The next morning, for the first time since we started living together, I woke up earlier than Kurisu-chan. I didn’t now why. I just naturally opened my eyes.
When we ate breakfast together, “Today, I’m going to visit a grave with Nobuko-san. Rather than visit, we’re going to be prettying it up,” Kurisu-chan said.
Come to think of it, that grave was a little bit dirty, and there were weeds growing around it. It seems Nobuko-san noticed it during her last visit and psyched herself up to clean.
Kurisu-chan volunteered to help out herself.
“I see. Have a good time. I still have a promise with the neighborhood kid.”
Like that, we confirmed each other’s plans and finished breakfast.
Kurisu-chan collected up all the tableware and began washing up in the kitchen. I called out to her small back.
“What is it?”
She stopped her hands, turned right around, and showed me a bright face.
So radiant it was blinding… and sorrowful.
“… Sorry. It’s nothing. Ah, I’ll go check the mail.”
I said, leaving the living room behind as if running away. The mail was just a pretext. We didn’t get any newspapers here, and the living expenses from my parents were never delivered without noticed.
I had something I wanted to say… and couldn’t say it.
I couldn’t take a step into the line she had drawn.
“I’m being the effeminate one here…”
Feeling a fretfulness unlike me, to at least pretend to check the mail, I walked out.
In my house yard, Kikyouin-san and Tama-chan were asleep.
My thoughts stopped.
I rubbed my eyes wondering if I had made a mistake, but they really were there. Thinking it was a dream, I pinched my cheek; it just hurt.
Umm. What sort of situation is this?
Kikyouin-san was asleep in the onmyouji-ish clothing I’d seen her in before. Also, while I called it sleeping, she wasn’t simply lying on the ground; like the warriors and samurai that come out in manga, she sat, leaning her body against the house wall, holding her knees.
It was a sleeping form without any openings, and a sleeping form of the strong.
Tama-chan was beside her, belly up, sprawled out in the shape of a star.
That was a sleeping form full of openings, but in and of it self, went the full circle to contrarily seem even stronger.
“… Heeey, Kikyouin-san, it’s morning. What are you doing in my yard?”
When I approached, called out, and tried to shake her shoulders, the next moment, Kikyouin-san’s hand flashed. Her right hand got my neck in an eagle grip… her left hand formed the scissors gesture stuck towards both my eyes.
“Eh, ah, oh…?”
In a single instant, my freedom was completely sealed off. As the sudden suffocation and danger of losing my eyesight froze me up, Kikyouin-san opened her eyes, “… Mnn? Ah, what, it’s just you,” she muttered half-asleep and released me.
“Good grief, don’t approach me when I’m sleepin’. I thought you were an enemy.”
No, no, isn’t that strange? I just tried to wake her normally, why did I get into such a thrilling predicament? For her to maintain her guard even when asleep, just what sort of world did this child live in?
Does her heart still linger in the days of assassination?
“Umm… Kikyouin-san, why are you sleeping in our place’s yard?”
When I timidly asked, Kikyouin-san groaned, stretching out as, “We were moving since yesterday… or wait, today morning, and we finally reached our limit. Your house just happened to be close, so we used it for a one-hour rest. It’s a pain to set up camp you know.”
She answered listlessly.
“Still… in these games of tag, they often say the side being chased has it harder, but that’s limited to when the chaser has enough information on the target. No matter how you look at it, the side chasing has it harsher…”
She complained as she rolled her shoulders to stretch. It did seem she was telling the truth about only sleeping an hour, there were light bags under her eyes.
She looked considerably tired.
“Mnn, is it already morning?”
Tama-chan woke as well.
“Kaaah. Now then. Let’s go, Yuzuki. The enemy should still be in these parts. While it seems they’ve skillfully erased the traces of their power, they can’t fool our nose.”
Tama-chan shifted from her slack face to one filed with ambition.
Kikyouin-san silently nodded.
“… Are you alright, Yuzuki?”
“I’m fine. Didn’t even need that hour. Until we get back what was stolen, We can’t be slacking off left and right.”
“Our apologies. If only our nine tails’ power got through, but… thanks to mother’s husk in his hands, our power is completely…”
“I’m telling you, it’s fine. And What you want to protect is what I want to protect. Let me push myself a bit.”
Kikyouin-san and Tama-chan looked like they were conversing in a world of their own.
A world I don’t know.
A world I can’t interfere with.
“Sorry for the intrusion.”
Kikyouin-san said curtly before turning to leave.
“Hey, wait. I don’t really know what’s up, but you’d be better off resting a bit more.”
Unable to see her clearly pushing herself hard, I ended up speaking out.
“Oh shut it…”
Kikyouin-san said irritantly and glared at me with cold eyes.
“If you don’t really get it, then leave us be. It’s not like it’s got anything to do with you.”
Her words stabbed deep, deep into my chest.
Nothing to do with me…
Right, that’s exactly it. It’s got nothing to do with me. When I can’t do anything, there’s no way I have any right to run my mouth. Ignorant and unrelated, I’m always the outside. A complete intruder. That’s why to Kikyouin-san… and to Kurisu-chan, there’s not a single thing I can say.
“… W-wait, what’s with you? Why are you getting’ depressed?”
As I stood unable to say anything, Kikyouin-san spoke a little impatiently.
“Ah, God. What are you doin’? This ain’t like you at all!”
“Don’t apologize! … ‘n wait, that was my bad. I’m a bit irritable.”
With an awkward face, Kikyouin-san softly apologized. An honest child properly apologizes when they think they’ve done wrong. But—
“… But you were telling the truth when you said it’s got nothing to do with me. I’m sorry for saying something arbitrary when I’m irrelevant.”
It was resolutely mocking, “Hah?”
“What are you sayin’ so late in the game? You knew full well you were irrelevant from the start, didn’t you? You sayin’ arbitrary things is nothing new. Why should you start carin’ now?”
She intensely persisted with a chastising voice, from there, lowering her eyes to the ground, this time continuing on in a whisper.
“… When I had only just transferred, did you forget what you told me behind the gym?”
Kikyouin-san sucked in a deep breath.
“I’m absolutely no use at all. Even if you’re troubled, I don’t think I can help you.
