The Testimonial of Okitegami Kyouko Chapter 1: Kyouko-san Appraises Parts 4-5

4

He said he wouldn’t come again, but as one in charge of security, I couldn’t swallow his words whole, naturally reporting everything that happened that day to a superior—including the phone number Hakui-kun had written on my hand.

I knew I might be reprimanded for sending him off without stopping him, but that said, I couldn’t be negligent with my work. But not only did I not receive the summons I had resolved myself for, I didn’t even get any advice on how to handle it the next time a child came around. When it got to that point, it felt as if my report had been crumpled up and tossed, something wasn’t sitting right—but as he declared, Hakui kun didn’t stop by the museum after that, so it didn’t develop into the same predicament again.

Hakui Riku.

While he said we would never meet again, it was simply the case that the site of our reunion wouldn’t be the museum… and while I’m putting on airs, I might as well introduce the third and final person who brought a turning point to my life. As truth would have it, he was the one who most harshly tripped up my feet, so instead of beating around the bush, perhaps I should have introduced him first, but there’s a process to these things.

Because it was only because of my encounters with Kyouko-san and Hakui-kun that my third encounter turned out as it did…

The bonds between people truly are bizarre.

It goes without saying, the incident that followed occurred because it had to—regardless of whether I was involved or not, it was an inevitable occurrence. I don’t intend to say it was my doing or anything pretentious like that, and I’m not virtuous enough to shoulder too much responsibility for it.

Now then, while I first misunderstood Kyouko-san as an elderly woman in need of assistance, the third was, without any mistake, an old man. He did dye his hair white, but as he came to the museum with a cane, well, there’s no doubt about it. It’s just, even if I did feel obliged to look out for him, he emitted an aura that made him difficult to approach. To put it simply, a grumpy air.

Like the others, he also… stopped his feet before that painting.

Before the painting Kyouko-san would stare at, and that Hakui-kun copied—granted by that time, Hakui-kun had stopped coming to the museum, and Kyouko-san said the painting wasn’t two hundred million but two million, not even lowering her walking speed to look at it. As always, I had no choice but to stand there, so whether I liked it or not, the painting entered my field of vision… but what had once been an ‘incomprehensible abstract’ when I first took this position had become a ‘two hundred million yen masterpiece’, after which it became clear what was painted was a ‘landscape of the planet earth’, and after that, for some reason, its value bombed to ‘two million yen’, a hundredth of its original value. Unsure of how I was supposed to face it, my position in the room was becoming unstable.

So when the old man in a hakama came to a stop before the painting, I won’t deny I curiously looking forward to what would happen this time. I ended up hoping for the next plot twist to come. Those aren’t the right feelings to hold on the job, and I know I should reflect on that, but that being the case, the retribution bestowed on me was simply too great for the sin.

Undue suffering… no, if I wanted to bring up suffering, the painting ‘Mother’ suffered a far crueler fate than me.

On top of having her contents stripped bare by a boy wonder, and her price beaten down to one hundredth by a white-haired beauty, she was finally smashed to pieces by the mysterious old man’s cane.

“Ah…!”

By the time I could react, the cane’s second blow came down on the canvas… the poor depiction of earth, as if it had collided with a meteor from a movie, was smashed into pieces.

“H… hold it right there! What do you think you’re doing!?”

Between my stiffening from sudden circumstance to the return of my senses was only an instant, and rushing over took less than two seconds… but with a deftness that didn’t let one feel his age, he made good use of even that small period, showing no mercy to the canvas that had fallen from the wall to the floor, and showering it with strikes from his cane.

His handling of that stick was so wonderful I had to wonder if he carried it not because his legs were weak, but because he had intended to do it from the moment he left the house—but this wasn’t the time to be impressed. At the point I had grappled the man away, the painting had- frame included- been rendered impossible to repair. Still unsatisfied, he continued to put up an intense resistance with immense power I couldn’t expect from an old man. It felt like he would shake me off if I let my guard down, but as I was dealing with an elderly person, the most I could do was a Nelson hold. I couldn’t quite slam him to the floor.

“Unhand me, you insolent wretch!”

On the other hand, the old man showed no signs of cooling off… forget that, his heel naturally started slamming into my shin. The man was wearing geta instead of shoes, so when the corners dug in, the pain was no joke.

The painting’s removal from the wall sounded the alarm, and with such a ruckus I was sure that backup would come soon enough, but I wasn’t confident I could restrain the old man without injuring for that long.

“Please calm down… what’s gotten into you?”

“What’s left to explain!?”

I asked without expecting any proper exchange, but surprisingly he did give what sounded like a response.

“How dare they think they could get away with something like this! The sheer nerve!”

Saying that, the old man glared at me… with all the pressure he put on, I got the urge to just let go of his arms as he ordered me.

“A-anyways, just calm down. If you stop resisting, I’ll release you…”

“Shut it, you can start by calling Shikihara!”

Shikihara? I thought over who that might be before remembering the curator had a name like that… meaning this person was telling me to call the curator?

If I had to say, the one who was going to be called somewhere was the old man who had committed such violence… but the man’s overbearing way of addressing the curator without honorifics wasn’t easy to ignore. He had too much dignity in his rage for me to write it off as an old man’s hysteria, and I felt like I might end up obeying him if I was caught unprepared. I was on the verge of calling the curator, but if I just did as I was told there, it would be the same whether a security guard was stationed there or not. Now that he had destroyed what I was to protect, there was already practically no point in my being there, but even so, I was unable to abandon my station.

“If you want to say something, I’ll hear you out…”

“Bollocks I say! It’s a waste of breath on a knot-eyed amateur like you!”

“Knot-eyed? By knot-eyed, you mean…”

I could understand if he said an outsider security guard was a waste of breath, but what did he mean by a knot-eyed amateur? As if to take a stab at the moment I spent pondering, the old man rapidly untangled one of my arms, holding his cane aloft. His dynamism unfit for his age astonished me… at the same time, I couldn’t help but question what sort of impulse was driving him so far. I seized the cane he was about to lower.

“D-do you have some bone to pick with the planet earth!?”

I cried… and suddenly.

All of a sudden, the old man went docile—draining his power, he also stopped stamping his feet. With his one-eighty, I was about to fall over from my own left-over momentum.

“Speak.”

Quietly this time, the old man spoke… Just because he had stopped resisting, releasing the perpetrator of such violence was crazy, but he had already preceded me and released the cane from his hand… he discarded his armament.

I was half lifting him up in that air, and once he had stopped thrashing around, precisely because were practically stuck together, the feel of his slender light constitution was conveyed to me… My respect for the elderly that had turned off in crisis came back to me.

At the end of my hesitation, I let go of his withered branch- though from his previous rampage it was surely too powerful for that label- of a body. Of course, keeping myself ready to cope if he started going at it again.

“Hmph.”

But for now, it looked like my worries were undue, and all the freed man did was straighten out his disheveled traditional clothing… looking at him like this, even retracting my own build from mind, he was a small-built old man; though his eyes were to sharp for me to think of him that way… I wonder what it is, he didn’t give off the slightest sense he had given up resistance and surrendered on my intervention.

“You mentioned the earth. Can you understand that painting?”

“…”

I was perplexed by the question he tossed over… really, what was it? Ah, was he referring to my ‘Do you have some bone to pick with the planet earth’ line? No, if he asked whether I understood the picture or not, I could only say I didn’t. All I had was hand-me-down knowledge from Hakui-kun. If I was told two hundred million, it looked like two hundred million to me. If I was told it was the earth, it started looking like the earth, and if I was told it was two million, it started looking like two million… that was the extent of my eye for appraisal.

But even if he was calm for now, thinking of the old man’s temperament, I couldn’t imagine answering honestly was the appropriate response. So while it was far from sincere.

“Yes. It’s a landscape of earth seen from space… isn’t it? That’s why it was given the title ‘Mother’.”

“…”

I’m surprised a child’s opinion helped me to such a degree, but the deed was acknowledged and, “I see,” the old man gave a profound nod.

“It looks like they’re not complete knotholes… but in that case, you’re even more of a dullard than I thought. It’s all the more sorrowful to see you had a discerning eye on you…”

“U-um, what do you mean by that?”

“… Alright.”

Without answering any of my questions, after taking a scrupulous rude look over me, “Whelp. What’s your name?” he asked.

Whelp… owing to my height over one eighty centimeters, I had never been referred to as such, and for a moment, I couldn’t tell he was talking a bout me. In the end, it looks like Kyouko-san was the only one who could discern my name from the tag on my chest… could it be my nametag was completely meaningless?

“Oyagiri Mamoru.”

“I see. Then Mamoru. I’m going to give you a test.”

Despite being a ruffian taken in… despite being someone who would be turned in to the police, the man spoke with a majestic, imposing air. His tone overly condescending, he had shown strong enough resistance to warrant it… but at the word test, for some reason, I felt some intrigue. What did he bite onto?

I couldn’t tell… and as I couldn’t tell, the old man pointed at the fragmented canvas strewn across the ground.

“Try putting a price on this painting.”

“… A price, is it?”

“Yeah. It can be a general estimate. Nearest whole, just give me the first price that comes to mind.”

“…”

With the eyes of a true appraiser strongly trained on me, he issued me an order… I looked at each piece of the dispersed canvas in turn. Price… on that question, I naturally recalled Kyouko-san—the white-haired woman who first appraised the painting at two hundred million, and after that, as if forgetting that episode entirely, she revised it to two million.

Just as I jumped onto Hakui-kun’s opinion, could I ride aboard Kyouko-san’s take there as well? But even if I wanted to, Kyouko-san had given two. The two hundred million she would spend an hour admiring, or the two million she barely glanced at—which price would be right to say in this situation? Before right and wrong, was there even a correct answer to the eccentric old man’s query? I got a feeling he would take offense to whatever I said and call it wrong. Perhaps he even had a vague sense that the answer it was a landscape of the earth wasn’t an answer of my own… isn’t that why he was testing me?

Instead of a test, was he stripping off my mask? In that case, I couldn’t carelessly be caught up in his trap. But even if I wasn’t going to borrow Kyouko-san’s words as is, I would have to give my own honest opinion; problem being, I didn’t have one on the matter.

“What’s wrong? Can’t answer? If you don’t know, just say you don’t know.”

It was fact that I couldn’t answer, he was right when he said I didn’t know, but honestly admitting I didn’t know would make me too much a greenhorn to the old man… I still had some will in me.

I tried thinking.

I didn’t have to appraise… I just had to deduce.

If hypothetically, I used Kyouko-san’s estimate as a base, the options would be two hundred million or two million… in that case, just considering it in turn, the obvious choice would be the latter.

That went without saying, it was a problem of chronological order. The day Kyouko-san said two hundred million yen, and the day Kyouko-san said two million yen, the problem wasn’t which day Kyouko-san’s eyes were more trustworthy… the main problem was which one was the latest information. Putting aside whether Kyouko-san’s opinion changed after that, she never stopped her feet before the painting again—if its value had returned to two hundred million yen, then surely she would have spent an hour admiring it as she did in the days of yore.

With her detective insight, she had noticed the price plummet of something I couldn’t detect any change in, and if there were any further changes, she wouldn’t overlook them… but if I had to be pedantic, it wasn’t as if Kyouko-san came by the museum every day. In essence, she hadn’t stopped by in the past week; I had no guarantee the painting hadn’t changed in that timeframe…

At the very least, if I knew what basis Kyouko-san used for her change in price, I would be able to proceed without hesitation, but she wouldn’t tell me, and I had no developments myself… she said she wouldn’t deduce for free.

In that case, should I have made a formal request?

No, at that point, I had no telling the information would be necessary… and in the first place, there was no finality to Kyouko-san’s pricing. To the end, that was her personal opinion— there was no guarantee this old man would take to it.

Rather than saying something stupid to send him on another rampage, keeping silent or lowering my head and saying I didn’t know would be the adult decision. It was disgraceful and an option I resented, but in all honestly, I didn’t know the price of the fragmented painting, and regardless of how it was in the corner of my field of vision for months, I couldn’t notice any changes with it.

“…”

No… wait. Change?

If we’re talking about changes, there was a bigger one than any in the months I’ve been here. A dramatic change making it impossible to even compare to how it was before just happened. The old man smacked it with his cane, smashing it frame and all… even if it’s price the previous day was two hundred million yen, now that it’s in pieces on the floor… there’s no way that price exists. Kyouko-san had said something about ‘the cost paid to preserve its value’.

“Zero yen.”

“…”

“In its current state, it is no longer possible to put a price on it… far from it, in the current day and age, its disposal might not even be free of charge.”

Of course, it’s not as if the pains and zeal the painter put into it have become worthless… more so, because the actual article has been lost, they might actually rise in value but… its physical price as a painting was completely lost.

While changes can occur over the years, there are instantaneous changes as well… there’s no need to say all things in life are transitory, there’s no way anything can preserve the same value forever. Just as turning points in life can come at any time, an item’s value, the values of society can change… there’s nothing that doesn’t die and nothing that doesn’t break.

The moment the old man hit it, the painting had lost its value… whether it be two hundred million yen or two million, it was also a form of proof it had a definite unyielding value up to that point.

The old man grinned, he gave a wicked smile, “Hmph. I’ll admit you’ve got some wit to you—I’ll have to give you a pass.” He said as he turned his hand towards me.

It appeared he was demanding the return of his cane… I had some hesitation, but come to think of it, I had no basis to determine the cane was only carried to destroy artwork. If his legs really were weak, depriving an old man of his cane would be horribly mean-spirited.

I held out the cane. Seeing how, after taking it, he immediately pressed it to the ground and entrusted his body weight, my decision was not mistaken.

That aside, judging by the old man’s remark, my answer was by no means worth one hundred points… it felt more like I had used some clever loophole to barely pass. Well, he did call it for what it was. It was a scene where it wouldn’t be strange if he screamed out that wasn’t what he meant… I was just happy the old man had completely calmed down.

And in his plight, he decided to return some wit for wit.

“Now then, you must let me take my leave—all I did was smash a painting worth nothing, so naturally, you have nothing to fault me on.”

He made a grand show of using his staff to walk off down the museum’s recommended route… no wait, there’s no way that logic would ever pass! I hurriedly circled ahead of him, spreading both arms to block his way.

“Something the matter? The one who said it was zero yen was you.”

“Y-you’re right, but you know that’s not it—anyways, don’t move. I’ll call someone in.”

“You’re a hard shell to crack. That’s what I’ve been saying from the start, just call Shikihara in—tell him Wakui came by, and he’ll understand.”

“W-Wakui, is it?”

“That’s right. Now get to it.”

“O-on it…”

The old man’s name had finally come to light, but more importantly, from his manner of speech, he made it sound like he was an acquaintance of the curator. In that case, it would explain his unchanging arrogant attitude but… could it be the old man, old Wakui was a mainstay of the world of art?

He definitely looked the part… but would a prominent artist make such a mess of an art museum? Thinking about it logically, I couldn’t imagine it so, but at present, it was impossible to think of that person as being within the bounds of logic.

As that was going on, the security guards from the other areas and the museum employees finally rushed in from the ruckus. As I reported the turn of events to them, old Wakui was led off to another room, and by the time I noticed it, he was gone. None of the guards knew him, but it seems some of the staff were aware of who he was, and looking at their courteous attitude that went a little beyond caring for the elderly, I was sure he had to be someone big… whatever the case, as the one charged with the area the problem occurred, I was charged with cleaning up the mess.

So the identity of the old man and what motives he held in his destructive actions, in the end, I could only come to know them on a later date… or so despite the gravity of the situation, I was still trying to keep optimistic.

I never saw it coming.

To think the events of that day would be cause for me to lose my job… that’s why it became a turning point in my life.

A turn for the worse.


 

 

 

5

When you really boil it down, my hopes were too sweet… on top of the sweetness, perhaps I had simply yet to have a proper taste. It’s not like I had ice cream dangling in front of my face, and I wanted to chastise myself for how much a sweet tooth I had been… well, I don’t hate sweets, but I never thought that would force me to taste such hardships.

If old Wakui was acquainted with the curator—it seems he was receiving special treatment after all—I won’t deny I had some light hopes things could be settled internally.

Even if I couldn’t escape punishment as the one charged with the area, at most I’d be transferred out of the museum or get off with some disciplinary action, or so I thought… who would’ve thought I’d actually get sacked for it.

I couldn’t believe a moment of negligence had cost me the job I had so longed for and put in considerable work to obtain… it felt as if I was trapped in a nightmare.

But thinking about it calmly, it was only natural to fire a security guard who couldn’t protect what they were supposed to. All the more that I failed to prevent the destruction of a painting momentarily valued at two hundred million yen from so close, what reason did they have to continue hiring me? It was a tale where it wouldn’t be strange if they demanded reparations from the security company… it was stranger for me to think they would cover for me.

No, if I took a careful read of my employment contract and hired a lawyer to fight it out, perhaps I would be able to resist. As luck would have it, in this country- at least the official stance states- the rights of laborers are guaranteed… I could fight if I had the will.

