I somehow ended up going to the classroom for no particular reason and found it completely vacant.
I went to my seat and observed the surroundings. All that remained in the empty room was the morning air, leaning more on the cold side than the refreshing side. It almost felt like I was sitting in a place that had fallen into ruin.
This was probably going to be the last time I came to school.
So I took out all my belongings from the desk and placed them on top.
It only had a couple of notebooks and some worksheets I had forgotten to take home.
There were so few items that it made me smile a bit.
I slowly lost myself in thought as I flipped through my notes, which were taken by just copying whatever was on the blackboard.
Then I heard voices coming from the sports field and I closed the notebook.
Some club was probably starting their morning practice.
In the end, I was only here to make sure there was nothing of importance in my notes. So I took them and stuffed them all into the trash bin, then headed towards the door.
Just as I was about to open it, I heard steps coming from the hallway and I stopped my hand.
Soon after, the door opened and a girl appeared, wearing a brand new black uniform.
She beamed at me with a radiant smile that reminded me of sunflowers in full bloom, which seemed out of place for such a cold day.
“Good morning Sacchan, you arrived pretty early today.”
“Good morning, Tsukasa-san.”
Her round eyes narrowed a bit and she placed her hand under her chin, staring at my face.
“Is something wrong?”
“Hmm, just a bit…” As if trying to examine me more closely, she reached out to my cheek and pulled my face closer.
“Maybe I just imagined it, but you looked lonely just a moment ago.”
“It was your imagination then.”
“Mhm, it’s fine if it was just that.”
She slowly lowered her hand, took a step back and started rummaging through her bag as if she had just remembered something. In the end, she pulled out a bundle of paper.
The bundle was roughly two centimeters thick and the first page had “Sacchan Overhaul Plan (provisory name)” written in thick letters with glitter ink.
Under it, an umbrella was drawn and below that was what looked like a chibi representation of Tsukasa…and probably me.
The art style was like those old shoujo mangas that had eyes drawn with sparkling stars in them, so it didn’t really resemble me.
I started to feel a faint fatigue creep onto my shoulders.
“I don’t really want to ask, and I feel like I already know the answer, but I’ll ask anyway just to be completely sure.”
I pressed my hand against my brow, trying to hold back the dizziness, and sighed loudly.
“What is that supposed to be?”
“Eheheheh, thank you for asking.” Her round eyes–––getting really close to how they looked in that drawing–––sparkled brightly.
“In short, it’s a guidebook with 1007 ideas you can try in order to enjoy your school life!”
She placed one hand on her hip, stuck out her chest and raised the bundle upwards.
Ahh, there’s an idiot here.
I sighed once again.
“Thanks for appreciating it. For some reason, I still feel like you sound annoyed but I don’t mind that, I really don’t mind it at all.”
“What a beautiful way to deceive yourself.”
“Nah nah, I didn’t hear that, I didn’t hear anything. If it’s not something favorable, I can’t hear it.” Brushing away my attitude even more, she proceeded to open her “Sacchan Overhaul Plan (provisory name)”.
“Alright then, let’s go with the first one, ‘The basics of the basics, start with going to the city together’, just make sure you are free after classes,” she said unfazed, her face filled with innocence.
I stared at her doubtfully, but she ignored it and smiled like there was nothing wrong.
“What will happen if I refuse then?”
“I’ll cry.” Her expression didn’t change at all as she said that. “I’ll cry and cling to your legs like in Konjiki YashaKonjiki Yasha (The Golden Demon): Novel written by Ozaki Koyo about a tragic love story featuring a scene with the woman clinging to the man’s feet while crying, more about the story here.”
I’d hate that.
And that probably showed on my face since her smile grew even bigger.
“Okay, fine.” I nodded reluctantly.
“Yay! That’s just what I wanted and why I love you!”
“Sure, sure, whatever. Anyway, let’s go now then.”
She looked at me doubtfully.
“Let’s go now,” I repeated. “It’ll be too much trouble to wait until classes are over.”
She started giggling.
“We got a bad girl here.”
“Who are you even referring to?” I replied, annoyed. Then picked up my bag from the desk and left the classroom while urging her to move. She continued blabbing randomly and followed me without hesitating.
In the end, I went to the library together with Tsukasa.
I had to return L’Etranger now that I had finished reading it.
We reached the library after taking a detour more or less at the middle point between home and the school.
It was a three story building, and even though it was still early in the morning on a regular week day, it was already filled to around one third of its full capacity.
We took over a square table with four seats and sat opposite each other.
“Sacchan…I had something other than the library in mind…”
“I didn’t,” I said as I opened one of the books I had taken out before sitting down.
It was a soft-cover book, a collection of old poems.
Tsukasa started pouting and inflated her cheeks, obviously on purpose.
I ignored her and started reading the book.
When I was done reading the first book, I reached out for the second one, but then noticed that Tsukasa had moved over, sitting right beside me, and was staring intently at my face.
“Is there something on my face?”
“Not really,” she said, shaking her head. As she did that, her curly hair swayed and reminded me of the fur of dandelion seeds. “I was just thinking that you look really pretty.”
