Chapter 1: The Girl’s most suitable place.
As I walked alongside the river while holding my bag, I started to think how this city resembled an amusement park.
The streets were paved in stone and the street lights were old school lamps. The stones that were used to build the houses still had that elegant finish that seemed to exude that scent peculiar to old buildings.
On my left side, the handrail placed to protect things from falling into the river was carved with iris flowers, which fit really well with the rest of the scenery.
Apart from those few things, not much more stood out, everything else looked like a regular city.
There weren’t that many cars passing by, but all of them were the same kind of estate cars you could see in any other city, there were also motorcycles around. The people walking were also clothed with the same kind of clothes I was used to seeing. There were no people riding horses or wearing kimonos.
I even saw places that had automatic doors installed.
I hadn’t seen one yet, but I could imagine that there were convenience stores around too.
And after walking for some time, a bridge came into view.
It had two lanes and was around three or four meters long.
The material it was built with would normally have looked white but, bathed in the crimson light of the setting sun, it appeared red. The bridge too, was supported by four pylons made of stone.
It gave off old vibes, but at the same time it made me think that it was more of a proof of how it endured the passage of time.
“That bridge is placed right in the middle of the city.”
Yuunagi who was walking a few steps ahead of me said that, without even turning to look back at me.
According to her, this city was more elongated towards the east and west, while shorter on the north and south sides.
Which meant this bridge connected the east with the west side.
“Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen any other bridges so far.”
“This is the only bridge.”
“…Isn’t that a bit too impractical?”
“Not in the least. Judging from Yuunagi’s experience and knowledge, any sort of needs can be fulfilled as easily in the east side as in the west side.”
I was starting to wonder if there was no way of talking her out of her incredibly verbose and roundabout way of talking.
“So in other words, it’s more like two different cities separated by a river.”
“Tsukagi Saki’s thoughts are not wrong. The place Yuunagi is taking Tsukagi Saki to is located on the outskirts of the west side.”
“And that’s where your master is, right?”
She shifted her gaze a bit, looking towards the pointy rooftop of a building on the other side of the street.
Or to be more precise, she was looking at the clock placed slightly below the roof.
It was currently 3:55pm.
“Yes, at this time, my master should still be there.”
It seemed like it would still take some time walking though, so we took a bus.
Combined with the scenery, it was built more like a tram on the outside, but the inside was just like any regular bus.
The bus stop was placed just besides the bridge, and shortly after we were inside, the rumble from the motor started and we were on our way.
When we were getting close to the west side, Yuunagi stood and pressed the stop button.
The stop here was named “School Front Bus Stop”.
We stepped out of the bus and once again, I followed behind her as she walked into the school.
In front of the main gates of the school an elderly man stood as guard, but still nodded slightly at me and said nothing even though I was wearing my black sailor uniform.
A small promenade was behind it, somewhere near there a statue of a man was erected. Probably one of the founders of the school. Around the statue was a broad lawn with multiple benches. A large gathering of students were there too.
They were all girls wearing the same well built uniforms, some were reading books, others spoke between them, and they all seemed to be having a fun time under the sunset.
Beyond the promenade, a school building built in the shape of a “U” was standing. The building stood three floors tall, it was probably better to describe it as some sort of stylish residence rather than a school.
It was bigger than a residence, but smaller than a school. The whole place seemed like the sort of place where high class people would get together.
This is probably what some would call a princess school.
Trying to figure out what was happening I turned to look at Yuunagi who was beside me.
And saw her well shaped yet empty of emotion doll-like face.
“Is there-” Without turning to look to me at. “-something on Yuunagi’s face?”
“No, nothing at all.”
“Well then…” She suddenly turned her face closer.
Even the way she did that looked mechanic and her breath was perfectly timed. Her purple eyes looked like marbles as they reflected my image.
I looked slightly distorted in that reflection, black smudged in purple, two colors that couldn’t really mix.
“Did I do something weird?”
“No.” Her lips moved smoothly as though driven by a machine. “Yuunagi was just noting how Tsukagi Saki doesn’t seem to change her facial expression much.”
“…The same goes for you.”
I replied in a tired voice and shrugged it off.
After entering the building, she changed into her indoor shoes while I took one of the slippers prepared for visitors.
The light of the setting sun filled the hallway as we headed down it, crossing paths with almost no other student.
The few girls who passed by all wore oak brown blazers like Yuunagi and had a gentle aura to them.
“Good day.” They would all greet politely.
“Good day.” I replied, acting as polite as them.
If I had to be honest that irked me a bit and didn’t feel like me at all.
At the end of the first floor’s hallway there was a dining room, and that’s where Yuunagi stopped.
She opened the double door at the entrance and I peeked into its interiors. It looked more like a coffee lounge than a dining room inside.
There were many round tables lined in the room, each covered with a cloth and were big enough for five or six people to sit at.
They looked simple but elegant, built out of highly polished wood that had a strong color to it, and the accompanying chairs were the same. A faint scent of black tea reached where I stood.
Inside, there was only one person making use of the dining room.
She too was wearing the same oak brown blazer and had a petite body, her appearance suggested she was slightly younger than me.
Her dullen silver hair was carefully trimmed to a round bob cut and her emerald green eyes had a glint of boredom in them. She was just sitting there with her elbows on the table as she stared at the ceiling.
It was then that I noticed she was sitting in a wheelchair, her legs so thin they looked like they would snap between two fingers.
“Otoa-sama.” Yuunagi called as she bowed from the entrance.
The girl on the wheelchair –––Otoa––– looked at Yuunagi and spoke languidly.
“You’re late, Yuunagi. I have been waiting for quite a while now, I feel like the boredom is about to kill me.”
“Yuunagi is truly sorry.” Yuunagi replied, her head still lowered.
“Mm, well, it doesn’t really matter. Let’s leave it at that.”
Saying that, she shifted her gaze to me, acting like she really thought it didn’t matter.
“Oh my, and who might this be?”
I placed my bag on the floor and rested my back on the door.
Then I remained quiet as I folded my arms and watched their interaction.
“Right.” Yuunagi raised her head and pointed at me with her left hand. “This is Tsukagi Saki. A transfer student.”
That was the first time I heard anything about that. I turned to look at Yuunagi, but she acted like the only thing she could do was look at Otoa at this moment.
“A transfer student?!”
A spark had quickly appeared in a pair of green eyes.
It was the same kind of shine the eyes of children have when they find a new toy.
“Now, that is incredibly lovely.” She placed both of her hands on her cheeks and tilted her head slightly to one side, her voice sounded ecstatic, like sweets with excessive amounts of sugar in them. “Come come, I want to talk with you.”
She kept speaking, overjoyed while the shine in her large eyes increased.
“Hurry. I absolutely love having conversations with other people.”
I felt that if I ignored her, she would even get cake and tea and start a tea party for me. Everything about her, even her surrounding seemed to be made just to cater to the interests of young girls.
I was unsure if I was supposed to go along with it, or if I should ignore it all.
If I chose according to my feelings, I would definitely choose the latter.
But logically, I had no reason to accept or decline.
I looked at Yuunagi. She turned towards me for just an instant and signaled me. I nodded back and shifted my weight against the door.
“Otoa-sama.” She spoke with well timed syllables. “Tsukagi Saki has to leave now to finish the paperwork required for transferring.”
“Oh, is that really so?”
Her expression was clouded by boredom and discontent. Her face looked like a child that had just received cake and was then taken away from it, and she started hitting the table with her fingers in an irritated manner.
“I guess there’s no way around it then. Let’s leave it to the next time we meet.”
“Yes, Yuunagi agrees that that is the best course of action.”
After Yuunagi, I followed.
“Well, you heard her.”
I lifted my back from the door, let my arms fall loose and sighed internally.
I felt–––no, I was almost certain that this would develop into something really bothersome.
Yuunagi stood completely upright as she turned around and we were about to leave the dining room.
“Tsukagi Saki-san.” From behind us, Otoa’s voice reached me.
“How would like me to address you as? Tsukagi-san? Saki? Sacchan also sounds like a pretty name.”
‘Sacchan’…that name brought back some old memories, so I shook my head.
My long black hair flowed behind my movements, and for a split second drew an arc in mid-air.
“Just call me Saki. I like it the most that way.”
“Okay Saki. Yes, that does seem to fit you well. It feels sharp and cold, like a morning in winter.”
“Is that so?”
“You can call me Otoa.”
“Got it, now then, Otoa, good bye.”
“Yes, let’s meet again sometime and talk a bit.”
She waved her hand at us.
I was unsure of what to do, so in the end I just assented with my eyes as I turned away from her.
Then we departed with Yuunagi as I heard Otoa gently chuckling behind us.
We walked down the hallway again, leaving the dining room behind us. When we were getting close to the entrance, Yuunagi stopped a few steps ahead of me and turned around. The setting sun was behind her, so her hair cast a shadow on her head.
And in the middle of that shadow, her pale face stood out.
“Will Tsukagi Saki kill Otoa-sama?” Said the expressionless doll–––Yuunagi.
