Chapter 3 – The Grass looks Greener
A group of people assembled around Yasuo’s seat as soon as lunch break started.
He could tell who had come even without having to raise his head and look.
“Alright, time for lunch.”
“Sorry, I’ll be borrowing this chair.”
“Yasu, you brought lunch from home today, right?”
It was Igarashi, Hino, and Aoto.
Yasuo had already predicted that this would happen when Aoto saw him getting into the taxi with Khalija yesterday. If anything, he wanted to praise them for being able to wait until lunch break.
“If you want to ask about what happened yesterday when I was heading back from school, I’m sorry but it’s not that interesting a story.”
Yasuo started off by saying that, but the curiosity-filled expressions of the three partners-in-crime didn’t change at all.
“That’s okay. Just the fact that you got into a taxi with a beauty who was clinging to your arm is pretty funny, Kenzaki. It’s a good joke.”
“No, you just find pretty much everything funny.”
Although it hurt to hear that, he had to admit that it was a fair observation.
Actually, if a conversation came up about one of these three getting a girlfriend, he would want to find out more details about it as well.
“So? Who was the girl from yesterday, and what happened after that?”
However, it was rare for Aoto look so obviously curious and ask for information so straightforwardly.
When Yasuo mentioned that to him,
“I won’t let you say that you’ve forgotten about how the two of us discussed how hard it is to get a girlfriend. It hasn’t been all that long since we talked about that.”
Now that he mentioned it, Yasuo remembered talking to Aoto about something like that back when Diana had newly come to Japan.
“Just to be clear, she’s not my girlfriend or anything.”
“Then what is she to you? Having her cling to your arm like you were trying to show off.”
“That wasn’t my doing. She was just teasing me.”
“Hey, hang on, Aoto. First, tell us what kind of girl she was.”
It looked like Igarashi was also just as curious as Aoto.
“You’re getting too excited.”
On the other hand, it looked like Hino was trying to maintain a polite distance.
“Oh, that’s right. Rasshi, Hinocchi, listen to this. She was probably older than us. Also, a foreigner. A real beauty.”
“A beautiful, older foreigner!?”
“I think whether she’s beautiful or not is a matter of subjectivity.”
“If she can’t be considered to be beautiful, then no one can. I’ve never seen hair that color.”
“You were in an enclosed space with a beauty like that!?”
“Enclosed space… It was just a taxi, you know.”
“I bet she smelled great!”
“The only smell in there was from the taxi’s seats.”
“Igarashi, that’s disgusting.”
Hino said to Igarashi who was half-screaming.
“If she’s not your girlfriend, then who is she? Someone from a different school?”
“No. Out of your speculations, Aoto, only the part about her being older was correct. She’s a friend of my Dad’s.”
This was a lie that Yasuo had prepared in advance, and was exactly the same thing he had told Shouko about Diana.
Unlike Diana, Khalija had no connection with his father until she came to Japan. However, Yasuo had already decided beforehand that he would use the same explanation for anyone who came from Ante Lande. It was partly the truth, anyways, and Yasuo was not skilled enough to make up different lies for each individual.
“A friend of your Dad’s? I know it’s hard to estimate the age of a foreigner, but she didn’t look that old.”
“I didn’t mean that’s she from the same generation as him. To put it more clearly, she’s currently working in a place where my father used to work in the past. I’m not sure, but it looks like she feels really indebted to him.”
“A foreign office lady… sounds nice.”
“Igarashi, that’s disgusting.”
“So why did she come all the way to school to meet you? Thinking about it, her appearance was really strange for an office lady. She was wearing a tracksuit that looked a lot like the one issued by our school, and was wearing some flashy accessory on her forehead.”
As he thought, that circlet was too conspicuous. However, Yasuo had a response ready for that as well.
“Apparently, she met me once when I was very young. So she kinda treats me like relative or a cousin. Besides, she doesn’t think that linking arms is anything special. As for the thing on her forehead, I asked her what it was, but it seems to be something personal to her. That thing really is quite weird, right?”
This was the first outright lie that he told.
The number of lies was slowly increasing, but this was still within the tolerable limit. Besides, he had also mixed some of his truthful opinions in there, so he was able to say it without sounding awkward.
Khalija was respectful towards his father and mother, but was a lot more candid with Yasuo and Nodoka. It was also somewhat weird that she never took that circlet off.
As for the part about linking arms… that was actually the most important part, but as long as he kept his will strong it shouldn’t be a problem.
“Uwaah, Kenzaki, you’re kind of…”
“What is it?
“I’m so envious of that sort of situation.”
“I agree with Hino, what’s wrong with you? It’s kinda disgusting.”
“That’s right. Besides, Igarashi, you already have a girlfriend.”
“Why haven’t I heard of this before!?”
Yasuo and Aoto were surprised by the words that Hino spoke casually.
“Oh? Didn’t I already tell you?”
Seeing that, Igarashi also said that while looking like it was no big deal, which angered Yasuo and Aoto.
“I-In spite of already having a girlfriend, you said all those disgusting things just because I was with a woman?”
“Rasshi has a girlfriend… No, that can’t be, something is definitely wrong here…”
“Hey, Aoto. Is it really that weird that I have a girlfriend?”
“““It’s definitely weird.”””
Yasuo, Hino, and Aoto’s replies coincided perfectly.
“Actually, how long have you known about that, Hino?”
“Since middle school. You know that Igarashi and I went to the same middle school, right?”
““Since middle school!?””
Yasuo and Aoto were shocked once again.
“Their houses are pretty close, so he and his girlfriend have known each other since kindergarten. I guess you could call them childhood friends?”
“What, is it really that surprising?”
““Not at all!””
In spite of the situation, Yasuo couldn’t help that his friendship with Aoto was getting stronger.
“Eh? Don’t tell me, she’s in the same high school as well? Do we know her?”
“No, she goes to a different high school.”
“By the way, she goes to a school with a better track record.”
“Hey, don’t tell them stuff like that.”
“Y-Y-You bastard, you were betraying us right from the start…”
“Aoto, are you really the kind of guy who’s so desperate to meet a woman?”
“I just can’t forgive your betrayal, that’s all!”
They didn’t know how serious the relationship was, but just the fact that Igarashi had a girlfriend was enough to give Aoto and Yasuo a big shock.
“Besides, whether I have a girlfriend or not isn’t what’s important right now. The important question is if Kenzaki is about to enter the springtime of his youth!”
“Hang on, there’s no chance of me ever getting into that kind of relationship with that person. No matter how many times you ask, I can only tell you that she’s an acquaintance of my Dad’s. Besides, I want to hear about your situation, Igarashi.”
“Eeeeh, that’s so boring. I want to hear about other couples, why can’t you just tell me about things like that?”
“This is the laid-back attitude of someone who has already won! Did you hear that, Kenzaki-san!?”
“Aoto, now you’re the one being kind of disgusting.”
“Shut up! Wait, don’t tell me you have a girl that you get along with as well, Hinocchi!?”
“Like I said, I don’t particularly get along well with that person or anything—”
“Be quiet, Yasu. Well, Hinocchi? Am I the only odd man out here?”
Hino thought for a while after hearing Aoto’s desperate question.
“There probably isn’t anyone. I think.”
“Why did you just think about that for a while!? What do you mean, you think!?”
“No, it’s just that a number of girls from the lower classes that I’m friendly with gave me chocolates this year, so I was wondering if I should count them.”
“He’s a winner too!!”
Aoto was knocked out completely.
Hino was a member of the track and field club, and was one of the regulars on the team for short distance running.
“Aoto, you have a lot of younger girls in your club as well, right?”
“Getting into relationships with people in the club will affect our acting! Or at least, that’s what I thought!”
It appeared the enthusiastic Drama Club members had complicated situations.