Her fingertips moved to touch my long hair as she stared at me, looking jealous.
“You look like ice that never thaws.”
“There was someone who called me a witch before.”
“I think I can understand what that person thought.”
Her fingers kept stroking my hair.
“It’s impossible to know what you are thinking. Your eyes look black as a night without a single star in it, and your hair looks like strands of shadows.”
Reaching the end of my hair, her fingers moved away reluctantly and slowly sank aimlessly.
“You’re so pretty, it’s even scary—it’s really frightening.”
I grabbed the second book.
“I feel like you wouldn’t be the least bit sad if I were to die.”
My hand was about to flick to the first page of the book, but it froze as I turned to look at her.
Her face was still smiling brightly like a sunflower, something I had grown used by now.
“Tell me, just what are you looking for in those books?”
“Just researching the name of a wolf.”
She tilted her head in question, but I didn’t explain any further and looked down to read the book.
But she wouldn’t stop staring at me.
“I won’t disturb you anymore, so is it alright if I just look at your face?”
“Go ahead,” I replied without looking away from the book.
In the end, she didn’t disturb me, didn’t say anything more and didn’t touch me again. She just stared at me from the side while resting her chin on her hands.
It was already way past lunch time when I arrived at the end of the fourth book.
“Alright then, should we get something to eat?” Tsukasa said, looking clearly weakened by the hunger. I nodded and we stood up together.
Then we left the library after I returned the books to their shelf.
After that we went to a nearby restaurant and ordered lunch.
I got carbonara while she got arrabbiata. I ate my food rather uninterestedly, while she acted like it was the best food she had ever eaten. Afterwards I got some coffee.
“Now that that’s taken care of, I’ll have you accompany me for a while.”
Maybe it would have been better if I didn’t reply so thoughtlessly.
She seemed to be really hyped for some reason as she took me wandering around.
We entered a boutique inside the train station and looked around from one end of it to the other, then she looked carefully at all the accessories lined up in the general store, played with the puppies in the pet shop, and continued to move to so many stores around the city that it was a pain to even think of counting them all.
And all the while, she was as hyped up as in the start.
She was smiling, laughing, constantly in high spirits, just like a young child.
She started to remind me of a broken toy.
I was with her all the way until it started to become dark, but she didn’t look tired in the least. I felt like I would collapse before she would.
“Should we take a rest?”
We had just passed two students wearing the same uniform as us when she said that.
By then, we had come all the way back to the library again, and we sat on one of the many benches placed all around there, putting our backpacks on the ground beside our feet. Then we bought canned black tea from a vending machine nearby.
I drank a gulp of it, letting the warmth sink in as I took a big breath.
It had a bit too much sugar, but it didn’t feel bad for my tired body. Tsukasa just held her can in her hand, not showing any intention of drinking from it.
“Did you have fun?” she asked.
“I did,” I replied.
“Then it’s all fine.”
On the bench illuminated by the red light of the setting sun, a bright smile sprouted like a sunflower, purely, innocently, and without any deep meaning.
“Somehow, you feel strangely gentle today, Sacchan.”
I didn’t return the smile. Ice wouldn’t melt in a sunset, always remaining cold.
“You only treated me like this today because it’s going to be the last time we are together, right?”
She leaned on my shoulder, closing her eyes.
There was a hint of sadness mixed in with her soft voice.
I simply remained silent.
“You know, I might not be worth much to you…”
Her voice sounded a bit more strained this time.
“But I don’t think you have to value me so little to hang out with me just out of pity.”
I took another sip from the can and turned to look at her.
She looked like she was sleeping, and if that was how she looked when she slept, I’d feel sorry for waking her up.
“I don’t really think of you that way though.”
“Really? Then I must have imagined that.”
Her voice turned lonely like the twilight, and she opened her eyes. They sparkled like red stars and reflected my shrewd face. Witch, ice that never thaws, both seemed correct, but they were also slightly off.
A hand circled around my shoulder and I saw lips moving closer to me.
As if barely sweeping by, they touched me. Then her face turned extremely pained.
“You’re really cold.”
In the end, had she touched my lips, or had it been my soul?
She stood up, took the bundle of papers–––the Sacchan Overhaul Plan (provisory name)–––and stuffed them into a nearby trash bin.
She walked away without looking back even once, disappearing into the setting sun that drew a long shadow behind her.
Whether my last words reached her or not, she didn’t say anything back.
ba-dump–––I felt a pained heartbeat.
On the bench where she had been sitting moments earlier, only the can she never drank from remained.
I left it untouched and left that place.
I returned to my room. There was nothing there except for the last remnants of the setting sun and the light from the moon that had barely started rising.
I changed into my robe and fell asleep.
When that incredibly silent night was over and it was morning again, the silver wolf hadn’t returned yet.
So once again I fell asleep inside that ruined room.
When I woke up again, the sun was about to set and the last bright rays of light pierced my eyes.
I took the sailor uniform off the hanger and changed into it.
The pitch black uniform was almost like a mourning dress, and I coupled it with a tightly tied red scarf.
When I looked at the mirror on the dresser, I saw the witch, the ice that never thaws, myself, slightly smiling.