It sounded more like a confirmation than a question. I had already guessed she had to be the target from the way I was led directly to meet her as soon as we arrived at the school.
I stared at her face, into her deep purple eyes. She closed her mouth, waiting for my answer.
She looked similar, really similar to me.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, if it’s needed, I’ll kill them.”
I spoke closing my eyes.
When I opened them again, her expression hadn’t changed.
“That reply fits really well with Yuunagi’s tastes. It makes Tsukagi Saki appear as a straightforward person.”
I couldn’t tell if she was actually serious or trying to be sarcastic.
“I just want to know one thing. What’s the relation between her–––Otoa, and Shiro?”
“Yuunagi doesn’t possess a concrete answer for that. The closest reply that could be presented is that there seems to be a silver wolf captured in Otoa-sama’s place. There’s a high chance that isn’t true, but that’s the only lead present.”
Her reply was a whole mystery on its own.
“Alright then, we’ll figure out what that means then.”
I didn’t see anything that could tie Otoa to a silver wolf. Knowing the silver wolf’s true nature, I couldn’t see what could relate him to Otoa–––to just a simple human.
And trusting Yuunagi’s words blindly also felt too optimistic.
As far as being trustworthy went, both of them were at around the same level.
“Yuunagi would recommend doing that. And also hopes to build a favorable relationship with Tsukagi Saki.”
“Only if it’s really needed.” I twisted my lips into a smile.
It was a cold, cruel and hungry smile.
The kind you’d show an enemy.
She took a step back.
It seemed like it was just a reflexive movement. She looked like she hadn’t even realized she had stepped back.
Instead, I took a step forward and placed my left hand on her cheek.
I pulled her face closer and softly whispered to her.
“Let’s get along. So I get Shiro back, and you have Otoa killed.”
“Yuunagi still,” Even now, the doll didn’t change her expression. “Thought if the best choice would be to kill Tsukagi Saki in this moment.”
Her voice though, seemed to have a miniscule amount, like a grain of sand, of fear in it.
My smile didn’t change as I slowly lowered my hand on her cheek.
It went down her neck, brushing against her shoulder, then her chest and waist, and didn’t stop until it reached her legs covered in her long skirt.
“I can move faster than you can take your gun out.”
I lowly muttered to her as I stroked the Kalashnikov hidden under her skirt.
She remained silent, and my smile disappeared.
“I’m just joking, don’t take it so seriously. You barely change your expression so I felt like teasing you a bit.”
She never finished her sentence.
But even then, her face remained the same.
We went to the principal’s department, and then to their office, and Yuunagi actually did present the paperwork necessary there.
To top it off, I was accepted immediately. I couldn’t understand what was going on.
“Yuunagi only mentioned Otoa-sama’s name.”
That didn’t explain anything to me, but I decided to stop thinking too deeply about it and just roll with it.
At the same time I also received approval to use the dormitory.
It was located in a somewhat inconvenient place, but I didn’t know how long I was going to stay in this place, and more than anything, I needed to secure a place to rest.
As for food, boarding students would normally use the dining room together with the regular students, but for tonight’s dinner I wouldn’t be able to join them.
The reason why felt like a bad joke.
Dinner was served following a defined course, which also meant that the servings were rather limited.
Or so I was told.
Apparently it didn’t happen often, but it wasn’t strange for a shortage of servings to happen, at least according to Yuunagi.
It almost felt like I had slipped into some sort of alternate reality for that to happen.
“Yuunagi was told it’s part of learning manners.”
What a joke, learning manners? That could be hardly taken seriously.
“I’m tired of this topic now.”
I didn’t feel like talking anymore.
I hurried to the dormitory while eating the bread Yuunagi shared with me to enlighten my mood and drank some water. That was enough for me.
The dormitory was located at the other end of the property. It was a white two story building, with double doors and large windows.
If there was a cross on its roof, it would look like a small church.
Crossing through the doors led directly into the lobby.
Without counting the bathroom and the simple kitchen there was enough living space for around twenty people.
My room was the furthest one on the second floor.
It was a room for one, with a desk and basic furniture already provided.
Everything was made of wood, covered in a varnish that seemed to be able to last a century.
It was a good room, overlooking the fact that the bed placed beside the window seemed a little dusty.
I placed my bag on top of the desk and then lied on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
There was only one fluorescent light there, nothing more.
“First, Shiro disappeared.”
I muttered staring into the light and raised a finger in my mind.
“Then, I was asked to kill Otoa.”
I squinted my eyes slightly and raised a second finger.
“Then, I followed Yuunagi’s speculation and landed here.”
My eyelids slowly collapsed and the light vanished, and I released all my imaginary fingers.
“In conclusion, I was dragged into this and I’m rolling with it not knowing a single thing.”
I twisted the corner of my mouth feeling disappointed in myself.
Outside the window, the sun was finally giving up it’s light.
Under that burning red glow, I reminisced about the one-eyed girl.
The curfew was 9pm. And most of the students followed it, as soon as that time drew close, the entire dormitory would turn silent.
But of course, there were always those few exceptions.
It was 9:18pm when I heard knockings on my door.
I had just taken a bath and was wearing a bath robe. It was an almost black-like dark blue one, without any designs on it. It was a cheap off the shelf one, but I liked it a lot.
I was just thinking if I should explore the area some more or just go sleep when I heard the knocking.
“The door’s unlocked.” I muttered raising my body from the bed, thinking it was probably the dorm supervisor.
A moment later the door opened and I heard someone.
“Good Evening, Saki. We’re meeting again, like we said before.”
It was Otoa, smiling like a playful cat and the doll-like Yuunagi pushing the wheelchair. They were still wearing the same blazer, but they had probably taken a bath since I smelled the sweet scent of soap coming from them.
Yuunagi nodded at me with her eyes, and I just shrugged my shoulders.
She pushed the wheelchair inside my room, then silently closed the door.
I just sat on the bed until both of them were in front of me.
Otoa seemed to be slightly displeased from my lack of a surprised reaction as she started speaking again.
“Are we intruding?”
“Yes.” I replied.
She closed her mouth shut and her face turned more sharp. It might have been sharp, but looked just like a cat trying to look menacing.
“Would Otoa-sama,” Yuunagi butted in. “want some tea?”
“Please, with a lot of sugar.” Otoa replied, seemingly still in a bad mood.
“Understood, just like the usual then.”
As she replied she produced a teapot, a can with black tea and two cups on saucers.
All from inside her skirt.
“…That looks almost like some sort of magic trick.”
Back when she took the Kalashnikov out I started wondering if there was something else there, now I was sure there had to be something there holding everything inside.
“Yuunagi denies that. It is not a magic trick, it is more of a skill one gets used to after some time. If Tsukagi Saki would like to learn it too, it would be possible for Yuunagi to teach her.”
“I’d rather just leave that as a possibility, thanks.”
I was curious about it, but it wouldn’t be of any use to me.
I also didn’t like walking while carrying more stuff on me than necessary.
She nodded a bit, then picked the teapot up and left the room. Probably looking for a source of hot water.
I was left alone with Otoa after that, not a single word spoken by either of us.
Otoa was probably still a bit moody from before.
After a few dozen seconds, still looking in a bad mood she opened her mouth.
“Saki, do you have a boyfriend?”
I’m married, to a silver wolf.
“I don’t either.”
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“Not really.” She snorted and looked away. Her movement was so sudden her darkened silver hair moved like a grassy plain under a breeze, shining slightly under the light of the room.
She looked like she was an arrogant and stuck up cat. And now that I thought about it, she resembled a cat extremely well.
“I just wanted to ask. I did come here to have a conversation after all.”
And so, she kept talking.
“Though it seems like you don’t want to talk with me.”
“I don’t like talking about myself.”
I closed my eyes for a moment as I brushed my hair back.
There was nothing to talk about me.
“That’s so boring. Really boring.” She sounded like a sulking kid. “Does it really matter? Come on, talk with me at least for a moment.”
Looking more irritated, she started poking her thighs with her fingertips.
Further along those thighs there were her legs.
Those legs that didn’t move one inch.
“It’s not like I have an interesting life, it’s all just boring stuff.”
“Really now? Is there really anyone in this world who has a boring life?”
It seemed like she had regained some of her mood.
Her smile looked like a playful cat’s again.
And her emerald eyes were twinkling, probably having thought of something.
“I think that anything that is unknown is interesting just by that fact alone. Whether I like it or not, or if there was a merit in knowing, or if something really means anything or not isn’t related to that.”
“It seems our points of views only have a very slim chance of coinciding on that then.”
I lifted one of the corners of my lips in a smile.
But my eyes remained the same. Compared to Otoa’s innocent eyes, mine seemed extremely cold and silent.
“…Wow,” Otoa muttered as her large eyes opened even more. “It’s way better when you smile, you look quite beautiful when you’re not, but it’s even prettier when you smile.”
“Really now?” I erased that smile from my lips.
Otoa seemed slightly disappointed, but still really entertained by that.
“What shall we do? I really wish I could know more about you.”