I can’t do anything, but I can cheer you on.
I’ll tell you to do your best. Is that not enough?”
As if reading off from a memo, she recited the lines I said once before.
Ah… come to think of it, I did say something like that.
I recalled what I was on the verge of forgetting.
I resolved myself in my own way, made my own sort of decision, and put in my own feelings…
I had decided to cheer everyone on.
That was supposed to be my self-insult… and my pride.
“You said somethin’ so high-and-mighty to me. Could you stop actin’ like you’re goin’ to ruin it all now? … Just a little, I thought, that sounds nice, you know.”
She added the latter half on in a small voice before turning her face the other way.
“… Shut it, die.”
“Do your best, Kikyouin-san.”
“I’ll do just that, Kagoshima.”
Kikyouin-san laughed. Fatigue still lingering in her expression, it was clear as day she was putting up a strong front, but it was the sort of strong-willed smile that suited her.
By the way, this was the second time she ever called my Kagoshima.
It really had been a while, so I ended up smiling in delight.
Watching over the two of us exchange a laugh, “Ah, youth,” Tama-chan took on the attitude of an old lady watching over the young’uns.
When I reached Asahi Park, Griel-kun had already taken his seat.
“I’ve grown tired of waiting.”
“I kept you waiting, huh.”
I took the cards from my bag and handed them all to Griel-kun.
In less than ten minutes, he had constructed his deg. It looked like he already had a recipe in his head.
With the cards remaining, I constructed the strongest deck I could possibly imagine.
To make sure I had no last regrets. To absolutely not lose.
“Do you remember our bet?”
“If you win, you kill me. If I win, I get to wish for anything.”
“Hmph. You understand yet you still show up. I praise your pluck, if that alone.”
We exchanged words as we positioned our decks.
“This is our honest to goodness final battle. Come at me with all you’ve got, Kagoshima.”
“Just because it’s the last time, you’re not getting off easy, Griel-kun.”
My last duel with Griel-kun… was the height of brutality.
An incessant ebb and flow of attack and defense.
At the end of the end, it looked like Griel-kun had caught up to me. At the rate things were going, he’d either surpass me, or I’d stop him in his tracks. It pained me a bit there was no audience.
The way the upperhand of our struggle to the death shifted at a dazzling pace was truly dramatic. When looked on from the side, it was undoubtedly a battle worth seeing.
If this was a weekly-serialized manga, the arc would run over a whole year… in an anime, putting in numerous flashbacks, it would take seven weeks. Our level was simply that high.
“… You’ve grown strong, Griel-kun.”
In the midst of battle, my words of admiration naturally leaked from my mouth.
“No one would ever believe you didn’t even know the rules a week ago.”
“This is my natural right.”
The battle reached its climax.
“Kuku, so the term a dying whisper was one saved for your sorry state.”
If you wished, you could call it a battle or luck, yet you could just as well call it a bout of skill. I… was cornered to the very brink. Barely any lifepoints remaining. No monsters on the field. Two desolate cards in my hand. In contrast, Griel-kun was furnished with a plentiful hand and plenty of monsters.
A huge pinch.
Now what do I do. To be blunt, the situation is desperate. If I don’t do something this turn, I’ll definitely face defeat on Griel-kun’s.
In my deck was but a single card that could turn this situation around. If I could pull that card here, it would be possible to turn anything around.
Looking at it the other way, if I didn’t draw it, I was over.
The next card I drew… would decide my fate.
“What’s wrong? Hurry and draw!”
Griel-kun urged me. I let out a breath and wiped the sweat oozing down my hand on my thigh. I was more nervous than I thought. I felt the hastening of my pulse painfully so.
It couldn’t be helped.
I mean, if I do lose, my life is…
“… You really have grown strong.”
I stopped the hand reaching for my deck, and frankly praised him.
“Hey, Griel-kun. Do you think card games are fun?”
“They’re games, of course they’re supposed to be fun. But that is precisely why, no matter how far it goes, it is no more than child’s play. Even if I were to triumph over you, the joy and satisfaction I can reap from it are limited.”
Without going against him, I affirmed his opinion.
“It’s just as you say, card games are no more than a child’s fun. Even if you’re strong, it’s not much to brag about; there’s nothing shameful about being weak. It’s simply a game.”
So you see, I added on.
“No more betting lives on card games, okay?”
I said what wholly denied each and every card game manga out there.
“… What, did you say?”
When I said something exceedingly obvious, Griel-kun threatened me in an irritated voice.
“Now that you see your defeat, you beg for life…? Hm. It does look like I evaluated you to highly. You started valuing your life so late in the game?”
“Yeah. Of course I value my life. That’s obvious.”
“You can say I’m begging for my life, and you’d be right. I really don’t want to die over losing a card game, after all.”
I managed to boldly get back in my groove.
Well, I was driven to the wall because Griel-kun was stronger than I thought, so to make sure nothing troublesome happened after it was over, I did make the statement to try making it so the bet itself never happened, but… more importantly. Even if it was a joke, I wanted to give one last lecture to Griel-kun who wagered life so easily.
“Betting your life on everything you come across is only cool in the realm of manga. Life, you see, you shouldn’t gamble with it so lightly.”
“… Foolish. Spare me the pep talks. No matter how many excuses you line up, at the moment you lose, I will take your life. That was the promise, wasn’t it?”
“That’s why I want to make it so it never happened. I want you to cancel it.”
Griel-kun made an expression of the utmost irritation, glaring at me as if to shoot me dead.
His child face didn’t scare me.
“In the first place, you said something unreasonable too. About granting any wish, that’s impossible, right?”
“It is not impossible! For a wish of the likes of a plebian like you, my power is more than enough! No matter how vast your wish may be, as long as I complete the stone–”
I said strongly.
“Umm… the philosopher’s stone, was it? Well, even if that legendary stone did exist, you laid hands on it, and obtained unfathomable powers. Powers strong enough to rule over the world.”
Griel-kun stifled his words, he went silent.
Now I finally realized.
Why I was able to interact with Griel-kun so comfortably.
From time to time, I could feel a dreadful thirst for blood, and a hostility that sent shivers down my spine, but for some reason, I was never afraid of him. That was… because this child was simply so childish.