But it was a turn of events that dampened my spirits.

I held a guilty conscience that it had all sprouted from my insufficiencies, and I didn’t think my mentality could hold up through dragging the company I had so wished for employment with through the muddled fields of law.

Just imagining it tired me out.

And even if I say I was fired, the company let it stand that I retired of my own volition… meaning I got my full retirement package. In that case, using those funds as stock while I searched for my next occupation would be a far better use of my time. With how things link up, I was sure the scandal I caused would spread in no time, so it would be difficult to find work in the industry anymore but…

Even so, what bothered me most was the retirement package my company paid… when I was surprised by the fact they deposited anything at all, the amount wasn’t in any way reduced from my normal payment, more so, it was as if some extra colors were added in.

Just as young Hakui said he hated colors, when it came to all this green, I felt a little sick, or rather, I felt an unrefreshing taste in my mouth. If they just threw in a bonus so I wouldn’t be thrown onto the streets, I would naturally be thankful, but unfortunately, I was no longer able to see things so sweet.

I could only think that the listed amount included hush money… regardless of the fact an exhibited painting had been violently smashed at a by-no-means-small-scale museum, the media never took to it.

The name of the museum, Wakui, and naturally my name never graced the space of a newspaper or the buzz of the TV. Granted art is a restricted culture in the grand scheme of things, so if you told me it was never that newsworthy I’d have to agree, so it didn’t really bother me at the time… rather, back then, I was in the midst of the greatest calamity of my life- losing my job- so I hadn’t the leisure to think too deeply into it.

But as time went by and I started to reflect—when I thought about it alongside the sum of retirement money I received, it was a strange tale indeed. Some large power had moved to end things peacefully… maybe it truly had been solved internally. But in the circle that excluded me…

It was too late to say such things, and if I realized it sooner I doubted I would have done anything about it but, when I thought it seemed obvious… to end matters peacefully, a scapegoat was necessary, and I was given the grand honor.

Since large damages had actually come out, someone had to be punished—perhaps the large sum the company paid came from the guilt and pity they harbored towards me. I didn’t have any evidence, but if I deduced it that way, it fit into place… by cutting off only me, the person in charge of the site, they managed to settle it.

And they all lived happily ever after.

I don’t know that much, and there was no way I could shake off the feeling I had pulled the short straw, but even so, it was true the company had given me as much consideration as they could. What’s done is done. That being the case, if I wanted to change gears and head forwards, I still had my lingering regrets. I didn’t have any resentment towards the museum, security company or old Wakui, but even so, I wanted to know what had been put into this bitter situation—if I didn’t know, then I wouldn’t be able to handle it next time this happened, next time I was put through it.

For what reason did that old man so incessantly smash the painting to pieces… and in the end, how much was it worth? In the first place, who was the old man, and why did everyone try to cover up the ruckus?

There were too many mysteries.

No way in heck was I going to live the rest of my life taken up by such impenetrable enigmas.

I needed a staff. Not a staff to violently smash them to bits, a walking stick to prop me up met time I fall for a turning point in life… when I thought that, what came to mind were the words of the all-white woman.

‘I don’t deduce for free–’

Right.

Everything has an appropriate price—whether it be paintings or work or retirement or mystery solving. Back then, I didn’t think unraveling the painting’s mystery was important enough to pay money for, but seeing how it all turned out, I was wrong. Because I pigeonholed a mystery I should have set straight, it straddled along the clock and came falling from above—if I got her to say the reason for the plummet in price, it wouldn’t have come to this.

Of course, I could only say that in hindsight, and in the first place, at the time I didn’t have the money saved up to hire a professional detective like Kyouko-san, so it was a talk that went nowhere… but whatever the case, the current me had the savings.

The hush money I couldn’t bring myself to save.

A sum far too great to call consolation.

Of course, wherever it may be, they were important capital until I found my next place of employment, and not something I could use up—from dusk to daybreak, it was something I should properly keep tucked away. I was well aware of its importance, but even so, I took out the two business cards… All crumpled up in the pocket of the uniform I missed the opportunity to return, the two cards I had forgotten to take out.

Okitegami Detective Agency Chief—Okitegami Kyouko.

My second bout of job hunting could only start after I made a call to her.

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The Testimonial of Okitegami Kyouko Chapter 1: Kyouko-san Appraises, Parts 1-3

OkitegamiSuisenjou

 

(TL: This is half (page-wise) of the first chapter of the Forgetful  Detective Series Volume 2. The Volume has 3 chapters. Again it is torturous to translate. I’ve been going at it too long to not release something. Help.)

 

 


1

You never know when you might hit a turning point in life. As life goes on, from time to time, you might catch a glimpse of what’s in store, but such visions are a complete hallucination. Take for instance my, Oyagiri Mamoru’s, life.

To be honest, when my employment was decided- what’s more, at the Oote Security Company I had been hoping for- I felt a joy great enough to completely forget the misery-numbing levels of job hunting that led up to it; when I knew nothing had even begun yet, I hadn’t accomplished anything, it’s true I felt that I had ‘risen above’ my past life.

My future to come was set in stone.

Here on out, there wouldn’t be any more seat changes or class changes or graduations: for the rest of my life, I would continue my job of ‘protecting something’, I got around to thinking. Well I’m sure that was the intent of my grandfather who gave me the name Mamoru, and my mother and father who gifted me this needlessly sturdy body, and I felt proud from the depths of my heart I could answer their expectations. But on the other hand, with my last choice in life gone and done with, I cut the rudder to my future, and as I thought how everything to come would be a one-way street, there was a stroke of loneliness I couldn’t wipe away.

(TL: Mamoru means to protect, his first name Oyagiri is literally an alternate reading of the word kindness- Shinsetsu)

But I was mistaken.

Life couldn’t be decided by the likes of employment.

It can change as much as it wants, wherever it likes- and foresight of the future is practically a mirage. No, if it were a mirage, then perhaps the real article might exist somewhere but- it’s uncertain any visions of the future even exist.

That’s why you can never tell the turning points of life. That’s nothing to feel let down by; humans are always changing, so you can always just wait in expectation to see what the future has waiting for you. No matter the year, the day, it’s the start of an adventure.

But the problem is, that turning point might be a downward turn. We must always tread with caution, wary of what might trip us up, or who might grasp at our ankles. If you think those accidents and incidents that flow past on the TV are ‘irrelevant to you’, you’re in for some pain… even if a greenhorn like me spouts some plausible-sounding moral lessons like that, it might not be the least bit persuasive. But please hear me out. These aren’t some flowery words I picked up from some billboard, they’re teachings of self-admonishment I learned from painful experience.

Please grasp my words as a stick before you fall over.
And maybe that’s precisely what will give me the qualifications to console myself, that I wasn’t a man who fell over for nothing.

 


 

 

 

2

To start off, I’d like to introduce the three people who brought an unforeseen turning point to the life of the man who felt as enlightened as a mountain hermit from mere employment. Rather than brought the turning point, it would be more accurate to say they were the three people who tripped up my life’s smooth sailing, but I’ll refrain from phrasing it like that.

First off, it’s not like they had any ill intent when they overturned my life, and secondly, they were customers. The customers are god… even if that’s saying too much, customers are customers. Not the targets I should be directing my resentment at.

Of course, it’s not like they were my customers- meaning they weren’t the subject of my security. They were customers to a certain art museum I had been stationed at. The precious visitors to a so-called modern art museum a man like me would never get involved with had he not been stationed there for work. Of course, strictly speaking, one of them was not a customer, but there’s no doubt he was a visitor.

The first person was a woman with white hair. While I couldn’t call her a regular, she would drop by the museum with relative frequency, appreciate every art piece from start to finish, and leave. Among the pieces, she seemed to have an attachment to a single article in my security area; her feet would stop before the painting for up to an hour as she gazed at it intently.

I grew curious whether she displayed such conduct in the other areas and asked a colleague, but apparently that painting was the only one she looked at for such a long time.

Then perhaps she dropped by the museum just to see that painting… as mentioned prior, I have absolutely no grounded knowledge in art, so I couldn’t tell what was so good about the painting she gazed at, but it didn’t feel so bad to watch someone deeply moved by my subject to guard.

It made me proud to know I was protecting something with value- it might be strange for me to feel triumphant over such a thing, but just as she gazed at the picture like that, there were times I became inclined to watch her picture watching back.

Truthfully so, her standing form made a pretty enough picture to warrant it.

But like that, I learned the tiresomeness that comes with standing and staring all too well- no matter how moved, how deep of a trance one might be in, staying standing, maintaining an unmoving stance expended considerable muscle. You’re hearing that from someone who stands there like that six hours every day- albeit with breaks- so there’s no doubt about it.

Take for say conceding your seat to the elderly on a train, you might occasionally find that the action contrarily enrages them. I’ve experienced it a number of times- well, not understanding a hatred of being treated as old was definitely a failure of my own imagination, and there’s no helping they chastise me for it. The standard I reaped from that example was the possibility ‘She might be dyeing her hair white’- Dyeing one’s hair an unnatural color comes from the train of thought of wanting one’s self to look younger; of course, there are plenty of exceptions, and it should be taken as case by case- and in that sense, I had no reason to hesitate to worry for that woman with beautiful all white hair.

It was a museum scrupulous about removing all barriers, so as long as she filled the paperwork, she could at least rent a chair, I called out to inform her of that… but even disregarding how that overstepped my position as a security guard, that was a mistaken action.

What had from my angle always looked like a diminutive back belonged to a woman of whom, forget old, looked no older than me. A woman in her mid-twenties. The intellectual eyes behind her glasses looked up at me dubiously.

“U-um…”

Having lost the words I should say despite being the one who called out, I cursed my own folly. The situation was unanticipated but the place was a respectable museum, and if you told me it was appropriate to see it coming, I couldn’t disagree. In a place for those of original aesthetic sense that transcended the sense of values of an unsociable man like me, it shouldn’t be strange for there to be a woman who dyed her hair white instead of blonde for fashion’s sake. Rather than dyed or a wig, the white looked to be much too natural for that, but…

Thinking back, at least from what I can remember, she had never appeared in the museum wearing the same clothing twice. That was the first time I saw her in that turtleneck knit sweater, a stole draped over, and long skirt below. For such a fashionable lady, her white hair must be a facet of her style, though it’s not like I’m some detective from a novel, and if you wanted me to make a definitive deduction, that’s setting the bar way too high… whatever the case, calling out without ever confirming her face was idiotic and overeager of me.

What’s more, the face that turned to me- while belonging to a cute young lady- wasn’t looking at me for the better… as I panicked to smooth over my failure, I was practically a pickup artist flurried before a beauty. That being the case, starting out the conversation with I thought you were an old woman was difficult to imagine as virtuous under the circumstances.

“Y-you come here often. You must really like this painting.”

After mulling a moment, those words came to mouth… lines that sounded like they should come from someone concerned with the museum, but as truth would have it, I was an outsourced security guard.

“I come here… often? Do I?”

The white-haired woman tilted her head.
Hmm, she muttered as if it was someone else’s business. Her behavior almost made it seam like she was learning that for the first time from my mouth.

“? You do come here often, don’t you… and every time, you stand stock still in front of this painting as if it’s sucking your soul in.”

“Is that so.”

“When it’s a painting you must have seen countless times, but every time you seem just as emotionally moved as the first time you saw it, so I’m sure it must be a wonderful painting perfectly suited to your sensitivities.”

“Is that so…”

Her responses were half-baked.
Well, I was throwing in ambiguous terms like ‘I’m sure’ and ‘must have’, perhaps it went both ways. It was like I was confessing I didn’t understand the piece- as a matter of fact, the painting hung up was abstract, or rather, all I could see was a single canvas randomly smeared with blues, whites, greens and browns.

On the plate stuck to the wall beside it, the painter and the production date, the materials and the style, and in large letters, the title ‘Mother’ was written, but it completely eluded me what part of the painting was supposed to be a mother- so I could only call it an abstract with fragmented knowledge, but I couldn’t even determine if that was true.

“I see, so I’ve brought myself to this museum numerous times… and I always stand here and stare. Fufu. Well, I guess you could say that goes without saying.”

“? Eh…”

I couldn’t tell what was funny, but as the white-haired girl giggled, I returned a smile of social courtesy- my thoughts reached the lane of confusion. Do people with sharp aesthetic intuition hold an unconventional sense in daily conversation as well… or so I thought when,

“Around how long do I usually stand here?”

She asked something even stranger than before. Even if it wasn’t a major museum with an incessant stream of visitors, I couldn’t be away from my station too long, so now that I understood I wasn’t dealing with an old woman in need of consideration and my thoughts began to turn calmly, I wanted to get the conversation over and done with already, but her carefree attitude was enough for me to think I wanted to talk just a little longer- despite the peculiar contents of the conversation.

“Usually around an hour, I’d say… Forgetting time, as if you’ve lost yourself.”

“Forgetting time, as if I’ve lost myself.”

She repeated over the words I managed out. She gave a grin.

“Around an hour… is it? Fufufu, that sounds about right. Yes, I’m sure I spent at least that much time standing here today- this work has enough charm for it to shave away a whole hour of my today.”

“Y-you’re right, surely.”

My today was quite the odd way to phrase it, but whatever the case, but I felt a bit of relief that it didn’t end as, ‘I was looking at a painting my friend painted’- I’m repeating myself here, but it was a delight to know that what I was guarding was something of value. More so in a case like this where I couldn’t discern that value myself.

A security guard cannot choose the target of their protection, but guards are not a system, but human beings. Their emotion can’t be denied. If I was going to be working anyways, I’d rather have joy than anger as my motivation.

It’s just, when it came to value and price tags, the all-white-haired woman’s following statement was really quite straightforward, in that regard as if casting a straight stone… in an emotional tone as if appraising from the bottom of her heart,

“I mean, this work is two hundred million yen.”

She said.

Two hundred million: The average amount a modern Japanese salaryman makes over the course of his entire life, an amount you might win as the grand prize of a lottery, and if I had to spell it out, an undoubtedly large sum- of course, this was an art museum, so there’s no way the price tags were written on the plates that gave details for each piece, but when she brought up two hundred million yen, the way I looked at it changed.

That painting so incomprehensible to me suddenly seemed to emit a peculiar radiance. No, judging an artistic work by its monetary value and worth isn’t something that should come to pass… but she was the one who brought up a monetary evaluation.

“So it’ll go for two hundred million… this thing.”

“Yes, can’t you tell by looking?”

She stared at me in blank wonder. You’re guarding it without such rudimental knowledge? Or so I was caught up in such a delusion of persecution. Well, it really can’t be helped if you call me unlearned… I’ll have to do some serious soul-searching.

“Amazing isn’t it? Two hundred million yen. Just think of the things you could do with that money. I guess I’d save half of it, and run through the other half in one go? Quit worrying about finances and just buy up all the clothes I want.”

“I-I see…”

She said it in such a natural, absentminded tone I might just let it slip by, but she had said something considerably rude… no, I don’t really care, but I’m pretty sure the artist who painted it didn’t want it to be judged on price alone, right? Rather, what the woman spoke of was that very sum. Still, it’s a world without a fixed price tag, so it’s only natural an upfront appraisal might not become its actual price…

“Yes, I really do think the world of art is amazing… cost-performance-wise.”

“C-cost performance? You think?”

“Yes. No matter what material you use, there’s surely an upper limit to the cost price, right? And yet, there are times when they’re worth millions, billions even… and unlike with authors and cartoonists, you don’t even have to worry about the printing and binding fees that come afterward. More so, by subtracting the cost of mass production, its value rises even further—that’s a business model I’d like to take a lesson from.”

“…”

I lost my words in a different sense than before. Could business model be the most unbecoming word to voice in a museum? As long as the art museum I was stationed at didn’t offer free admission, there was no doubt it was a business… It’s all a matter of perspective. But the way she put it made it should almost as if she paid the entrance fee to come and see a wad of two hundred thousand yen—standing before two hundred million yen, spending an hour in a trance, she had far surpassed greedy into plain eccentric. By a considerable margin at that.

“My word, good sir. Have I ruined your mood? Fret not, I understand; I assure you. In order to preserve its value in being the only of its kind in the world, the cost this institution must pay to maintain it, it’s not as if I could ignore that.”

While I’m not sure exactly what way she took the confusion that apparently showed on my face, she followed through in a manner missing the mark—rather than missed the mark, it somewhat felt like she was playing the foo

As if by shifting the point in question, she managed to evade it entirely— that being the case, no matter how she was looking at it, I honestly felt a little happy she was properly recognizing the existence of a security guard like me, who occasionally received heartless words that he was tainting the scenery of an art museum.

“Still it really is nice, two hundred million yen. Two hundred million, that truly is wonderful. There’s no other replacement for two hundred million yen than two hundred million yen. And now that I’ve been able to see such a beautiful two hundred million yen, I get the feeling I can do my best today.”