As she spoke, she slid her hand into her blazer’s pocket.
From there, she pulled a deck of cards out.
“Let’s play a game.”
She chuckled a bit as she spoke.
“Whoever wins gets to give the loser one order. And mine will be for you to talk about yourself.”
I sighed loudly and slightly shook my head as I brushed my hair back.
It was already obvious, but my order would be for her to go away immediately.
“Alright then, what are the rules?”
“Let’s go with something simple.”
Otoa shuffled the cards with deft movements, giving the impression she was used to doing it, then presented the deck to me.
I cut the deck more or less one third from the top, then placed the lower cards on top.
“The game is this, we’ll make a bet whether the top card has a higher number than seven, or lower. If it is exactly seven we’ll start again. What do you think about that?”
Those were some quite simple and straightforward rules. They weren’t bad, especially the fact that the winner would be decided almost immediately.
“I’m fine with that. Who will choose first?”
“That would be you Saki, obviously. If the one organizing the game would also choose, it could be unfair.”
She said as she raised the deck.
“Now then,” Her green eyes glistened provocatively. “Choose.”
I replied instantly.
She seemed slightly taken aback by that and her face looked slightly surprised as she touched the top card, and slowly turned it around.
It was the ace of hearts.
I had lost.
“That’s quite impressive,” She said as she turned towards me in admiration, as if the ace of hearts was something really important. “You’re a person that doesn’t hesitate.”
“What are you talking about now?”
She waved the card a bit, then returned it to the deck.
“You didn’t hesitate at all when choosing a higher or lower number.”
“Well, what’s the point of hesitating?” I said shrugging. “No matter what talents or abilities one has, there’s only a one in two chance to win a game like this.”
“Normally people hesitate.”
At the same time as she said that the door opened. Yuunagi had returned together with the scent of black tea.
“Please excuse the wait.”
She said as she started pouring tea into the cups, then placing them on the table besides the bed.
“Thanks Yuunagi, you can go now.”
“…Otoa-sama?” Her voice sounded uninterested, but there was a hint of doubt in it.
“You can go, return to your bed and sleep. I’ll stay here.”
Otoa didn’t even look at her when saying that as she took one of the cups on the table and took a sip form it.
Yuunagi didn’t move. She just turned her silent eyes to me, but I shook my head.
There was no way I could know what Otoa was thinking.
In the first place, if Yuunagi didn’t understand her, I was even less likely to be able to.
“Yuunagi.” A chilly tone was mixed in her voice. “I think I told you to go back?”
She bowed down slowly.
“Now then, Yuunagi will take her leave.”
She left the room then. Without saying anything more, and without showing any other expression.
Maybe I was thinking too much, but her back as she walked away looked somewhat frail. I was probably just imagining it though.
“Do you dislike black tea, Saki?”
She said that nonchalantly as soon as Yuunagi left, her voice ringing bright.
“Relatively.” Once again, I was reminded of the past.
I held the cup with steam rising slowly from it in my hands and breathed in it’s soft sweet scent.
Looking into it, I saw myself reflected on the surface of the tea.
There was no feeling in my face, pale, and cold. It looked like some sort of doll, but not in the same way Yuunagi did.
“You’ll probably get to like it, the tea Yuunagi prepares is extremely tasty.”
Otoa said innocently.
“She would probably feel glad if you told her that directly.”
“Do you really think so?” She tilted her head and put her cup down.
“Probably, I guess.”
“Then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try telling her.”
I drank all my tea, then returned the cup onto the saucer.
“Now then, what do you want to talk about?”
She had reached towards her cup again, but stopped midway.
Instead, her head turned down in such a way where her face was hidden from me sitting on the bed.
“Saki…do you like Yuunagi?”
“I don’t really dislike her.”
But I also didn’t exactly like her. If I had to put is as bluntly as I could, I was suspicious.
“Is that so? I saw you hugging her close in the hallway earlier, so I was wondering…”
After thinking about her words for a bit, I figured she was talking about what happened in the school building during the sunset.
I hadn’t been hugging Yuunagi, it just looked like that to her. That was all.
Silence filled the room as she kept her head lowered, not moving even a little bit. I turned to look outside the window.
It was a really dark night outside, as if the darkness was swallowing any light, and any sound.
That darkness reminded me of the depths of the forest.
“You know, I would never be able to hug anyone in the way you are imagining.”
The reflection in the window showed Otoa stroking her unmoving legs.
“Now then,” I asked her once again. “What do you want to talk about?”
That was her reply.
“If it’s about you, anything really.”
I spoke about myself, about wolves, and the forest. Spoke about the dark and deep forest.
I kept talking until she fell asleep, and the tea turned cold and bitter.
In the end, it didn’t take that long of a time.
Once Otoa was asleep I stood up and leaned against the wall besides the door, then lightly tapped the door with the back of my hand.
After knocking on the door from the inside, it was opened from outside and Yuunagi showed herself.
“Were you listening?”
“No.” She shook her head. “Yuunagi did not hear anything.”
I didn’t say anything more and just pointed to Otoa, who was sleeping with her chin resting on the bed.
Propping her back in the wheelchair, Yuunagi headed back with her.
Yuunagi–––A face without emotions, a voice without emotions, an existence without any emotion.
A moving doll.
I took a comb out from my bag and passed it through my hair.
And kept at it, until I fell asleep.
Somehow I had ended up getting enrolled in the school, but I had no intention at all to show up to any class.
I had planned on waking up early and going out to the city to look for Shiro.
With that in mind I changed into my uniform and left my room. But as soon as I did that I ran into a familiar face, one I had already seen just a couple of hours before.
“…Hadn’t you left after taking Otoa back last night?”
“Yes.” She said nodding in a monotone voice. “However, Yuunagi assumed that if Tsukagi Saki was left alone, there was a high probability of her acting on her own.”
“So you’re here to take me to school?”
If she had been waiting here to ambush me just because of that, she must have quite a lot of free time in her hands.
After all, it was still around one hour before classes would even start.
I was really curious how long she had been there waiting.
“Yuunagi thinks that since Tsukagi Saki already transferred, it would not be bad for her to take some classes too.”
“You’re the one who made me transfer! And without asking me first at that!”
I had started yelling without realizing it, but her expression didn’t change.
“Yuunagi recommends to not think too deeply about it. Taking part in classes as a form of resting is not the worst thing that could happen.”
“What do you really want?”
“Otoa-sama is really looking forward to having class together with Tsukagi Saki.”
“So you waited here for me just so you could see that happen?”
“Yuunagi can not take any action that would go against Otoa-sama’s amusement.”
Something felt out of place when I heard that.
“Yuunagi can bear anything as long as that means Otoa-sama can be smiling.”
Then why did you ask me to kill her?
“…You have quite a nice personality.”
I shook my head and brushed my hair back while sighing.
“Yuunagi will gladly take that as a compliment.”
“I’m not complimenting you.”
“That was rude of Yuunagi.”
Yuunagi’s head moved down, then back up.
I moved my hand like a spear aiming at her eyes.
My nails touched her eyelashes, and my hand stopped millimeters away from her eyeball.
The tip of a gun was touching my chin.
She was fast.
I hadn’t been able to even see her take the gun out.
Her speed when we clashed in the entrance of the city was nothing compared to her speed now.
And even then, she was probably still not using her skill to the limit.
“I see. You seem to be different than a simple wooden puppet.”
“Affirmative. From a spectator’s view Yuunagi’s specs are superior.”
Something was weird in the way she said that.
“I understand, I’ll follow what you say for now.”
In any case, I still needed to search inside the school.
I lowered my hand, and she lowered her gun.
“Yuunagi expresses her gratitude.”
She bowed deeply, then turned around.
That probably meant she was done here.
“Where are you going now?”
“It is about time Otoa-sama finishes eating breakfast.”
She replied without turning back. Then she silently walked away as her hydrangea-like hair stood still without swaying to either side.
I stared for a few seconds at her hair, accented with a red ribbon, then returned to my room.
I had to at least ready some writing implements, and obviously textbooks and notebooks.
The morning sun leaked into the room through the window with opened curtains.
Bright rays of light fell on the bed making the sheets sparkle a bit.
Cold and refreshing morning air blew into the room, making me think that maybe going to school wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
I knew that was just an illusion though.
Even here, I was an outsider.
Nothing had changed.
And so, my second school life started.
“I’m Tsukagi Saki, nice to meet you all.”
Invited by the elderly teacher, I stood in front of the class and repeated the most common introduction. Behind me there was a green chalkboard with my name written on it, and in front there were 27 students–Yuunagi, Otoa and their classmates.
The windows were closed and the curtains remained still, a soft light passing through them. Everything seemed to say this was going to be a beautiful day.
I went through the introduction without stuttering, and went to sit at my desk. The place they had designed for me was on the back row, beside the window.
After a number of announcements, the elderly teacher left the classroom and the girl sitting besides me raised her voice.
“Nice to meet you, Tsukagi-san. Or would you prefer if I called you Saki-san?”
“Just Saki is fine.”