His thoughts, speech and action, they were all infantile.
Even if Griel-kun had some terrifying power, the ability and cruelty to calmly wipe a town or two off the map… this child was still only ten years of age.
Griel-kun spoke in a hesitant voice that didn’t suit him.
“I just… those folks who mocked me for my youth, who arbitrarily placed expectations on me, and arbitrarily feared me, who pitied me for my environment… I wanted them to know my power…”
“Meaning, you want to get back at those around you.”
A childish goal, I think.
“Griel-kun, are you sure that’s all you want to do? In the million-to-one chance you obtained the power to rule the world, would you be satisfied that you could do it?”
“You’re a child, Griel-kun.”
When I informed him, he grit his teeth in vexation.
“… So you too. You’re also going to make fun of me for being a child…”
“I’m not. I’ll never make fun of you for being a child. I’m cautioning you because you’re still a child.”
It seemed like he hadn’t noticed his own childishness, so I wanted to teach him.
“You have to think a bit harder and imagine it. What exactly you want to do. And… what it means to rule the world.”
Griel-kun hung his head without a word. His eyes that glimmered with pride now swayed in anxiety. Just as I thought, this kid’s act was terribly cheap.
That’s precisely why… precisely because I knew that man, I couldn’t help but see this child as small.
Compared to his bottomless depth, and wisdom to see through everything, this child looked like no more than just that.
“This is something my childhood friend said to me.”
I gave as a preface, imagining his bitter and sweet smile as I spoke.
“To be able to make the world as you please is… nothing more than despair.”
“… What does that mean?”
“Mnn, you see. What was it again?”
Dangit. Kai gave me an extremely easy-to-follow yet intellectual explanation, but I couldn’t recall it at all. I couldn’t help but arranging it in my way to try saying something wise.
“For example, let’s say there’s a girl you like. If you use a special power to make her like you, that will just feel empty, won’t it?”
It may have been a dubious comparison, but I got across what I wanted to say. To summarize, if everything goes your way, life is boring.
To my explanation, Griel-kun nodded with an ambiguous expression.
“So if you really do like Creastia-chan, then you shouldn’t rely on some incomprehensible power. You’ve got to polish yourself as a man.”
“Wha ga hah!?”
Griel-kun suddenly opened his eyes wide.
“I-I like Creastia, you say!? Cease this foolishness!”
“Oh? You don’t?”
He was looking for her quite heatedly, so I was sure that was the case.
“I-I don’t! Definitely not!”
With his face bright red, he shook his head left and right.
“… It’s just, in the past, when I told Creastia, ‘Shall I take you as my companion?’ she politely declined, is all!”
“That means you like her, right!?”
That far exceeded my expectations. I never thought he’d already confessed.
What’s this, when he said she wasn’t cute and he hated her, it was all to hide his embarrassment?
“… Wait, Griel-kun. How old were you, by the way?”
“I was seven, she was twelve.”
“Then of course she’d reject you!”
Before it came to like or dislike, I don’t think she even took you seriously.
Even so… Griel-kun was suddenly starting to look shoddy. In the end, I wonder if this kid just came to town because he wanted to see this Creastia girl.
“So Griel-kun, you wanted to find her and confess to her?”
“No… I don’t particularly think anything of Creastia anymore. I want her by my side so she can bear witness to just how great of an existence… ah, I see.”
Griel-kun interrupted himself there with a weak laugh. Not that smile he stretched himself to fit, that smile to show his own strength. This one was a childish, young smile that suited his age.
“So this is what it means to be childish…”
“That’s right. But now that you’ve managed to admit that you’re childish, that’s the first step to adulthood.”
While he tried to raise himself up, saying something more mature than he was,
“… It’s the first time.”
Griel-kun looked down, his words leaked out.
“It’s the first time someone’s given me a lecture from on high. Is this sensation what it is to be scolded. Hm. That’s quite the interesting experience.”
“So you were raised spoiled silly.”
“Hmph. I was treated as a tumor, nothing more.”
Once the conversation had gone so far, I finally remembered and reached for the deck.
“I’ve said what I wanted to, how about we end this duel already?”
Do I pull my trump card or not?
If I were the protagonist of some anime, at a scene like this I would draw it at a rate of roughly one hundred percent. They’d manage somehow another with something cool like friendship power or the heart of the cards.
But I’m not the protagonist.
That’s why the card I drew wasn’t the one I needed.
The result went right with probability.
“Ah man, so I couldn’t draw it after all. Shame.”
I got my hand together, returned it to my deck, and rested my right hand on top.
I surrender. I signaled my defeat.
This duel was my loss.
“So I fell through at the end of the end. Congratulations, Griel-kun.”
I had resolved myself, but losing was irritating after all. I pushed down my embarrassment and gave Griel-kun some genuine praise.
Griel-kun’s expression remained conflicted, eventually “Hmph,” he rung his nose and returned to his usual pompous air.
“With this, I’ve finally managed to surpass you. Good grief, now that it’s over, it was quite the letdown. Somewhat insufficient even.”
“Now about my life,”
“… I don’t need it. Taking your life will hold no meaning to me. I shall cancel our bet. Be grateful.”
“That’s good. But not getting you anything feels a bit unfair, so I’ll treat you to some juice to celebrate. Wait right here, I’ll go buy some.”
I stood from my seat and walked off towards the vending machine.
There, “Kagoshima,” he called out to me.
Terribly serious, but a small voice it was.
“Am I… wrong?”
As the question was simply too vague, I tilted my head.
“I don’t know something like that. You look like a smart kid, so why don’t you think about it on your own?”
“… I see, you’re right.”
Griel-kun nodded meekly.
It happened as I was buying juice at a slightly-distant vending machine.
“Found you! You stone thief!”
“Now! Return our mother’s husk!”
“Wha-! The fox and the curse user! Curses, now of all times…!”
“Quit runnin’! Hey, wait!”
“You’re not getting away today…!”
From behind me, I heard someone’s voice.
I had my misgivings and returned in a hurry, but Griel-kun was already gone.
Only the scattered cards remained.
“… Huh? Did he go home already?”
