Chapter 1 – An Encounter With The Unknown
There are things in this world that won’t change one bit even if you say them aloud, and yet people end up saying them regardless. Such things are actually fairly common.
“It’s so hot……”
Talking about the high temperature during summer.
Tsugami Kazaya was currently on his way from his house to the train station. That was because he had discovered on the internet that a new installment of a manga series that he was collecting was now on sale.
It was just past one o’clock in the afternoon. Also, it was a weekday. He would normally be in class at this time, but the school was currently closed for summer vacation.
“…I knew it, I shouldn’t have gone outside……”
The heatwave far surpassed his expectations, causing him to regret his actions. Nowadays, it was possible to read a digital tankobon as soon as it was released without having to leave the house, so he should have just done that instead of going out.
However, Kazaya preferred to read physical books. He couldn’t explain it properly, but the feeling of holding a book and turning the pages gave him a strange feeling of satisfaction. He also played retro games often, so maybe he just had a tendency to be attracted to older things.
(Oh well, no point complaining about something that’s already done. I’ll just have something cold to drink at the cafe in front of the station and go back home.)
A large bridge came into sight as he continued to walk while trying to stay positive. A river with clear water flowed beneath it. After he crossed this bridge, he would be right next to the train station.
At that moment, Kazaya—who just happened to look to the side for no reason—saw someone leaning against the guardrail.
There was a girl standing there. She wasn’t Japanese, though. The skin that peeked out from under her one-piece dress was white as snow, and her long hair was a dazzling shade of silver. In addition, he caught a glimpse of her eyes from the side and noticed that they were as blue as the sky above them.
(I wonder if she’s from somewhere in Europe? You don’t see too many people like her around here.)
People often said that the world was a small place these days, but even though it might be different in big cities, it was rare to see a foreigner in this neighborhood.
(It’s hard to tell the age of foreigners from their appearance, but I think she’s probably older than me.)
He couldn’t stop looking at her, even though he knew it was rude to stare for too long. However, she apparently hadn’t noticed him yet. She was leaning against the guardrail, completely focused on looking at the scenery.
“River! Mountains! Fields! Nihon! Japan!”
It looked like she was busy getting excited while shouting out random words. From what he could tell, she was probably moved by the Japanesque scenery.
“Mountains! Ninja! Ninja, ninja! Ninja, here!”
Kazaya almost blurted out, “No, there aren’t!” on a reflex. She apparently didn’t know much about Japanese culture, which was somewhat rare these days.
(……Oh well, at least it looks like she’s having fun.)
Feeling somewhat at peace at that sight, Kazaya attempted to walk past her.
“River!…Ah! Fish! Koi!”
The next instant, however, the girl leaned so far over the guardrail that Kazaya was startled. Apparently, she had discovered the carp that were swimming in the river.
“Fish! Fish! Koi!”
What’s more, her eyes were sparkling as she stretched a hand out towards them—
“Hey, watch out!”
However, Kazaya’s warning was in vain. He saw the girl fall off the bridge and heard a loud splash.
Kazaya hurriedly looked over the side of the bridge and saw that the girl was flailing about in the water and appeared to be struggling. It looked like she didn’t know how to swim.
The girl shouted for help. Kazaya looked around at his surroundings. There were no other people in the vicinity, and there was no rope that he could use to pull her up either.
Swimming wasn’t his strong suit, but there was no time to worry about things like that. Kazaya took off his jacket, climbed up onto the guardrail, and jumped into the river.
The shock of hitting the cold water of the river made the earlier heat feel like an illusion. Wracked by shivers, Kazaya swam through the water and reached the girl’s side.
“Grab on to me!”
Kazaya spread his arms and the girl single-mindedly wrapped her arms around him. He felt a soft sensation pressed against his body, but he didn’t have the leeway to think about it. The additional weight of another person and her sodden clothes made swimming even harder than before, but he somehow managed to reach the riverbank.
Kazaya helped the girl out of the water first before climbing out himself.
“W-whew, we made it. I wasn’t sure what would happen for a minute there.”
As Kazaya took a breath of relief, the girl’s violent coughing fit subsided and she turned to look at him.
She then started to say something, but Kazaya wasn’t able to understand her. She seemed to be speaking in her native tongue.
“Aah, I kyanto eengrishu… Hang on, is that even what she’s speaking?”
She was speaking a lot faster and more fluently than his English teacher did during class, so he wasn’t even able to determine what language she was speaking.