A smile that was too cold for fall, one from the middle of winter.
I closed my eyes and remembered Tsukasa and her words.
–––You only treated me like this today because it’s going to be the last time we are together, right?–––
“Yes, that is correct.”
Her figure in my memories didn’t say anything, and there was no way she could even say anything.
I would probably never meet her again, and I don’t think I’d want to meet her again.
We didn’t have enough time or feelings, we didn’t have enough of anything really.
When I opened my eyes again, everything was the same.
And just like that, I left the apartment.
I threw away the key and walked away. I was probably never going to come back.
The wind silently caressed my hair, as though reluctantly wishing me farewell.
I wanted to end everything that still tied me to this city.
It was still the period between dusk and night when I went to the boundary between the city and the forest, where I saw that the stand no one ever went to was still open.
I went and sat alone at the counter.
Inside the stand, the bandana guy wearing the aloha shirt was polishing a cup with a towel as usual.
“Come in!” he said as he looked up. “Oh, you’re alone this time?”
I cut him off and ignored his question.
“You were always observing me, weren’t you?” I asked as I placed my elbow on the counter. “Is there something you know?”
His silence didn’t deny or accept anything. He just stood motionless, staring at me.
A smile spread on my lips.
“Can I order something?”
“Sure, what do you want?”
“I want one sorcerer.”
“I’ve never heard of any tea called that.”
He played dumb as he forced a smile while his fingertips moved up to scratch his temple.
“It wasn’t hard to figure it out.”
As I spoke, I pointed at the sign, at the old character resembling a megaphone depicted in it.
That character was called a rune.
“The 26 old runes, like that Peorth of Fate there.”
I returned my fingertip to the counter and traced on it an N with both ends stretched out. The same character I had seen carved in Budworm’s chest.
“Or like this Sigel of the Sun.”
“I still don’t get what you’re trying to say.”
I rested another finger on top of the counter.
“You identified Shiro as a wolf. Meanwhile, literally everyone else called him a dog.”
“That’s still only circumstantial evidence.”
One more finger landed on the counter.
“There was also that time I asked if you knew someone with only one eye. You answered that you had never met such a girl before. But I never specified it was a girl.”
He shrugged, looking slightly annoyed.
“That’s also just circumstantial evidence. I thought you were talking about one of your friends, so I assumed it had to be a girl.”
I placed a fourth finger on the counter.
“I also heard about it directly from your disciple, as a trade for Natsume Aya’s knife.”
After a moment of stillness, he burst out laughing madly, covering his mouth with his left hand pressing against his head.
“You really have some weird tastes. If you had such a clear proof, then you should use it from the start. Was it so amusing to hear me find excuses?”
“That last one was a lie,” I said nonchalantly.
As if moving through thick syrup, he slowly lowered his hand, and even more slowly, he opened his mouth.
“…What was that?”
“She loathes me. There’s no way she’d agree to an exchange like that with me, ever. Even if I tried to force it out of her, I believe it would’ve most certainly backfired on me. She’s incredibly stubborn, has a really bad personality and her head is messed up on an entirely different level.”
I saw his mouth hang wide open while his expression turned completely stupefied as I kept talking.
“Were the first three points really so logical that fourth one passed as a valid point? For you to be deceived by such a ridiculous lie…”
His shoulders jumped in an exaggerated manner as he raised his hands. It was a pose of surrender.
“Okay, okay, you got me. Girls who quit being human are a different thing nowadays… A long time ago, someone like you would have made quite a fine sorceress.”
“And you’re rather incompetent.”
He had way too many unnatural traits to begin with.
We had barely met when he randomly spoke about a red wolf.
Then even if he had fallen unconscious, he ought to have noticed how much Shiro spoke with me, no matter how low our voices were.
But more than anything, it was the fact that he had called out to me.
“You were the one who gave her that power, and you were the one who came here looking for me. So now I’ve been thinking…”
ba-dump, I heard a beat.
“What could be the goal of a sorcerer? What kind of benefit would there be in eliminating me?”
“Stop,” he interrupted, but I ignored him and continued.
“The silver wolf, that’s the only thing a sorcerer would target.”
“Just stop!” He shattered the cup he was holding in his hand. “They say beautiful roses always have thorns, but you just have a really bad attitude instead.”
“Isn’t it a bit too late to say that?”
I snorted lightly and brushed my hair back.
“Now then–––” I murmured as the black whip wriggled on my skin and my heart started burning.
“I don’t have any plans on ever giving Shiro to you, and your disciple isn’t here. I’m the only one in front of you now.”
The sorcerer picked up where I left speaking as he extracted fragments from the shattered cup out of his palm.
“Bluntly put, I was given only two choices: either you die, or I get killed.”
“So, what do you plan on doing?”
“What do you think about making an exception and settling this peacefully?”
A friendly smile spread on his lips after he said that, but through his sunglasses I could see a dangerous shine.
I hit the counter with my hands as I jumped up high and flipped upside down in mid air.
While still in the air, I looked down at the stand, hearing the sound of an explosion coming from inside it as fire enveloped it entirely and spat at its surroundings.
I had jumped up, while the sorcerer had jumped back away from the stand.