I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
Feeling a tinge of loneliness, I collected up the cards in my bag. After a while, I reluctantly drank down the juice I never got to hand to Griel-kun and threw the empty can into the trash.
That’s my promise taken care of, it’s about time I put the biggest problem in order.
I no longer had any hesitation. Thanks to Kikyouin-san, my heart was prepared.
I lectured Griel-kun all too self-importantly, even I wouldn’t let myself remain deplorable forever.
How about I go to my slightly-too-good-for-me little sister.
In the rest area near the graveyard, Kurisu-chan sat on the bench alone. It did seem the cleaning was already finished, there was a trash bag sealed next to her.
When she noticed me, Kurisu-chan stood and waved her hand.
“Onii-chan. What’s wrong? Did you already finish that duel of yours?”
“Yeah. Well, something like that. Where’s Nobuko-san?”
“If you’re looking for Nobuko-san, she went off towards the temple to borrow the restroom. Apparently, that’s the only bathroom in the area.”
Nobuko-san… is it.
Thinking back, Kurisu-chan had always called Nobuko-san Nobuko-san.
She called her reservedly and unfamiliarly.
I didn’t call her Kuria. I continued on calling her as I usually did.
I needed no preface.
Nearly this whole week had served as all the preface I needed.
I’d even say I was a little too late to say the line.
“Why won’t you call her grandma…”
At my sudden statement, Kurisu-chan opened her eyes wide and lost her words.
“She’s your grandmother, right? That person’s your grandmother, isn’t she?”
Kurisu-chan looked at me as if she had been betrayed.
Why are you saying that to me now?
I thought you understood, Kagoshima-senpai.
I thought you would respect my feelings.
It was almost as if I could hear the cries of her heart.
“I mean, I mean…”
“You can just come forward, can’t you? I’m my grandmother’s granddaughter, you can proudly introduce yourself.”
“K-Kagoshima-senpai, that has nothing to do with you!”
Kurisu-chan raised her voice and rejected me.
Nothing to do with it.
That word really did pierce my chest.
“… I really don’t have anything to do with it. But let me say my piece.”
I had already readied my resolve.
“Kagoshima-senpai… you can only say that because you don’t know what sort of girl I am… because you don’t know how I’ve always lived my life…”
Of how she treated her father as if he was a disgrace on her life.
I had heard of her guilty conscious from Kurisu-mama.
Perhaps there was something else as well. Perhaps there was a grave reason I still didn’t know about. Even so… I spoke.
“Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how you’ve lived your life. I mean, you won’t tell me anything.”
I won’t force out what people can’t or don’t want to say. That’s my principle and how I interact with people. I don’t think that I was wrong… but perhaps there were exceptions.
Perhaps there were cases where it should be forced out.
You had always drawn the line. No matter how well we got along, you constantly took a step back to stay in your lines. That’s fine. If you say that’s your lifestyle, I could only accept it as is. But if you weren’t going mere, I had to go over. If you took a step back, I simply had to take a step in.
“No matter what reasons you have, I don’t think it’ll make for a reason to not call your grandma your grandma.”
“… Please don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong!”
She glared over at me, speaking in a shout.
“I’m… I’m fine the way things are! When you don’t know a thing, please don’t say something so self-important!”
“… Haha. What’s this, Kurisu-chan. So you could make a face like that? So you could put out a voice like that?”
I ended up laughing out of turn.
This was the first time I saw her seriously angry, seriously showing.
She finally… slammed it at me.
That, for some reason, made me excessively happy.
“Sorry, but I’ll be having my say. I don’t know what country you come from, but this is Japan: the country of seniority. Being a senpai is simply that important.”
That’s why, I’ll do some senpai-ish things from time to time.
I’ll meddlingly stick my head into my kouhai’s affairs.
“… I have no qualifications to call that person grandma!”
Kurisu-chan struck me with her scream, biting tight on her lip. Tears surfaced in the corner of her eyes.
“… This is fine. I knew that Kurisu Nobuko-san—my papa’s mother was living in this town from the moment I came here. But I never went to meet her, I made sure we would never meet… I had no idea what face I was supposed to make when I saw her…”
“Meaning you’re going to stay like this from now on, never introducing yourself?”
“In that case–”
“Why do you keep going to her house to play again and again!?”
“If you really want to stay strangers, you just don’t have to get along with her…”
A few days ago. Kurisu-chan and Nobuko-san met by chance.
Originally, it was a relationship that should have ended with passing each other by.
But Kurisu-chan wouldn’t just pass by.
Instead of passing… she met.
“… You wanted to play, didn’t you? You just wanted to play with your grandma, didn’t you?”
I spoke as she looked like she’d burst into tears at any moment.
“If you want her to pamper you, then let her. Quit spending all your time lining up excuses, you just have to be honest.”
“… I’m scared.”
Shedding tear after tear.
“If she learns I’m her granddaughter… would Nobuko-san come to hate me? Mama who killed papa and I, would she come to hate the both of us? Would I end up gouging out the wound she was on the verge of forgetting…?”
“You’re thinking too hard about it.”
I said with a bitter smile, placing a hand on her head.
“Look here, Kurisu-chan. You don’t understand the first thing about the existence called the grandmother. Grandmas, you see, they’re lifeforms that find their grandchildren so adorable they don’t know what to do with themselves.”
“… What’s that supposed to mean.”
“So I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’ll work out, somehow.”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“… Ahaha. How senpai-ish.”
Kurisu-chan finally regained her smile. While her eyes were filled in tears, as if some veil had been lifted, it was a bright smile.
There, Nobuko-san finally returned.
“Mn? Huh? What’s this, the big brother came too?”
“I was just passing by. I’ve got other business to attend to, so I’ll be going.”
I passed by Nobuko-san’s side.
I said everything I wanted to. I had no reason to stay any longer. Or rather, it was better off I wasn’t there. A family gettogether. I wanted to let them be alone.
… Well, that being the case, I was all-too worried about the details, so I secretly watched over them concealed in the shade of a tree. I had the heart of a big brother watching over his little sister.
After staying quiet a while, Kurisu-chan finally opened her mouth as if she had resolved herself.
“Do you want to play cat’s cradle?”
“Oh? What’s this all of a sudden? I don’t mind, though.”
