Kokoro Connect – Volume 5: Nise Random

Translator’s Notes:

Kokoro Connect Volume 5 consists of the Nise Random (“Random Fakes”) arc.


Translation Credits:

Translation – defan752

Editing – defan752

Raws – ruranobe.ru

Preceding Illustrations:

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Book Cover
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Inner Cover
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Page 2-3
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Page 4-5
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Table of Contents

Prologue

— I encountered it.

No, no, that didn’t happen, what am I writing? That didn’t count.

I didn’t encounter anyone, I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear it. I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything, there’s nothing!

Because that was a joke, I was definitely dreaming that up. Yeah, I was dreaming, it has to be that.

How could something like that exist in real life! So, my world definitely didn’t change, absolutely not.

Yep, today is normal as always, tomorrow will be normal as always, the day after tomorrow will be normal as always, and the day after the day after tomorrow will be normal as always, everything will be normal as always.

Ugh, everything always being so normal makes me hate it a bit.

Although I hate this, that’s another matter.

I’ll sleep early again today then, I’m already tired. Something like this happened because I’m tired. I’ll see about it tomorrow, tomorrow’s going to be a good day.

That way, everything will be back to normal.

I’ll forget it.

Goodnight.

Someone like myself…

 

Chapter 1: Sports Festival

“We will now begin discussing the matters of the sports festival.”

During the first half of June, in the classroom of Class 2-B in Yamaboshi High School, class representative Setouchi Kaoru spoke like that.

The class meeting in sixth period today, a Monday, was being used to discuss the sports festival to be held in early July.

“Boys, gather around the male athletics leader, Watase-kun, and girls, gather around the female athletic leader, Kurihara.”

Setouchi ordered neatly; she had gotten completely used to the duties of a class rep. Under her short black hair, a pair of shiny, very noticeable earrings displayed themselves on her earlobes; she gave a strong impression of a well-dressed honor student.

The students in the class chattered to one another as they stood up, and Yaegashi Taichi began to move as well.

“It’s sports festival season again! It really makes you excited~, right Yaegashi-kun!”

Nakayama Mariko, who tied her hair into cute pigtails trilled as they walked, grinning. Nakayama was a cheerful girl who always smiled.

“Yeah.” Taichi nodded and replied.

“Hey, tsk-tsk, that was too short of a reply, Yaegashi-kun! That’s just one word, one word!”

Although Nakayama’s pushy behavior made Taichi somewhat uncomfortable, she was on good terms with Nagase, and that made her stick around Taichi often.

“Ah, ahh, sorry.”

“Uu~, your response is so boring. You’re not like this when you’re using that tone of voice, and whispering love words to Inaba-san all the time~.”

Just then, a shadow suddenly lunged from behind Nakayama.

“Da-n! You guys are really chatting it up, Nakayama-chan and Taichi!”

The space around them was already sparkling with only Nakayama, and the latest addition made it scintillate. The person hugging Nakayama was the Cultural Research Club president, Nagase Iori, a pretty girl generally agreed to be the cutest in the grade. She was becoming more and more accustomed to letting her long hair down maturely, and her spirit and appearance complemented each other solidly.

“Yup~, because Yaegashi-kun and I have a very good relationship!”

“What? Well, there’s no way my relationship with Taichi will lose to yours! We’ve been through a lot together during club activities this year!”

Been through a lot — What Taichi, Nagase, and the other members of the Cultural Research Club had gone through this year, could not be expressed through such a simple phrase.

But now, the fact that everyone can happily laugh like this, is real; the fact that Taichi and Nagase can view each other as friends, is also real.

As long as these are real, it should be all right to describe everything else with the phrase “been through a lot”.

Even if danger ever approaches again, all will be well as long as Taichi and the others worked together, stood, and fought.

“What are you thinking about all by yourself? Taichi, there is a pair of pretty girls hugging you left and right! Or is it because you’ve got your lovely wife Inaban, that you’re ignoring all the other girls?”

“A wife, hm? Well, you’re right, and she’s Yaegashi-kun’s most doted and beloved wife!”

“Hey! I think I just heard someone say ‘I really want to be hugged by pretty girls, and bask in a whirlpool of cuteness’! I want to bask in it too!”

“No one said that, okay?”

The person sprinting over just to make this strange declaration was Kiriyama Yui, another member of the Cultural Research Club with Taichi. Kiriyama had a petite frame, silky chestnut-colored hair, a self-declared cute-loving personality, and was a standard modern girl; but she was also a beast in the world of Women’s Full Contact Karate, with a fighting side to her.

“That’s weird, did I hear wrong? What a pity, I thought I had finally found a partner with whom I could freely talk about my dreams…”

“Geez, I really worry about Kiriyama sometimes.”

Taichi muttered. Although Kiriyama’s personality was relatively serious, whenever anything “cute” was mentioned, she would turn weird.

Taichi concluded his blithe chitchat with the girls, and walked toward the desk of the male athletics leader — Watase, a cool and relaxed sportsman in the soccer club.

“Geez, you can’t meet here without stopping by the girls first, can you?”

After Watase said this, the other boys all piped up with objections and negotations like: “Enough is enough!” “Trade places with me! How much do you want?!”

“I want to confirm something first.”

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Not long after the discussion began, Kurihara Yukina, the other athletics leader in the center of the girls’ group, raised her hand to speak; she seemed to want the boys to notice as well.

Kurihara was a tall slender girl who was Kiriyama’s best friend. Her vibrantly dyed curls and mature makeup made her seem like a fun-loving girl at a glance, but she was a diligent student in the track and field club, and never failed to attend practice.

“Does everyone really want to win?”

“””Of course!”””

At first a few people shouted, then the entire class yelled together, “We really want to win!”.

“Besides, if we win the sports festival, it’ll benefit us during the cultural festival~.”

Nakayama said in a piercing voice.

Yamaboshi High School’s Sports Festival is a battle during which one class is selected from each of the three grades and assembled into a team. The team that wins will also earn the privilege of organizing activities being able to freely organize whatever activities and choose whatever location it wanted during the upcoming Cultural Festival.

“If we win the Sports Festival, the Cultural Festival will be a lot more fun!”

“To stir things up in the class, we have got to win!”

“Even if we ignore all that, what’s the point of a competition if you don’t try to win!”

“OK, OK. I get how everyone feels.”

Kurihara quieted the group down. Noticing the situation, Kiriyama looked surprised and murmured to Kurihara:

“By the way, Yukina, since you’re the athletics leader, this shady attitude of yours won’t do, so you must take up the role of a good leader.”

“You don’t even need to mention it. Besides, I’m doing this for your own good.”

“For my own good? Doing what?”

Kiriyama tilted her head in confusion. Kurihara ignored her and continued nonchalantly:

“So, it’s been decided that in all of the girls’ events, we’ll be using the「Goddess of War」, Kiriyama Yui.”

“Wait a second! Don’t just make decisions like that! And what do you mean,「Goddess of War」?!”

Everyone glanced at Kiriyama and all nodded in unison.

“And there’s a limit to events that one person can sign up for, so this is a ridiculous plan, isn’t it?!”

“Not a problem. We will use「Masque de Kiriyama One」and「Masque de Kiriyama Two」[1].”

“Hey, if you need it I can lend you the masks I collect. Like the one that the world champion won despite being a lightweight from San Diego –”

“Of course I think there’s a problem! I’m not doing it! And Taichi, why are you collecting masks like it’s normal and saying that without any shame?! Put that away!”

Kiriyama’s merciless. …… I wanted to talk more about that, damn!

“Are we temporarily halting Operation Masque de Kiriyama?”

“Please freeze it forever!”

After Kiriyama and Kurihara’s comical dialogue [2] came to a conclusion, a discussion began on dividing the boys and girls into groups .

“Hmm, for the guys… seems like the girls have the same idea; in any case, guys in the Sports Club should take on events that they can easily gain points in, and then people like Yaegashi, who don’t exercise but are still acceptable, should enter the second-best events, and finally, give all the other events to everyone else. How about that?”

Watase suggested. Starting with the Sports Club members, everyone nodded in assent.

“Then it’s decided!” “I’ll do relays!” “I’ll do botaoshi.”[3]

“Put me in whatever competition you need me for.” Taichi agreed as well.

“Uh… are you guys over there okay with that?”

Watase asked the students who don’t really exercise.

“Ah, yeah.” “Uh-huh.” “Yeah, sure.”

“Great, then let’s divide up the members for the high-scoring Yamaboshi High School staple event: the mixed cavalry battle!”[4]

When the events were divided up, everyone returned to their seats, and Setouchi stood in front of the classroom again.

“Now, we’ll pick the representatives for the cheering competition.”

Yamaboshi High School’s cheering competition was the center of the Sports Festival. It was not only a compelling competition, but also a very effective way to earn points. Every year, an immense amount of effort was put into this event, and just the planning for it began a month before the Sports Festival. In this time, every grade would select a number of boys and girls as the leaders in charge of the entire group’s practice.

“–and Yaegashi. That’s the three guys. For the girls, Kiriyama, Nagase… and another spot, who wants to do it?”

The boys were picked very quickly, but the girls still needed one more.

“How about you?” “Um, I’m not good at being a leader…” “How about Nakayama-chan?” “Uuu~… I’m not good with sports…”

“It would be better for me to do it, but neither the class rep nor the athletics leader can do it…”

Kurihara muttered.

Setouchi hugged her chest, murmuring worriedly: “What do we do…”

No one was able to come up with a solution even as the bell rang.

Almost at the same time the bell began to ring, the one who had pushed all responsibility onto the class representative but had slept himself, Gotou Ryuuzen, Class 2-B’s homeroom teacher, woke up.

“…Uhm? Ah… it’s that time already. The discussion’s done, Setouchi? Then let’s–”

“No, it’s not.”

“Ehhhhhhh!? Can’t we go home now?!”

“What are you surprised about?! f you have time to say that then come here and help! We still lack a girl for the cheering competition leaders.”

Gotou, who had assumed the role of Taichi’s homeroom teacher in the first year and was also the advisor for the Cultural Research Club, was an extremely slacking teacher.

“Uwoh, I see… So Nagase and Kiriyama have been selected… Hm? I feel like there’s someone missing… Ah! Fujishima! There’s no one but Fujishima who can do it!”

“…Eh? Me?”

The girl whose face displayed an entirely unexpected expression was Fujishima Maiko. She originally was Class 1-C representative but was demoted from the higher ranks and re-assigned to Class 2-B.

“This kind of job… there should be a lot more people more capable than me…”

Fujishima’s outstanding leadership in the first year manifested as leading class meetings, but now, it was more in the background.

No one was exactly sure what to say to that. It was like the surrounding air had stagnated. Suddenly, Nagase broke the gloomy silence.

“I, I also agree! If it’s okay, I really want to try hard at this with everyone. If Fujishima-san is willing to give it all she’s got, victory will be within our grasp! And besides, a lot of people in this class are in the Sports Club!”

“I agree. If it’s Fujishima-san, everything will be fine…that is, there is no one better than Fujishima-san!” said Watase immediately. The air began to flow again, and the students agreed one after another.

“…Victory.” “That’s right!” “Let’s shoot for victory!” “Yes!” “Uwooooooo!”

Class 2-B was already fired up for the sports festival, but when the word “victory” was uttered, the class became even more passionate. This passion slowly flowed into Fujishima’s heart.

“Eh… um… then… I’ll do it.”

As soon as Fujishima nodded her head, the class broke into deafening applause.

Taichi worried that Fujishima might really not want to do it, but when he saw the expression of the slightly embarrassed Fujishima, he dispelled this notion.

“Fuu, I originally thought you guys would understand my intentions. My suggestion wasn’t to make you guys beg Fujishima, who was all-powerful and could accomplish anything during the first year; it was to give the budding Fujishima, who lacks self-confidence, an opportunity to shine. As a teacher, and after much careful consideration–”[5]

“Please be quiet. There are people who need to go to their clubs.”

“Yes. I’m sorry Setouchi-san.” [6]

Since Setouchi was originally a slightly delinquent girl, she had an extremely piercing stare.

“Then it’s decided, good work everyone!”

Setouchi concluded. With that, she dismissed the class meeting.

Suddenly, Fujishima widened her eyes, as though she had realized something important.

“…Ah! Come to think of it… I’ve never been invited by Nagase-san to do anything, haven’t I? Then just now… Nagase-san has finally accepted my love! Yahoo!”

Fujishima was immediately in high spirits.

“….Eh? What kind of misunderstanding is this? No, no, that’s not it Fujishima-san! No, no, don’t lick your lips like that, IYAAAAAAA!”

=====

“You’re joking, right?! Chihhi’s and Shino-chan’s class and Inaban’s class are going to be on the same team in the Sports Festival?!” Nagase yelled in surprise. She was sitting on a foldable metal chair beside Taichi.

After school, on the fourth floor of the activity building, in Room 401, five second year students, including Taichi, and two first year students gathered as members of the Cultural Research Club, with a total of seven people.

“Apparently.”

“That’s cold! At least have a more exciting reaction of ‘Ohhhhh, really?’ or something like that. You’re too cold~~”

“Hm, in terms of probability, this situation is not impossible.”

The boy who calmly answered the lively Nagase was Uwa Chihiro. He sported an uneven but neat hairstyle, and was a cool ♂ and ♂ handsome ♂ guy. Although he looked benign, he went to the same karate dojo as Kiriyama, and his toned body was trained full ♂ of ♂ manliness. Because he often conversed with Kiriyama, he developed an interest in the Cultural Research Club. After a series of various twists and turns, he eventually became a first year member of the Cultural Research Club.

“Chihhi is no fun. Right, Shino-chan?”

“Mhm, I also think Chihiro-kun is a little uninteresting. But if we’re describe it as a ‘Clearly talking about something interesting but you’re making a boring reaction, deliberately giving us the cold shoulder’, it could possibly be Chihiro-kun’s own ultra-realistic manner of joking. One way or another, it’s just that he’s very boring.”

“What’s the matter Shino-chan?! How come you’re suddenly so vicious?”

“Eh? Did I mess it up? Recently there are often people who tell me ‘You’re too blunt’ or ‘You’re surprisingly harsh’ and things like that, so I wanted to help Chihiro-kun realize his mistakes…”

“Yep, I understand now that Shino-chan’s abusive verbal skills are innate talent…”

The girl who was talking digressively with Nagase was Enjouji Shino, one of the new members, of the Cultural Research Club, along with Chihiro-kun. No matter how you looked at her: from her outer appearance or her actions, one would irrepressably liken this girl to a miniature dachshund,[7] or a similarly small animal. Her soft, tea-colored short hair highlighted her cute disposition even further. Although she was often cautious and jittery, she spoke extremely sharply and bluntly, usually hitting the nail on its head.

Taichi personally had started off a little uncomfortable with the addition of the new members, but since they have already joined for a month, he was familiar with them now. The two new members probably felt the same way.

“But it’s getting really exciting now!” exclaimed Aoki cheerfully. As he moved his body, his lightly permed hair swayed gently.

“If I, Inaba-chan, Chihiro, and Shino-chan are the Green Team, while Taichi, Yui, and Iori-chan are the Red Team, that would be a battle more exciting than the Sports Festival!”

“Ah, but there are many other teams too, and all three grades are attending, so we really can’t do it by ourselves…” said Taichi in a low voice. Nagase suddenly began making “Uu~un” sounds non-stop, and looking Taichi and Chihiro, comparing them.

“What?” asked Taichi.

“Um~… although Taichi and Chihhi are completely different types, but this calm and silent personality…. their roles are overlapping, aren’t they?”[8]

“What do you mean, overlapping!”

Taichi felt that his 「Identity」 was in great danger.[9]

“There’s nothing of the sort… right, Kiriyama?” Taichi asked Kiriyama, who was in front of him.

“Uh, yeah. Taichi and Chihiro-kun each have their own strengths…right?”

“Don’t look away! You wanted to say something more but couldn’t, it hurts!”

“Are we really that similar? I certainly don’t think I have a gigolo face.”[10]

“Are you saying that I’m a gigolo?… I’m not a gigolo!”

“You’re pretty blunt too~ that’s right, Taichi. Just keep up your liveliness, and we’ll be able to differentiate between you two from now on!”

“It’s stupid that I have to maintain this mood to differentiate between our overlapping roles!”

When he realized that he was being treated this way, Taichi lost all will of saying anything back… He thought this, but if there wasn’t such a lively atmosphere there really would be a role overlap… He was between a rock and a hard place.

“Right, right, Taichi, Chihiro, you guys should head towards a beautiful future together, yeah~!” shouted Aoki, as Kiriyama who sat beside him gave a hopeless sigh.

“Ah, it’s great that these two aren’t like Aoki. It’s fine if there’s only one of them, but add in another one and that would be really bad. Right, Shino-chan?”

“Mhm, Aoki-senpai is really annoying.”

“Shino-chan, you weren’t agreeing with her just now, were you?! When we were talking about Chihiro, at least you wanted to help him, didn’t you?”

“Say, Inaban, Taichi has been abused like this and beat to the point of giving up, aren’t you going to say anything?” Nagase asked Inaba, who was brooding quietly by herself.

Inaba’s pitch-black, silky hair hid a dour expression, which was surprisingly charming. She seemed more mature than others her age, and it was better to say that she was charming rather than cute. This Inaba-san was Taichi’s most cherished girlfriend right now.

“Ahh, I don’t care what anyone else says. To me, Taichi is my 「only one」, and nothing less than that. Because he’s my 「only one」, no matter what the world says of him, to me it’s worth nothing.”

As her boyfriend, Taichi wasn’t really going to evaluate her, but the evaluations from people around her concluded that she was slightly lovesick (Nagase called this “Dereban Syndrome”).

“That is to say, to Inaban, it doesn’t matter what his role or anything like that is, everything’s changes in terms of personality! Love conquers all! No, in this situation, the person who should be angry is Taichi, right?”

“Ah, no, who knows? Ahahahaha.”

Taichi was embarrassed. At this time, Chihiro turned his head toward Nagase and spoke.

“Nagase-senpai, please take back what you said. I don’t think I’m as dumb as Taichi-senpai.”

“Wha…. Did you just call me an idiot? How is this possible?!”

Taichi’s grades were actually excellent.

“Let’s not factor in anything else, but what Taichi-senpai said just now was too stupid.”

“Enjouji, you’re ruthless!” [11]

But her carefree tone only made you realize that she was merely candid; she was really an inconceivable girl impossible to get angry at. [12]

Now Taichi spoke to Inaba.

“Um, I’ve noticed it too… you’re pretty quiet, what’s wrong?”

“Um… Uh….”

Inaba looked very embarrassed and stared awkwardly at the floor, avoiding Taichi’s eyes.

“Say something. If it’s not convenient now, let’s talk later.”

“…Thanks, Taichi.”

Inaba nodded while smiling slightly.

There is no doubt that she trusts me — this is not expressed through words.

“My back… my back itches!” Nagase complained while scratching all over her body.

There was a brief uncomfortable silence, then Inaba spoke: “Then… I’ll tell you guys. I say. During the Sports Festival, Taichi and I will be opponents.”

“So what?”

“‘So what’?! Taichi, can you handle… being at odds with me?!”

“Eh, it’s nothing more than a mere Sports Festival.”

“Then you’re saying that my relationship with you can be halted because of your so-called ‘mere Sports Festival’?!”

Although it made one happy to treasure a relationship like this, Inaba’s cynicality was troubling at times.

But it was also cute at times!

“Taichi-kun, don’t smile wickedly like that, think of something to help Inaban.” Nagase piped up from the side.

“Hey, that wasn’t wicked.”

“Oh, then it was perverted?”

“It was not perverted! We are very 「pure」!”

Dodging Nagase’s teases, Taichi began to think about how to tell Inaba: “Even if we tried our hardest during the sports festival, it’s okay”.

“Are you really doing it… what if I revealed my true power? If I were to use my full firepower… the opposing class would probably lose two of their most vital assets.”

“It’s a mere high school Sports Festival, what kind of stunts are you trying to pull! Win properly.”

Chome chome[13]

“Oh, okay. Anyway, let’s decide it like this for now. …. Then, I’ll try my hardest! And I really hate losing or anything like that! Watch me annihilate my opponents until there is notihng left! It’s first prize or nothing!”

“Eh? Weren’t you saying that I’m your 「only one」…?”

Taichi cocked his head confusedly. It seemed Inaba had a dual personality of 「Normal Inaba」 and 「Dereban」.

“Oh oh, Inaba-chan’s declaration of victory! It looks like victory is already within my grasp!” shouted Aoki.

“Aoki, don’t be presumptuous! Don’t forget we still have our ultimate weapon the「Goddess of War」 Kiriyama Yui!”

“Right! Only if I’m still alive… Hey, Iori. Can you stop calling me the 「Goddess of War」… It’s not cute at all…”

“Yui, Yui-senpai is very cute!”

“Ahh~ Thank you Shino-chan! I can’t fight against Shino-chan’s Green Team now~”

“Fufufu, if only we use Shino, this little girl is easily conquered.”

“Inaba. What are you saying in place of Enjouji.” Taichi said suddenly. Everyone was really in high spirits.

Nagase, ever indomitable, said again: “Chihhi! Chihhi, you should also go tell Yui ‘You’re very very cute’! A naturally handsome guy like you will easily take hold of her, since she belongs to the good-looks club!”[14]

“I don’t belong to the good-looks club!! Don’t! Make! Things! Up!”

“By the way Nagase, why are you teasing Yui? Aren’t you in a team together?”

“Ah, damn it!”

As though he was infected by the strange aura emanating from the surrounding people, a slightly absentminded Chihiro was also carried away.

“I know… I know… I’ll do it, okay. … You’re very cute, Yui-senpai.”

“Eh?! Wait, what, Chihiro-kun?! D-don’t do this, really, my face is growing hot~! Uwai~ Chihiro-kun is very handsome too! Yaa~~”

Looking at the embarrassed Yui, Aoki, unable to bear it any longer, also spoke.

“Yui! You’re the cutest today!”

“Ah? Oh, I know.”

“Why is there such a different reaction?!”

You always tell me that, there’s no more feeling to it, Kiriyama replied.

“…But, about the sports festival…” muttered Chihiro with a sigh, as he glanced at Kiriyama from the corner of his eyes.

“You lack motivation Chihiro! Aren’t you the cheering representative for your class?” Aoki replied.

“Didn’t I say I only lost at Jankenpon[15]… No, in the end I’m always the most unfortunate one… Eh, Taichi-senpai?!”

“So it’s like this, Chihiro! I’m also bad at Jankenpon. It seems like we’re similar after all.”

“Please don’t draw similarities in weird ways. Why are you putting your arm over my shoulders.”

Chihiro was a cold guy.

“No matter what, you should motivate yourself Chihiro! We’re in a team together… ah, right. To make sure we’re not holding back against each other, how about we make a bet in the Cultural Research Club?” suggested Aoki.

Nagase immediately replied: “Good idea. It’s three against four! Then, the team who’s ahead in the line… can make the losing team do whatever he wants! He can make anyone on the team do it, but can only make one command!”

“If you’re brave enough to say it, you’re brave enough to bet!” Kiriyama said immediately.

“Are, are the commands absolute, Iori-senpai…?” Enjouji asked cautiously, a worried look floating onto her face.

“Absolutely!”

“Eh, ehhhhhh…. then if I lose… . I’ll be sold to some unknown, faraway country… I won’t be able to come back to Japan again…”

“What kind of mythical chance is Enjouji thinking…” Taichi said dubiously. How can a bet made during a mere Sports Festival make a command concerning a matter of life and death?

“Shino-chan! Won’t it just be all right if you win? Just win! If you do, you can make Taichi, Iori and Yui do whatever you want!”

“Eh….? Then… then, if I can make Taichi-senpai whisper that and that into my ear…. Yaaaaa! I’m getting competitive!”

“Hey Enjouji! Your reputation ruined itself too early, didn’t it?!”

Although they had not conversed with Enjouji for a long time, and had not understood her completely, her dedication to sound (especially Taichi’s sound) was astonishing.

The passion of the now-energetic Enjouji seemingly passed onto Inaba.

“Then I’ll… I’ll… I’ll take Taichi to ‘that place’… and the two of us… ah, this is annoying! It, it’s too embarrassing, I can’t say it!”

That really looks like a very embarrassed grin.

“So Inaban is a pervert. Then the day to start calling her ‘Chijo-ban’[16] has arrived.”

“Hey Nagase. What kind of strange things are you calling my girlfriend?”

…Anyway, it was like this. Nothing special happened today, and the time slowly slipped away.

On the way home, Chihiro was silent for a few moments, which was a little strange. He threw a questioning ‘You’re not really hating me, are you?’ look, and Taichi barely suppressed a laugh. Chihiro looked very happy, Taichi thought and sighed. At this moment —

Chihiro, who was slightly bowing his head, lifted the corners of his mouth in a smile.

A very light smile.

Chapter 2: The Girl’s Temptation

Month: O – Date: X – Clear

The Sports Festival makes me a bit depressed, because I know that I will only become everyone else’s burden.

We discussed the Sports Festival today in class.

I don’t know if I had good or bad luck, but the class hardly had any motivation at all.

I’m relieved, and my chest stabs in pain.

I hate, from the bottom of my heart, that I’m relieved. This won’t do at all.

In the listless, indifferent discussion, when they had to choose the person who would take up the troublesome job of being the Cheering Competition representative, although it wasn’t conspicuous, everyone was clearly out of ideas; it was painful to watch…

I wanted to raise my hand and volunteer, but in that kind of atmosphere, there was no way I’d have to courage to do that.

It’s so hard to raise your hand in that kind of atmosphere… I think my situation couldn’t be helped.

So, I waited for someone else to volunteer. I looked around in anticipation, waiting for someone other than myself to raise her hand, but, no one did.

However, the seniors on our team apparently were different from us and were full of energy and motivation. It’s as if I’m holding everyone back, and I’m really sorry, but there’s no way I can drive the entire class.

If it’s possible… but I can’t do it, will the end result be the same?

… I’ll wait until next time.

Next time… when it’s possible to do that.

+++

 Today, Yaegashi Taichi decided to come with everyone else to the noisy club, where everyone was doing their own things.

“Okay, then let’s call it a day!” said the club president, Nagase Iori, in a bright voice.

Today Inaba Himeko had other plans, so the remaining six members met in the club office and held a small meeting about the <Cultural Research News>. When the meeting was over, everyone started the journey home.

On the way, each said their farewells to others who had to take different paths home, and when the group reached the station near home, it was only Taichi left.

Taichi walked out of the ticket stile and put his pass into his bag. The wind blew a comfortable breeze, and Taichi stretched slightly. There was a slightly sweet fragrance in the air that seemed to be coming from the bakery in front of the station. He was slightly hungry, but Taichi decided to resist that temptation today. After all, the month had just begun, and spending carelessly was strictly prohibited.

Taichi walked towards the parking lot.

The weather was beginning to get hot and muggy. In about a month it would be summer.

A high school couple walked in his direction, their fingers intertwined and bodies pressed romantically against each other. Taichi couldn’t help but notice them, as his head conjured an image of him and Inaba. Ever since he got a girlfriend, his view of couples on the street had changed, as he would compare them to his own situation, using them as a reference for his own relationship.

This time it was the girl’s turn to hold tightly onto the boy’s arm.

Inaba really wanted to cling more tightly onto him, so would it be right to relax a little bit and take no notice of others looking? No, that would be too embarassing, and wouldn’t that upset some people? It was the same in the club room, especially with Nagase around, because there was a complicated situation with Nagase before, and it was quite difficult to ignore her gaze.

“————————————————”

It was as if, from far away, beyond the boundaries of the world, even beyond the boundaries of consciousness, there came an extremely slight sound that floated into his head.

It seemed like an elusive, trivial feeling; when he tried to grasp it, the sound disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Inexplicably, Taichi turned around in a hunch and looked behind him.

Nagase was standing there.

“Eh? Why are you here, Nagase?” Taichi said stupidly. Nagase lived in a different town and had said goodbye to him quite a while ago, and there was also no mention of Nagase coming here with anything to say.

But it was clear as day: Nagase stood there right now.

“I have… something to tell you… can you talk right now?” asked the girl, beautiful as a natural antique, looking up at Taichi.

“Uh… but… can’t we talk tomorrow?”

— Did I just reject her?

Taichi had no idea why he declined. Although he didn’t know, but he had spoken without thinking. He had a very bad feeling about all of this, and his instinct shouted at him to get away from here.

“Do you have something to do?”

“Ah, no… I’m not busy or anything… then, let’s talk now.”

What kind of stupid things was he saying? Nagase clearly wanted to talk about something, but he had declined her before without reason. It was really strange.

Taichi changed his train of thought.

She must have something to discuss that couldn’t be conveyed over the phone or via text message.

“…Then let’s find a family restaurant to sit down and talk.”

“No, there’s no need, let’s talk right here.”

“Oh… it’s like this.”

Nagase’s long hair blew in the cold breeze that smelled of early summer. As if it were a curtain the color of night, her hair exuded an aura that suited her depressed expression that was enough to be frightening.

The people on the street walking towards the station ticket office occasionally turned to look in her direction, probably because of Nagase’s beauty.

Nagase captured Taichi in her intense gaze, which disturbed Taichi greatly.

She opened her mouth:

“If I said — I still can’t forget about that, what will you do?”

The surroundings were suddenly enveloped in silence. In this silent, isolated space, there was the illusion that Taichi and Nagase were alone, but that illusion slowly dissipated and the world returned to normal.

“What, what do you mean… ‘can’t forget’? You can’t forget about what?”

Taichi’s voice was trembling. It clearly didn’t need to tremble, as there was nothing to make it tremble.

“It’s that Nagase Iori still can’t forget about Yaegashi Taichi.”

Why? Even today, you still….

Nagase revealed a provocative and lonely smile that looked like it was about to melt.

That dealt a decisive blow. This was too sudden, way too sudden… no, but it wasn’t? Taichi already understood the meaning in her voice, but did not want to admit it. Did not want to admit it? Why? That was because–

This was unbelievable.

“What… on earth… do you mean?” Taichi squeezed out, holding tightly to his last sliver of hope.

“Ah… as expected, I still like Taichi.”

Reality is cruel.

Although the situation that 「if it had ended there, there would be an ending」had happened, this story will continue.

As though the seemingly artificial moment of happiness crumbled in an instant, this ruthless reality will continue.

Suppressing your love never ends well.

 

The next day, Taichi came to school strangely nervous.

In the classroom, he was going to see Nagase, who had confessed her love to him yesterday.

Ever since Nagase had told him that she 「still can’t forget about Yaegashi Taichi」, she had left without letting him say anything else, as if it was a declaration of war.

“Can’t forget”, liking Taichi — Did Nagase mean that her relationship with Taichi was originally meant to heal without impediment, but in reality hadn’t healed at all?

The sudden “declaration of war” only bewildered Taichi. There were numerous points of confusion; Taichi was at a loss for what to do. The most confusing part was what to do with Nagase and Inaba.

Nagase Iori and Inaba Himeko.

Both had said that they liked him, and he had liked them back. These two shared a strong bond that no one could interfere with, not even Taichi himself.

Drawing from what had happened before, Taichi should tell Inaba first – about how Nagase still thought about him and the “declaration of war”. But…

Taichi looked towards Nagase’s seat, but she wasn’t here yet.

“Good morning~ Taichi!”

“Uohhhh!”

Nagase had suddenly come up from behind.

“What wrong, Taichi? You just made a pretty strange sound.”

“Nothing… Um… ‘M-morning.”

“Good morning. Why are you so fidgety?”

“That… that’s because…”

That’s because you said those things — Taichi couldn’t say this, and wanted to avoid mentioning it right now.

“Say, it’s really hot today. I’ve already switched to the summer uniform, but it’s pretty tempting to switch to something even cooler!”

Nagase wore a short-sleeved top and undershirt; “Should I take it off, or shouldn’t I? Ah, what to do!” she sang while fanning herself as she pulled her shirt.

Nagase Iori was normal, completely like her usually outgoing and bright self.

It was as if she had forgotten what had happened yesterday.

But Taichi knew that Nagase couldn’t have forgotten. If Nagase wanted to do it, she would act according to her own will. Taichi knew well that Nagase could do this.

“Hey, Iori! It’s really hot today, good morning! Good morning to you too, Yaegashi-kun!”

Nakayama Mariko entered the scene, her twintails swinging.

“Hey, Nakayama-chan! It is pretty hot today, I can’t stand it! Good morning!” Nagase replied happily to Nakayama.

“Hmm? What’s wrong, Yaegashi-kun? Did you not see me?”

“Ah, it’s nothing, good morning, Nakayama.”

“Huh? You’re not looking too good today, Yaegashi-kun. If Yaegashi-kun’s down, I’ll also be down… But that’s going too far! Ah, Yui-chan, Good morning!”

“Ah, Yui’s here, about yesterday~”

Nagase and Nakayama left Taichi, chattering.

Left alone, Taichi realized that his back was drenched in cold sweat.

As if Nagase had passed him a baton, Watase Shingo walked towards Taichi.

“Yo, Yaegashi. Hey, I thought about it, girls naturally congregate near you, right? In that case, if I were to cling to you, then the girls… then there would be a greater chance of getting closer to Fujishima. Although I would have to greet the other girls, it’s would be pretty easy for me, but Fujishima really has me beat… Say, why so serious? If you keep that long face, then there won’t be any opportunities like those.”

Taichi hadn’t the energy to reply.

What on earth was Nagase thinking about?

What on earth did Nagase want him to do?

What was he supposed to do about that unended love?

After school, the Cheering Competition representatives from each grade have scheduled a meeting together to practice. During lunch break, Taichi, representing Class 2-B by himself, was directed to attend the discussion meeting beforehand (as a result of losing again at Jankenpon).

Taichi finished lunch early and began walking towards the meeting point.

He thought he heard a silent noise.

“Did you think about it, what I said yesterday? The thing about me liking Taichi.”

So sudden again.

Taichi was caught by Nagase in a hallway in the North Building. Goosebumps rose all over his body.

This building was full of special classrooms; although it was lunch break, there was not a soul in sight.

Normally, Nagase would be at lunch right now, so there’s no way she would be here by accident. Nagase was following Taichi and had chosen a place with nobody in sight to talk to him.

Nagase Iori wore a short-sleeved top with an undershirt, a gleaming face, a proud figure and a perfect smile… smile? In this situation, at the time, wearing a smile was kind of wrong, wasn’t it?

“What do you mean, did I think about it… what am I supposed to say…”

“I’m serious.”

Nagase’s expression suddenly became solemn, which captured Taichi’s heart. Taichi was unable to escape, but did not believe that he could in the slightest.

The charm exuded by her flawless beauty was like coercion.

“I say, Nagase, what’s up with you all of a sudden? This is just too sudden, I just don’t know what’s happening right now…”

“Taichi, what do you think?”

What do I think?

Taichi had once misunderstood the whole of Nagase Iori, so he had decided to pay extremely close attention to her from then on. But, did he just think he could?

It was the first half of June: the weather was supposed to be hot, especially since today was very muggy. It was supposed to be hot, but it was extremely cold.

“I want to become more stubborn.”

Nagase said with a light smile.

Inaba’s face suddenly surfaced in Taichi’s mind. He had forgotten when, but Inaba had once said, because Nagase had wanted her to become more stubborn, only then could Inaba change herself.

Why has everything come to this? Hadn’t this triangle, which had gone through everything to calm down, already passed the danger and stabilized? Was it going to waver again? Or had it not stopped wavering at all?

Was it going to waver until it shattered this time?

“Hey, hey, Nagase, how did you tell Inaba about this…”

“I haven’t told anything to Inaban, because there’s no need for that.”

There no need for that, this was between the parties concerned — if you look at it that way, there was nothing wrong with it, but weren’t Nagase and Inaba an exception? 

It was as though the scary Nagase had returned… no, was it that, “that” Nagase was always in the normal Nagase’s heart, but it was only a matter of whether she chose to show it or not?

“There no problem, if Taichi and I keep quiet about it, no one will notice. So, think about it, let’s start over together, and not just as plain friends.” 

Not just as plain friends, that meant…. 

“…Did something happen?” 

“No, it’s just that… I can’t resist. I want to boldly chase my desires.” 

Resist? Were he and Inaba always forcing Nagase to resist? 

“Uh, but this… this is impossible, isn’t it?”

The love between Nagase and him had once ended.

Yes, and both of them were supposed to completely accept that.

Besides, the friendship between Nagase and Inaba existed despite Taichi and Inaba. So—

“There’s nothing that’s impossible or can’t happen in this world, you know?” muttered Nagase, as her lips gave off a bright red, seductive lustre, as if she was tempting Taichi.

After school, the Nagase that attended the Cheering Competition practice was the universally friendly, innocent and naive Nagase Iori.

“Nagase, let’s sit down and properly talk this out.”

The next day, before school, Taichi ran into Nagase.

Taichi felt shocked at first, but immediately gathered himself together and took the initiative by talking to Nagase. Recently when they were alone, Nagase gave him a bizarre impression.

“Hmm? Do you have something to tell me?” said Nagase with a genial, completely unsuspecting smile. 

Is this her real self? Or is it a mask?

Extreme suspicions filled his mind.

“It’s about something Nagase said to me.” 

Taichi believed that he couldn’t run away now. Even if a troublesome situation awaited him, he must face it head on and display his sincerity. And also, if Nagase had become like that, it’s very likely because of some turning point; something distressing like what had happened before could happen again.

“Something I said to you? Uh… what did I say?”

“Um, it was the thing yesterday, and the day before yesterday that you ran up and told me. It was… that thing.” 

“Something important that I told Taichi recently? Hmm…”

Nagase wrinkled her brow, thinking hard: it looked like she genuinely had no idea.

This did not look like acting, but this was Nagase Iori, and it likely wasn’t impossible for her.

“Sorry, I really don’t know. Have I told you something strange recently?” Nagase said, smiling.

With an smile like an idol. 

That smile was really too perfect; it was impossible to see her inner self.

The only option is to look for the answer without any hints; was she testing him?

In that case, then he’ll take the initiative.

“It’s about… you liking me.”

Nagase, who was walking besides Taichi, stopped in her tracks. 

She froze on the spot, but immediately melted.

“— Who are you talking about?”

Her voice was so cold it pierced into him; Taichi couldn’t help but feel frightened.

“…I’m talking about Nagase.” 

“Liking who?” 

“Liking me… liking Yaegashi Taichi.”

“Judging by this context, this “liking”, isn’t as in friends “liking” each other, is it?”

“Right… exactly.”

In the moment that Taichi confirmed this, Nagase’s smile froze. She was smiling, but not smiling. She was smiling, but without any feeling. 

Taichi had never seen such a torturous smile. 

“Ah, I usually don’t mind, you know. No matter if I’m talking with Taichi, or if Taichi’s getting it on with Inaba, it’s always the same.”

Her voice was lively but monotonous; some people would likely mistake it for a synthestized robotic voice. 

Nagase took a step towards Taichi.

“Because that episode had already ended.”

Nagase took another step closer.

“But, since you brought up those old things…”

Nagase tilted her body forward, enough so that Taichi could feel her breathing onto him, and brought her face even closer.

She was close enough for Taichi to count every one of her eyelashes—

“If you’re not crazy then have some restraint!” she shouted at Taichi, her voice full of rage.

Then, Nagase left the motionless Taichi, and walked away quickly.

Nagase was seemingly angered by the morning exchange, because for a greater part of the day, she ignored Taichi.

It was clearly Nagase who had first opened her mouth and told Taichi that she liked him; this made Taichi extremely puzzled. This is really unfair, he thought.

“Hey, Taichi.”

During lunch break, while Taichi was in a first floor corridor, he was again cornered by Nagase, alone. She wasn’t roused or hesitant; she talked with Taichi normally.

He couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

Taichi had no idea what Nagase was thinking. 

“I say…”

“Wait, Nagase, don’t you think your attitude in the morning and the one right now are way too different? You acted completely unaware, and ignored me, and now you’re back to normal… what on earth is going on?” 

Taichi couldn’t figure it out. Nagase was often temperamental like this and said whatever she wanted to say. Taichi didn’t know what to believe, or what the truth was. 

“Um… that, that was….” 

Nagase became flustered.

“How I told you about it… was probably too crazy, sorry about that. But, the one who first talked to me about this, was clearly Nagase, wasn’t it?” 

“At the time… I was afraid that others would hear…” Nagase mumbled meekly, which took Taichi completely by surprise. He sank into an illusion: it was as though he was the one berating an unfortunate beautiful girl. He didn’t know what to do.

“You’re right, there were others going to school as well…” 

“You see?” 

Nagase suddenly regained her energy and seemed delighted. Her feelings really fluctuated wildly.