“Rasshi, let me see.”
“Eh? See what?”
“A photo! Of your girlfriend! You must have at least one, right?”
“Eeh? I don’t wanna, why do I have to show you something like that?”
“Come on, Igarashi, you should have seen this coming.”
“Hino, you’ve already seen her, so isn’t that good enough?”
“Even if it’s okay for me, I don’t think Yasuo and Aoto will have any closure until they see it.”
Yasuo and Aoto nodded strongly.
“Wait a minute. She gets really angry if I casually show her pictures to other people. Let me find one that looks okay…”
Even though he looked unhappy, Igarashi still pulled his slimphone out and started going through his photo albums.
“If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have thought about teasing Yasu…!”
“This is why they say that when you curse someone, you should dig two graves.”
Hearing Aoto’s strangled complaint, Yasuo felt like he was able to get back at him just a little.
“Ah, here we go. It’s from a little while ago, though.”
Staring at the phone screen, Aoto looked like he was steadily getting more depressed.
Saying that, Yasuo also peeked at the screen, and immediately found out the reason why Aoto reacted that way.
“A girl this cute is your childhood friend and girlfriend? You’ve probably used up your luck for all eternity.”
“I agree wholeheartedly with Kenzaki.”
Hino also nodded as if he understood.
Igarashi’s girlfriend was just that beautiful, a perfect example of a Japanese beauty. Igarashi was standing beside her in the picture with his usual careless grin. It was the very definition of a face that you would want to punch.
“Don’t judge people based on context like that. To me, the term ‘childhood friend’ doesn’t hold any special meaning at all.”
“Aoto’s getting mad. Aoto’s getting mad.”
Aoto’s eyes were overflowing with so much resentment and killing intent that Yasuo was worried for a moment if he would turn into a Shii.
“What year of middle school did you start going out with her?”
“We officially started dating towards the end of our second year. So, it’s been like four years in total, I guess? Well, I already knew her for more than ten years before that, though.”
Aoto’s struggled to stay rational while making an expression like that of a Buddhist priest who was exorcising a demon from someone’s body.
“But we ended up in different high schools because of an oversight, and she’s constantly nagging me asking if I’m cheating on her with another girl. She gets really scary if she’s even a little upset.”
“So if that foreigner was really Kenzaki’s girlfriend, I wanted some tips on what other couples do when they get into a fight.”
“Like I said, we are not a couple or anything. Besides, if she’s getting upset about whether you’re cheating on her, I guess it just proves that she loves you.”
“Yeah… But I have to agree with Igarashi here. She’s really very scary. It’s easy to tell when Seina-chan is in a bad mood. She usually calls him ‘Iga-chan,’ but when she’s mad she calls him ‘Igarashi-kun’ in this incredibly cold voice.”
“Even her cuteness is at a level of being a sin, and she also has a beautiful name like 『Seina』? I can’t tell you how angry I feel right now, but hearing that she calls you ‘Iga-chan’ makes me feel a little better.”
Aoto got even more depressed after hearing what Hino said, but Yasuo was taken off guard.
“So if girls change from calling you by a nickname to your last name, it means they are angry?”
Yasuo remembered that Nodoka had told him the exact same thing the other day as well.
“I guess it’s one of the comparatively easier signs to spot. There are other things you’ll notice as well, if you’re watching from the sidelines. Like how she definitely won’t make eye contact, and not listen to what Igarashi is saying even if she appears to be paying attention.”
“I need to be especially careful when talking about school. Talking about girls Seina doesn’t know is definitely taboo. Seina is attending a municipal school near her house, so she has this weird image in her head that private schools are more classy than municipal school.”
“Roger that, she really loves you, huh!!?”
“Aioi, calm down. Your personality is changing. Besides, at her level it can also be taken as getting easily jealous or being restrictive, so it’s not something to be so jealous about.”
Hino saw that Aoto was on the verge of flipping the table holding his unfinished lunch, so he put his hand on Aoto’s shoulder to calm him down. However, Yasuo was in no state to observe that.
“……Calling me by a nickname… Talking about other girls… her image of a private school…”
These were all things that had happened to him as well, so he felt like his blood pressure was dropping.
“Kenzaki? What’s wrong?”
Igarashi put his slimphone away and noticed that Yasuo had gone pale, but Yasuo was in no condition to listen to him.
Was he just overthinking it?
“No, I mean, surely not.”
『Onii-chan, make sure you don’t get any strange ideas as well, okay?』
His sister’s warning flashed through his mind.
The circumstances were far too similar.
Isn’t it being rash to assume that?
If he’s wrong, the damage would be incalculable.
There was no way for him to know for sure.
Even so, he couldn’t stop his imagination. About how Shouko felt.
『Also, in the one in a million chance that Tatewaki-san likes you, it might be a good idea clear up the misunderstanding.』
His cheeks were getting red in spite of himself. Thinking like that was the height of stupidity.
He had thought about something outrageous because of what Igarashi had said. If he carelessly asked Shouko something like this, Nodoka wouldn’t let him forget about it for the rest of his life.
Firstly, he had nothing that would make him attractive to a girl.
He couldn’t even properly complete his duty as a student, couldn’t keep his promise, and his physical ability, intelligence, and looks were all only average.
The premise itself is flawed.
So there’s no way it was possible.
But since the idea was already in his head…
“How should I interact with her from now on… things are already complicated enough right now.”
He had no confidence that he would manage to stay calm the next time he saw Shouko.
“Ah, geez, both Aioi and Kenzaki are in a strange mood because you had to go and brag, Igarashi.”
“Eh? It’s my fault!? When did I brag about anything? By the way, wasn’t teasing Kenzaki the original plan?”
Igarashi, who was incapable of reading the mood, looked confused as looked in turn at Yasuo and Aoto who were deep in thought for different reasons.
At that moment, the slimphone in Yasuo’s pocket vibrated.
Taking it out, he saw that he had a notification from an unknown number in the standard messaging application provided by his carrier, a service that was hardly ever used these days.
“What is this?”
Yasuo had antivirus software installed on his slimphone, so he opened the message without thinking too deeply about it. What he saw written there was something completely unexpected.
“Greetings it feels strange to send you such a message after all this time. This is Dianaz. Madoka bought a slimphone for me so please save the number if you would like. i will be coming to pick you up after school today, so please do not worry.”
Seeing the missing 『e』 in her name and the use of the lowercase 『i』 to refer to herself, Yasuo smiled wryly as he imagined Diana’s face scrunched up in concentration as she struggled to input the unfamiliar text into a digital device.
The reason why she used so few kanji characters in her text was probably either because she was not familiar with the device yet, or she hadn’t learned to read that many kanji in spite of being able to speak the language.
In any case, it was a good idea to be able to connect with Diana via slimphone for safety purposes.
Not to mention, increasing the number of girls in his phone address book who are not family members was more than enough reason to be happy.
“…? She’s going to come to pick me up?”
However, Yasuo immediately thought of something that made him go pale.
He immediately replied,
“No, it’s fine. You can keep guarding me from far away as usual.”
However, no matter how long he waited, he didn’t receive a reply. And then,
“Ah, Yasuo! Did you have a good day? I’ve been waiting for you.”
In plain view of Aoto, Igarashi, and Hino, Diana was standing at the main gate next to a taxi.
Yasuo felt dizzy and was too scared to turn around to look at his friends.
“I’m sorry. I saw your message, but since I only just started using the phone, I didn’t know how to reply.”
Aoto was probably turning into a true demon at this point.
“W-Well then, I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
“Please excuse us.”
“Y-You don’t need to talk to these guys!”
“Eh? Ah, my apologies—!”
Yasuo pushed Diana, who kept talking to Aoto and the others, into the taxi, and closed the automatic door by hand.