Nobuko-san sat beside Kurisu-chan on the bench.
And they began two-person cat’s cradle.
Mutually tussling with the string, they constructed complicated shapes.
“… I learned cat’s cradle from my mama.”
Eventually, Kurisu-chan spoke.
“Mama told me she was taught by papa.”
“Hmm. Is that so.”
“And I hear papa learned it from papa’s mama.”
“Hmm. Meaning from your grandma.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Kurisu-chan held her words for a bit. “… My papa was already gone by the time I was born… so it’s not like he taught me directly.”
“Papa, I hear he… died protecting my mama, and me in mama’s stomach.”
Nobuko-san made a dubious expression. It was surely because all Kurisu-chan’s anxiety and conflict had come out on her face. Tears started pouring from her eyes again
“… Even if I say it, I know you might not believe me, I think there’s no way you’ll ever believe me, but–”
Her cat’s cradle weaving hands stopped. The string fell apart, the shapes dissolved.
No matter how complex a figure you depict… no matter how complexly you intertwine the threads, the string of cat’s cradle is nothing more than a loop. Once it dissolves, it becomes surprisingly simple.
“I’m your granddaughter…!”
“Your son Tooru-san was my papa! Papa married mama, and I was born! My name is Kurisu Crimson Kuria! I had some circumstances, so I could never say my family name was Kurisu over there, but me and mama, we decided in our hearts that our last name would always be Kurisu!”
From the young girl’s mouth, the feelings she had held in flooded out as if the sluice gates were open.
“That’s why… that’s why you’re my grandma! You’re… my grandma…”
Alongside her flood of tears, Kurisu-chan spat everything out.
Well said, I praised her courage in my heart.
Now the problem starts here… or perhaps not. I honestly wasn’t’ worried in the slightest.
This is just a hunch, but I think Nobuko-san already noticed the fact that Kurisu-chan was her own granddaughter.
I’m sure she was waiting for Kurisu-chan to say it.
I mean, Kurisu-chan was her real granddaughter.
There’s no way a grandmother wouldn’t notice her own—
“Eh? For real?”
She was making a wholly curious face. As if she was taken off guard.
…… The term ‘for real’ was not a recent creation, its use dates back quite a long way. So it’s not a term limited to the youth, and I get the feeling it’s been circulating through the world for an exceedingly long time, so I can’t declare it would be strange for someone of Nobuko-san’s age to use the term, but… beside the point.
Wait a second. Hold it, Nobuko-san…
“Eeh? Girl, you’re really my granddaughter? Really? You’re not trying to pull a fast one on me, are you?”
Nobuko-san gave a sort of admiring, sort of surprised face my words failed to describe.
“Well now, what am I supposed to say here… anyways, that’s a surprise. You almost sent me right to the grave there…”
“Eeh!? I-I’m sorry!”
“A ha ha. It’s a joke. My heart isn’t made of weak stuff. But you’re not kidding, are you girl?”
At Nobuko-san’s question, Kurisu-chan gave a small nod. “Yeaaah. Then let’s see,” Nobuko-san started to think.
“Then you’re a girl that stupid son of mine planted when he went missing… I’ll be real here, even if you tell me that all of a sudden, it doesn’t really hit home.”
“As… I thought. I’m sorry.”
“No, you don’t have to apologize for that. Still, what are we going to do about this…”
Nobuko-san’s wrinkles dug into her face as she gave a troubled laugh.
“There’s no way to make sure you’re my granddaughter, and I don’t really feel like proving you’re not… but I do like you quite a bit.”
“Girl, do you like me?”
“Then it all checks out.”
With a refreshing smile unbefitting her age, Nobuko-san pat her knees.
“Whether we’re related by blood or not, let’s not mind the small details, and get along as we have. I’m always at that house, so come and play anytime.”
Kurisu-chan gave an energetic nod, a truly delighted laugh.
“U-um… so I have just one request…”
“What is it?”
“Is it alright if I call you grandma…?”
“Oh, that? I don’t mind. Call me whatever you want. Then why don’t I call you Kuria now?”
Nobuko-san produced a handkerchief from her pocket.
“Good grief, this tears are ruining your pretty face. Go up there, and the temple has a good bathroom. Go wash your face.”
“Yes, thank you, No… Grandma!”
Kurisu-chan took the handkerchief and bounded off with light steps.
Left alone, Nobuko-san softly gave a wry smile. A gentle smile fitting of an old woman.
I quietly left the tree shade and walked over to her.
“Oh? What, it’s the big brother. You were still around?”
“Why did you tell a lie?”
“You really already noticed she was your granddaughter, didn’t you?”
Nobuko-san opened her eyes wide, before narrowing them inquisitively
“… Why do you think so?”
“Intuition, something like that. No, more than intuition, a hope, perhaps? If you already knew everything, I got the feeling it would make for a nicer story.”
“Hah? What’s with that.”
Nobuko-san offered a let-down laugh.
“Well for argument’s sake, it’s not like I don’t have a basis.”
I said, shifting my gaze to the cat’s cradle string Kurisu-chan left behind.
“When you first called out to us, it was when Kurisu-chan was teaching me cat’s cradle, right?”
The cat’s cradle she learned from her father, through means of her mother.
The cat’s cradle Nobuko-san taught her son.
“I can’t do cat’s cradle, so I can’t say for sure, but couldn’t it be that there’s some sort of ‘habit’ to the way Kurisu-chan does cat’s cradle?”
Couldn’t it be that it caught her attention so she came over to us?
Hearing my reasoning, much like a culprit whose truth had been revealed by a detective… she didn’t accept it.
“Hah? Completely wrong.”
“U-umm… I’m wrong? There’s no special habit or region-specific technique to Kurisu-chan’s cat’s cradle.”
“There’s no way there is. Hypothetically, let’s say there was. This old lady’s eyes can’t see the niceties of someone’s cat’s cradle from afar, don’t you know?”
She’s got a point there.
Which means… my deductions were completely off.
Uwah, how embarrassing…
“The reason I called out to you two was because I went and saw it.”
Nobuko-san said with a sigh.
“That day, it’s not like I came to visit the grave. I had some business at the temple and was just walking down a path nearby. And on the way… I saw it, a girl I’d never seen before desperately putting her hands together in front of our family grave.”