“C-could you please stop repeating two hundred million yen… so umm, what exactly do you do for a living?”

I asked the question to change the topic, but it wasn’t a completely irrelevant theme. I mean to say, I abruptly arrived at the possibility this person might be an art dealer.

In that case, it would be understandable that her first criterion of evaluating artwork would be its price—inevitable even. Giving a severe and proper numerical estimate would be her business. Even if the woman with a spacy vibe to her didn’t give of the air of a competent art dealer, it was plenty possible her occupation was something similar. If I consider the way she frequents (so naturally even I can’t remember from when) the art museum as part of her job, then some things do fall into place.

But that was my complete misapprehension. It does seem my tempo gets thrown off when I’m around her—my deductions never hit the mark.

“I’m a detective.”

She said slickly as she held out a business card. The card read as follows.

‘Okitegami Detective Agency Chief 掟上 Kyouko’

“Kyouko-san… is it.”

I thought it might be impolite to suddenly call a girl by her first name, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to read the ‘掟上’ kanji in her surname, so it couldn’t be helped. But seemingly without that discourtesy harming her mood, “Yes, I’m Kyouko. Okitegami Kyouko,” she named herself- thanks to her introduction, it became clear ‘掟上’ was read as ‘Okitegami’. Thank god— no, perhaps she inferred I couldn’t read it, and quite intentionally gave the reading herself.

(TL: The Okitegami in the office name and her last name are spelt differently.)

When it came to her deductions, that would be a very detective-esque deduction for her to make—wait, detectives only deduce in novels, do they? The real detective occupation mainly consists of investigations and reports—whatever the case, she’s the Chief of all things.

“So she’s a bigshot.”

I ended up putting out the comment. Judging someone by their title was an act even ruder than judging artwork by its price, but no matter how I looked at it, the stiff title of Chief didn’t suite gentle-aired woman before my eyes.

“No way, I’m not particularly high up. It’s just my personal office. To be more precise, I’m chief, accountant, manager, deskwork, and grunt work.”

She—Kyouko-san said such a humbling thing, but being her own boss at her age was quite something in and of itself. Okitegami Detective Agency- Okitegami- just from her office name, it’s hard to think she’s owner in name alone.

“In the way we protect the best interests of our clients, you could say we’re in the same industry, Oyagiri-san. So if you’re ever in need of something, feel free to put in a word.”

Kyouko-san said with a deep bow of her white-haired head. From her attitude, it was apparent she was in charge of marketing as well. Her somewhat (if I must understate) noisy financial sense was understandable if that was the case. It’s just, I’m pretty sure detectives and security guards are probably quite different occupations… tying them down just with protection seemed considerably forced.

Huh? But I’m sure I hadn’t introduced myself yet… where did she get my name? Wait, no, I’m sure she just saw the nametag clipped to the breast pocket of my uniform. Was that also the keen sight of a detective… even so, my Oyagiri last name, just like her Okitegami, was by no means easy to get right the first time.

“Then if you’ll excuse me. I do apologize for taking up your time. I’ll be looking at this two hundred million y… this painting for a little while longer, but Oyagiri-san, do feel free to return to your work.”

“… Of course. I apologize for getting in your way.”

I had completely missed my opportunity to step back, so it was honestly a huge help when Kyouko-san came out with it herself. I got the impression she was upright or rather refreshing sort of person.

I gave a bow and returned to my station. Just as she had proclaimed, after gazing at the painting a while, she eventually took her leave.

That was my first close quarters encounter with her, of course, that alone wouldn’t be enough to form a turning point in my life, and I didn’t learn anything from it—at most, the moral lesson, ‘When you try talking to someone, properly see who they are first.’

Even if I put it to memory as a single trifling mistake I made on the job, I had plenty of other similar tales of failure to tell. I’m a human far too distant from perfect, I won’t deny my numerous slipups.

But in regards to Kyouko-san, there is another episode I’d like to add to that first step. Continuing on from there, Kyouko-san continued incessantly dropping by to see that two hundred million yen but, of course, I didn’t try talking to her again.

Even if that wasn’t the case, it was only good manners to keep quiet in a museum. As before, without me leaving my post, I simply watched the back of the white-haired woman gazing at the painting. That routine- excluding the changes in her fashionable garments- showed not the slightest sense of crumbling, until the day an aberration came about.

It was a sudden change- even if I say that, it’s not like Kyouko-san underwent a flashy visual change (for example her hair turning black, or her wearing clothing I had any recollection of), it wasn’t anything like that. It was a sense of unease I got precisely because I had always watched Kyouko-san pass through the museum- To put it simply, what I thought would continue for eternity, the routine I considered empyrean at that point, without any preface, suddenly crumbled away.

Kyouko-san passed by that painting without stopping to look. The painting she would always spend an hour before, she went by with barely a glance. Her feet barely slowed to look at it.

“… Please wait a second.”

I reflexively and unintentionally called her to a stop. Unlike the last time, I had no backing from my station; it was an action that completely exceeded my authority, one I had no excuse for. But being well aware of that, I had no choice but to call out to Kyouko-san.

By the way, Kyouko-san was in blue denim that day, a vest over her white shirt. In regards to that, she’s a person who looks good in anything she wears, but every time I meet her I have to reimagine just how giant of a closet she must have at her home. But I digress.

“You’re not going to look at that painting?”

“Pardon?”

Kyouko-san gave a hysteric reply. Her expression too verbosely spoke the words ‘who are you’- it did appear she had forgotten me. When it comes to uniformed security guards, they all end up looking the same, so it’s nothing unreasonable. But taking into account the sharp eyes I experienced the other days, it wouldn’t be strange if she at least remembered my face. Contrary to her intellectual air, perhaps her memory wasn’t actually that good.

Regardless, it’s not like I spoke to her with any ulterior motives, and I really couldn’t care much less for the color of impression I left in Kyouko-san’s recognition. The problem was the shade of impression that painting left on her- why was it that the painting she always appreciated without exception, today of all days, was passed without stopping?

I was so curious I couldn’t help myself. It was the idol she had been devoted to all the while- thought you could just call it two hundred million yen at this point- but without treading on a single step down, was it really possible for her to abruptly lose interest?

“I did see it… so what?”

Kyouko-san kept up her guard as she answered so. The gears weren’t meshing, or rather, what I wanted to say wasn’t getting across in the slightest. Thinking back, I get the feeling our previous conversation was also spotty at best…

“That you did… no I mean, aren’t you going to stare it like you usually do? You usually admire it for a much longer period of time. And yet.”

I’m practically sounding like a stalker, I reflected as I spoke. For me to approach as if to lecture her because her routine work collapsed, my actions were far from a security guard. It was almost as if she was a potential danger I’d marked down.

For a woman, it wouldn’t be strange for her to cower and flee, my attitude was the epitome of suspicious, and yet Kyouko-san showed no hesitation. More than that, she spoke with great intrigue.

“Hmm?”

The corners of her mouth rose. It was very much the smile of a ‘Great Detective encountering a fascinating mystery’- her gentle atmosphere inverted to an expression I might even call aggressive.

“That sounds interesting— could you give me the details?”

“E-even if you ask me the details… um, as I was saying… why did Kyouko-san who would usually take her sweet time looking at that painting suddenly ignore it today…”

When the other party had clearly forgotten that we’d talked before, it was hard to step in from my side. Therefore, I completely skipped over that part and gave just the main points. Albeit, at Kyouko-san’s bearing as if she had even forgotten she ‘usually looked at it’, I couldn’t help but feel something off-putting…

As we were talking, I started coming under the impression it was much stranger to be captivated by the same painting every time she dropped by, but it didn’t seem that was the point the person in question- Kyouko-san- was caught up on.

“Yes, yes, you might be wondering ‘why I ignored this painting today of all days’, but what’s on my mind is ‘why this painting deeply touched me to this day’ you see- we’ve talked before, have we?”

She suddenly pointed out.
When she jabbed at it, it made me feel insincere for trying to play dumb… it’s not like I have any confidence in my acting ability (More so, I have zero confidence in it), but I wonder how she saw through me.

“No, I mean, you just called me ‘Kyouko-san’ when I had yet to introduce myself.”

“Ah…”

Crap. To a cliché extent, it was from my own boneheadedness. Whatever the case, this was a problem that sprung from her own deficiency in forgetting someone she had talked to before, so I did get the feeling she stirred up trouble just to solve on her own.

“Yes, we have. At the time, you spoke heatedly about this painting, making me find it all the more bizarre…”

“Heatedly, is it. Knowing me— it wasn’t the artistic technique, but the price of this work that I spoke so heatedly over, correct?”

Knowing me, she said making it sound like someone else’s business. She did seem to have a tendency to cast away her past self as a stranger.

“U-umm.”

I found it hard to say she was right. But she had repeated the paintings price so many times that day it would feel too insincere to say she was wrong- at the end of my hesitation, meaning at the end of my failure to think up a means to play it off, “You said it was two hundred million yen,” I answered idiotically honestly.

Well, it’s not like anything would start by haggling down the price to one hundred or fifty thousand, and inflating it would be just as pointless.

“Two hundred million yen. Hmm… this piece is?”

As she said that, Kyouko-san stood before the painting. Looking at her pose and position, it was the same ‘picturesque Kyouko-san’ as always, but when it wasn’t as if anything had changed, it was as if the nuance I could feel from her had taken on a complete shift. Eyes appreciating eyes—that they were not.

As if to bluntly interfere with its contents, to outspokenly force their way into the secret privet lives of another, they were like the eyes of a detective.

Wait… that’s wrong.

She’s not like a detective, she’s a detective.

“Fufu. Indeed, this is a wonderful painting the author must have put his soul into, but two hundred million is going a bit too far… three million… no if you want me to be realistic, I’d say it’s around two million.”

She said.

I was taken aback, to think the price would fall to one one-hundredth of its original value—for an investment, that’s great enough decline to hang yourself over.

Just what could have happened?

From what I could see, it’s not as if the canvas was damaged, or the colors were stripped, no damage visible to the eye had happened to the painting. Granted, different appraisers might come out with different prices, that was within the realm of possibility, but the one who said two hundred million was none other than Kyouko-san. I couldn’t understand… I could only think it was Kyouko-san who had undergone a change.

“No, nothing’s changed with me. I can guarantee that one— tastelessly little change if I do say so myself.”

“I-I see.”

When she said that brimming with confidence, I could only accept it. Rather, it was hard to refute.

“I’d like to confirm something, Oyagiri-san.”

Kyouko-san called my name. It’s not like she remembered it, I’m sure she saw the nametag on my chest.

“Is it true this painting hasn’t changed? It’s not the tiniest bit different from when I last saw it?”

“It’s… it’s the same.”

When she emphasized it so hard, I grew anxious. I couldn’t guarantee it wasn’t the slightest bit different. It’s just, even if I looked at the painting anew, I couldn’t spot anything different—as a guard, my job was to look out for suspicious individuals, and not to appreciate the pieces themselves (more so, I’m not supposed to pay attention to the art). But that being the case, as I kept to my station, the painting naturally entered my field of view, so I’m sure I would notice any blatant changes.

In that case, not the painting, did something change in its background? If you’ll let me drop my prudence, it’s possible for a so-called work of art’s value shoots up upon the death of its painter—that’s a case where the price rises, but I’m sure there are patterns where it can plummet. For example, it came to light it was actually painted my someone else… in that case, even if the painting itself didn’t change, it would be possible for its price to change.

But if any such news flowed in, before the price’s fluctuation came into question, an uproar would happen at the museum displaying it. No doubt such a ruckus would enter even the ear of an outsider security guard. If it became public the history of a painting they’d always displayed was wrong, the display would be put on hold, it might even become a scandal on the scale of the museum taking a temporary holiday.

“Yes, I see your point. But a difference in the background is a good train of thought. Art is only art with everything around it—”

“… Though they do say a creator and his work are different matters.”

“Ahaha. If you’re looking a t it for enjoyment, it’s perfectly fine to detach them, but if you want to look at it as fine art, the partition is difficult… an art piece can sometimes be seen as the main essence of the artist.”

Though that’s irrelevant right now, said Kyouko-san.
It’s irrelevant? But she was speaking with a strange sense of confidence, so perhaps Kyouko-san already had a rough idea of why the unchanging painting’s price changed. I wrung out my courage to ask.

“Well if I had to say, I do have an idea. I don’t have any evidence, and it’s just a notion that struck me without any basis.”

Kyouko-san said after all. And parting from the space before the painting, “Well then, I’ll be taking my leave,” she gave me a bow and walked off.

“H-hey, hey wait a minute.”

“? What is it?”

“You’re not going to tell me? Why the painting you told me was two hundred million yen is two million yen today?”

“I’m sure it’s true I once said this piece was worth two hundred million yen. But today it’s two million. Then it’s clear that a change of one hundred ninety-eight million yen must have occurred… but explaining that here would be somewhat uncouth. This is a place to speak of art and not mysteries. In the first place, today is my off-day.”

If you say I must, or so Kyouko-san held out her business card.
That was something that wasn’t the tiniest bit different from the last card I received, Okitegami Detective Agency Chief Okitegami Kyouko’s business card.

“Make a request. I don’t deduce for free.”

 

 


 

 

 

3

When all was said and done, in the end, the mystery of why a two hundred million yen painting suddenly faced a drop in price to two million went unsolved- or at least to me and the museum. Of course, I was curious, but I didn’t see it as the sort of overblown case or mystery to go as far as to pay money for a detective. Even if my knowledge on a detective’s market price was limited, I highly doubted it would be cheap. When she possessed such a wide array of clothing, I couldn’t think that Kyouko-san worked for a low enough value to be covered by my disposable income.

In the first place, two hundred million and two million were both no more than her personal estimates, and if I had to say, it was possible she was just making things up- it was practically she who built up the whole mystery. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it some new form of scam, but it seemed plausible that was her proactive business campaign as a detective; getting caught up in that and forced to pay a fortune didn’t sit very well with me.

There were ways to go about it, say drawing out the details on that painting from someone involved with the museum employing me, but I wouldn’t be able to avoid them reversing the question and asking why I wanted to know. Once asked, the fact I had a chat with a visitor on the job in derogation of my duties would inevitably come to light- something I’d definitely like to avoid if possible.

So when all was said and done, I held on to some hazy thoughts as I continued to work my unchanging job, with the unchanged painting in my field of vision. I spotted Kyouko-san’s figure a few times in the museum after that, but she would never rest her feet before that painting in question again.

Nor would I call out to her.

Naturally, she didn’t speak to me of her own accord either. Perhaps she had already forgotten me again. That’s why my only point of contact with her- the two business cards I had forgotten to take out of my uniform pocket- only returned to memory after the incident had occurred.

Whatever the case, I must now introduce the second of the three people who brought a turning point to my life—it would be an exaggeration to call him a gent; he was a young boy around ten.

For a child to grant me a moral lesson makes me feel like a disgrace of an adult, but he was a so-called prodigy, so it’s not particularly like it was a complex I was alone in feeling. It’s occasionally the case that someone with talent comes to despise those without it, and perhaps owing to that, the young boy took on an impertinent attitude with me from beginning to end. In that sense, I don’t hold a very good impression of him, but I have no choice but to recognize his talent.

His ‘artistic’ talent, that is.

I first came to recognize him shortly after I first spoke with Kyouko-san- after she told me the painting was worth around two hundred million, I suppose. As I recall, it was around the time the curator’s negotiated works came in, and there was a bit of a ruckus over how they were going to be exhibited. The new exhibit attracted attention, my surveillance area was even quieter than usual when the crop-cut boy appeared with his sketchbook. Of course, he was a visitor who paid the standard fee (child’s fare), so I had no complaints in that regard. A child had just as much right as an adult to enjoy the fine arts—however, what he took was a problematic action I couldn’t overlook as a security guard.

No, couldn’t understand would be more precise. But it was the sort of problem for which a single security guard tasked with a single area in the corner of the museum was supposed to make a decision on the spot. No food and drink, keep quiet in the building, don’t touch the art pieces, no photography.

Those rules were stipulated all throughout the building, and I had no hesitation to enforce them as a guard—as a guard, my eyes were shining. Especially in the present age, where the diffusion of cellphones has made photography a part of everyday life, cautioning the visitors who tried taking pictures without any ill intent could be called my main job.

But what about in that circumstance? Meaning when he took his position in front of a single picture, flipped open his sketchbook, and let the pencil in his hand begin to smoothly reproduce it—

“…?”

The child started sketching much too boldly, as if to give me the feeling, ‘that’s just what you’re supposed to do here’—sure enough, it didn’t say anywhere in the building you couldn’t draw on the premises. If it was truly a good a museum, then it wouldn’t be strange for an inspired visitor to want to take up the brush… but that was strange. In the first place, the kid has come with his sketchbook and materials in hand from the start, brimming with the intent to draw.

In the first place, it wasn’t the timeslot for an elementary schooler to stop by. I don’t remember the specific day, but it was undoubtedly midday on a weekday. I looked around to see if it was the extracurricular activity of some elementary school, but there weren’t any other kids around who looked the part. No teacher taking command either.