“Excuse me, please take us to the Western Exit of Tokorozawa Station!”
Yasuo’s voice rose to a near scream as he told the driver his destination and asked him to start moving.
Aoto and the others watched the reality unfolding in front of them as if it was a waking dream, but eventually, Hino asked Aoto,
“Is that the girl?”
“No. It’s a different girl. Completely different. It’s a different girl from yesterday!!”
“Oh? But going home two days in a row by taxi, I’m more curious as to the reason behind that.”
“Damn, she was totally cute! Woah!”
“I now understand exactly why he failed his tests. Yasu, you’re no longer my friend! I hope you fail all your make-up tests!”
“Remember what we spoke about earlier regarding curses and graves, Aioi. You shouldn’t think about it so hard, just go make a girlfriend.”
“I hate the phrase ‘make a girlfriend’ more than anything! Are they sold as a model kit somewhere!? Goddammit!”
“Having a girl like that asking about how his day went, and saying she waited for him…”
“If you say that again, Seina-chan is going to get mad, Igarashi.”
Of course, none of the complaints from his friends reached Yasuo.
“I think I can hear something that I shouldn’t be hearing…”
“D-Did I do something wrong!?”
“N-No, there’s no point worrying about it now. It’s just that going home by taxi is unusual for high school students, so if you want to come and pick me up, I’d appreciate it if you waited somewhere less conspicuous.”
“I-I see. I’m sorry…”
Diana looked depressed, but Yasuo was so worried about going to school tomorrow that he didn’t have the energy to cheer her up.
“B-But, we didn’t manage to find that Shii yesterday, and judging by what happened, it is clear that the Shii is after you, Yasuo. This is currently the best way to reduce the danger to you, even if only a little…”
He knew what she was trying to say.
The Kenzaki family currently did not have a car.
The front door was fixed faster than expected, but they were having a lot more trouble with the matter of the car.
Yasuo hadn’t heard the details, but apparently, the owner of the car that Madoka had caused an accident in during the incident with William had been identified by the police despite his parents’ best efforts to hide the evidence.
Fortunately, Madoka had barely managed to avoid being charged with negligent driving because of the fact that his parents had filed a report in advance that the car had been stolen, and because all the members of the Kenzaki family were uninjured in spite of the severity of the accident. However, there were still many complicated procedures to complete that Yasuo did not understand, so it looked like getting a new car would still take some time.
“B-But, you know…”
After remembering that, Yasuo lowered his voice a little.
“What are you going to do if a Shii attacks us while we’re in a taxi? We will definitely end up getting other people involved. Remember what happened when Mom crashed our car?”
“That’s true, but there is a greater chance of getting people involved if we’re attacked while walking. The only Shii we currently need to worry about is the one that managed to run away, and if you’re worried about others, then just you going to school and prep school increases the chances of danger, you know?”
“W-Well yeah… But you know, the Shii so far have only appeared during nighttime. Shouldn’t we be fine during the day?”
As far as Yasuo could remember, the Shii only ever appeared during the night.
They were apparently formed from corpses, and the black flames that surrounded them made it easy for them to blend into the darkness. He thought that they were incapable of moving around while the sun was still up, but,
“That’s just a coincidence. In Ante Lande, there have been Shii that appeared during the day as well. Judging from the records, it’s true that they appear far more frequently at night, however, there are records of people fighting Shii during the day under a clear, cloudless sky.”
Yasuo felt a sense of despair.
It was true that Yasuo felt that he had gotten mixed up in many things he did not understand back during the incident with William and Alexei’s Shii, but even then, William had been a clearly identifiable cause behind the incident.
However, this time, the Shii seemed to appear suddenly and disappear just as quickly, and they had no idea where they were lurking.
If the Shii were completely wild creatures like mob monsters that you could find in games, then there was a possibility that they were even right now causing a mess somewhere else, completely unrelated to the Kenzaki family.
Originally, there would have been no reason for Yasuo to feel responsible for such a thing. However, as the son of a Hero, and as a person who had volunteered to be a Hero, the thought of people outside his reach falling prey to some unidentifiable power was definitely not something he was comfortable with.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but I feel like it would be a lot easier if easily identifiable bosses like that William show up and the matter ends once they are defeated. Not knowing what you’re up against is definitely a lot worse.”
This feeling of being stuck in a maze was somewhat similar to being stuck at a particular point in the middle of studying.
Unlike his recent failed exams where Yasuo had gotten stuck on every single question, in the current situation he didn’t even know what knowledge he was lacking, so he had no way to shore up his weak points or understand what he should be doing. It was that kind of feeling.
In such a situation, the only option was to return to square one and carefully go over all the available information once again.
“But even if I want to go back to square one…”
In the first place he didn’t even know where that Shii had come from. During the battle with Alexei’s Shii, only a total of eight Shii had appeared during the entire course of the incident, including Alexei whom Yasuo sent off with the requiem.
Even though his father and Diana had defeated them easily and they had already been sent off, Yasuo realized once again that the incident where six of them had appeared simultaneously was actually quite dangerous.
“Sent them off… Hmm?”
“Is something the matter, Yasuo?”
“No… I just thought that it was a little strange.”
A slight feeling of discomfort that tugged at his memories.
The car. The Shii. The requiem. Sending off the Shii. Resurrection.
“W-What is it?”
Yasuo suddenly yelled out loud, causing the driver to be surprised and ask that question.
“I-I’m sorry, it’s nothing.”
Diana was looking at him with a questioning expression, so Yasuo once again faced her and told her the terrifying truth that he had realized.
“Diana. Even if you defeat the Shii, they’ll just reappear somewhere else if you don’t send them off with the requiem, right?”
“Yes… That should be the case.”
“That small-sized Shii… I think it was already in Japan by the time William came here.”
“The only Shii we didn’t send off back then was the one that caused the car accident. Both my mother and I didn’t know about that back then…”
It looked like Diana also understood what Yasuo was attempting to say.
“E-Even so, the fact that it must be defeated does not change, and I don’t see how it can help out in our current situation…”
“I’m not done. There’s something else that I remembered. I just realized it, but the car accident was something William didn’t expect either.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you remember how he said something about not having any intention of putting the people around us in danger? At that time, I told him to stop messing around because a Shii that he had sent had already caused a car crash. After hearing that, he looked really surprised.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“I’m sure. Just for that second, I saw the power in that scary red eye of his waver. That’s right, after hearing that, he said that he had to hurry… So I think that William had someone working against him, someone apart from us. And so, if we assume that William knew nothing about that Shii, and it was after me all along when it attacked the car…”
“It probably hasn’t run too far away?”
Yasuo had a stern expression on his face.
“Even if that small Shii was William’s enemy, the person who sent it here is probably no friend of ours. So at the end of it…”
It was a deduction that was not particularly welcome.
“The six Shii that attacked us back then were also probably the same. There is someone who is controlling the Shii that have appeared even after Khalija-san arrived here. And that person is probably somewhere close by.”
“I see. So you think there’s someone who behind the appearance of those six Shii, and the one that escaped?”
“Yes. This is only Yasuo’s conjecture, but if we take what William said into consideration, it might just be possible.”
“If that is true, then that raises other issues as well. If the attacks by the Shii are deliberately being instigated by some agency, then the strategies being used to combat the Shii back in Ante Lande will need to be rebuilt from scratch as well.”
“…Yes, you’re right.”
“However, at the very least, you did not see any Shii between the time after that William was defeated and through the time I arrived here, correct?”
“The true nature of the Shii is still unclear. They seem to be ignoring the law of conservation of mass, both when they appear and when they vanish. Saying this might worsen the impression of Ante Lande and us, but there is a possibility that General Alexei and William came to this world along with you when the Gate Tower was activated, and the seven Shii from earlier entered this world in a similar fashion along with me. Mass is an important consideration when using the Gate Tower, but we don’t know if the concept of ‘mass’ applies to the Shii. Although it sounds impossible, if the Shii really have no mass, it is possible that they could have hitched a ride along with us without anyone being the wiser.”