“Okay, Saki-san. You have a nice name, ‘blooming hope’.”Saki’s name is written as 咲希, 咲 is to bloom and 希 is hope or wish.
She smiled gently. She was a short haired girl, with glasses rimmed a beautiful pearl white.
Her moist looking eyes went along nicely with them. It even seemed like those glasses had been made specifically for her face.
“I’m Minegishi.” She introduced herself. “I’m part of the class committee so if there’s anything you don’t understand feel free to ask me.”
I glanced at her hand stretched towards me, then grasped it.
“I’ll keep that in mind, nice to meet you president.”
As I shook her hand, I saw a bit of bewilderment mixing into her smile.
“I am in the class committee, but that doesn’t automatically mean I’m the president you know. Why does everyone call me president…it’s so weird.”
…Now that she mentioned that, it was true.
“Maybe it’s because calling you committee member alone doesn’t feel right?”
“Yeah, and just look at yourself, don’t you think you look like a president too?” Said the girl in front of me, a tall girl with wild wavy hair. The conversation then kept bouncing around.
“Yeah yeah, her hair is short now but before it used to be long and tied into three braids. She really looked like a president back then.”
“She was already President at birth for sure.”
“And she will be for all eternity. When she graduates she’s going to marry, and her husband will call her President even if she doesn’t want it. The end.”
The girls started giggling. They seemed to be having fun while being in high spirits, all without forgetting to be graceful.
There were only three exceptions.
Otoa, who seemed to be in a bad mood, and me and Yuunagi not showing any emotion.
“But I like it more when people call me by my name.” Grumbled the president.
“That won’t happen. Because you’re our President.” A girl with curly hair butted in.
“But I’m not even the president…” As her voice trailed off, she seemed to remember something and suddenly turned and looked me in the eyes.
“…What is it?”
“Hey, Saki-san. You know, I would be really happy if you were the only one calling me by my name.”
She said beaming a smile towards me.
All the girls around started giggling loudly. Not in a malicious way, but in a really endearing tone.
“Saki-san…are you a bully?” She tried to smile again, looking confused.
“Not at all.”
I peeked into her eyes. Then lifted the corners of my lips into a smile and very gently tilted my head to one side.
Seeing me do that, her face suddenly turned red for some reason.
At the same time as I called her, she turned her face away in a really forceful manner.
“Somehow my heart just started racing like crazy right now!”
She almost screamed, as though asking for help from no one in particular.
“Oh my, is this the budding of love?”
“This is big news, we all have to support them as classmates.”
“Let’s organize a tea party. Stuff like this can’t be hurried, we should let their friendship deepen first.”
“What are you saying? I bet you just want to watch them do their thing.”
“But then the same applies to you, you know…” Everyone was smiling and chattiering gracefully, brightening up the mood all around the classroom.
The topic kept deviating more and more until the point where President, who started as the center of it, was now unrelated to the conversation.
And there was one more thing that I understood clearly.
Otoa wasn’t the only one feeling bored here.
“Can you all please stop now?”
A sharp, yet kind voice cut through the lively room.
Otoa was staring at me from her wheelchair.
“That’s unfair, President.” Said she, her face starting to pout. “I spotted Saki first.”
“Huh…Huhh? Wait, why would you need to tell me…”
President could only go deeper into confusion now.
Otoa pointed her slender finger at her.
“Let’s duel to see who gets Saki!”
I really wish you wouldn’t just forget about my opinion on any of this.
High pitched exclamations came from around the classroom. Spectators would act like spectators, reacting to anything exciting.
It seemed I was the only one with a cool head–––Or maybe not.
“Otoa-sama.” Yuunagi raised her indifferent voice. “Should a tea party be arranged for everyone in the dining room after classes? Since Otoa-sama just barely met Tsukagi Saki, Yuunagi thinks it’s best to prioritize building a more intimate friendship.”
“Hmmm…” Otoa muttered not completely convinced. “Well, I guess that’d be fine.”
Seeing the matters settle down, President calmed herself down as she stroked her chest.
“Did you hear that? Otoa-san is hosting a tea party.”
Someone said, then someone else repeated it further back and the word spread like a wave.
“So that means we’ll also get to eat sweets prepared by Yuunagi-san.”
“They are really tasty. I really like her cheesecake with strawberry sauce.”
This school was a weird place. Everyone ought to be different people, but once they all wore the same uniform as a sort of unifying symbol, they all behaved similarly.
Excluding me, just being perplexed by it, all the girls behaved hyped up and excited.
No matter how I looked at them, they seemed to be having a good time.
Or maybe they just so happened to have a bit of time to act this way.
“…A tea party…I guess I’m somewhat forced to show up there.” I said to myself grumbling.
“Well, Otoa-san might be the one hosting it, but the center of it is you, Saki-san.”
President said with a withering smile.
I shrugged at it and turned to look at the teacher’s desk.
“By the way, who’s that person who’s been awkwardly standing there for a while looking like he doesn’t belong here?”
“Ah, that’s our math teacher.”
As soon as President started replying, the entire classroom stopped their movements.
With graceful yet quick movements the girls that had been making so much noise just moments before, quickly moved back to their seats.
The middle aged man, wearing a bow tie and sporting a round moustache–––probably his attempt at looking like a gentleman, stood in front of the classroom and gave everyone an awkward wink.
“Let’s see, ladies. It’s an incredible honor for me to have been noticed by you, and it would be more so if I could join your conversation–––”
“Then talk with us too, teacher.”
“–––and I would love to do so, but I have a responsibility I need to carry out as an adult.”
That was the start of the class.
To be honest, that had been tiring enough to make me want to go back to the dormroom already.
Incidentally, the tea party turned out to be three times as tiring.
More than thirty students assembled in the dining room–––a few students from different years caught wind of the party and came to join––– and they all spoke a lot, laughed a lot, drank tea and ate cake. As if attempting some sort of plot, to one side of me I had Otoa sitting, and on the other side, President.
As I watched their merry feast, I imagined how it would seem like a deadly disease was spreading throughout the world if there was no cake and talking happening.
“Hey, Saki.” Otoa peered into my eyes from below as she rested her elbows on the table.
“Are you enjoying the tea party?”
I picked up a piece of dark chocolate cake and shoved it into my mouth.
“I’m a bit bewildered. I’m not used to being in places like this.”
“You’ll get used to it soon. And you’ll enjoy it soon enough too.”
She said that cheerfully, but somehow it rang out as though a curse were being put on me.
I turned to look at Yuunagi, standing besides Otoa without standing out or uttering a sound.
That made me feel slightly calmer.
Expecting it to end like that had been nothing but a fleeting hope.
I tried to avoid it early in the day, but by the time lunch arrived, I was surrounded.
To a certain extent I thought being together with Yuunagi and Otoa was going to be my fate, and it seemed everyone also assumed I was going to be with them.
No one had to say anything, not even ask me what I thought, before our desks got arranged.
Though still, something like this was really common in elementary school, they would constantly join many desks together to form a large table.
If there was anything different from that, it was that this time Yuunagi had placed a white table cloth on top of the desks and on top of it a vase with a flowers in it.
It was all neatly arranged, making me think of a skillful maid.
Me, Otoa, and President for some reason, took a seat. Yuunagi kept herself behind Otoa’s back.
If they had brought lunch in well prepped dishes now I would have stood up and left immediately.
But luckily there was only a basket with sandwiches, two empty plates and a teapot with hot black tea.
Each of the sandwiches were cut into small business card sized pieces, and the contents were ham and veggies that didn’t require one to open their mouth too much to eat them.
I rested my arms on the table, without much care for manners, and watched Yuunagi take the sandwiches out of the basket and distribute them.
There were way too many things I wasn’t conformed with in the way this was being carried out.
It might have been completely fine by Otoa’s standards, though.
“Do you dislike sandwiches?” Otoa asked. “I like them, because they are cute.”
“I don’t particularly hate them, but also don’t really like them.” I probably looked weird to them, staring intently into a sandwich.
Hearing my reply, she pursed her lips.
“Err, umm…” As if trying to intervene, President started muttering something.
This situation might have been a bit too much for her to handle, since as soon as she opened her mouth three pairs of eyes fixated on her, mine, Otoa’s and Yuunagi’s.
Me and Otoa almost burst out laughing at the same time.
“You’re quite tactful.”
“That was a good one, just as expected from a president.”
A confused smile spread on President’s lips.
After that we said nothing more and started eating lunch.
By the way, President had brought a lunchbox with her, small enough to fit in one hand. The food inside was carefully prepared and looked very girly.
If I ever tried to make a lunchbox myself, I knew for sure it would never end up looking as cute as her’s did.
I just listened halfheartedly to Otoa’s ramblings, only nodding or muttering a word or two whenever necessary and kept eating Yuunagi’s handmade sandwiches.
Ham and lettuce cut into small slices, it wasn’t bad. They were well balanced sandwiches.
They weren’t bad, but the scene unfolding in front of me was rather worrying.
“Otoa-sama, there’s a bread crumb stuck on your cheek.” Yuunagi pointed out indifferently from her side.