“Uhh… English, I don’t speeeak it… Sorryyyy…”
In his panic, Kazaya’s pronunciation started to sound like that of a shady foreigner. After hearing that, the girl’s eyes opened wide as if she had realized something. And then…
Sure, she was speaking Japanese, but the austere tone didn’t match her cute exterior at all.
“I can, little, Japanese! Little, Japanese….. Sorry…. Yes.”
She appeared to be apologizing for her bad Japanese. Kazaya shook his head.
“N-No, it’s fine! You’re not injured, are you?”
The girl tilted her head and blinked several times. It looked like she hadn’t understood him.
“Err… Umm… Are you okay?”
He tried to keep it simple and was rewarded with the sight of her smiling brilliantly and nodding her head.
“Rest assured! Yes!”
“Thank goodness…. That’s an oddly outdated choice of phrasing, though.”
He set that matter aside assuming that her style of speaking was because of her parents’ influence and then tried to talk to her some more.
“That was dangerous, be more careful next time.”
He spoke slowly and clearly to make sure he was understood. The girl once again smiled and then hugged him tightly.
Kazaya was completely taken aback. She was probably trying to thank him. Hugging someone might have been common wherever she came from, but it was extremely embarrassing for him.
“Thanks, Thank you!”
“Aah, ok. I get it, so let me go.”
Kazaya felt his face getting hot, and almost forcefully separated himself from the girl’s embrace. She then pointed at herself.
“Hmm? Oh, you’re called Elsie? I’m Tsugami Kazaya.”
“What is this, the opening act for a cheap comedy skit? It’s Tsu-ga-mi Ka-za-ya.”
“Ooh. Kazaya. Kazaya! Yes!”
It looked like she had managed to learn his name. Seeing her smile without a hint of guile made Kazaya feel happy as well.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Glad to acquaintance.”
“Glad to acquaintance!?”
She even started to say it wrong. However, pointing that out would just make things drag on for even longer so he decided to not go there.
“You’re drenched… although I guess I am too. Is your place close by?”
“Place? House? Ah… Far away! Train, need to ride!”
“Really? What should we do, my house isn’t close by either….”
Even though it was summer, they might catch a cold if they stayed like that for too long.
“I guess there’s nothing for it but to go to the station and buy a change of clothes….”
Kazaya made his decision.
“Alright. I suppose I can’t just leave you alone after saving you. Let’s go to the station together. You’re dripping wet. I’ll buy you a change of clothes.”
Elsie stared blankly at him while he was speaking, but her face lit up with happiness after she eventually grasped the meaning of what he had said.
“Ooh! Kazaya, thanks! Yes!”
She grabbed on to him once again. Kazaya’s body temperature which had fallen after he had jumped into the river skyrocketed once again.
“Ughhh. Like I said, stop hugging me!”
Although he felt sorry for Elsie who obviously did not have any ulterior motives, he once again forcefully separated himself from her. She stared at him, puzzled.
“Umm… People might get the wrong idea, so you shouldn’t hug people in Japan so casually. Do you understand what that means?”
After thinking about it for a while, she finally appeared to understand what he was talking about. Elsie’s face turned a little red.
“My apologies, yes….. But, wrong idea, maybe not bad.”
“Hmm? What are you talking about?”
Kazaya looked confused, but Elsie just blushed a little more and narrowed her eyes.
Her expression clearly indicated a hidden implication, which along with her appearance, made her look somewhat mature. Kazaya received a sudden shock when he saw her like that.
“Err… Umm… Oh, forget it. Anyway, just follow me.”
Kazaya coughed to clear the mood and decided to guide her to the station.
After arriving at the water fountain at the plaza in front of the station, Kazaya looked around. He soon spotted a large volume retail shop that sold clothes.
“Alright, let’s go in there. Elsie, follow me—”
Kazaya looked over his shoulder to talk to Elsie. However…
“Kazaya, a car, coming. Yes.”
Elsie tapped him on the shoulder and spoke, so he looked in the direction that she was pointing in.
Sure enough, there was a black limousine slowly making its way towards the station. Although the sight of it initially caused him to raise his guard, he suddenly realized that he had seen that particular car before.
“Wait, is that…”
The car stopped beside them and the window rolled down, only to prove that Kazaya wasn’t mistaken.
“What a coincidence, Tsugami-kun.”
Sitting in the rear seat was Mikoto Chihiro, an upperclassman from the high school that Kazaya attended.
“Senpai! What brings you here?”