“However, this is all still just conjecture. It doesn’t change the fact that we are pinned down by the enemy and unable to take action”
“At the end of it, our countermeasures against the Shii can only go so far. By the way, why is Yasuo lying around looking like a wet log?”
Diana and Khalija were talking in the living room of the Kenzaki family house as usual, in a manner that made him wonder if there was any point in them moving their base of operations to a different house. Beside them, Yasuo was lying on the floor as if he was completely out of energy.
“Ah… About that…”
Diana’s face became red.
“He tried to fix the misunderstanding with that person called Shouko-san at his prep school, but not only was he unable to meet with her, she’s also ignoring his messages on that communication medium called rope…”
“And so he wore himself thin and ended up in this state, huh?”
“Also, he’s apparently receiving a lot of messages from his friends at school about the identity of the person who came to pick him up from school today……”
“So after telling me arrogantly that I shouldn’t cause issues for Yasuo, you went and titillated his friends as well, Major?”
“T-Titillated? No, it’s not like that! I just didn’t want anyone to think that I was a suspicious person, so I properly greeted them, that’s all!”
“No, I think that just made it worse.”
It was hardly something Khalija should be saying, but she was right.
“Still, isn’t this nice and peaceful?”
“We don’t share the same concept of peace…”
The wet log seemed to be emitting some resentful curses, but Khalija ignored it.
“Even if they misunderstand something, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe if you tell your friends at school outright that Major Krone is your girlfriend, they might find it anticlimactic and back off.”
“C-C-Colonel!! What are you saying!? That kind of lie is not good! It’s indecent!”
“If saying that could fix my issues, I would, but it won’t make any difference…”
“You too, Yasuo!? You don’t need to say something like that!!”
“Indecent… No, you’ve always been this way, Major, it’s part of what makes you so frightening.”
Seeing Diana protest so strongly, even Khalija seemed a little taken aback.
“Well, you might find it to be a serious issue, but to me it looks like nothing more than an amusing problem. Worry about it all you like. Once you grow up, you will realize that being able to have worries like this means that you are leading a blessed life.”
After saying that, she got up from the sofa.
“…It’s a little early, but I’m going back to the apartment. I spent the whole day today with Nodoka, and I’m tired because she’s a lot more mature than Yasuo and therefore more difficult to tease. I’m going to take a bath.”
Saying that she was tired out from trying to tease Nodoka was a little exaggerated, but it could also be interpreted to mean that Yasuo was a good target for teasing.
“Ah, yes… I think Madoka is probably using the bath right now, so please check with her before you go in.”
As the bath in the Kenzaki house had been destroyed by a Shii, the temporary plan was for everyone to use the unit bath in Diana’s room, and so Yasuo’s mother was over there right now.
His father was watching TV in his own room, and Nodoka was probably studying in her room. Yasuo tended to forget because he was so busy dealing with his own issues, but his sister would also be taking exams soon.
“Understood. See you around.”
After saying that, Khalija left right away without even looking at the wet log.
“When I grow up… I mean, isn’t the Colonel just one year older than me……”
In a rare occurrence, Diana actually looked a little sullen.
Seeing the wet log act surprised, Diana seemed to become even more unhappy for some reason.
“Do I really appear that childish? I’m already nineteen-years-old, you know.”
“Eh!? You’re older than me!?”
Yasuo stood up out of shock, and Diana was surprised seeing Yasuo look so shocked.
“……You definitely don’t look it.”
“Yasuo, you’re so mean!”
“Hey, Onii-chan, are you making Diana-san cry again?”
“What do you mean, again? And why do you always show up with such horrible timing!?”
Nodoka had just come down from the second floor, probably to get something to drink. She was now looking at Yasuo with a scary expression.
“I’m sorry, I thought that we were about the same age… Ahaha.”
“That’s a lie. Yasuo, you’re terrible at lying. Even though I’m older, you’ve been viewing me as someone younger than you all this time, haven’t you!?”
“This kind of childish reaction makes her look like a younger kid, right? I kinda understand.”
“Nodoka, you too!?”
“You should try and act more like a younger kid.”
“Well, maybe if my older brother wasn’t so unreliable, I would act my age.”
Yasuo could not win against his sister who always had a ready comeback for anything.
“So anyways, Khalija-san is only twenty? She seems very mature for someone her age… No, I mean, as a soldier. Ahahaha.”
His teacher at prep school, Kobayashi, was also around the age of twenty.
Of course, since he went to a good college and was working as a teacher, he looked a lot more mature compared to the current Yasuo, but he also had the look of a college student, and the impression he gave was definitely different from that of a newly graduated student working as a salaryman.
However, in Khalija’s case, even if you put aside the fact that she is a high-ranking military officer, there are many things about her that make her seem older than her years.
Diana sometimes acted very childish, and maybe that just served to heighten the difference between the two…
“Were you just thinking that I am childish again?”
“I don’t care anymore.”
While Yasuo had been thinking about things like that, Diana had been looking in the direction of her apartment.
“The Colonel has followed a slightly special career path compared to the other Magitech Knights in Resteria, so maybe that has something to do with it.”
“A special career path?”
“That’s right. I already told you that the Colonel is very knowledgeable about Techno Weapons, right? She managed to repair my Castor to such an extent, using only materials found in Japan, after all.”
Saying that, Diana pulled Castor out of the pocket of her sweatshirt.
Yasuo had been thinking recently that even though she was carrying around such dangerous and heavy things in the pockets of the sweatshirt that she wore at home, it was strange that there were no unnatural bulges when looking at her at all.
It looked like she hadn’t been able to repair the external appearance, as Castor did not have the gold colored cover that Pollux had, and the grip also appeared to have been secured with something that looked like duct tape.
Even so, when Diana channeled a little power into it, the light of magic appeared near the mouth of the weapon.
“The Colonel’s father was a famous Techno Weapon craftsman. She was the youngest daughter, and apparently she was the most gifted amongst her sisters.”
“Eh? Khalija-san is the youngest daughter?”
“She doesn’t look like it at all…”
“…Well, putting that aside.”
Diana, who had been told that she seemed like the youngest child in spite of being an only child, pretended that she didn’t hear that and continued to speak.
“If you’re wondering why I know about this, it’s because, during the construction of my father’s Regulus that I told you about the other day, my mother took advice from the Colonel’s father. Meister Claudius Welleger. I’ve heard that he was originally from the Grand Duchy of Torjesso, and he immigrated to Resteria during the war against Demon King Kaul. The Colonel’s silver hair is a common feature among people who have their roots in the region around Torjesso.”
“Oh? Meister is a title given to master craftsmen, right? If she’s the daughter of a person like that, it’s no wonder she’s good at handling Techno Weapons.”
“But what do you mean by he ‘was’ a Techo Weapon craftsman?”
“He passed away a little while after my mother finished making Regulus. He was apparently quite old by the time the Colonel was born… I’ve heard that she enlisted in the army right after his death.”
The name of Meister Welleger was so famous that everyone involved in the Techno Weapons industry had heard of it. Khalija, who was said to have inherited her father’s talent, was sought out by the Techno Weapon Research Division, where she displayed a great level of ability.
“Hmm? But she’s now a Magitech Knight who fights on the front lines, right? Using that weapon you spoke of.”
“The 『Snakebone』, Marfik. It is a variable Techno Weapon with more than ten forms. Most Techno Weapons can only take two or maybe three forms at the most, but the Colonel is also a first-class soldier who is capable of using more than twice that number under combat conditions. Of course, that makes it an extremely complicated Techno Weapon, and maintenance would be impossible unless you had skills on par with Meister Welleger. She is truly the kind of person who looks like they have become one with their Techno Weapon.”