“Hm?” Was her response, as both her hands were busy holding a sandwich.
Her mouth seemed to be full too, so she was having trouble keeping her manners. But she looked so happy it made her look adorable.
Even President and the girls sitting nearby had warm looks and endearing smiles as they watched her.
“Excuse Yuunagi.” Yuunagi said as she reached her hand and took the crumb off of her cheek.
“Hwhath?” I had no idea what she just said.
“I told you before Otoa-sama, but please refrain from talking with food in your mouth.”
She poured a cup of black tea and presented it to Otoa as she said that.
It was like she had timed it perfectly, since Otoa’s hands were freed as soon as the cup was in front of her.
Sip after sip, she drank the tea. The warm, amber colored liquid filled with scent flowed into her body as her throat moved up and down slightly.
Once she drank all of it, she took a deep breath.
She looked incredibly satisfied as Yuunagi silently wiped her lips.
“Okay, I’m done now.” Otoa said, still holding a sandwich in her hand. It seemed she had eaten enough, but there were still some sandwiches left.
She took the sandwich she was holding and moved it in front of Yuunagi’s mouth.
As if that was the most normal thing ever, Yuunagi opened her mouth and ate that sandwich.
“…Thanks for the treat.”
In more ways than one.
Once lunch finished the table cloth was put away and Otoa spoke to me.
“I almost forgot to tell you, but make sure you’re free after class.”
“Do you need me for something?”
“You see, there’s this snack shop on the south side that serves really good juice.”
“I’m not going.”
“No, you will be coming.” She stuck a finger out and placed it in front of her lips.
Then stretched her back a bit and her green eyes fixated on me.
“Why should I?”
“Saki, you need someone to guide you through this city. You will be living here after all.”
I felt like only after she pointed that out I started to ponder what kind of entity I was in this city.
“So of course, I’m going to take you out every day. If we do that I’m sure you’ll grow to like this city.”
Her pure smile made me dizzy.
She was acting just like any girl would after meeting a new friend and discussing after school plans.
And all I could do was to bear with this suffering.
In the end, it happened like she said and I was dragged around the city. As a result, in only two days I was already familiarized with the city.
Though that knowledge only reached as far as candy stores, clothing and tea shops.
Those walks were of course accompanied not only by Otoa, but Yuunagi, President and a few classmates, but not always the same ones.
In any case, those girls were always random and in high spirits.
There had been times when I almost inquired what it was that they found so funny, but I refrained in the end.
Somehow, I knew the answer would be completely worthless.
Three days later, we were in a cafe surrounding a parfait.
“…There’s something I want to ask first.” I said as my eyes looked at each of the people sitting around the table–Otoa, Yuunagi, and some classmates I was used to seeing already but couldn’t confidently match their faces to their names.
In total, nine people.
“So, who was the one who thought this prank was going to be funny?”
“That’s,” Otoa said as she crossed her arms puffing her chest up. “Obviously me.”
She proudly, and pointlessly laughed a bit.
I sighed and tried to not pay much attention to her, then turned to look at the parfait.
“This is ridiculous.”
It was called the ‘Jumbo Snow Parfait’.
A large amount of ice cream with corn flakes, about fifty centimeters tall, was contained in what looked like a narcissus flower shaped bowl, and it was adorned with fruits.
“Don’t mind, don’t mind. Let’s just eat, it’ll just go to waste otherwise.”
President softly massaged my shoulders and neck. Her pearl white glasses, whiter than the ice cream, fit her nicely today too.
“Yuunagi considers it would not be impossible to finish with the amount of people present.”
Yuunagi said in her monotone voice.
“Yeah, it should be alright.” Another classmate said irresponsibly.
“We’ve been going all over the place using Saki-san as an excuse lately too.”
And thanks to that I was pretty annoyed.
“Tsukagi Saki,” Yuunagi, calm as ever, seemed strangely reliable now. “The icecream is about to melt.”
Nope, not reliable at all.
I finally let out a large sigh and grasped a spoon, somewhat exasperated.
“Let’s hurry up and eat.”
“Yessss!” Different voices replied in unison and we charged ahead against the parfait.
And in the end, it was a narrow victory.
For the moment, I didn’t even want to lay my eyes on anything sweet.
But my hope for that was too faint, and too optimistic.
In this fashion, I ended up getting dragged around until the weekend arrived.
I thought I was going to be liberated during the weekend, but instead I got invited to Otoa’s home.
Her house was located on the opposite side from the school, on the peak of a small hill somewhat further away from the east side. A western style residence.
If I had to put it somehow, this residence made the school look small. Or maybe it was the school that made this residence look large.
It had a green lawn too, just like the school, and on it there was a white table with white chairs, and a parasol keeping away the sun. On the table there was steaming hot black tea, it’s sweet scent spreading around.
Behind the steam there was a pair of green eyes accompanied with dull silver hair. Changed into a girly white dress adorned with laces and frills, elbow long white gloves and sitting on her wheelchair with a clear smile, Otoa looked back at me.
She gazed at my long black hair, as if jealous of it, peeked into my black eyes and stared intently at my whole figure that could easily blend into the darkness if it were night, as if searching for something.
Yuunagi was standing at her side, wearing casual clothes. Purple clothes that resembled an uniform, a long skirt to conceal her Kalashnikov, if she were wearing a headband and apron on top of all that, she would easily pass as a maid.
In fact, that impression might not be too far from the truth. She was already always by Otoa’s side.
“What do you need me for?”
I asked her, without even reaching for the tea.
“What, dear, are you saying that I can’t casually invite a friend to come over? Or is it that you dislike me that much? Didn’t we just go out together a lot recently?”
She turned her eyes up towards Yuunagi, as if looking for assent from her.
“Essentially,” Yuunagi spoke. “If Yuunagi were to assume that Tsukagi Saki prefers solitude, and also is pragmatic, then any act that will not give her any concrete gain will simply be deemed worthless.”
“Hmm.” A small thorn mixed itself in Otoa’s voice.
“Also, Tsukagi Saki’s inquiry was just asking something, Yuunagi would dare say, and it was not implying that Tsukagi Saki hates Otoa-sama.”
A small laugh escaped my lips.
“That is quite an interesting deduction.”
I brushed my hair back as I took a sip from the tea, tasting it.
My words escaped together with a deep breath.
“That’s an honor.”
Yuunagi bowed, her expression not changing.
“When did you and Yuunagi get this friendly with each other?”
Otoa didn’t sound too pleased. She sounded like a kid whose toy got taken away. Her face reflected those feelings as she took a cup, and after tasting it her lips twisted.
“Yuunagi.” Her voice sounded cold as she knitted her eyebrows showing her displeasure. “This is more bitter than normal, go and brew it again.”
The cup made a clicking noise as she set it down.
“Yuunagi is terribly sorry.”
She bowed and then reached out to pick the cup up.
Then, a splashing sound.
Otoa’s hand had moved quickly knocking the cup bathing Yuunagi’s hand with the tea, that was still steaming hot.
Yuunagi didn’t even twitch a bit from it, proceeding to wipe the table clean and silently walking towards the residence while taking the now-empty cup with her. At no point did she show any act of wanting to wipe herself, she just walked with perfectly timed steps like a machine while black tea dripped from her.
Otoa only looked at her through the edge of her eyes before turning to look at me again.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Were you expecting me to say something? Maybe something like ‘There’s no need to go so far’ or ‘That’s too much for Yuunagi’?”
I closed my eyes as I spoke, sipping more of the tea.
Otoa rested her chin on her hands, seemingly amused.
“What a weird person.”
“I get told that sometimes. But I’m more interested in those who are more weird than I might be.”
I looked into her eyes as I put down the cup I had just drank empty.
My figure was clearly reflected in those green eyes, which were filled with curiosity and a bit of uneasiness.
“Well, I…” Her words stopped there, as if she was stuck trying to find the appropriate words.
But I knew what this was.
It was the same face people made when they are suddenly left completely alone deep in a forest.
Not knowing what to look for, where to go, or if to head back home. A look that knew nothing, but tried to forcefully manifest that nothing as something.
I just waited, not saying anything more.
Tapping on the cup, I brushed my hair back.
“It seems I might love you.”
The tone of her voice rang like someone else was talking in her stead.
A voice that lingered between a dream and reality.
As if trying to say something only to verify if it was true.
A very hesitating and unsure confession. Leaning forward from her wheelchair, she reached a hand out touching my neck.
Through the edge of my view I looked at her hand, slender, white and perfect without a single scar.
“Such a beautiful face.” Her hand caressed me.
Touching my cheeks, nose, eyelids and lips, just like a blind person making sure there’s a person in front of them.
“From the first time I saw you, from the time you first set foot in this city, my heart has been running wild, beating like crazy, and I can’t calm it down.”
I let her do as she pleased, her hand didn’t feel unpleasant after all, and she wasn’t behaving impudently but very gently.
After a warm sigh, she let go of me, letting her body fall against her wheelchair again.
“Tell me Saki, do you like me?”
A simple and straightforward question.