“I was accompanying my father on some work of his. I already finished my part, so I was heading back home.”
Chihiro spoke without changing her expression one bit. Her intonation was precise and lacked emotion. She was behaving like her usual self, albeit this persona of hers was restricted to the times when there were people other than Kazaya around.
“What about you? Your clothes look really wet. Besides…”
After saying that, Chihiro switched her gaze over to Elsie.
“There seems to be a girl in the same condition as you. And she looks like a foreigner.”
“Ah, yes, some stuff happened earlier…”
Kazaya attempted to summarise what had happened earlier, but before he could do that…
“I am Elsie! Kazaya, jumped me, yes!”
Elsie threw a massive wrench into the works, causing him to lose his opportunity.
“No, no, no, no! That’s wrong!”
Kazaya hurried to deny it, but Chihiro just looked at him silently before speaking.
“……Jumped?” She repeated.
“I see, so you ended up like this after assaulting her. Seriously this is so shocking just what kind of situation was it, is this some kind of peculiar fetish of yours, I didn’t know you had such interests, Tsugami-kun, it’s fine, people are born different after all but you should still get permission from the other person first…”
Chihiro unleashed a torrent of words. She appeared to be the same as usual on the surface, but upon looking closer, Kazaya saw that her whole body was trembling slightly. He only realized it because he was aware of her true personality.
He realized that she was incredibly agitated.
“It’s not like that, Senpai! Elsie, don’t say strange stuff like that!”
“Aah… Jumped, wrong word. Consensual?”
“That doesn’t make it any better!”
“I see, so it was consensual, in that case there’s really nothing I can say but you’re still a minor so you need to show some restraint or you will eventually end up making a mistake that you can’t take back….”
“Senpai, just calm down! You’re starting to sound like a broken robot!”
After calming the two of them down, Kazaya summed up his relationship with Elsie to Chihiro in a few words. Chihiro, who had started to look like she had been equipped with a vibration mode, finally reverted to her usual self.
“I see. I understand. Well, I already knew you weren’t the type of person to do something like that, Tsugami-kun.”
“Then why were you so agitated?”
“……I wasn’t particularly agitated. But it is human nature to have some misgivings, even if you know something for sure.”
So she was agitated after all. However, Kazaya refrained from saying that out loud and just scratched his face.
“So anyway, I was thinking of buying some clothes for Elsie. We were just about to go into that shop.”
“I see. But Tsugami-kun, have you ever picked out clothes for a girl before?”
“……It’s embarrassing, but the answer is no.”
“Yes, I thought so.”
Chihiro said that and sighed softly. Was is just his imagination, or was there a hint of relief in that sigh?
“Sorry, but I’ll get off here.”
While Kazaya was thinking about that, Chihiro spoke to the person in the driver’s seat.
“I can’t just pass by without doing anything while my underclassman is trying to help someone, right? It won’t take too long. Please go back to the house without me.”
The chauffeur nodded and opened the door. After Chihiro got out of the car, it moved away with a low-pitched rumble.
“Is that okay, Senpai?”
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t have anything else planned for today.”
After saying that, Chihiro turned to face Elsie and bowed her head.
“I’m Mikoto Chihiro. I am a second-year student at the high school that Tsugami-kun attends. In other words, I am his senior. It’s nice to meet you, Elsie-san.”
Elsie looked puzzled.
“Umm, how do I explain this to her…”
Kazaya was having a hard time figuring out what to do, but…
All of a sudden, Chihiro started to speak a language that Kazaya was not able to understand, although it sounded familiar. Elsie, her eyes wide with surprise, spoke back to her in what appeared to be the same language. After a short conversation, the two of them nodded to each other.
“It looks like she understands it now,” Chihiro said to Kazaya.
“Senpai, you can understand what Elsie is saying?”
“Yes. I’ve been taking lessons for a number of foreign languages since I was little, after all. She seems to be from northern Europe. Judging by her accent, she’s probably from—”
Chihiro said the name of a certain country. It was unfortunately not a country that Kazaya was familiar with, but judging by the way Elsie’s jaw dropped, Chihiro had been right on the money.
“Aaah… I’d expect nothing less from you, Senpai.”
“It’s nothing special. Anyway, we should hurry and buy her some clothes.”
Chihiro strode forward. Watching from behind, she looked very dignified and didn’t have a single flaw in her posture.
(Seriously, she so perfect when we’re on this side…..)
Kazaya thought that once more.