“Right, that’s why! When someone is beside me… you can pretend that I’m 『acting』 . When I’m alone with Taichi… when I say 『this is real』, that’s the real me. Remember that secret code.” Nagase prattled on. Taichi was unable to respond immediately. 

Nagase was supposed to despite others suspecting her of  『acting』 , and had always been annoyed over this. It was hard to believe that she would use that term so hastily.

But, Nagase had said it. 

“…Why would you say that? It shouldn’t matter what was going on around us, you would show your true self in front of me regardless–” 

“Because I find, when Taichi’s here, my world is complete.” 

Nagase revealed a flirtatious smile, as though she had said “I just told you a very important secret”.

Taichi was baffled. It felt like she was speaking the truth; Nagase had the power to charm people. 

“So, Taichi.”

The unnerving beautiful girl brought her face close and put her lips close to Taichi’s ear, giving off the smell of a woman. Taichi froze on the spot.

“–It doesn’t matter if you don’t break up with Inaba, so be my girlfriend.”

Nagase’s lips moved seductively like sweet, innocent flowers.

“–It doesn’t even matter if I’m not the only one.”

Taichi immediately backed away from Nagase. 

“Nagase, it’s wrong to say that–”

Nagase pushed her hand onto Taichi’s lips, covering his mouth.

Two students who appeared to be first years walked past, their eyes curious. 

When they were out of sight, Nagase took out a notebook and pen, quickly wrote something down, and handed the paper to Taichi.

『Meet me at the fountain in the park at 17:00.』

Today Chihiro and Enjouji’s class appeared to have some kind of activity, so the two didn’t attend the club meeting. The ones who were in the Cultural Research Club room were five second years, the founding members.

Nagase looked as though nothing had happened and lively talked and laughed with everyone, but she seemed to be intentionally avoiding Taichi. 

Taichi watched the other four from the side and couldn’t help but sigh. He turned his eyes towards his workbook. 

He really wasn’t in the mood to solve equations, so he doodled meaninglessly with his mechanical pencil, then erased it.

“Hey, Inaban, just do it like this~”

“Wah, idiot! Stop that! I’m saying… Puu, guhahahah!”

Nagase looked completely innocent, playing with Inaba.

Nagase’s normal look contrarily made her seem strange.

Was this attitude telling Taichi, “That’s between us two”? 

Taichi had seen a variety of Nagase’s expressions today.

Because there were too many differences, Taichi even suspected that there was an imposter in their midst. But, as a matter of fact, every Nagase could be an imposter, so he has never been able to see through Nagase Iori. 

Nagase told Taichi: “I can’t forget you, and I like Taichi.”

Taichi was unable to understand this sentiment or to grasp Nagase’s true thoughts. 

Taichi had once felt that way towards Nagase, and if the time was right then, the two of them should be together; the two of them were once so compatible; their hearts once were tightly connected.

But under the hands of fate, their love ended without an ending.

Both of them had confirmed this. 

That love was quite shocking. Although they was not mature, it was true love. Because of that, the two of them never restarted that feeling, and decided to start on a clean slate.

But, was Nagase ready to start again?

Had something happened that had shaken her heart so violently?

If that was the case, then what was he supposed to think? 

Was he willing to start again? 

After a confession, the other party accepted, but the relationship didn’t develop further; after another confession, the other party rejected, and when the two had finally understood each other’s feelings, the result of the discussion was to reset everything; and then time went on… and now, she confessed that she still liked him.

Yaegashi Taichi, who liked and envied Nagase from the very beginning, will–

“What’s wrong, Taichi?” 

“Eh?” 

Inaba looked worriedly at Taichi.

After Inaba stopped being overly stubborn and cynical, she easily revealed her feelings. Looking at Inaba’s complicated expression that was sketched out by her natural beauty, Taichi felt that no scenery of nature could calm him more than that.

His cold heart slowly regained its warmth.

“No, it’s nothing.”

His girlfriend was Inaba Himeko.

The most important person to him right now was Inaba Himeko. 

“Really? When we were talking on the phone last night, you sounded preoccupied.”

Inaba’s bright eyes shone through Taichi.

“It wasn’t like that…” replied Taichi, who didn’t want his thoughts sleuthed out by Inaba, and averted his eyes. It was like he was betraying Inaba; this tightened Taichi’s chest.

Seeing this, Nagase began to tease Inaba: “Ooh, wahh~ Inaban’s fretting for Taichi again~ it’s so warm and bright~ where’re my sunglasses?”

“It’s, it’s okay, w-we’re a couple, after all… and you’ve been teasing me all day, what about Taichi!”

Taichi’s heart was disturbed my Nagase, and had even made his girlfriend worry about him.

How pitifully weak and ugly.

To solve this chaotic situation, he had to do as Nagase said and meet her in the park.

Taichi thought this. Before the club meeting ended, he said “I have things to do”, and prepared to leave. Because the paper said 17:00, if he left after the meeting ended, he would be too late. 

Even as Taichi stood up to leave, Nagase showed no reaction at all. Was she planning to leave later as to not arouse any suspicion? 

“Where are you going? I’m coming with you.”

Inaba said this, but Taichi firmly declined. Seeing Inaba’s hurt expression, Taichi’s heart stabbed with pain.

The park that Nagase meant was near the school, but was in the opposite direction of Taichi’s path to school. Although the park was strangely large, Nagase had pointed out『at the fountain』, so it should be easy to meet there.

Taichi looked aside at the practicing Sports Club, left the field, and headed towards the park. 

What was Nagase thinking right now? What did she want to do?

Taichi couldn’t determine Nagase’s true thoughts, or what Nagase was going to do, so he couldn’t take any countermeasures. 

Taichi hated his helplessness, but by himself, he couldn’t tell what was normal; if someone could provide him with an objective analysis, that would be another matter. Yes, if only he could find someone to discuss this with. If he sweated over this by himself, he would run into dead ends; if only he could see this from someone else’s perspective, sometimes the problem would be easily solved. 

Taichi knew this, but who would he talk to?

The air suddenly trembled.

“Hey, Yaegashi-kun.”

 As if it had descended from the sky, a loud, majestic sound made Taichi turn his head around.

Glasses flashing with the fire of hope, a girl with her forehead exposed and hair pulled back, wearing a trim uniform, with a look that looked as though it could be published on a tour brochure. This girl that exuded style – was Fujishima Maiko.

 Fujishima’s straight posture conjured images of the age when she represented the strongest class president.

 “Fuji…shima?”

Her appearance was just too convenient; Taichi let out a stupefied noise.

“You have something to discuss with me, right?” 

This is just too convenient, to think that there would be something like this. He was just half joking about how “if it were that person, I would definitely learn something”, and found that she was standing right in front of him. Also, it was the Fujishima before she became weak, the Fujishima that everyone wished would come back. This was like a dream.

Taichi did not suspect for a moment that, in this situation, telling her everything would do no harm. If he didn’t say it now, then when would he? 

“Can you promise me to keep everything a secret?” 

“Don’t underestimate me, okay?” 

Ah, this is the right thing to do.

This was the Fujishima back then, the class president more reliable than anyone.

“Fujishima should know the gist of it, so I’ll cut out the details. It’s just that recently… Nagase said to me, “I can’t forget you, and I also like you”… don’t tell anyone!” 

“Just go for it.” Fujishima replied immediately.

There was not a sliver of hesitation, not even to give Taichi time to think.

“Eh?” 

“I’m saying, just go for it.”

“When you say ‘go for it’… what do you mean?”

He was hoping for Fujishima to answer like this. 

“I’m telling you to go with both girls.”

But, this wasn’t what Taichi wanted; in fact, it was the last thing he wanted to hear. 

“Um, but… in a sense, that answer was very Fujishima-like.”

If it was Fujishima, who advocated free love, she would likely say that. But even if it was Fujishima, wasn’t this too strange? If it’s forward of a suggestion, even if it’s Fujishima, she would suggest some other solution.

But, as if Fujishima had read Taichi’s hesitant thoughts, she asserted firmly:

“That is the so-called happiness, that is the right path, because that way, everyone will be happy.” said Fujishima with a kindly smile, as though she was a goddess. 

“Trust me.” 

Clang, clang. 

The gear that was not supposed to move let out a deafening noise and began to rotate. 

Was this path the one the right one to take?

Taichi arrived at the fountain Nagase had mentioned.

There were seniors walking their dogs and primary school students on their bicycles racing all over the place. At night the park was peaceful, but Taichi’s heart was unable to be the same, as a storm raged inside his body.

On the way to the fountain, Taichi kept thinking about what Fujishima had told him.

What “The Expert of Love”, “The Missionary of Love”, “The Goddess of Love” —  Fujishima, who held these joking titles, had told Taichi.

He didn’t even need to think about it, but going with both girls is definitely wrong.

It’s clearly wrong, but hearing Fujishima say it so definitely… no, this is still wrong.

Taichi cleared his mind of these silly thoughts. 

Nagase should be arriving soon; he prepared himself and waited.

During the lunch break today when he was alone with Nagase, her look, so flirtatious it was frightening, surfaced again in Taichi’s mind.

“–It doesn’t matter if you don’t break up with Inaba, so be my girlfriend.”

“–It doesn’t even matter if I’m not the only one.”

What had been said with a warm breath, burrowed itself into Taichi’s ear and lingered. The sweet fragrance threw Taichi’s mind into disarray.

But, it can’t be, that’s impossible. 

Even if Fujishima had given him a hard push, that was impossible. 

Even if Taichi thought that Fujishima was a very serious and reliable person, there’s something off about that declaration… 

Something off? 

Yes, there’s been something off all along. He didn’t know when it began, but there has always been something wrong. But in his life, there shouldn’t be anything wrong– 

“Huh? What are you doing, Taichi?” 

Taichi trembled slightly and looked for the voice’s owner. 

Who was it? It wasn’t Nagase.

Kiriyama Yui stood a slight distance from Taichi.

“…Kiriyama?”

Why would Kiriyama be here? Taichi was thinking this as he looked to the side to see Uwa Chihiro.

“I’m going to the dojo today, so I decided to go home early, and saw Chihiro-kun running towards here. I thought Chihiro-kun had forgotten to come to the dojo, so I followed him… then because Chihiro-kun wanted to run away, I chased him here.”

Kiriyama shrugged and looked at Chihiro, who had a very awkward expression.

 “So, what’s Taichi’s doing? Waiting for someone?”

“…Y-yeah, you could say that.”

In the end, no matter how late Taichi waited there, Nagase did not show up at the agreed location.

Chapter 3 – This World Is Really XXX

Month: O – Date: X – Cloudy after Rain

Today there was a team meeting for the Cheering Competition, and the representative for my class also went. He lost everything at Jankenpon, and everyone looked annoyed.

Is everything okay… I worried for a bit like that, and as expected I was angrily berated by Inaba-senpai: “You’re clearly a first year, yet you don’t show any spirit at all!” Although the Inaba-senpai who gets extremely embarrassed in front of Taichi-senpai is really~ cute, in all other situations, honestly, she’s a bit scary.

If it were me, I might have actually been a good mediator, so I tried my best, but was mistaken for showing off and reprimanded, so I could only retreat to the side and be the one who raised small suggestions. If I can be lauded by someone as “really amazing”… That would be great. Give me some praise. Even if it’s just a few words, I would improve.

Although I tried my best, it seems like it’s still not enough. I always feel like my confidence is about to run out. Hey, isn’t this probably suggesting that “there’s someone more qualified than I am”? I’ll definitely be able to achieve that too in the future, yeah, definitely.

Ah, I keep feeling that the senpais all look kind of strange. Is it my imagination?

+++

Trying his best to organize things he had wrote into files and folders, Uwa Chihiro closed his laptop, stood up from the computer desk, and left the room.

Chihiro walked towards the kitchen, which cut across the living room. The television displayed an image of an entertainer undergoing a senseless batsu game and laughing heartily. Watching this type of program, his little brother laughed like a buffoon.

He took out a bottle of water from the refrigerator and poured himself a full glass.

“Chihiro, how’s the high school curriculum? You can keep up, right?”

His mother asked.

“It’s nothing. Easy.”

“Really? I knew that there shouldn’t be any problems if it’s Chihiro…”

His mother’s inquiry was suddenly interrupted. If you have something to say, spit it out. “Are you comfortable… in that school? You’re only there because you didn’t get into your first choice school[17], so…”

The second part of what you said was entirely unnecessary; you didn’t even need to say it. If you’re talking about the school, it certainly is unsophisticated and a bummer, but I have completely stopped caring. I don’t have time to become entangled in these types of minor trifles.

“Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

Yes, everything has been quite ♂ pleasing lately.

When Chihiro first activated <that>, he was apprehensive about whether it was really effective.

But <that> had exhibited a dramatic effect. This had to be the most amazing masterpiece of deception — all his previous doubts were extinguished. However, the expenditures were also great if he used it.

When Chihiro first met that person, the fellow had said, “Don’t you want to make this boring world a little more interesting?”. At first, he only dismissed as tasteless blather, but judging by that person’s unusual disposition, Chihiro realized that it was no joke.

The other party had stated that it was “merely borrowing this body”, and proved its point by exchanging personalities with Chihiro.

Chihiro would never have even dreamed of having the opportunity to experience a ridiculous situation such as exchanging personalities.

Then Chihiro met the person a few more times.

The other party explained the things he had performed on the <target>, and Chihiro answered a few of its questions about humanity — The procedure was a bit like an “interview”. Helped along by these conversations, Chihiro also felt as though he had cleared up his emotional state.

And in return for qualifying, Chihiro received <power>.

The condition for receiving <power> was to make <them> feel interesting — some trivial matter like that.

The feeling of using <power> was truly great beyond measure.

Making Yaegashi Taichi the first target seemed perfect — this slightly moronic goody-two-shoes was easily deceived, as predicted.

And listening to them talking about their experiences this past year in the Cultural Research Club, their interpersonal relationships, was truly amazing. Because he knew of them, he could also very easily get an idea of Yaegashi Taichi’s personal philosophy, which was quickly wavering.

The words he had meticulously prepared ahead of time proved highly effective and their effects were greater than imagined; this was too good.

At the same time, he determined that he could turn those two into total strangers; not a bad bonus.

This direction was pretty much correct. Let’s continue with it.

Of course, if he wanted them to, much more awesome things can happen. But wouldn’t that be too uninteresting? — If it was benevolent stuff that anyone could think of, there wouldn’t be the need for him to be specially selected, now would there?

This, without a doubt, was the flight of stairs to the next dimension. But using that group of people as stepping stones was treating them a little inhumanely. So I’ll be extra generous and tell you all something —

Your bond that you think is so strong, is merely such a fragile thing;

Your love that you complacently immerse yourselves within, is merely such an imaginary thing.

Becoming intoxicated within your youth is your own business, and it’s not something bad—

However, you should distinguish between that and reality.

Idiotically believing such an extremely stupid thing; there’s no way you can survive on this Earth. Then allow me, who understands this — Uwa Chihiro, to teach you the truth of this world.

From the bottom of his heart, Uwa Chihiro was grateful to the one who bestowed upon him this joyous ♂ power —

<Fuusenkazura>.

—–

Setting aside a considerable amount of time for his <task>, Chihiro arrived at school.

Acting as though he had a special destination in mind, Chihiro strolled around the school building — especially where the second years of the Cultural Research Club often appeared. The ideal location was the floor with the second year classroom, but the caveat was, going there would frequently attract attention.

Should I formulate a plan again to strike first? Chihiro thought. Up to now, the encounters that seemed like spontaneous occurrences were the most effective. Even if he already had a script in mind, there were still, more or less, some limitations, so in a sense, adopting a laissez-faire approach might just be better.

Near the faculty office, Chihiro saw the silhouette of a familiar person. Black hair like a waterfall; simply walking gave the impression of a movie segment — it was Nagase Iori.

Chihiro had certainly heard tell that Nagase Iori was a beautiful and popular girl. To those crawling insects who fancied only the lower dimension, she should be quite a rarity.

Chihiro termed the ability that <Fuusenkazura> bestowed upon him the “Fantasy Projection” — although Fuusenkazura himself had said disinterestedly: “… Ah? A name? … I’d never thought about that kind of troublesome thing…”

“Fantasy Projection” was an ability that caused the other person to completely mistake one for another.

Conditions for activation were very simple — as long as the other person was in front of him, he only had to declare the following.

Chihiro approached from behind. There was nobody familiar around, so there shouldn’t be a problem if he made it quick — after he confirmed that, he opened his mouth:

“[I am Yaegashi Taichi to Nagase Iori].”

This sound was sent only to Nagase.

But Nagase would be unable to realize that this was Chihiro’s voice — this was something of a hypnotic code phrase.

Chihiro [Taichi] spoke.

“Hey, Nagase.”

“Hm? Ah, morning Taichi.”

Nagase nodded and replied.

Right now, Nagase Iori has <completely mistaken Uwa Chihiro for Yaegashi Taichi>. His appearance, voice, mannerisms, all without exception. This was the power of “Fantasy Projection”.

Although it was like that, Chihiro did not physically transform into Yaegashi Taichi, of course. He had merely given suggestions to the other person, and made the other person believe them.

This ability was almost like directly altering the human brain; when Chihiro requested an explanation of the theory behind it, Fuusenkazura countered with: “Ahhh… Even if you want me to explain the theory… There’s no need for that… In summary, because of science and stuff… You can think of it like that…”

Since “Fantasy Projection” was an ability that acted solely upon the other person’s mind, to bystanders, Chihiro looked normal. Therefore, he must be aware of his surroundings when using the ability.

“Can I have a word with you?”

Even if he spoke normally, to Nagase Iori, it was Yaegashi Taichi’s voice. And in the instant that Chihiro’s words left his mouth, he himself could also hear his transformed voice.

Although things like his attire and personal belongings — for example, the model of his cell phone — were completely different from the target, in the mind of the other person, these would be filled in by the brain for consistency, so during a one-on-one encounter, there was no way he could be exposed.

But “Fantasy Projection” could only be used on the five second years of the Cultural Research Club—

That was the limitation that <Fuusenkazura> restrained <the current himself> with.

“… Mm, sure.”

Although Nagase was slightly hesitant, she nodded. Probably because she’s been depressed about Taichi lately.

Needless to say, this was because of Chihiro’s ploy.

“Is there anyone whom you like lately?”

“This subject again…”

Nagase looked annoyed.

“… But it’s not really something we can’t talk about. Even so, hey, haven’t you been kind of weird recently? I don’t think Taichi’s that insensitive of a guy, but…”

“I want to know.”

Chihiro [Taichi] hardened his tone. As long as he put on a tougher attitude, he could achieve the desired effect. To Nagase, the [Taichi] now would probably have unusually intense demeanor.

“That’s why… Um…“

Although Chihiro had learned about it just recently, Nagase Iori seemed unable to deal with a forceful approach.

Taking matters into her own hands; charging ahead as bold as brass — Nagase Iori, who matched these descriptions quite well, was usually a very carefree person true to her own thoughts. Not fond of forcing other people around, she was profoundly afraid of being coerced by someone else.

Whereas no one seemed to notice this, he had noticed it.

Nagase fell silent. In a place like this where people frequent, extending “Fantasy Projection” for long periods of time was highly risky.

“As expected, I shouldn’t have asked. I’ll be going then, I have stuff to do.”

As he said this, Chihiro [Taichi] turned and left.

Nagase looked as though she wanted to say something, but Chihiro ignored her.

The condition for lifting “Fantasy Projection” was that the <one who activated the power> (Chihiro himself) must leave the person who was given suggestions. In the current situation, Chihiro needed only to round the corner in the hallway, disappear from Nagase’s line of sight and he would be able to remove the influence of “Fantasy Projection”. Afterwards, Uwa Chihiro would turn back around the corner, and Nagase would recognize him as “Uwa Chihiro” as slick as a whistle.

As soon as he turned around the corner, this current mission would end.

But — Love. Friendship. Love. Friendship.

This group really knows how to play.

During class break after second period, the Cheering Competition representative for Class 2-D, which, along with Chihiro’s class, also belonged to the Green Team in the Sports Festival, informed Chihiro to attend practice during lunch break.

“What a drag.”

Shimono who sat in the seat in front, twisted his body and fell onto Chihiro’s desk.

“You’re in my way.”

Shimono slightly tensed his upper body and sat up. He seemed to be talented in both sports and academics, but since he was inherently an indolent person, he managed to pass as barely satisfactory.

“The Sports Festival or whatever sucks… No, it’s good that we can get out of class, but doing some kind of Cheering Competition way before that is annoying as hell. It’s really, really fucking annoying.”

“To me, you’re more annoying right now.”

“Pff-”

The sound of someone who could not help laughing came from behind.

Turning around, Chihiro saw Enjouji Shino covering her mouth with an expression of “Oh, this is bad”.

“What?”

“N… Nothing…”

“As if.”

“Uu.”

“What do you mean, ‘uu’”?

Enjouji looked distinctly wavered. She appeared to be small and weak, giving others the impression that a gust of wind could blow her away.

As though shy, she lowered her head and began softly:

“Ch… Chihiro-kun… Ah no, Uwa-kun!”

Don’t just call someone by their name in class; you reacted way too slowly.

Enjouji lightly coughed and continued, changing her tone:

“Um… Because the matter that Uwa-kun was discussing… Was too amusing… “

“What are you eavesdropping for? What did you find amusing just now?”

“Uu, un… I just suddenly thought, it’s really amusing… “

There’s no way to understand her thought process.

“Enjouji-san, could it be… That I’m also very amusing?…”

Give it a rest, will you… Although he wanted to say that, he probably couldn’t open his mouth.

“Ah… Mm. I feel the feeling that Shimono-kun is… Very very annoying.”

“Hey look Uwa. My humor that you ignored has very successfully transferred to Enjouji-san.”

“Listen, Shimono. She is just saying that you are very annoying.”

“Wh— I, I’m not annoying!”

Shimono said in a hilariously frantic voice.

“Ha… haha…”

Enjouji laughed hollowly but affectionately.

This is completely off the rails. Things can’t just continue excitedly like this.

Shimono looks quite annoyed, I should stop here.

“So, Enjouji, do you have nothing to do right now?”

“Ah… Oh, right! I gotta return Tomomi-chan’s notebook to her… Excuse me.”

Enjouji bowed lightly to Shimono and walked towards the front of the classroom.

“Hey, did Enjouji just call you by your first name?”

Hmph, boring. But gossip about a boy and girl directly calling each other by their first names is probably normal. Shimono is just a pitiful wretch bound by this stupidity.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself. Enjouji is just imitating the way that the others in the club call me.”

“Ohhh~.”

Although Shimono had a suspicious expression, he did not continue his inquiry. He was an offbeat person, but still quite observant, so Chihiro didn’t hate Shimono at all.

“Ah, Enjouji~. She so introverted; it’s a pity that she’s just like a kid, but it’s pretty cute anyway. I always think that, compared to having her as a girlfriend, she would be better as a pet.”

“That’s just your perverted fetish.”

“Ohh, Uwa’s rare teasing.”

That’s just because of your idiocy.

“Ah~, but how do I put it…”

Shimono surveyed the entire classroom. Following his movements, Chihiro also looked around with interest. One person, two people, three people; everyone all got together for lunch break.

“The guys and girls are pretty far away from each other.”

Indeed, the boys were ♂ together, the girls got into a group; there was almost no boy or girl together chatting it up.

“Isn’t this exactly what class break will amount to?”

“I do feel that way, but… Ah, say, I just talked to Enjouji, I can use this as a breakthrough point to expand the battlefront…”

“What’s the front line’s desire for further expedition?”

“Zero.”

“That’s it, then.”

“But wouldn’t it be great if you gave me a boost, Uwa! Look, she’s on good terms with you. You go first, I bring up the rear!”

“What if I’m Killed In Action?”

“I’ll do all I can to create a comfortable haven for your soul.”

“That just means you’ll leave me for dead. As I expected. Forget it.”

“Ahh~, just gimme a boost, Uwa~. If I can bear witness to your greatness, I’ll definitely be energized!”

Although he’s saying irresponsible stuff right now, his frankness is pretty likeable. He doesn’t just think about others by himself.

“Ah, Tada.”

Shimono greeted Tada and informed him:

“Today, after school, the Cheering Squad has practice.”

“Huh? I didn’t hear about that!”

Tada shouted exaggeratedly. His slightly long tea-colored hair and numerous accessories wrapped around his wrist were slightly gaudy, but if you really talked to him, he actually was a nice person.

“I really didn’t know about it…”

“Well, now you do.”

“Gee, thanks for that, Uwa!… But, damn, we still have practice… Wouldn’t it just be easier to practice right before we start? Geez, this is why I didn’t want to join!”

To Tada, who was sighing in despair, Shimono put on an impression of a drunk old man:

“We three brothers who suck at Jankenpon need to support each other from now on!”

“Don’t say that— we won’t be able to get rid of that aura of losers—”

Shimono and Tada performed their own little theatre, giggling.

Bored out of his mind, Chihiro laughed too.

Chihiro set his consciousness free, allowing Tada’s — and of course his shadow Shimono’s — voice to enter his left ear and leave through his right, leaving nothing in his mind.

Devoid of meaning, devoid of value, noise that leaves no mark in this world flows by.

— Chihiro thought silently to himself as Tada and Shimono deservedly remained totally unaware, continuing their soul-killing discussion.

This is the dull, insipid world in which we live in.

But now my own world is no longer like this. — He thought.

To confirm his ability, over many days of testing his <power>, Chihiro had already experimented on five people.

During lunch break, after he ate, Chihiro headed towards the inner side of the school building.

He stepped into the shadows under a tree, confirming whether Aoki, whom he had called, had come outside.

There he is: Aoki Yoshifumi.

It’s just a test after all; let’s try whether an unclear declaration is effective or not.

The two of them were some distance apart.

Chihiro declared in a voice audible to Aoki:

“[I am the one whom Aoki wishes to become the romantic partner of.]”

Aoki suddenly turned around and grinned happily.

“Ah, Yui!”

Seems like “Fantasy Projection” has activated.

“Fantasy Projection” utilizes the existing ability of the other person’s mind to misinterpret information, so it seems like it can be activated even if the name of a specific person is not used. On the other hand, if it was someone the other person did not recognize, or someone whom the other person firmly believed “definitely could not appear here” (for example, a deceased person), the ability could not be activated. Also, if a major, unjustifiable paradox occured, there would apparently be <severe consequences>.

Therefore — as expected, Aoki likes Kiriyama Yui.

It would be more interesting if it were someone else instead.

“What’s up, Yui, with you specially calling me here like this?”

Aoki’s tone was very relaxed. He was specifically called somewhere with almost no one present, yet he was not nervous at all.

Normally, an occasion like this would be assumed to be a confession or something, wouldn’t it? But it could be that he’s intentionally putting on a nonchalant expression, in order to relax the person he’s talking to.

“Ah~, um, ah, how do I say it…”

After just one sentence, Chihiro fell silent.

As the transformation was very complete, even if he talked normally, the other person would hear it as Kiriyama’s voice and intonation. Even so, as he talked in a completely masculine tone, he still worried a little whether his cover would be blown. However, whenever he thought of himself imitating a girl’s tone of voice, Chihiro felt quite disgusted.

Aoki looked at Chihiro [Yui] with soft eyes.

… How sickening. From a bystander’s point of view, it’s clearly two boys staring emotionally at each other.

Slightly readjusting his posture, Chihiro began.

“I have a really big favor to ask of you.”

I’m speaking in a girl’s tone; I’m too careless.

“Ohh, whatever request you may have, Yui, please tell me, I’ll take it on anytime!”

He’s actually the type ready to promise “I can make whatever you wish for come true”.

Someone who clearly has nothing to back up his words, yet can spew such farfetched claptrap is truly extraordinary.

How “extraordinary” can you get, then. Chihiro wanted to test it out himself.

“Although I can’t explain it in detail, I think I really need Aoki’s help for this. Is that okay?”

Chihiro [Yui] spoke in his regular tone.

“Leave it to me!”

“Then, until I tell you to quit, can you stop speaking with me? I really have trouble that’s too embarrassing to mention. Even if I talk to you myself, please don’t be too obvious and ignore me naturally. Is that okay?”

“Are you asking me… to ignore you… Yui?”

“Yeah.”

Aoki looked stunned.

Yep, it’s reasonable for you to feel that way. Whenever I’m asked to do something unfathomable, I’m also like this.

In actuality, this is basically meaningless.

“Of course, I don’t mean that we never speak again. There’s an actual reason to it. When I feel that it’s enough, I’ll call you here again and tell you, “It’s okay now” — Is that fine?”

Aoki lowered his head and sank into silence, mumbling softly: “This… For me, this is just…” and other incomprehensible mutterings.

Ah, as expected, this is a little too difficult — Just as Chihiro [Yui] was planning to retract the request, Aoki opened his mouth.

“Okay, I understand!”

Hey, you don’t understand worth a rat’s ass! Chihiro [Yui] spat fiercely but silently.

“I just need to ignore you, right Yui!”

“Eh? Mm, yeah.”

“Honestly, even though I don’t understand at all, since you’re requesting me like this, Yui, I’ll do it with all I’ve got! This is my vow; you can relax!”

Without a speck of confusion in his attitude, Aoki declared with his chest held high.

There was an overwhelming — or, in other words, subservient feeling to this.

He actually readily accepted a request with a completely unknown motive to it; this wasn’t logical at all. What a puzzling, nauseating world.

This feeling was actually kind of dazzling for an instant, but he had already decided never to step foot in <that> world again. <That side> and <this side> are as different as the earth and the sky.

Besides, since he already had such a crushing power, there was no need to obsess over <that side> any more.

When it was time for club activities again, in a rare occasion, Chihiro was the first to arrive at the classroom.

Then, Taichi and Kiriyama Yui quickly arrived.

“Ah, Chihiro-kun actually came first. How strange.”

Yui looked happy and relaxed her expression.

“… Why are you so happy?”

“Because~ I’m happy to see that Chihiro-kun also likes the Cultural Research Club~”

“I’ve never said anything about liking or whatever.”

“Your attitude reveals everything~! Your attitude!”

Yui stuck out a finger towards Chihiro and began “blah blah” lecturing him. Two striking eyebrows and slightly slanting eyes gave her a lofty, imposing manner. She was just too petite and completely unable to give anyone a serious impression. It was perhaps better to say that one tended to smile upon seeing her.

“Are you lecturing me…”

“Of course!”

Kiriyama declared. She was just like a bossy young woman from who-knows-where.

“Kiriyama and Chihiro look very happy together.”

Taichi teased the two.

Tsk, I was misunderstood –— Chihiro revealed an awkward expression, but Yui looked like she hadn’t noticed at all. He didn’t know why, but his heart felt confused.

“Ahhh~ I keep feeling that today will also be a good day~”

Yui sang. Taichi replied:

“Even though half the day has passed already.”

“I know that even if you quit teasing me!”

A good day, huh.

Today might really be a good day after all, Yui-senpai. — Chihiro spoke silently.

“Oh~ Has something good happened, Chihiro-kun?”

“N-Nothing.”

Faced with Yui’s beautiful pupils peering at his face from his side, Chihiro twisted his head and dodged her line of sight.

Then, after the other club members came one by one, finally, Aoki arrived.

“Good morning everybody—! And Yui… Ooahhpuahh?!”

Aoki frantically covered his mouth as a strange noise leaked out from between his fingers.

“Hey, that’s gross.”

Inaba sighed and said sharply.

“At least be more sensitive, Inaba-chan! Don’t be blunt like you’re telling the truth!”

Nagase then turned to Enjouji:

“But that really can’t be helped, right, Shino-chan?”

“Mhm, I also think it’s super gross.”

“I know, all right…! I’m sorry, okay!”

“What are you doing, geez…”

Yui sighed.

Silence.

Deathly stillness.

Yui, who was not looking at Aoki before, now turned towards him, astonished.

Aoki simply sat down diagonally from Yui without a word.

The clubroom was permeated by an extremely subtle atmosphere. Everyone else as well turned to stare at Aoki.

“Hey, Aoki… What’s up with you?”

Taichi broke the unbearable silence.

“Ah… I just… I was going to keep my promise, but I accidentally, just out of habit… Just pretend nothing happened! The power of habits is scary.”

“What and what did you just say…?” Taichi muttered.

The clubroom atmosphere turned to normal: everyone became busy with their own matters.

Out of everyone, only Chihiro had his head lowered, resisting with all his might — trying hard not to laugh.

No, I’ll be discovered — Even as he thought this, Chihiro found it difficult to stop the corners of his mouth from twitching.

This was too fucking interesting. I was just kidding around, but you’re just trying so hard to keep your promise to me. You’re hilariously stupid. Chihiro was enchanted with his ability to perform to this degree. He could probably live his entire life with this feeling of superiority.

“Chihiro…kun?”

Shocked, Chihiro spun towards the owner of the voice. It was Enjouji.

“W-what?”

“U-um, I noticed that you keep trembling with your head lowered, so I was wondering… why.”

Nagase and Inaba remained twisted together on one side; Taichi hurried over to pacify them.

“Ahh… It’s nothing.”

“… Really.”

Enjouji nodded in apparent resignation. However, she seemed to remain very mindful, staring at Chihiro non-stop.

Chihiro smiled bitterly. Perhaps she’s seen through my secret.

Then, Yui turned towards Aoki.

Chihiro pricked up his ears and listened closely. Taichi and the others were messing around incessantly, and Nagase had dragged Enjouji in with them at some point. The only one noticing Aoki and Yui right now had to be himself.

“Um, Aoki. During P.E. class today…”

Yui talked to Aoki.

One, two, three.

Aoki did not respond.

“Hey… Aoki—”

“Ohh, I need to use the restroom right now!”

Just as Yui spoke, Aoki suddenly stood up, rambling about something, and ran hurriedly out of the club room.

“Ao…ki…?”

Yui pitifully reached out a hand like a child abandoned by her parents.

The hand quickly fell.

Chihiro stole a glance at her expression, hidden behind her long maroon hair.

Sorrow and loneliness beyond measure.

Why do you look like you’re about to cry.

When you’re here normally, you definitely kept on blathering, kept on blathering, and kept on blathering about how annoying Aoki was and how troublesome Aoki was.

But Kiriyama Yui—

Eh, whatever.

After school, Chihiro spotted Inaba Himeko, who was bidding farewell to everyone else at the train station. Beforehand, Chihiro had made up an excuse that he had to deal with something at home and left the school early before club activities ended.

Chihiro stood sentinel near the ticket gate, and when there was no one nearby—

“[I am the one whom Inaba Himeko loves the most.]

“Eh? Taichi?”

As expected, Inaba mistook Chihiro for Yaegashi Taichi.

“What’s the matter? Didn’t you already leave… Hey, is, is it because, you wanted to see me…”

Inaba began to deduce by herself, and became shy at the same time.

A clear mind, and a strong woman — Chihiro was reminded of Yui’s praise for Inaba and became speechless with admiration.

Chihiro was suddenly very interested in how far Taichi and Inaba’s relationship had progressed.

“Then, then come over to my place—”

“Let’s break up.”

Chihiro [Taichi] said.

He originally wanted to present it in a slightly softer manner, but seeing Inaba like this, blindly immersed in happiness and unable to free herself, Chihiro suddenly could not help but fiercely take the initiative. Fiercely harm her.

“…Eh?”

A lopsided smile hanging on her face, Inaba felt time stop.

Chihiro suddenly saw Yui’s hurt expression float into view.

Why am I remembering that right now, it has nothing to do with this.

Without exception, today’s “Fantasy Projections” have achieved the expected result.

It had been flawless, beautifully perfect — He was supposed to be very happy, but for some reason Chihiro felt somewhat fretful.

“You make others depressed. It’s very annoying. And honestly… I’m sick of it.”

Chihiro imagined himself as Taichi, extracting the most malicious, merciless part of himself, compressed it, and ejected all of it at once, impaling Inaba’s heart.

“………Eh?”

Inaba’s expression became as if the world had collapsed.

I can feel it — I can end a person’s world with my bare hands — this way, I am, in a sense —

A god.

He no longer had to fret about anything, no longer had to be bound by any minor details.

He was no longer going to remain here, and was going to transform into a higher existence.

“… How can that be, I’m joking.”

Chihiro [Taichi] spoke to Inaba in his normal tone.

“Eh… Ah… Joking…?”

“Right, I’m joking. How can Tai… I think of breaking up with you. All right, forget this, don’t mention it tomorrow.”

“Ah… Mm. Yeah… Mm.”

With a complicated expression mixed with relief and looking about to cry, Inaba murmured as though she were talking to herself.

“I have to go. It’s a promise, then.”

“Eh? Ahh, I got it… S, see you tomorrow!”

Chihiro [Taichi] disappeared from Inaba’s sight without looking back.

These two have a perfect, inseparable bond — but even if their relationship is so deep, just one sentence can easily shake it up.

The relationship between people is this feeble, this boring. Even so, if you poured yourself into it with all your heart and soul, you definitely wouldn’t be seen as a fool. Everyone’s like this — she’s like this.

This world is really boring to the extreme.

It’s filled with concrete conventions that can’t be helped, interpersonal rules that can’t be helped — Everyone is bound by them; even Chihiro found them difficult to avoid, and had once planned on giving up his resistance —

But now he has been chosen.

He has received power.

Now, Chihiro can finally say:

This world is really too interesting.

Right?

Chapter 4: An Opened Door Cannot Be Closed Again

Month: O – Day: X – Clear

Something is definitely strange. The senpais in the club are all strange — even as I say this, and rack my brains trying to think of how they are strange, I draw a complete blank.

What to do… I want them to become the way they were before and do stuff to the best of their abilities…

So I’m trying to understand all of this with them. This time, I’ve certainly tried my very best.

But I still didn’t achieve anything… Whatever, someone like me can’t achieve anything anyway… N-no, I can’t think like that! Negativity is prohibited! Next time, next time I’ll do it for sure.

Anyway, I feel like Chihiro-kun’s been acting a little weird lately… He’s seeming to be pretty strong, or rather, he looks more pretentious… or, as though he’s received <something> from <someone>.

Uwa Chihiro’s household — the Uwa household, was a normal family.

The four people of Uwa household were Chihiro, his brother, and their parents, living in a 3LDK [18] separately sold apartment on a 25 year mortgage. His father worked at a firm and earned a passable income — although there would never be the chance of getting a promotion, at least he would never be fired, and it was enough to sustain the mortgage and the family’s living expenses. In other words, a normal middle-class family.

One morning, Chihiro, his father, and his brother sat around the table stacked with plain salad and simple toast. His mother was in the kitchen preparing bentos for him and his brother. Chihiro buttered his toast and chewed it slowly.

There was no special conversation at the table.

His father read the newspaper, sipping his coffee. His brother was half-asleep, moving his jaw; he had probably played games late into the night.

This type of scene had played out for several, dozens, hundreds of times. A morning that never, ever changed.

His father stood and began adjusting his clothing. At the company, Chihiro’s father had transitioned from fresh new member to full steam ahead, and it was nearly time to go to work.

What would I do for a living? — Chihiro sometimes thought. It was likely that he would inevitably walk the same path as his father and finally achieve what someone like him in the world should be able to achieve.

Chihiro wasn’t dissatisfied by that. Although he wasn’t outstanding, if he looked at the average income for the entire Japanese population, no doubt he’d be among the leaders, so what was there to be dissatisfied at?

No matter how good you think you are, there’s always going to be someone out there who’s better; Chihiro understood this simple principle. He couldn’t force himself to rise continually, either — Chihiro understood this as well. So Chihiro was neither unsettled nor envious of that which he could not reach. Those who stood above him are undoubtedly fated to do so — sitting on talent, status, or wealth — those who already had an advantage at the starting line.

Those who had and those who hadn’t; it was an immovable truth that this world contained that decisive difference.

For example, the genius in the karate dojo by the name of Kiriyama Yui.

This girl was intrinsically talented. After practice ended every day, she would be all smiles, radiant, like she was celebrating her own good fortune. Although she wasn’t relaxed by any means during practice, but she had never undergone any sort of grueling training; she’d relied on her own talent to obtain enviable scores, and in everything other than this, she was the same as everyone else, enjoying her normal, everyday life. Also, due to her attractive appearance, she was supposedly popular among boys. Like a perfect human being.

Chihiro had never considered the possibility of defeating her — or even, establishing the true difference between them. He had simply viewed her as an existing on another dimension, viewing her from afar — even though they seemed to be friendly on the surface, that matter hasn’t changed.

But one day, Yui never came to the dojo again.

And another day, Yui appeared at the dojo once more, and Chihiro had transferred to her school.

Fate is a magical thing.

He’d heard that she hadn’t touched karate for many years, and her personality had matured quite a bit. So had she decreased in her abilities? Chihiro thought.

—But she seemed even more brilliant than before.