“Or do you like President more? Or Yuunagi?”
I didn’t reply.
Even though I could have.
Only the rustling from the wind brushing against the grass could be heard for a while.
“Sorry for the wait.”
Yuunagi finally broke the silence.
Her hands were holding a small tray with the newly brewed tea. She also had brought my share, and she quickly placed the tray in front of us and once again retreated besides Otoa.
I picked up one of the new cups and softly blew on the steam.
It spread like a white cloud before turning thin and dissipating into the air. Once it was gone, Otoa and Yuunagi’s figures could be seen again.
“I’m already tied to someone, someone who isn’t you.” I said.
“I see, that’s sad.”
Looking truly sad, she squinted slightly and forced the edges of her lips up. A smile that was too sorrowful to be called a smile.
“What kind of person is it? The one you’re engaged to.”
“He’s not a person…I recall telling you a bit about this before.”
I drank the warm tea, feeling it fill my mouth, then drop down to my stomach and spreading its warmth through my body.
Because of the easygoing climate of this city I had almost forgotten, but it was winter already. I was suddenly reminded of that fact.
“He’s a white wolf, white like dazzling snow.”
“That sounds lovely.”
“Yes, it is.”
I nodded too.
“Can I ask what it is that made you fall for him?”
“It’s not a really important reason.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
I put the cup down, then rested my elbows on the table and placed my chin on top of my knuckles.
“We were–––” I said closing my eyes, remembering the white wolf.
A strong yet weak eternal orphan. An outsider without a hometown, and without a place to go to.
“–––alone, that’s all.”
The cup rattled a bit from a small gust of wind, filling a void in the conversation, a moment that seemed both long and short.
“That’s a gentle story. It wouldn’t seem to fit someone like you, but I think it fits you perfectly.”
Somewhere deep inside, where she couldn’t see, I was smiling.
“It might be so.”
“I really want to meet him, where is he now?”
“We got separated. I’ve been looking for him, but I can’t find him.”
I slightly lifted my face from my fingers, looking ahead. It didn’t seem like she was hiding something.
“If I see him I’ll tell you.”
“I’d be thankful if you did.”
I turned to look at Yuunagi.
She was as emotionless as ever, silently watching us.
Her presence blended in with the scenery almost perfectly, it felt that if I looked away for just a second she would vanish just like the scent of tea did.
Yuunagi had told me Shiro was with Otoa.
So in the end, which one of them had lied?
Or were neither of them lying?
“This tea is delicious.”
“Yuunagi is really good at brewing tea.”
Otoa said with a smile, a somewhat forced smile.
And this time after she had taken one sip.
“Mm, yes, Yuunagi’s tea is really good.”
Yuunagi kept silent.
“Do you have any plans after this?”
I shook my head in reply.
“Then do you want to have dinner with us? We can contact the dormitory to tell them.”
“Is it really okay?” I asked, looking at Yuunagi instead of Otoa.
She silently nodded.
“In that case,” I turned to look at Otoa. “I’ll let you treat me.”
“It’s going to be really fun, to be able to have dinner together with Saki.”
She giggled to herself as she finished drinking her tea.
“…Hey, Yuunagi. Why did it end up like this?”
Otoa’s wish of being the two of us alone didn’t go fulfilled.
“Having thought about it, Yuunagi assumed Otoa had invited everyone here.”
She did have a reason to think so, though Otoa held her head in her hands as if enduring a lot of pain.
“Yeah, okay, sure…fine. Having a large feast for dinner would be a lot of fun… I had thought it would be just us two alone, but okay.” She took a deep breath. “So troublesome…”
“I’m sorry Otoa-san. I’m not sure what is going on but everyone seemed to be really hyped to come.”
President said with her usual worried smile.
The residence’s hall was large enough to fit around twenty people, with a big table beautifully arranged in it.
The current situation had been the result of the call to the dormitory, President had been the one picking up and she just told everyone about me having dinner here.
All the girls who were there and with time decided to tag along.
That school didn’t have all that many students in it–––even when counting with the third year students the number would still struggle to reach one hundred–––so everyone seemed to know each other, at least by sight.
Put nicely, there wasn’t much distance between everyone. Put badly, they were over-familiar.
“Well, sometimes things like this happen.”
This time it was more of a dinner party than a simple tea party.
Clothed in dresses of all colors, the girls looked like a flock of canaries.
“It’s fine though, isn’t it? Monopolizing someone isn’t fair.”
“Yeah, I know right? I wonder who’ll end up getting Saki-san in the end though, Otoa-san or President.”
“Urgh….the conversation is derailing on it’s own like that again.”
Holding the frame of her glasses, President responded in her usual worried tone.
“What is it? I don’t plan on losing to you.”
“Uhhh… I didn’t mean it like that at all.”
“Don’t let her deceive you Otoa-san, saying things like that is President’s strategy to make you lower your guard.”
“As expected of President, the beast wearing glasses.”
Their spirits just kept getting higher and higher and I started to detest staying here.
“Hey.” I softly called to Yuunagi trying to separate her from Otoa’s side. “Are you going to make the preparations for dinner soon?”
“Yes. More guests than expected arrived though, so it is going to take a bit longer.”
I silently stood up.
Multiple high pitched yells spurted from the crowd.
“What a new development!”
“So Tsukagi-san was aiming for Yuunagi.”
“This is my first time witnessing a battle like this.”
“Same here, we can’t miss this now.”
I honestly couldn’t stand them anymore. I wanted to run away, but…
Otoa strongly grasped my hand.
“…You can’t go.”
Her green eyes turned up to look at me as they glistened like jewels under the chandelier light.
“Okay….” I sighed and sat down again.
At some point, Yuunagi had gone away, leaving me behind in this place.
Around these boisterous and lively girls.
I was the only one clad in black here.
Fortunately, as the number of people grew, I was able to find a moment when the conversation got heated up enough where I could leave my seat to explore Otoa’s residence.
To search for Shiro.
However, the search was futile.
I was truly unable to find anything. Be it the silver wolf, or another servant, or even Otoa’s parents.
The residence was deserted, empty and devoid of life. All the rooms were vacant.
Then, a doll house, vestiges of a family, and an empty toy box–––I had arrived at what I could only assume was Yuunagi’s room, and the first place that seemed like it had someone living in it.
When I arrived at the second floor’s hallway I caught sight of the sky. The sun seemed to be burning, about to be drowned in darkness.
Then a cold chill, like frozen hands hugging me, ran through my body.
“…I don’t like this city.”
I opened the window and the sun painted me red as the wind played with my hair.
My eyes turned to the sky, absentmindedly.
Where was Shiro? He wasn’t here, the place that ought to be the most suspicious.
A voice broke through the silence, where I was only being occupied by the wind’s noise before.
President was there, standing on the end of the hallway.
Her lips were smiling again, in that weak and slightly worried shape.
With silent steps she came closer to me, stood besides me and turned to look in the same direction I was.
“Otoa-san is making a lot of noise, grumbling about you not being there.”
“Is that so.”
“You’re cold, Saki-san.”
“I’m like this to everyone.”
“Well, I guess that’s true.”
Her smile turned more awkward as silence filled the air again.
I had no reason to talk with her at this moment, so I remained silent.
Then a weird thought crossed my mind, that if we were seen from afar, we probably would look like a well behaved couple.
I didn’t feel like thinking about the fact we were both girls, though.
“Did you come to like this city yet?”
“It’s not too bad.”
“I really like this city. I was born and raised here, so if it ever, for whatever reason would cease to exist, I would fight to protect it.”
Having thrown aside the city I was born in, I couldn’t understand her feelings.
“Do you think you’ll get to like it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You might be really blunt, but at least you’re honest.”
“Does it bother you?”
“I think it’s a good thing. It’s just that when I’m with you it feels a bit lonely from how straightforward you are.”
“You’ll stop feeling like that as soon as we get back to the hall.”
“That’s true.” She turned around to face me and extended her left hand as if inviting me to dance.
“Let’s go back, everyone is waiting.”
I wondered about those words for a bit.
I had literally become the center of attention for all of them.
But this also made me feel like I was a normal sixteen year old girl.
Aacting like a normal girl, and living like a normal girl.
“It gets a bit bothersome when they start loudly calling for someone after all.”
I rolled my eyes sighing and took her hand.
Acting completely natural, she started walking.
Maybe it had been just my imagination, but for a moment I thought being like this couldn’t be too bad from time to time.
We returned to the hall together.
“I wonder why President came back together with Saki, and holding hands at that.”
A pouting Otoa was waiting for us.
“Wha-!” Apparently she only noticed it when it was pointed out, and acting shocked she yanked her hand away and waved her hands in front of her trying to find an excuse.
“Uhh, err, well, there really isn’t any specific reason for this, or rather, umm…”
All the other students, standing around as spectators, seemed to be greatly enjoying this scene, but didn’t show any signs of wanting to help her out.
I grabbed her hand again and pulled her forward, towards Otoa.
“What is it?” Otoa was still pouting as she muttered that.