Diana had forgotten that she had been treated like a child, and boasted about Khalija’s achievements like they were her own.
From what Diana said just now, it could be seen that Khalija was loved by Magitech Knights of her own age group.
“Still, it feels strange. If she’s that skilled, wouldn’t that Research Division be unwilling to let go of her?”
“I’ve heard that there was a lot of argument regarding her reassignment. However, she displayed a level of battle strength and tactical understanding that led to her being promoted to Colonel soon after being reassigned, and she has also shown great results in the fight against the Shii. It was right around that time when my father was killed in battle, and the Knights Division was wavering. It was said that having someone like her on the front lines who was experienced with both Techno Weapons and battle was a great source of support, and even I thought the same when I heard about her, although I had not yet met her in person back then.”
“Oh? So she’s not just an annoying person. I guess that makes sense.”
“Besides, she’s my ideal, in more ways than one. Unlike me, she hasn’t been overshadowed by her family’s achievements, and has continued to show a level of ability that doesn’t lose out to her predecessors.”
Diana, who didn’t stand out much in the Knights Division in spite of having parents who were known as Heroes who saved their country, and Yasuo, who was depressed because of failing his tests in school, in spite of having parents who were a legendary Hero and a Great Magician.
Compared to Khalija, both of them were depressed about how they could not match their parents’ achievements at all.
“It’s quiz time, Diana-san!”
Nodoka, who had been silent until then, suddenly shouted.
“A frog’s offspring is ___! What are the words that go in the blank space?”
“Eeh? Eh? Umm… A frog’s offspring… what was it again? A frog’s offspring is also a frog, that’s one of the idioms that is commonly used, right?”
“Bzzzt! Unfortunately, that’s the wrong answer. The correct answer is, a frog’s offspring is a tadpole!”
“What’s with you all of a sudden? Also, isn’t that cheating? You should say if it’s a question about the Japanese Language or a question about biology before asking the question.”
“It doesn’t matter either way. I strongly feel that this idiom should go out of use.”
“Eeh? Why the sudden declaration?”
A frog’s offspring is also a frog.
It means that children will resemble their parents, and also implies that the children of mediocre parents will also be mediocre.
“Tadpoles do their best with their lives on the line, and become frogs only after going through a lot of danger and competition. By the time they reach that stage, they are already different from their parents. Any adult who doesn’t realize that has probably not worked a single hard day in their lives. Besides, if 『A frog’s offspring is also a frog』, then were our grandparents Heroes? Great Magicians? No, right?”
“We are still children, and have not achieved anything at all. We are still in the middle of working hard to get there. Khalija-san is like a tadpole that just happened to grow hands and legs a little faster. At the very least, if you don’t think like that, you won’t be able to carry on working.”
This was pretty condescending talk for a fourteen-year-old who was in the third year of middle school, but neither Diana nor Yasuo were able to dispute it.
“If you ask me, I think your environment is far too easy, Onii-chan. The year when I’m old enough to take college admission exams is the first year when they’ve done away with the National Center Test for University Admissions. I won’t have any information in advance about what the test will be like, and I can only rely on my own hard work, but I can’t just say that a frog’s offspring will also be a frog and give up. If I’m not careful, I might end up getting eaten by a dragonfly nymph or a water beetle while I’m still a tadpole.”
“Dragonfly nymph? Water beetle?”
Although she knew about halibut, it looked like Diana didn’t know about the commonly found aquatic insects from Japan, so she appeared to be confused.
“Of course, it is important to know where to concentrate your efforts, but I feel that if you get into the habit of working hard, it won’t be a waste no matter how old you get. So that’s why…”
Saying that, Nodoka flashed a smile and held out her hands towards both of them with her palms facing upwards.
When they stared at her hands wondering what she was trying to say, a flash of light ran across her palms, and although it was only the size of a fire from a matchstick, a small flame floated in the air over her hands.
Yasuo was so startled that he couldn’t even make a sound.
Diana also had her breath taken away as she looked alternately at the small flame and Nodoka’s face.
“It’s like the proverb about the young monk.”
“…Umm, what was that again?”
“The one about learning from your surroundings, like a young monk reading sutras he’s never been taught. I can’t summon Dad like you can, Onii-chan, so I need to do whatever I can. I don’t think that I will be able to fight, but you never know when something like this can come in handy… man, this is really tiring. I just used the bath earlier and now I’m all sweaty again.”
Her magical energy capacity was probably still quite low.
Nodoka was sweating heavily after creating a flame the size of a matchstick for just a few seconds, but compared to Yasuo, who was still struggling with the foundations of sorcery, Nodoka was still a great deal ahead.
“Ah, if you’d like, you can use the bath again after the Colonel is done.”
“Ah, okay, I’ll do that. Well then, I just came down here to get something to drink in the first place.”
Saying that, Nodoka took a bottle of tea or something else from the refrigerator and went back upstairs.
“…Is that talent as well?”
“I’m not sure… but it probably is.”
Nodoka was in the same circumstances as Yasuo, and she would sometimes listen to Diana’s lessons along with Yasuo. However, the fact that she surpassed Yasuo in such a short amount of time and managed to produce a flame on her own was honestly astonishing.
“I can’t keep losing to her like this. Seriously.”
“That’s right… However, please leave the matter of the Shii to us and work hard on your school studies. Don’t try and practice sorcery again in secret, okay?”
“Ah… Yes, I’ll do my best.”
Yasuo, who had been practicing it at school, uneasily looked away.
“So you’ve been doing it.”
And Diana saw right through it.
“Well, that’s fine. But it’s not good to get impatient. As the Colonel said, Yasuo, your requiem is already at the level of a high level cleric, so just focus on clearing each task before you, one at a time.”
“Understood. Keeping up a steady effort is important, right?”
“That’s right. What was that idiom again, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single sweep.”
“A single step. Humans don’t have tails to sweep.”
“No, I didn’t mean that. I just mixed up the pronunciation, like a girl from the Tokyo area might mix up 『Shi』 and 『Hi』.”
“Seriously, why do you always talk about weird stuff like that which makes it hard for me to know how to reply… Hmm?”
“Ah. Aaah, aah, how am I supposed to use this again!?”
Yasuo heard the sound of something vibrating, and when he looked around, he saw an unfamiliar slimphone vibrating on top of the table.
“Oh, it’s the latest model.”
It was the latest model YOIPHONE, in pink and silver colors.
While thinking that his mother had been really enthusiastic about buying it, Yasuo looked at the screen and saw that the name of the caller was 『Madoka』.
“Slide this green part over to the side.”
“Ah, y-yes… Hewwo!”
Yasuo wanted to comment about Diana still messing up her pronunciation, but that comment died on his lips when he saw Diana, who had gone red because of her mispronunciation, suddenly put on a serious expression.
“Yes… Yes. Eh? It’s already been more than ten minutes… Okay, I understand. I’ll come back there right away. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but the Colonel doesn’t have a slimphone, so I’ll try searching for her. Goodbye… Umm, how do I disconnect the call?”
“Touch that red part over there.”
“Ah, it disconnected.”
“Mom must have disconnected it on her end. What’s up? Did something happen to Mom?”
“Ah, she’s finished her shower and wanted to come back, but she didn’t have a key to lock the door so she asked me what she should do.”
“Eh? But Khalija-san already went there… oh, so that’s what you meant when you said it’s already been more than ten minutes.”
“Yes. I’ll go back there for bit. There are only two keys, and the Colonel has one of them.”
“If you want to use the shower, please give me a call. Also, I’ll have a duplicate key to my apartment made for you to use in case something happens in the future.”