It was like her very existence should be illegal. In terms of karate, she went through minimal practice and regained her past level.

So-called human life was truly determined and destined at birth.

Because the world is just like this — he deeply understood. So he was completely different from those idiotic people who held idiotic dreams and idiotically failed. He had been walking the right path all along.

—Even as Chihiro firmly believed that—

“I’m leaving.”

His father said towards the kitchen, and walked out the door.

“Okay, have a safe trip~!”

His mother replied.

His brother stood up wordlessly and went for the bathroom. He was probably going to spend time messing with his hair, as usual.

His brother’s plate was left with tomatoes, which had been ignored as usual. His mother should have noticed that his brother doesn’t like tomatoes, so she should have left them out of his plate.

The Uwa household was a normal, unchanging scene.

But, there actually had been intensive changes.

Helped by <Fuusenkazura>, Chihiro’s world was no longer the same. He himself had changed.

Chihiro actually hadn’t accepted his fate. Even though he himself said that he’d already seen through the truth of the world, he hadn’t given up after all.

What is going to happen, what is going happen out of the blue to me — Chihiro had been praying deep down in his heart.

He, who refuses to mix with the uncouth.

He, the one with the right to become extraordinary.

He, who would have more worth than others.

Today, his wishes can truly be realized.

“Have you heard? Some classes have already begun practicing for their events in the Sports Festival.”

Shimono was saying at the end of their period in the portable classroom, on the way back to homeroom.

“Oh, really? They’re all second and third years anyway.”

This school really is passionate about some meaningless things. — Chihiro thought as he replied.

“No, it’s like the first years are influenced by the second and third years, and they’re doing it too.”

“Ehhh—?”
“Ehhh, how’s that possible—?”

Tada repeated Chihiro’s words, turned and grabbed Chihiro’s shoulders, twisting his wrists.

“We’re gonna lose anyway — but it’s really hot right now—”

“Get your mitts off if you’re hot. I’m already hot.”

Chihiro calmly shook Tada off. Shimono suddenly pointed towards the field.

“Hey, look over there!”

“On the field, there were seven or eight students practicing passing sticks for relay races, without changing from their school uniforms.

“Tsk tsk, there’s still three weeks, these guys really wanna win.”

Shimono said.

“Yeah. If it were up to me, we’d be practicing two or three days before, at most.”

Chihiro nodded in agreement as Tada quipped:

“Isn’t our class supposed to wait until a day before?”

“Probably not… If our class… If a miracle happens we should be able to wait until a day before… Ah, it’s impossible.”

“So a miracle is also impossible!”

Shimono and Tada grinned tacitly. Their smiles felt like they had been squeezed out to relieve stress.

— Enjouji Shino thought as she watched the field from afar. She hugged her textbooks and notebooks, her soft tea-colored hair blowing about in the wind.

Without noticing — and truly without noticing, Chihiro slowed his pace, increasing the distance between him and Shimono and Tada, and stood there, waiting for Enjouji to reach him.

“What are you looking at, Enjouji?”

“Ah, um… Chi, Chi… No! Uwa-kun!”

“The half ‘Chihiro-kun’ that you said sounded a lot like the name that Nagase-senpai usually calls me…”

Is she calling me “Chichi” in a roundabout way?

“S-sorry… I wasn’t careful, it’s force of habit…”

Looking at Enjouji’s lowered head and timid appearance, Chihiro sighed.

“Really. It’s fine to call me ‘Chihiro-kun’ in the classroom. You can’t correct yourself anyway.”

“Mm, I’m sorry, I’ll definitely remember next time, and before I talk to you next time I’ll take a deep breath and prepare to talk to Uwa-kun… Eh? I can call you Chihiro-kun?!”

“So you’re not doing it on purpose…”

Something similar had happened the last time he talked to her, was she bearing a burden from last time?

“I’m s-sorry… I really didn’t do it on purpose… Uh, um, umm. I… What was I looking at again…?”

“At least remember what you look at, Enjouji.”

Although her processor wasn’t fast by any means, at least she wasn’t to the degree of being dumb.

“Over there, look…”

Enjouji turned towards the field again.

“Iori-senpai is with Taichi-senpai and they’re — Uwa!”

Enjouji raised her hand to point at them and her books and pencil bag clattered onto the ground.

… Correction. She isn’t very bright after all.

Chihiro also looked towards the field. Sure enough, Taichi and Iori were among a group of four boys and four girls. Iori was holding a relay baton.

They were gathered together, chatting. Someone was probably saying something interesting; a few were roaring with laughter. Although he was out of earshot, Chihiro felt like he could hear their laughter.

His chest itched for some reason.

“Those two… They’re from Class 2B.”

“I always feel like… They’re really amazing.”

Enjouji murmured.

“…How are they amazing?”

“Yeah, how?”

Enjouji tilted her head, smiling warmly. There was an expression of secrecy on her face, sending the message ‘Think about it, you should be able to understand”.

He felt slightly dissatisfied.

“Don’t you feel that they’re really amazing?”

“In what way?”

He understood that she was merely playing dumb and felt slightly embarrassed.

Chihiro looked towards the field again. Nagase held her hands out in front of her as everyone else stood in a line. Taichi seemed to say something stupid; a tall girl was laughing so hard that her shoulders quaked.

“Chihiro-kun…!”

Enjouji seemed overly bold, causing her outburst to go slightly wrong…

“What is it?”

Chihiro glanced at Enjouji, who was staring at him. Having the other person strangely think of you as a companion is very distracting.

“No…Nothing…”

Enjouji closed her lips with a melancholy expression. Seeing her pitifully creased eyebrows and wet eyes that reflected her air of being abandoned, Chihiro became slightly annoyed.

Talking with Enjouji — and gazing at Taichi and the others — was there any reason to it? Was there any value to it? Was there any meaning to it?

The side that Taichi and the others are on and the side that Enjouji and the others are on — he, was an existence that crossed this limit.

I should get back to homeroom, Chihiro thought. He crossed the courtyard and walked away.

“Ah, wait, Chihiro-kun~!”

Chihiro kept silent. He didn’t stop, either.

Coincidentally, he saw Kiriyama Yui and Aoki Yoshifumi. They seemed not to notice him.

Chihiro slowed his pace, perked up his ears, and watched the two from a distance. As long as they didn’t turn around, they wouldn’t notice him.

“You broke your promise yesterday.”

Yui spoke fiercely in a voice dripping with rage. There was no one around, so Chihiro heard every word clearly.

“Huh? Promise?”

“You’re still playing dumb…! You jer… Forget it.”

Yui left those words and spun around to leave.

“Wait! I really don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Aoki shouted, but Yui completely ignored him.

“Yui, didn’t you… You’re suddenly stopping it now… I don’t know anything about that order that you gave me!”

“Order? What the hell are you talking about?!”

Just then, Yui noticed Chihiro’s gaze and turned around. Their eyes met, and Chihiro nodded in acknowledgement as Aoki also noticed.

Yui raised her hand slightly with a terrible expression and left. Aoki waved as well and walked off in a different direction.

It seems like the seed he planted had raised something else somewhere he didn’t know.

Chihiro’s heart was soaked in a complicated tangle of fear and excitement.

Chihiro was using his own body to personally experience his own <new world>.

“— Hey, Chihiro-kun.”

This voice seemed to seize Chihiro, freezing his heart in an instant.

It was only Enjouji’s voice, but its clear sound, free of any impurities, gave the impression that she had seen through everything.

Chihiro turned toward Enjouji with a poker face.

“Don’t you feel… that the senpais have been strange lately?”

Enjouji carefully watched Chihiro’s eyes, seemingly reading something from within.

“In what way?’

“I just feel like… they’re unnatural…”

“Who knows. Maybe it’s because the Sports Festival is beginning soon, so they’re just in high spirits.”

“Re…ally? It doesn’t seem like that at all… Um, maybe, it’s because…”

Enjouji lowered her head as though she was showing her hair to Chihiro.

To break this hesitant situation, just as Chihiro was about to leave without her, Enjouji raised her face. Chihiro met Enjouji’s gaze; within Enjouji’s eyes, sparks and embers were burning.

“It’s just my personal guess, but…”

Chihiro’s brain sent out an instinctive warning. She must not continue her words.

“So? What exactly are you trying to do?”

Send a preemptive strike before being questioned and use a question to dodge this temporary danger.

“Uh… Wha…at?”

Enjouji’s words stuck together.

Although he didn’t know what was going on, this was an opportunity. Seize and floor the accelerator, misleading her train of thought.

“Yeah. What are you trying to do? You.”

“I… Um… I…”

The glow from her burning eyes dissipated and became a patch of black. Enjouji suddenly looked like she wanted to cry, but it was clear that she hadn’t noticed a thing.

“Let’s go, back to homeroom.”

“…Okay.”

After that, Enjouji didn’t come with him.

That night, Chihiro crashed onto his bed and thought.

As the price for receiving “Fantasy Projection”, he must make those five people more interesting — this wording made him hesitant and confused. According to <Fuusenkazura>, it seemed like as long as giant waves disturbed the emotions among the five, he would feel “interesting” (This was Chihiro’s unproved theory. <Fuusenkazura> merely said “About that… If possible, please think about it on your own…”).

If he wanted to shake up the relationships among the five people, effectively, he’s have o completely destroy their connections. Since <Fuusenkazura> noncommittally commented “Ah… That’s not preventable anyway…”, he should be going in the right direction.

Obliterate the pentagonal relationship of the Cultural Research Club and destroy the bond between the five. Destroy and disappear.

He suddenly felt a kind of fear. Was it really acceptable to commit a sin like this? Chihiro questioned of himself deep down in his consciousness.

But the answer to this rhetorical question presented itself easily.

—This couldn’t be helped.

<Fuusenkazura> had promised Chihiro that as long as Chihiro brought about sufficient entertainment to the five people, he would extend the effects of Chihiro’s “Fantasy Projection” to people other than those five.

If he could use “Fantasy Projection” on all of humankind, then he would be able to do as he desired.

He wouldn’t be swallowed up by wicked desires, but instead would absorb then and progress beyond. Because he was far from mediocrity.

He must ascend to higher ground. Therefore, they were his stepping stones. His current everyday high school life was nothing worth remembering anyway. Seizing the opportunity to destroy everything and awaken them to reality isn’t a bad idea either.

The next day, at school.

When Chihiro made sure that Inaba was alone.

“[I am the one who Inaba Himeko is most likely to obey.]”

“Oh, Taichi.”

The one who fulfilled this criterion would of course be Taichi. As predicted, without fail.

Inaba approached, grinning. But within her smile, things seemed hazy, probably because she had been stymied on things lately.

“Inaba, can we speak alone for a second?”

Chihiro [Taichi] extended an invitation.

“A-alone… Eh, r-right now?”

Inaba’s face turned crimson and her eyes began to wander. If Inaba is so shy in front of everyone else, then when she is alone with Taichi… Hm, she’s full of that “shy girl feeling”.

Being stared by her like this is very uncomfortable, but if she’s really into him, she’s one hell of a cute girlfriend.

“Yeah, right now.”

After a moment of brief hesitation, Inaba nodded.

Chihiro [Taichi] led Inaba to a room in a classroom building. This room was about as big as the Cultural Research clubroom; except for a pile of old desks and chairs, there was nothing inside. Almost no one used it and it could be locked from the inside — Chihiro had personally confirmed this.

“There’s actually a room like this…”

Inaba couldn’t help but exclaim. She wore a long-sleeved white shirt and short skirt with beautifully curved legs wrapped in black stockings; from behind she looked pleasantly slender and gave off just a hint of suggestiveness.

Chihiro [Taichi] entered the room behind her, turned around and surreptitiously locked the door.

“So, what’s up, specially bringing me here—”

“Inaba, take off your clothes.”

Chihiro [Taichi] commanded.

Inaba stood still, as though she needed time to process the words, her face reddening instantly.

“Are, are, are we, we, we going to have our <first time> in this place…!”

Inaba’s eyes darted around frantically as she wildly waved her hands in the air.

“Um, wait, is this, uhh, does this mean, you can’t wait any longer? Al-although there is this sort of situation in H-manga…”

Taichi and Inaba seem to be in an exceptionally <pure> relationship. Also, an unexpected bonus was Inaba revealing her readership of ero-manga.

“I want to take a good look at you.”

With a little more emotion, his own speaking tone had changed. Damn, there was no need for that.

“Even though you suddenly say that you want to… look…”

Anyway, this was really —

“Ah… Ju-just looking, right?! Just looking, right?! We should choose a more appropriate place for our first time, right?!”

— If you want to do it, it’s so easy right now.

“Well… Actually, I’m not completely opposed to something a little more… unique…”

But what the hell is she saying.

“I’m just asking you to strip, nothing else.”

“B-but even if you want me to strip, I don’t know…”

“Just please strip down to your underwear.”

Chihiro [Taichi] said, considering the fact that making her strip naked in one go wasn’t realistic.

“U-Underwear?! S-So you’re asking me to strip down to my bra and panties?!”

“Yeah… That’s right.”

Chihiro [Taichi] couldn’t help but laugh at Inaba’s deadpan words.

“Um, uh, if I’m stripping down to my underwear… Then, can you turn around…?”

“Ahh, yeah.”

Chihiro suddenly became nervous. If someone was to open the door from outside, that would be disastrous.

From behind came the shuffling noise of Inaba beginning to take her clothes off. How much had she taken off?

“Ah… Can I keep my shoes on?”

“Pff?!”

The pure unexpectedness of the question almost made Chihiro [Taichi] laugh.

“Um, ah, yeah, go ahead.”

Then he couldn’t help but wish. This was definitely not his taste. Definitely not.

“But since you’re suddenly ordering me to strip, and since you have such a peculiar fetish for shoes… I’m really the only one who can be your girlfriend, sheesh.”

Gah, what the hell is she saying. Chihiro’s mind was slightly calmed by Inaba’s idiotic remarks.

“Ah— yeah, we’re really a match for each other.”

Chihiro [Taichi] reciprocated. To Inaba, these words seem to have been exchanged before, to the point where it’s become a confession that made her go red from ear to ear.

The sound of shuffling clothes stopped.

“… Okay.”

Inaba seemed pretty nervous too; her voice was trembling.

Chihiro swallowed hard; his body seemed to warm up for some reason… Why the hell was he so nervous? It’s just a <task>, after all. He had no intention of falling to the level of those idiots with lower-dimensional desires. He was different from those vulgar ones.

Chihiro [Taichi] turned around and instantly sucked in a breath.

The air was filled with the old, rotten smell of the unused room. Inside the closed off space, hot air stuck to the skin, not letting go. Inside this room, stood a slender, black-haired, female high school student — fully complying with her own desires, becoming like this only for herself — wearing only a black bra, panties and stockings with leather school uniform shoes on her feet. More than four-fifths of her skin was naked, reflecting glossy white. She was clearly wearing normal clothes, but her figure was extremely unusual. Inside a school, within a sealed room. Sunlight shone through the window, gently projecting onto her body, sketching a shadow with shades of light and dark. Within a secret room with no one else but a lonely couple — a secret figure. This was a scene filled with a sense of eternity. Her beautiful silhouette was filled with beauty, and pity.

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Inaba kept her hands behind her back and her red face lowered.

Is my sense of reason going to run away like this? Chihiro thought.

Although that was impossible.

“What…What do you think?

“You look very charming.”

Chihiro [Taichi] said half-truthfully.

A girl in her underwear and an adolescent boy in the same room. What a strange space.

So, this was the <unusual relationship> between Taichi and Inaba.

The so-called idiotic couple was probably like this.

“Then, can I put my clothes back on…?”

Inaba asked in a small voice, covering her chest with her arms like she was hugging herself.

“No, there’s more.”

“Are, are you saying that I… I should take off my shoes and socks too…?!”

Shut up — Chihiro [Taichi] thought, and went through with his request.

“Let me take a picture.”

He pulled out his phone.

“A p-picture…?”

Inaba immediately looked frightened. Out of all of the things he had done as [Taichi] with her, this was the first time she had displayed such an expression.

Up to now, he had finally uncovered it.

— Despair.

That deep, dark despair given to her by the one she loved.

“Can… Can we forget about a picture…?”

Inaba took a step back, her right hand gripping her shirt that she left on a desk.

She seems extremely unwilling. But I’m doing it because you’ll be unwilling.

“You don’t want to, Inaba? Are you rejecting me? In other words, do you not love me? If you don’t love me, I’m not going to love Inaba-senpai either.”

Chihiro mimicked [Taichi]’s tone, uttering the worst words he could think of.

Inaba’s eyes were increasingly soaked with despair. She was now completely dominated by fear: her entire body trembled lightly as goosebumps slowly rose on her skin. Chihiro [Taichi] watched it all.

After a brief pause, Inaba let go of the shirt.

“…Okay.”

Inaba’s hands fell to her sides and she lowered her face.

“Thank you.”

He was now completely in control of Inaba.

Chihiro [Taichi] began to press the shutter. The blinding flash caused Inaba to squint her eyes.

Compared to a moment before, Inaba’s naked body was no longer striking, and under the guidance of this despicable understanding, it gave off a forbidding smell.

He pressed the button.

Can the camera on the phone perfectly preserve this atmosphere that Inaba has created — before he previewed the effect, he could not determine that.

He pressed the button.

And pressed.

And pressed.

And pressed.

And pressed.

“Just… Just forget it—!”

Inaba shouted; she seized her clothes and hid her chest behind them.

“Um… Next time, next time I’ll definitely… Um, so, okay? Can you… Can you delete those… pictures you took just now… Please.”

Inaba hid her face in her shirt, her voice mixed with whimpers.

“Um… It’s not that… I don’t trust you… But if you really leak those out… I’m really scared… And, this is really weird!”

Inaba lifted her reddened eyes, pleading with Chihiro [Taichi].

Yes— or No. The right of choice was completely within his grasp.

A line of tears pooled and ran down from Inaba’s eyes.

“… I got it. I’ll delete them, all right?”

Chihiro [Taichi] said. Of course… This was part of the plan.

“Oh, okay. Right… If Taichi says it properly I’ll understand it.”

“Of course.”

Inaba displayed an expression of relief and began to dress.

“See, I’m deleting them. If I press it like this, I can delete everything I took just now.”

Chihiro [Taichi] showed the screen of his phone to Inaba.

“Ahh… Thanks.”

Why are you still saying thanks in this situation? Chihiro thought.

After school, Chihiro spotted Nagase on the way home.

Nagase was walking along a narrow path, completely alone. This was his chance.

Chihiro walked up to Nagase. He had just discovered that even if he appeared in front of the subject before “Fantasy Projection” activated, that memory would be erased for them.

Concentrating his desire, concentrating the anticipation of making the situation more interesting, with the confidence that the seed he had planted would see results in one fell swoop, Chihiro made the decision and declared:

“[I am the being that will make Nagase Iori the most confused.]”

“Ahh…”

Iori opened her mouth slightly. She stopped in her tracks, looking like she wanted to say something but couldn’t.

Then—

“Oh, Taichi. What’s up?”

He was now recognized as the one who would make Nagase Iori the most confused, Yaegashi Taichi.

Too funny. This is a masterpiece, isn’t it, <Fuusenkazura>?

Now, he can revive the triangular relationship that was supposed to be resolved.

Of course, that was not so easily achieved. But obviously, the triangular relationship between then had not disappeared — a phantom, a phantom of that triangular relationship was floating among them. They could only do their best to keep the danger at a balancing point.

No matter which angle buckled under the pressure, eventually the domino effect would set in and everything would collapse.

With heavy smoke billowing out, the torch of the triangular relationship will burn them all to ash.

It was likely that in a short time, there will be a gigantic avalanche.

Victory was within reach. Currently, they have not noticed at all that they were being invaded from outside. This was the decisive difference between those with power, and those without it.

“Why’re you so quiet? We can’t be meeting here by coincidence.”

Chihiro [Taichi] began to reply to Nagase, who looked tense.

Now, let’s try something decisive.

This was really very interesting.

“I like you. After being in a relationship with Inaba, I finally realize it: the one whom I really like is you.”

[Taichi] confessed his feelings to Nagase.

Nagase’s expression was full of disturbance. Disturbance, destruction.

It seems like she can no longer withstand it.

Nagase’s eyebrows arched, her eyes squinted fiercely, and a corner of her mouth twitched to one side. Intimidation — an expression like pure evil.

Nagase seized Chihiro [Taichi]’s collar and got up close.

“You wanna be freakin’ punched?”

Murderous intent.

Feels like she’s about to kill.

“Are you freakin’ betraying Inaba Himeko?!”

A voice as sharp as daggers.

Hey, what are you doing. Isn’t this going a little too far. Who the hell are you, that’s scary. Is she really going to hit me— No, she definitely isn’t just going to hit me. But I can probably shake her off. I’m clearly stronger than she is. But she’s giving off an air of stubborn resistance. Damn, that’s scary.

— But either way, she’s just a confused little girl. And Nagase’s weak towards others’ advances. I know this. Don’t be scared, don’t run, just charge through with it.

“Even if you do this I can’t help it! It’s just… out of my control!”

Although my neck was forcefully grabbed in the process, I managed to shout that out.

Nagase’s murderous vision did not ease.

To escape, I must fight to the death.

“I love you, Nagase! I really, really do!”

Whether it was because this determination had been transmitted over to her or not, Nagase lessened her grip on his collar.

Nagase’s arched brows slowly eased, as liquid welled up in her eyes.

Tears flowing down her cheeks, Nagase lowered her head and forcefully pushed Chihiro [Taichi] away.

“You… With everything as it is… Just stop…”

Leaving these words, Nagase ran from Chihiro [Taichi]’s side.

Ahh, what a relief.

I win.

Nagase has been defeated.

Inaba has been ordered by [Taichi] to perform various inappropriate activities, and even photographed pictures of her almost naked body. From her despaired expression, it was clear that her distrust was approaching the limit.

Although Taichi was still confused by Nagase’s temptation. Seems that it wasn’t strong enough, so next time I’ll use [Inaba] to tell him “I hate you” and reject him, then use [Nagase] to confess to him. That should take care of things.

The collapse of their triangular relationship is within reach. As long as it collapses, then their pentagon will not survive intact either.

The end — shall draw its curtain beginning with those three.

Sunday. Today was the final chapter in the story that he created.

Chihiro utilized “Fantasy Projection” to create separate excuses, arranging Taichi, Iori, and Inaba to meet together at Natural Park. This was the place where he had encountered <Fuusenkazura> in Gotou Ryuuzen’s body during the end of April, after the Club Activities Department miraculously decided to hold a marathon with the Track and Field team.

Chihiro stayed in the shadow of a boulder behind the trio’s meeting place (the rest area). Here, he could avoid their eyes and watch them closely.

The end was approaching; it seemed that <Fuusenkazura>, who had been observing the situation, had noticed as well. He was probably nearby, too.

Inaba arrived first.

She looked around uneasily. The rest area had a simple awning and benches, but Inaba stood to one side, not wanting to sit down.

Soon, Taichi and Iori arrived.

They were holding hands.

Hey, hey, you’re actually doing it— Chihiro suppressed his laughter. He was only half-joking, yet they’re actually taking it seriously. Those two acted as he wished, and were evidence of his success.

Honestly, Chihiro always felt that the separation between the three today lacked some sparks. But Taichi and the others had such a solid relationship that it was annoying, so it was thanks to Chihiro that there could be some hate among them.

— They deeply trusted each other, and it was therefore that they <could not help but distrust each other’s actions>.

Their actions would become undoubtable truth. To himself, who stirred up things among them in disguise, this was the optimal environment.

And now, the twists and turns that had built up over time will come together.

What kind of show were they going to put on this time? Opposition, conflict, intensity, breakup, revolt, or collapse?

If these three had indeed spoken to each other, they would notice something unnatural about themselves. But because the events created by “Fantasy Projection” had not disappeared, to them, deciding what was real and what was not was another dilemma.

What were they going to do? Declare everything within this time period as a “lie”? This seemed prudent, but in actuality would be the worst possible decision.  As to why — if they approached everything as a “lie”, they would begin to suspect whether the person they faced is actually the real person.

Indeed, that was the real threat of “Fantasy Projection”. Even if one felt like he had realized the truth, there would be no solvency to this hell, only unstoppable continuation into darkness.

Whether it was the true person, whether anything was true or false, everything would sink into obscurity, imprisoned within illusions. In that world, many aspects would inevitably head towards collapse, no matter the resilience of spirit.

I’ve heard of them overcoming many challenges hand-in-hand; then, allow me — Uwa Chihiro, to see what you will do.

Taichi and Nagase walked up to Inaba and let go of each other’s hands.

The three of them stood in a perfect triangle.

Then—

“““This is weird!”””

The three of them said in unison, pointing at each other.

Their actions mirrored each other perfectly without missing a beat, like their minds were synchronized.

“Because we look exactly the same.” Nagase said.

“I’m starting to suspect if anyone of us is actually anyone of us.” Inaba said.

“Even though we’ve already been affected…” Taichi said.

“““There’s no way you two can say that!”””

Following those words, the three of them looked at each other and roared with laughter.

“But why did you guys come holding hands?”

Inaba demanded.

“Uh, Nagase said that we had to do it…” “Uh, Taichi said that we had to do it…”

““Huh?””

Their voices overlapped; Taichi and Nagase began to laugh again.

“What the heck are you two doing? I’m also… Whatever. Let’s adjust first.”

Inaba suggested; the other two immediately responded.

“All right!” “Okay!”

This was too peaceful.

This was too friendly.

This was too normal.

This was too abnormal.

Stunned beyond belief, Chihiro himself began to doubt whether the scene unfolding before his eyes was the truth, and whether he himself had fallen into an illusion. No matter what, they should be beginning to suspect each other, and speak extremely carefully.

Chihiro could confirm that they had definitely been shaken up. He’d seen this up close with his own eyes.

Why? Because the two of them had been alone together; now all three of them were together, so shouldn’t they be suspicious? Or, was this the power of the bond between the three of them — the Cultural Research Club?

The three of them began to confirm their experiences of recent events.

“—So that happened.”

Taichi explained; Nagase exclaimed:

“How could I say that? I wouldn’t tear Inaban and Taichi apart.”

“So Taichi. Recently, at school… You said that you hate me…”

“Eh? How could I hate you! I’m the most… with Inaba…”

“Don’t hesitate on that, Taichi-kun!”

“I-I know so stop knocking me on the head! Um… So… I love you the most.”

“T-Taichi~! ❤”

“Hey, hey, don’t hug me here!”

“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”

“Nagase don’t stir things up like a primary school student!”

Blood rushing to his head, Chihiro furiously tore fistfuls of grass out of the ground.

What the fuck are they doing?! Is there no sense of danger??!

“So, someone’s been going around disguised as us, right? And we were pushed around by this, right?”

Nagase murmured. Inaba replied:

“An imposter… Then, he could be any one of us three.”

Yes, that’s right. You’ve finally noticed what kind of danger you’re in.

“But we’re all the real thing right now.”

Taichi declared plainly.

“Uh-huh.” “Mm-hm.”

Inaba and Nagase replied, smiling.

He couldn’t collapse them. Each of them was so weak, so gullible, so easily shaken up.

But he had another chance. No matter how many times it took, he could set it up again. Even if they discovered the existence of an imposter, he just needed to fight lies with lies, and push them into…

Inaba, who had clearly cried before, said calmly:

“Even if there is an imposter, the real us definitely haven’t disappeared. We just need to make that clear. No matter when the imposter shows up, as long as we remember that the real us is going to return, we can make it through.”

Nagase added:

“Everything’s gonna be fine! …But I keep messing everyone up, I can’t talk!”

“You know it.”

Inaba teased, and everyone chuckled.

Chihiro pulled up fist after fist of grass. Crunch, crunch, crunch, he wrenched out handful after handful with the roots. He was drenched in sweat.

Even if he had superhuman intelligence on his side, they were— impenetrable.

Even after the three of them left, Chihiro stuck behind the boulder, staying where he was.

What should he do— If this continued, there was no way to shake them up; it wouldn’t be interesting at all. What on earth was he supposed to do? Any reference to consult now was nowhere to be seen.

Then, suddenly—

Possessing the body of the Yamaboshi High School physics teacher Gotou Ryuuzen — <Fuusenkazura> appeared.

His heart nearly jumped out of his chest.

“W-Where did you come from…?”

“Even if you ask me that… I just walked here, plain and simple… It’s just that you, Uwa-kun, were staring into space and didn’t notice me… Ahh… It doesn’t matter.”

Full of nonsense as always. Its bad taste for possessing Gotou’s body hadn’t changed either.

The existence that had twisted him into an abnormal world was in front of him now.

Chihiro was grateful for his newfound power — But this couldn’t change the fact that <Fuusenkazura> itself was annoying.

“Um… Ahh, right…”

He looked like he’d waltzed onto stage and forgot his lines.

“It seems that things aren’t going quite as planned.”

Within his slurred speech, there was just a hint of sternness.

Chihiro swallowed hard, and opened his mouth.

“But—“

“Are you unable to make me happy?”

Guilt.

His blood froze.

“The way I see it; this is boring beyond belief. I advise you to drop the illusion that you can return to the normal world unharmed… What a joke.”

A threat.

Chihiro’s entire body was struck by fear. He was going to be consumed. If he hadn’t been leaning on something, he would have keeled right over.

He had probably opened a door that he absolutely shouldn’t have touched in the first place.

Chapter 5 – And the Pentagon Was Dissolved

Month: 0 – Day: X – Clear

Could it be… That Chihiro-kun is the troublemaker among us?

That… Shouldn’t… Be… Possible.

Ah, I accidentally said something strange like “troublemaker”. Nothing like that’s happening anyway.

Although the senpais had been pretty weird for a while, they seem to be better now; that makes me happy. Seeing everyone like this, I’m still really worried and I don’t know why. I’ve even been asked “Do you feel like there’s been anything weird lately”, “Has anyone been acting strangely” and so on, but nothing comes to mind at all, and I can only say that I don’t know.

It’s good that the senpais have gone back to the way they were, but Chihiro-kun seems to be sinking deeper and deeper. He seems to be always fearful: he sulks in a corner trembling, and going near him will greatly scare him.

So it might just be…

…That can’t… be true…

Besides, even if it were that one in a hundred million chance, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.

I’m definitely not saying that just because; I’ve already tried my very best. But it’s not enough.

So in conclusion, it doesn’t matter if I know or don’t know: the result will be the same. I’ve always been useless. I can only be a bystander.

—The me today is normal as always.

On Monday, the five second-years of the Cultural Research Club all arrived in the clubroom early in the morning. Yaegashi Taichi and Inaba declared that they should they should hold a discussion about them likely being sucked into a strange event started by <Fuusenkazura> again. How many times had they gathered together for this kind of situation before?

Everyone first confirmed the highly confusing recent events with each other, and in the spur of the moment they finally realized the matter that “they themselves hadn’t done it, but the other four had seen it”. With just these facts, they couldn’t eliminate the possibility that Taichi and company were being controlled by someone, but since there were no empty patches in their memory, they could prove that they weren’t there at the time to actually be controlled. Drawing from that information, they could only conclude that “there had been an impostor who looked like each of them making contact somewhere unknown with the other four Cultural Research Club members”. Although someone mentioned the possibility that only the person affected at the scene had their memories modified, this notion was quickly dispelled.

“No matter when, this type of situation could only happen under the pretense that they were alone. That’s probably our opponent’s weakness.”

Inaba said flatly, putting down her piece of chalk.

“Mm~.” Kiriyama agreed.

“But look, everybody. We don’t have any idea what our opponent looks like. Even if our opponent’s been telling lies, they’re still going to look the same.”

“I want to see through the fake Taichi and fake Inaban! With the power of love!”

Nagase piped up. Beside her, Aoki hugged his head:

“AH! Then that means the power of our love did nothing at all!”

“What do you mean, ‘our’?! Who are you talking about?”

Yui demanded indignantly, eyes bulging.

“Even if you say that, this guy was definitely Inaba, both in appearance and smell…”

“S-Smell… Do I really smell that strong…?”

Inaba, who had been radiant until now, suddenly looked haggard.

“No, um, you smell… great.”

Hentai—!

Nagase shrieked.

“R-Really. Taichi thinks I smell great… But I’ve been looking forward to mixing my own smell with Taichi’s. Uhuhu.”

“Too much information—!”

Nagase shrieked again.

Kiriyama brought everyone back on topic and they began to develop a counter-strategy against recent events. It seemed like they were on the fifth iteration of these incidents. Having become accustomed to them, everyone had matured. The conversation advanced smoothly.

“If these are limited to one-on-one encounters, all we have to do is be more careful under those situations, right?”

“We could avoid one-on-one encounters, but there’s no way to prove that they’re limited to them~.”

“Hmm… If we’re going to be so careful now, doesn’t that mean I don’t get to be alone together with Taichi?!”

“Eh? But we just have to make sure that we’re always in a group of three or more.”

“So that means I get to be together with Taichi all the time ❤.”

“I agree with Inaba-chan!” As long as we do that… Yui and I and make up for lost time together…!”

“Hey, I-Inaba. I’m obviously glad about this, but don’t you think this plan will be very difficult to carry out? If everyone sticks together like this, wouldn’t there actually be a higher chance of two of us being alone?”

“That’s why we’re trying to combat that—“

“Inaba, I declare to thee! Temporarily seal away your ‘dereban’ status! That is an order!”

“Fine, I’ll be serious. Ahh— Although that imposter bastard can disguise himself to look like us, can he inherit our memories too? As long as we confirm our identities with things that only the two of us know, we’ll be able to call them out if they don’t know the answer.”

“Memories… I see. Hey, hey, why don’t we make up a password?”
“And then we’ll be able to determine their identity. Good idea Iori, it’s worth a shot. The problem lies with that fact that our opponent takes every opportunity to infiltrate our group, and we have no quick method to prevent that.”

“Ah! About that, have Chihiro-kun and Shino-chan been affected? I haven’t heard of anyone disguised as them, so they probably haven’t been in on the whole thing.”

“Yeah. We should ask them.”

“But if this imposter can only disguise himself as one of us five, we only need to check amongst ourselves from time to time.”

“We can’t guarantee that it’s only limited to five people, Taichi.”

Hearing Inaba’s rebuttal, Kiriyama spoke nervously:

“He might be able to disguise himself as other people too…? Is-isn’t that really scary? What if the friends I’ve been talking to aren’t really my friends… or something?”

Nagase agreed:

“Yeah, it would actually be better if it were limited to us five, so if this guy can disguise himself as other people then we’d have a big problem on our hands. Worst case scenario, we won’t be able to trust anyone.”

“So they might be able to pose as someone other than us. But is he taking orders from someone? Some puppet of <Fuusenkazura>, or one of his illusions designed to confuse us?… Whatever it is, we only need to do one thing.”

“What’s that?”

Kiriyama asked Inaba.

Inaba carefully scrutinized each club members’ face. Imitating her, Taichi and the others began to do the same.

The five-person pentagon gazed amongst each other in the Cultural Research Clubroom.

Then Inaba spoke:

“Trust.”

T-R-U-S-T.

“There may be suspicious feelings amongst us. But please trust, trust your closest friends. But that doesn’t mean you should trust everything they say, understand?”

Everyone nodded.

“Trust each other, work together.”

Everyone understood what she meant.

“Because, in the end, heh heh…”

Inaba shook her head, chuckling.

“<Fuusenkazura> has never rendered us, the Furious Five, helpless, now has he?”

“Don’t forget your bet on the Sports Festival! If I win I get to be your master~!”

Nagase chirped happily.

After school, since their Ouendan Contest practice times overlapped, Taichi, Nagase and Inaba were chatting amongst themselves.

“Uhm… There’s going to be three grade levels combining into one team…”

Inaba mumbled nervously. Taichi asked her:

“What’s the matter, Inaba?

“My class is super hyperactive, and the third years are the same… It’s just that the first years aren’t into it at all.”

“Chihi and Shino-chan aren’t either?”

“They probably don’t make a difference. Chihiro-kun’s always like that anyway. He’s supposed to be the Ouendan Contest representative, but he doesn’t try. Does he think it’s cool to act so tired about everything?! Psh.”

Inaba complained fiercely.

“Don’t say that. I heard he just lost at the Jankenpon, that’s all.”

“Anyway, if the first years of the Green Team lost their spirit, then we’re finished. But we second years don’t really do anything either… Ah, we’re assembling together, see you later.”

Inaba jogged back towards her own class.

“Hmm~, Inaban’s changed. She had this sinister vibe when she was a first year, always moving underwater, unlike the revealing nature she’s got now.”

Nagase gazed at Inaba with the eyes of a loving parent watching her chid.

“Can’t the same be said for you, Nagase? You hated community service when you were a first year and went completely free of duties.”

“You too, Taichi. Taichi… Although you like cleaning up after everybody, you’re really not the selfless type who charges to the front.”

Really? — Taichi scratched his head, thinking to himself.

“Yeah, we’ve all changed!”

Nagase wrapped up the topic with a flourish.

Today was an Ouendan Contest practice day; the three classes representing the Red Team met together. Excluding those who were absent due to other commitments or negligence, nearly one hundred people gathering together was a sight to behold.

Taichi and the representatives from other grades were responsible for these people.

At least, in theory.

“Hmm—- How about this formation…”

“Setouchi-senpai! Can you come over for a second?”

“Coming! Yaegashi-kun, can I leave this portion to you?”

“T-To me? Can I really do it…?”

Since there were too many absent representatives today, there wasn’t enough help to go around.

“Take a break for a second! We need the second year reps over here!”

Setouchi ordered. The second year representatives jogged over.

“What are we supposed to do? There’s no way we can handle this much work, especially with those first years and third years…”

Setouchi said, her face anxious.

“Just leave the second years to one person and send the rest of the reps to other grades.”

Nagase suggested.

“That’s not a bad idea, but what if one person can’t handle all of them?”

Taichi was about to say, when he suddenly thought of someone.

“No, Fujishima can do it.”

Fujishima seemed more energetic to him lately. Looking back, there had been something strange to her. Maybe the Fujishima he had seen back then was an illusion derived from what was happening during that time. But it was undeniable that class representative Fujishima’s leadership prowess in her heyday was a force to be reckoned with.

“Eh? N-No, I can’t…”

Fujishima shook her head frantically, devoid of confidence.

But in a situation like this, there was no one other than Fujishima who could lead group practice all by herself.

“Ah~, for our future victory, we really need Fujishima-san’s strength!”

Watase Shingo said confidently. Nagase followed up almost immediately:

“Oh! That’s right~, we’ll have this in the bag if Fujishima-san gives it her all~!”

Under Nagase and Watase’s influence, everyone else joined in:

“Looks like we need Fujishima-san after all~.” “Ahh, I wish we had Fujishima-san’s help~!” “Only Fujishima-san’s strength can…”

“My… strength…?”

“Hmm? Sorry, what, Fujishima…?” “You idiot, encourage her properly.”  “Go Fujishima!” “Fujishima GO GO GO!”

For some reason, bystanders were also infected by this atmosphere and joined in:

“Fujishima! Fujishima!! FUJISHIMA!!!”

With everyone in unison, the strange chant grew louder and louder. Seeing the yelling second years, the first and third years were miraculously sucked in as well. Hey, hey, that’s too much spirit, Red Team!

Fujishima froze to the spot, drowning in the chant, trembling.

Then, she clenched her fists, pushed up her glasses, raised her chin, and stood brazenly upright.

“Fufufufufu… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“… Is she some kind of demon?”

Taichi sputtered — It seemed that a new frontier had been reached deep within Fujishima.

“If you people need me so much, then it seems that I have no choice! You want me to rule over you peasants! Piece of cake!”

This is why I call you a demon.

“Th-That was amazing, Fujishima!!!”

“I’ve been wondering for quite some time, Watase, if you’re secretly into S&M. If you like Fujishima because of her dominant nature.”

By the way, Fujishima’s demon-mode only appeared during that day of practice.

After practice, Taichi went home.

According to the club members’ hypothesis, before they had noticed, this terrible phenomenon had been going on for some time. But <Fuusenkazura> had yet to appear before them.

Was he doing something for the fun of it again? Or was it <Number 2> again, who had initiated the “Time Regression” a while back[19]?

What Taichi was most worried about was when <Number 2> had possessed his little sister. Whenever he remembered that nightmare, Taichi became extremely unsettled.

“Eh, strange things happening lately?”

His magazine-reading, sixth-grade sister looked up at him, and her already round eyes became even larger. Her soft, wavy hair had grown over her shoulders. She had a maturity about her completely unfitting of a sixth-grader, and she was a well-behaved little sister who Taichi was proud of in every way (of course, Taichi had no plans whatsoever to show her off to anyone else).

“Since you asked so suddenly… H-Have you finally noticed?”

Taichi asked frantically; there could have been some change that even she had detected.