That being the case, disciplining a child wasn’t part of my job—if he wanted to come to a museum instead of going to school, I could feel some extraordinary circumstance after all—now then, what was I to do? Painting a picture to duplicate it did somewhat seem like a blind spot of the photography ban, but thinking over it with a level head, it wasn’t something I should shut my eyes to.

Even so, it was the work of a child, it’s not like I didn’t consider overlooking it with warm eyes- at the time, neither Kyouko-san nor any other guests were around, it wasn’t as if he was causing any trouble to anyone, and more than that, seeing a child do his best to draw was in itself a pleasant scene. Hesitating whether I should look to my superior or employer for a decision, I decided to start by approaching him only for my smile to freeze.

That ‘copy’ laid out in his sketchbook was, how should I put it, a piece that made the word ‘copy’ sound forced… if I wanted to search my vocabulary for an appropriate word, ‘reproduction’ was more accurate. No, it was difficult to even call a reproduction. I mean the painting on the wall was done in paint, and even if it wasn’t clear what was being depicted, there was no doubt it was done in blues, whites and green… in contrast, the boy’s tool was a single pencil. It would be impossible to completely recreate it; but as if applying Indian ink painting, the boy used only shades of black to gray and reproduce the abstract (?) painting before his eyes… and I could say his attempt was largely successful.

This is just the opinion of an amateur, so perhaps an artist might hold my description in scorn but… it was such a precise level of reproduction I wondered if that was what would come out if a picture brimming with color was run through a monochrome copier. A copy machine is, well a machine, so it would be possible- when a human did that with their own craft, to be honest, it could be summed up in the word uncanny.

In the first place, I could sense a difference from if a copy machine scanned a single painting. This wasn’t a matter of my own sensibility, no matter how dense one might be, they would notice. I learned it for the first time guarding a museum, but paintings are never perfectly level. By slathering paint on a canvas, a rough surface will inevitably be formed; multiple layers alone will protrude certain parts, and if you went from dark to light, the flow was such from high to low—the strength of the brush stroke also made a difference.

A strong stroke and a light touch of the canvas would change the image and damage granted to the surface—both of which would change over the passage of tears. If you want a simple metaphor, an artist taking up a brush was engaging in a single genre of sculpting. You could say that was the large difference from producing digital graphics. It was in that sense as well that they were impossible to reproduce; that’s why no matter how advanced photographic technology becomes, humans will still bring their feet to a museum to see the real articles. A sense of reality that can’t be conveyed by a printing or monitor—or perhaps a sense of texture one can sense without touching exists.

With all that said, there it was on the boy’s sketchbook—I won’t tell you not to be surprised, rather please share in it with me. The young boy had reproduced that unevenness, brushstrokes included, with a single pencil.

That’s why, monochrome or not, in paint or in pencil… regardless of whether there was any difference in the finished product, it made me feel like I was seeing a complete reproduction. A tender young child who didn’t quite understand the rules of the museum, wanting to join the ranks of the artists, got in the mood to copy a painting—it has far exceeded that level.

Just what was he doing, that child?

In a sense, it was an act far more exorbitant than taking a picture—as if not just the image itself, he was stripping away its deepest contents. As a security guard charged with the area, or at least to me, it was difficult to overlook it—I mean, not so long ago, I had already heard from Kyouko-san that the painting was two hundred million yen. It was as if I was present at the scene of a two hundred million yen masterwork being snatched away: a heist so bold Arsene Lupin might direct it himself.

“Hey, kid, what are you doing?”

Perhaps I was too into it, as the voice came out deeper than expected—raising a cry of “Whoah!” the young boy dropped his sketchbook. He didn’t unhand his pencil, which may be because the way he held it was just wrong. Like an infant, his pencil was held up in a clenched fist; no, if he was able to produce such a work at such a speed with that grip, then labeling it as wrong was a decision entrenched in my own educational prejudice. If this child were to assert it was more proper to hold it like a sword, I doubt I would be able to refute it—and as things stood, it was because he held it like that, that it didn’t fall from his hand.

“W-what is it… wait? How long have you been there, old-timer?”

In his immersion, it seems he had completely failed to notice my existence as I approached. That high pre-pubescent voice and sharp manner confirmed to me he was as much a child as his appearances suggested.

I wasn’t yet at the right age to be called old, surely, but when I was around his age, perhaps I thought of anyone beyond twenty like that as well.

“Don’t talk to me so suddenly. You surprised me.”

“Oh yeah… sorry for that.”

I said as I retrieved the sketchbook the boy had dropped on the ground. This was yet another scene I had no experience in, and I had no idea how to interact with a child. The museum wasn’t the sort of place adults brought their children to; it was definitely not the sort of place children came to alone.

Therefore, while I was in a position where I needed to caution him, I reflexively ended up apologizing, but that did offer me slight relief. At his attitude fitting of a child his age, I was hit by the reality I wasn’t dealing with some form of apparition. It was only the next moment I would realize how hollowful that reality was—I can’t guarantee hollowful is a real word or not, but whatever the case, I took the opportunity to open up the sketchbook in my hands and take a glance over its contents.

I only looked like going through a flipbook, so it’s not as if I got a proper look at every page, but, but still, with that alone my chest was instantaneously, instinctively slammed with dread—with intuition rather than logic, I got to know of the young boy’s hard-to-describe artistic prowess.

Not just the picture he had just drawn, the numerous pencil sketches he had done to this point were more than enough to overwhelm the looker—I doubt all of them were copies but I got the feeling perhaps I wouldn’t get this much of an impact even if I looked at the real pieces he was mimicking. I felt an off-mark relief that his sketchbook didn’t bend when it hit the ground.

Returning the book, I looked over the boy. A shaved head, sun-tanned skin laid bare by his T-shirt and shorts, his knees were lightly skinned while his feet were in sandals. Looking at that alone, he looked like a healthy base-ball playing boy you’d find racing across the field—at the very least, his appearance didn’t give off an artist’s impression, and he didn’t have the nuance of a child prodigy you’d see on TV. Or could it be if you took away broadcast production value, those child prodigies were surprisingly something like this?

For such vague features as talent or nature, come to think of it, they would be stranger if they actually came out in one’s appearance…

“Something up, old timer? I’m a bit busy here.”

He calmly said to me. Forget shying back, his attitude could practically be called abusive. Well, it was a hefty demand to ask an elementary schooler (?) to speak politely… after all. For a boy who could draw such pictures, the main problem was how I was supposed to make him respect me in the first place.

“You’re causing trouble, drawing here. Could you put away your sketchbook and pencil?”

“Really? Where does it say I can’t?”

The boy sounded displeased. I never expected him to accept it and stand down so easily- it never is that simple- and things were proceeding as iffy as I thought.

“It’s not written, but you’ll bother the other guest so—”

“Other guests?”

The young boy looked around—as luck would have it, it was around noon on a weekday, and at present, there wasn’t another guest in sight. I wonder what he would have said if Kyouko-san was around.

“Then if someone else comes I’ll stop. That sound alright?”

Said he as he let the lead of his pencil dash across his sketchbook anew— I’d be troubled if I let the conversation end just like that. If I stood down just because I was dealing with a child, or perhaps a genius, I couldn’t call myself a security guard.

“It’s not much different from taking down notes on what you feel when looking at a painting, right? Is that also banned?”

“Yeah…”

When he put it that was, I couldn’t find the words to speak back.

Of course, if he went on to set up an easel, spread out a canvas, and take paintbrush and paint in hand, I would be able to restrict him by the reigns of common sense… with eccentricity on that level, whether it be clearly stipulated or not, it would be reasonably understandable.

But all he was using was a pencil and moderately sized portable sketchbook… if I started restricting that, then how much would I have to restrict? So if I witnessed a scene of any other kid- even adult- before a painting smoothly copying it out (I don’t have such experience, this is purely hypothetical), I’m sure I would have hesitated before ignoring it, or taken it as an event beyond my authority and consulted a superior.

The reason I moved on my own discretion was simply because his skills were prominent to an uncanny extent—he was too skillful for me to turn a blind eye. But how was I supposed to explain that? You’re too good at drawing, so you can’t draw here?

No, that was the exact train of logic I was following, but I also thought it was too unreasonable of a force to place on a child; not much different from asking the fast running kid to match pace with everyone else. You can’t just make the fastest kid lower himself to the standards of the curriculum.

Let’s see, for example, in a bookstore, you know it’s wrong to copy out the contents of a book on sale, right? It’s the same as that… no it’s not. A museum and shop are institutions with different natures—if I had to say, the proper comparison would be a library. In a library, it was actually recommended to copy out some of the text… which means in the end, I was in a situation where all I could say was ‘it’s just wrong’. At a loss, eventually,

“Anyways, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in school?”

I was forced into approaching from a different angle; the logical route of, quit drawing in a place like this and properly get yourself to school. Well, I had a vague understanding there was some circumstance to it, but even if that wasn’t the case I had a hard time believing a kid like this could fit into a normal school—

“I don’t have to go. You know the thing with compulsory education? The parents have a legal obligation to send their children to school; the children aren’t obligated to go.”

That was definitely how the law worked, but it was a childish argument. If that sophistry actually passed, I get the feeling we wouldn’t have so much trouble.

“Then where are those parents? Somewhere around? Did you come here together?”

“You’ve got eyes, don’cha? Keep it down.”

Even as he said that, the boy raced his pencil… the sketchbook was dyed a deep black as the two hundred million yen painting was reaching its completion. AS long as I had no means to stop it, I could only watch over the trace’s completion. It’s not like I could use force against a child. I mean, he wasn’t even half my size, so if I wanted to take away his pencil, it would be easy enough, but if such extreme protective measures developed into a problem of responsibility for the museum, that really would be putting the cart before the horse—I wouldn’t be protecting a thing.

“I can see just fine… then they’re not with you. What’s your name, kid?”

Determining it was a subject beyond my reach, I decided to get more details on the situation. The plan was to at least make a report to give to my employers. With a child of his skills, it was quite possible I just happened to be oblivious, and he was actually a famous name in the museum. In that case, this sort of questioning might be routine.

Without stopping his pencil hand, the young boy curtly responded.

“It’s Hakui Riku.”

“Hakui?”

As if disappointed by my reputation—almost as if he thought it was uncultured for someone to not know his name—he silently wrote out the kanji on the next page of his sketchbook. Hakui Riku (剝井陸).

In contrast to the brush strokes he penciled in, it was somewhat rough, crude handwriting, that took some effort to decipher, but…

“I see, so it’s Hakui-kun.”

“I said it because you asked me, but could you not call me so casually? It’s not a name I’m fond of. Neither Hakui nor Riku.”

He said in scornful routine, returning to his sketchbook’s sketch page—his actions showed he was upset I had thrown off his rhythm. But even if his movements were flustered as he put pencil to paper, his pencil mastery remained as precise as ever—as if he had two chains of command in his head.

If he didn’t like the name Hakui, then what was I supposed to call him… as I mulled over how to response, Hakui-kun spoke up.

“Hey old-timer. What about you? You asked for someone’s name, so you’ve got to give your own.”

He said.

I highly doubted Hakui was interested in my name, but, well, perhaps it was some revenge for getting in the way of his art… unlike Kyouko-san, it didn’t look like he had the sharp eyes to identify my name from my nametag. While artist and detective are two completely different occupations, wouldn’t he need an appraiser’s eye… no, barely knew anything about Hakui, so there was no helping it.

“My name is Oyagiri. Oyagiri Mamoru.”

“Oyagiri? What sort of name is that?”

“Exactly as it sounds. To cut your parents. It’s a name I like quite a bit.”

“You like cutting down parents… ah, no, so you write it as kindness? Hmm.”

(TL: The kanji for kindness is 親切, the first kanji being parent, the second being to cut. This does not have anything to do with cutting parents, it is because the kanji for parent has the meaning of intimate (親しい), and cut is used in a strange phrase that translates to ‘close enough to cut you’ (刃物をじかに当てるように). Not it a bad way. So it means close and intimate. Oyagiri’s name is spelled kindness, but read as the literal interpretation of parent (oya) cut (kiri))

Upon turning, he finally noticed my nametag; he gave a nod before flipping his sketchbook again—and underneath where he wrote ‘Hakui Riku’, he wrote ‘Oyagiri’ in the bad handwriting I’d come to expect. It did appear I had succeeded in giving the boy wonder an impact with my surname… though he ignored my commonplace given name of Mamoru.

And all-too-easily as if to say our business was finished, young Hakui returned to his ‘painting’. I also didn’t have anything more to say or ask him. Returning to my station, I would simply report the order of events on my radio. I would seek orders, and wait for someone who could make a proper decision to put out a proper order. Just as with Kyouko-san, the museum was visited by all sorts—I can’t say much, but perhaps that’s how a future artist would be raised. No, from how he seemed to think it was strange I didn’t know the name Hakui Riku, perhaps not just the museum, he was already a child known to the world of art. It sounds all profound to say art has nothing to do with age, but I heard Pablo Picasso was painting from six after all…

But there I suddenly grew curious and came to a stop—I had nothing more to say or ask, but there was something I wanted to know—one thing I wanted him to tell me. Kyouko-san had such a charm and radiance to her I couldn’t bring myself to ask… meaning, just what was that painting supposed to be?

That was the question. It had a title of ‘Mother’, but when it came to what part of the painting was a ‘Mother’, or what sort of meaning was put into that abstract (?) I hadn’t the slightest idea. Maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to work, you’re just supposed to understand what you see. It’s mistaken for an amateur to attempt interpretation.

Or so I thought, but because Kyouko-san had told me it was worth two hundred million the other day, all holds were off. It just didn’t sit right with me that such an incomprehensible scribble was worth two hundred million.

At the very least, I wanted to know what was being depicted, a vague yearning was there. I might be able to find out in no time if I looked into it, but it’s not like I wanted to know what an index had to say. I wanted someone who properly understood to tell me. That’s why I thought to ask my employer if the opportunity presented itself, but I somewhat understood that wouldn’t be anytime soon… and there I had Hakui-kun.

Normally, it wasn’t the sort of thing to ask a child (especially when it came to talks of money and two hundred million yen), but he went as far as capturing the texture to reproduce it… with his craft of copy, perhaps Hakui-kun could understand the painting to its very depth. That’s why, “Hey, do you know why this painting is titled ‘Mother’?” I asked—not expecting a response.

“What, you don’t get it?”

For argument’s sake, I tried to phrase it vaguely to draw out information, but an adult’s tact didn’t get through to a child and he returned the question.

“Nope. Can’t make heads or tails.”

I honestly admitted. Perhaps that was the right answer as, “That so,” Hakui-kun answered unsympathetically, flipping over two pages in his sketchbook… it looks like Hakui Riku and Oyagiri were all that was going on the previous page. It felt like a bit of a waste, but I’m sure he had his fixations… And on the brand new page he revealed, with a swish he swiftly penciled something in.

“Now look. Do you get it now?”

What he showed me was something I definitely could understand at one glance. A three-dimensionally shaded circle… on the sphere was something an amateur, no anyone could see and understand as the third planet in our solar system, meaning the earth.

In just a few seconds, he had freehanded the earth without any tools or references, making me once more recognize the artistic prowess of young Hakui, but… the earth?

I lifted my face from his sketchbook and looked at the painting ‘Mother’ on the wall. So does that mean ‘Mother’ was supposed to represent ‘Mother Earth’? The paints filling the canvas to the brim were code for our planet… no, even with that knowledge, looking at it once more, I really didn’t get the impression.

“So it’s an abstract after all.”

“I don’t know what you think abstract is supposed to mean, but this is a landscape painting.”

“What? A landscape?”

“Yeah. Well not strictly speaking, but a landscape’s a landscape. At least they painted the view.”

At that scale, I don’t think it could be called landscape, but the earth itself was definitely scenery if you wanted to call it that…. But the sketch in Hakui-kun’s book aside, the painting on display didn’t really…

“Wait… this is a closeup?”

“Pretty much.”

By that time, Hakui-kun had returned to his work. I didn’t ask anymore, but once I had noticed, it became the sort of mystery where I felt ashamed I never noticed it before. Blue, white, green and brown. With various things mixed and marbled in, it was the sea, the clouds, the trees and earth… From a map of earth seen from space, a portion had been zoomed and cut out.

That’s why it wasn’t an abstract but a landscape.

No, from the artist’s point of view, I’m sure they had some deeper intent of artistic expression… purposely portraying the earth in such a way and tacking on the name ‘Mother’ was a way of thoughts I would never reach and not something I should speak so frivolously on.

But upon knowing that, looking at the painting with that knowledge, it felt far more refreshing than before as if I could finally appreciate it. While Kyouko-san who would stand before it only spoke about costs, it went without saying that what the painting depicted was self-evident to her.

