a parent with a daughter of appropriate age. I frantically tried to think up an excuse, but unable to think up anything decent, in the end, I gave up and confessed everything honestly.
‘Haah, I see. So that’s what happened. I get it.’
“I’m sorry. Even if I was just going with the flow, I let her stay at our place without notifying you…”
‘Don’t worry about it. I should be thanking you. Umm, what was it… right, right, it all came to this because I went out on a trip. That girl really is a scatterbrain, to drop both her key and her wallet.’
Kurisu-mama said, sounding particularily unnatural.
‘… Even so, I can’t tell if that kid has good timing or not. But I see. That’s why I can’t sense Crea’s power, and why she hasn’t contacted me in regards to the Soel House brat or the Gate…’
‘Oh, it’s nothing. Just talking to myself here.’
‘But you’ve got me there… I’ve got a lot going on here myself, and when I finally found the chance to call her, Crea’s absent…’
“If you’ve got a message, I can relay it.”
‘Ah, that’s alright. I called because I was a bit curious, that’s all. I got her current situation from you, so that’s enough. Well then, pardon me.’
With a light farewell, Kurisu-mama tried to cut the line.
“Ah. P-please wait!”
I promptly called out.
I knew I didn’t want to let this chance slip by.
‘Yeah? What’s up?’
“… Could I ask you something a bit more complicated?”
‘Mnnn, that depends on what it’s about. For now, just try saying it.’
And I told her about Nobuko-san, about Kurisu-chan’s grandmother.
About everything that happened between those two lately.
Just because I couldn’t ask Kurisu-chan herself, I did think it was underhanded to ask someone else… even so, I wanted to know.
‘… I see, so she met Tooru’s mother. Haha, she got one up on me. I’ve never met her before… and I doubt I’ll ever get to.’
She said in self-derision and let out a small sigh.
It sounded like there were some complicated circumstances.
I didn’t intend to dig them up.
“Why do you think Kuria-san is hiding the fact she’s her granddaughter?”
That’s all I wanted to know.
For a while, Kurisu-mama’s words piled up, as if she was hesitating until, ‘… Hey, Kagoshima-kun. From your eyes, what sort of girl does she look like?’ she said.
“What sort…? She’s honest and cheerful, I think she’s a good kid.”
That wasn’t my consideration for her mother, I simply answered how I really felt.
‘Thank you… but you see, in the school over here—the school before she went to that one, they didn’t think of her that way. More so, she was even a little hated.’
Before she came here… Kurisu-chan before she enrolled in high school.
A side of her I don’t know.
‘Over here, that girl was considered cool.’
Cool. That was a long-shot from my image of her.
‘Silent and unsociable, she rarely ever laughed in front of anyone. Nonetheless, her grades were top class at school. Of course she’d be hated. I won’t say she didn’t have any friends, but I think they were outnumbered by the people who hated her.’
“Why did she…?”
‘It’s a bit of a long story, but… you know that girl’s a half, right? This country, you see, it’s a place where being a half is a terrible vice. Children of mixed blood with your place are severely hated. That’s why that girl lived concealing the fact she was a half-blood from those around her.’
“Halves are hated? Why…”
‘That’s the culture.’
Her tone forced me to accept it.
If she said it was a difference in culture, that’s as far as it went.
I could only force myself to accept it.
‘I, you see, this may sound like bragging, but when I was young, I was considerably famous, you know. My name got around quite a bit. Crea had eyes on her from a young age, just for being my daughter. That’s why… as a family, we used that.’
‘“As expected of her daughter,” “Like mother, like daughter,” to make sure everyone around was strongly left with that impression, Crea pushed herself to play the role of a genius. Just to make sure no one’s attention turned towards her father… to make sure no one gave a damn who her father was.’
And like that, Kurisu-chan lived, gathering all the surrounding attention on her mother alone… and not paying any mind to her father. In an effort to only emphasize her relationship to her mother, she showed not the slightest sign of putting in any effort, growing desperate to make an appeal to her genius nature.
To hide her father.
‘To put it simply, she played a character.’
She desperately acted the part of the genius character, Kurisu-mama said with a small laugh.
‘In all actuality, I think she had considerable hardships. That girl definitely did have talent… but that doesn’t mean she’s able to do everything. Yet no matter the situation, she wouldn’t consult with school teachers or friends. A genius isn’t meant to do that sort of thing.’
‘Over there, it looks like she’s gotten to living without making a character, but it’s not like she completely become herself, right? Being the perfect character who never relies on anyone in a habit embedded deep in her, so it won’t heal so easily.’
That’s why she’s… so bad at relying on people.
Kurisu-chan isn’t used to asking for help. She had always lived without relying on her surroundings, without showing any weakness to others.
‘But, don’t you think that way of life is her completely denying her father? It’s almost as if her father’s her life’s disgrace she had to bury up for dear life.’
“I don’t think, that’s true…”
‘Normally you wouldn’t. But I’m sure that girl thinks that’s why she’s doing. Unlike me, she’s a little miss earnest with a strong sense of responsibility.’
‘Don’t you think that’s the reason she can’t say it to grandma? She doesn’t know how to look her in the eye.’
I could… not accept the story.
But it was likely that Kurisu-mama’s supposition hit the mark. I somehow got a hunch.
‘… Well, I’m not standing somewhere I can act all high and mighty. Tooru’s death was pretty much my fault… the one who really can’t look Nobuko-san in the eye… is me.’
She derided herself in a weak mutter before continuing on in a strong voice.
‘That’s precisely why I want Crea to properly face her. Well, let’s just leave that area to her.’
“You’re going to abandon her?”
‘I’m going to believe in her.’
Kurisu-mama said mischievously.
‘Ah, sorry. Looks like it’s about the limit. I have to return to my work.’
‘Tell Crea… mnn, if possible keep quiet about it.’
“Are you fine with that?”
“Yeah. I think it’s probably best if I don’t say anything unnecessary. And it seems like she’s got a reliable senpai to boot.”
“… I wouldn’t say that.”
While I may have come off as humble, that wasn’t my intent.
It was simply a fact.
I really wouldn’t call myself reliable.
‘Oh right, Kagoshima. Lastly, I want to confirm one thing.’
“What is it?”
‘Crea said she failed in developing a new technique, did she?’
After hesitating to hesitate, “… Yes,” I weakly replied. Crap, from the flow of the conversation, I ended up leaking Kurisu-chan’s eighth-grade syndrome. How would a mother feel when they learned their child was spouting delusions?
‘… And that’s why she can’t use it. I see, then she probably didn’t fail at all. That sort of technique, after you learn it, for the next week, your magic will–’
‘Ah, no, nothing, talking to myself again. Well then, if the chance arises, let us talk again.’
Like that, the call was one-sidedly cut.
When I gazed at the phone, the light had faded from the six-pointed star strap that had let off a faint glow the whole way. I looked at the screen next. When a call finishes, you usually see a window with the call time, yet all I got was a standby-screen that looked like it was still on all the default settings.
I’m sure it was just that sort of strap, and I’m sure it was just that type of model.
I concluded it, I didn’t think too hard about it.
For there were other things I wanted to think hard about.