“Mhm~. I feel that you’re going to want to die after hearing this, onii-chan, so I kept it hidden from you. But since my cover is blown, I’ll have to tell you now.”

I’ll want to die? He couldn’t imagine what kind of scandalous information she was about to reveal.

“So actually, I’ve~~”

His sister teased, smiling, as she made the explosive declaration.

“—got a boyfriend.”

A boyfriend.

……… A boyfriend.

……………… Made a boyfriend.

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Taichi crumpled onto the floor.

“Are you okay onii-chan?! Falling down like that?! Your head made a big noise hitting on the bed!”

“H-h-h-h-how c-c-can this be…. A boyfriend…?!”

“Onii-chan you’re talking like a robot?! Please go back to normal!”

Taichi’s consciousness sank into oblivion. Through his muffled vision, the silhouette of his panicked sister came into view… His cheeks emitted the sound of being slapped… Ow, that hurts…. His sister was probably slapping him… AH!

Taichi sat bolt upright. That was close.

“A boyfriend… You’ve made a boyfriend! It’s too early! You’re only in sixth grade! As your brother… I will never approve of something like this!!!”

“Aw~, I even waited until onii-chan got a girlfriend!”

“Wha…! So it’s because I got a girlfriend! Then what if I don’t have one anymore…”

“Are you going to break up with your girlfriend, onii-chan?”

“… No.”

“How long until you will?”

“… Never.”

Taichi sputtered, resisting his embarrassment. His sister sighed “Aw~”, giggling, connecting eyes with Taichi, who was on the bed.

“C’mon~, onii-chan, you’re not afraid to say it at all~. But since you already have someone so important to you, you should understand how much I want to fall in love too?”

“Ugh… Even if you say that, it’s too early for you… No, you’ve grown a fair bit already…. My sister’s finally grown up… Although you’re a bit young, if you want to do it so much, then I guess you can.”

Taichi squeezed out, holding back hot tears. His sister lunged over with an ecstatic hug.

“Awesome~! I love you onii-chan! Let’s double date next time, onii-chan ❤!”

“I’m h-happy… But I really want to cry…!”

Tears beaded up in Taichi’s eyes.

Right, how old is your boyfriend?

Three years older than I am, he’s in his third year of middle school.

— What! Break up with that lolicon bastard now!

— You’re one to talk, you siscon brother.

They have begun to notice that these situations are being caused by someone.

Having confirmed this, Chihiro had placed an audio recorder inside the clubroom earlier. He had just retrieved it.

Chihiro was now in an empty classroom in the club building — the room where he had threatened Inaba last time. He was not using a chair, but sitting directly on the hardwood floor, lazily stretching out his legs.

The fact that “Fantasy Projection” could only be used one-on-one had been discovered. Even though he had only used it a few times, they had actually deduced the possibility that it could be used on other people than them.

Worse, they had come up with ways to separate an imposter from the real thing. Honestly, he was close to checkmate. Now, <Fuusenkazura> was also — No, he didn’t need to worry about that. How could he be stumped by something as unlikely as this? Didn’t he overhear all of it by being extremely prepared? Everything was still in control.

But Chihiro finally understood why everyone trusted that lovesick idiot girl. She was exceptionally capable at deduction, held up collective morale, and was truly a worthy opponent. Inaba Himeko was a force to be reckoned with.

Of course, the others weren’t a pushover; after all, it was they who had successfully endured several incidents like this. But even so, their ability to approach these incidents extravagantly was abnormal in itself. They were supposed to be feeling the burn already, yet they can still chitter about the Sports Festival; God, they have problems.

These people are not normal.

But he was normal, right?

He just made a little mistake. Needless to say, he must be an existence of a higher plane than them. Those who are subjected to “Fantasy Projection” have absolutely no way of knowing.

Trust each other, work together, huh?

That was Inaba’s plan? What a dumbass.

What’s trust going to prove? It’s just a bunch of empty words.

What’s trust going to do? Nothing at all.

This world will stop at nothing to betray you all — it eyes every opportunity to stab you in the back.

That is how this world is.

Chihiro resolved to use “Fantasy Projection” even more — whether it be you five, or other people, everyone will converge on you guys. I will ensure that you have no way of identifying the truth, that you have no way of trusting anyone on the planet.

Underestimating me comes with consequences. I’ll let you guys have a taste of hell.

 

After school, Chihiro sighted Yui, who was preparing to leave school for the dojo. Since she only popped into the Club for a second, there was hardly a soul in sight at the shoe-changing area during this moment.

[I am Aoki Yoshifumi to Kiriyama Yui.]

Chihiro used Aoki.

“You leaving, Yui?”

“Yeah. Are you going to the clubroom now, Aoki?”

To ensure that further developments progressed smoothly, he must be absolutely immaculate in his actions from now on. No problem. He won’t fail.

“Hmm… Say, shouldn’t we be more careful when the two of us are alone together now? Hey, what’s the password?”

Chihiro [Aoki] took the initiative.

“The password’s ‘Flatten <Fuusenkazura>!’… Hey, this password’s too tacky, isn’t it? Should we change it?”

“It’s simple and easy, we don’t need to.”

Chihiro [Aoki] explained. Yui pouted unsatisfactorily.

Now that Yui was sure that he was Aoki, he should cut to the main topic. He was an imposter — it wouldn’t matter much if this fact was discovered, since even if it happened, they would know that a password was completely useless.

Should he take an audacious step — “attack” her? Probably overkill.

“Yui.”

Chihiro [Aoki] called, extending his hand.

Yui looked at the hand with alarm. What was she afraid of?

Chihiro [Aoki] reached closer and closer — Yui kept her gaze on his hand.

Yui had a small frame, a delicate face, and cheeks so soft they seemed to melt — Chihiro [Aoki] touched her face with his hand.

His finger rested on Yui’s face. Suddenly, his entire body went numb. Yui’s cheek was unexpectedly cold, which comforted him.

“… What are you doing?”

Yui demanded, still in a state of unmoving shock and staring straight into Chihiro [Aoki]’s eyes.

“Um… Because I think you’re very cute…”

“So, you’re touching me because you feel like it?”

Neither embarrassed nor angry, Yui’s expression was blank. Chihiro [Aoki] was confused, but he replied:

“Uh… Yeah.”

Yui’s eyes suddenly flashed murderously.

“The real Aoki would never do something like this! Die, imposter!”

“UWAAAH????!”

As his crotch suffered a brutal strike, excruciating pain flowed through Chihiro’s entire body.

He lost all strength and his senses dimmed. Tears swam in his eyes and crippling nausea writhed in his gut.

Chihiro [Aoki] lost his composure in one hit.

“That hurts so much…. Ahh… That hurts…! Hey… kicking the crucial points so hard… You’re going to kill someone…”

“Quit your moaning, imposter. Ohh, I should hurry up and capture you, then we’ll solve the problem. Hmm— where’s some rope…”

— Capture, me?

What are you doing? Hey what are you doing? What, what, whatwhat, whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat? Shit. Shit. SHIT. Fuck fuck fuck. Chihiro felt like all his bodily fluids were gushing out of him.

Play dumb? No use. Once Yui contacted someone else it would be all over. If anyone other than Yui came they would be able to see that Uwa Chihiro lay on the ground.

It’s all over.

He could be dealt with so easy, somewhere like this, like trash?

No.

No. Nonononononono. He would be a failure. A disappointment. He wouldn’t be able to stay at this school any longer if he was discovered. He would be a social outcast. No— would <Fuusenkazura> take him from this world—?

Chihiro’s vision blurred. What should he do? Admit that he was an imposter right now, and— Yes. <Fuusenkazura> told him. <Fuusenkazura> could be anyone within this group. He’d use that as an opportunity—

“Even if you capture me… I would… disappear very quickly…”

Was this really going to work? Was he just digging his own grave?

“Disappear… huh. I see. So that’s not going to work.”

Ahh… He’s saved. Hanging over a pit of death.

“Hmm—, but no matter how I see it, you look like the real thing.”

Yui scrutinized Chihiro [Aoki].

You’re looking right at an imposter, so why aren’t you more serious?  Her eyes looked like those of someone gazing at a small insect in her hand. Yui was disdaining Chihiro [Aoki], who lay prone on the floor. Don’t look at me like that!

Fighting the waves of pain, Chihiro [Aoki] asked a question.

“How… did you know…?”

“Aoki would never touch me just because he felt like it.”

Yui answered immediately, her words revealing a deep trust.

Trust… What does that matter, huh? Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve with that self-righteous expression.

“You look like you still have strength, so I’m leaving first. I’ll be ready to serve you if you decide to come.”

Flicking her chestnut hair, Yui looked devoid of fear.

“Ah, I also need to tell everyone that you can remember our memories too, so a password won’t work.”

Yui seemed to lose interest in him and left. Curled up on the ground, Chihiro watched her quick gait disappear.

“Wah!”

A student walking by gave a look of surprise.

“What’re you looking at? Piss off.”

With difficulty, Chihiro pulled himself up using the shoe locker as the terrified student ran off.

At least he was saved. It seemed that the fact that “he did not have their memories” had been taken care of as well. He had achieved his goal. But—

“FUCK—!”

Chihiro ferociously punched the metal shoe locker. The locker emitted a booming echo. His hand began to hurt. Emptiness and defeat were carved into his heart.

He and Kiriyama Yui were worlds apart, and he was unable to chase after her.

Things did not go as planned this time.

On his way to school next day, Chihiro saw Taichi. Taichi was about to enter the school.

Chihiro decided to attack him. His head had been so full of adrenaline the previous night that he had gotten not a wink of sleep, yet Chihiro was inexplicably excited. He had always avoided situations full of people, but it didn’t matter anymore.

[I am a person always late for school among Yaegashi Taichi’s friends in his class.]

Chihiro couldn’t help but marvel at his brain’s ability to think calmly even when he was excited.

If “Fantasy Projection” produced unexplainable paradoxes, huge problems would occur—for example, if, during administration of “Fantasy Projection”, the person being copied appeared, there would be two of the same person — paradoxes like that.

His head was very clear today. He was in excellent condition. This was his normal rhythm. He could not lose.

“Oh, Watase. You’re here early.”

“Morning, Taichi.”

Chihiro heard his own altered voice (although it repulsed him in the beginning, he was used to it now). It seemed that he had become a male by the name of Watase.

“Hey, Taichi. I know it’s sudden of me, but can I borrow some money?”

It was vulgar, but this was the easiest and simplest way to lower one’s reputation.

Money is the incarnation of human desire.

“No problem… How much?”

“All of it. I’m really in trouble right now.

Chihiro [Watase] lowered his head.

Taichi was a goody-two-shoes. Chihiro didn’t need to do much to win over all of the money.

“I understand.”

See? You degenerate idiot.

“What are you… Eh, you don’t need to tell me. But when do I get it back?”

“As soon as possible.”

This was too easy… Huh?

Taichi was staring right at Chihiro [Watase]’s face. His gaze was abnormally sharp.

Unnerved by this strange aura, Chihiro [Watase] took a step backward.

“You’re a fake.”

“Ah…No, how…”

“Watase is very old-fashioned with borrowing money, even if you lend him a bit he’s going to sign a paper and write you an IOU! He calls it his grandpa’s last words!”

“Ha…ah?!”

What the hell is that?! Who would know about that?!

Chihiro [Watase] cursed inwardly, and turned to run. Retreat!

Chihiro bolted towards the back of the school building. Groups of people coming to school and others having morning practice looked at him oddly. His face was hot. Nausea gushed up. This, this wasn’t defeat. This was a tactical retreat.

But to the bystanders, he was a complete and utter loser.

Because of what just happened, have they discovered that he can’t copy their memories after all? He didn’t know. Shit!

That went badly. The situation was unfavorable.

All throughout class, Chihiro crafted his next step— he even neglected club work to prepare for the upcoming battle. Until midnight.

After school, he attacked Aoki.

[I am a family member of Aoki’s that he might expect to appear.]

“Hey, sis, you’re coming home?”

Aoki waved. He was surprised that Aoki had a sister, but Chihiro [Aoki’s Sister] didn’t say a word as he walked towards him.

He was going to sentence this boy to the cruelest, most merciless punishment possible.

“Eh? What?”

Chihiro [Aoki’s Sister] smiled, clenched his fist, and fiercely launched, towards that completely unprepared face—

A punch.

Two punches.

“UWA?!”

Aoki staggered, having received two full hits to his face.

Chihiro felt light, fast. He was already seeing his opponent sprawled upon the ground. A wild, violent desire took over Chihiro’s mind like an anesthetic. Just like this, handing himself over to primal instinct, properly fixing this boy — that wouldn’t do. He still had self-restraint, he would be merciful. He wasn’t doing it this time for his own pain.

“What are you doing sis?!”

Chihiro [Aoki’s Sister] cocked his head silently.

“Ah… An imposter… Ah.”

As though mirroring Aoki’s soft spoken nature, Chihiro [Aoki’s Sister] smiled crookedly.

“You little fake… How dare you use… my sister’s appearance…!”

Scream. Rage. Seethe. If you want to, bring it on. I’ll repay you in full.

Then, you will realize that you have been led into hell.

“Wait… You’re saying… We’re to the point that we don’t know when or who is attacking us…?”

No matter how dumb you are, you still noticed.

“Fantasy Projection” allowed one to become anyone. Even if you eventually saw through the disguise, it is impossible to do at first glance. Therefore, you could be attacked by the entire world. No one could survive. Everyone would suffer a breakdown. Chihiro was aiming for this— only that could make it “more interesting”.

What kind of despaired face are you going to make? — Chihiro waited.

“What the heck, that’s it?”

Bright sunlight from the blue sky shined onto Aoki’s face.

Aoki was laughing.

Laughing, at him.

“You… What are—“

“Look, if you’re striking out like this, aren’t you just admitting defeat?”

“Hah?”

“How do I put it… <Fuusenkazura> and <Number Two> were the same. Sure, they’ve backed us into desperate corners before, but they have never struck again after that. Well, <Fuusenkazura> did step in once during the “Personality Exchange”[20].

Without emotion, without fury, Aoki talked in a matter-of-fact way.

“I don’t understand it that well… But Inaba-chan’s said before that they’re waiting for ‘our hearts to waver’, and ‘they’re interested in our unbreakable bond’ or something. That is, if they can scramble our relationships with these strange incidents, they’ve won; on the other hand, if we endure through it, and jump the hurdle, we’ve won. That’s the difference between winning and losing.”

Aoki nodded, as though he were agreeing with himself.

“Then, how do I describe this contest? It’s not an analogy, but if you interrupt, that’s a foul? Or forfeiting the competition?”

“I don’t remember participating in a contest with you people…”

He made up some ridiculous rules and claimed that I lost? What a joke.

“No, no, you lost. Aw, are you really not <Fuusenkazura>? Did the rules change…?”

Aoki began fretting by himself, but quickly concluded: “Well, I’ll discuss it with everyone else”.

“But, well, what I wanted to say was that, we’re definitely not losing to someone like you who can’t resist attacking us. Also, if it’s me, I’m willing to forgive you, but if you do it to a girl, I… You’re going to get it.”

“How am I going to get it?”

“Not gonna forgive you. You’re going to get it anyway. All of the above!”

He didn’t think that through. Just a mishmash of baseless rambling.

It was supposed to be rambling, so why has it come to this? Why do I feel like I’ve lost?

He was the strong one, and they were the weaklings. They were in completely different positions, so why have their positions flipped? Foul? Forfeiting the competition? Lost? Fuck that. I’ve won. I’ve won. I’ve won. I’ve won. I’ve won. I haven’t lost. I haven’t lost. I haven’t lost. I haven’t lost.

No matter from where he looked at it, when he looked at it, how he looked at it, who looked it at, it was HIS victory. Right? Get somebody over here to decide. Anybody. But looking behind, all she[21] did was—

Hindered progress. Everything negative. Bad luck.

The world was not on his side.

From then on, whatever he did, he would return to wherever he began.

 

It rained all day.

During practice at the dojo, Yui anxiously asked Chihiro:

“Hey, you haven’t been coming to the club lately, is something wrong?”

Chihiro, however, replied awkwardly without looking at her: “Nothing.”

He could not meet her eyes. Right now, they were enemies. When it all began he could influence events and talk to them normally at the same time. Now, he couldn’t imagine how he had managed to do something like that at all.

But even if Yui stood right beside him now, he couldn’t talk directly to her anymore.

Unconsciously, Chihiro somehow wanted to have a proper conversation with Yui.

He also wanted to feel someone’s warm presence. He was getting a little tired of constantly being an opponent.

After practice, Chihiro approached Yui from behind.

Yui twirled a cute pink umbrella in her hand as she walked in the rain.

As though he was refusing to lose to the sound of the rain, Chihiro raised his voice slightly, and declared:

[I am the friend of Kiriyama Yui with whom she wishes to talk with the most right now.]

As he declared, Chihiro drew closer to Yui.

“Hm…? Eh, Chinatsu?! You’re Chinatsu, right?!”

Yui rushed over with a surprised look, her long boots splashing into wet puddles.

“When did you come back?

“How was it over there?”

“Have you been training properly?”

Chihiro was suddenly drowning in Yui’s questions. But through them, he also realized that this person used to live in this city but moved away, and also practiced karate. Combining this information, and considering her name, Chihiro remembered that this was Mihashi Chinatsu, who used to be Yui’s archrival during tournaments. Her ponytail left a deep impression and she was even more competitive than Yui.

He was at least somewhat familiar with this person, so Chihiro [Mihashi] was lucky. If he had had no idea who he was, it would be considerably difficult to maintain a conversation.

“You can tell me whatever’s bothering you.”

Bring it on, Chihiro [Mihashi] declared. As another condition of “Fantasy Projection”, he would probably run out of things to say very quickly.

… What the hell was he doing?

“Really~? That’s great! Let’s go shopping, then…”

“H-how about we forget shopping…”

He wanted to—

“Hm? Why?”

He wanted to— Right, he became Yui’s friend to think hard about what on earth he would do next. To discuss it all with her and come up with a good plan.

Yeah, he knew what he was going to do. He could relax now. Calm again.

“I’m waiting for someone to call me so I have to go in a bit. Let’s just chat here.”

“Eh~, but it’s raining?”

“That’s fine. You look pretty cute with your umbrella and boots.”

Chihiro [Mihashi] praised her slightly.

“Right~? The amount of cuteness a girl has is really tested during wind, storm, cold, and heat!”

“I beg to differ on the wind…”

“On windy days, you really have to… Eh, isn’t it super rare for Chinatsu to praise me like this? Why are you suddenly… Ah, what if you’re the imposter…?”

Fuck, she knows. Chihiro [Mihashi] hurriedly took the initiative.

“Imposter?”

“Ah, it’s nothing… Hm, seems like I need to trust people after all.”

Successfully misled.

Yui chatted endlessly about this and that. Probably catching up with an old friend; she looked extremely excited. But since he had received too much information in too little time, Chihiro was unable to absorb anything for later use.

Sometime later, she brought up the subject of the boys in the Cultural Research Club— of course, she talked about Taichi and Chihiro. But the center of conversation still revolved, as expected, around Aoki Yoshifumi.

“— He’s always like that, God, Aoki’s so worrying.”

All about Aoki.

“Aoki’s been—“

All about Aoki.

“— So Aoki said that, and then—“

All about Aoki.

“After that~”

Chihiro [Mihashi] couldn’t stand it anymore and wanted to interrupt her. He didn’t want to hear Aoki’s name out of Yui’s mouth— that uncomfortable feeling of being deemed a failure.

Yui’s lips were as adorable as rosebuds. Right, he forgot, he was going to interrupt her. He needed to say something.

Like what?

The rustling of raindrops hitting their umbrellas seemed to grow louder.

“Then, what do you really think about Aoki, Yui?”

The question flowed naturally out of Chihiro [Mihashi]’s mouth.

At this, Yui’s movements hardened a little.

The wind picked up. Pea-sized raindrops splashed onto Chihiro [Mihashi]’s umbrella, but the rain didn’t seem to grow heavier.

“Ye… ah.”

Yui, who would normally go red and flustered on this subject, was very calm now. Probably because she was talking to [Mihashi Chinatsu].

Whatever Yui was expressing now was likely her true feelings.

If it could rain harder right now, that would be great— Chihiro prayed.

“It’s always him confessing that he ‘likes’ me, but I’ve always been wondering, what does it mean to ‘like’ someone? What does it mean compared to when someone does a lot for me, and then his heart is moved?”

Their surroundings were silent.

“But, I’ve already come up with a conclusion.”

“Really.”

“But I can’t say that it’s ‘already’ happened, it probably just ‘lacks some firepower’!”

Finally, she returned to her normal disposition, embarrassedly rocking her umbrella back and forth.

“Anyway, no matter what, if I get to the bottom of it, I’ll definitely tell you.”

I know— Chihiro hurriedly conceded like he had solved a puzzle.

Ahh, so this was the finality.

To ensure that the subject had ended—

“Also, what do you think of Uwa Chihiro?”

“Oh, Chihiro-kun?”

Yui mumbled something about why she was asking this as well, but gave a reply.

“Hmm~, well… I’ve known him at the dojo for a long time, and later I invited him to the Cultural Research Club. My ratings have gone up since I’ve made someone join the club!”

Yui looked pleased with herself.

“Chihiro-kun’s personality is pretty awkward, and teases me sometimes… But he’s probably the cutest kouhai among the boys.”

Yui smiled a bright, sunny smile.

I’m being laughed at.

Of course I am.

No, no, actually, what the hell am I doing?

Am I being stupid? I’m being stupid.

He did not want to devolve into a common existence bothered by common problems. Had his heart softened? How pathetic. There was still something that he absolutely, positively must do.

No matter how he is described, no matter what he becomes, the burden on his back hadn’t been achieved.

Chihiro remembered what <Fuusenkazura> had said.

— If I observe from over here that whatever you’re up to is boring beyond belief, then I advise you to drop the illusion that you can return to the normal world unharmed—

From deep within his body, Chihiro began to tremble uncontrollably. He gripped the handle of his umbrella tightly, so tightly that his left hand began to go numb.

Save me, save me save me save me save me save me save me save me save me—- But he could only save himself.

He could not turn back. No one would extend a helping hand towards him either.

Chihiro [Mihashi] found an excuse to leave Yui. Looking ahead, the dewed trees, full of life, extended forward, lining the path.

“Bye bye~”

Hearing Yui’s parting words behind his back, Chihiro left.

With Yui’s presence gone, he was back to being alone.

The sky was growing dark around him. There was not a soul in sight.

No one was staring at him. No one acknowledged his existence.

Hey, notice me. Hey, look at me. Hey, I’m right here. Anyone, anyone anyone anyone anyone anyone, anyone, just—

UWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!

Chihiro roared into the empty void.

His mind was covered in a thick smog. He was completely at a loss for what to do. Even if he switched methods of attack, he couldn’t come up with a suitable plan.

Within just a few days, the five second-years of the Cultural Research Club all returned to their normal state. Whether it was “Fantasy Projection” or Chihiro himself, to them, they were mere trifles.

He had thought he was the strongest “Fantasy Projection”, but if took a long, hard look himself now, he was merely a defective product ridden with holes. Why was he so stupidly gleeful when he first got his power?

Everything depends on how you use it, <Fuusenkazura> had said, but logically, no matter who used it, the effects should be the same. Could it be that, since he was no better than others— no, that can’t be true, can it?

Objectively, he was— No no no, he would never admit it. How could he just admit it? If he admitted that, his emotional state would really be beyond help.

When dawn arrived again, Chihiro prepared for school.

Before he exited the front door, his mother had asked with a worried look, “You haven’t been looking so good lately, is something the matter?”, but Chihiro now found it impossible to remember what he had said in reply.

Even as he stepped into the classroom, Chihiro’s mind was a shambles. He had probably talked to someone, but he could not remember what it was about at all. Enjouji Shino seemed to be staring at him anxiously… Whatever.

Lunch break.

Devoid of an appetite, Chihiro shuffled out of the classroom alone.

The students hurrying towards the cafeteria pack by pack were loud as shit. The group eating in the classroom were the same too, annoying as all hell.

Suddenly, Chihiro felt alone.

Did everyone else feel the same way? Or, was he the only one?

No matter what it was, there was no place for him.

Chihiro walked around and around the school unsteadily; without meaning to, he arrived at the club building. He kept searching for a place with less people, yet he walked into somewhere like this.

Well, since he was here, he should go and get his voice recorder. Chihiro began climbing the stairs. He arrived at the fourth floor, turned the corner— and began to suspect his own eyes.

Striking, long chestnut hair, a small body, a familiar profile.

Kiriyama Yui was here.

This was his first time seeing her since they had parted in the rain yesterday.

Yui was walking towards the clubroom and seemed not to notice Chihiro.

I don’t want her to see me like this— A thought suddenly popped into Chihiro’s head. Definitely not now.

Chihiro began to take creeping steps backward, but—

“Huh? Chihiro-kun—”

[I am Yaegashi Taichi to Kiriyama Yui!”]

Chihiro bellowed immediately.

Yui’s body froze on the spot.

“— Hm? Eh, Taichi… I thought I just saw Chihiro-kun for a moment there…”

Yui wrinkled her brow confusedly.

“Must have been daydreaming.”

That was way too close.

Steadying his leaping, hammering heart, Chihiro [Taichi] said:

“Well, let’s go inside first.”

“Ohh, Kiriyama, Chihiro. What’s going on, I thought we didn’t call Chihiro-kun to come this time?”

This voice, right now, absolutely should not be here.

“… Ah… Eh? Ehh? Taichi… There are two Taichis… Eh?”

Coming up the stairs was Yaegashi Taichi. Furthermore, due to “Fantasy Projection”, Yui had mistaken Chihiro for Yaegashi Taichi. That is, right now, Yui saw two Yaegashi Taichis.

This was the unexplainable paradox that <Fuusenkazura> mentioned.

If this happened— <Fuuzenkazura> had also said—

Something very severe would occur.

Severe… Severe to what extent? Will it happen to himself, or to Yui?

In addition, a third party had seen him use “Fantasy Projection” now. They were going to discover that he was the perpetrator.

Chihiro descended into a panic.

Run, run now? The fact that he was using “Fantasy Projection” was blown. He was done. Taichi recognized him — Uwa Chihiro — as Uwa Chihiro. Uwa Chihiro was here now. That wasn’t okay. He must mislead them now. There was no time to lose. If he wanted to live, he couldn’t be himself anymore.

[I am Inaba Enjouji Shino to Yaegashi Taichi!]”

That was dangerous— Chihiro wiped his cold sweat. When he was thinking about his target just then, he accidentally said Inaba’s name. But Inaba might have just been arriving here as well.

“Chihiro… Ah, no… [Inaba].”

Chihiro’s mind went blank.

Was only whatever he said first effective…? Cold sweat beaded on his entire body.

Fuck, out of options. Out of options. Out of options. Out of options. It’s okay, it’s okay, calm down.

Anyway, he needed to get the hell away now—

“Hey, Taichi… Oh, Chihiro’s here too? What’s up?”

Inaba Himeko appeared at the stairs.

In this moment, Taichi must be seeing the real Inaba and the false [Inaba].

“Huh…? Inaba and… Inaba… two of you? … Two? Inaba… Inaba…”

Taichi’s voice became muddled and incoherent.

Taichi and Yui opened their eyes wide; their eyeballs looked ready to fall out. Their throats emitted a noise as though they were broken.

Chihiro trembled nonstop, to the point that he wondered if he was going to break apart.

The sky began to spin.

Yui and Taichi’s eyes relaxed. They had probably lost consciousness.

Broken.

Broken.

The one broken wasn’t anyone else but this worthless sack of shit, Uwa Chihiro.

Kiriyama Yui and Yaegashi Taichi collapsed onto the floor and lost their memories.

 

Chapter 6: The Protagonist of This Story is…

When she had finished lunch with her friends and was on her way back to her classroom, Enjouji Shino spotted the silhouettes of Nagase Iori, Inaba Himeko, and Aoki Yoshifumi in the courtyard. They were upperclassmen belonging to the Cultural Research Club.

Shino found an excuse and sent her friends back to the classroom without her.

I should go and talk to them.

She thought that, but her feet would not move, as though they had sprouted roots into the ground.

If I stay here, without moving, maybe they will notice me –— Shino thought, gazing off towards her three fellow students. Since they were quite a distance away, Shino could not hear a thing they were saying.

It was always like this for her: holding onto this kind of feeling, placing herself in this kind of position.

But today, Shino’s footsteps grew heavier and heavier because of something else.

Just as Kiriyama Yui, who belonged to the same Cultural Research Club as those three laughing together, walked straight past them.

Usually, Yui would join them and their conversation.

But she only gave a small nod of acknowledgement, and passed them with her friends.

As though they were heading in completely different directions.

As though they were not friends at all, and merely familiar with each other’s faces.

Seeing this, Nagase’s expression became lonely. Inaba looked unusually despondent. But Aoki looked as though he had been cornered.

The upperclassmen who normally sparkled with energy today exuded a heavy, acerbic atmosphere. Their bond that had once been the envy of many others had disappeared without a trace.

Their bond had not been severed — it had completely disappeared.

As Yui and her two friends walked towards Shino, their conversation reached her ears.

“Hey, Yui. Did something happen with your club? Are you arguing with those people from the Cultural Research Club?”

“It… It’s nothing, Yukina. Nothing’s… happening at all.”

“That’s so~ suspicious~, you’re clearly avoiding Iori and Yaegashi and the others in class as well.”

“You’re imagining things… Yeah. Hey, don’t worry about it… Please.”

“Since you’re pleading like this, Yui, I can’t help but… Aw. If there’s something bothering you, you’ve got to let me know… ‘kay?”

The girl met eyes with Shino. Shino had seen her before; she remembered her as someone in track and field, who had made trouble for the team during a marathon.

The girl seemed to notice Shino as well; she displayed a white smile reminiscent of a toothpaste commercial. Shino felt slightly moved.

But Yui—

—merely glanced at Shino, then turned away as though she had lost interest.

Without breathing a word.

Without waving.

Even her face was placidly dispassionate.

It was as though they were not even acquaintances; merely passersby on a busy street.

Earlier that day, Yaegashi Taichi and Kiriyama Yui had lost <their memories associated with the Cultural Research Club>.

Why exactly had they lost them, and what had induced such a change? No one had done anything. But the reality that everyone needed to face was that Taichi and Yui had suddenly keeled onto the floor and developed retrograde amnesia.

Memory loss normally warranted rushing to the hospital for treatment— But Inaba-senpai and the other three decided that there was no need, since the memories that had been lost were very limited, and— although they didn’t mention it— the three of them seemed to know the reason behind it all.

The two had forgotten — the existence of the Cultural Research Club, what had happened in the Cultural Research Club, the human connections that had formed in the Cultural Research Club… and so on and so forth. Everything that had to do with the Cultural Research Club had been utterly scooped clean from their memories.

In other words, they still remembered everything, except the Cultural Research Club. So Taichi and Yui’s daily lives were not affected in any way.

Even if the other three in the Cultural Research Club had lost that certain degree of familiarity with those two, they were in the same year together, and they had at least greeted each other several times, enough to call each other their acquaintances. Therefore, although their fellow classmates felt a little strangely about the whole thing, no one noticed any memory loss.

But Shino and Uwa Chihiro, whom they only knew through the Cultural Research Club, had been completely forgotten.

It was something that couldn’t be helped.

Shino recalled the situation update given to her by Iori, Inaba, and Aoki.

Taichi and Yui themselves were unaware of their amnesia.

To them, they had never even <possessed> the according memories, let alone lost them.

But if so, how were they to explain the fact that they never remembered joining the Cultural Research Club?

According to them, Taichi thought he had joined the Professional Wrestling Club, and Yui thought she had joined the Fashion Club (Although… What would such a club do for activities?). They were completely comfortable with the world in which the Cultural Research Club <did not exist>.

Of course, with everything like it was, Iori, Inaba, and Aoki had no reason to be depressed. In order to retrieve their memories, the three of them had tried to tell the duo about what they had done together in the Cultural Research Club, shown them projects they had done together, and many other futile attempts that yielded nothing. Every time they tried, the duo would develop splitting headaches, so much that they would be unable to continue from pain.

If Taichi and Yui were exposed to any idea of friendship within the Cultural Research Club, or detected that they had “forgotten something” — in short, if they got any closer to the root of the problem, their heads would begin to burn with searing pain, rendering them completely unable to think any further.

Because of that, Taichi and Yui forgot everything to do with the Cultural Research Club, and went on with their normal student lives.

“Although you guys aren’t going to believe this, and might not accept that we don’t plan to send them to the hospital, we feel that it’s wrong to keep you and Chihiro in the dark…” Inaba explained slightly uneasily, representing the three upperclassmen of the Cultural Research Club. But Shino faced them and said firmly:

“I believe in you guys.”

She couldn’t not believe in them for this matter.

But it was too late. Whatever she couldn’t not believe in, had long passed away with the flow of time.

Since she hadn’t done anything, in a certain sense, it could be said that this all had nothing to do with her.

But under certain circumstances, non-participating bystanders were in themselves harmful. Therefore, without a hint of doubt, she had committed a sin.

It was she, who had destroyed that once idyllic world.

She was, a useless moron who served absolutely no purpose.

In the morning, Shino plucked up her courage and approached Chihiro. She would not run away this time.

I’ll definitely, definitely do it right his time. — Shino vowed silently. You can do it. This was her duty. She must do it right.

“Chi, Chihiro-kun…”

She was turning a new leaf.

She was already determined.

There was no one else in the hallway; Chihiro turned his head wordlessly.

“Hmm…”

Chihiro’s expression turned violent, startling Shino, who inadvertently let out a whimper. His eyes were darkened with black circles, he stared straight ahead, his face was frail and weak; he looked ill, even dangerous.

Chihiro had been haggard recently, and now, he looked at the end of his rope.

As to the reason —

“T-The senpais have fallen into a very messy situation.”

This elicited no reaction whatsoever from Chihiro, who stared directly at Shino, his eyes lacking even the smallest bit of anger.

“… Uh, um, I think that their ordeal this time was definitely not accidental… Right? Because nothing is an accident, so there must be some reason. I didn’t mean that… Uh…”

What was she saying? She didn’t even understand herself.

“Wh-what I mean is…”

She swallowed slowly.

Chihiro was motionless, like a corpse.

“These things…”

Can’t be afraid. Must step forward.

Shino’s eyesight heated up.

“Does Chihiro-kun have anything to d-do with it…?”

To “that guy”—

There should have only been that false “guy”, if he really existed.

Chihiro’s face turned green, surprise and fear mixing and working horribly in his complexion.

Seeing him like this, Shino understood everything. <That> was not a dream or hallucination at all, or anything false. It was no longer a subject that had nothing to do with her.

It was now, that the reality that dawned upon her.

“… Ha-ah? What, what are you saying?”

There was a long pause; Shino broke the silence incoherently.

“I’m saying that… Taichi-senpai and Yui-senpai’s amnesia, has to do with ‘that guy’… And it has to do with Chihiro-kun, and that’s the reason…”

What’s the reason?”

Chihiro’s eyes widened, his pressuring stare at Shino increasing in intensity.

His white face was very frightening; it was mixed with what felt like danger continuously seeping out of his body. Shino couldn’t help but recoil.

“Hey, Enjouji. Spit it out, what – is – the reason?”

His stare was not normal at all. The abnormal Chihiro’s face drew suddenly close.

Whatever Chihiro was thinking of doing now, she could not fathom.

“Do you, also know about ‘that guy’?”

Will her own memories be sliced away?

As soon as this thought flashed through her mind, Shino’s body and brain tensed up.

Don’t know. Don’t know anything. Didn’t see anything. Didn’t hear anything. Don’t wanna be a part of it.

“That, that guy is…?”

Her mouth moved by itself. She was the one who brought up the topic anyway.

Shino forced a laugh.

In order to get away, Shino plastered a laugh onto her face.

Don’t think of anything, let this be the end.

She was always like this, like a conditioned reflex carved into her soul.

Attached to it, seeped into it, unable to shake it off.

To Chihiro, what kind of unsightly manner did she have now?

Chihiro opened his mouth.

“It’s nothing, isn’t it?”

Abandoned.

Rejected by Chihiro, by the world.

“You, don’t know anything either, do you?”

No, she wasn’t rejected by a stranger —

“You don’t know, do you?”

Interrogated by Chihiro like this, Shino could only nod her head yes.

At this moment, she was completely out of her own control.

She was only following the waves of this world, moving like a puppet.

“Exactly, right?”

Chihiro grinned treacherously. As though declaring the end of the conversation, he turned around, ready to leave.

Watching Chihiro’s back, Shino suddenly regained control of herself.

What was she doing? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She was supposed to be determined.

Although it was probably too late, Shino still ran after him:

“Chi, Chihiro-kun!”

“… What?”

“Um, um… <Fuusenkazura>— Oof?!”

A ribbon on her uniform was seized; Chihiro pulled her right up to him.

Shino stared into Chihiro’s wild, bloodshot eyeballs.

“Shut up, don’t speak that name.”

Detecting danger in front of her, Shino nodded frantically.

Chihiro’s fistful of ribbon was injected with raw strength. Her neck was painfully constricted. Scary. Tears slid from Shino’s eyes.

Her own tremors were passed onto Chihiro’s fist. She shook, and shook… No? The one shaking was… Chihiro?

She was being threatened while grabbed at her chest. Chihiro was grabbing at her chest while threatening her.

But, Chihiro’s fist, seemed to be a plea for help.

For some reason, this bolstered Shino’s courage.

She pushed a step forward.

“Chi, Chihiro-kun… I must confess… I, too! I’m the same as Chihiro-kun, I’ve seen <Fuusenkazura>— Oof?!”

“I said, don’t speak his name!”

She was frightened. This was scary. Don’t do anything that scary.

“Aahh… Uahh…”

Tears gushed. Breathing was hard. She wasn’t constricted to the point of choking, but normal breathing was hard. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, her rhythm of exhalation, her method of inhalation, was all in shambles.

Chihiro violently threw his hand away, spat “Stay away from me”, then turned and left without looking back, leaving Shino behind, who had trouble breathing for a long while.

From then on, no matter how many times she tried, Chihiro ignored her.

Enjouji Shino had once encountered <Fuusenkazura> in Gotou Ryuuzen’s body.

That was a certain day: while she was walking her dog, she was suddenly spoken to.

The other person was attracting her with an inexplicable force.

The one in front of her was not Gotou Ryuuzen, but someone using his body — a situation hard to believe.

The other person said, that he could bestow a certain power upon her.

If she had that power, she could manipulate the five upperclassmen of the Cultural Research Club however she wanted.

She was disturbed and repugnant. Yet the other person explained that, Uwa Chihiro was in the same situation as she was.

Since it frightened her too much, Shino had refused him and escaped in a panicked state.

It must have been a daydream, it must have been fake — as though she were unwilling to accept reality, Shino closed her eyes. Something like that could not exist in the real world.

She was unable to do anything in this circumstance. If she had not been able to pull through, she would have collapsed. Don’t push something dangerous like that onto me!

— Therefore, Shino had treated everything as if nothing had happened.

She declared it all a lie, and chased it out of her world.

But, Chihiro had given an answer to that guy that was jarringly different from hers.

And then— something happened.

Since she had not the capacity to explain exactly what, Shino did not know what kind of power <Fuusenkazura> was planning to give out.

What was she to do? — Shino was unable to make a calm decision. In order to solve the problem, she must understand everything through Chihiro first.

Solve, huh?

Imagining the word tumbling from her lips was laughable.

No matter what she did, the end result would not change at all.

Enjouji Shino was a mere accessory in this immense world.

She had really tried today. Really fought today.

But it was true; it wasn’t possible.

After school that day, there was a mandatory Sports Festival practice…

Shino and everyone else arrived on the field wearing exercise uniforms, and saw Inaba, Nagase, and Aoki already standing there. They seemed to be constantly together nowadays.

“Hey, senpai. About today’s activities…”

“Sorry. We’re not meeting today, either.”

Inaba said shortly. She looked nervous and jittery.

“… Ah, um, it’s not your fault, so don’t look all depressed, okay? But let’s stop club activities for a while. Sorry about that.”

Inaba said gently, remembering that she usually took her own anger out on others.

“Ah, uh… hmm. Is that so…”

“We’re sorry, Shino-chan.”

Nagase gave Shino a hug, softly comforting her. It was a departure from her usual upbeat self

“I just wanted to ask you again; nothing strange has happened to Shino-chan, right? There’s no one around making any suspicious movements, is there?”

“… No, there’s nothing wrong…”

That should count as the truth. Not to mention that she herself was a victim.

Inaba and the others were still extremely concerned for Chihiro and Shino — who should be the ones hurting, instead of anyone else.