Taking it to the extremes, there are some quizzes where a high-spec camera or microscope is used to take a closeup of some object before asking ‘What do you think it is’, but… I doubt the artist was able to look at the actual article, so I can see why Hakui-kun said it wasn’t strictly a landscape.

“Did the artist look at a satellite picture or something to paint it…”

“Might have just thought it up. No need to look at a picture to constrict the possibilities.”

Hakui-kun answered my murmur.

“It’s even possible that the painter was an astronaut.”

“I-is it really?”

“No way in hell. Don’t take it so seriously.”

When he was the one who brought it up, Hakui-kun angrily spat toxicity before slamming his sketchbook shut.

“Ah, sorry. Did I ruin your mood?”

My speech there was strange. In the first place, I had tried to stop his painting… when I was getting in his way from the start, there was no need for apologies. Of course, it did seem the likes of me was unable to hinder the creative urges of the boy wonder and, “I just finished drawing,” he said matter-of-factly.

Finished drawing?

I had wondered why he was so willing to tag along with my conversation around the end, but in that case, it was because he had found the leisure to… however, after only spending an hour there (oddly around the same times Kyouko-san would spend), was it possible to complete a copy?

“Wait… could you let me see it for a bit?”

“Whatever.”

As if to say he didn’t care if I saw it, but it was a real pain to open up the sketchbook he had just closed, he sluggishly opened to the pages before handing it to me.

As if hoisting it up, I lined it beside the real article. As expected of full color and monochrome, looking at it like that, there were some minute differences, and it was difficult to call a perfect copy—but, even so it held a reproduction value boasting a bizarre sense of precision.

Instead of impressed, I could only be awed by his overflowing wisdom, and if he could do so much, I could only question why he was here doing this. This is also just the arbitrary impression of an amateur, but isn’t copying supposed to be practice work for an artist? If he could already do this much, it was already time for him to move onto the next step, I held as my humble opinion. I arbitrarily looked through the other pages of the sketchbooks—the other works I had only got a quick flip through.

“Do all of these have originals?”

I tried asking.

“Yeah… originals or rather samples or… well, just call them models. I’ve been to museums all over.”

It sounded hard to explain. I also felt a frank atmosphere around him as if there was no use telling it to an amateur… sure enough, I doubted I could understand if he explained.

“You’re not going to draw your own painting? Um, I don’t mean a self-portrait…”

“I get it, I know that much. Of course, I’ll draw it someday but… My teacher told me I’m not on that level yet.”

Teacher?

No, there’s no way it’s his school teacher. I’m sure he means his art master or something like that… so even this impertinent kid is apprenticed to some predecessor. When I thought about it like that, it was a bit reassuring—but to say a young boy with such abilities wasn’t on that level yet, they must be a strict teacher.

“I think you’ve got some amazing talent.”

I found myself following through, or rather I said something almost like consolation… even if someone like me consoled him, it would only be a disgrace, but, “Well thanks for that,” or so Hakui-kun offered some slapdash gratitude—and, “Old-timer, what do you think talent is?” he continued on.

Thawasas something I had never thought of before, and if he didn’t ask me there, a question I would never think of henceforth… what is talent?

This might be an exceedingly commonplace answer, but it’s a gift from the heavens… realistically from one’s parents, or a gene from some ancestor perhaps? When it comes to me, my sturdy body is a sort of talent, and it even decided my employment. But that was an amateur’s opinion after all.

Hakui-kun spoke his ‘teacher’s opinion like gospel.

“According to teacher, having talent means you can put in a higher form of effort, it’s something like a qualification… because I’m a genius, I have to put in one hundred times more effort than everyone else. That’s why I don’t have the time to go to school.”

“…”

“Sorry for troubling you, old-timer. My effort here is over, so I’m not coming back. Lighten up a bit. If anything happens…”

As I couldn’t find the right words the say, the young boy took my hand. I thought he intended to shake it, but instead he started writing numbers on it in pencil. It was pencil on skin, so it was hard to say he wrote it properly (his handwriting was terrible for one thing), but he finished with a ten-digit number I could barely make out… no a phone number, eh.

“Just make a call to that number… well, you might be the one getting the call in the near future, mind you.”

“? … Is this your house’s number?”

“Yeah. My house, er I mean my guardian or… whatever, does it really matter?”

Apparently explanations had become a pain again and Hakui-kun cut off before snatching away the sketchbook that was still in my hands. He put away his pencil and left the space in front of the painting.

And just as he took his first step,

“… Old-timer, I don’t think we’ll meet again, so there’s something frank I want to ask you about this painting.”

He pointed at the painting on the wall as he spoke.

“Oh? Of course, go ahead… but I’m an amateur you know.”

“I want to hear an amateur’s opinion. I want a layman’s perspective, your simple thoughts… we talked about astronauts, right?”

“Yes, we did… but that was a joke, right?”

“Yeah, there’s no way this painter was an astronaut… but was it Gagarin? The one who said the earth was blue?”

“Let’s see… I think so. What about it?”

“I just think that quote is a good example, see apart from Gagarin, all sorts of astronauts have looked at the earth and they all say it, they go on and on about how it’s a beautiful planet. What do you think about that, old-timer?”

“What do I think… well, I’m sure that’s just how it’s got to be. I don’t think they were lying when they said it.”

I’m no astronaut, and I can’t say if it’s even remotely the same, but when I look at satellite images, I do get a similar impression. If the time comes when everyone can go to space, and everyone can see the whole earth as the astronauts of yore… once they learn the beauty of the earth, then environmental pollution and destruction might screech to a halt, or so the theory goes. I think there’s some sense to it.

But with a “Hmm,” Hakui-kun ignored my response that could only be called commonplace before unveiling his own view that ran in full opposition.

“I, you see… the first time I saw a satellite photo of the earth, my first impression was how filthy it was.”

“Fil… filthy?”

“Right. Filthy.”

He spat out the word.

“Speckled with all sorts of colors getting all jumbled up like mud, just how dirty can it be— why do all the astronauts call it beautiful, let alone blue? Why do they praise it like that, I don’t get it at all… if it were me, then the moment I see it, I’m sure I’ll throw up. The moment I first saw that, young me firmly decided he would never become an astronaut.”

“…”

A child was intentionally saying something edgy to tease an adult… his cynical tone was too close to sincere for me to interpret it that way. It’s not like he was hooked on the sense that his values ran contrary to the rest of the world… this child really couldn’t understand what the astronauts were saying. Just as I could barely understand what he was saying.

“That sensation is also the origin of my art style… I’m not doing everything in black pencil because it’s a rough sketch, I find colors disgusting. Go for monochrome over color… come to think of it, I think Gogh-san said the way we view scenery differs from person to person? I think I’m like that. In which case, that’s also a talent, I guess.”

If it’s about the various theories on Van Gogh’s sense of vision, he’s famous enough that even an outside like me’s heard them… more importantly, I was sure the young boy who added -san to Gogh was using a single pencil because it was just barely within the bounds of what was (maybe) permitted in the museum, but it seems he had a fundamental repugnance for color.

“There’s no way of telling if the landscape someone else sees matches up with what’s in your eyes—paintings c’n be copied over however many times you want, but you can’t share their field of vision. I think about it regularly, but you can sympathize with the astronauts so easily. What I’d give for that.”

I wonder how much effort a genius has to put in to catch up to the common man… saying only his last line in jest, the young artist left the museum.

Posted in Okitegami Kyouko | Tagged | 9 Comments

There is an Angel in that Church

By Pepe

http://ncode.syosetu.com/n2319ee/

 

The king’s fortress city was built on the upper stream of a great river; through that river, various people of various ethnicities would make their way through, and it was the sort of wealthy city that served as a microcosm of the country’s prosperity.
As trade flourished, the words of the people who passed through, the accents unaccustomed to the ear mingled their way into the local tongue, and while it was a city that supported many a man, its faith was largely unified under a henotheism that embraced a single chief god in heaven. From large to small, countless churches- places for people to pray and gather- dotted the city.
A single church among them- hidden away near the barracks- was long subject to a certain rumor.

The people would whisper, ‘There is an angel in that church’.

 

 

 

 

It was by pure coincidence that Leilia wandered into that church: after going to check up on her older brother’s health at the knight barracks, she spotted an old church from her carriage window.
For some reason growing curious about the church, she had her coachman hold and disembarked.
The interior of the church she slipped into through the heavy doors, while old, it was kept thoroughly clean, with no human presence to speak of. The well-used pews stood in file, directed towards the statue of the chief god which was bathed in the sunlight streaming down through the stained glass skylight.
Leilia felt a miraculous guidance at work, falling to her knees to offer a prayer.

For her brother to spend every day without trouble.
For her former maid Giselle to birth a healthy child.
… For her to be able to exchange just one word with that person.

She was praying in her heart, she knew no one would hear even if they were present; but growing somewhat embarrassed, the young girl quickly rose to her feet.
Looking over the room anew, she noticed a small room near the organ for the hymns.
That small room made of black-stained wood was furnished with two small doors, its inside divided with a parquet partition. It was a narrow space that would feel cramped for even a single grown man.

The confessional.
A place for the faithful to confess the sins they could no longer shoulder alone to a cleric.
The cleric would hear them out, and in accordance with their teachings would grant forgiveness.
Her interest piqued, Leilia placed a hand on one of the doors, but it wouldn’t even twitch.
As a test, she tried moving the other door, and that one opened.
In a secret space in a hidden church she had spotted by chance, she felt the sort of elation as if she had discovered a secret base. Once the door was shut, the inside felt even narrower, and large-built for a woman, Leilia felt a sort of pressure on herself; but after basking in the security of being alone, she eventually indulged in some meditation.

Her three-year older brother was currently in the barracks, working as a squire to become a knight. As the oldest son of a young baron house, he would someday have to succeed the territory in the countryside, but in order to build some connections with the center, he had entered the barracks many noble youths commuted to.
While generous to a fault, he was a quick-witted brother who cared for his family. Leilia couldn’t help but wait in anticipation for their meetings every half month.
Her enjoyment only rose after she caught a glimpse of that man her brother introduced as his friend. Unlike her sociable brother, the man- Lutes’ expression never crumbled and he barely ever opened his mouth.
Even when her brother teased, this guy’s a real stick in the mud, he just made a bit of a troubled face, the wrinkle on his brow loosening a little.
With finely chiseled features, he was somewhat taller than her already tall brother, and he had an air to him that made it hard for a young girl unaccustomed to men such as Leilia to approach.

They never exchanged words.
Their eyes only met a few times at most.
They had only ever met the single time her brother had coincidentally dragged him to their meeting.
And yet from the day she first met him, Leilia couldn’t get him out of her mind.

What would she have to do to talk to him?
Like when he was talking with my brother, I want him to show me a bit of a softer expression as well.

As she had never fallen into any love-like love, she was unable to fall under a self-harming lovesickness like the protagonists of the novels she read. It was simply a faint feeling close to admiration.

And as she immersed herself in a deep pensiveness akin to slowly rolling a sweet hard candy around her mouth, the sound of the door opening suddenly resounded. Following on with a thud, came the sound of someone sitting across the confessional’s divide.
An invader suddenly appearing in her alone space, the young girl raised a small shriek.

“…! My apologies. I thought the priest was in, didn’t expect a sister.”

The refreshing voice of a young man came back.
From how his body hit against the walls here and there as he searched for a comfortable place to sit, he did seem to be a man of good physique.
At that moment, for the first time, Leilia realized her side was the seat where the cleric would hear out a confession.

“Um, my apologies, I’m…”

Not a sister, she tried to continue only for the man’s voice to overlap with hers.

“It’s a story I’m somewhat hesitant for a sister to hear, but if I turn back now, I don’t think I’ll ever have the courage to consult again. Sorry, but I want you to hear out my confession.”

At the man’s cornered tone, the young girl sensed a large anguish and naturally replied.

“Umm, what might be troubling you?”

It’s been said talking to others can lighten the heart.
What could he have gone as far as entering the church’s confessional to talk about?
while she might not be enough for the role, she couldn’t say the words that would forsake the man who made his resolve to appear.

“It’s about my good friend’s sister.”
“Not your good friend, but his sister?”
“Yeah, I’m being looked after as an apprentice in the knight barracks nearby, the name’s… I’m not supposed to bring up a specific name in here, am I? Anyways, my friend’s a good guy, and one of the few people who’ll speak frankly to a stick in the mud like me. And yet after all he’d done for me, I can’t get his sister out of my mind.”
“By out of your mind, how are you thinking about her?”
“She just catches my eye. She’s younger than me, but she’s a kind, diligent woman who thinks of her brother. Also, she’s crazy cute.”
“I-I see…”

At those wanton words suddenly thrown in, Leilia’s response grew half-baked.

Cute, cute eh?
It’s a word I never hear.

Her youth aside, for Leilia who was larger built than the normal girl, the phrase was never directed at her even as flattery.
There was no doubt he was talking about a cheerful cute little bundle of sunshine.

“Lately, whenever my friend invites me out, I end up growing anxious over the possibility he called me to see his sister. If I can just steal a few glances at her, she’s all I think about that night… I can’t consult my friend about this.”
“I swear I’ll never disclose anything I hear here. Please don’t hesitate to speak your mind.”

Leilia’s eyes were frozen on the lines she could see through the wooden mosaics of the divider.

Could this possibly be a love consultation!?
Oh my, I’ve never really been in a relationship before, but will I be able to give any good advice?
But as a fellow human with one-sided feelings, I want to say something that will cheer him up.

Having never heard anyone else- let alone a man- speak of love, Leilia impetuously urged the man for his next words.

 

“Could it be your feelings are, um–”

“Yeah, it’s lust.”

 

 

 

“… Pardon?”

The man answered in a painfully serious voice.

“If that’s not it, there’s no explanation. If I only know her face and we’ve never even spoken, then I wouldn’t usually ponder over how she’d react if I plunged my hand into her chest.”
“You’re going to do what… with your hand?”

Leilia got the feeling she had just heard some words from the faceless man unworthy of a divine place of worship.
She got the feeling she heard something quite indecent in a splendid voice.
Where did the flow of that pure talk from before go?

“Why does a woman’s clothing boast such low defense!? It’s not like her clothes were as open as the young women I see at the evening balls, but even so, it catches my eye! Just looking at the surface, I’m filled with such an urge to jam my hand in, I don’t know what to do with myself!”
“…”

Leilia found herself confirming her own chest.
Her collar was open in a square cut, but she did not possess anything that could be called a valley.
This little sister must boast quite a plentiful ravine.

“… Sorry. That wasn’t something I should have said to a sister. But you told me to speak my mind.”
“No, are you sure you haven’t just fallen at first sight…?”
“It’s lust.”
“… Lust.”

What… seriously…? Isn’t this sorta thing supposed to be… just a bit more… love, you know? Romance or something…? Isn’t that how it works…?

Still a young girl with some dreams, the inside of her heart was in chaos.
But she got the feeling her brother once told her liking someone’s personality is different from liking their face.
The sole thing she was unable to understand about her helpful, amiable, prided brother, was how his strife with women would never die out.
That girl’s really fun to talk to, if only her boobs were a bit more… or so, he occasionally received eyes of scorn.
Perhaps that field was something only a gentleman would understand.

“I feel that way before I even consider wanting to talk to her. There’s no doubt it’s lust.”
“… Is that so. Looks like you… have it rough…”

Leilia directed a suspicious glance at the shadow beyond the wooden mosaic.
She had lost the mind to listen seriously.

“… What do you think I should do?”
“First off, I suggest that you never mention that to your friend or his sister.”
“… Sounds about right.”

As he left, the man said he would come again.
His tone of voice implied spilling everything had lightened his mood, and while she felt she had been useful to someone, her sense of fatigue was even stronger, and Leilia found herself unable to stand for a while.

 
Half a month went by, and the time came for Leilia to visit her brother once more.
As her brother headed towards the room designed to meet family alongside the platoon he was assigned to, she wholly unexpectedly caught sight of Lutes.
He was drawing his bow at the shooting range below.
Within a tension as if even the air around him had frozen over, he held his bow straight with steadfast stance.
Entranced by his profile, Leilia couldn’t help but swallow her breath as his arrow pierced into the very center.
Noticing the presence of the young girl, he looked up towards her, their eyes locked.
Suppressing her hair being played with by the wind, she smiled and gave a small curtsy, only for him to give a slight nod and make off in another direction.
Perhaps she had gotten in the way of his training and ruined his mood, she worried, but as she met and talked with her brother, she managed to calm her heart.
She dropped by the church once more on the road home; she had grown curious about what happened afterwards to the man who divulged his worries to her.
As he was affiliated with a knight brigade, he was surely taught the proper etiquette when dealing with a lady.
Even so, she worried whether or not he had been arrested in this half month.

Back then, she had been so flustered by the man’s statements, the words to remonstrate him wouldn’t come out. Thinking for his sake, there were some things she should have said. Like that’s plain out, or you’re troubling the little sister, or mother never raised you to be a man like that. Nothing but regret on her mind, she unconsciously slipped into the confessional. Once the door shut, a voice called from the other side.