“Sure, that’s fine— Eh? A duplicate key!?”
“Now then, I should get going.”
Yasuo was surprised because he had almost gotten caught up in the flow, but Diana left quickly, probably because she didn’t want to keep Madoka waiting.
Yasuo stared at the closed door with all sorts of thoughts running through his head, and then,
“Calm down. She probably meant that she’ll have a key made for all of us in the family.”
Nodoka, who was supposed to have gone upstairs, was looking at him from the staircase with a grin on her face.
“T-T-T-T-That’s right, that’s probably what she meant, right? I knew it!! Hahahahaha.”
“Seriously, what kind of things were you imagining, Onii-chan?”
“Shut up!! Don’t keep eavesdropping on my conversations!! Just go up to the second floor already!!”
“Hey, Yasuo, Nodoka. What are you two yelling about? There’s a hole in the wall of the bathroom so don’t make so much noise at night.”
Their main door had exploded, their car had exploded, the bathroom wall had a large hole in it, and he had discovered that Igarashi had a beautiful, childhood friend as a girlfriend. This cultural exchange with another world was so depressing.
Would he be cursed by the gods for hoping for a slightly more romantic development, even if it only happens through a misunderstanding?
However, the only certain thing in Yasuo’s life right now was the incredibly prosaic future of being made to sit on a bed of nails at school tomorrow and questioned about Diana’s identity.
“What was that? I felt really irritated just now for some reason.”
Shouko, who had been revising what she learned in school that day, stood up from her chair after suddenly losing her concentration.
“Aaaah, I’m so stiff… Ugh. It’s already eleven pm…… Haa.”
Looking at her slimphone that was charging beside the study desk that she had been using since she was in elementary school, Shouko saw that the time was already a little past eleven pm.
Unlocking the phone for no particular reason, she saw that one of applications on the screen had a small ① symbol on the icon.
She knew who it was from, and what that notification meant.
It was from Yasuo, a ROPE message with his excuses.
“……Hmmph. I don’t care. He’s being too self-conscious.”
She made to tap the ROPE icon with her thumb, but for some reason, she lost the will to do it.
Even if she didn’t read the message, she knew what would be written inside. It would be about those beautiful foreign women.
Even Shouko didn’t seriously believe that Yasuo was in a relationship with those mysterious women.
She had just been surprised at seeing him get out of the taxi, and panicked upon seeing what looked like a standard kiss scene from a drama or movie, but considering Yasuo’s personality, he would never do something like that. Even so, she had not been able to keep her emotions under control.
She had realized that she couldn’t keep her emotions in check, and while trying too hard to hold them back, she had gone and said something like that.
Even though she didn’t really feel that way. No, maybe she actually did.
She knew that she was being unreasonable. After all, no matter how you looked at it, Shouko was just one of Yasuo’s acquaintances.
Their relationship was not even developed enough to call them friends.
Even back in middle school, when the distance between them had been at its least, she had not talked with him unless there was a pressing need to do so. The longest she had probably talked to him was during that assignment to “Research the Occupation of a Person Close to You.”
After the change in classes after second year, she ended up in a different class from him. After that, their third year had gone by, and until he met her by accident in front of the prep school the other day, Yasuo had forgotten about her.
In other words, Shouko knew barely anything about Yasuo.
She knew where his house was, but Yasuo himself wasn’t aware of the fact that she knew.
“Worrying about this by myself, so stupid. I mean, I’m basically like a stalker at this point.”
Suspecting the relations that a boy had with people of the opposite sex, when she wasn’t even that close to him.
“But… I can’t help it.”
She didn’t understand why she felt that way about Yasuo.
If she considered this calmly, it was love. She admitted that to herself because she didn’t want to feel like a child who refused to accept it.
She had probably been in love with Kenzaki Yasuo since the second year of middle school, ever since that incident.
However, the reason for that was far too shallow.
Even considering the aftermath of that workplace research assignment, when she tried to remember if there was anything that drew her towards Yasuo so strongly, she couldn’t think of anything.
“It couldn’t be helped, I wasn’t used to dealing with people, so I fell for the first guy who showed me the slightest bit of kindness.”
She didn’t think he did it because he had any special feelings for her.
He probably hadn’t really thought it through, either. Actually, if he was the kind of person who thought things through before doing something like that, she probably wouldn’t have such strong feelings about him.
She didn’t really remember what happened back then because her mind had gone completely blank, but she understood right away that it was a pet name, and seeing them calling each other by their first names and talking in a lively manner, she thought that they looked like they were really close.
“That seems nice.”
Shouko sat back down at her desk while spacing out and wrote 『Shouko』 in a corner of the notebook that lay open on her desk with a pencil.
She went red in the face, and erased it right away.
“Time to sleep. I should go to sleep and forget about all of this. My thoughts get all muddled up at night. Ah, come to think of it, my eyes are always tired lately too. Ugh.”
Shouko turned towards her closet and pulled out her futon while berating herself for being taken over by her girly side for even a moment, and spoke in a loud voice as if trying to erase her embarrassment.
“………. …. …… !!”
Once she was done laying out the futon, she buried her face in the pillow and held her head in embarrassment once again.
“I’m such an idiot.”
Leaving her messed up bangs as they were,
“I should take a bath, brush my teeth, and go to sleep.”
She walked to the corner of her room with unsteady steps and took some underwear out of the closet, and then went downstairs. Once in the dressing room, she took off her clothes and tossed them in the laundry basket.
Shouko suddenly felt that something was off when she saw her reflection in the mirror. She was still wearing the same underwear that she had put on yesterday.
She wondered if she had forgotten to take a bath yesterday, and suddenly remembered.
“Ah, that’s right, I fell asleep without even changing into my pyjamas yesterday. Ah, I must be really out of it. I even forgot that I didn’t take a bath.”
For the past few days, she had been feeling sick when she woke up.
She would have a splitting headache and her body felt heavy, there were bruises in strange places on her body even though she didn’t remember getting hurt, and felt a dull pain akin to muscle fatigue, the whole package.
She probably didn’t realize it in the morning because of that.
“Hmm? I did take a bath yesterday though, didn’t I!?”
She had. Or at least, that’s how she felt.
She didn’t know why, but the sensation of 『having gone into the bathroom』 was strongly etched into her consciousness.
However, her actions from the morning and the sensation from her body were in opposition to that memory.
She had a vague sense that her body and hair were more greasy than they should have been.
“Seriously. Have I been thinking about stupid stuff for so long that I can’t even remember if I took a bath or not?”
She didn’t think that she had been taken over by her girly side to that extent, but,
“Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I just need to wash myself thoroughly today.”
After that, she took her underwear off as well and put them in the laundry basket, and entered the bathroom.
“…It should be okay. I didn’t get close to Yasu-kun today so he shouldn’t have noticed… wait.”
Shouko barely managed to keep herself from slamming the showerhead that she was holding against the floor.
“My head is seriously not okaaaay!! Ugayaaa!?”
Shouko accidentally opened the overhead shower tap all the way in wanting to finish her bath as quickly as possible, and yelled after getting doused with cold water.
“……Good thing it wasn’t hot water.”
Shouko’s house was quite old, and the pipes for hot water and cold water in the bathroom were separate.
The water heater was also quite old and it wasn’t possible to make any delicate temperature adjustments. If she had opened the hot water tap instead, she would have received a shower of blisteringly hot water.
Feeling depressed with herself for losing her calm and showering herself with cold water, Shouko quickly scrubbed her hair and body clean and immersed her body into the bathtub.
Lots of things had gone wrong today. If things stayed this way, then the situation would completely go out of her control.
Her emotions were running wild because she was trying to run away. She had to face them properly and put her feelings in order.
Shouko drifted off into thought about the time when she had run across Yasuo at the Ozone Tokorozawa Shopping Center.