They were too, too kind. Tears beaded in Shino’s eyes; her chest stabbed with pain.

Keeping her knowledge of <Fuusenkazura> and Chihiro from Inaba and the others — that was deceiving and cheating them.

No matter how she thought about it, Shino didn’t think that they would believe her story about <Fuusenkazura>. Not to mention that <Fuusenkazura> himself had warned her: “It’d be best not to tell other people about me and stuff like that… or their own good…” — It was a good idea to avoid blurting it out. It would be better to first inquire Chihiro, who seemed to understand everything better.

If she wanted to put in her own effort, she could not add to their burden.

Shino took a step away from Nagase’s soft chest.

“… Even though it really sucks that we can’t have our activities, we really don’t have a choice in this situation.”

Shino said to the ground, avoiding their eyes.

The three of them apologized to Shino; she answered with a small smile: “It’s okay.”

Where and how was she okay? She wasn’t sure about it herself.

Yaegashi Taichi and Kiriyama Yui appeared on the path.

The two of them walked over, shoulder to shoulder.

“Taichi…!”

“Yui…!”

Inaba and Aoki suddenly looked disturbed. Nagase silently clenched her fists.

Watching Inaba and the others, Shino turned to look at Taichi and Yui, and her own heart began to hammer relentlessly.

The two of them, who were supposed to have lost their memories and become strangers to each other, were walking shoulder to shoulder.

Just like they were good friends.

Shino’s mind crackled with anticipation.

Could it be, that everything before had been nothing at all —

Taichi and Yui noticed Inaba and the others.

The two of them suddenly looked irritated. Taichi instantly spun to his right, and Yui spun to her left.

Taking the long path, they went around Shino, Inaba, and the others, heading for the middle of the field.

The pentagon had not revived after all.

Taichi and Yui were willingly avoiding everyone else — this reality pierced their hearts like a thorn.

“Tai… chi…”

Inaba mouthed, her right hand reaching after him.

Her once affectionate lover was now intangible, or even responsive.

Everything ceased to exist.

Inaba crumpled to the ground.

“Inaban?!”

Nagase hurried to support her.

“… Ah, sorry… Just a little dizzy.”

The hearts that struggled to keep Inaba and the others together were reaching their limit. Their hearts, were beginning to collapse.

I can’t watch this anymore — Shino averted her eyes.

The upperclassmen of the Cultural Research Club were cornered without a plan — something like this was impossible. She refused to believe it.

Even if she was unable to do anything, the senpais should be able to fix everything. That had to be true.

Was this her destiny?

Because something like that — she couldn’t do. It simply wasn’t possible.

That enviable pentagon. Including herself and Chihiro, it would become a heptagon. Would she be upsetting the balance? — Shino had once worried. But she soon found that she could finally deal with the issue.

But now, this heptagon had collapsed. With two of them gone, there were only five left. Without Taichi and Yui, who had been replaced with Chihiro and Shino — there were only five of them left.

This was unbelievable; she had become a part of the pentagon that she had so admired. But this wasn’t what she had in mind — definitely not.

Yamaboshi High School’s Cultural Research Club — it was as though this place were rejecting everything other than the pentagon. Everything was like natural selection: when two members entered, two members would exit.

Has the world decided on such a rule for the Cultural Research Club?

She was letting fate guide her along. She was losing to this world. She did not want to lose — but—

Shino hung her head, avoiding everyone’s gaze, and fled the scene.

The Sports Festival practice began. Everyone began to divide into practice groups for the Cheering Competition.

The Green Team that Shino and Inaba’s belonged to completely fell apart in their practice.

The first, second, and third years of the Green Team were supposed to perform different movements, so they were separately instructed. Yet the teams of first and second years were practicing so poorly that they were unsightly.

The biggest reason for that was that Class 1-B, which Shino belonged to, was not motivated at all.

Today, during an earlier practice session, Inaba, who usually practiced as the finisher, moved exceptionally slowly today, and Aoki, who usually served to raise collective spirit, looked continuously bewildered – adding fuel to the fire in an already messy situation.

“We’ll start with the gymnastics group —” “Let’s put some more energy into that—”

But no matter how hard the second year students tried, the cool, enthusiastic atmosphere among the first year students did not budge. They were like a group of wriggling zombies.

“I can’t do it.” “So hot…” “Why the hell are we doing this?” “Don’t give a damn about the Cheering Competition…”

Resentful voices intertwined in the air. Although each individual comment was hard to make out, when they were combined together, it seems as though a thick package of malice was being unleashed towards the second years. The atmosphere grew heavier by the second. In this suffocating scene, Shino’s own mood began to decline.

Even though she was not the target of attention, Shino’s stomach began to writhe horribly.

I hate this feeling.

I want to leave.

Shino’s thoughts were likely marred by that ball of malice. That is, she was also an aggressor.

She had thought herself an observer all this time, while in reality, she had become an aggressor long ago.

She had noticed it long ago, but had ignored it, and the ball of malice became heavier and heavier.

Everyone was doing it. She was not doing it on purpose. She couldn’t help it.

So, she was not at fault.

Shino’s line of sight landed on the person who was clearly supposed to be the competition representative, yet whose movements were apathetic and unmotivated —

Uwa Chihiro.

The murky aura exuding from his entire body was an inescapable, all-consuming, continually increasing darkness that seemed able to devour everyone around him.

She had failed to recognize the danger that the Cultural Research Club faced. The true reason of everything that had happened, the source of all malice, was all Chihiro. It was all Chihiro’s fault. This was the truth.

But—

She had thought herself an observer all this time, while in reality, she had become an aggressor long ago.

I hate myself.

With the Sports Festival practice finally over, Shino changed into normal clothing and came to the rooftop of the east school building, reflecting on her day. She couldn’t help but feel dejected.

Feeling the cold wind on her alone, Shino gazed afar to the sports field.

Alone, she could finally let out a sigh of relief. The roof occasionally had some people on it, but they were preoccupied with themselves, and no one paid attention to her. Perfect. Although the sky was gray and overcast, the summer weather had no intention of abating.

Shino leaned on the railing and sighed softly.

She was too ashamed, which was unlike herself.

She had clearly made the decision to make an all-out effort. But even as she thought that, unconsciously, she had returned to her usual hopeless way of thinking.

She was supposed to be determined. She was supposed to be turning over a new leaf. That morning, she clearly still had that strong desire.

— Even so, her determination had lasted merely half a day.

She had been driven by a mission, she had decided to solve her problem with her own strength, yet somewhere down the line, once again, she had pushed everything to other people.

Until today, she had lost count of how many times it had happened.

She had been inspired many times by novels, manga, movies — she had challenged herself many times, she had told herself, “You can’t keep doing this.”

She wanted to be more open. To become good at sports. To get better grades. To make more friends. To have a more interesting life. To be loved.

She wanted, to be happier.

She wanted to change herself.

She had to change herself.

She wanted to try and take a step forward.

But, Shino had followed her own ideals and taken one step, two steps, three steps, then stopped. Having stopped dead in place, she fell back to square one.

— It was as though, in this world, she was destined to stop in place, no matter how much she tried to advance.

Why was she unable to change herself?

She had tried to go forward.

Entering high school and joining a club adequate for high school life was already a magnificent adventure for her. In an effort to move closer to her desired image, Shino had also tried to get close to the people who weren’t completely on the same dimension as her.

She had tried to go forward.

Although she was scared beyond belief, she had also directly faced <Fuusenkazura>.

She had tried to go forward.

To break that situation, she had even gone up against the aggressive Chihiro.

But even if she went forward, she eventually crashed and burned.

She had really tried. She had really given it her best effort.

Hey, was she really a good-for-nothing sack of shit?

Completely useless, completely unhelpful.

She had no meaning in this world.

From behind the railing, Shino looked over the view. To melt into the wind, become a blood-red flower, and wipe away all the cares of the world — What on earth was she thinking? She needed to have restraint in her jokes. Slightly frightened, Shino backed away from the railing.

Just then, she saw —

Nagase seemed to be in the courtyard. Shino squinted her eyes, focusing. Oh, not just Nagase; Inaba and Aoki were also there. It seemed that the three of them were discussing something.

Separated from them by a faraway space, Shino overlooked their three silhouettes.

Looking at them from far, far away, the senpais that usually seemed amazing looked no different than other people. If there was a god, every living being probably looked like this to him.

If that were true, then all human action and desire would be nearly meaningless.

Born according to fate, yet unaware of it, so one competes with it; originally supposed to conform to the long river of life, yet always going against the river current, inviting pain and suffering.

If she lived out her life without caring for anything, what exactly —

Then, in the world below her, Nagase and the others seemed to finish their discussion, and the three of them left each other.

Did they suddenly decide on something, or were they talking about something else?

Regardless, Inaba headed towards the north school building, Nagase headed towards the east school building, Aoki headed for the school gate, and the three of them went their separate ways.

Tiny humans moving in a straight line on the ground.

Tiny humans walking filled with purpose and strength.

Tiny humans — no, they were not tiny at all.

The three of them, were huge.

Why she felt this way, Shino could not understand. If she were honest, as they got further and further away, they should look smaller and smaller.

But their bodies looked bigger and bigger, shining brightly.

Why.

Why.

Who will tell me.

Who will tell me how to be like them. What their secret is.

— Just to do that.

She had joined the Cultural Research Club just to obtain that secret, didn’t she?

Didn’t she just pluck up her courage and take a step forward?

Shino recalled her feelings back then.

She had taken the first step. Yes — she could do that sort of thing.

Even though it wasn’t the second or third step — hadn’t she already taken the first one?

Then let’s do it again.

Even for someone as stupid as her —

Shino took another step forward.

Racing down the stairs, penetrating the corridors, Shino walked towards Clubroom 401.

I must take that small step, I must change myself — Shino repeated her mantra.

But this was not okay as it was. She must become much more assertive — so she needed to go to the clubroom, no matter what. Only there, she could recall the courage she had once summoned, recall the numerous things that the senpais had taught her.

Shino stepped onto the stairs of the clubroom building.

Her ice-cold heart began to fill with fuel and erupt in flames, as though she were amassing energy for a fierce battle.

— All this time, this situation has repeated many times, hasn’t it?

The malicious part of her heart whispered.

— And, you’ve never once succeeded, have you?

This time, this time will be different!

— “This time will be”, hmph, how many times has this phrase appeared in your life?

Yeah, I’ve said it many times. And I know that the results of “this time” have never arrived. Even so, I must declare it. I know.

— So, you’ve given up already?

I’m not going to give up even if it’s like this. The moment I give up is the moment everything truly ends.

— Over time, all of your effort that doesn’t bring results is wasted; the true “beginning” that you’re looking for will never come, will it?

Maybe, that’s true.

— You know that this time, it could end in the worst possible scenario, don’t you?

Ahh, that’s right.

She was very much aware that she had committed an unforgivable sin against Taichi and Yui and caused Nagase, Inaba and Aoki inexpressible grief.

Her footsteps slowed on the stairs. Her body began to feel heavy. She was, once again, going to stop in her tracks.

But — !

The three people who were even more despaired than her — They were, still fighting.

Even though the sun seemed to occasionally disappear behind a cloud, but it still can shine upon the world — they shined like the sun.

So she also had to give it her all.

Like Icarus chasing the sun.

There was one step left, there was really only one step left. It was finally, finally the end.

Repeating the mantra she had recited countlessly in her heart, Shino encouraged herself.

She felt a bit like crying. But she must drive her feet and climb up. She must not stop.

Even if she cannot do it —

Even if there wasn’t a possibility —

Even though she was unable to change anything —

Even if she became embarrassed beyond belief, she must continue like this.

After today, into the future, no matter when.

Starting today, starting now, everything started at this moment.

Then she would completely change — who she was.

Yaegashi Taichi stood in the doorway of the clubroom.

Normally, Shino would step forward with all her might yet eventually return empty-handed and alone, but this time would be different — or perhaps it was better to say that this time, she had completely risen above that situation.

Because Yaegashi Taichi was here.

Seeing Taichi, Shino’s body seemed to overflow with strength. Was this not the feeling of fighting alone, but the feeling of two people joining hands?

Nonononononononono, before that—

Taichi, who was supposed to have forgotten the Cultural Research Club, had somehow returned to the clubroom. Had he recovered his memories? If that was true, then that would be great.

Feeling Shino’s eyes on him, Taichi spun around.

Taichi and Shino’s eyes met, as both of them reflected in each of their retinas.

“Oh, are you from this club? I’m sorry. Although I don’t really know anyone here, I don’t know why, but I really wanted to come… I don’t quite understand it either… People in my class always tell me I’ve lost my memories… Ah, I’m sorry, I forgot that I just — UWA?!”

“TAICHI-SENPAI —— !!!”

In a multitude of emotions, Shino burst into tears and flew towards Taichi.

Taichi looked both scared and flattered to suddenly be hugged by a crying girl he didn’t know. This would be bad if someone saw them — Taichi brought Shino to the roof of the clubroom. Very few people usually went onto the roof, and today was completely silent.

“Ah, um… Sorry about that.”

Shino hurriedly bowed in apology to Taichi, making an effort to calm herself. She had lost her cool way too quickly.

“It’s, it’s nothing… otherwise I would have reported you for harassment…”

Even though he was hugged, Taichi looked quite cautious. The atmosphere suddenly became apologetic between the two of them.

“No no, Taichi-senpai did nothing wrong…”

“No, no, what kind of reasoning is that…”
“No no…”

“No, no…”

“… Hey, let’s not turn this into prayer time.”

“Ah, yes! Ri-right, Taichi-senpai!”

Taichi finally put a full stop on their dry courtesy talk contest. He was Taichi-senpai, all right.

“… I just want to confirm, do you know me?”

After such a long time, she had finally heard Taichi’s voice once more. The sound of Taichi-senpai talking to her seemed to fill her with a calming charm, making her want to enter heaven — but this wasn’t the time. Begone, distractions!

“Mhm, yes.”

“I’m very sorry… I don’t remember you. What’s going on between us…?”

“Um… we don’t exactly know each other very well, it’s just that I know Taichi-senpai. Ah, I’m Enjouji Shino from Class 1-B, please take care of me.”

“Enjouji… huh. Nice to meet you.”

Their relationship, which had once been zero, was restored. This feeling was something else. Inaba had once feared that Shino would be twisted into the whole situation as well, and advised her “stay away from Taichi and Yui for now”. But this is an unavoidable accident, right…? Please forgive me, Inaba-senpai.

“But, why are you crying, Enjouji?”

Checkmate.

“Um… Uh, um…”

Recalling what Iori had once said to her, “Taichi can be very probing sometimes. Inaban’s turned into a strange Dereban beast Because of that. Shino-chan should be careful too.”

“Uh, uhh… How do I put it…”

“Although I don’t know you well, Enjouji knows me, right? That makes us connected in some way, so if there’s anything that ever bothers you, I’ll help you with it.”

Taichi said unhesitantly to the person in front of him whom he was seeing “for the first time”.

As expected, even though Taichi-senpai had lost his memories, he was still amazing.

There was no way she could be like him. Someone she chased no matter how hard she tried, and eventually — earned.

“This time” she must break the cycle.

Her wishes to change herself, what she wished to change — Shino began pouring out all of her frustrations.

The details need not be rehashed, but although Shino spent a bit of effort thinking about how to express herself, Taichi finally understood what she wanted to say.

“No matter how hard you try to take a step, and no matter how many times you do it, it still won’t work. How exactly should you change yourself — is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah… it’s just like that… Ah, but rather than questioning myself if I can change, I should say that I really just want a result…”

If she thought about it, the tables have turned: the one she was supposed to save had become the one saving her.

“A result… huh.”

“… I’m, I’m useless at many things. I’ve really achieved nothing. Even though I try, compared with others, I’m completely out of their league in terms of capability… I don’t belong anywhere.”

“Why do you feel that way? Even if you say that, Enjouji, there has to be somewhere you belong, right?”

“Th-there’s really nowhere I belong! Because, those amazing people are unreachable. They’re really, really amazing.”

“Man~, are there really people that amazing?”

“Yes. For example, a senpai I know who’s very kind, and is the kind of morally strong person who will say ‘I want to help you’ to someone he meets for the first time without without hesitation… Ah!”

Damn! How could I describe someone right to their face?! If he realizes that, I’ll be in big…

“Ohhh, what a great person.”

“And he’s also very slow!”

It was great that Taichi was this slow. Saved by the bell.

“And I’ve heard of something else — one of the prettiest girls in the school and another smart and pretty girl fought over him, but in the end he chose one of them over the other and lived shamelessly ever after with her.”

“Damn, he’s an enemy to all guys. I should find some opportunity to teach him a lesson.”

“I think so too.”

I really do.

“Um… so, he’s such an amazing person. I can’t ever hope to match him.”

“No, wait a minute. That person’s abilities have nothing to do with Enjouji’s abilities, do they?”

“Th…they don’t, but I’m also… inadequate in many other ways.”

“I say, Enjouji, how on earth did you come to the conclusion that you ‘don’t belong in this world’?”

“Huh? Um… Look, I’m stupid, bad at school, bad at exercise, I turn everything I touch into a disaster, I’m indecisive, and I fail as soon as I get nervous… that’s me, anyway.”

Her own words managed to bring herself down again.

She truly was, useless.

Taichi was probably very confused on how to help her. He probably thinks that helping her would come to no avail —

“What, that’s all?”

Taichi said something completely unexpected, causing Shino to suspect that her ears had malfunctioned.

“Um… hmm. This… isn’t… this isn’t just ‘that’s all’! How is it even close to ‘that’s all’?”

“W-well… to put it bluntly, you’re <only> stupid, bad at school, bad at exercise, turn everything you touch into a disaster, indecisive, and fail as soon as you get nervous — right?”

“What do you mean, ‘only’?! I think most of those are pretty lethal mistakes!”

“Don’t get that emotional so quickly… but yeah, that’s the truth, right?”

“Ah, um, uh… Yes, if you put it that way.”

“All of what you just said; I think none of it qualifies to be the reason that Enjouji ‘does not belong in this world’.”

None of it, qualifies the reason, to not belong in this world.

“B-but…”

“Even if you add those on, there’s no way you can be useless, is there?”

That was true. She had taken once her first step. So she wasn’t totally useless. She could only blame her own perseverance for not holding out after that.

“I think there are other things that are truly important.”

And I believe that everyone has those other things. — Taichi added.

“But… but, there are lots and lots of people better than I am, who can effortlessly do stuff that takes me a long time…!”

Shino felt that she could no longer control her mouth.

“What good is a person like me?! S-someone like me, a good-for-nothing accessory… What should, I do—”

“Enjouji is no accessory. You are an outstanding protagonist.”

“P-protagonist?! Someone like me can’t be a protagonist!… But if I really was, then what a boring story that would be.”

“But it would be a story that only Enjouji could control as she wishes!”

A story that only Enjouji Shino is qualified to lead.

“And don’t you think, a person as normal as can be, who actively completes her own magnificent story, is actually pretty interesting?”

The magnificent tale of a normal person.

A wonderful story indeed.

But the protagonist of that story definitely did not become active for no reason.

“So he just needed to take action.”

— Or rather, he took a brave action.

From somewhere unknown, came the “click” of a disengaging lock.

How amazing — something, she didn’t recognize. Completely different from before, there was a feeling that she could definitely do it “this time”.

Had she not been struggling over and over just for this moment? Shino thought.

Come, my self-awakening.

Begin, my self-revolution.

“… Wait, a second. Did I just… say something really embarrassing? I’m actually not that kind of person… No, it feels familiar… Who did I learn this spiel from…?”

Taichi shook his head in disbelief, his face ashamed.

Even if he lost his memories of the Cultural Research Club, everything he had absorbed from it was still there.

“Taichi-senpai’s pretty cocky. You’re pretty popular with the girls, aren’t you?”

“C-cocky?!” Even if I’m popular there’s no way that — but I’m not popular with girls.”

“I’m pretty entranced by Taichi-senpai’s voice!”

“Are you even listening to me?!”

Taichi’s helpless expression was too funny; Shino sputtered with laughter.

What an amazing guy. It was her first time receiving so much courage from someone else.

After giggling for a bit, Shino suddenly asked with a serious look:

“… Even for some as boring as I am, can I do well too, Taichi-senpai?”

“No matter who, as long as they want to, there’s nothing that can stop them. That’s what I believe.”

Hmm.

“If you think about ‘doing something’, you need to personally believe that it is possible. If there’s something that’s truly impossible, no one would attempt it, right?”

Y-yeah! Amazing insight!

Inexplicably, she felt that she understood. She actually understood.

Thinking about it, it was great that she had joined the Cultural Research Club.

“I… I’ll do my best.”

“Really? I’m glad that I could help you.”

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The two of them were wrapped in a warm atmosphere. If I could stay here forever, then I would be happy — Shino thought. But of course, that was impossible. She must take the first step.

And Taichi and Yui relied on her to save them.

“Thank you for discussing this with me. I have something I need to do now, so I have to go.”

Shino sincerely thanked Taichi, and turned her back to him.

The doorway stood a few meters ahead of her.

The moment I step out of that doorway, everything will begin — Shino warned herself.

But once Taichi was out of her sight, and no one remained in her eyes, Shino suddenly became anxious.

Was she really going to be okay? Can she break out of the endless loop of “this time”?

“… Taichi-senpai. Can you tell me ‘Shino, do your best’ again? I have one last request.”

Shino asked Taichi, without turning around.

“Ah, uhhh… Shino, do your best.”

“All RIGHT!!! Thank you for your great voice!!!”

Shino took a step.

One step, two steps, three steps — four steps.

“Hm… I think, Enjouji, that you will definitely be a very interesting character.”

“This time” was the true decision.

… Honestly, this thought had appeared many times in the past.

If she strongly believed that every time, she could gain strength.

But those decisions had been abandoned halfway through.

No matter whether she was determined, no matter how she prayed from the bottom of her heart, nothing came to be.

There existed people who had the ability to concentrate their inner thoughts and achieve great feats. Compared with them, there was too little of herself to mention.

Completely useless.

She was someone who was <only> stupid, bad at school, bad at exercise, turn everything she touched into a disaster, indecisive, and failed as soon as she got nervous.

Those who still were a gap away from the amazing ones must succeed “this time”.

This was the <action> that was enough to change her world.

Changing her own world was not something she could just improvise. She needed to do it thoroughly.

If she wanted to be the top in her studies, then why was she not taking step after step to get there?

If she wanted to excel in physical exercise, then why was wasting all this time away?

A very plain person who started out at an appropriate point and would chase his goal step by step would be very amazing — but that was the right path to take.

But what about people without abilities or skills?

I can’t do it, so I’ll give up — that kind of mindset was wrong.

If I can’t change myself, and there seems absolutely no possible way to — then I’ll throw everything into disorder and take an alternative action.

For example, taking my homework and locking myself somewhere excluded from the outside world.

For example, participating in a triathlon, and training day and night deep in the woody mountains.

For example — directly confronting the monster-like being that was like a legend, like a dream, supernatural, superhuman — <Fuusenkazura>.

When she thought about it, the words that Taichi had given her were really just words. They could not bring her instant results, nor could she instantly absorb them.

If they were just words, if they were only phrases, she was already familiar with a lot of them from watching television and reading books as she grew up.

But these things, to her, were but false objects… No, that sentence wasn’t quite correct. She should have said, <she had merely regarded those sayings as false objects>.

In the end, a language will always be unable to surpass its own boundaries. It was nothing more than the order of words. The one with the power to realize them, was herself.

This time, she would try it practically.

Because of words that came out of the mouth of someone she respected.

Shino buried that notion in her heart.

Out of the hazy sky, a few drops of rain landed.

Shino ignored them and walked straight ahead.

Maybe this will attract his attention. But it would be very easy, like talking to Chihiro. They were practically on the same level.

If she was no better than anyone, she needed to pluck up her own courage for things that were mere trifles to other people. So even if she achieved “a mere trifle for other people”, she would be satisfied.

Because she was used to low standards and expectations, she would be satisfied with herself when she overcame the smallest hurdles; her body had atrophied to the point of utmost laziness.

No, she could not become accustomed to those standards and expectations.

If people used to burning out wanted to change themselves, they needed to be dramatic and forceful.

<That existence> had once said — if you change your mind, and desire <power>, then just come over, and shout my name. You only need to do that, and I will open a new door for you.

The location was a natural park near the school.

Open a completely new door for me, just like I want.

I want to change the world.

I want a dramatic change.

I want to change myself.

Taking a deep breath, Shino summoned the loudest voice she could muster, and screamed:

“COME OUT HERE, <FUUSENKAZURA> — !!!”

Her own world, if only she took a dramatic action, can be changed in an instant.

 

Chapter 7: No Matter When, This World Is…

As he was walking through the corridors, he bumped into Kiriyama Yui by chance.

Yui didn’t look over — didn’t look at Uwa Chihiro, and left briskly.

Yui didn’t stop by the Cultural Research Club today either, and probably headed straight for the dojo after school.

The Yui now possessed no memories of the Cultural Research Club. Or more precisely, she possessed no memories of the Cultural Research Club, or Uwa Chihiro himself.

Since she was acquainted with them outside of of the club, Yui still recognized the other second years of the Cultural Research Club from the same grade level, but Chihiro’s entire existence had been wiped clean from her mind. Probably because he himself was the main culprit of the incident.

In the few days after Yui and Yaegashi Taichi lost their memories due to the irresolvable paradox brought about by “Fantasy Projection”, Chihiro had profoundly realized his own utter powerlessness.

Chihiro had started with nothing. Yet one day, after meeting <Fuusenkazura>, he’d received the power of “Fantasy Projection”, and basked in triumph, thinking himself overwhelmingly powerful. Undoubtedly, he’d previously vowed never to become complacent, yet somehow, he had already fallen victim to arrogance.

If only it were just that. Even after receiving the power, he became obsessed with the notion of procuring more and more. Desire entangled his own feeble willpower, and Chihiro sank deeper and deeper, unable to be freed.

Then he committed sins.

Kiriyama Yui, who had always been here, was gone from his world.

Yaegashi Taichi, who had always been here, was also gone from this world.

Chihiro destroyed everything those two had received from the Cultural Research Club.

The two who had once been here were now gone. How was this different from murdering them?

Him, great? What a joke. He didn’t have the right to discuss such things.

The world was divided into manipulators, and non-manipulators; Chihiro was sure that this was true.

Chihiro was certain that, at least he should not become a non-manipulator.

But in retrospect, he had already been used by <Fuusenkazura>, falling to the level of someone a non-manipulator. He had considered himself a genius, yet in truth, he was merely repugnant livestock that swallowed the feed in front of him without a second thought.

Everyone should stay away from people like me, he thought.

He had also driven Enjouji Shino away, who kept trying to inquire about the details.

It was then that Chihiro discovered that <Fuusenkazura> had already contacted other people other than himself. To think that he was the chosen one — it was merely delusional wishful thinking on his part. After realizing that, Chihiro felt even more ashamed.

“Oh, Chihiro.”

Hearing someone greet him, Chihiro looked up.

It was Aoki Yoshifumi. Chihiro found it inconceivable that he kept running into Cultural Research Club members today.

“… You look awful, is everything okay? Dunno whether to call your face pale or muddy…”

Chihiro was utterly losing to someone who took him for a fool.

“Hey, I know you’re also worried about Yui and Taichi… Sorry, but in short, you’ll have to endure it for a bit; we’ll definitely think of something!”

His enemy was sympathizing with him, too.

“Hey, I wanted to ask you again: have you noticed anything strange going on around you lately? Like, someone you know doing weird things, or saying weird stuff…”

Whether he was black or white had always been predetermined for him.

He was pitch black.

“—and stuff like that… Are you listening? Chihiro?”

“You sure talk a lot, senpai. You can leave me alone, I’m fine.”

“Eh?”

Leaving Aoki with a stupid look on his face, Chihiro returned to the classroom.

He didn’t even see the value in living in this world.

“Hey, Uwa.”

Shimono, who sat in front of him, turned around and tried to strike up a conversation, but Chihiro said nothing and averted his eyes.

“What’s up? Look at those dark circles around your eyes, you stayed up playing games all night, didn’t you? Have you started playing online games? Those are bad news once you get addicted. Even I’ve blocked them because they’re too dangerous.”

Shimono was speaking in unintelligible gibberish. Chihiro decided to ignore him.

“No, huh? Oh, I see. Girl problems. You and Enjouji haven’t been getting along well recently, are you? Or did you find out that she already secretly has a boyfriend, and you’re like, they’ve probably already done it a lot, fuck! I get you, that super empty feeling.”

“What kind of virgin talk are you guys having?”

Tada chimed in. As the third person to lose at jankenpon and had to volunteer as Cheering Competition Representative, there was an inexplicable association that always seemed to attract him closer to them.

“Shut up, don’t get so cocky just because you’ve done it!”

“Whoa, Shimono, there’s no way I’d be cocky, you know? Is this virgin paranoia? I’m so scared~!”

“D-Damn youuuu!”

What a peaceful, moronic conversation. Chihiro had always thought them boring, even holding them in contempt, but now, they seemed completely out of reach. So far away, too far away. This was terrible.

Why did he meet that thing?

Why was he bewitched by it?

Why did he accept the power?

Why did he accept the conditions?

Why was he chosen to suffer this unfortunate fate?

“Hey, Uwa, I need your input! Even if he has a girlfriend he needs to be kinder to the single ones, or introduce us to some girls while he’s at it! Come to think of it, have you already reached home base without us realizing?! Uwa-san!”

“Shimono aside, Uwa is pretty much the perfect guy. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to introduce someone to… Uwa?”

Unable to bear it any longer, Chihiro stood up. He could never partake in these normal conversations again.

If he could still laugh in this situation, that would sure be a joke. This was too stupid. Damn.

He left the classroom.

What were Shimono and Tada’s expressions like? How much longer was lunch break? Was it reasonable to leave now? Should he tell them that he was leaving?

He didn’t even know anymore.

 

Since he didn’t have club activities, Chihiro went straight home after school. He hadn’t been going to the dojo lately either.

Pushing open the door to his room, Chihiro tossed his bag onto the bed. Empty, it landed on the soft bed with a faint puff.

There was absolutely nothing to do today either, only idly wasting away his life.

Chihiro suddenly remembered something and pulled a photo album from his bookshelf. There were several pictures inside from the Cultural Research Club, which he had gotten someone to develop for him. He pulled all of them out and threw them into the trash can. Then he laid back down on the bed.

“Chihiro, I’m coming in.”

His mother’s voice came from outside. Annoyed, Chihiro ignored her, but the door opened of its own accord.

“You’re laying down without changing out of your uniform…”

His mother said, concerned. Come to think of it, his parents rarely came inside his room at all.

“Chihiro, you’ve been coming home very early these days, don’t you need to go to your club activities? The dojo, too.”

“… It’s fine.”

“Really? You’ve been looking down lately, does it have to do with whatever this is? I think you can manage on your own, so I’ve been letting you deal with it yourself, but if there’s something wrong…”

“I don’t, so don’t worry about me.”

So annoying. So troublesome. Normally you don’t give a shit, but now you come running and pretending to be a mother. If you don’t plan to do anything, then shut the hell up.

“Well, you say that, but you’ve not been eating properly either…”

So annoying. Get out of my face.

“If you have anything —”

“Leave me alone, just leave!”

“… If you have anything, just say it, okay? Got it? Don’t keep it bottled up.”

His mother admonished him, as if coaxing a child, and left the room.

She doesn’t know anything at all, yet she pretends that she does.

He was furious.

 

The next day, everything was exactly the same, and Chihiro stepped out the front door. He seemed to be a bit later than usual, but he seemed to have left around this time yesterday as well. Has this time become “usual”, then? Whatever.

Time slowly passed.

Maybe he wasn’t alive now, but already dead.

By the time he recovered, he was already walked out of school with his bag. School was somehow already over again.

Chihiro was probably the first from the entire school to leave; there was not a single Yamaboshi High School student on the school road.

He was alone.

The summer weather ought to be blistering hot, but Chihiro hugged himself from a chill in his body.

Ever since that day, he had been like a criminal on death row, doing nothing every day.

The surrounding world left him alone, and he lived in a mediocre fashion.

After you’ve joined my side, I hope you don’t think that you can return to the original world if you only show me boring things…

Clearly, he was already no longer able to back out completely. No need to doubt that.

What exactly would happen? What would <Fuusenkazura> do to him?

Would his own memories be wiped as well? Would he be forced to do something Would be he used like equipment? Or would his existence be extinguished entirely?

He was done for.

After making that fatal mistake, his life was done for. He couldn’t restart his life; he could only press the “reset” button.

I hope that I’ll be naturally lucky in my next life, and that I won’t encounter the disaster that is <Fuusenkazura> again. — Chihiro prayed.

Let me reset myself; delete my current body.

Erase Uwa Chihiro from this world, forever — No, no, I don’t want to disappear!

“Chihiro-kun.”

He heard a clear voice.

It was a goddess-like voice.

A voice he had longed for, entered Chihiro’s ear.

Was it miracle?

It was a miracle.

This was a miracle.

Suppressing the urge to scream, Chihiro turned his head around.

A petite girl, her chestnut hair gleaming, her radiant smile exuding a brilliant warmth.

Kiriyama Yui stood there.

“… Yui-senpai?”

“Are you leaving now?”

Yui asked with an expression as warm as springtime wind.

Yui stared into his eyes, confirming his — Uwa Chihiro’s existence.

As though time had turned back to before he had stupidly failed.

“N-… Um, Yui-senpai…? Have you regained your memories?”
“Y-Yeah… after a lot of twists and turns. You have got to properly explain to me what is going on. I have the right to know, don’t I?”

Chihiro ought to be very scared and reject the idea of explaining, but now it didn’t matter. He could escape from hell, not need to fear his own crimes again, and didn’t need to disappear — what more could he hope for? Chihiro desired nothing else.

“I got it…”

Chihiro replied, and Yui invited him to discuss the matter in the clubroom.

 

“We know that this is all the handiwork of <Fuusenkazura>. It’s all his fault. And by the way, we’ve already driven him away, so you don’t need to worry.”

They were in Room 401 of the club building, the clubroom of the Cultural Research Club. Although he had not been here in some time, the clubroom was still wide open for Chihiro.

“I didn’t think that the problem would be so easily solved, as if what had happened was merely a dream.” Chihiro mumbled, and Yui replied, “Yup, it really does seem like a dream. Chihiro-kun hasn’t done anything wrong, so that’s why you should tell me absolutely everything, from the beginning.”

Seemed like a dream — Hearing her say this, Chihiro suddenly realized something. That guy’s existence and the phenomena he incites were impossible after all, it was all just a dream… Thinking this, Chihiro’s shoulders relaxed.

Words and sentences tumbled from his mouth.

“The day I decided to join the Cultural Research Club, I met <Fuusenkazura> in Gotou’s body at the nature park. He told me, that he was only greeting me that time.”

“Some days later, he showed an unbelievable power to me, and asked me if I was interested.”

“He said, that he’d give me the ability to make the second years of the Cultural Research Club see illusions, and in return, I had to make those five people more interesting. If I did it well, he’d give me even more power. I was completely hooked.”

“I thought that my life, which isn’t that bad to begin with, could be dramatically changed with this mysterious power. I wanted to make this horribly dull world more interesting. I wanted power.”

“It went very well at first. But, things got more and more difficult later on.”

“Since it wasn’t going well, <Fuusenkazura> blamed me and threatened me. I couldn’t help it, so I used my power more often, causing situations, but as you all see, it all backfired on me.”

“So I panicked, my mind weakened, and as a result, I caused an irresolvable paradox by mistake… then Yui-senpai and Taichi-senpai lost their memories… I’m really very sorry.”

“I was truly helpless… I lost myself, and couldn’t control my power…”

Inexplicably, he couldn’t stop this momentum, and Chihiro even exposed his own heartfelt emotions.

Yui nodded, listening to him quietly.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Yui inquired when Chihiro’s monologue was about to end.

“It’s a bit late for this, Chihiro-kun, but why did you decide to join the Cultural Research Club?”

Chihiro was a bit surprised; why was she asking this now? But it couldn’t hurt to respond… Hm, why, indeed? He had never seriously considered the reason behind his decision. Perhaps he could say that he was pressured by the circumstances… But before he could organize his thoughts, Chihiro’s mouth moved on its own.

It was as if his true feelings were exposed.

“Because I felt that, there was something I’ve always wanted here, yet could never quite get ahold of…”

Really?

Those words were his “honest feelings”?

Chihiro was a little embarrassed. Damn it, he’s going to let everything slip out.

“Is it because — there’s someone you like?

Yui tossed this question forward, her expression unchanged.

His heart began to pound relentlessly. What? What does that mean?

Just as Chihiro froze, Yui shook her head: “Ah, forget I asked.” Who asked? Chihiro complained in his heart with regret, but he said nothing.

“I sort of understand now. Thank you for telling me about this.”

“Ah, it’s nothing…”

Had he said too much? Chihiro began to feel uneasy. His confession had included quite a bit of extreme detail, but Yui hadn’t gotten angry at all, so Chihiro had accidentally told her everything.

But Yui hadn’t looked even a little unhappy. It should be fine, right?

“Can you wait a moment for me, then?”

Yui said, as she stood up. Was she going to the restroom?

Watching Yui’s departing figure, Chihiro’s mind suddenly realized something strange.

According to Yui, Taichi should have recovered his memory as well.

Taichi and the others would likely be very keen to find out the details of this incident, so why was Yui asking him alone? It felt a bit off.

Yui pushed the door open, walked outside, and closed the clubroom door.

After a moment, the door suddenly opened again.

 

Enjouji Shino stood there.

 

Her expression was a mix of apology and pity.

“I’m sorry, Chihiro-kun.”

Enjouji Shino said in a small voice.

Chihiro didn’t know what she meant. What’s with the sudden appearance and apology?

Wait, where did Yui go?

She’d left for less than two seconds before the door immediately opened again. These two should have bumped into each other…

I’m sorry, Chihiro-kun.

It can’t be… Chihiro shook his head.

But Enjouji was apologizing, the door had only closed for a moment before opening. No matter how he thought about it, it had been the same person who had closed and opened the door,  but Enjouji was standing outside now.

And like Chihiro, Enjouji had also encountered <Fuusenkazura>.

All of this pointed towards a single answer; every theory came out to one conclusion.
In other words…

This meant…

“You probably already understand… That Yui-senpai just now, was me. I used the power that <Fuusenkazura> gave me.”

He was played.

He, was played, by Enjouji.

And he had revealed everything.

“Heh, heh heh heh… AHA, AHAHAHAHAHAHA, HAHAHAHA!!”

For some reason, Chihiro wanted to laugh, and began to laugh loudly. Something in his heart dropped, slowly falling.

His malice, his crimes, his pettiness, his spite; all had been revealed to the world.

In this world, of course Kiriyama Yui and Yaegashi Taichi’s memories hadn’t been restored.

The other person had used the criminal’s own power to trick him and get him to confess.

He’d joined the Cultural Research Club because of something he wanted here? What kind of idiotic bilge was that. He was an enemy who had attacked the Cultural Research Club, and since he was an enemy, how could he be forgiven?

It was time to quit dreaming and realize the truth. Having hope at a time like this was purely wishful thinking. He had nowhere to run.

He really could only disappear.

The instant this notion flashed by in his mind, Chihiro shoved Enjouji aside from the door and ran off.

 

Without any goal whatsoever, Chihiro sprinted down the street.

He gradually grew breathless, and could only slow down to a walk. Sweat flowed down his head like a waterfall, and his shirt stuck unpleasantly to his skin.

He walked onto a bustling street in front of the train station. Chihiro’s eyes were immediately drawn to the karaoke bar, the fast food restaurant, the pub, and others in a messy flood of signs.

In the evening after school, there were many students strolling around downtown, probably preparing to have some fun after school.  Other than them, there were quite a lot of people of different kinds: A young man wearing a formal suit despite the stifling heat, a middle-aged housewife walking back from grocery shopping, a girl in trendy getup, and a foreign couple.

A place filled with people, people, people, people, people, people, people, people.

Fortunately, there weren’t any Yamaboshi High School students around, and Chihiro exhaled. He really did not want anyone he knew to see his haggard appearance now. There weren’t any students from his school around, but was this… was this real?

Enjouji could have used “Fantasy Projection” again. She could become anyone.

In other words, anyone around him could be Enjouji Shino.

She probably wouldn’t have chased him all the way here — but she could have.

The hundreds of people he saw all seemed normal, but one of them could be an imposter. Anyone here could be the fake. Real or fake, virtual or actual, there was no way he could tell.

This meant that everyone was an imposter.

Now, he was trapped within the cage of “Fantasy Projection”.

The instant he realized this, everyone around him seemed to be wearing masks.