So she was already seen at that point.
Even if she couldn’t see the fine details, she could at least tell the position of the grave.
“So I grew curious and called out.”
“Did you talk to her because you knew she was your granddaughter?”
“Just thought it would be interesting if that was true. I thought maybe God had prepared a little gift for this old lady nearing her expiration date.”
A cynical smile, and in a tired tone, she went on.
“In the first place, no matter how you look at it, the two of you being brother and sister was really pushing it. Your faces couldn’t be any further apart, and your acting was terrible.”
I had nothing to say to that. It was an incredibly crude way of covering it up, after all. Only a considerably dense person would be fooled by those makeshift measures.
“And… the way the girl looks at you isn’t how a sister looks at a brother.”
“Ah, no, it’s nothing. I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong.”
“… But Nobuko-san. In that case, why did you say, ‘For real’? You could’ve honestly told her you already knew.”
“Humans, see, when we get older, our personalities twist out of shape. An emotional reunion, you’d call it? I’m too shy for something like that.”
In the end, was she really just embarrassed?
She really was an aged woman.
“… Even so, Tooru’s daughter, huh.”
Nobuko-san narrowed her eyes trailed in the distance, softly spilling her words.
“Ten years ago, I was so curious, so worried where my son died and what he was doing… but now that it’s come to this, it doesn’t really matter.”
Doesn’t really matter.
How much had this person gone through until she got to the point where she could talk about her son’s death like that? A lot happened, put into words, it could be summed up as that, but there were surely troubles and conflicts that couldn’t be expressed in words alone.
“That girl, how and where Kuria was raised, who and where her mother is… that doesn’t matter either. For some reason, right now… I’m just happy. Must be my age, I’ve already stopped caring about all the small details.”
“So Tooru fell in love with some woman, and made a daughter… she’s grown up so splendidly…”
Nobuko-san put her hands together on her lap, clenching them strongly. As she turned her head down, I couldn’t make out her expression. But a single drop of water fell onto her clenched hands.
“That’s good… truly, wonderful…”
I could feel various feelings embedded in those short words.
Those multifaceted overlapping complex emotions, over many a month and decade… and on top of them, this person said that’s good. There was nothing to hate or resent.
All that was left was delight.
“Mn … A ha ha. No, you’ve got me there, when you grow old, your tear glands grow weak. Good grief, this is a bother… wait, boy?”
“Itz good izn’t it…”
“Why are you the one crying harder…”
Nobuko-san turned a cold shoulder to my tears. Her own had completely dried up.
Urgh, it’s no good. I’m so moved the tears aren’t stopping.
I’m weak to this sort of thing.
Nobuko-san let out a deep sigh.
“You’re a strange one, you know that.”
So she gave a fed up smile.
After separating with Nobuko-san, I returned home with Kurisu-chan. We walked side by side down the residential district lit up by the evening sun. It’s not as if anything changed as a result, and it’s not as if any single thing had been resolved; even so, as she walked beside me, Kurisu-chan made an unclouded face.
As if she had somewhat taken a load off her mind.
I had no lingering regrets of my life living with Kurisu-chan coming to an end.
“Is it about time for your mother to return from her trip?”
I asked as we walked, and Kurisu-chan’s body was startled into stiffening up.
“U-umm… she was actually scheduled to get back today, but it kinda got postponed, it seems…”
“Oh really? Was there a strike at her destination or something?”
“Something like that!”
Hmmm. Is that the next big thing? Strikes?
“So, if you’d let me stay a little longer, I’d be—ah.”
Kurisu-chan stopped both her words and her walk.
When I turned, she was closing her eyes. Her mouth sealed as well, she was concentrating. It looked like she was sensing something, that her consciousness was wholly directed unto herself.
“… It’s back.”
She opened her eyes wide, twirling to face me, “It’s back! It’s back, it’s back, it’s come back Kagoshima-senpai!”
Gripping my hands, she happily bounced up and down.
Back? What’s she talking about?
“Ah, do you mean your mother’s back from her trip?”
“Oh? Ah, yes, that’s right! Uwah, hooray, hooray, hooray!”
Kurisu-chan showed delight as if she had regained who she was. She must have been considerably happy her mother returned.
“Hah, that’s good… ah, it’s been a long while since I could feel the power that fills the atmosphere.”
Abruptly, her full-face smile froze up. A few seconds later, “– Wait, whaaaaaaaaaaaat!?”
She raised a cry similar to a shriek.
“W-what is this magic!? Why is Griestark D’Ifa Licurio Soel in this town!? Rather, this world!? And the one fighting is Kikyouin-senpai!? But Tamane-san’s with her, and this power is the power of the nine-tailed fox!? E-e-e-eeeeh!? And the power Griel has, don’t tell me that’s the philosopher’s stone!? Eh? How did he obtain the stone, eeeh!? What exactly is going on in here!?”
Kurisu-chan held her head as she fell into panic.
Magic. Nine-tailed fox. Philosopher’s stone.
… It’s her eight-grade syndrome.
She had kept it concealed in her body this whole week, but having come so far, it had grown to the point where her desire was exploding out, it seems. Eighth-grade syndrome full throttle.
“I-I’m sorry, Kagoshima-senpai! I have to go!”
“Where… umm, ummmmm.”
Kurisu-chan made a troubled face. After her eyes swam here and there, she stuck out her chest and boldly declared.
“To save the world!”
I cracked a smile.
At such eighth-grade syndrome, at such childishness, at such fun.
And… at such coolness.
“Got it. Have fun.”
“Here I go!”
“Don’t be back too late.”
Kurisu-chan gave a large nod, and by the time I noticed it, she was gone.
I turned to the sky to find something soaring through it at a tremendous speed.
A bird, a plane, superman, or perhaps even… a witch.
But hey, it’s probably the bird.
The place I parted from Kurisu-chan was near former-Gentle Breeze Park.
The empty park that’s play equipment had been taken away. Within that, as once before, a single girl was standing.
Yomiga Eri. She was standing in a position not the tiniest bit different the other day.
… What should I do?