She finally remembered it. Her name was Dianaze Krone.
She had beautiful golden hair, and perfect, unblemished skin. Her speech was polite, backed by her perfect Japanese.
Her expression had stayed stiff throughout their conversation, probably because she was apologizing for her actions on the day when she had met with Yasuo again, but her beautiful face suggested that she could make most men go slack jawed if she smiled.
Although the combination of golden hair and green eyes was quite eye-catching, she had a refined and quiet sense of beauty without a hint of gaudiness.
In the few seconds before she had noticed Shouko, she had been worried about keeping Yasuo waiting.
She remembered her exaggerated seriousness when she was apologizing.
However, the impression Shouko got when she had seen her for the first time was that of a strong and stern woman.
She was probably a truly strong woman, the kind who was usually soft but could be strong when it was required.
Her movements back then were also almost superhuman, so she must be physically fit as well.
At that moment, Shouko realized something.
“Ah… I see, so that’s how it is.”
Thinking about it calmly, she understood why she was so irritated when she saw Yasuo getting along with that girl called Diana.
However, whether she could accept that or not was a different matter. Shouko took a deep breath, and dunked her head under the water.
She is exactly the kind of girl I wanted to be back then.
Obedient, cute, able to speak her mind even in front of the person she likes, and has a strong sense of self.
But being clumsy, I ended up as a gloomy, shy girl who never looked at people or smiled happily because I was afraid of how people saw me. Because of that I couldn’t even say what was on my mind, and I just kept smiling even while people were making fun of me, I was such a good for nothing girl.
While still in middle school, I realized that I would never be able to become the girl I dreamt about, so I stopped trying.
That’s why I became who I am today. But even then…
I’m still the kind of girl who is suspicious about Yasu-kun’s relationships even though I barely know him, still so shy that I can’t even look at him properly, hiding my true self behind coarse words and acting like I don’t care because I can’t tell him what I really want to say, and am sitting here laughing by myself.
I haven’t changed one bit.
When I entered high school and all my relationships with people were reset, I thought it was a chance to change myself.
I have more friends now, can talk to guys, and even get along with people from my middle school who don’t know how I used to be back then.
But at the end of the day, it’s like my heart has just changed a set of clothes. Once those clothes come off, I’m still the same second year middle school student I was back then, trapped in my own shell.
Even though I want to be a girl like that, a girl who can stand beside the one she loves and laugh without hiding anything.
Feeling unreasonably jealous, I can’t even bring myself to read a ROPE message from Yasuo. I feel so stupid.
I have to apologize. But what should I say?
I was rude because I was too conscious about my own shortcomings. What good is saying something like that?
Besides, Yasuo and I aren’t that close. I’ll just come off as self-conscious and make him wonder what’s wrong with me.
She was feeling short of breath.
Her thoughts had rapidly risen to the surface with the worst possible timing, and because of that, Shouko became more aware of her own reality and felt depressed.
She took a deep breath, but maybe because she had immersed her head in hot water for too long, she felt strangely dizzy.
She thought that thinking of stupid things made her do something even more stupid, but her body refused to obey her will.
She wondered if she had stayed in the bath for too long, and in the next instant her vision turned completely red, and,
“Ah, this is bad…”
As soon as she whispered that, her consciousness fell into darkness.
Yasuo was sitting at his desk, working on his Social Studies report, when he heard the sound of a notification from his phone and saw that there was a mark on the application icon for ROPE indicating that he had received a new message.
Looking at who had sent the message, he saw that it was from Diana, and the message said that she had been unable to find Khalija.
『Has the Colonel come back there yet』
Seeing that, he replied to the 『Diana』 inside the phone screen.
『She hasn’t come back here. Are you still searching outside?』
『Yes. I don’t want to keep Madoka waiting for too long, so I plan on returning soon. It’s been about１１１☆♪↑11☆11↑↑』
He suddenly saw a bunch of characters and numbers jumbled up and he furrowed his eyebrows in doubt, but he soon received an animated sticker of a creepy-looking rabbit character crying, so he vaguely understood what had happened.
『Do you see a key that says ‘kana’ or ‘AEU’ anywhere?』
After he sent that,
He received a happy-sounding message. He also received another sticker of the same creepy-looking bunny making a peace sign.
“She can send stickers, but doesn’t know how to switch the keyboard back to alphabet mode?”
Yasuo smiled wryly.
『It’s been about one hour, so I plan on coming back there once for now.』
Ah, so she had been trying to type 『1 hour』.
And this time, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to revert to the alphabetical mode, so she typed it out as 『one』.
“She should just type the message in kanji.”
There had been a popular book which made fun of messages sent by mothers who weren’t used to digital devices, and the messages Diana sent were pretty close to that.
“That reminds me, I didn’t get around to asking about what language they speak in Ante Lande.”
He didn’t have any time to relax since Khalija came over, and as Khalija also spoke perfect Japanese that was in no way inferior to Diana, he had completely forgotten until now.
『Maybe she went drinking for a change of pace?』
“No, I’m talking about alcohol.”
He inadvertently spoke that aloud instead of typing it.
Looking at the clock, he saw that it was already past eleven pm, and even high school students would know that adults wouldn’t go out of the house to drink tea at such a late hour.
However, if a person wasn’t aware that 『going out to drink』 was an idiomatic way of saying 『going to eat at a restaurant that serves alcoholic drinks』, they might take the statement at face value.
“Hmm? But doesn’t ‘drink’ in English also have the nuance of drinking alcohol?”
Maybe it was just that Diana was not in the habit of consuming alcohol.
He had never seen Diana drinking alcohol, and he didn’t even know what the legal age for drinking in Resteria was, and whether Diana was allowed to do so.
It would take another two years until he was old enough to drink, but would he be able to go drinking with Diana by that time? Or maybe he would go with his father first?
“…It’s entirely possible that I won’t have the time to go drinking as well.”
The possibility of him ending up as an unemployed twenty-year-old who had failed at both getting into college and becoming a Hero was definitely not zero.
He tried to get rid of those terrifying thoughts, and remembered that as he was born in April, he was already old enough to vote.
There were no elections planned at either the national level or the regional level right now, but when a voting card with his name on it was finally delivered to their house, would he experience some sort of mental change?
He had absolutely no understanding of politics, but would he feel the need to study about various things to make his vote count?
“Behaving like an adult is actually quite difficult if you do it seriously.”
Considering how Khalija said that people were considered to be adults at the age of fifteen in Resteria, if he went to went to Ante Lande and became a Hero, would he end up having to carry a heavy burden instead of just being respected as an individual person?
Had his parents carried such a burden as well?
『In any case, I’ll be coming back now. I left Madoka at my apartment and came outside, so you haven’t taken a bath yet, right, Yasuo? Would you like to take a shower once I’m back?』
He felt that it would be far better for his mental health if he borrowed the shower while it was still just his mother who was staying there.
Even though he was in his own room, he felt worried for a second if Nodoka was watching him from somewhere and hurriedly looked around.
It was bad for his heart in many ways, so he wished she would stop saying things in such a manner already.
If he had received such a message from a regular girl like Shouko, he could imagine what sort of things Nodoka would say to him and was unable to keep a calm face.
『No sorry to do this when you’re away, but I think I’ll go take a bath right now.』
『I see. Understood. Please take as much time as you need.』
Well, that was easy enough.
“Even though she said that, it would be better to get out of the bath by the time Diana gets back.”
Diana’s apartment only had the minimum necessary furniture and appliances, and there were still some things that had not been delivered yet, so according to Nodoka, it was a 『pretty dreary-looking place』.
It was the first time that he would be entering a girl’s room, but seeing as Diana had been staying at the Kenzaki family house until a few days ago, he didn’t feel all that nervous.