A man smiled at Chihiro.

What do you want? Who are you?

Chihiro stood stock-still, and someone bumped into him from behind. A woman clicked her tongue, then walked around him.

The only ones capable of “Fantasy Projection” should be himself and Enjouji. But since even Enjouji could use it, it wouldn’t be strange for other people to get the power as well.

A female high school student in uniform was staring unceasingly at Chihiro, whispering to a girl beside her.

A group of young men walked towards him. They scattered in the street, as though to surround him.

How could this be? But, now —

He was being watched.

He was being attacked.

The entire world saw him as an enemy.

Chihiro found it only possible to think of this, so he ran away.

Running was the only thing he could do.

He couldn’t live in such a horrifying world.

Chihiro fled into the nature park.

He wanted a place with no people, but he went deep into the park by mistake. At a dilapidated bench, Chihiro immediately collapsed into it, uncaring for the state of his clothes.

He was tired. He didn’t want to move. He’d had enough.

But finally, a little peace and quiet.

He felt great by himself. Although he disliked being alone, he wanted solitude now.

There was no one around him, so he wasn’t afraid to use “Fantasy Projection”.

Chihiro now fervently believed that the five upperclassmen of the Cultural Research Club, who could live peacefully even under the attacks of the phenomena, were practically monsters.

It must have been quite some time since the last renovation; his surroundings were a mess of disrepair. The desolate atmosphere suited himself quite well, so Chihiro decided that this would be his final resting place.

This was where everything had started: the nature park where he had met <Fuusenkazura> several times. He would sometimes suddenly appear, but if he gave Chihiro time to think, he would tell him, “Come here when you’ve decided”. Even if Chihiro didn’t contact him beforehand, as long as he arrived, Fuusenkazura would be there, all the same. How exactly was he meeting him so perfectly every time? Was Gotou in cahoots with him after all?

And now, what was <Fuusenkazura> doing?

Since Chihiro was already here, then that guy would probably show up too.

<Fuusenkazura> would come.

… Ah, well, this wasn’t bad.

What kind of ending had <Fuusenkazura> prepared for him? He, who had abandoned his contract?

Would his life meet its end with <Fuusenkazura>?
If it was happening anyway, he didn’t really mind.

Very exhausted. Felt like taking a nap. Hadn’t been sleeping properly as of late.

That day, Chihiro did not return home.

===

When he woke up next morning, Chihiro felt waves of painful cramps all over his body. The bench was too rigid after all.

The space surrounded by trees felt a little chilly in the morning. A stray dog passed by, eyed him, then quickly turned around and scurried elsewhere.

Chihiro swiveled his neck, relaxing his muscles as his head gradually cleared. It was lucky that he could even spend the night in this kind of place.

What time was it? About six in the morning? He could find out just by flipping open his phone, but he really didn’t want to turn it on just to see the messages that had accumulated last night. Chihiro had told his occasionally concerned mother that he was sleeping over at a friend’s place, so there shouldn’t be anything serious going on.

It was Saturday, so he didn’t need to worry about school.

Just as he was spacing out, the sun slowly rose.

Now what? What was the situation now?

There was no doubt that Enjouji had told Nagase, Inaba, and Aoki what he had done. Besides, there was no way that Enjouji came up with that stunt yesterday on her own. Inaba probably told her to do it. Did this mean that they now saw him as nothing more than an enemy?

Up until yesterday, Chihiro still had not been exposed, but now, he was a wanted criminal.

Maybe a real criminal would have it better. Even if he committed a crime, as long as he were sentenced under law and obediently accepted his punishment, then at least he could be reborn. But he, having committed a crime outside of law, might not even be allowed redemption.

What if he simply denied it?

I don’t know. I don’t understand. What’s <Fuusenkazura>? If he could keep playing dumb like that, until it all blows over… Could he do it? Could he really live with the shame?

Then, there was only one option left.

Disappear.

After all, hadn’t he always thought this world to be horribly dull? Since he was so powerless, even if he knew his place and carried on, he’d only be suited for a muddling, perfunctory life.

No duties.

No accomplishments.

This world was horribly dull.

This world was done for.

Even if he lived on, there would be no light in this world.

So it didn’t matter.

He was already drifting along in this finished world like a sloth; why not end it sooner?

He’d been walking the path of the baddies, but in the end, he’d still go out with an explosion, like a massive firework.

“Heh heh… Heh… Heh heh heh heh…”

A great, big, ugly firework. Was that all that was left? His life would end, just like this.

End end end end end end end end end end end die

 

“I’ve finally found you, Chihiro-kun.”

 

The voice coming from behind was unusually lively.

“I’ve f-finally found you! I don’t know how long I’ve been searching since yesterday… So you’re in the nature park after all… Good grief, do you know how many times I called and messaged you? At least reply!”

Enjouji barged into Chihiro’s sight. She looked as excited as though her mind was unusually clear from not sleeping all night. Chihiro thought it was kind of funny.

“Ah, you’re laughing at me! Why are you laughing? I couldn’t find Chihiro-kun anywhere, I even called your house!”

“… Why do you care?”

Chihiro couldn’t help but interrupt. He hadn’t spoken for a long while; his voice broke for a moment.

“W-Well, I couldn’t help it. Ah, your mom answered the phone, and she asked me, ‘Isn’t he staying over at his friend’s house? May I ask who you are?’ I could only tell her that I’m Chihiro-kun’s girlfriend, and that I was fighting with you because I was jealous… She seemed to buy it.”

“Make this all a little more troublesome, why don’t you?”

Where did she get this kind of drive and impulse from? It can’t be the normal Enjouji… An imposter!

“What do you think of Taichi-senpai’s voice?”

Sexy and mature, but not without the sparkle of youth — my tentative review of Taichi-senpai’s dulcet tones! I’m accepting objections! Limited to compliments, however!”

Judging by her perverted voice-fetish, this was Enjouji all right. She was even more passionate than before.

But what was this? He’d fled here alone because he was afraid to be near anyone else, yet now he was talking normally to someone, and what’s more, it was Enjouji, who knew of his crimes.

When Enjouji had arrived, his thoughts of being done for, or wanting to disappear, had vaporized. He couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

Whoo… Anyway, it’s good that you’re okay… I was like, you don’t know where you’re running… You’d die if you aren’t careful… That sentence doesn’t count! Forget it! That’s way too unlucky!”

“… Why in the world would you want to find someone like me? You can’t have searched for the entire night…”

“I went home when it got real late.”

In other words, she went searching for me into the late night?

“… What do you want from me, then?”

Even if he wanted to be alone, he needed to let Enjouji finish her business… Can’t be helped.

Enjouji looked down at Chihiro on the bench, and sucked in a deep breath.

“Chihiro-kun, come with me. Let’s go… apologize to our senpais.”

Ahh, so those guys sent her after all?

“Hell no.”

“Mhm, thanks. You may be a little hesitant, but since I called you desperately, ran all over the place, searched for you late into the night, and came to look for you first thing in the morning, you must be deeply moved… Eh? You don’t want to come with me?”

My god, shut up, just finish this subject.

“Everything’s already over and done with, what good will my apology do?”

“It’s, it’s not over! Wh-what’s over?”

“… It’s over, isn’t it? Yui-senpai and Taichi-senpai have lost their memories, and after you snitched on me, they all know that I was behind it…”

“No, I didn’t tell them… But you already told them, haven’t you?”

“H-Hell no!”

I can’t believe it, but she doesn’t look like she’s lying.

“Are you saying that after you deceived me by yourself, you’re coming to find me by yourself too?”

“Uh-huh, yeah.”

That petite, weak, stupid Enjouji, she, by herself —

“… I really did try very hard. I went to find <Fuusenkazura> and begged him to think of something, but he didn’t even explain anything to me, told me to figure it out on my own, and gave me the power to impersonate other people…”

Chihiro was further stunned. Enjouji had not possessed her power from the beginning after all. She saw the tragedy Chihiro had created, and to crack the stalemate, ran directly to negotiate with <Fuusenkazura>.

Chihiro asked Enjouji when she had discovered <Fuusenkazura>’s existence, and learned that she had found out about it at the same time as he had. Back then, he had agreed to the deal for power, but Enjouji had declined. From then on, the two of them had walked different paths.

“I… was lured by power…”

Although it was too late to say so, Chihiro felt nothing but regret for wallowing in desire at the time.

“I’m just… a coward, nothing more.”

Enjouji mumbled. For just an instant, she seemed to change back into her usual weak, useless self.

“But even if I am a coward, I also feel… that it’s wrong to do nothing. I clearly felt something happen back then, but I didn’t do anything. Taichi-senpai and Yui-senpai became like that because of me…”

“What do you mean, ‘because of you’?”

You feel guilty just at this level?

“I was a bystander, when I was really also part of the culprit.”

By that logic, what did that make him, the total, utter culprit?

Chihiro suddenly grew impatient. He wanted to hit someone. He didn’t want to talk cooperate with Enjouji anymore.

“… So, what then? What happens after we go and explain the long and short of it to them, then apologize?”

“Uhh… Um…”

“What can we do then? Can we solve anything? I don’t think so!”

Just by Chihiro probing her, Enjouji suddenly looked terrible; she was so easy to read.

“Y-You’re not w-wrong… But if we discuss this with the senpais, maybe we can find some clues. <Fuusenkazura>’s said before that they have already experienced many of these phenomena. If we just tell them everything, and work together…”

“Are you saying that if everyone discusses this all friendly-like, we can work something out?”

How idealistic. This world wasn’t that reasonable, that simple. Chihiro was already familiar with this to the point of repugnance.

“But…”

Enjouji looked to be on the verge of tears, and hung her head.

This development again?

She seemed to be somewhat determined, but the embers of her passion were much too weak, and would disappear in a wisp of smoke with just one breath. This filled Chihiro with rage. If you can’t do it in the beginning, then don’t bite off more than you can chew, don’t have so much hope — these words could apply to his past self as well.

If a nobody tried to dabble in unrealistic dreams, they were only heading toward a tragic ending.

So he had to stop her, to prevent this from becoming a disaster…

Enjouji looked up, her expression firm, full of determination.

“We have to do something. We have to take action. We have to change.”

Chihiro didn’t get a chance to interrupt.

Ahh, I see.

“I will change myself, and I will fight hard to the end; I can absolutely solve this situation.”

Has Enjouji already changed? Already stepped into that world?

Thinking about waking her up before something bad happens, now that was stupid.

He wasn’t that altruistic. He just didn’t want to be abandoned.

Chihiro noticed his own attempts to justify himself, and his own weak state that was becoming rude and impulsive.

Sucked into the Cultural Research Club as he was, Enjouji had a basically similar personality to him; the two of them were birds of a feather.

But right now, Chihiro was forced to realize the definite difference between them.

Enjouji Shino had stepped on the righteous path.

Uwa Chihiro had been led astray.

If she could head towards there, he really wished that she could have told him earlier; if it was going to end like this, he wished so much that she could have warned him. That way, maybe, he too, just maybe, could also —

“So, Chihiro-kun.”

Enjouji, on the righteous path, called the name of Chihiro, led astray.

“Let’s fight together.”

She hoped.

“… Fight together?”

Why did she need him? She shouldn’t need him at all.

“I’ll try hard too, but I need Chihiro-kun’s strength. So let’s work hard together!”

She needed him.

“You talk about working hard, and you didn’t really do anything bad. That doesn’t matter, but I’m the main culprit! How do you expect me to have the nerve to ‘work hard’?!”

Ahh, what the hell am I saying? It’s like I really want to give it a go.

No, that’s it, isn’t it? That’s probably really it.

It seemed like something similar had happened before. His mouth had betrayed his true feelings before his brain could react.

Hearing Chihiro’s shouts, Enjouji hesitated for a moment, as though perplexed over whether she should have said all of that.

Then, Chihiro noticed something.

He was anticipating Enjouji’s reply. He saw hope.

There was a savior. Someone willing to save him. Someone who could save him.

Even if this world was utterly boring, even if this world was completely meaningless, even if this world was done for, no matter how fucked up this world was — he didn’t want it all to end now, he didn’t want to disappear like this! Even if he was splitting hairs over the matter, that’s how it was!

That’s why Chihiro believed Enjouji and entrusted his hope to her, waiting for her rescue, and her well-wishes.

“T-The enemy changing his ways and becoming your partner… p-pretty passionate, isn’t it?”

How he wished he could have said that with a straight face. Since he was embarrassed himself, he made that hackneyed phrase sound even colder, and the scene suddenly cooled. If he wasn’t used to this, then he shouldn’t have tried to show off.

Come to think of it, ever since the beginning, things had been going stupidly. What the hell were they doing?

“Um, uhh… I’ve done bad things too. It’d be too arrogant of me to talk about working hard… What’s done is done and you can’t change the past, but if I still do nothing because of that, I’ll just become even worse. If I know that it’s not okay, then I need to change, starting now.”

Change, starting now… But with things the way they were now, how would he change his path?

“If only we can get back their memories, we won’t become even worse… Probably.”

Was there still the possibility that he wasn’t going to become even worse?

How much more did he want Enjouji to say? What did he want her to say?

He’d already decided what he wanted to do.

Chihiro wanted to fight.

He wanted to join the losers’ counterattack.

Even if his crimes wouldn’t disappear, Chihiro still wanted to redeem himself.

And, if possible, he wanted to return to the beginning.

He couldn’t lie to himself about not wanting to return.

“I went through a lot to meet <Fuusenkazura>, just for you, Chihiro-kun!”

She emphasized a strange point.

“So what? I don’t know how many times I’ve met him.”

“D-Don’t say that! You make my effort look really easy!”

Enjouji was genuinely upset. She really was amusing.

Chihiro pushed against the bench and stood up.

Watching him stand, Enjouji’s expression brightened up. He hadn’t said anything yet!

“Well, it seems like… I better apologize and explain.”

“H-Hooray! Thank you!”

Enjouji threw her arms up in delight. Her movements were very stiff; she was clearly not used to expressing happiness. Had she ever been this joyful in her entire life?

“I… can change Chihiro-kun, I… can change…”

Chihiro had no way of knowing Enjouji’s personal situation, but had he really changed? He didn’t know.

“… Do you want to change, Enjouji?”

“Yep, one day… I want to become like our senpais.”

Enjouji discussed her dream with a radiant smile. With the way she was now, Chihiro could no longer deny its plausibility, because she had slowly but surely, taken action.

Compared to her, he… Well, he needed to make amends first. For now, he’d forget about whether he would be forgiven, because if he didn’t resolve the problem right in front of him there was no way he could continue.

No matter the punishment, Chihiro was willing to take it. Even if it involved him getting beat up.

Once he became determined to accept punishment, a huge burden lifted from his shoulders, and he felt much better. Maybe what he was missing all along was the courage to face admit his wrongdoing. He had kept trying to dodge punishment, but was forced into a dead end instead.

Take it like a man, that was what he needed — the correct answer.

Even Enjouji had changed so much; maybe he could change as well.

Even for such a bastard who had been led astray because of <Fuusenkazura>, he could also take step after step towards the righteous path.

Then, Chihiro wanted to become someone he himself revered.

 

Although it was Saturday, the two of them still decided to ask Nagase, Inaba, and Aoki to come out. Since it was a bit much to have them come in uniform, they decided to meet in a park near school.

Chihiro and Enjouji stood at the meeting point, and twenty minutes passed in dead silence. At some point, neither of them dared to move; both stood utterly stock-still, their legs growing stiff.

Ahem!

Enjouji cleared her throat twice. Chihiro turned, only to see her face pale.

“Hey, are you all right?”

“I’m O-OK! Everything’s, fine… Uhguu…”

She slapped a hand over her mouth as though she were about to throw up.

“Uh, you don’t look fine. Why don’t you should go and rest somewhere?”

“That’s not much, coming from someone whose face is so white he looks near death.”

“That’s another matter…”

She was really pushing it. But was his face really that white?

“W-Will they go off on us? Um… I think they will.”

Enjouji’s words solidified the source of their unease, and made Chihiro realize this problem.

“Going off” was too soft of a description, she should have used something more intense.

“Wasn’t this your idea? And you had to call them out right now.”

How was he cheering her up now? Role reversal.

“But… Ah!”

The casually clothed trio walked before the duo.

Inaba, Nagase, and Aoki walked shoulder to shoulder. They couldn’t have bumped into each other by chance here; they probably met up somewhere else beforehand. What were they discussing amongst themselves?

Their expressions were not kind, but not overly stern.

What did he look like to those three now? Chihiro tried to imagine, but felt scared, so he quickly flung the image away from his mind.

Chihiro wanted to run far, far away, right now.

In this type of situation, those people would only express hatred and loathing. It was frightening; Chihiro wanted very much to run.

He wanted very much to run, did he?

Chihiro looked to his side, and saw Enjouji trembling, clenching her fists. Her lips were pressed tightly together, eyes brimming with tears, but she didn’t run, looking bravely ahead.

Enjouji was trying really hard.

So how could he leave her and flee?

Before she ran away, he would never. He couldn’t lose to her, absolutely not. So before that, endure, endure, endure it.

 

Enjouji occasionally cut in, but the explanation was mostly Chihiro’s doing,

“— So that’s how it is.”

As he explained, Chihiro felt himself becoming paler and paler.

Enjouji’s tensionless tone numbed him, and he somehow misread the severity of the situation. It was easy to say it, but they must actually do so — although they thought so at the beginning, in retrospect, it was absurd; this was no longer a matter of whether they were forgiven or not.

The trio’s expressions didn’t change: they occasionally closed their eyes and lowered their heads in contemplation, listening to Chihiro talk.

Their unchanging faces added to his unease. Enjouji looked to be feeling the same, her body shaking without end.

“I… I’m really very sorry!”

Chihiro’s knees sank to the ground of their own accord, and he prostrated himself in apology. Humans would naturally kneel down in situations like these, Chihiro thought in an inexplicably impartial manner.

Taking the punishment, edging closer to the righteous path, to go back to normal?

Boundaries existed for how carefree he could be. The more heinous the crime, the less likely he was to receive a second chance.

“I-I’m sorry… Um, I couldn’t… do anything either!”

Enjouji dropped down too, her voice becoming sobs.

No one spoke. The air was filled only with Enjouji’s nonstop sniffling.

It was the longest seconds in a lifetime.

“Hey, you two.”

Inaba spoke first.

He had destroyed her love with her boyfriend, and everything between them, creating an irreversible situation. So no matter what she did to him, it wouldn’t be out of the question.

“The hell are you pulling?! Stop kidding around, you idiots!”

Her voice was loud enough to rupture his eardrums. Every fiber of her being flew into a rage, but yeah, he couldn’t blame her.

He’d already prepared himself, but when he was really faced with her outrage, he recoiled, unable to move. Nagase and Aoki’s eyes overlooking him felt like he were sitting on a bed of pins and needles.

If only he had never started this whole twisted thing, if only he had never known Yui.

If only he had never been here —

Guilt gushed forth, assaulting Chihiro.

He felt as if guilt would completely consume him… He wanted nothing more than swift, severe judgment.

“Stand up, Shino.”

Inaba took Enjouji’s hand and helped her up.

“Look up, Chihiro.”

Chihiro gingerly lifted his head. Inaba’s face was right in front of his eyes. Chihiro shut them in fright.

“You bastaaaarrrd~~~~~! Take this!”

Thwack!

Something tiny and rigid struck his head.

“Ow!”

Chihiro opened his eyes and rubbed his forehead.

He’d been… flicked on the forehead?

“Get up and dust yourself off, Chihiro! You too, Shino!”

“… Eh? What… Eh?”

Inaba ignored the dumbfounded Chihiro and helped pat the sand from his clothing.

“Oh! That’s good, I thought for a second that Inaban was really gonna lose it! You okay, Shino-chan?”

Nagase sidled up to Enjouji and patted down her clothes.

Enjouji also looked confused:

“Eh? U-Um, seriously?”

Their upperclassmen’s reactions were completely unexpected. No matter how much they punished him, it wouldn’t have been out of the question. But he was only scolded and flicked on the forehead. That was it?

“Shino, you didn’t do anything wrong. Chihiro, I can’t help but reprimand you a little, but you’re not in trouble either.”

Inaba declared thusly.

Chihiro hadn’t revealed everything, but he had exposed the worst of his inner thoughts, and told them that none of it was out of his own control, but rather, Chihiro had lost to his selfish, feeble heart. That was obvious, so why was he guiltless?

Then Nagase spoke up:

“We are the ones… who must apologize. We clearly knew of <Fuusenkazura>, the worst existence in the world, but we kept you in the dark, and invited you to the club…”

“Ah! In any case, it’s killing me to stand around like this, so let’s go find somewhere to sit down.”

Aoki quipped. He led the way as all five of them shifted positions slightly and each took a seat in a playset or beside a flower bed.

Then, Inaba and the others explained the relationship between <Fuusenkazura> and the Cultural Research Club to Chihiro and Shino. It seemed that the relationship between them ran deeper than Chihiro had imagined.

“In any case, we clearly knew that we would be involving you, but we still invited you to join the club. Although you weren’t involved in the worst possible scenario we could imagine, you were still dragged into this weird situation. We apologize.”

As Inaba bowed her head in apology, Nagase and Aoki also said “Sorry”, “I’m sorry”, and apologized.

“No… You don’t need to apologize, senpais…”

Enjouji looked terrified, and Chihiro helped to smooth things over:

“That is… No matter how you look at it, the guilty ones are myself and <Fuusenkazura>…”

“That’s right, Chihhi, <Fuusenkazura> is the guilty one! So you don’t need to blame yourself too much!”

The instigator of everything was that guy moving in the shadows, so it was pointless for them to argue like this — this was the position of Inaba and the others.

“It’s just that, some things did indeed anger me.”

Inaba’s tone of voice changed.

Ahh, so he was going to be punished after all…

“I say, you guys… if it stressed you out that much, why didn’t you tell us? That’s got to be the most basic thing you can do!”

“She means that we really want you to depend on us, your senpais, more!”

“Inaba, Iori, you’re not wrong, but —”

The three second years chatted around like always.

What was going on?

This was too much; he was much lesser than they. They were actually able to take those kinds of actions, and forgive them as though he hadn’t done anything at all?

Even if the most basic culprit was <Fuusenkazura>, even if it was because of the Cultural Research Club second years that they came into contact with him, could those kinds of actions really be forgiven? At least, he couldn’t do that.

“B-But… Taichi-senpai and Yui-senpai…”

Hearing Enjouji say this, Nagase and Aoki’s expressions suddenly froze.

But after a moment, their frozen faces thawed.

Inaba spoke first:

“No worries. No matter when, us five got through those phenomena together. Although those two weren’t able to fight with us this time, similar situations have happened before. This time it’s no different…”

Then Aoki continued her sentence:

“That is, it’s not just us this time, but Shino and Chihiro as well! In other words, that’s us five! As long as it’s us five, we’re unstoppable!”

And Nagase finished:

“Well said, Aoki! Let’s work together, everyone, and become victorious once more!”

She grinned widely.

What was going on? What the hell was going on? What the hell was this?

Chihiro had already prepared himself for justice, but he’d just rushed at thin air. If it ended just like this, it was only forcing him to realize the crushing differences between them.

Chihiro thought he had understood, but with reality right in front of him, his heart remained perpetually frustrated.

A problem that stressed the hell out of them wasn’t even worth mentioning to these guys.

He wanted to become like them? Impossible.

Before these gods, no matter how much he, an imposter, tried to show off, it was all a joke. He was only being forced to realize that no matter how hard he tried, an imposter was still an imposter.

Chihiro noticed that he was always evasive, but when he had plucked up the courage to admit his wrongdoings and steeled himself to take it like a man, he discovered that he was facing an utterly towering precipice.

Chihiro knew that his upperclassmen had already reached a certain realm. He was clearly envious of them, but had never observed them closely, merely hazily imagining and thinking that he understood.

Right now, it was Chihiro’s first time facing this precipice.

He had absolutely no way of climbing it.

Just by looking at those three, Chihiro felt as though the world were discarding him, as though they were saying to him: You can stay over there for your entire life.

“… By the way, we’ve decided amongst ourselves that you guys’ll help. Is that okay?”

Nagase asked, restoring her serious expression.

Help?

Where did they need his help? What use would he fulfill? Chihiro thought, but said nothing.

The silence continued for a while. See, Enjouji is the same way —

“O-Of course! I-I’ll do all I can to help everyone!”

“Great, thank you, Shino-chan!”

Nagase grinned, as Inaba and Aoki smiled too. Enjouji beamed, and the atmosphere became peacefully warm.

Really? Enjouji is already on that side? She was once in Chihiro’s shoes, but Enjouji probably possessed that kind of aptitude from the very beginning. After all, she had an honest personality, and her soul seemed quite pure.

If these prerequisites didn’t exist, maybe it would be impossible to explain why only Enjouji had suddenly changed?

“Chi, Chihiro-kun… can we?”

Enjouji asked, glancing at him fearfully.

Chihiro was already no longer able to see her as a partner.

He was alone here.

“… It makes sense, I’ll… help too.”

Chihiro agreed; the current atmosphere didn’t permit a “no” anyway.

“Well then, we should think in detail about how to deal with this, but there isn’t anything we can write with. Let’s head home first, change into uniform and meet in the clubroom.”

Inaba suggested, and Aoki and Nagase immediately responded:

“Got it, Inaba!”

“All right, there’s no stopping now! Full steam ahead for today and Sunday tomorrow! When school starts on Monday, we’ll charge even faster!”

“I, I… do my best, too!”

Enjouji was also filled with enthusiasm.

Just as everyone was about to step away, Nagase added:

“Oh, right, we really need everyone’s strength to solve this problem now, and that’s why we asked for your help. But after all of this blows over, you can leave the Cultural Research Club if you want.”

They’ve already thought about what happens afterwards, and remembered to think of them, too; this completely surpassed Chihiro’s line of reasoning.

The five of them started home all at once.

Chihiro walked with the others for a bit, but since his route was different from everyone else, he said goodbye to them on the way.

Inaba, Nagase, Aoki, and Enjouji gradually drifted far away from him.

Now alone, Chihiro dropped shakily to his knees.

He no longer had the strength to stand and fight.

“I don’t think… I can carry on…”

Chihiro thought, at least if he could receive his punishment, it would be okay. That way, maybe he could have closure in his heart, bid his current self farewell, and be born again.

Even though Chihiro had taken it like a man, he’d only experienced despair, let alone find escape.

The world will not change.

He couldn’t do it today. He couldn’t bring himself to do anything.

No, Chihiro understood that he had things that he absolutely must do, had important matters that must be attended to, but he couldn’t do it now, yet he had to do it. So, yes — he’d begin working tomorrow.

 

Even when the meeting time came, Chihiro did not leave for the clubroom.

===

After Sunday came and went, Monday arrived, and the Athletics Festival was only a week away.

He felt dead the entire day yesterday, and still felt terrible upon waking up this morning.

Utterly terrible. He was supposed to meet in the clubroom on Saturday, but Chihiro had left them out to dry. On Sunday, too, the Cultural Research Club seemed to have some kind of activity, but Chihiro had failed to participate.

After missing the first opportunity, he was even more scared of going to the second. The difficulty of it had increased far too much, and it was already too late —  his whole body was bound by such thoughts.

No, it wasn’t that. He hadn’t gone for a specific reason. Chihiro had been losing sleep, spent a night outside, and had ruined his health. His body ached and he couldn’t put on any weight… he didn’t have a fever, though.

If he properly explained that to them, they’d understand, right? They were definitely willing to forgive something even worse, so it’d be okay, right?

But could he bring himself to ask them to let him join at this time? Where would he get that kind of courage?

Why hadn’t he taken action that day? Why did he think it would be fine if he did nothing?

From the bottom of his heart, Chihiro despised what he did back then.

Although he was afraid even to go to school, his body still automatically prepared itself. Chihiro had always held in contempt those types of mindless drones who knew only how to go with the flow, but he was actually one of them.

When he left the house in the morning, his mother, specifically coming to the vestibule to see him off, had said:

“By the way you look, it seems that your problem still isn’t resolved, so you need to really talk about it with your girlfriend.”

Apparently, Enjouji had pulled an intensely bizarre excuse with his mother.

“Uh, that was…”

“Sometimes both sides can be too emotional, so there’s no harm in spending some time away from each other, is there?”

She was actually making suggestions spiritedly.

“Hey, listen to me…”

“When you guys make up, you can bring her home as a guest… Ah, if it gets out of hand, just cool down for a while, and find another girl; you’re high school students anyway, so even if you have as many relationships as you want —”

Since it was too troublesome, he decided to ignore her and leave the vestibule.

After arriving at the classroom, Chihiro immediately scanned the scene, discovered that Enjouji had not come yet, and exhaled.

“Uwa.”

Shimono, sitting in front of him, pointed at Chihiro’s bag with his mechanical pencil.

“… What’s up with my bag? Huh?… You want me to put my bag on the table and open it?”

Although he couldn’t understand him, Chihiro did as he was motioned anyway.

Uwa quickly pulled out something wrapped in a paper bag from his own bag, and stuffed it into Chihiro’s.

What was he doing? Astonished, Chihiro peered at the contents of the paper bag —

“Hey, stop! Don’t take it out here!”

— There was a cover almost completely plastered with the color of human flesh; a so-called “A-movie”.

“… The hell are you trying to do… Hey!”

Just as Chihiro was getting more and more suspicious, Tada, who had just arrived, came near Chihiro’s seat.

“Hm? Oh, Tada, listen, I just gave Uwa a wonderful present.”

“Really, well, then… I suppose I’ll need to give him a present too? Uwa, let’s hang out together some time. Although we haven’t decided on a date yet, there’ll be girls involved.”

“Wh-what the hell is that ‘present’?! That’s no longer just a present!”

Shimono reacted before Chihiro could.

“Anyway… Why are you guys giving me stuff? It’s not my birthday or some kind of holiday.”

“How do I put it? Because you’ve been looking really down lately. But it’s already good that you can talk normally like this.”

Hearing Tada say that, Shimono continued, grinning: “Indeed, you were pretty bad for a while.”
“Are you guys… comforting me?”

“Don’t say it aloud, it’s embarrassing.”

“Maybe we are.”

Why were they suddenly doing this for him? What good did it do? What was their goal?

“So Shimono’s giving me a movie… and Tada’s giving me a real girl…”

“You don’t need to criticize even that, do you?! I feel empty too!”

“Ha ha ha, not bad, Uwa.”

Tada chuckled at Chihiro’s quip.

Chihiro suddenly realized that he was also entering the circle of laughter, very naturally at that.

It was much too natural, much too simple.

He’d obviously been abandoned by the world, but what now?

A warm atmosphere surrounded Chihiro.

Were humans really such warm beings?

“Well, what do you think, Uwa?”

“… Huh? Ah… Well, let’s pick a day after the Athletics Festival ends.”

Chihiro could not bring himself to coldly reject Tada’s invitation, so he accepted it.

“Great, then that’s decided. But… Athletics Festival, huh?”

Tada smirked bitterly, and Shimono spoke in a low voice:

“How do I put it~? Since a lot of classes are unusually serious about it, I think we’re gonna lose badly.”

“In other words… With things the way they are now, we can’t save our asses anymore.”

Both chuckled, as though they had more to say.

 

During class, Chihiro ignored the teacher’s endless torrent of a lecture, and thought.

He was once under the despairing impression that it was over; he thought that he would be facing the worst world imaginable today.

But the world was unusually gentle.

Chihiro discovered that, even though he wanted to reject everything, there would still be someone concerned for him, and would help him.

Whether it was Enjouji, Inaba, Nagase, Aoki, his mother, Shimono, or Tada.

For everything wrong that Chihiro did, the world did not blame him. Instead, it tried to protect him, vile as he was.

This was different from how he knew it before. This world shouldn’t be like this. This world should be crueler, and only innately lucky people should be rewarded.

Was he wrong?

The question kept popping up in a corner of his mind.

Chihiro hadn’t been this enthusiastic for some time. He even went as far as to think that if he searched for it, he’d find the answer.

Chihiro tried to search.

He swiveled his head back and forth, surveying the classroom.

It was Classical Japanese class. Some were diligently taking notes, some were spacing out, and some were slumped on their desks, asleep… No, of course Chihiro didn’t think the answer was in the classroom.

Chihiro met eyes with a boy. He also seemed unfit to listen to the lecture, bored out of his mind.

The boy grinned at him, and Chihiro couldn’t help but grin back.

For some reason, Chihiro lowered his head, trying not to laugh. The awareness of being deliberate partners in crime created a momentarily bizarre, comical feeling.

It shocked him that he was able to smile. It was clearly meaningless, there was clearly nothing, he clearly felt such a strong sense of despair, yet he had still smiled.

Then, Chihiro thought of something.

Maybe… his perspective of the world was wrong after all.

Even though Chihiro had always believed that the world had abandoned him.

But actually…

It wasn’t like that. This world was actually loving him, wasn’t it?

As long as he changed his perspective, changed his thoughts.

He hadn’t been punished, so he couldn’t be reborn. But since he hadn’t been punished, this also meant that no one hated him.

The matter with Yui and Taichi was a sin, but Inaba and the others believed that they would be all right. In other words, this whole thing would be all right.

Maybe he was overthinking it?

In reality, the simpler this world was, the easier people could live. Compared to himself, when those people who seemingly thought of nothing led their lives so well, was it because they had already simply accepted this truth?

Was this what he needed — the correct answer?

When he thought of this, he knew that this was the correct answer, because Inaba, Enjouji, and the others, were living so happily. Since he had finally discovered this precious truth, maybe he could succeed along with them as well.

Chihiro felt his mood lift, as though his very soul were excited… No, no, he was very calm.

Before now, his luck was running low, but now that sort of misfortune had ceased. Enjouji had helped him find an escape, and now, objectively, his luck had been improving ever since.

If it were now, he could do it. He could only take action in this mood.

With this momentum, Chihiro concealed his embarrassed attitude, and stood in front of Enjouji at the front of the classroom.

Enjouji looked up from her seat at Chihiro.

He had to do it now. If he didn’t do it, he’d never be able to do it again — Chihiro urged himself on, convincing himself.

“Um…”

Chihiro forced himself to pluck up his courage, but it was still embarrassing.

Enjouji was clearly looking up at him, but it felt like she was looking down upon him.

“I’m really sorry… about Saturday.”

Chihiro was unable to look her in the eye as he spoke.

“Because my mind and body had hit their limit that day…”

“And?”

Enjouji’s reaction was unexpected. Chihiro had been expecting her to chirp, “Let’s work hard together!”, but that didn’t happen. She looked as though she were trying to see him clearly.

“So… I want to know if there’s anything I can help with now.”

“R-Really… Hm, I see.”

Enjouji nodded, slightly nervously.

“Well, about that thing, how much progress have you guys gone through?”

“A-Anyway, come with me first, since it’ll be bad if we’re overheard.”

Enjouji replied, and led Chihiro into the hallway.

After confirming that no one was nearby, she began:
“Um, we’ve been monitoring places where <Fuusenkazura> has appeared before, because that guy may be able to restore their memories. When <Fuusenkazura> meets me or Chihiro-kun, he always does it in the nature park, so he seems to like that place a lot now.”

This was the first matter — Enjouji said, then continued:

“A-And then, we’ve been slowly trying to talk about the past to Taichi-senpai and Yui-senpai. This is very taxing for both of them, so we can’t act boldly, and that’s why we decided to take it slow. Ah, also, we’re trying to befriend them, without connection to the past. We’ve also considered shock therapy, which is to use that power to create an irresolvable paradox, but that plan’s too dangerous, so we’re saving it for later. Other than that, Inaba-senpai and the others think that if they make themselves interesting, that guy should show up, so we’re also thinking of using this method…”

A great flood of information gushed into his mind. He never thought that they would be formulating so many plans, and had already taken action. Although she was stuttering a little, Enjouji still explained everything from end to end, which was also greatly surprising to Chihiro.

“R-Really? Then… What can I do?” Chihiro asked.

Then, Enjouji began to look observant again.

“I don’t know.”

He felt as if he had been lowered a rope that led somewhere other than his destination.

“Uh… Hey, you know…”

What did that mean? He was indeed slower, but he had clearly expressed his willingness to help, and yet didn’t get receive anything remotely close to gratitude. If he took action, maybe he would change. As Enjouji had said, “You have to take action, then change.” The most important thing was that his luck should be flourishing right now.

“Ah… Uh, um… You should ask Inaba-senpai and the others.”

I see, I see, so I should do that next?

“I’m really sorry… Um, I want to help do something too.”

After school, Chihiro headed towards the clubroom, and apologized to everyone with his head bowed.

Although his stomach had complained on the way to the clubroom, the time had been decided beforehand, so he couldn’t be late. Besides, Enjouji had told him to do it, so he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“I’m late because my mind and body were acting up a bit, but…”

Chihiro lifted his head and stole a glance at Inaba, Nagase, and Aoki’s expressions. They didn’t look welcoming at all; everyone’s faces were stern. This had to be the same as when he had apologized last time, a sign that they would accept him afterwards like nothing had happened. Chihiro thought so, but —

“Hey, Chihiro… Have you prepared yourself?”

Inaba stared at him, asking stiffly.

Was she testing him? He couldn’t blame her.

“Wh… Yeah.”

Although he didn’t know what kind of preparation Inaba meant, he should already be prepared anyway.

“… What do you think, Iori?”

“Hmm… I think Chihhi’s strength in this is needed, but…”

But what?

They didn’t look welcoming.

It was as though the atmosphere were saying, we don’t need Chihiro. This was too weird.

“Anyway, let’s have him do something first.”
Aoki suggested, and Inaba nodded sternly.

“I say, do you not have an ounce of independence?”

“Huh? Ahh, I’m not used to bringing up my own ideas…”

“Why?”

“Uh… because…”

“Inaban.”

Nagase stopped Inaba, who was in a very bad mood.

Why was she forcing answers out of him like this? Chihiro didn’t know what this attitude of hers meant.

The first thing that came out of his mouth was an offer to help, and he had even apologized. Although Chihiro knew that this wasn’t really worthy of praise, but since they were able to forgive that kind of wrongdoing, what was there to be angry about now?

Did he do it wrong?

Or was his impression of all of it wrong? Was this world actually not pure, simple, and gentle?

Someone tell him, he may look like this, but he was really frantically searching for answers, and trying to take action.

Someone talk to him, tell him that everything will be okay if he does that.

But the reality was cruel; Inaba merely said: “You can go home today.”

===

Chihiro received a text from Inaba first thing in the morning, telling everyone to gather at the clubroom. Although he felt a little awkward, he immediately agreed. Because she had asked him to.

“Chihiro’s mission is to try and get in contact with <Fuusenkazura>, request that he explain everything, and if possible, try to negotiate with him… In short, just try and bump into <Fuusenkazura>.”

Inaba had told him this in the clubroom building before first period, and had added a few instructions. The other members were also gathered there.

After Chihiro explained in detail the circumstances under which he had met <Fuusenkazura>, Inaba said: “So the most probable location is the nature park after all”, but he would only appear when he felt like it, so it was unclear whether they could see him as according to plan.

No matter what, the fact that he had a mission made Chihiro breath a sigh of relief. He was needed, and he could take action to help solve the problem.

Then, everyone discussed simplistically, and Chihiro listened quietly.

Since they didn’t have much time, when everyone was about to end the conversation, Enjouji spoke up:

“Ah, um… I’m thinking, because <Fuusenkazura> will be entering Gotou-sensei’s body… W-We only need to monitor Gotou-sensei, don’t we?”

“Hmm? Ahh, that plan won’t work at all. Because when we monitor him from the side, that guy won’t possess him no matter what.”

Hearing Inaba’s reply, Chihiro became more and more unconvinced. At this rate, could they really encounter <Fuusenkazura> as they thought?

“Ah… I see, I’m sorry, I troubled you guys…”

“It’s nothing, Shino-chan! Suggest away!”

“Y-Yes! I-I will try my best, Iori-senpai.”

It seemed that Enjouji had completely blended into her upperclassmen’s circle.

 

After school, Chihiro left for the nature park alone.

Chihiro walked inside by himself. He’d never thought that this would become somewhere he frequented.

Come to think of it, ever since <Fuusenkazura> had threatened him, he’d never met him after that.  It was Enjouji who had seen him recently, so he felt that she had a higher chance of encountering him.

Chihiro advanced, stepping on fallen branches.

Don’t think you can peacefully return to the original world — he had threatened him so, but no direct retribution had come.

Did this mean that he was still considering? Or was the loss of those two’s memories the very thing that <Fuusenkazura> had threatened?

His own crimes, were his greatest punishment — really?

If so, he couldn’t help but feel too despaired, and could only spend the rest of his life criticized by guilt.

What should he do?

Of course, the best thing would be to recover those two’s memories, so he should be working towards that.