The talk didn’t get anywhere last time, and the air turned dubious. Should I ignore her today? She does seem like she’s hard to please, so if I act too buddy-buddy, she might hate me for it.
It happened as I was hesitating like that.
Yomiga-san crumbled right at the knees.
When I focused my eyes to look, her complexion was considerably bad. She was ghastly pale. As her skin was abnormally pale to begin with, she looked like no more than a corpse by this point.
Her breath was rough. Containing her chest with one hand, she repeated short and shallow breaths. Yet even so, she remained expressionless.
I infiltrated the park and raced over to her.
“What’s wrong!? Are you alright!?”
Yomiga-san looked up at me, muttering indifferently.
Indifferent to the end.
“Does your chest hurt? Can you stand? Should I call an ambulance? Or could it be some sort of chronic illness…?”
“Leave me be…”
Brushing off my hand, she stood right back up as if nothing had happened at all. While she maintained her expressionlessness, her breath was rough after all. She seemed to be in considerable pain.
“… Are you alright?”
“I am alright. My entire body hurts as if it is being drawn and quartered, my brain feels hot as if it is boiling over, but it is no problem at all.”
“… Hey, what are you even doing?”
“I am pushing myself.”
“I… must push myself. For someone like me, nothing more than a replica, if I do not push myself like this… I will not be able to use the ‘power’.”
“Power…? Eh, what? What do you mean?”
“My role this time is… to affix the coordinate axis.”
Affixing her eyes on blank space, she began murmuring to herself.
“In order to lead the original in another world to this one… to support her unstable power far too great… I am activating the ‘power’ to serve as a guidepost on this side. Using my feeble power one could only call an inferior imitation… I will urge the original to awaken.”
Between she and I, we will work together to wrench open the dimension.
With her inorganic eyes, she indifferently muttered as if confirming her own job to herself.
“… What are you talking about, Yomiga-san? What power do you mean?”
“… Book marker? Are you talking about Shiori…?”
Bookmark would be the English translation of Shiori.
Shiori… Orino Shiori.
Orino-san’s name… was Shiori.
Though I was sure it was a coincidence.
“… Hac, hac.”
Holding her mouth, Yomiga-san crumbled at the knees in the same way as before.
I reflexively caught her.
“Yomiga-san! A-anyways, you’ve got to stop that!”
Unable to watch her in pain, I ended up crying out.
But she wouldn’t deal with the likes of me. Her hollow gaze was focused elsewhere.
Somewhere that wasn’t here… somewhere not of this world.
“I am… ashamed of myself… an inferior copy such as I, can only be unsightly.”
In my arms, she whispered incoherently in a soft voice.
“I will keep pushing myself… to reach less than a tenth of the original…”
“But I cannot have any complaint. Completing the original is… master’s dearest wish.”
It’s for Kai?
She’s going through such pains for Kai’s sake?
Still entrusting her body to me, Yomiga-san slowly lifted her right hand. She reached out as if to grasp hold of the sky and hold it in place.
Like a broken doll, Yomiga-san continued muttering incomprehensible words. When a majority of her face parts wouldn’t move in her expressionless state, her lips alone shifted at an unnatural pace.
It was terribly eerie. As if I couldn’t pick up any humanity. Fear instinctually budded in my chest, and I could no longer take a single move.
It seemed like an eternity, once the long, long spell was over, Yomiga-san’s hoisted right arm fell. She brushed me off and stood on her own.
“With this… there is only one role left for me. That is… the final role.”
She muttered with a pale face, wandering off with unsteady, uncertain steps.
I called out without hesitation.
“Are you alright?”
“I am alright… this is likely a summer cold. Once I get home, warm myself and sleep, I will be better.”
“S-summer cold…? Then What did you say back there? About book marker and the original…”
“The heat got to my head, so I did end up spouting incomprehensible drivel. My apologies. Please forget about it.”
I couldn’t believe her. While I generally believed what people told me, I could tell it was a clear lie. Yet owing to the dangerous air she let off, I couldn’t pursue the subject.
“Also… thank you for catching me.”
Yomiga-san turned right around.
“If possible, please catch the girl who is about to fall in twelve seconds.”
“That is your duty.”
Leaving those words, Yomiga-san left.
I was left with nowhere to turn, standing stock still on the spot. From beginning to end, Yomiga-san was full of mysteries. Is this what you call being spacey…?
Once I had thought about ten seconds, “Kyaaaaaaah!” A voice came from on high. I looked up and at that moment—
I was crushed by someone who fell from the sky. For argument’s sake, my body did move to catch them on reflex, but with my physical strength, catching a single person at that speed was impossible.
Alongside the individual, I tumbled over the ground. The rotation stopped with me on the bottom, and that individual mounting me.
Who was it, good grief… I thought, as I reached out my right hand to remove them. And touched something soft. Squeezing it kinda brought me happiness. In order to ascertain the identity of that mass, I fondled it a few more times.
A familiar voice. I blankly raised my face.
The one mounting me was Orino-san. Which means the one who suddenly fell from the sky was Orino-san.
… Which also means, don’t tell me the thing I’m fondling in my hand is–
Feeling a fear that drained my complexion coupled with an arduous excitement, I turned my eyes to my hand.
I was holding… her upper arm.
Her upper arm bare from the summer shorts she wore. Without any excess fat, but that being the case, not too much muscle. It was squishy, and truly comforting to touch.
… An upper arm, eh.
Dammit, read the damn mood, oh hand of mind. This is where you’re supposed to use the confusion to cop a feel. Hah… Well, whatever. I’m here anyway, let’s squeeze it a few more times, for old time’s sake.
“… Kagoshima-kun? How long are you going to squeeze me?”
In a mounting position, Orino-san let down a voice filled with bloodlust.
“Wah! I-I’m sorry, couldn’t help myself!”
“Couldn’t help yourself?”
“For old time’s sake.”
“What time is that?”
“No, see, they often say it. A girl’s upper arm is about as soft as their breasts.”
“You were thinking something like that as you groped me!?”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m reflecting on it. Your anger is fully justified.”
“W—well as long as you get it… it was an accident, and you just touched my upper arm a bit… b-but even if it’s my arm, if you touch it like that’s it a bit embarrassing, so–”
“There’s no way your breasts are like this. I’m sorry for treating them as equivalent.”