Saying nothing, I reached forward with my other hand and grabbed Otoa’s.
The two girls seemed really confused.
I pulled their hands closer, joined them, and then freed my own hand.
“Have a nice evening.”
Saying that, I walked away and sat down and asked Yuunagi for tea.
“Could you please bring me some tea? Brew it somewhat strong and without sugar or milk.”
“Understood.” She lowered her head. “Was Tsukagi Saki able to find anything?”
She proceeded to ask that.
“No, nothing at all.”
Lifting her head back up, she left.
Not too long after that I was enjoying the tea I asked for.
As the night moved on, dinner came to a closure and we returned all together to the dorm.
Otoa wanted to come together with us, but Yuunagi stopped her.
That had probably been for the best, since by that time Otoa’s eyes were all droopy, to the point it seemed that if she were to only lie down on a bed she would instantly fall asleep.
Once we arrived at the dorm, everyone exchanged good nights, including President, and we all returned to our respective rooms.
I had eaten dinner, warmed myself in a bath, and my bed was soft.
The moon in the night sky was thin, and it was so dark I could easily count all the stars I was able to see.
If I had turned my lamp off and went to bed, I probably would’ve easily fallen asleep.
I went to open the window. The chilly breeze of the night blew past my ears, as if whispering to me as it filled the room.
The dark night spreading before me seemed to beckon me.
I brushed my hair back, licked my lips and smiled.
A very thin and sharp smile, like a shard of ice, floating in a place no one was able to see.
I kicked the floor, impulsing my body into the night sky through the window.
Then I landed on the ground and ran towards the city, not even my shadow being formed in the darkness.
The city was completely silent at night, only the street lights illuminating the surroundings.
Even the few people who were were still out at this time kept walking, ignoring me. Making this city made of stone buildings seem asleep.
Without a specific goal, I just loitered around the city.
Only the short taps of footsteps on a stone paved road resounded slightly, before fading into the silence of the night.
My wandering then stopped after a while.
I had reached a large avenue, many streets away from where I started. And in front of me, I saw her walking towards me.
Her long skirt waving slightly with each perfectly timed step, Yuunagi was there.
Her purple eyes and unmoving hair, they filled me with uneasiness, the same uneasiness that comes when a bird escapes its cage, or when a dog is let go of its leash.
“This is a nice night, Tsukagi Saki.”
“Yes.” I nodded. “A nice, dark and silent night.”
“Where is Tsukagi Saki headed to?”
“Nowhere in particular.”
“Then, how about having some tea?”
“Tea?” I tilted my head sideways.
“Yes, tea.” She nodded softly.
Urged by her, I sat on a stone bench placed along the street.
A cold feeling, like ice, passed through my clothes that made contact with the stone.
Yuunagi sat down to my side.
“It is really cold.” As if confirming something that was obvious, she spoke. Then, from the pocket on her skirt she took out something.
It was canned green tea, the same kind one could find anywhere.
But opposite to that, I was surprised.
I took the tea she handed to me from her hands.
It was still warm, the heat passing through my fingers as I held the can.
“You don’t have any black tea now, do you?”
“No.” With mechanical movements, she pulled the tab on her can and she carried it to her mouth.
Steam rose from the gap between the can and her face, getting carried by the wind and hiding her purple hair.
“Some days ago, when you came to my room in the dorm, you took black tea out from inside your skirt. I thought something similar would happen now.”
“That tea was for Otoa-sama, and more than anything, walking with steaming hot liquids inside a skirt is impossible for Yuunagi as well.”
A rough smile spread on my lips hearing her talk in such a realistic manner. But well, she did have a point.
“It’s a bit rare to see you on your own, where’s Otoa?”
“Otoa-sama is sleeping.”
For a second I imagined Otoa wearing frilly pajamas, hugging an oversized teddy bear and sleeping soundly.
It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how she was in that precise moment, but at the same time, I felt like something was weird with me in the way I was thinking about stuff like that.
I had to be too influenced by this city, something was seriously weird with me.
“Yuunagi does not know what to do with all this time.” She spoke again.
She turned the cheap looking can of tea ion her hand. If I had to guess, it’s warmth was better than it’s taste.
Not drinking more after the first gulp, she just stared at the steam rising from the can’s entrance.
“Why don’t you just think of it as free time?”
“Perhaps.” The way she said it, made it seem she wasn’t satisfied with that reply.
“…When I think about it too, the night can be rather long.”
If spent alone, a night could be long.
And that’s why we both were wandering around the city at this time.
“Yuunagi just waits–––” Her eyes turned up towards the sky. “–––for the morning to arrive.”
“Morning, you say…” My eyes followed hers.
Staring into the pitch black darkness of night.
We stared, together.
“Once Otoa-sama wakes up, school will also start again, and another day like any other will start.”
“Yeah.” I didn’t hate the night, but she was right.
It could be really long, alone.
But however it might be, even if I was with Yuunagi, or she was with me, the length of the night wouldn’t change.
And that was probably because the thing we most wanted was the same.
“I’m going back now.”
I stood up, feeling a bit sleepy.
There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask, but I didn’t feel like asking them now.
“Good night, Tsukagi Saki.”
She said in her monotone voice. In the end, was she going to sleep too? Or just stay there, staring into the sky, waiting for morning to arrive.
“Good bye, Yuunagi. Let’s meet again in school.”
We glanced at each other as we bid each other good bye.
But then we turned to different sides, she wasn’t looking at me, and I wasn’t looking at her.
And that too, wasn’t too bad.
“Thanks for the tea.”
“Don’t mention it.”
At some point, the tea had turned cold, so I drank it all and turned away with the empty can in my hand.
And then walked away, sinking into the dark shadows.
When daybreak came and school started, Otoa and Yuunagi were missing in school.
After classes finished, people started talking about going to visit them, and while I tried to escape from it, President caught me.
However, something came up on her side right after that, so she was going to take a while before we would leave. I headed to the library. Apart from the old librarian–––who was also our homeroom teacher––– there was no one in the library, illuminated by the setting sun.
The library was located on the third floor of the school, smelling of books mixed with dust and mold. It wasn’t a large room but it was occupied by massive wooden shelves arranged like soldiers in formation.
I was sitting at the inspection table with my eyes fixed on a book when I noticed the elderly librarian walking towards me.
He kept a hand behind his back and smiled brightly. His glasses looked old, and his figure was small which made his appearance seem like a gentle old man more than a teacher.
I would be completely convinced if someone who looked like that said they were the butler of a mansion, or a gardener.
“Are you researching something?” He said. “You’re that transfer student, Tsukagi-san, if memory serves well. Seeing you read so avidly makes my old heart move from joy. It might be alright for a man my age, but it seems young gals find reading boring nowadays, the library always looks deserted.”
Without closing the book, I lifted my gaze to him and nodded in greeting.
“I’m just waiting for one of those young gals you mentioned to go visit someone together.”
He seemed content as he nodded countless times.
“That’s a good thing. Especially for a young girl like you, that’s a very good thing. Friendship can in time turn into an invaluable gem that can win against anything. A shame not many notice that.”
As he spoke, he looked at the book I was reading.
“Hmhmm. Are you trying to learn about this city’s history?”
“This city,” I replied as I closed the book and caressed the front cover. It was a book with records of the city’s history. “Has the markings of an old construction method, but there are no traces of any sort of old ruins whatsoever.”
“Ohh.” His eyes squinted a bit behind his glasses. “So that’s intriguing you.”
I nodded and linked my fingers together while resting my elbows on the table. A moment later I realized that could be rude, but the elderly teacher didn’t seem to think anything of it.
“Yes, very much so. It’s very unnatural.” I finally replied, not bothering to move my elbows from the table. “Unless the residential area developed at a very high rate, there should be vestiges from it’s history somewhere. The city has an old scent to it, but there’s no substance behind it. I really want to know why.”
“Tsukagi-san, you’re quite perceptive. The look in your eyes isn’t bad either.”
I felt the air around me change a bit. I felt a breeze inside the library, even though the windows were all closed. Maybe there was a gap somewhere.
“It seems you were leaving the dormitory after curfew to explore the city too, did you find anything then?”
“Were you watching me?”
“Yes, from time to time.” He replied affirmatively without hesitation.
This old man had seen me leave the dorm?
Why would he have been near the dorm, late at night, when classes were long over?
It seemed too ridiculous… And on top of that, his eyes were weak enough to need glasses, so it was unnatural for him to be able to pick me up when I blended so easily into the night.
“You’re lying.” I told him.
It wasn’t weird to not know I was going out with Otoa and the others after class.
The way they put it, they were showing me around the city.
Since I already knew the general layout of the city from that, it wasn’t hard to deduce I would search around on my own when I was free.
However, there was one major problem with this, since it would only work under the premise that I was searching for something, namely, Shiro.
That could only mean that,
“I was being surveilled? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
And that, by at least a few people.
“You really,” The hand he held on his back moved around forward.
“Are very perceptive.”
AK47, a gun that looked almost like a toy. That had been held ion his hand.