Could memories really be recovered?… No, they must be. If he didn’t believe it, how could he continue to fight… Don’t think you can peacefully return to the original world — No.

Chihiro couldn’t see the ending of this story.

Chihiro only just realized that ever since this had all begun, he had never thought about a way to end it. He clearly wanted to step into an unusual world, yet he hadn’t been prepared at all.

He’d thought he was someone powerful.

He’d obviously only received that power by chance.

Chihiro became immeasurably self-satisfied upon receiving the power, and told himself that he wanted to climb upwards.

But where exactly did “upwards” mean?

Nothing belonged to Chihiro; he had not a single one of his thoughts was formulated from scratch.

Chihiro suddenly realized: where is this?
While walking aimlessly, he had arrived somewhere he had never been.

Chihiro was thinking of nothing. It was the same now, too; he was standing here because he had been ordered to do so. Chihiro was merely following orders, and was happy to.

Huh? Wait.

— After sighting <Fuusenkazura>, what was he supposed to do then?

 

“Is it going to end like this… Eh, Uwa-san?”

 

Such a voice came from within the woods.

A voice like a moan from the depths of hell.

“A certain object” entered Chihiro’s view.

It was the “certain object” who was not angry at all, in Gotou’s form.

This was after school, right? The teachers should be at school, was it okay for them to come outside like this? How did he get outside? How did he know what they were planning? He’s even controlling this — Chihiro’s mind was filled with questions that didn’t need to slip out.

<Fuusenkazura> was here.

<Fuusenkazura> was — was here.

Chihiro had tried to contact him, and succeeded. Now what should he do? Ask him for an explanation, negotiate with him, but this was horrible timing. Inaba had given him detailed instructions… but had she explained how to ask <Fuusenkazura> for an explanation, and how to negotiate with him?
“You haven’t been… using your power recently… has it already ended?” <Fuusenkazura> asked.

Chihiro’s body went rigid.

He heard the sound of large breaths being taken. Were they his own? It felt difficult to breathe, like he was lacking oxygen.

What was <Fuusenkazura> doing?

Did only he feel this way?

Was he alone in having this feeling?

“Oh, dear… You can’t just stay silent… Is it really going to end like this? Then, I’ll… end you?”

So there is another punishment?

A punishment crueler than that.

A punishment that will be directly applied onto him.

What is it…?

Memories?

Will he forget everything?

“Do you think everything would end just like that?”

He shouldn’t have said that aloud.

Perhaps he can see through his heart?

“P… Please stop… Spare me… I don’t want…”

Chihiro emitted a trembling voice; maybe even tears fell from his eyes, and he dropped to his knees right then and there.

“Oh dear… Well… Hmm…”

His flat voice terrified Chihiro even further.

Chihiro had thought that he wanted to be punished, and had once lamented his lack of punishment, yet ended up like this. He talked about becoming like this or that because he didn’t get punished, and it all turned out to be an excuse to escape, to justify his own actions.

<Fuusenkazura>’s eyes flashed. This is the end, Chihiro thought. This is the end, this is scary.

Who will come save meIt seems a little too late to say that, but who will come save me…

Please, just this once.

Save me.

 

“Ah… Fuusen… <Fuusenkazura>!”

 

A third voice.

Was it the voice of redemption?

Chihiro turned to look behind him.

Appearing before him was his savior — Enjouji Shino.

“You’re kidding me… It happened… Ah, wait!”

Enjouji sprinted forward, and Chihiro turned his eyes back, only to see <Fuusenkazura> disappear into the woods.

“W-Wait! Ow!”

Enjouji went sprawling onto the ground and crawled back up, moaning.

“Chi-Chihiro-kun, what’re you doing? We have to catch up to him! We need to capture that guy!”

“… Huh?”

Chihiro stood up, but he could no longer see <Fuusenkazura>’s silhouette, and couldn’t hear footsteps.

“… H-He got away?”

Originally wanting to chase after him but stopping her footsteps, Enjouji murmured, “Tell them first anyway”, and pulled out her phone. She seemed to be reporting what had just happened to Inaba.

“… Okay, then I’ll stay here, please watch the school gate, senpais.”
It appeared to be an official <Fuusenkazura> capture operation, but, all <Fuusenkazura> needed to do was pull himself away from Gotou’s consciousness, so it seemed pointless… wasn’t it?

Enjouji finished her call and put her phone away.

“… Chihiro-kun.”

Enjouji looked back at him, her expression very severe. Chihiro had never seen such an face on her. The emotion this expression conveyed was… rage?

“Chihiro-kun, why… why did you just let him go like that?! Why didn’t you chase after him? That was… That was a once in a blue moon opportunity! Tell me, why?!

She called that an “opportunity”? No, no matter how he looked at it, it had to be danger, right? A dangerous situation from which he had narrowly escaped.

“Chihiro-kun should be aware that we need to capture <Fuusenkazura>, shouldn’t you?!”

Enjouji shouted, seizing Chihiro’s uniform. Driven by her emotions, she shook him with both hands. Chihiro let her shake him, bathing in the emotions exploding from her. Enjouji, always stuttering, now was unrecognizable as her usually tepid self, releasing her state of mind onto Chihiro.

“So that’s why… Ahh, yeah, the senpais knew all along!”

“… What do you mean?”

Chihiro asked in a low voice. The fact that he didn’t know what to do after <Fuusenkazura> had appeared, and could only cower like that without even being able to verbally tear into him, was much too embarrassing.

Enjouji let go of Chihiro’s uniform, and took a step back.

“… When this began, we originally wanted to ask Chihiro-kun to help out more. But Chihiro-kun didn’t come to the clubroom on Saturday, and when you showed up on Monday, the senpais said that you didn’t seem prepared enough.”

So he’d been tested, and was exposed?

“So, they asked you to find <Fuusenkazura>, but didn’t restrict you too much and gave you free rein. They also said that your chance of encountering <Fuusenkazura> was the highest, and had me monitor Chihiro-kun’s movements.”

“… Are you saying that you followed me?”

“I-I couldn’t follow you all the way… But pretty much, yes.”

So Enjouji would only show herself under those circumstances? Indeed, it would be too much of a coincidence.

Was he the bait?

Did he only amount to that kind of value?

Yeah, he only amounted to that kind of value.

“By the way… If I’d known that we need to capture him, I wouldn’t have slipped up like that. Besides, senpai only told me to contact him…”

“Do you plan to push the responsibility to someone else like you did back then?

These words struck Chihiro like a bullseye, piercing deep into where it hurt in his heart.

“Chihiro-kun always pushes the wrongdoing onto the people around him, and the senpais have already seen through this.”

They’d seen through when the wrongdoing is pushed to the surrounding people.

“You keep dodging, and never try to fight. You keep dodging because you’re afraid to get hurt, right?”

Chihiro couldn’t think of anything to refute with.

“When I found Chihiro-kun when you’d run away from home, I thought you had changed, but you’re still your old self.

Once was enough, but he was a repeat offender.

He had tried to change, but couldn’t immediately change at all.

“I thought you had finally taken action, but you still ended up pushing everything to someone else.”

She couldn’t help but but make it too hard to listen.

“Then tell me, what am I supposed to — do?!”

That was it.

That was why she said that he pushes everything to someone else.

“Although I’m not that remarkable… But I think I have the right to say this to Chihiro-kun. So I’ll say it directly —”

 

“— You keep dodging and escaping; how long do you plan to keep escaping?”

 

How long does he plan to keep escaping?

Where does he plan to escape to?

Chihiro had never once considered that.

Chihiro thought that he was looking forward, but he was really a shallow fellow, always prioritizing his own “happiness” and “desires”.

Pushing the wrongdoing to someone else, always escaping, never trying to help, giving everything to someone else.

His true self — placed right in front of him.

Chihiro was surprised at none of it, because deep down, he really knew.

After all, it was himself; he’d naturally be familiar.

But up until recently, he’d never known — no, he’d pretended not to know.

Including that, had he always been evading?

He had always been evading, and the more he evaded, the deeper he sank, unable to pull himself out.

“Hey, can this really continue like this? If Taichi-senpai and Yui-senpai never… if Yui-senpai never remembers you, would it mean nothing to you? If all of their memories up until now completely vanish, would it still mean nothing to you?”

Enjouji had stopped caring about her own appearance, and was yelling desperately. Caught in the midst of such intense emotions, Chihiro’s mind unexpectedly calmed a bit. He’d been intimidated by her imposition and could only stand there, petrified.

Come to think of it, they shouldn’t be the type of people to expose their emotions like this, should they?

Had Enjouji Shino really changed?

Had she already gone to that world?
“Chihiro-kun, you… Chihiro-kun likes Yui-senpai, don’t you!”

Chihiro had always been yearning.

He, a shadow, yearned to approach that sun.

But somehow, he had already forgotten pure emotions.

Then, he merely raised his head and looked up.

Chihiro didn’t think he was capable of approaching it, but he still revered that sun unconsciously.

It clearly couldn’t be unconscious, but Chihiro had intentionally ignored it, because he was always evading, afraid of getting hurt.

Chihiro remembered.

He remembered that day when he had made Yui and Taichi lose their memories.

He had used “Fantasy Projection” to escape.

Was that the biggest act of escapism in his life? But he still hasn’t learned his lesson, and was still escaping?

“Can it really end like this?”

And then Enjouji forced him into an impasse.

He was left helpless; this was his end.

This was the worst possible scenario. There was nothing worse than this.

Tears seemed ready to flow from his eyes.

Was it because he was becoming emotionally moved from expressing his feelings? Enjouji’s eyes were also brimming with tears and her face was screwed up. As though she couldn’t hold it in anymore, Enjouji hung her head, and her tears dropped to the ground. Then, she immediately looked straight up.

Watching her, Chihiro noticed something.

So it was: if one looked down when they wanted to cry, tears would fall out.

But if one looked upwards, tears wouldn’t fall out.

So Chihiro raised his head to look up.

The vast sky unfolded before his eyes.

It was blue enough to sting a bit.

For some reason, he didn’t think the sky was a board now.

The sky looked like an immeasurably deep, smooth, wide solid; it was beautiful.

Even if he were in the worst situation, the sky today was still beautiful.

The tears rolling in his eyes still had not disappeared, so Chihiro kept looking up at the sky.

The sky was so big, so wide — childlike thoughts floated into his mind.

He wanted to spend a bit more time, to think about something. But under this patch of sky, he just couldn’t bring himself to bother about trivial trifles. He tried to think about something more important, more closely related to him.

Yes, he might as well think about stuff related to this world.

Chihiro had always thought that this world was very miserly.

No matter how diligently he studied, if he ran out of luck on test day, it would become an irredeemable failure in his life.

When that girl who always put off practice came back, in the blink of an eye she’d surpass everyone who had always practiced seriously and become the strongest in the dojo.

No matter how he yearned for it day and night, when he noticed it, that other person had already become an existence out of his reach.

Even if he wanted to change and try hard to climb up, he was always bound to the bottom, as if that place were his rightful position.

Untameable. This world was utterly untameable.

 

This world was boring beyond belief, horribly dull, without future, without light.

 

But the blue sky was so beautiful today.

— Ahh, I’ve noticed it already.

This patch of sky will not change, no matter when.

No matter when, it will still be very beautiful.

No matter when, it will still draw surprise and admiration.

This world, no matter when, will keep its original form.

This excessively natural truth fell into Chihiro’s heart.

The world will not abandon him. It will not treat him severely.

But he would not treat himself kindly either, or let himself live an easy, simple life.

The world will always keep its original form, no matter when, no matter to whom, it is a fair existence.

The world will always protect everyone while maintaining the same form.

He had always held the world in contempt, and thought that it was incurable; but deep down, he had longed for a certain world. Back then, Chihiro already knew that this world had two faces, but he didn’t acknowledge this, and merely kept brainwashing himself, thinking this this world was boring and tedious.

Why was this?

The answer was very simple: he was unable to belong to that world he longed for. Because he never did anything well and never became his ideal, so he thought that the world was something boring. So this couldn’t be helped, he wasn’t in the wrong — Chihiro explained, justifying himself. But if it were the ending he was hoping for, then Chihiro would definitely think that this world was wonderful.

The reason clearly lied with himself, yet he pushed the guilt onto the world.

SInce he was willing to push the “wrongdoing” onto the world, of course he was willing to push other things to other people.

Not knowing how to think and solve it for himself, giving everything to someone else, always relying on his surroundings, and the only thing stronger than everyone else was his self-esteem, twice as much. He immersed in thought only to avoid himself getting hurt, only for his own self-esteem. Even so, he had never done anything useful.

Chihiro had always used this lifestyle to create his own world.

It was all created by his hand.

The world had always kept its original form, but perspectives towards this world probably varied from person to person. The differences lay with how the observer saw this world.

The one changing his perspective on the world and architecting his own world, was himself.

He had thought this world absolutely no good, because he was absolutely no good.

He had thought this world utterly filthy, because his own lenses were dirty.

The one who had decided this world’s worth, this world’s color, was no one other than himself.

For example, like now, although he had hit rock bottom and wanted to die, although he saw himself as such, to Enjouji, it was different.

Although he had hit rock bottom, meaning that his spring had been compressed to the very lowest point, it was building strength.

This was a danger with a narrow escape, so it was the first and the last chance.

His perspective on the world was his to decide.

Was this correct?

After being lost for so long, had he finally found the correct answer?

Chihiro didn’t know. But if he said, “I don’t know”, then abandoned this matter, no one would tell him the correct answer anyway.

He must confirm it himself.

No matter when, the correct answer will be there.

Whether he thought it was correct, no matter when, the power to decide rested with him.

To acknowledge this naturally existing world, everything was up to him.

With the answer in his heart, Chihiro turned his face back in front.

“Chi-Chihiro… kun?”

Enjouji looked slightly confused. After all, Chihiro kept looking up at the sky, right until his neck began to hurt; it’s no wonder she was concerned.

“Hey, Enjouji.”

Chihiro called Enjouji, and then, for safety, brushed the corner of his eye… it was dry.

If he didn’t look down, but up instead, the tears wouldn’t drop out.

“You’ve changed.”

“Huh… Huuhhh? I-I’ve changed? Is my change so obvious that even Chihiro-kun can notice it?”

“You’ve changed, all right.”

Hearing Chihiro say this, Enjouji cried ecstatically, “Wow! Yes, yes!”, but she was clearly not used to expressing joy.

“I-It’s embarrassing to have someone say it to your directly like that! Heh heh heh… I should say, Chihiro-kun, you seem to suddenly have a different vibe, have you changed?”

“Can you see it?”

Would my inner change be displayed on the surface so suddenly?

“Yep, I can tell by your voice.”

What kind of special power is that?

But even if only Enjouji could notice, it would be displayed on his attitude, expressing that a great change had taken place in his heart.

“Maybe it’s like I’ve found the correct answer… that’s what I think. If that’s the truth, it’s all thanks to you, thank you.”

How long has it been since he had frankly expressed his gratitude to someone like this?

“T-That’s embarrassing! Or rather,  just from that one moment, something can happen… Ah~, it’s possible.”

Enjouji seemed to have had the same experience, like she could understand.

“This situation does exist, the moment when you find the ‘truth’ you’ve always been looking for.”

“Has Enjouji found it too?”

“Hmm… P-Pretty much.”

“By now, shouldn’t you be surer of yourself?”

So bold and powerful when she’s imposing.

“Right, there’s something else. When Enjouji said ‘truth’ just now… It’s just as you said, I don’t whether my own thoughts are the ‘truth’. How do you think I should judge?”

If it’s her, she should know, right? Chihiro thought and asked.

Enjouji was someone powerful. If he thought of that, he could gradually see Enjouji’s merits. If he could earn something from within, he’d like to as well. As a result, he seemed to be able to grow more than before.

“Yeah, if you don’t do anything, and let that thought stay in its original form, maybe it’ll become an imposter.”

Saying this, Enjouji looked a little pleased with herself.

Then, she seemed to want to say, “Let me tell you a very shocking secret”, and smiled:

“So you have to take action, and turn it into the ‘truth’ on your own.”

I see.

“By the way, you seemed to mention something about me liking Yui-senpai…”

“Huh?! Am I wrong? When I was using my power, the set condition was, ‘the person whom Chihiro-kun wants to see and talk to the most right now’, and I became Yui-senpai, so I thought that was it…”

“Don’t say it again!”

“Ah, okay! Hm? But you didn’t deny it… in other words, you do like Yui-senpai…”

“Don’t immediately repeat it, okay? Also… Sorry for all the trouble.”

“What trouble?”

“The trouble of making you run about, making you scream, making you watch me say nothing, and making you mad! Don’t make me say it, it’s humiliating!”

“It’s Chihiro-kun’s fault, so why are you scolding me?”

“I-I’m sorry…”

===

“About our plan to forcibly cause an irresolvable paradox, if we want to do this, I should do it. I should be able to use my “power”. Also, I will find <Fuusenkazura> again, because the chance of him coming to me should be pretty high.”

The five members of the Cultural Research Club who were able to gather were meeting in their clubroom; Chihiro apologized to everyone, and listened respectfully to their explanations of phenomena that happened in connection to <Fuusenkazura>, then suggested a plan he came up with.

“Oh, okay… It’s just that, the risks with a forcible activation are very high, and I think it’s still too early to move.”

Inaba replied, a little surprised.

Chihiro thought a mere apology wouldn’t be enough to convey his own determination, so he had tried to express his intentions with a completed plan, but was it not good enough?
“Chihhi.”

Nagase called Chihiro’s name, her arms crossed over her chest.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

After Chihiro responded, Nagase slowly opened her eyes, and the corners of her mouth lifted.

“You’ve been born again.”

Nagase pointed at Chihiro and declared in a mock tone.

“Thank you for the praise, senpai.”

Chihiro bowed and thanked her politely, but ended up being suspected: “Wait, Chihhi doesn’t have that kind of personality? Maybe he’s an imposter?”

“Did something happen? Chihiro?” Aoki asked.

“Long story…”

Chihiro was just about to speak, but then he hesitated. His own intentions were a little too idealistic and felt very artificial; he didn’t dare discuss these in front of “genuine” people like Nagase, Inaba, or Aoki.

“Chi-Chihiro-kun! Um…”

Enjouji looked as though she were about to say something; was she going to encourage him?

Wait a second, if she were to do that, then Enjouji would steal all his thunder.

“For the longest time, I kept pushing my wrongdoings to my surroundings… but I’ve finally noticed that. Everything depends on myself, or should I say that the world will always keep its original form… Wait, scratch that last bit!”

What the hell was he saying, Chihiro couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. Even if it were supposed to be funny, this was too humiliating.

“Ah ha ha ha ha!”

“Ha ha ha ha ha!”

Pff~ Wa ha ha ha ha!”

Chihiro’s words sent Nagase, Inaba, and Aoki into fits of laughter.

They were laughing at him, but Chihiro didn’t hate it. Because he already knew that this was joyous laughter that wouldn’t annoy hm.

If only he observed closely, he would discover these things.

“Not bad, Chihhi! You’ve grown! Ahh, Chihhi’s a hardworking kid after all. It’s just that you like to get into fights, and can’t use your powers properly!”

“Did I really seem like I like getting into fights back then? No, but I… I don’t count as hardworking or not, I’m just normal.”

“Then normal people are hardworking kids as well!”

Did she really just explain it like that? What an interesting person.

“Well, as your senpai, I’ll give Chihhi a bit of advice.”

Nagase said, then continued in a very masculine, macho voice.

“You lack courage and self-esteem. You care too much about how others think of you, you don’t need to worry about that. Just you do you. Your own lifestyle is determined by how you value yourself.”

“It sounds really convincing when you say it, la la la~.”

Inaba chuckled, and stuck her tongue out at Nagase.

“Then I’ll say something too.”

It was Inaba’s turn to speak.

“Your perspective of the world is determined by you? That’s too naive; if you’re satisfied just by changing your perspective, that’s some second-rate stuff.”

Inaba propped her legs on top of each other haughtily.

“This world doesn’t belong to anyone else – it’s yours. If you have a problem with that, go change it yourself.”

When she put it this way it sounded like literal blasphemy.

“You’re so cool, Inaban!”

Nagase danced around cheerfully; even Enjouji was watching Inaba in awe.

It would be better to ask, why are they acting like this? Is everyone too into it? Too into youthfulness, and putting on too much of a performance? You’ll be so ashamed of yourself later that you won’t want to show your face, I can’t even keep watching you like this!

No, but wasn’t this the correct way? Was this the spirit of youth?

In any case, Chihiro tried to wait for Aoki to speak as well.

“Huh? What’re you all staring at me for… Ah, judging by the circumstances, are you waiting for my suggestion? Well, th-that’s rare! Me, who’s usually ignored at times like these… Ah, sorry! I’ll say it immediately, don’t give me that “forget it” look! I’ll think about it right now! Uh… Umm…”

Aoki racked his brains for a while, yet his words were very straightforward.

“Don’t think about it, just feel it!”

Well, that certainly sounded like Aoki.

 

In any case, with the goal of meeting <Fuusenkazura>, Chihiro headed for the park. Looks like that guy will only appear there.

If it was really going to end, he ought to say it clearly, and there shouldn’t be repercussions afterward. Because that’s how it always is — Nagase and the other’s words tied with them his last sliver of hope.

No matter what, when he sees that guy this time, he must capture him.

How is he supposed to fight an opponent like that? How could he possibly win against an existence able to instigate supernatural phenomena? Although Chihiro kept thinking about that, as long as he stood up seriously to him, it wasn’t impossible at all.

As long as he clearly recognized that guy and kept his battle plan in mind while working on attaining this absolute goal, he would indeed find a breaking point.

Being able to find a breaking point meant that he could fight.

He couldn’t fight before, because he didn’t face the truth, and kept escaping.

From past incidents that guy’s nature could be speculated, and that guy’s so-called “interestingness”. From that he’d extrapolate a thought that seemed like an answer, and turn that still fictitious “imposter” into “reality”, through actual action.

Very easy to understand. Chihiro rubbed his palms together, wanting to try it as soon as possible.

However, as it happened, after completing his perfect battle preparations, <Fuusenkazura> did not appear.

Chihiro hovered around the park, walking around it in circles, and circles, and circles, and circles.

Incidentally, Enjouji was beside Chihiro, desperately shuffling her feet in the same way.

Everyone had speculated that <Fuusenkazura> didn’t seem like planning to appear before the second years, so only two first years were there. Inaba and the others moved along another route, searching for a way to solve the problem.

Right up until the two of them had still been chatting as they walked, but now were in silence, moving quietly.

The sun began to sink, and a comfortable breeze blew. Was it because this breeze had begun when his mind was so exhausted it was becoming hazy? A hole suddenly seemed to open up in his heart.

“I keep feeling that… a lot of things are thanks to you, Enjouji. Thank you again.”

But after the words left his mouth, Chihiro could not help but feel embarrassed. And he seemed to have already thanked before too, so in other words, he’d said it for nothing.

“I-I say that, but the problem still isn’t resolved. Unless we let Yui… we let Taichi-senpai and Yui-senpai go back to the way they were, I don’t have the right to say anything.”

Yes, the matter still isn’t done, but they were just standing at the starting line a moment ago.

Enjouji heard this, then smiled very kindly and gently.

“That’s because Taichi-senpai gave me courage. Ah, but I had the courage to go see Taichi-senpai because I saw how Iori-senpai and the others were working hard before that… No, that’s not it, if I think about it, it should be because I joined this club, a-and the senpais were always like “that”, and because Chihiro-kun was there… I-If so, I should say that it’s because I was born…”

“How far back are you gonna go?”

If she were left like that, she might go back to the creation of the universe. How massive.

But, did the world really work like that?

Hmm, this was too sentimental.

“But, you’re not wrong, the problem… still isn’t solved, so our battle is only just beginning.”

“You actually remembered the topic that I thought you’d forgotten, Enjouji.”
Even though she’s changed, she still hasn’t.

Her stuttering still persisted, and judging by her words, while she was screaming at Chihiro, it seemed that she was in “Super Awakened Mode”. Can’t she do something about the way she named that?

In the end, they didn’t find <Fuusenkazura> as they had wished.

 

On the second day, Chihiro and Enjouji rushed all over the place, but didn’t find <Fuusenkazura>.

On the third day, Chihiro and Enjouji still rushed all over the place, but didn’t find <Fuusenkazura>.

So on the fourth day, Chihiro and Enjouji were still desperately rushing all over the place.

“It’s… no good… He’s… not showing up… at all.”

Enjouji panted with her hands resting on her knees.

“… What the hell… So it depends on that guy’s mood after all?”

Chihiro cursed.

If they couldn’t break this stalemate, they needed a new plan. It was just as well that everyone was discussing whether to use shock therapy on Yui and Taichi.

How much time had passed since Yui and Taichi had lost their memories? The most frightening thing now was if those memories had not, in fact, been carefully stored away somewhere.

<Fuusenkazura> possessed ludicrous power; he could do things completely out of this world.

But he was not omnipotent.

If something were under that guy’s control, it could be speculated that all was according to his plan, but <Fuusenkazura> had given the controller to someone else this time.

Could that guy be expecting an unexpected situation, and backing everything up first? Inaba once said that this made her uneasy.

Chihiro really wished she would not say terrifying things like that, but her willingness to express her concerns to Chihiro and Enjouji showed that she trusted them. If that was the case, then they could at least think forward.

He should think forward like that, and strengthen himself more. Chihiro was recently forced to realize how important this was.

Because of something that had happened when Chihiro went to dispose of the recorder he had placed in the clubroom.

As if suddenly possessed, he had replayed the full recorder. Then —

“Taichi… Uuhh… Taichi…”

The recorder played Inaba’s voice calling his name, and sobbing.

Inaba had always seemed easygoing to Chihiro. Even in this type of situation, her strong personality and past experience had led him to believe that she was really okay. Chihiro had always believed that Inaba was practically superhuman.

But he was wrong. They were just like him, suffering from pain.

They looked strong because they didn’t expose their weak side, but they were really hiding their tears.

Since they never showed their weak side, it made Chihiro and Enjouji feel their strength. Who knows how much courage their strong side had brought to these two?

Since they showed their strong side, they made others around them strong as well.

Although they looked to be successful in everything they did, that wasn’t actually the case. They were merely pretending to be successful, and they didn’t stop there; through effort, they’d make that which was still an imposter into reality.

In the end, they were standing on the same horizon as Chihiro.

Therefore, he could do it — Chihiro thought fervently.

“The place that guy likes the most seems to be somewhere with no people. Let’s go back and check again.”

Chihiro suggested, and Enjouji agreed.

Once he heard about how their upperclassmen had once been through hell and high water, when Chihiro had decided to fight along with them, frankly, he’d hoped for a moment that maybe everything could be resolved quite easily. Because one he got fired up, he felt like the world would go his way.

But of course nothing convenient like that would happen. The world merely maintained its original form; it wouldn’t conform to him so easily.

Despite that, Chihiro would not give up.

When things got tough, they wouldn’t just stop. They’d continue advancing through this cruel world.

They would take many strides, and take them step by step.

— What if <Fuusenkazura> never appeared again?
His heart beat with anxiety as he walked.

— Even if he appeared, what if that guy was also helpless?

His heart pounded with questions as he walked.

— Could that kind of opportunity really descend on someone like him, who had a criminal past?

His heart beat with nervousness as he still walked.

— If <Fuusenkazura>, according to what he threatened beforehand, carried out the punishment on him, who had broken the contract…

Something like that isn’t crucial at all… did that sound too much like he was showing off? It was only false bravado.

Yes, someone not “genuine” like him, was still paying the most attention to himself.

But in this moment Chihiro was not advocating that, as he continued to advance.

Even if he was an imposter, he wanted to pretend to be genuine.

There was only one goal he needed to achieve now.

Then there will eventually be a day when he becomes genuine.

No matter how many times, he will carry on.

No matter how many times, he will continue to carry on.

He, no matter how many times, will continue to carry on.

No matter how many times, he will take action to change the world, and that’s why —

 

<Fuusenkazura> will appear then.

 

Chihiro had clearly been anticipating his appearance, yet his body froze up in an instant.

His appearance was Gotou, but he could feel his inhuman breath radiating, wanting to engulf everything around him.

This was <Fuusenkazura>.

Chihiro’s knees turned to water, and he almost couldn’t keep upright.

“He’s… He’s here!”

Enjouji seized the hem of Chihiro’s uniform.

He should go first.

According to their agreed plan, he must be the one to strike first.

“Th… Think of something!”

“Huh?! M-Me?”

“No, not you, Enjouji, I’m meant <Fuusenkazura>…”

He didn’t feel tense at all, and things weren’t going as planned. Originally, he should have taken action in a more handsome fashion, but he could never do it as he had planned it out in his mind.

Calm down, everything’s fine. He had set up a battle plan; all he needed to do was to put the thoughts in his mind into practice.

<Fuusenkazura> said nothing, merely standing there, even making one wonder if he were alive.

Just as Chihiro was thinking about this, he suddenly spoke:

“Ahh… I’ve recently been under the impression that… you guys have been looking all over for me… Ahh, normally I wouldn’t come out by myself… but things haven’t been moving forward…”

“Haven’t been moving forward… so you’ve pulled back?” Chihiro asked.

“… No, since being laissez-faire is interesting in its own right after all…”

Up until now, he would only pull back once he was bored, and had always done so.

“U-Um… <Fuusenkazura>-san, a-are you able to restore Taichi-senpai and Yui-senpai’s memories?”

Enjouji’s tone was unusually polite.

“If not restoring them would also be ‘very interesting’… I don’t think that would be a problem…”

In other words, if he wanted to, he could restore their memories?

“Ahh… but first, thank you for addressing me as ‘san’. I think it’s the first time I’ve been called as such…”

“D-Don’t mention it.”

<Fuusenkazura> was placing emphasis on a very strange place; this conversation really felt lacking in tension.

“Hey, <Fuusenkazura>, you can restore their memories, right? Please help us restore them, then. If you have any c-conditions, I’m willing to a-accept them.”

His words caught in his throat; <Fuusenkazura> had narrowed his eyes and was staring fiercely at Chihiro.

The change in his weak expression completely altered the atmosphere.

“What a pity for Uwa-san to dare to say something like that…”

He was blaming him.

“… You’re giving up while halfway through ‘making things more interesting’ … and besides, Uwa-san… this is all your fault, is it not?”

Chihiro couldn’t deny that.

Normally, his stupidity would prevent him from negotiating with someone.

No matter how he thought about it, he was at an impasse.

He wanted to run away, so much.

But those were his own thoughts. As long as he tried to find a different path, he would definitely find one.

Besides, since this guy was a heretical existence who lacked common sense and perspective, he should have weak points.

“As long as I… make things more interesting, right?!”

Strike at this point.

<Fuusenkazura>’s eyes retracted their sharp gaze, restoring their blank, forward stare.

“I’ll make things interesting… I’ll make them very interesting, all right. So… So quickly restore Yui-senpai and Taichi-senpai’s lost memories. Let’s make a deal, you bastard!”

If he didn’t deride him a bit to lift his own spirits, he wouldn’t be able handle it anymore.

“Uh… a deal, you said? You shouldn’t be a position to say that, Uwa-san…”

For example, I’ll tell everyone that I used my ‘power’!

Chihiro screamed at the top of his lungs.

“I’ll tell everyone about my super dark and childish thoughts! Or I’ll show everyone my diary that I wrote at the public high school, which I’ve locked away now!”

What the hell was he saying — Chihiro ignored the questions flashing through his mind, moving with his own energy. If he stopped, it would probably be all over.

“Or I’ll pull out all the stops and tell everyone in the Cultural Research Club, frankly, how I think of each one of them! And… Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it! That can make things more interesting, right?! Oh yeah, I don’t need the ‘Fantasy Projection’ power anymore! Take it back!”

“Fantasy Projection?”

“… Fantasy Projection?”

“I-It’s a name I gave to my ‘power’! Nothing wrong with that, is there?!”

How embarrassing, he didn’t think it would be this awkward to reveal his own original name.

“I-I’m willing to do anything! I’ll do my best, sorry to trouble you!”

Enjouji shouted along. Rather than a deal, it looked more like she was pleading with him, which seemed to deviate slightly from Chihiro’s goal.

Whoo… Really… You people will do interesting things, huh… The price is restoring Yaegashi-san and Kiriyama-san’s memories, and to never let you use your ‘power’ again… Is that so…”

He got through to him.

This method could actually work; a thin ray of hope wavered.

“But… if you want to make a deal, I feel like you people’s ‘interestingness’ isn’t enough, so it’s best if… For example… What you’ve always wanted to try, deep down, Uwa-san… or something like that.”

<Fuusenkazura> said.

Chihiro felt like his inner thoughts were being spied on. That guy had probably already seen through him.

His deepest, darkest thoughts were being stared at; he didn’t want to be seen, he wanted to hide, this was embarrassing — but this wasn’t the moment to fuss. There couldn’t be anything worse than this, could there?

“Then I’ll confess to Yui-senpai! I’ll even do it in front of everyone in the Cultural Research Club!”

That kind of declaration wasn’t worth much.

“Oh… compared to what you just brought up… that seems a little interesting…”

He seemed quite satisfied, would it work?

“But… what if I still refuse?”

‘What if’?

His own plans weren’t his absolute limit, but he was truly out of ideas, and couldn’t think of anything crazier.

“Then wipe my memories!”

A shout like that was suddenly heard.

He didn’t shout that.

If he didn’t, then it could only have been Enjouji Shino.

“Y-You can wipe my memories about the Cultural Research Club… in exchange for restoring their memories… How’s that? Y-You can do it, right? It’s equivalent exchange, too!”

This action was way too absurd, way too ridiculous.

But Enjouji — Enjouji, who had somehow already let go of Chihiro’s shirt hem, was prepared.

Prepared, with intense resolve.

Was he a step behind Enjouji again?

Was he not trying, or was Enjouji too strong?

What should he think now? The one who could choose his own perspective on things was himself. So… he’d take it as Enjouji being very strong.

But, he vowed that one day, he’d catch up to her, and pass her.

Although the determination he had now based on his momentum was merely an imposter, Chihiro would make it reality in the future of this world.

“Then wipe my memories too! Two for two! You satisfied now?!”

Even if he were to lose that dreamlike time and space, he must get something in return for it.

The five-person pentagon must be Inaba, Nagase, Yui, Taichi, and Aoki.

As an admirer of that pentagon, this was something he ought to do.

Steeling his willpower, he prepared himself.

This was the end and the beginning.

“How about it, <Fuusenkazura>?!”

Such a moment would render the world —

“… What if I still refuse?”

— Still the same.

“Wh… Why is it like this…”

Enjouji mumbled, half sobbing.

Chihiro had understood long ago.

Even if he did his utmost, faced the end of his tether, Lady Luck would not smile upon him.

In his life, he had already been forced to experience this principle several times.

This wasn’t anyone’s fault, and he shouldn’t hate anyone for it.

Whether it happened or not, he could only resign to fate.

But now… now was different.

Just in this current situation — he must rely upon himself to seize victory.

“… What will you do?”

<Fuusenkazura> asked again.

This was his last chance.

So think hard, think hard, think hard.

He wasn’t at his limit yet. Unless he thought so; then he would be at his limit.

Go change.

Have a plan.

“… Whoo… If you don’t have anything —”

Ahh, he was out of time.

 

“T-Then, I’ll… cry in front of you!”

 

Tweet tweet tweet — he could hear birdsong.

A blank space suddenly appeared in time; it was quiet enough to hear birdsong.

In this type of situation, this type of development, this kind of occasion, the fact that all he could utter was, then I’ll cry in front of you, filled Chihiro with despair.

“… Puha! Uu, uu… ha, hahahahah!”

Apparently desperately trying to hold it in, Enjouji burst out laughing.

“I’m s-sorry, Chihiro-ku… Pu, hu hu hu hu~~”

“Y-You’re laughing too much, Enjouji!”

In the instant that Chihiro was distracted by criticizing her —

“… Pff… What d’you mean… Huh?”

He heard <Fuusenkazura>’s voice.

Moreover, Chihiro instinctively noticed that there was something different than before.

Chihiro turned around, only to see a stunned expression on <Fuusenkazura>.

His expression was definitively different from what he had seen before.

Chihiro examined it more closely, then discovered something.

That was <Fuusenkazura>’s natural reaction.

That was a naturally expressed voice and appearance — Chihiro felt so.

“… Did I just… laugh?”

His voice was different from before; it was an unadulterated, candid voice.

What was going on?

What had changed in <Fuusenkazura>’s mind?

“It was already too much for me… so I tried to give it to someone else to do… what an unexpected gain… How… How interesting… How very interesting…”

Although Chihiro couldn’t understand what this meant, <Fuusenkazura> was very visibly excited.

Furthermore, he was genuinely interested.

This is it.

After Chihiro desperately thought and racked his brains, that sentence finally hooked him.

This was the very last chance to seize victory, and win back the future.

“Hey, hey! You think that’s interesting, right? You just said that! Don’t horse around now! The price is that ‘interestingness’ just now! If you take this chance to restore their memories… I’ll show you something even more ‘interesting’! So give their memories —”

 

“Sure.”

 

As the ending moment came so easily, it was simple enough to be anticlimactic.

<Fuusenkazura> had already lost interest in Chihiro and the others, becoming spiritedly engrossed in himself.

===

Kiriyama Yui and Yaegashi Taichi recovered their memories.

WIthout any repercussions, they returned to the Cultural Research CLub.

In the Cultural Research Club where all seven members gathered, Chihiro explained this incident to everyone.

From before they had met <Fuusenkazura>, right up until <Fuusenkazura> had said, “I’ve already restored them back to their original form, and stopped you from using your ‘powers’, so I’m going now…” As meticulously as possible, Chihiro recounted this unbelievably long story to everyone.

No matter what happened, Chihiro wanted them to know the entire sequence of events, and make their own judgment afterwards.

Starting from the middle, Enjouji also helped tell the story, but one day wasn’t enough to finish. They left the rest for the next day.

When he had talked until his mouth and throat were dry and his voice had begun to crack, he finally finished the entire story.

After finishing his explanation, and even though he had apologized profusely throughout, Chihiro apologized to everyone once again.

Chihiro didn’t wish for their forgiveness, or for them to let him off; he merely wanted to express his regret to everyone.

He thought that it would inevitable for him to be kicked off the club, and it wouldn’t even be strange if there were harsher consequences.

But should be be surprised after all? Even Yui and Taichi who had temporarily lost their memories did not blame Chihiro. Insead, the five upperclassmen apologized to the two, and it turned into a small apology contest between the second and first years.

“We knew that we might include you in <Fuusenkazura>’s phenomena when you joined the Cultural Research Club, but we kept it from you, and that’s why this happened.”

Taichi and the others were apologizing, but Chihiro actually had the chance to reject <Fuusenkazura>’s offer. He hadn’t been caught without an explanation, so he couldn’t be the least bit angry at this.

“Okay, let’s call it quits! Both sides have now expressed their indifference!”

Pat pat — Nagase clapped her hands together, ending the apology contest.

“Well then! Chihhi and Shino-chan, do you want to stay in the Cultural Research Club? Frankly, we don’t know how many times things like this will happen again.”

Nagase asked in a carefree manner, trying her best to avoid looking uneasy or hesitant.

“But it’ll be like this every time; we’ll definitely be able to pull through it all.”

Inaba looked to the side and said so.

“Things like this have hurt our exam scores, too! Yeah, I’m serious! I failed so many classes because of these phenomena!”

“Don’t believe that no matter what, you two.”

“I got it, Iori-senpai, that’s just Idio-ki-senpai being too much of an idiot… Ah, I mean Aoki-senpai!”

“That’s got to be the most hurtful thing you’ve ever said! By the way, Inaba, you’ve passed down your trash talking to Shino, haven’t you!”

“Shut up, Idio-ki. I’m just passing down the Cultural Research Club’s traditions to future generations.”

“I didn’t think you were doing it for real! You should say what you’re doing first!”

Putting aside Aoki’s shouting, Taichi switched to a serious tone and spoke:

“Honestly… it would also trouble the people around us, like our families.”

“You’re so thoughtful of your family, Taichi, such a gentleman. But… I’ll never forgive you for pampering your sister like that! Absolutely not!”

“Dereban-sensei, please hold your lovers’ quarrel for later.”

Nagase put a stop to Inaba’s rage.

Then, Yui also spoke:

“Uhh, um, i-it’s not like we’re never seeing each other again after this… even if you guys want to leave, it’s completely okay… It should be, yeah.”

Only one of them couldn’t hide their feelings at all; so easy to read.

Chihiro looked at Enjouji, and Enjouji looked at Chihiro.

Both of them said nothing, and nodded tacitly at each other. Somehow, the two of them had become good partners. Whether they would become good lovers… that was inconceivable now.