“Been half a month.”
“Eek!?”

The voice of the very same man occupying her mind caused her to let out a shriek.
Across the partition, there was a familiar silhouette.

“Aren’t you a sister in service to this place? I dropped by a while ago, but no one was here. Same story today.”
“I-I come here for service once every half month.”

With the guilt of lie overlapping with lie, the young girl’s pitch shot up.
Perhaps satisfied, I see, then I’m glad I could meet you today, the man grumbled.

“More importantly, they haven’t taken you in yet…! Thank the lord…!”
“Oy, wait a second. Why am I getting taken in?”

As she let out a sigh of heartfelt relief, an angry voice returned from the other side.

“Good grief, you really worried me when you said something like that. It was scary. Even when you weren’t talking about me, I couldn’t help but wear clothes with tight collars.”

Leilia touched the base of her neck.
It was early summer, yet she wore a tight-collared dress with a scarf on top.
She kept prim and vigilant.

“What you say and what you do are different things! I’m going to be a knight, you know! No way I’d actually do it!!”
“There are some things that are plain out the moment they leave your mouth!”
“That level’s normal in the knight brigade! It’s even charming I tell you! Among the senior knights, there are even bastards who make bets over how many days it’ll take to nab the village girls they’ve got their sights on!!”
“I can’t believe it! That’s terrible! You’re the worst!!”
“I’ve got nothing to do with it! In the first place, even women arbitrarily look at this and that to appraise us, don’t they?”
“W-well… that’s right.”

Silence descended.
Both sides noticed they had grown too heated, for a while their mouths wouldn’t open.
Getting a grip on herself, Leilia corrected her posture in the narrow room.

“But I’m happy we were able to meet again. You’ve been weighing on my mind this past month.”
“Yeah, likewise. This past month, I’ve been anguished with no one to open up to.”
“You won’t try consulting with any of your knight friends besides the big brother?”
“If I tell them, it’ll go straight to that guy’s ears… and when I tried bringing it up once without mentioning any names, not only did they tease me to death over how I finally grew some interest in women, they used teaching me how to woo women as an excuse to brag the hell of it about all the women they’d ever nabbed.”
“… I’m seeing the knights in a whole new light.”

What sort of improper things were they talking about?
I might not be able to look at the good knights of romance novels the same way again.
But come to think of it, I get the feeling the close tea parties between women are well saturated with those sorts of tales.
Like how the viscount of such and such has the authority, but he’s weak at knight… or so, and how so and so’s fiancé looks so satisfied if she pretends to be entranced after just a kiss, and how he really is easy or so.

Leilia reflected on the talks at the tea parties her aunt had brought her to, growing embarrassed with each passing thought. When those talks came up, unfortunately, a young girl with no such experience could only play it off with a forced smile.

“Umm, so were you able to meet little sister again in this past half month?”
“I met her, or rather, spotted her. How should I put it, it was kinda like that. She’s nice with her hair down too.”
“I-I see…”
“When I see it so fluffily fluttering in the wind, I get the urge to touch it. I want to ruffle it up and take in the scent.”
“… Sir, just because you’ve spilled everything to me once, have you perhaps come under the impression it doesn’t matter what you say at this point?”

In Leilia’s head, the ‘little sister’ was a small-built lovable woman of abundant chest.
Additionally half in tears from having her hair ruffled up.

“I haven’t actually done something, just to let you know. And she smiled and waved at me. We haven’t looked at each other so intensely since the time my friend introduced us.”
“That’s good! To exchange a glance like that sounds wonderful!”

Even if one side was thinking indecent thoughts, it was still a heart fluttering development.
Right, right, that’s the sort of thing I want to hear! The young girl replied in kind.

“But I felt guilty and ran away.”
“What are you doing!?”
“I don’t know what face I’m supposed to make. In the first place, a woman’s demands are complex. In the past, a woman who approached me said it was wonderful how straight-laced I was! Or something, but in the end, she told me she hated how much of a stiff I was. It’s not like I was even seducing her, but it felt like I was dumped.”
“My condolences…”

He was undoubtedly dumped, but as befitting a noble lady, Leilia shut her mouth.
He gave off an unaccommodating air, or perhaps a presence as if a joke would just be brushed off.
At that time, a certain thought struck the young girl’s mind.

“So, why don’t you try calling out to this little sister yourself and trying to get along?”
“When it’s lust?”
“J-just leave the lust aside! When you boil it down, you like her face, or you like her air or something, and that means you have a good first impression. Then if you try talking, there’s a possibility you might get to like her more! I think it’s perfectly fine if there’s a love that starts from first sight. And if you’ve got chemistry going on top of that, then you couldn’t ask for more!”

Right! That’s how it should be!
As Leilia spoke with such momentum, the man somewhat pulled back.

“… I don’t want her to tell me she hates how I’m a stiff.”
“Look at that! The fact you don’t want her to think ill of you means you already have feelings for her! How about you try challenging it bit by bit!”
“I-I see.”

Leilia made a clamor all on her own.
overcoming the hesitant man, she handed down the task of talking with the little sister by the next time he came to the church.
And with a promise in place to report the result after half a month, she left the confessional filled with elation.

 

 

 

 

 

Talking with her brother was always interesting.
From the weather to the events that happened around him, he could make everything sound funny and strange.
As a countryside noble with no acquaintances in the city, he must have his share of hardships, but he would never tell Leilia anything painful.
No matter how vehement his womanizing tendencies, the reason they never made for bad rumor was because people would end up forgiving his playful personality.
Leilia loved the creases that showed up by the corners of his eyes when he laughed.
Her brother who had grown into a fearless young man still looked somewhat childish.
Every half month she met him, he would appear as cheerful as ever, calming her heart.

“Leilia, how have you been lately? Has anything strange happened?”
“Let’s see. I gave advice to a friend the other day.”
“Hmm, what sort of person?”

On her brother’s question, she rested her hand stitching the fray in his shirt and looked into the distance.

“… A really strange person. But because of them, I’ve become quite wise in the ways of the world. I learned that a man is imbued with an urge to jam their hand in when witnessing clothing with an open collar… among other things.”

“Wait, Leilia wait. What’s that supposed to mean? What sort of advice? Your brother hasn’t heard anything about this.”
“It’s just as you told me. A man’s preferred personality and face varies from person to person after all. He’s got someone on his mind, but he says it’s not love but lust.”
“Whooooah! Who the hell!? What do you think you’re teaching my sister!!?”
“But the love stories you usually tell me are generally terrible.”
“I never said anything that direct! Who are they and what do they think they’re doing with my sister!?”

Pounding into the wooden table, the big brother cried out.
There were tables and chairs placed here and there around the vast meeting room, and apart from them, there were other families and brigade members who had come for a visit.
Even when Leilia told her brother to stifle his voice, he gave a childish response of I’m not quieting down unless you tell me who this friend is.
The moment when all the attention became embarrassing, the nape of his bent-down neck was grabbed.

“… Don’t make a ruckus in the meeting room.”
“Lutes!”
“Sir Lutes!”

At the appearance of her brother’s best friend, Leilia corrected her posture, while her brother pretended to cry as he latched onto him.

“Hear me out, Lutes! There’s a man filling my sister’s head with strange things! But she said it would be a pain if big brother got involved and won’t tell me who it is! I’m not going to do anything strange, just catch him, cut him in three and grill him!”
“Big brother! Cut it out!!”
“… A man.”

At her brother’s manner of speech that might give Lutes a strange misunderstanding, the young girl panicked.
No matter how she peered into Lutes’ face, she couldn’t read anything from his stiff expression.

“… Even if you are her brother, you shouldn’t stick your mouth into your little sister’s relationships. Especially not when she’s at an age where she knows how to judge.”

The young girl perked up at Lutes’ unexpected cover fire.
She wanted him to tell her despondent, sulking brother he was being overprotective.

“But you should understand that your brother is worried. I don’t recommend associating with a man whose name you can’t even say.”
“Lutes! That’s my man!!”

The brother wrapped a hand around Lutes and stuck out his chest.
This time, it was Leilia’s turn for despondency.
Stuck between the abundant expressions of two siblings, the iron-faced man made a somewhat troubled expression.

“Hey, Leilia, give up on a man like that. He’s a man who teaches you all sorts of crazy things. Your brother can’t forgive him.”
“I’m telling you, he’s just a friend. We just happened to sit next to one another in a certain place, and we didn’t even exchange names. I don’t think I’ll be encountering him again.”

It was a lie to evade her brother’s pursuit.
She planned to meet the man afterwards.
Though she didn’t know his face or name.

“You’re worrying me… right, instead of that man, how about this guy! You can’t do much better than Lutes!”

Aware that Leilia held admiration for Lutes, the brother said something outrageous to get back at her.
As the hand around his shoulder pulled him close and the other hand pointed him out, the wrinkles on Lutes’ brow multiplied.

“Brother! You’re troubling him, please stop it!!”
“He’s a real stick in the mud, but he’s a good guy. He’s got pluck I say: his heart won’t fold no matter the numerical inferiority. He doesn’t gamble, while ale doesn’t get to him, he’ll tag along for drinks, and he doesn’t play with women at all…”
“Oy, stop it.”

The young girl’s face was bright red, her eyes were growing teary.
While he pretended to try pitching Lutes to Leilia, his real intent was to make Lutes conscious of his sister, that brother of hers.
As his sister, she could tell.
But she was so embarrassed she wanted to bury her head in the sand.
Getting in over his head, her brother started grinding his fist against Lutes’ skill, only for his arm to be grabbed and put into a joint lock.

“I’m sorry for my brother… he’s always troubling you, isn’t he.”
“No, your brother is always helping me out. You shouldn’t worry about it.”

When he was supposed to be the same age as her brother, what a reliable person.
Leilia felt her feelings towards Lutes deepen even further as she leaked a miserable sigh.

 

 

 

 

By her third visit, she was already quite used to it.
It did seem Leilia was the first to arrive that day, and as always, there wasn’t a soul to be found in that church.
Unable to stand just borrowing the place every time, she used the cleaning supplies she brought along to lightly clean off the pews.
When she reached a good stopping point, the door let off a sound, so the young girl hastily fled into the confessional. Eventually, a familiar shadow settled into the seat beyond the divide.

“It’s been a while.”
“… Yeah.”

The man’s voice was heavy, perhaps he had been unable to complete the task. Leilia could tell the result was unfavorable.

“What happened? Were you able to talk with the little sister?”
“We talked.”
“My word!”
“Seems she has a man.”
“Pardon?”
“I heard it straight from her mouth. It sounds like they’re close enough to discuss some extremely private matters.”
“… Is that so.”

Then he surely must be heartbroken.
As if it were about herself, Leilia could feel a tightening on her own heart. She had never seen his face, they had only conversed across the divide, but before she had noticed it, it seemed as if his present state had overlapped with her own.
With Leilia unable to think of any clever consolation, a heavy silence descended. If they parted like this, they might never see one another again, and fearing that, the girl resolved to open her mouth.

“Please tell me about something else.”
“Something else?”
“It’s not like you’re constantly thinking indecent things all throughout the day, right? I’m sure you have some daily worries or complaints. I want to hear about you.”
“… Just because I confessed everything when we first met, have you been talking to me imagining I’m constantly thinking indecent things…”
“Oh no, that’s not, you see, don’t mind it. Hey, you have some, don’t you? Some other things to talk about?”

While she gave a response similar to laughing it off, the man regained himself and began to speak.

“Let’s see… a certain senior knight’s being overbearing and a right bother. With the nature of the brigade, it’s only natural for there to be a pecking order, but he pushes unreasonable training on his juniors half for the fun of it. Saying it was practice for night watch, he had us stay up three nights, then sent us mountain climbing in full armor. At the time, too many collapsed along the way.”
“That’s terrible… your instructor doesn’t stop him?”
“He’s got a way with words, that guy. He managed to convince the instructors his stupid juniors stayed up gambling even when they knew it would be a hindrance to training. Because of that, we got even more training tacked on as a penalty.”
“Your knight brigade is…”
“But it wasn’t all bad things. My friend’s good at getting people together, and he encouraged our weakened lot as we all descended the mountain together. Ever since then, our team’s unity has solidified, and they’re calling us a proficient generation with few dropouts to speak of. A few of them are ever stronger than their senior nights.”

From the tone of his words, it was clear the man spoke his heart about his best friend.
The young girl found their friendship, and a man who could honestly praise his friend to be quite appealing. Though she had to wonder about this pecking order of an all-male barrack,

“How did you get to know your friend?”
“… It’s nothing special. When I first started out, I got into a scuffle with an older knight and came out on top. After that, the knight gave a strict order not to get involved with me, and I was shut out from my circle of peers. The one who spoke frankly in my troubles, and the one who helped me get back into the group was that guy.”
“He must be a good person.”
“Yeah, I’m thankful. Truly.”

Even more so why I can’t tell him I harbor these feelings for his sister, he added on.

“… Aren’t you free to think whatever you want?”
“No, but still.”
“It’ll just be painful to force yourself to throw away your feelings. When you’re at your wits end, feel free to come and talk to me again.”
“… I think that’s the first sister-ish thing I’ve heard from you.”
“Oh, wait, that’s right! I’m a sister you know! So please come talk to me again.”

On the verge of forgetting her sister setting, Leilia frantically linked words.

“So you forgot the fact you were a sister.”

For the first time before the young girl, the man raised his voice and laughed.

 

 

 

 

 

The two never exchanged a promise to meet again.
For they had simply naturally gotten around to getting together at the church.
After talking about the incidents that happened around them, and the details of their days, they would meet again half a month later.
The man wouldn’t say anything more than that he was part of the knight brigade, the young girl never speaking beyond that she was a sister, there was a tacit understanding neither side would reveal their face.

 

 

 

“Summer’s already over. The days are getting more bearable.”
“Right. And the taste of fall is here. I can’t wait for some foil-roasted foods.”
“I thought everyone in the knight brigade would have a penchant for meats.”
“I like meat as well, but there’s a roasting stall near the barrack I steal around to for midnight snacks.”
“That sounds nice, fish, tubers, butter, and asparagus… I’ll make some next time and leave it on the pews, so please feel free to have a taste.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”

 

 

 

“My friend caused another mess with women. That part of him alone, I’ll never understand.”
“Oh my! I have someone like that in my family as well. Did he cheat or something?”
“According to the man, he thought things had naturally ended with one woman so he started seeing another, but the woman had no intentions of breaking up, it seems. For some reason, I was dragged in and dragged between him and two women to act as a mediator.”
“You must have it rough… the community appreciates your service.”
“He hammered in the point that I should never mention it to his sister.”
“It’s the same anywhere you go.”

 

 

 

“Once spring comes, I can take a challenge to become an official knight. We’re all taking it together but… I wonder.”
“You’ve all been preparing yourselves for it, right? Just do everything in your power and wait for the Lord’s decree. It’s already grown considerably cold, so take care of your body.”
“You’re right. I train so I’ll be fine, but you should look out for your health. This church frees over.”
“Fufufu, the truth is, I secretly brought in a lap blanket. You’ve no need to worry.”

By the time she noticed it, two seasons had gone by, and the time had come where she could feel winter’s true advance. The draft was terrible in the old church, a piercing cold rising up from her feet. But as the confessional was sealed and the air was stuffy, the area around her face was seething and uncomfortable.
The man hesitated a while before making an unexpected invitation.

“… Do you want to go drink something warm?”
“Pardon?”
“Well, you see. It’s cold here, and I’m sure talking around this place isn’t the best idea. I want to thank you for keeping me company every time. I don’t know any stylish shops a woman might like, but at least let me treat you to a cup of tea.”

He didn’t want her to think he was trying to sweet-talk her. The man’s hasty voice gradually rose in tone until it was impossible to make out. Even so, it seemed he didn’t intend to take back his invitation as he intently awaited Leilia’s response.

“… I think it’s best we don’t see each other’s faces.”
“Why’s that?”
“I’m the one who should be asking. To this point, we’ve gotten by without looking at one another. I’ve heard quite a lot about your private life. If the time comes when you no longer need to consult, wouldn’t it be awkward for me to know your face? The way we are now, even if we meet smack dab in the middle of the street, we can stay strangers.”
“… So you want to be strangers.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. It’s just…”
“Don’t blame it on your worry for me. I’ve told plenty of pitiful tales, but I’ll never turn my back on someone I’ve trusted. It all comes down to what you want to do.”

Leilia couldn’t understand why the man hung on so ardently. They had never seen each other to that point and gotten along so well; why would he say something to destroy that?
This was a man in love with an adorable little sister, if he saw me, he might be disappointed in my appearance, she thought. She knew he wasn’t the sort of man who’s attitude would change with appearances, but even so, if he showed even the slightest hint of disappointed, she knew she would never be able to show herself before him again.