I threw my body away from the chair as if slipping off before he could pull the trigger.
The back of the seat then got reduced into splinters by the incoming bullets. I kicked the table from below, crashing it into the old man.
Still feeling the feedback, I heard a grunt from the old man and I stood up.
The old man had been crushed under the table, only his hands and legs showing from under it.
The Kalashnikov was lying on the floor by itself.
I leaned down to pick it up, but at the same time the door opened.
Instinctively I fixed my posture and turned to look in that direction.
Two of my classmates were there.
“Tsukagi-san, President is almost finished with her work.”
“Hurry up and get ready, we have a visit to make.”
Their voices rang completely unfazed, as if they hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary in the library.
But looking down, fitting perfectly into the current situation, they both held Kalashnikovs.
Rather than fear, or a feeling of danger, I only had a very uncomfortable feeling.
“You two as well, huh.”
My body was already moving before I finished that sentence.
Darting ahead at full force without any sort of preparation or plan. They pulled the triggers and bullets were released from the muzzles.
The floor of the library became sprayed with holes from the fully automatic bullets as I ran on it…no more.
I had strongly kicked the floor and jumped.
Both of them reacted accordingly and pointed the guns upwards, but at the same time, I kicked off the ceiling and landed on the floor again.
My body still on all fours like a beast after landing, leaped the small distance that still divided us and cut between two pairs of legs.
The momentum I had built wasn’t consumed yet as I broke out into the hallway.
I had to quickly decide where I was going to escape, I had seven alternatives I could think of at the moment.
But my best chance was with Yuunagi. She had to know something.
So in other words, I had to head towards Otoa’s residence. Ironically, that meant my destination hadn’t changed at all so far.
“Tsukagi-san? What happened for you to be in such a hurry?”
When I looked up I saw President, who had called to me after seeing me fly into the hallway. She was barely some steps away and held her bag in her hands.
She didn’t seem to be hiding a Kalashnikov anywhere.
“I’ll explain later.” I said standing up, then I grasped the scruff of her neck and broke out running.
“Whaaaaaa-!” Being pulled by me, she started screaming. “Wai-Wait! What is happening Tsukagi-san?!”
“I told you I’ll explain later. Just hurry with me unless you want to be turned into a beehive!”
There was something more I needed to sort out, fast. Who were my enemies?
No, why was I being targeted in the first place? That didn’t make sense.
I probably wouldn’t be able to understand even it if was explained to me though. I stopped those thoughts and focused my brain on my current state and what actions I needed to make.
The third floor’s hallway was long, to my right were the stairs, to my left a window, and if I moved forward I’d only have classrooms on either side of me.
Deciding that the top priority was to leave school, I turned towards the stairs–––The annoying noise of shoes rubbing against the floor stopped me in my tracks.
Two rows of Kalashnikovs aligned against each other were aimed at me.
Counting them at a glance, there were around ten.
I knew some of their faces, others were unknown to me. Some of them were even smiling as they aimed at me.
“Yaa~y! Found Tsukagi-san!” Said one of them in a childish voice.
Whether that was some sort of signal or not, just after she spoke all the triggers were pulled.
I thought of using President, who I was still holding by the scruff, as a shield, but I stopped that.
My body froze while my mind hesitated, for almost too long. Only a sliver of time, like the point of a needle, was needed for the bullets to reach me.
“Crescent Moon’s Shadow!”
A handle came forth from my wrist, and swinging my arm through the air, without letting go of President, I grabbed the handle and swung it cutting through the air.
I aimed to knock down only those bullets that were sure to hit us from between the flurry of shots and jumped backward.
I ignored her screams and just let my body fly through the window behind us.
Gravity left my body and for an instant, I felt like I was floating in mid-air before falling down.
I felt like I had been thrown through the sky, but at the same time like I was being embraced by it…even though I was in this kind of situation.
“What a pretty sunset.”
“Tsukagi-san! Now’s not the time to act so carefree! We’re falling, falling!”
My mood crumbled down spectacularly after hearing her yelling.
“Why are you so worked up? It’s barely the third floor.”
“Any normal person would get injured badly after falling from a third floor!”
Now that she had mentioned it, that was probably true.
I twisted my wrist around and made her body turn, hugging her towards my chest.
We landed as my body endured the fall of both of us, and after staggering for a moment, I stood upright without any problems.
I turned my head down to look at her, who I was still hugging. Her face was flushed red, but she didn’t seem to be injured anywhere.
“Ah, err, thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.”
I let go of her as I spoke and turned around.
“Let’s get away from here now, I’m not sure what’s going on but it seems there are some people who’re after me that sneaked into the school.”
“That’s…not entirely correct.”
I heard a short metallic noise at the same time as she spoke, like the sound of the hammer on a gun being lowered.
I turned around.
In her hand, she was holding a large and unrefined handgun. It looked almost like a joke, with a cell phone strap dangling from it shaped like a caricature cat.
The muzzle was pointed straight at my forehead.
It all should’ve been so easy to figure out.
“It’s not some people, it’s all of them Tsukagi-san.”
Her face, voice and body were all the same as the President I knew, as she aimed the gun at me.
I could almost feel the heat radiating from the muzzle on my skin.
It could be tricky to dodge a bullet from this distance.
“We were all watching you.” Now she spoke in an unnaturally monotone voice. “And we all know.”
My eyes turned down a bit to look at her.
For a split second she looked like a different person.
Like a doll, like Yuunagi.
It was almost uncanny how much they resembled each other right now.
As if Yuunagi was speaking through President’s voice, or President was speaking with Yuunagi’s voice–––It had to be my imagination though.
It was President in front of me, and it was her voice that spoke.
“We know Tsukagi-san came to this city to destroy it.”
I almost wanted to laugh.
Or well, I did actually laugh.
“How could it be, I almost forgot.”
She frowned. Her pearl white glasses, small face and everything else was bathed in the light from the setting sun.
As if having endured a rain of blood.
“I’m just an outsider, a traveler, a guest–––Most definitely not a resident of this city.”
I had really done something unlike me.
“President.” I smiled a bit.
“What is it, Tsukagi-san?”
“To be honest, it wasn’t too bad.”
I twisted my body in the middle of the sentence moving away from the muzzle, then with the back of my fist I punched the gun together with President away.
After a delayed reaction, she pulled the trigger. I felt a bullet grazing past my temple and vanish in the crimson sky like a shot fired as salute.
I ignored the drop of blood trickling down my cheek and walked to the fallen gun, hitting it with the heel of my shoe until it was unusable.
Then I lifted my gaze.
Kalashnikov muzzles had started peeking out of the window I had just gone through.
They wouldn’t hit me, not at this distance. And even if they did aim well, I would be able to knock the bullets down.
So I turned around and started running.
I had no time to waste idling with these people.
I wouldn’t let anyone get in my way.
My ears were inundated with the sound of the wind, my own heartbeat and my hair fluttered behind me.
I ran on stone paved streets, aiming towards the bridge.
President’s words had been completely true. I sporadically got shot from either side or from behind.
From the second floors in the houses, from the corners of alleyways, there were muzzles and people carrying guns everywhere.
From housewives to the elderly, even some elementary schoolers, all of them were mixed into this highly varied group.
Even though I was dashing as fast as I could, their attacks were accurate.
They might not have been able to hit me, but I was scraping by–––evading–––very narrowly.
Firing at a constantly moving target was very hard for amateur shooters.
So taking that into account, that meant that all the shooters had to be experienced.
And they were nowhere near amateur.
“…Are they all soldiers?”
Inside the neverending gunshots I muttered to myself, but I quickly threw those thoughts away.
For one, it was stupid to think now, and second, the bridge was starting to come into view.
The old bridge that suited this city so well. Old, but sturdy.
If I wanted to cross to the other side, it was necessary to cross through it.
If there were any traps waiting for me, it would be there.
That’s why I had to cross through it in one continuous movement, not stopping for anything.
I had to.
But I still stopped dead in my tracks unintentionally.
Almost by instinct, I knocked all the countless bullets that wouldn’t stop coming at me down with Crescent Moon’s Shadow.
One after another, like a rain of metal chunks, I knocked them all down.
My eyes’ attention was fixed on something.
“So you came.”
My whole body heated up, my hair bristled up and an urge invaded me like an electric shock.
Accompanying a dull silver-haired girl in a wheelchair–––
It was her, there.
Brown hair cut short, a thin sailor uniform that defied the seasons, the scar in her chest exposed without a scarf, and legs clad in knee socks spreading out from under a short skirt.
Dirtied bandages fluttering in the wind,
A single eye that seemed to be on fire,
I felt endless hatred piercing through me, and uncontainable agony and bitterness piercing through her.
Even forgetting I was in the middle of a battlefield, I slowly brushed my hair back.
I called her name, and at the same time, she called mine.
Or rather, screamed with hatred and thirst for blood.
A sharp wind blew,
And with it my hair flew,
And with it her white bandages fluttered.
And that became our signal.
|↑1||Saki’s name is written as 咲希, 咲 is to bloom and 希 is hope or wish.|