If anything, the bathroom at his house had been destroyed before Diana’s room had a chance to become more like that of a typical girl’s room, so that was the only silver lining in this situation.
He prepared his underwear and a towel, and was about to go downstairs.
“Still unread, huh? As I thought, I should speak to her directly instead of sending a message by ROPE.”
Looking at the screen of his conversation with Shouko, he saw that the message he sent earlier that evening with his explanation was still not marked as read by the recipient.
However, he could not erase the message that he had already sent. So all he could do was hope for a reply and wait.
Just when he thought that.
He saw a mark appear next to the message indicating that it had been read.
Yasuo was surprised by this sudden turn of events, but he was even more surprised by the reply that came soon after.
『I’m coming to see you.』
It was a short message, written entirely in Hiragana.
『Eh? Do you mean you’re coming over to my house?』
He inadvertently replied, but that message didn’t get marked as read.
“What’s going on?”
Not only was the conversation going nowhere, the contents felt like something out of a horror story.
There were plenty of cases where people sent a message knowing that they had made a typing error or used the wrong kanji because they were busy, such as when they were riding a bicycle.
Maybe Shouko had actually been too busy to look at her slimphone until now, and after she finally saw his message she sent a hurried reply…
“No, but still, would she actually come over at such a late hour?”
It was already past eleven-thirty pm.
Yasuo had thought that it might have been better to talk to her in person earlier, but it was also not so important that they had to urgently meet in person so late in the night to discuss it.
『It’s pretty late today, how about sometime tomorrow?』
He was pretty worried about the situation so he sent that message, but this one stayed unread as well.
As he thought, something was strange.
He decided to just go ahead and call her, but before ringing for very long, he was routed to voicemail.
“T-This is weird.”
He continued calling her, but she didn’t pick up at all.
No wait, he heard something.
It was the sound of a phone vibrating.
There was the sound of a phone vibrating in concert with the phone call.
The sound of a vibrating phone?
Why was he hearing something like that?
When the call went to voicemail and Yasuo disconnected, the vibration stopped as well.
And then, when he placed the call again,
Yasuo jumped away from his desk, and knocked his chair backwards. The chair which was on wheels moved backwards into the corner of the room until it hit his bookshelf, knocking various things to the floor, but Yasuo was in no state of mind to worry about that.
Eventually, the call went to voicemail again, and the vibration stopped at exactly the same time.
However, Yasuo was staring at a certain spot with his slimphone still held to his ear.
There was a slight gap in the curtains of his window.
He could see a sliver of the outside through that gap.
The sound of the vibration came from out there.
However, he didn’t care about that anymore. He could see it. It was definitely there.
It was that red light.
“You’ve… got to be kidding…”
The face of the Shii that was looking in through the windowpane with one eye looked to be the same as that of the Shii that had destroyed their bathroom.
The depths of that black flame that burned without a sound were slightly illuminated by the light from the room that leaked out through the gap in the curtains.
His father was at home. He mother was also close by. Diana was also on her way back.
There was only one enemy. They had to defeat it for certain this time.
But… But this Shii was…
“Ta…Tatewaki-san, is that you?”
It had destroyed the wall of the bathroom to get inside, but this time it seemed content to just watch from outside the window.
The voice was similar to that of Alexei’s Shii, it seemed to come from the depths of hell and inspired terror in those who heard it.
Even so, he could tell that the underlying voice was that of a girl.
Yasuo realized that just as each Shii was different depending on who they were when they were alive, which could also be called their 『identity』, they could also have different voices.
『…st …ve… Yasu…o…』
“Ah… Aaah, no way.”
Alexei’s Shii came in search of Hideo the Hero.
In that case, this Shii that came to the Kenzaki house twice in search of him while muttering his name…
“What… Just what happened… Tatewaki-san is a Shii? B-But why…”
If Shouko was actually a Shii, did that mean she had died a long time ago?
No, the assumption that Shouko had already died before they met again was too far-fetched.
In the first place, Shouko wasn’t supposed to have had any connection to Ante Lande at all.
Just what sort of thing had happened to turn Shouko into a Shii?
However, considering the power it had displayed in breaking down the wall of the bathroom, and its ability to put up a fight against Khalija, no matter what was on the inside, it was certain that Yasuo was no match for it.
As he thought, he had no option but to call for his father. However, raising his voice might provoke it.
He was hesitant to use the Holy Sword summons inside the house to bring his father here, so he tried to slowly move out of the room, but,
Along with a strange growl, the Shii disappeared from his window. At the same time, he heard something hard fall onto the balcony.
As soon as the ominous presence disappeared from the window, Yasuo opened the curtains without thinking.
For some reason, he didn’t consider the possibility that he could be attacked from outside.
He just saw the same old view of the night that was usually visible.
However he noticed something strange on the roof of the house on the opposite side of the road, opened the window, and jumped out onto the balcony.
It was a snake made of light.
There was a snake of light on the roof of opposite house, and it was restraining the Shii, and the person holding the tail of that snake was…
There was no mistake. She was wearing the tracksuit that she had still not returned to him, and the circlet with an embedded gemstone.
Maybe he was just seeing things, or it was reflecting the light from the snake of light, but it looked like the gemstone was glowing faintly.
So that was the appearance of the weapon known as the Snakebone, Marfik. If so, it had a grand and imposing appearance that certainly lived up to the name Snakebone.
In any case, it was good that Khalija had chosen to capture it instead of slaying it. If she happened to destroy it for some reason, he had no idea what the consequences would be.
Yasuo patted his chest in relief and waved his hand at Khalija.
At that moment, it looked like Khalija had realized that Yasuo was looking at her.
However, she stood up and turned her back to Yasuo.
Just before she turned around, even though it was dark, he could tell that she had a sad expression on her face.
She then spun around and leaped high into the air, and disappeared somewhere Yasuo’s eyes couldn’t follow. Of course, she took the snake of light and Shouko who had turned into a Shii along with her.
“What was that… just now… What is she… Khalija-san, where did she go… That’s right, I need to let Diana know…!”
He had to let everyone know about what happened just now.
He turned around with the intention of going back inside the house and calling everyone, when his foot struck something.
It was a slimphone.
It was a slightly outdated model YOIPHONE, enclosed in a plain, transparent case.
When he pressed a key, a lock screen image that looked like it was a default image that had not been changed was displayed on the screen.
Also displayed on the screen was a notification message displaying information about recently received calls. It read, 『Incoming call: Yasu-kun』.
“What… What the hell is going on!?”
Yasuo gripped the slimphone and ran out of his room to tell his father and Nodoka what had happened.
“That small-sized Shii is Shouko-san!?”
“And Khalija-san carried it off!?”
“Are you sure about that, Yasuo?”
Diana, who had returned to the house, Nodoka, and his father looked like they didn’t know whether to believe what Yasuo was saying.
Even when Yasuo showed them Shouko’s slimphone, they were still not immediately convinced.
However, a flash of light suddenly appeared outside the window in the small garden of the Kenzaki house, and when everyone looked in that direction to see what happened,
“Open up! Hurry!”
They saw Madoka who was supposed to be waiting in Diana’s room for Khalija to return.
She had a stern expression on her face, jumped into the house the moment Hideo unlocked the window, and made a staff appear in her hand.
“It’s the Shii.”
“Don’t tell me…”
The four of them reacted in different ways, and simultaneously looked at the slimphone that Yasuo was still holding.
“There were two of them in the garden. There was also one on the road. I really doubt that’s all of them! We need to get rid of them quickly, or somebody could get hurt!!”
An unknown number of Shii. The small-sized Shii. And Khalija.
“This was unexpected.”
Hideo shook his head like he was exasperated.
“It looks like we were dancing in the palm of someone’s hand right from the start.”