“… I am a sister. I cannot go out alone with a man.”
“Ah… you’re, right… I see.”
“B-but if it’s in this confessional, I think it’s perfectly fine that we talk. I’m here to hear out your worries, after all. And you and me, we’re friends, aren’t we?”

The man stayed silent. Leilia herself felt caught on the word friends and shut her mouth. With nothing but a single divider between them in such a small room, they seemed so distant. It was the first time she had ever grown so close to someone of the opposite sex and she had no idea what level of distance to keep.
To think she would feel so sad, not seeing his face.
The man suddenly spoke up.

“Why do you go so far to keep me company in these stupid talks of mine?”

His quiet tone resounded as if he was trying to make an appeal.

“Because I’m a sister. And…”
“And?”
“I also have someone on my mind. When I listen to you, I feel your situation overlapping with mine. I’m sure…”
“I see… so you were, like that… when I’m the one who kept coming for advice, what am I even saying…”

Leilia’s heart grated at the man’s dejection.
Did he think of her as a vulgar woman who met with a man while her heart was for another? But even so, until the day he no longer needed a sister, she wanted to maintain this peculiar relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

As for strange things, there was one more to speak of. No matter how she tried, the confessional door the man used wouldn’t open with Leilia’s strength. This was despite the fact it let off a smooth sound without being caught on anything whenever the man opened it.
Leilia had decided she would clean the church whenever she paid a visit. When wiping down the confessional, she carefully observed the hinge, but couldn’t spot anything that would obstruct it.
Without stopping her cleaning hands, Leilia’s thoughts raged on.
The person she admired- Lutes- had been distant ever since the ruckus in the meeting room. Before that, they were close enough to at least exchange greetings if they saw one another, but at this point, he would swiftly disappear after a nod. Even if her brother dragged him in to participate in his story, he would tack on some reason to bring it to a close.
With such an attitude persisting, even Leilia was put on guard, and she could barely bring herself to smile. Perhaps he had noticed her feelings and was making sure to stay uninvolved with them.
Those gloomy thoughts tormented the young girl’s chest.
If she was being avoided, she need only give chase and talk to him on her own, but when tasked before him, her nearly nonexistent courage would shrivel away.
Meeting her brother and coming to the church.
If she didn’t have those forms of enjoyment, she might have stopped coming to the city altogether.

 

 

 

The church door was suddenly, loudly struck.
Taking Leilia’s plea to not see one another into account, the man would always knock before entering the church. Once she took a seat on the priest side of the confessional, hasty footsteps violently tread onto the church floor and slipped their way into the believer’s chair.

“Good day. You’re in quite a hurry today. Did something happen?”
“My apologies. I have committed a great discourtesy to a holy site. But listen for I have found something I must quickly discuss with you and made haste.”

The man’s body collided here and there with the walls of the confessional as he spoke.

“The knight brigade will soon enter holiday, right? To be more precise, the break days of knights and squires differ, but me and my friend have been permitted to return to our territories for a month starting next month.”

Leilia was naturally aware. The holiday visited every year, and the topic came up when she went to visit her brother not too long ago. Her brother had mischievously informed her he would bring something nice back as a souvenir.

“It must’ve been a while since you were last home. That sounds like fun.”
“Quite the contrary. My stupid parents arranged for a grand remodeling of the house right in the time period their son was coming home. During the renovations, it seems my parents will be living in a villa in this city, but lately whenever we see one another, they put me to finding a fiancée, so I honestly would rather not stay with them.”
“Fiancée…”

The knight brigade mainly consisted of the second and third sons of nobility. Their statuses varied, but generally speaking, unlike an eldest son whose engagement was decided at a young age, theirs was decided after an extent of years had gone by.
Second and third sons who didn’t want to be dragged around by their parents searching for brides were in no few numbers. But it was possible this man would find a fiancée. This might be a good chance for him to finally forget about the little sister, but the words of encouragement wouldn’t come from Leilia.

“That being the case, if I return to my own residence alone, the servants will just be mindful of me. I was thinking I would just stay in the barracks, but.”

There the man cut his words.
Despite the partition, it was as if she could see him suck in and swallow his breath.

“… On my friend’s recommendation, I’ll be intruding on his house.”
“Your friend’s house…!”

Going to his friend’s house would mean he would be with the little sister his heart desired.
Shut away by the snow for a month, they would have plenty of opportunities to interact. Perhaps it was even possible for them to develop a romance.
Leilia hazily thought.

Huh? Why am I this shocked?
My heart hurts more than when he brought up a fiancée.
He’s such a good person.
If they get some leisurely time to talk, perhaps that little sister might really become his lover.

“… This is a good chance. I’m sure you’ll get along with her.”

As the young girl said that, she suddenly realized.

I like him.
Just as I think of Lutes, I think of him as well.
A man whose face, whose name I don’t know.
When I’m supposed to be playing a sister, just how shameless can I be to fall in love with two people.

“I said it before… I don’t know what face I’m supposed to make when I see her.”
“… Then don’t try to make one. Find some time to talk, and let her know about you.”
“If she learns about me, she’ll know I’m a stick in the mud with no real substance.”
“You think so? In all the times I’ve talked to you, while there were fun times, there’s never been a moment I thought of you that way.”
“…! B-but…”

When it was his chance of a lifetime, the man remained indecisive. More so, Leiia’s encouragement only increased his reluctance. Leilia gradually began to feel irritation.
If he had a chance to be happy, she wanted him to step out without hesitation and grab it. Otherwise, she felt she would keep liking him, holding the unfounded hope he might turn his way someday.

“What are you hesitating for! You can try and fail! Just give it a go! Even if you fail, you have me, don’t you!?”
“W-what do you mean by that!?”
“I mean I’ll do my best to encourage you if your heart is broken!”
“Ah, I see, what’s this… I guess that’s about right.”

On the man’s let-down voice, Leilia flew into a rage at the thought she was an insufficient partner to send him the words of encouragement.

“But if we’re alone together, I have no idea what to do!”
“Well start by doing something! What’s with you!? You do nothing at all and keep making excuse after excuse!! Are you a coward!?”

A majority of Leilia’s words were words for herself.

I haven’t done anything.
And yet, I’m regretting.
If only I called out to Sir Lutes more on my own accord.
If only I had the courage to show my face to the man before my eyes.
You coward!

“I might jam my hand into her chest!”
“Then go and jam it in!!”

Her head overheating, the brakes weren’t working on the words she blurted out.
Normally, that would be where she shouted at him to stop.

“Got it! I’m going to do it!”
“That’s the spirit!!!”

Listening to the man’s footsteps as he triumphantly departed, Leilia covered her face with both hands in exhaustion. She had sent him off. She had really sent him off to the little sister.
But someone like her, scared of revealing her own face, who did nothing but listen to his words had no right to say such a thing.
This was punishment for her heart straying to two men, now neither love would work out.
Leilia entrusted her back to the narrow confessional’s wall as she softly muttered.

“Then go and jam it in… was going too far…”

 

The last meeting before the holiday.
When Leilia dropped by the barracks, her brother told her he was coming home soon, so she didn’t have to come in the cold.
They set up plans for the break, and discussed the high society gatherings in the countryside they would need to attend. Apparently, the souvenir her brother mentioned earlier was already prepared.
When Leilia tried asking what it was, he simply gave a grin and told her she probably wouldn’t have the time to think about social gatherings this holiday.

 

She didn’t even have the chance to pass Lutes by.

 

 

Once she pushed the heavy door to enter, the young girl was greeted by the church she had completely grown accustomed to. It did seem the man was already in the confessional.
Leilia leisurely passed between the pews as she thought.

This would surely be the last one.
Half a month later, he would be at his friend’s house, spending a month with the little sister. If she wanted to convey her feelings, this was the last time. Because if things hit off with the little sister, the man would no longer drop by this church.

Even when she entered the confessional, the two maintained the silence without exchanging greetings. Perhaps because of the stupid conversation last time around, it was too hard for either to speak. Even so, Leilia resolved herself and parted her lips.

“Do you want to talk face to face?”
“Can we meet each other directly?”

Without comprehending the meaning of the other’s words, they both froze.
But leaving that aside for the time being, they opened their mouths to first clarify their request.

“I understand your worries. You must be scared to meet a man who said he would plunge his hand into someone’s chest the first time you met him. But I swear I definitely won’t do something like that.”
“You might think this is a bit late after I declined your request for tea. But there’s something I want to look you in the eye and say. Before you go to the little sister’s mansion, please meet me.”

Another moment of silence.

“You’re fine with meeting face to face?”
“I should be asking you that.”

Neither side could conceal their surprise that their opinions coincidentally overlapped.
When they desired a meeting themselves, this too-well-put-together scenario had them suddenly grow cold feet.

“B-but I’m sure you’ll be disappointed in me. I’m too tall and plain-featured, I can’t say I have an appealing body.”

She felt ashamed of herself for going on a preemptive defensive.

“I’m the same. My colleagues always tell me I have an iron face. But if it’s with you, I get the feeling just talking on a grassy plain will be enough to satisfy me.”
“… Even if that’s the case, that’s like you’re calling me a woman without charm. Which is irritating.”
“Oh, you’re irritated?”

The man gave a throaty laugh, like a cat that received a snack

“Are you alright with it?”
“?”
“You’re a sister with a man on your mind. Won’t you be troubled, meeting me?”
“… The man is my brother’s friend, and I’ve only talked with him a handful of times. From the start, it was a hope that would never bear fruit. And I want to try meeting you.”
“… Thank you.”

The young girl placed a hand on the wood mosaic that divided them.
She would have to confess. Not just her feelings, the lie she had carried for so long.
She would have to confess her sins and apologize.

“I’m sorry. The truth is, I’m not really a sister.”
“!?”
“And,”

“… I’m in love with you.”

The forceful sound of a door kicked open resounded.
The man leapt out of the confessional. Noticing that, the young girl hurriedly pushed her door open as well. Perhaps he was angry she had cheated him with a lie. It was possible he resented her for her infidelity, after she told him she held affection for another man. Leilia raised her face to apologize.

The light streaming in from the skylight filled the clear snowy air, making the church interior all the more bright.

Right before the church confessional, the two confronted one another for the first time.

The air Leilia took in to apologize stopped in the depths of her throat without being breathed out

The one who stood there.

Black haired, with a well-chiseled face. A tall stature she had to look up at, her brother’s friend, and the person Leilia admired.

Lutes, the man himself.

 

 

As if his usual iron face was a lie, Lutes stared at her blankly.
His eyes fastened firmly to Leilia, he began to turn red from the corners of his ears. The man’s voice spilled through the quiet church interior.

“… Don’t tell me I was consulting the one in question…?”

Like a swift current, the contents of all his consultations flooded into Leilia’s head. All the pieces settled into their right positions, and the jokingly plain truth revealed itself before the young girl’s eyes.

You mean the best friend’s sister he talked about was me!?

Exposed in broad daylight, this delightful, yet terrifying fact numbed Leilia’s body. For a while she gazed at him, having forgotten how to blink. The two had met as if someone had set it up and led them on.
Were these awry thoughts mere escapism?
Out of place as it was, the young girl recalled what she had heard from her brother in a corner of her mind.
There’s a rumor about the church.
They say an angel lives there.

A while passed before the paralysis subsided; Leilia adjusted her collar as she muttered.

 

 

“P-please don’t jam it in…”

Posted in misc | Tagged | 32 Comments

Intermission: So I Tried Asking my Ancestors 3

 

A day in the Jewel, the round table room.

『My wife was normal.』

So spake the Second, the man who called himself plain.

The First had ended up showing everyone his wife, his shoulders slumped after it came to life his domineering husband schtick was a lie. But in regards to the Second’s words…

『BS!』

The Third laughed along.

『Yep, that’s a lie.』

They came to the unanimous conclusion the Second’s words were a lie.

With two denying it, the heads of history Fourth onwards directed skeptical looks at the second.

『I’m not lying! She really was normal. She’s the wife I found after so long. Do you think I’d bring in someone so strange?』

A tired Fourth spoke contrary to that opinion.

『You sure you didn’t compromise because you couldn’t find anyone else?』

The Fifth gave a belittling laugh.

『That would be you, Fourth.』

The parents and children of the Walt House really didn’t get along. Well, perhaps the Second’s opinion was just. I’m sure it would be quicker to just look into it.

“Wouldn’t it be quicker to have a look?”

『…… Say what?』

When everyone had confirmed the First’s memories, it seems he was under the impression no one would be looking into his.

The First leisurely stood.

『Well said, Lyle! That’s right. From there start, there was no need for me to be the only one to have to go through this. Now that it’s come to this, we’re going to go around and have a peek at everyone’s wives.』

The ones who went pale at those words were the Sixth and Seventh.

The Sixth’s gaze swam around.

『No matter how you look at it, we really don’t have to confirm everyone…』

The Seventh was the same.

『That’s right. It’s not like I have any interesting episodes to share.』

But the First put a hand on their shoulders and grinned.

『You’re trying to run away, aren’t you? I can tell.』

Without taking no for an answer, the First chucked both of them into the Second’s door of memories.

『And we’re off!』

Leaving the Second behind, the three of them had disappeared behind. The Third shrugged his shoulders, giving him a push on the back.

『You’re not going to leave them be, are you?』

The Second shoulders dropped terribly low.

The Fourth and Fifth,

『This sounds like fun. We really must see what sort of ‘normal’ the Second is talking about.』

『I agree. Let’s go, Lyle.』

“Ah, sure.”

Once everyone had passed through the Second’s door of memories, the scene that unfolded out was a long shot from normal.

 

 

 

 

 

The gentle landscape of a farming village.

The Walt House started out as newly cultivated soil. The savage lands had been cut open for that sake, and you could say this was an era where the people were desperate to spread out the fields.

But the scenery was filled with lush greenery.

In a place where such a tranquil backdrop spread out, the two women snarled at one another.

On the farm road, they each took a stance with weapon in hand.

One was Amanda… the First’s wife. She held her glaive in her right hand, pointing at the woman with her left.

『How many times do I have to say it before you understand? You’re peddling us water, little girl!』

She had put on some years since the last time I saw her, but even so, she held her back straight and her muscular build had not changed.

She was the same heroine as ever. Just how many years had passed since the time she married the First…

The one who stood against Amanda-san was a woman holding a large metal ring.

Her deep green hair was straight and long. Her silky follicles swayed gently in the breeze.

Her drooping gentle eyes might normally give of what I might call the impression of a kind older sister… and yet, perhaps I could call it pure rage, but her expression was terrifying.

『Oh, how many times must I say it back. Your northern spices are a straight punch to the face. My husband and father in law drink my soup without a complaint.』

『You’ve got some nerve, little girl.』

As Amanda-san took a large step in, swiping horizontally with her iron lump of a glaive, the woman… 【Mynerinne】 jumped up

Purposely unhanding the metal ring in her hands, when she pointed her palm upward, the metal ring floated above it and began to spin.

The sound of its rotation tore through the air, and wait, it was letting off the sort of shrill sound you wouldn’t normally get to hear from plain rotation.

『Nosy in-law!』

Swinging her left hand, the ring maintained its rotation as it flew straight at Amanda-san.

She hit it aside with her glaive.

Sparks flew, and as Mynerinne-san landed, the villagers gathering around…

『The boss and the mistress, eh. They never get tired of it.』
『At least the house is still intact.』
『Have you ever seen those two get along?』

Holding their farming tools, the men heading to work fled to the side so as not to be caught up in the fighting. No, they were trying their best to stay out of it.

But their wives were different. Each one of them rooted for their own generation.

『Boss, don’t lose to the young’un!』
『Blow that old lady away!』

Quite the radical statements were flying around.

The repelled metal ring gouged into the road and the glaive smashed in after it.

『We won’t be able to use that road for a while.』

The one who muttered it as he headed for work was Basil, whose white hairs were starting to stand out. Rather, the First didn’t try to get involved either.

『What is this…』

I don’t know whose voice it was. But it was the representative voice of the heads of history.

When I hurriedly turned, I found the other ancestors at a loss for words. But the First and Third were all too familiar with that scene…

『Do you think this is normal? Well I sure as hell don’t.』

『In my case, I’ve been watching it from the moment I was born, so I’m used to it. At first, mom was at a disadvantage, but once her Skill manifested, it became equal. Though it seems it took a long while of trial and error after she got the Skill.』

Wait, you can’t be telling me she manifested a Skill and polished it to fight her mother-in-law?

I looked at the Second.

“Second, by normal…”

『O-of course you’d think not if this was the only thing you saw! This wasn’t an everyday occurrence you hear! Twice a week at most.』

The Second frantically explained, but two wife battles per week? Seriously? What’s more, repairing those destroyed roads looked like a job in itself.

The Second cleared his throat.

『N-now our usual lives, you see…』

Once the scenery turned a shade of gray, Amanda-san lowering her glaive and Amanda-san parrying it with her ring froze in place.

Once the two in the midst of close combat faded away, a scene inside the mansion spread out.

 

 

 

 

 

『Oh my, don’t you think this flavoring is too light?』

It was a scene at the dinner table. In what was supposed to be a happy family get-together, a tense air flowed through.