The two of them shifted their eyes to the five before them; that is, Taichi, Inaba, Iori, Yui, and Aoki.

Their answers were already decided.

“I’m staying.”

“Please allow me to stay.”

<Fuusenkazura>? Supernatural phenomena? Bring it on. He wouldn’t be pushed around by those things. Though he’d once been scared out of his wits, so it seemed that he was in no position to say that.

But <Fuusenkazura>, in the end, was only <Fuusenkazura>.

This world was only this world.

As long as his will was strong enough, there was no problem.

Chihiro felt slightly uneasy about his own strength.

But the five upperclassmen welcomed him and Enjouji, all smiles.

About at this time, the two of them finally became members of the Cultural Research Club.

“But… I feel really bad for not being punished at all.”

Hearing Chihiro murmur this, Inaba said:

“Oh? Chihiro wants to be punished, because you’d feel better that way?”

“Uh, um… yeah.”

Chihiro peeked at Inaba’s sadistic grin, and couldn’t help but take a step back, but he’d agreed to it himself and couldn’t escape now.

“You’re right. The important things are over, said and done with… However!”

Thump — Inaba bopped the table.

“Just like I said before, I forgive you for using ‘Fantasy Projection’ on us. It’s just that… for a certain incident that happened during that time, we’ll be settling that score very slowly from now on, understand, Chihiro?!”

“Yee… U-Understood!”

“Firstly… How dare you make me take my clothes off and take a bunch of pictures! How dare you trample on a girl’s pure feelings! I want a performance fee!”

“I-I’m sorry!”

Chihiro bowed to Inaba in apology.

“Hey, Chihiro! What did you do to my girlfriend?! Wait… performance fee? That’s like saying, as long as you get cash, it’s fine if he takes pictures?”

“I remember you hitting me!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

With extreme guilt, Chihiro apologized to Taichi and Aoki.

“Chihhi-san, I remember my poor girl’s heart being hurt very badly by you too~.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

Chihiro apologized to Nagase, with his head bowed as far as it could go.

“O-On that rainy day, you overheard me saying a bunch of awkward stuff! I can’t marry now! You have to take responsibility!”

“I’m really, really sorry!”

Chihiro bumped his head on the table, bowing to Yui in apology.

“It’s all my fault, I’m sorry everyone! I’ll do anything, really!”

“… You’ll do anything? Then please do my punishment first.”

Inaba’s eyes flashed sharply.

She’s got blackmail on me? No, this is good — Chihiro convinced himself.

Okay, bring it.

“Your mission… do all you can to participate in the Athletics Festival, and bring the green team to victory! If we don’t win, prepare to shave your head!”

… He wasn’t in the sports club, so making him shave his head was taking it a little too far!

 

Chapter 8: The Day of the Athletics Festival

Month: O – Date: X – Clear

Something really shocking has happened.

And a ton of stuff has been going on.

In the midst of these things, I think I’ve actually become the protagonist.

It was a really troublesome problem this time, so it would be kind of reckless to call myself that, but to me, this seems like a very important, essential incident… though I never want to experience it again.

Have I changed?

I’ve definitely changed.

I’m definitely in control of the moment now.

Whether I make this moment into reality or not, it all depends on my own actions.

Starting now, starting now!

From this point on, our… our war has begun!

In any case, good luck tomorrow, Chihiro-kun!

I love the Cultural Research Club.

+++

The class began to discuss the guidelines of the Athletics Festival’s Cheering Competition.

The meeting ended with a simple discussion, and the reps standing at the front returned to their seats.

Only Chihiro remained at the podium.

He was going to fulfill his commitment, or rather, the moment itself.

A few students watched him with “What’s up?” expressions.

“Uwa? Did you forget to say something?”

Tada asked casually, but Chihiro couldn’t find the strength to reply.

A storm of unease was swirling inside him.

The class’s mood wasn’t exactly agreeable, since their discussion just now had been anything but lively. Students who sat close to each other were absorbed in their own conversations, and the entire class lacked any sense of unity.

In this type of unassisted situation, he had to fight like a man.

Someone Chihiro hadn’t noticed at all realized that he had remained in the front of the classroom, and he fixated Chihiro with a gaze.

What Chihiro planned to do would probably chill the mood. No, rather, it was supposed be quite a fervent matter, but since it was too passionate, it would utterly freeze the mood.

Chihiro didn’t know if his actions this time would end in success or failure. Frankly, he felt that he was more likely to fail.

If he failed, the aftermath would be pretty disastrous. Not only would be outed as a weirdo by his classmates, his place in the class would change.

But that was the worst that could happen.

Compared to the most wretched situation he had experienced before, most things were nothing; he could still crawl back up. The world was going to maintain its original form anyway, so only his surroundings would change slightly. He wouldn’t die.

So, he will try and change the world.

“Let’s do our best at the Athletics Festival, let’s give it our all!”

Chihiro’s voice resounded throughout the silent classroom.

After saying it, Chihiro even felt cold himself. Once it left his mouth he realized that it sounded way more embarrassing than he had imagined.

He was at a loss for what kind of person could speak naturally like this.

“Hey, hey, Uwa…”

“T-Think about it, everyone, in the end, we want to attend the Athletics Festival, don’t we? Whether we want to casually attend or seriously attend, we want to go all the same. So, even if we do our best… or we be a little bit serious, it won’t matter, will it? Besides, if we win at the Athletics Festival, it’ll benefit us a lot at the Cultural Festival… L-Let’s work together!”

Chihiro stopped here — but no one expressed any sort of opinion whatsoever.

He could sympathize; after all, in this type of situation, it was very difficult to be the first opinion. The first person wouldn’t have a precedent to rely on, so he wouldn’t know whether he had the correct answer or not. The so-called “trend” was very important, so in order to live smoothly and safely in this world, one must properly watch the development of such a trend.

But if he only went with trends and wherever the wind blew, he wouldn’t be able to change anything, and nothing would happen.

Even if he bluffed or put forth false bravado, as long as one single person acted —

Come to think of it… had he scared everyone into keeping silent? If that were the case, this was too pathetic for Chihiro, so pathetic that his stomach hurt.

“T-This sounds like a youthful idea, it sounds great! I agree!”
Enjouji suddenly stood from her seat and spoke up.

Chihiro had agreed with Enjouji beforehand that if anything happened, she would come to his rescue. As long as one person started, the others would follow easily. He felt that the word “youthful” was a bit immature, but it was still acceptable, wasn’t it?

Nice going, Enjouji.

Together, Chihiro at the podium and Enjouji standing in the middle of the classroom lifted the revolutionary beacon. Even if only two people stood up now, in another sense, there were already two people standing up.

Even if there was only one, there had to be someone else, absolutely must be someone else, not much longer before someone else… They looked fearful, but there would definitely be someone else who followed this trend…

Not a single person stood up.

Only Chihiro and Enjouji stood alone in the blizzard-torn classroom.

“Damn, if someone like you… a guy who isn’t necessarily dark, but wouldn’t usually lead the charge, suddenly comes up and talks like that… you’d scare everyone!”

Tada, who sat in front of him, told him during break.

“Shut up! I know! I know, dammit!”

Since he had just broken through that kind of supernatural phenomenon and had been exposed in the Cultural Research Club’s “passion” for some time, Chihiro had already gotten used to being unusual and had forgotten what it meant to be normal. Suddenly displaying that sort of passionate attitude without warning would naturally scare his classmates. When Taichi and the others were in their classes, they’d probably cooperate with the class’s mood.

“Chi-Chihiro-kun… failed.”

Enjouji said gloomily.

“At this rate, Chihiro-kun will be doomed to baldness… I’ll always remember Chihiro-kun’s hair…”

“Don’t just decide my baldness on your own! And it’s not baldness, it’s shaving the hair off. Also, even if you forget about my hair, it’ll grow back… There’s too much to criticize with you anyway!”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“Were you guys doing a skit or something?”
Tada asked, causing some guys nearby to roar with laughter. After all, what Chihiro just did seemed to have attracted everyone’s attention a bit.

Ahh, but… Dammit, he’s tried pretty hard already, but it had no effect whatsoever. To be honest, he was a little discouraged… But he won’t give up. Time to find another way.

“Enjouji-san, do you plan to go hard in the Athletics Festival? Or were you just seconding Uwa-kun’s motion?”

A girl named Higashino who sat beside her asked in an almost mocking tone, since she was interested in the topic of romantic relationships and wanted to join in on the fun.

“I-I want to try my best! Because it’s more fun to do it seriously, and we’ll be happier… And also… I feel that… it’s cooler that way…”

It’s more fun to do it seriously, we’ll be happier, and it’s cooler that way — it certainly seemed like Enjouji’s style of speech.

“Cooler, eh? Guys who work out are pretty cool~, and if we’re active in the games, we’ll be taking on a whole new level of respect! In other words, you’re excited for Uwa-kun to showcase himself during the Festival.”

“G-Guys? Chihiro-kun? Uh, um… I don’t think that’s quite it… In any case, it’d be such a pity for a guy to become bald at such a young age…”

Why was her conversation based on the premise of becoming bald?

“Huh? Do you like admiring guys who seriously participate in the Athletics Festival, Enjouji-san?” Tada asked.

“Huh… Huuhh? Um, yeah. I think… that would be great.”

“Great, hm… I see.”

Enjouji’s idea of “great” seemed to be different from Tada’s.

No, that didn’t matter. Anyway, he had to think of a way to increase class morale, since it involved his own potential baldness after all… No, it involved shaving his head… Huh? W-Wait.

“Hey, can I ask you all something? What do you think of guys who seriously participate in the Athletics Festival, or guys who work out a lot?”

Chihiro inquired the group that Higashino, who had just asked Enjouji the same question, was part of.

“Hm? You mean, ‘I’m going to seriously participate, so what do you think of me’? You hitting on us?”

“That’s not what I mean, I wanted to ask you all what you think of guys like those.”

Chihiro had the impression that Higashino was a very open girl, and as a boy himself, he’d find conversation easy with her.

“I think they’re great~. There wouldn’t be any girls who hate fit guys, would there?”

“Serious guys are great~. Ah, but they can’t be too passionate!”

“Like, guys who play high school baseball are so cool, and inspiring, too!”

“I get it, I get it, the image of them sweating furiously is really…”

“Huh? You like the smell of sweat?”
“No!”

The girls chatted animatedly, their chitchat becoming quite enthusiastic.

“So? You got a problem with that?” Higashino demanded.

“Hey… Could I ask you to keep this topic popular among the girls for a while?”

 

Although there existed a wall between the boys and the girls, creating a lack of intimacy in the class, Class 1-B actually wasn’t that bad together. Thus, the topic of “guys who work out a lot are very cool” began flowing amongst the girls at lightning speed.

And so —

“Hey, Uwa, I’ll attend the Athletics Festival seriously, leave it to me.”

“Same.”

“Same.”

“Same.”

Most of the guys in Class 1-B were pretty practical.

“Good, excellent… This’ll massively increase the guys’ drive!”

Although he was still slightly uneasy, he couldn’t hope for everything, and besides, he’d achieved his ideal trend of one person taking action and the others following suit. Next, as long as this sort of mood permeated the girls too, that would be even better.

“Uwa.”

Tada called Chihiro.

“You’re amazing, the guys are even talking about practicing their events.”

“Ahh, I heard that too. Since we don’t have a lot of time, we’re trying not to put too much emphasis on points from the Cheering Competition and instead rely on event points, right? Also, I’m not that amazing.”

The practical guys planned on using a practical method to win.

“Why’re you so serious all of a sudden?”

“Because Inaba-senpai —”

Chihiro stopped mid-sentence and thought. Did he want to seriously participate in the Athletics Festival because Inaba had ordered him to?

If Inaba hadn’t ordered him to, what would he have done?

It’s more fun to do it seriously, we’ll be happier, and it’s cooler that way.

“… Because I want to.”

“Because Enjouji-san said so?”

“Nah, my relationship with Enjouji isn’t what you guys think.”

“Ahh, I see.” Tada chuckled. “Hey, the guys have been ignited, so you’re now worrying about how to ignite the girls’ competitiveness, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“I think they just need a final push. Since they’ve already been affected by the guys, they’re thinking that they need to do something too.”

“But, how should I push them…”

Chihiro said. With a “Leave it to me”, Tada gave him a thumbs-up.

Then, he said a little loudly:

“Ah~, if the guys train now, we’ll be rising on the scoreboard! If we don’t win then, it’ll have to be the girls’ fault… Oops.”
Tada theatrically pressed a hand to his mouth, then whispered to Chihiro:

“When the guys and girls are separated, each will be real competitive towards the other, so this method is very effective! Heh, heh, heh!”

It did seem very effective; the girls nearby were visibly affected by his words. Ah, the girls over there were affected too. Guys with girlfriends were different after all; he and Tada were like night and day.

“You’re a true expert, Tada… But it’s really a surprise for you to be actually doing something for the Festival.”

“More like, you’re the surprise, Uwa. You’re pretty amazing after all. Thanks to you, everyone’s going to seriously give it a go now, including myself. Besides, doing something seriously is pretty embarrassing, isn’t it?”

“… Why is it thanks to me?”

Probably because he had spoken so passionately in front of everyone, right?

Chihiro thought as he asked.

It was his own brave actions after all that had changed this class —

“Because there’s no way I’ll be more embarrassed than you, and that makes me rest way easier.”

Chihiro slumped onto his desk, clutching his head.

This world didn’t go his way at all, he clearly intended to do it more elegantly.

But to the Chihiro now, this was his fighting style.

… How he hated this fighting style.

===

Chihiro was a bit worried about the newly recovered Yui and Taichi, so he sneaked off to peek into Class 2-B.

“Iori!”

Whooaa! The impact of you running and hugging me is pretty intense, Yui.”
“Stick closer to each other, why don’t you? You two were keeping your distance not long ago…”

“But it’s because we were keeping our distance back then! I have a severe deficiency of Iori-content now! If you try to stop me, even if it’s you, Yukina, I won’t hold back!”

“Absorb as much as you want! By the way… are you jealous, Yukina?”

“No, I’m not jealous.”

“Heh heh, you’re at it again, why hide your own true feelings~?”
“Don’t turn me into some kind of weird character, okay? You’ve been quite scary lately, Fujishima-san!”

Yui looked to be romping about quite cheerfully with the girls; there didn’t seem to be any problems.

Chihiro looked towards Taichi next.

“Hey, even though I decided to let the people with good motor skills go first while I was deciding the events we’re gonna do… You don’t want to do any event? Or do you have an event you’re good at?”

Taichi was talking to a quiet-looking boy.

“Huh? Ahh, I don’t have an event I really want to attend, but…”

“But?”

“When I was in cavalry fighting during elementary and middle school, I was always the rider… and I’ve never lost.”

“Hm! That’s really good, isn’t it? You should do cavalry fighting! Can you still change your event?”

“All right… if we can still change.”

“Good, then I’ll confirm with Watase.”
“Heh heh, we’ve discovered Oshima-kun’s talent in an unexpected way! Heh!”

An unusually excited twin-tailed girl piped up from the side.

“By the way, your method of discovering talent is brilliant, Yaegashi-kun. Why are you suddenly asking that type of stuff? Tell Nakayama-neesan~ about it.”

“Ahh… because one of my kouhai from the Cultural Research Club said some things that made me think a lot.”

“Really, really? What did you think about?”
“Um, how should I put it, it’s very hard to describe… I think, I’ve realized that some people actually have things they want to do, but they can’t do it without seizing the opportunity… I think that’s roughly it? I was like that before, too.”

“Oh… I see, Yaegashi Taichi… You’re quite the expert.”

“I wanted to ask just now, how exactly do you see me, Nakayama?”

These people are really amazing after all, Chihiro thought.

It seemed that he still needed some time before he could catch up to them.

===

The day of the Athletics Festival was a beautiful, sunny day.

Even though everyone was clamoring over how cloudier weather would be more comfortable, after the Festival was underway, their collective passion drove the heat as far away as possible.

According to the older students, this year seemed livelier than past years.

After lunch break, the Cheering Competition had concluded, and the Athletics Festival entered its final stages.

“You’ve been doing great, Chihiro.”

Inaba rustled Chihiro’s hair.

There was only one lastevent left, and judging by the point count, the two teams with hopes of winning were the Green Team, to which Inaba, Aoki, Chihiro and Enjouji belonged, and the Red Team, to which Taichi, Iori and Yui belonged. Currently the Red Team was ahead and the Green Team behind, but both of their points were close, and if the Green Team placed higher than the Red Team in the final match, they could turn the tables and win.

“This is going too well. It’s inevitable because of us, isn’t

it? It’d be more interesting to think of it that way. In any case, everything depends on the results of the next match, including our own bet. It’s pretty exciting.”

“Yup.”

“Of course, your shaved head depends on this too!”

She still remembers…?

“Although I won’t be participating, good luck to you, Chihiro.”

The final competition was the staple of Yamaboshi High School’s Athletics Festival, an all-grade mixed cavalry fight.

 

Yamaboshi High School’s cavalry fights involved the boys and girls forming small groups amongst themselves to fight a mixed battle.

Of course, no direct conflict was allowed between the boys and girls, because one of the game’s rules was that the female groups could attack both boys and girls, but the male groups could not attack the girls. If one only paid attention to this rule, it would appear that the girls could single-sidedly attack the boys, but typically, because of differences in physique, the girls’ attacks wouldn’t be able to reach them. Therefore, although it was basically “mixed”, the boys and girls typically fought separately; occasionally a girl would seize an opportunity to snatch away a boy’s bandanna, and get the mood roaring — that was roughly how it was. Incidentally, occasionally someone would take advantage of the fact that male groups couldn’t attack female groups, and have the girls to stop the enemy boys from advancing, or carry out similarly advanced battle tactics.

After two preliminaries, the final was to be between the victorious Red Team and Green Team.

The preliminaries were timed, but the final wasn’t: both sides would engage in an all-out war until one side was completely destroyed. If one team was left with only boys and the other was left with only girls, the battle would reach a stalemate and victory would be decided by how many remaining groups each side had.

The fiery mood in the school was approaching its climax.

Whether it was the students’ families coming to visit, or the teams whose battles had already ended, all gazed unswervingly at this final decisive battle.

Under the boiling sun, Chihiro listened to everyone’s support from atop his “horse”.

“Do your beeeeeeest!”

“Don’t loooooooose!”

“Chaaaarrrge~~~~!”

“Wipe the floor with ‘em!”
Some seemed to be overly excited, and combative words were mixed into their shouts.

“You gotta win Uwaaaaaaaaa!”

A hoarse call of support for Chihiro, too.

“You have to shave your head if you lose, Chihirooooo!”

… and a threat.

“Go for it, Chihiro-kun!”

Among the hubbub, Enjouji’s voice reached Chihiro’s ears too.

Chihiro was slightly surprised. That Enjouji, always the soft one, could shout so loudly.

“Begin!”

The battle kicked off.

“All right, let’s do this, Uwa!”

Tada yelled from beneath Chihiro as his “horse”, and in charge of direction. Chihiro’s group began to move.

The Green Team he belonged to had many bulky guys, and they had used that kind of strength during the preliminaries to break through the other side with brute force.

Compared to them, the Red Team didnt depend on that kind of power to win.

However, the Red Team possessed an honest-looking second year who seemed to be unusually lucky during the matches and was a galloping, invincible “Martial Goddess” on the battlefield — Kiriyama Yui.

Yui didn’t just attack girls, but boys too, just like a sprinting, ferocious tiger on the battlefield.

The Red Team seemed to acknowledge Yui’s fighting ability: Yui’s “horses” were all taller girls. Even so, if they used normal battle tactics, they still shouldn’t be able to reach the male riders, but when Yui fought she would stand on three female “horses” and attack. It was a highly difficult skill that could not be replicated by normal people.

If the boys could also fight the opposite sex, maybe they could match that; but the boys couldn’t attack Yui, and the girls were no match for her.

Having overcome her disadvantageous height, Yui was wiping the floor with everyone by herself.

“Anyway, girls, first lure away Yui-se… lure away that long-haired girl’s group, and buy us some time! We’ll smash the guys first!”

Chihiro commanded loudly.

The Strongly United Team versus the Few But Elite Team. Both sides were evenly matched.

A fantastic, chaotic battle unfolded between them.

Sand flew.

Cheers erupted.

The cavalry groups of both sides fell in battle, one by one, onto the sand.

A second year boy second only to Yui as an elite began facing off with Chihiro. Yui’s activity had far outshined this boy’s, but he had seized a massive number of bandannas on his own.

“GO!”

Chihiro struck first.

The boy responded to Chihiro and took action, but Chihiro focused on this moment and threw out his arm. It had been a feint.

“Eat this!”

Chihiro snatched off the boy’s bandanna.

“Incredible, Uwa!”

“Don’t look at me now, I’ve practiced karate for a long time!”

When he realized it, there were no more groups around him.

The only ones left on the battlefield were a group of girls on his team, and the enemy group with Yui.

Live commentary from the Broadcasting Club broke out on the loudspeakers.

The only one currently left on the battlefield is the very, very, very active Kiriyama Yui-san of the Red Team, who in one fell swoop has become a female hero! Where was she in her first year?! In addition, the Green Team still has one group of guys and one group of girls. Therefore, after we organize the situation… Please explain for us, commentator-san.”

The instant Kiriyama-san loses, the Green Team will win; on the other hand, if the girls of the Green Team are eliminated first, there will only be a guy versus a girl left on the battlefield, and the match will be declared over. Since there will be an equal number of groups, the cavalry fight will be a draw, and the Red Team will win. If the Green Team’s guys are eliminated first, it will be a girl versus a girl, and the match will continue, but… if it becomes one on one, there is not a shred of doubt that Kiriyama-san of the Red Team will win. Even if it’s two on one now, the guys can’t attack the girls, so this can be called a one-on-one. In other words, victory has already been —”

Okay, thank you for that very professional commentary! Incidentally, although that last comment was not wrong, it would kill the mood, so there’s no need to be so thorough! In any case, the first team to suffer an elimination will lose! Just remember that, everyone! In other words, this is the true final decisive battle, it’s so awesoooome!”

They had gotten a small glimpse of the method that the event organizers had used to keep the mood sizzling.

Everyone listened intently to the commentary, and the never-ending fierce fighting stopped for a moment.

A moment of silence loomed on the battlefield.

Yui’s group was positioned directly in the center, and Chihiro and the allied girls sandwiched her between them.

Chihiro and the allied girls signaled to each other with a glance, and slowly closed in on Yui. The sandwich maneuver didn’t really have any meaning, because Chihiro couldn’t attack Yui; it was really a duel between the two girls, and the results of that were already predictable.

So it was just as the commentator had said: victory had already been decided. It wasn’t an exaggeration.

But —

If they thought of victory as an absolute goal, and thought backwards from their goal, they still had a chance.

Interesting, how interesting.

Even in this sort of situation, as long as they did not give up hope, they could still find a way to turn the tables, so this world was really too interesting.

Next, he would only need to take action, and turn the false victory in his mind into reality.

The distance between both sides slowly decreased.

They were about to enter the into range of battle.

Just then, Yui stood up from her seated position on her “horses”. Both of her feet stepped onto the shoulders of two “horses”, and she nimbly maintained her balance. She stood extremely tall; it looked practically like cheating.

Yui’s chestnut hair billowed in the wind, and she fixated on the enemy she was about to pounce on.

“So we’ll win if we just defeat that girl? Don’t mind if I do, then. Chihiro-kun can’t attack me anyway —”

“Hey, Yui-senpai.”

In order to win, Chihiro spoke to Yui.

“Yeah, what?”

“Yui-senpai, you’re not trying to… make the cavalry fight a draw, and have the Red Team win like that? If you defeat our girl first, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Chihiro incited the unyielding Yui.

“What?! H-How could I do that?! Even if it’s just a cavalry fight, we’ll be earning an all-out victory, a perfect victory!”

“W-Wait, Yui, you don’t need to mind such an obvious provocation from them!”

She fell for it.

“The guys can’t attack us anyway, so it won’t matter if we attack them first! All right, let’s go!”

“I-I got it.”

Yui’s group sprinted at Chihiro’s group, their speed blinding. The girls who served as Yui’s “horses” had to be masters of strength.

“What do we do? Uwa! Do we run for it?”

“No need, keep it like this.”

Chihiro observed Yui’s movements; their allied girl tried to draw near Yui, but there was still a distance between them.

“You’re telling me to keep it like this… But we can’t attack, so if they catch us the game will end!”

End.

Indeed, it was about to end.

Let’s end this dragged out story here.

It was something he had never been willing to accept until now, like an illusion.

In this moment, make that thing real, and end it.

This end will become the beginning for next time.

 

“Yui-senpai, I’ve seriously liked you before.”

 

Yui’s competitive eyes widened in shock.

Yui’s bud-like lips parted in surprise.

Then, in the next instant — her face went deep red.

“Huh? Huh? W-What did you say, Chihiro-kun? S-Sincerely? Are you serious? Wait, hold on, um, Ch-Chihiro-kun, he… Y-Y-You’re kidding me! Wait, wait!”

Yui began to flail about. To stop her from falling, the horses could only stand still, trying to maintain balance.

“Yui, Yui! Concentrate, stop flailing around, stand still! Hey, listen to me! If you keep doing that —”
The girl allied with Chihiro seized the opportunity to snatch Yui’s bandanna.

p305
Page 305

Epilogue: Changing Someone’s World

“What do you mean? What do you mean? What do you mean?!”

After the Athletics Festival ended, Yui demanded of Chihiro in a spitting rage.

“I said that I’ve liked you before, it’s past tense, it’s happened before. We’ve known each other for so long anyway, so it’s not weird for such a phase to have happened, is it?”

“Urgh… You actually told me that you’ve liked me before to distract me… But it’s wasn’t a lie…”

Yui clutched her head in distress and shook it fiercely, as if she were enduring a struggle within her heart.

“Urgh~! I lost~! How am I supposed to explain this to everyone?”

Actually, the phase that he had liked her “before” was true for when he had met Yui, all the way to now.

Incidentally, since Yui was very active during the Athletics Festival, rumor is that she wasn’t blamed by anyone at all.

 

After their victory, Class 1-B seemed unable to calm down.

“Ahh, this is fantastic! This is utterly fantastic!”

“I’m so glad we trained seriously… You reap what you sow!”

“I think I’m actually moved~.”

“A lot of it came from the boys winning botaoshi!”

“No, that honor should go to the girls winning the relay race! That event gave us a ton of points!”

Everyone worked together for the group competition, and they had won. After this dramatic conclusion, the boys and girls in the class mixed together, discussing intently the Athletics Festival that day.

“But the most important part! Uwa-kun’s activity!”

The girl named Higashino shouted, pointing at Chihiro.

“You bet!”

“Good going, Uwa!”

“Yeah, Athletics Festival Leader!”

“Child of the Athletics Festival!”

“No, I didn’t do much… and what does ‘Child of the Athletics Festival’ mean? What kind of character are you guys turning me into?”

Chihiro suddenly talking about working hard before the Athletics Festival had led his classmates to believe he held some sort of special sentiment towards it.

“Let’s just call Uwa-kun ‘Athletics Festival’ from now on!”

“Don’t just make decisions on your own! At least call me something that fits me…”

“Give me an example, what kind of characteristic can we use as Uwa-kun’s nickname?”

“… For example… I think I was unusually passionate back there…”

“Ah, so Uwa-kun wants to become that kind of person? Heh! Didn’t expect that.”

“Uwa, I’m very sorry to inform you, but there’s something called staying within your boundaries…”

“Don’t advise me all seriously like that! It’s my freedom to admire whatever I want! N-No, I don’t admire anyone in that way!”

“Chihiro-kun’s a tsundere. Like, 80% tsun, and 20% dere.”

“Shut it, Enjouji. When did you become so familiar with the meaning of tsundere that you can even give examples?”

Afterwards, all members of Class 1-B held a bowling tournament as the celebratory banquet of the Athletics Festival.

 

Next morning, the breakfast table was stacked with a simple salad and toast. Chihiro, his father, and his younger brother sat at the table; his mother was in the kitchen preparing bentos for both boys.

Chihiro spread butter on his toast, and bit into it.

The three of them didn’t talk.

His father sipped his coffee and read the newspaper. He didn’t know whether something good had happened to his brother, or he had become obsessed with some song; he would occasionally hum while he ate.

Only the sound of the television echoed emptily.

To brush up his appearance, his father stood and left the table.

His brother’s untouched tomatoes sat on his plate. His mother knew that he wouldn’t eat them, but kept adding them into his brother’s salad anyway.

It was a typical morning that had already repeated several times, tens of times, hundreds of times.

Today, Chihiro was determined to try and change this morning a little bit.

“Are you humming Yuratei’s new song?”

“Eh? You know that band, aniki? So you listen to this kind of niche music too. Their new song is great, by the way! But I’m broke right now! I can’t buy their CD~. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to the MV on their official website…”

“I have the CD, want to borrow it?”

“Eh… You have the CD? When did you become interested in this type of music, aniki? I’ve always thought that you’d pay attention to that! Lend it to me! Lend it to me!”
“Sure, but you need to finish your tomatoes first.”

“Eh… tomatoes? Hey, what’s with that condition! Why… I-I got it! I’ll eat it! I’ll eat it, okay!”

His brother threw all of the tomatoes into his mouth and began to chew.

“Ugu… Oof… Mm, finished! Lend it to me right after school today!”
With that, his brother dashed towards the bathroom.

His plate was clean, leaving nothing left.

“Thank you, Chihiro.” His mother said.

Only the noise of the television echoed emptily — Chihiro had always thought this, but if he listened carefully, he would discover that the morning of the Uwa household still resonated with the warm, gentle sounds of his mother preparing food.

As long as he tried to change, the world would immediately change.

As long as he changed his perspective on things, the world would immediately change with it.

The world will always maintain its original form, his own world within it, and he could rely on himself to change.

After finishing his preparations, Chihiro left home.

It was the first school day after the Athletics Festival. What exactly would the class’s mood be like? If the mood back then had only been temporary overexcitement, today the class would regain its original mood, and what should he do then? No, that would be quite interesting too.

What would he want to do then?

He already knew that his classmates could be serious when the circumstances called for it, so could he maintain the current situation? Ahh, indeed, that would work. It would be a real headache to be that passionate all year; it didn’t fit his personality at all.

The best case scenario would be if they become passionate only during events… Chihiro thought so, but things would certainly not go as well as he hoped.

There was no way he could create a world that went as he hoped.

Because everyone had their own ideal world.

Everyone’s ideals were different: they would interfere with each other, conflict with each other, and finally combine, into a massive world.

Then, how should he view that world — this world?

Chihiro looked up into the sky.

The blue sky unfolded as far as the eye could see.

Every time he saw this sky, he would remember.

— Remember how those people had changed his world.

+++

Could he change someone’s world? — thought Yaegashi Taichi.

After the phenomenon of <Fuusenkazura> making everyone see imposters and selecting Chihiro to become the inciter had ended, Chihiro and Enjouji came to thank Taichi, saying “It’s thanks to you senpais, that you could change our world”.

Changing someone’s world was no easy task, and it wasn’t a task one could do just by “doing” it, but during <Fuusenkazura>’s phenomenon, Chihiro and the others certainly seemed that way. In this time, had he done anything himself?

When this time had first begun, Taichi didn’t even notice that the phenomenon had started. Although Chihiro had claimed “I didn’t think I could win”, he was being much too modest, and the actual situation was a lot more dangerous.

Imposters began to appear. What a frightening world.

If they had missed one piece of the puzzle, he didn’t know what would become of it. He seemed to lose his memories in the middle of everything; just how much had Inaba and the others worried about him?

But everyone worked together to pass this crisis.

<Fuusenkazura>’s new method was no longer random this time. However, even if Chihiro was consciously instigating incidents, to Taichi, it was no different from being random. Just in this sense, it could be said that he had definitely acted according to certain rules.

But did <Fuusenkazura>’s change of method hold some sort of important meaning?

Did this mean that a new stage was going to begin?

Or did it signify that it was going to end soon?

No matter what, they had successfully protected their world this time. For now, just this was enough.

In addition, Chihiro and Enjouji had finally, in the truest sense, become members of the Cultural Research Club.

They had passed the hurdle that is <Fuusenkazura>, and were willing to stay in the club. Taichi kept trying to convince them otherwise, but neither of them was swayed.

Because there were important things — both of them saying so looked very strong and dependable.

Although Chihiro was still Chihiro, he felt much more open than he was before.

Although Enjouji was still Enjouji, she felt much more assertive than she was before.

Even though they hadn’t changed much superficially, both had changed in many ways. If they had changed for the better, and if he had helped with that, then that was excellent.

How had he — how had he and the others changed those two?
In the end, Taichi still couldn’t figure it out.

Taichi could only say one thing.

As long as he treasured every day, and lived with all his might, maybe he could occasionally change someone’s world — just that.

+++

Taichi and Yui didn’t lose their memories.

She was so, so, so so so so glad.

If their memories had been lost, their memories of everyone had been lost… Damn, she didn’t even want to think about it.

Inaba didn’t know how many nights she had tossed and turned over this, but luckily she’d scraped by just before she had a meltdown. Before her glasslike theatrics of feigned strength could shatter, they had regained their memories, and no one needed to worry about her.

Inaba fervently believed that it was everything she had.

It was everything, and it was her.

But luckily, after this incident, she couldn’t help but think about that kind of future.

Inaba was downright unable to imagine, and did not want to imagine that kind of world. But that world might loom one day. Then, she would… Inaba was at a complete loss for what to expect. This was scary, this was scary; Inaba could only fear it, fear it more than anything.

 

If Yaegashi Taichi were to disappear, what would she become?
Inaba Himeko tried to imagine a future like that — and began to tremble by herself.

p318
Page 318

Afterword

To all readers who have picked up this book, I am sincerely grateful.

«Nise Random» is the sixth book in the «Kokoro Connect» series, following Volume 1, «Hito Random», Volume 2, «Kizu Random», Volume 3, «Kako Random», Volume 4, « Michi Random», and the short story collection, «Clip Time».

“As long as we try a little harder, ‘Kokoroco’ will become a widely used official abbreviation… we only need a final push!” I’m Sadanatsu Anda, who has always held this kind of small wish. Say it with me: ready~, Kokoroco!

By the way, perhaps some readers have already noticed, but in every one of my afterwords, I start by writing all of the this series’ titles, in order.

This is because this book is clearly part of a series, but the book title doesn’t include a volume number, so in order to minimize confusion or a wrong purchase when readers buy it, I make it clear at the beginning of the afterword.

But, someone would point out, “If that’s so, then you should have numbered them from the beginning.” Indeed, that hits me where it hurts.

We have thought before about adding the volume numbers if possible, honest.

However, all thoughts like those were completely rejected, and in the end, we couldn’t help but relent. That towering barrier we had no way of climbing over… Yes, indeed, those are the so-called — grown-up matters.

… Yeah, I just wanted an excuse to say the phrase “grown-up matters”.

Well, why did I bring this up? Those who already know might call it hindsight 20/20, but I hope that you readers can take this opportunity to learn something.

When you encounter an item without volume numbers in a bookstore or some other place, and become distressed, wondering “Which volume is this?”… Please see the back cover! If it’s a Famitsu published book, you will be able to tell which volume of the series it is just by looking at the back cover.

By way of example, this book should be marked “A 12 1-5” on the upper portion of the back cover. “A 12” is my authorial serial number, and “1-5” signifies that this book is the fifth volume of my first series.

As long as you glance at the back cover, you won’t be confused with the publishing order!

By the way, the short story collection «Clip Time» is labeled “A 12 2-1”. This is because the title of that volume changed a bit, so it was sorted as a second series.

This means that it’s impossible to tell which volume the short story collection comes after…

B-But, as long as you glance at the list of works in the dust jacket fold, you’ll be fine!

If the bookstore wraps it in film, then I apologize! I’m sorry (this is just in case, it’s not that particular bookstore’s fault).

Now, let’s talk about something else.

The second volume of the manga will release in December 2011!

The second radio drama CD, Spring, Dates, and Sister Games will release in January 2012!

And… an anime adaptation has been greenlit!

It really looks spectacular when I list it out in one go… Things seem to have been going pretty impressively lately…
This is all thanks to the support of the relevant staff and you, readers. I am truly grateful for everyone.

Whether it is the manga, the radio drama, or the anime, everything is indebted to the passionate efforts of the staff. The end product is shaping up to be quite exciting, I’m sure that it will fulfill all of your expectations! As the author, I will also do my utmost to aid production, so please stay tuned!

Additionally, I hope that everyone will please continue to support the «Kokoro Connect» series, its multimedia adaptations, and its various spinoffs.

I don’t have much room left, so I will begin my acknowledgements here. Firstly, to the relevant staff members involved in the publication of this book, especially to my wonderful executive editor, I am extremely grateful. No matter how many volumes I release, my gratitude will not change. Also, to Shiromizakana-sensei, I no longer know how to express my gratitude to you; in short, thank you so much, and please continue to support me.

Finally, to you readers who have been supporting this work since its first few volumes, and you, who picked up this book, I express my sincerest gratitude.

September 2011      Sadanatsu Anda


References (To be completely revamped)

  1. Kurihara is referring to making Kiriyama wear masks to conceal the fact that she will be attending all the events.
  2. The original word is “manzai”, which is a traditional style of stand-up comedy in Japanese culture. It usually involves two performers, or manzaishi: a straight man, or tsukkomi, and a funny man, or boke, trading jokes between each other very quickly. The boke is often characterized as forgetful and dense, while the tsukkomi butts in every now and then and corrects the boke’s errors. More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manzai
  3. “Pole-toppling”, capture-the-flag like, constitutes two teams trying to topple the poles on the other team’s side of the field. More info here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bo-taoshi
  4. “Cavalry fight”, commonly played during school sports day events. It is a field event. A team of four competitors work together, with three carrying the fourth who wears a bandana (hachimaki). The team is defeated if they are knocked over or if the bandana is removed by an opponent. More info here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_fight
  5. This is Gotou speaking.
  6. This is Gotou again, just in case you didn’t get it. Yes, he’s apologizing to Setouchi.
  7. Here, the author refers to the mini-dachshund’s highly energetic personality: brave, prudent, confident, and extroverted. It often makes comical movements and is a very happy breed. More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniature_Dachshund
  8. Nagase is presumably referring to the idea that in a group of diverse people (such as the Cultural Research Club), each person would have different personalities and traits. Here, she is joking that Taichi’s and Chihiro’s traits are overlapping.
  9. Again, referring to the joke about overlapping traits. See Reference 8 for more info.
  10. This is Chihiro speaking.
  11. I believe this is Nagase speaking.
  12. Again, referring to Nagase.
  13. This is a placeholder word, I believe its closest meaning is to signify “This happened and that happened.” Probably referring to Taichi telling Inaba what he wanted to say.
  14. Nagase is referring to the fact that Yui’s expectations for men are very high.
  15. Jankenpon is essentially “rock-paper-scissors”. Chihiro means that he participated in a game of Jankenpon to determine the cheering rep (the loser would do it) and he lost.
  16. “Pervert-ban”.
  17. Applicants to schools in Japan submit their first, second and so on preferences for schools in order to make their preferences known and help the school decide on the best applicant.
  18. Japanese real estate lingo for a Western style unit with 3 multipurpose rooms: a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen.
  19. See Volume 3, Chapter 11.
  20. See Volume 1.
  21. This is actually “she” in the original text. It is probably not a typo but some form of foreshadowing.

29 thoughts on “Kokoro Connect – Volume 5: Nise Random”

    1. Another thing… Do you plan to translate the Volume 6? There’s already a translation on Baka-Tsuki, but from what I have read so far, it’s pretty bad. Still mostly readable, but quite bad.

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  1. excellent translations, looking forward to the nexts chapters, how much time for chapter 7 and 8 to be released?

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    1. As soon as I finish with the rest of SAO V16, I’ll start work on finishing KC V5 once and for all. I apologize for taking more than a year to translate V5.

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  2. Thanks for translating these chapters man. Absolutely love it! Keep up the work and hopefully you can finish this volume. :) Really excited

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  3. Thank you very much for the translations! Can’t imagine how hard this must be, so I really appreciate your hard work! Hope you continue with the project…

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  4. Can’t believe this project was revived…!
    I love this series, one of my favs, and now I, we, can read it thanks to you defan.
    Really, thanks for all your hardwork ;)

    Like

  5. I see your back from hiatus. So I’m assuming your finished editing v15 of sao because Ur translating v16 right now. Just one question v16 came out not long ago how do u have Chinese source already?

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  6. Your traduction is pretty awsome, thank you very much, i’m going to traduce Kokoro Connect to the spanish and your english traduction is pretty clear, please continue with this nice work.

    Like

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