“That’s why the apology was for!?”
We held that back and forth as Orino-san got off of me. She was in casual clothes; a light short-sleeve shirt, a short skirt that went to just above her knees. There was a casquette cap on her head. It was a fashion style that truly gave off that travel feel.
“Orino-san… when did you get back? Did the strike break up?”
“Ah, y-yeah! I-it worked itself out!”
“I see, that’s good… so why did you suddenly come and crush me?”
When I asked, Orino-san made an incredibly troubled face. She seemed considerably panicked as she began explaining the reason.
“Umm… that’s, umm… wh- when I got back, I was in a bit of a strange mood, so when I spotted you, Kagoshima, I thought I’d just embrace you a bit…?”
What’s with that reason…
Was Orino-san that sort of character?
“L-look! I was out overseas! In that country over there, that much is just a greeting!”
“Oh, I see. There are various ways to greet people overseas.”
“Right, right. By the way, Kagoshima-kun, what are you doing here?”
Orino-san suddenly changed the topic. I got the feeling she was trying hard to avoid the topic, but well, that’s surely my imagination.
“It’s… not like I was doing anything particular. I just spotted Yomiga-san, so I came over.”
Oh, I see. Orino-san doesn’t know her. I met her once before with Orino-san’s little sister Oshiri-chan, but Oshiri-chan was asleep at the time. There’s no way she could’ve conveyed the info on Yomiga-san to her big sister.
“Yomiga-san is Kai’s friend.”
Orino-san’s expression suddenly sunk.
“By Kai, you mean Shinose-kun, right? Your childhood friend.”
“Yeah, something up?”
“I… actually met Shinose-kun. At the trip’s destination.”
Met Kai at the destination?
“Hmm… Ah, but come to think of it, I did hear that Kai was out on a trip. I see, I see, that’s quite the coincidence.”
“… Yeah. And so, the truth is, up to the very moment, I was with Shinose-kun. I was able to get here because he taught me how to get back…”
How to get back? Hmm. Is she talking about how to ride an airplane?
“Kagoshima-kun, who is Shinose-kun?”
Orino-san sounded serious to a scary extent.
“Who can say? I don’t know myself?”
“You don’t know? You’re childhood friends, right?”
I nodded without hesitation.
“I don’t really get him, but he’s a precious friend.”
Orino-san looked like she couldn’t accept it, but it was impossible for me to explain any further.
Kai is a friend.
As long as I knew that, it was more than enough for me.
“But how… did Shinose-kun know about…”
Orino-san made a brooding face as she thought to herself.
But soon, “Ah, that’s right,” she raised her head.
She firmly grasped both my shoulders. Seemed rather desperate.
“Kagoshima-kun. What happened with Kurisu-chan?”
Crap, it totally slipped my mind.
The problem I put off was now too late to resolve.
“Why was Kurisu-chan calling you onii-chan? Why was she in your bath? Why were you living together?”
Orino-san, you’re scaring me.
“N-no wait, Orino-san. That’s not what we were talking about, right? Weren’t we discussing the identity of my childhood friend?”
“I couldn’t care less about that.”
She stated definitively.
I got the feeling she brushed something incredibly important under the rug for a petty reason but… well, must be my imagination.
Overpowered by the intensity of an encroaching Orino-san, I frantically began giving excuses.
Thanks to my careful and thorough explanation, I got Orino-san to understand, but as it was an unavoidable fact that Kurisu-chan spent seven whole days lodging with me, Orino-san made a somewhat disapproving face.
“… No fair.”
Was her impression. What was unfair?
The fact Kurisu-chan did all the housework?
After that, Orino-san quickly disappeared. It seemed she still had things to do with the members in regards to the trip.
I returned home alone. By the time I reached, the sun had already set.
A few meters from the door, I could hear someone coming from the opposite direction. It was Kikyouin-san in her onmyouji-ish attire. The dirt on her clothing had increased considerably from this morning, and the fatigue on her face had multiple.
On Kikyouin-san’s back was Kurisu-chan in her witch cosplay.
“… What happened? Why are you carrying Kurisu-chan? What’s the situation?”
Kikyouin-san offered a painstaking response as I called out. Kurisu-chan on her back was sound asleep. She showed no signs of waking on my call.
“Ah, but you came at the right time. Look after Kurisu, will you.”
She said and entrusted Kurisu to me. Still not knowing what was going on, for the time being, I carried her on my back.
“Haah, that’s a load off my shoulders, My apologies to Kurisu, but that was a troublesome trek.”
“Hey, really what happened.”
“Nothing really. Just disciplined a naughty kid a bit.”
“Well, while I say that, he practically foiled himself. I don’t know what happened, but that kid’s combat power dropped drastically. Seems he had some indecisiveness in battle.”
“What’s more, Kurisu-chan joined the fray along the way and took all the cool parts. Good grief, it’s good and all that she learned an outrageous new technique, but don’t just fall asleep as recoil.”
She grumbled sarcastically, lightly shopping the sleeping Kurisu-chan’s head.
“Kikyouin-san, sorry. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“It’s nothin’. Talkin’ to myself.”
“Hmmm. Ah, right, I was checking the news on my phone, but it looks like the Sesshouseki’s back where it’s supposed to be.”
Today evening, it was back before anyone realized it. The thief must have returned it on their own, or so the newscasters surmised.
I planned to surprise her with the news but, “That so. Hmm. Tamane-sama sure works fast,” Kikyouin-san’s reaction was considerably light. Rather, I was ignored. She suddenly started talking about her little sister who had absolutely nothing to do with it.
“Anyways, I leave Kurisu to you. I think she’ll wake up soon enough, so look after her ‘til then.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Well ‘en, I’m goin’ home and goin’ to bed. I’m so sleepy, I’ll pass right out…”
Rolling her neck and shoulders, she passed by beside me.
“Umm, I don’t really get it, but good work.”
I raised one hand to invite her into a high five.
After some hesitation, “… Mn. You said it.” She answered the high-five a little embarrassed.
Gazing at Kikyouin-san as she made her way off, I called out to the young girl on my back as well.
I got back some sleep mumble.
“… Gwod vrk”