The Second held his head.

『Why is it showing this scene!? We weren’t always like that!』

Amanda-san’s statement caused Mynerinne-san’s eyebrow to twitch.

『I even made it on the thicker side this time.』

There, the Second of memory… Crassel frantically followed through for her.

『T-this much is just about right for me.』

Hearing that from Crassel, Amanda-san gave up her pursuit, but still unsatisfied with it, she turned to look at her two grandchildren.

『Dewey, Sleigh, what do you two think?』

There Basil…

『Hey, no need to drag the grandkids into–』

『Dear, pipe down.』

『… Yes ma’am.』

Even there, the domineering husband (lol) Basil was ignored, but the problem was the two boys. The Third spoke with a smile.

『The pressure back then was incredible.』

Mynerinne-san stood.

『Won’t you cut it out already?』

Amanda-san stood as well.

『Oh, you want to go at it? You want to have a go? Very well. Grab your weapon and get outside! I’ll teach you who really looks after this house!』

Upon hearing her tone, I could only think the fact she mellowed out after having a child was a lie.

As the two retrieved their weapons, Crassel frantically headed to call them back.

But it was at that moment…

『Hic.』

Sleigh burst into tears. Perhaps weak to a child’s tears, both Amanda-san and Mynerinne-san tucked away their armaments.

『… In honor of my grandchild’s face, I’ll let you off for today.』

『Well thanks for that. Sleigh, your granny was scary, wasn’t she? I’m sorry you had to see that.』

I got the feeling Mynerinne-san was riling Amanda-san even after it was over.

The Second looked upon the scene,

『Don’t tell me you were already a schemer back then?』

The Third laughed suggestively.

『And if I was? But that managed to stop the fights a number of times, so doesn’t it all work out?』

There, the Fourth touched a hand to his chin.

『Even so, great grandmother’s manner of speech… it’s similar to my mother and wife’s. The way she said the same thing twice to rile her up.』

The Sixth had noticed as well.

『My wife did that too!』

The Seventh as well.

『I’ve heard it before as well! I get the feeling Claire might have said it once or twice?』

The Fifth got it all together.

『So even a wife’s way of riling an in-law was passed down. I guess there are some truths in the world you’re better off not knowing.』


 

 

 

~Past~

Fifth Generation Head (;゜д゜): “Now that I think about it, the Walt House House has an overwhelming number of truths better left unsaid.”

Lyle ( ゜д゜): “Starting with the First’s precepts. The no-good portions really do stand out. I’m surprised we were able to become Bahnseim’s strongest like that.”

Sixth Generation Head (ヽ´ω`): “You don’t get it Lyle. Tempered in harsh soil, even the women polish themselves by battling their mother-in-laws… there’s no way we wouldn’t become the strongest.”

Lyle (;゜Д゜): “I must have it real easy, now that I don’t have to carry on the trend.”

 

 

~Present~

Lyle (´;ω;): “… Who was it? Who’s the bastard who said I wasn’t going to carry on the Walt House trend? I’m the one who inherited it most strongly, dammit!”

Novem (#゜Д゜): “By the Walt House Precepts!!”
Miranda (#゜Д゜): “Shut it fool!! Let’s take this outside!!”
Novem (*´∀`): “Oh, are you mad? You’re mad, aren’t you? Very well, I shall accompany you out for the duel you desire.”
Monica ( ゜∀゜)o彡°: “Now fight! Fight more! Leave only the chicken dickwad and his chicks behind, and disappear!”

Shannon φ(・ω・` ): “Dear diary, today was a normal day.”

Posted in Sevens | Tagged | 30 Comments

Intermission: So I Tried Asking my Ancestors 2

 

『Remember this, I was a domineering husband who didn’t give a damn for his family. 』

A pale-faced first Generation Head said as he cleared his throat. I kneeled in the round table room as I listened to such a talk.

When the flustered ancestors returned to their senses, they began giving me excuses.

“So um, your wife, or rather, my ancestor was a person who fit the Walt Family Precepts, right?”

『… That’s right.』

The Walt Family Precepts.

They were treated as the precepts for selecting a wife. As the Walt House had historically never seen a man marry in to be head, the six entries were naturally treated solely as a criterion for wives.

The women who passed them would have to be beautiful with healthy body and good intellect… however, from the reactions from the heads of history, it felt a little unnatural for them.

They looked to be exceedingly fearful.

They would usually chide me, rile others, and act without shame, but when it came to their wives, this attitude…

Something was definitely up.

“What sort of people were they? I’m curious~.”

The First’s expression curved doubtfully.

It seems the other surrounding the First were interested as well. But when it came to his son, the Second, he simply touched a hand to his chin in intrigue.

『She was definitely an amazing person. Fit the precepts spot on. I mean, on the day she married in, she dueled this idiot’s sword with her glaive and fought him to a draw.』

The First’s slumped shoulders twitched.

Perhaps recalling it, he shut his mouth and turned away.

There, the Third sounded rather amused.

『She was a kind granny to me. She was a little sullen, but she was generally kind. I heard she came from a place quite far north, and her seasonings were fundamentally thick.』

The Walt House territory was located in the southern region of Bahnseim.

The southwest, to be more specific, boasting a relatively warm climate.

In the north…

『Do you mean Cartaffs? On top of all the skirmishes we have with them, I’m sure we’ve had a number of major battles with them as well, right?』

As the Fifth spoke from memory, the Second gave a big nod.

『When she made the trek all the way down, low in status as she was, as a noble and as a knight, the first thing she sought from her husband was naturally strength. She was the sort of person who couldn’t recognize her husband unless he was strong, apparently.』

Apparently… does that mean from the Second’s eyes, the First’s wife looked different?

Well, perhaps she recognized the First because he managed a draw.

“Huh? And wait… First, you got a draw with your wife? Did you hold ba–”

『– Hell no.』

The downcast First quietly muttered.

Everyone looked at the First in surprise. This person fought seriously with a woman and ended up with a draw? But it couldn’t be that the First was weak.

I mean despite everything, he was the famed dragon killer.

He was strong… he was supposed to be.

『At the time, with the shock from my heartbreak, and my neglectful lifestyle, I had a lot going wrong in life. I really was down in the dumps… that’s why I made a ruckus over those precept things over my drink. Normally, you know, I never thought they’d actually find someone.』

The First held his head, but we were the ones who really wanted to hold ours. Because of the First, those Walt House precepts were carefully passed down.

The Fourth let his glasses catch the light, condemning the First in a low voice.

『You’re the worst. In that case, you could’ve just said those precepts were a lie and revoked them.』

The First shut his mouth.

There, the Second looked at the First’s door of memories.

『… Hey. If everyone’ interested, why don’t we have a look?』

The First suddenly stood and tried to resist.

『Can it! And wait, why are you here!』

The runaway Sixth had returned before I realized it, teaming up with the Third and Seventh to pin the First’s arms.

『Don’t sweat the small stuff. Now let’s all go have a look at the mother of the provincial Walt House.』

The Fifth looked at the Sixth with a conflicted expression and muttered.

『That guy gets up on his high horse whenever he spots someone’s weakness.』

Sixth… you’re the worst.

While the First resisted, we entered the First’s room of memories one after the next.

『Stop it right there! Don’t screw with me, dammitt!!』

While the First desperately cried out, his efforts were in vain as he was apprehended and led off to the other side.

『Don’t look. You’d better not look!!』

 

 

 

 

 

 

A scene of a tranquil farming village spread out.

The Walt House in its pioneering era. Having only just been set up as feudal nobles, it could be said the Walt House started from there.

Yet despite the peaceful scenery, both sides of the country road were lined with muscular men. While there were men who looked like barbarians, there were also those who looked to be the normal villagers who lived in the village.

And down the farm road walked a single woman.

Her long brown hair in a ponytail, a woman of splendid build walked. Behind her, two female attendants followed along, and even further back, a man carrying a heavy-looking glaive made himself scarce.

The lines of men lowered their heads all at once.

『Good work, boss!』

Their voices in unison. Those movements without a strand of disjointment.

While they looked like a coordinated group, the wounds on the men’s faces stood out.

The Second was taken aback.

『Eh? What’s this picture?』

It seemed to be a scene the Second didn’t know either, and having now stopped his resistance, the First sat where he was and hid his face.

『She fought with me on the first day, and duked it out with anyone who had complaints the next. I thought it was a laid-back village on the outskirts, but it’s got some splendid spunk! She told me. And then no one was against it… goddammit.』

After a glance at the men, the woman gave a small nod.

『You’re all spirited so early in the morning. Now get back to work already!』

The men indeed returned to their own work.

The Third looked at the threatening First’s wife… 【Amanda】, his mouth opened in surprise.

『Granny’s scary!』

The First looked at the Third and cried out.

『You guys have it easy! You only knew her after she mellowed out. When she was young, that girl was really–』

At that moment, Amanda-san arrived at a manor in the village. After taking a deep breath, she took the Glaive her follower was holding- it would be more accurate to call a lump of iron with a blade attacked- in hand, slamming the portion opposite to the point into the ground and wringing out her voice.

『How long do you plan to cry like a girl, Basil!? Get your ass out here already! If you don’t get out, I’ll destroy the door and drag you out!』

The First covered his face with both hands. He was red to his ears.

There, the First of memories… Basil unsteadily and drunkenly teetered his way out.

『Shyat it ‘ya wench! I’ve got me heart set on a splendid girl called alice-san~』

Approaching a Basil who couldn’t articulate over his drink, Amanda-san grasped his lapels and lifted the large man up.

What’s more, with one hand.

『Give it a rest already! I already finished preparing to marry in. Just shut up and make me your wife.』

『I don’t want thaaaat!!』

The  First broke into tears. It did seem he still had thoughts for Aria’s ancestor Alice-san.

The Seventh muttered.

『What a terrible sight.』

… Sure enough, the sight of a large man crying from heartbreak was definitely pitiful. What’s more, a considerable amount of time was supposed to have passed from said heartbreak.

Amanda breathed out a sigh, looking down at Basil. As he similarly sat on the spot, Basil definitely did bear resemblance to the First Generation Head after all.

Seeing Basil’s unshaven face, and his body that definitely didn’t seem in the best of health, Amanda-san shouted orders to the attendants behind her.

『Now go in the manor and clean the place up. Good grief, when I’ve searched far and wide and finally found someone who can lock blades with me, to think he’d be this girly. Get a grip on yourself! You’re going to be my husband, you know.』

Basil wept.

『I’d prefer someone more graceful and kind…』

『What was that!? I’m plenty graceful and kind. Or do you want to fight me seriously for once?』

Basil looked up at Amanda-san.

『… Damn, where did I go wrong.』

As he said that, he was lifted up again and shaken back and forth. The result: beaten down by her persistence, the First let Amanda-san into the mansion.

Looking down at her slumpen groom to be, Amanda-san declared.

『Just leave the house to me. I’ll make it so the man of the house can rampage to his heart’s content. Do anything stupid, and you won’t forget it!』

『… Yes ma’am.』

After looking at Basil, I turned my eyes to the first.

“Domineering husband.”

When I softly muttered, the First narrowed his shoulders to make himself smaller.

Looking at that heroine… Amanda-san, the ancestors had formed a circle to discuss.

『Oy, don’t tell me the reason this house’s women are so strong is…』
『Yeah, it just might be… granny’s fault.』
『The possibility exists. In the sense she formed the atmosphere of the Walt House, there’s no doubt that…』
『The wives were all normal before they married in after all. I just saw the moment a terrible custom was formed.』
『When they all used to be so kind, so this is why they all changed when they married into the Walt House.』
『Sixth, that’s something else. I can’t stick up for you on that.』

It seems the other Walt wives of history had their share of problems as well.

(… Is the Walt House going to be alright?)

 


 

 

~Past~

Lyle ( ゜∀゜): “Domineering Husband lolol”

First Generation Head (#゜Д゜): “Bastard! Fine… let’s take this outside!”

 

~Present~

Lyle ( ´;ω;): “… Someone save me. My wives are scary. My stomach hurts.”

Lyle (´;ω;`): “…”

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Intermission: So I Tried Asking my Ancestors 1

It was in the Jewel, the round table room.

The ancestors were troubling Lyle, raining him with their usual jeers.

『That’s why you’re no good!』
『I’ll have to agree. Why did you run away there?』
『I really wonder what that makes you as a man.』
『The worst. You’ve crossed zero into the negatives. The negatives!』
『Just sleep with her already. That’ll be the end of it.』
『Lyle, you need to understand a woman’s heart better.』
『Sixth, please repeat those words in front of a mirror. But Lyle, that really was pitiful.』

It all started in an inn in Dalien, where Lyle had managed to make a good atmosphere with Novem.

But Lyle himself failed to notice so, and fed up as she was, Novem dealt with him with a smile.

The problem was, having witnessed that, the ancestors dragged Lyle into the Jewel to find fault with him.

Lyle was made to kneel on the floor as he hung his head.

“But there’s no way I could understand that sort of atmosphere, or rather…”

The Fourth pushed up his glasses, letting the lenses eerily catch the light as he let out a low voice.

『An excuse eh… this is worse than I thought.』

Ever fussy when it came to the treatment of women, the Fourth had been dissatisfied with Lyle’s attitude towards Novem for a long time now.

『Listen well, Lyle! When things were going so rosy between you, not doing anything at all is a discourtesy to the woman.』

His socialization skills disastrous from the start, Lyle impatiently put up resistance against the Fourth.

“No, um… Novem’s face was definitely a little red, and her smile was a different one than usual, but… I didn’t really get what to do next or rather, in a situation where you’re all watching me, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do.”

The excuse Lyle gave was that he was unable to do anything in a situation where he was under constant surveillance from the ancestors in the Jewel.

But that was something the others agreed with as well.

The Fifth gave a light nod.

『Well, that’s definitely a problem. 』

The other ancestors held a similar opinion.

The Fifth…

『Sure enough, I’d be troubled to respond if you suddenly embraced her. Well, if we just make it so we can’t interfere at those times alone…』

As everyone began to say something like that, Lyle found it in himself to question it a bit.

(They’re all just booing me, but generally speaking, what should I have done?)

That’s why he asked.

“Umm…”

The First irritably looked at Lyle.

『What is it?』

“I still don’t get what I should have done. How would all of you have handled umm—‘What would you do when your wife shows you a different smile than usual’?”

The ancestors were more flustered than Lyle expected. They all tried imagining a scene where their wife would show them a different smile than usual.

… It happened.

Right after, Lyle sensed the large jewel embedded in the center of the round table let off a faint light.

(What is this? Did something just glow? Huh? Did the others see…)

Noticing something strange was going on, Lyle looked at his ancestors.

The First had broken into a clearly strange sweat as he held his head.

It was almost as if everyone was seeing an illusion of their wife before their eyes.

『T-that ain’t it, dear. So you don’t have to approach me with that smile. I’m begging you, forgive meeeeeeee!!』

The Second shook his head as he prepared to flee. While he usually dressed himself in a relatively taciturn air, he was now desperately calling out to his unseen wife.

『Just give me a moment. Yeah, could you give me just a bit of time to think? D-don’t come any closeeer!!』

The Third was smiling as per usual, but he was shedding a cold sweat.

With both his hands, he gestured for the other party to wait as he spoke.

『I got it, let’s talk things out. So for now, how about you stop spinning around the iron ball? Let’s start by clearing up our misunderstandings.』

(Iron ball!? Eh? He’s talking to his wife, right?)

Lyle looked at the cowering figures of his firm ancestors as he thought of just what sort of people his ancestors’ wives could be.

Meanwhile, the Fourth slipped under the round table, his body hunched over and quivering.

For a while, now, he was only repeating the same words.

『I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sor–』

The fifth alone wasn’t sweating. But with a straight face…

『… What are you planning?』

In a situation with his wife showing a different smile than usual, he could only hold doubt. Perhaps he wondered what lay beneath that smile, as he seemed deep in thought to probe it out.

(… What happened to everyone? Could it be they really are seeing illusions?)

They were in the Jewel. A space where it wouldn’t be strange if anything happened.

As he thought that, Lyle searched out the Sixth.

“Huh? The Sixth is gone?”

… The Sixth had fled long ago.

The Seventh was making a pale face, his back was straight, but he seemed somewhat fidgety.

『Zenoir, hear me out. You don’t have to approach me with that smile. Stop. You have to stop! I get it. It’s about that, right? About when I told Maizel that embarrassing story about you? Eh? That’s not it? That’s extra? Alright, first let’s take some distance from one another so we can discuss this. S-stop! Don’t point the gunpoint this way!』

(Gunpoint… grandmother was surprisingly extreme.)

Zenoir was Lyle’s grandmother. But Lyle only had the impression of her as a kind grandmother.

Perhaps seeing illusions, the ancestors tormented by their wives.

Lyle calmly looked at them and thought.

“… I wonder what sort of people the ancestors’ wives were.”

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