After finishing dinner, just as everyone was relaxing while enjoying some tea—
"Okay, Fear, why don't you sit down for a bit."
Haruaki coughed lightly and spoke with an especially serious expression.
Fear kept blinking repeatedly.
"I'm already sitting, you know?"
"Don't ask so many questions."
So watching television while sitting with her knees up was no good? As a result, Fear put down her knees with her thighs together and calves slanting outwards, turning to face the table again.
Apart from Haruaki, Konoha and Kuroe were also in the living room. These two girls were also sitting at the table, sipping tea. For some reason, Konoha did not seem quite pleased. On the other hand, Kuroe was spacing out as usual.
(Nunu... Although I don't get what's going on, I'm getting a sense of foreboding.)
Fear gulped hard. This... kind of atmosphere, could it be—
"H-Hold on! You guys are mistaken, you should carefully count again from the start!"
"Eh? Count again?"
"That's right! You must be mistaken if you're getting the impression that the rice cracker supply in the snack cupboard has fallen unnaturally. An illusion! It's absolutely not because the culprit tiptoed over in the middle of the night to steal a couple pieces to eat, overcome with hunger last night! I maintain that you guys simply miscounted!"
"Ohoh... Figures. According to my calculations, the original amount should be enough to last for today, but since there's not much left, I had to go out and buy more rice crackers. Now the mystery is solved."
"L-Like I said, it's your illusion! Basically that... You simply miscounted!"
How odd. Judging from Haruaki's reaction, the crime was not about her theft of rice crackers?
In that case—
"...Oh! I-I know, it must be that! Earlier on a walk, I ran into Taizou by chance and he asked me: 'Did anything interesting happen lately?' Speaking of the funniest thing recently, isn't that 'how Cow Tits clumsily washes that pair of giant tits in bath,' so I explained to him in absolute detail without reservation, telling him everything I knew—"
Instantly, Konoha spurted tea violently.
"Buhu! Cough... Hold on, what nonsense have you done now!?"
"I-I didn't think there was anything wrong with telling others about that. Rather, this is the No.1 weird action that needs to be publicized to the world! I even demonstrated the motions to him. Imagining a sagging luffa fruit, then doing this, throwing it behind your neck when washing the inner side..."
"Hawawawawa! Lies, I've never done anything to that extent, Haruaki-kun! I do lift it up slightly, but I absolutely do not wish for you to get any impression of luffa fruits or sagging!"
"Uh, why are you telling me?"
"Okay okay, Kono-san, in terms of sagging, this is total victory for us of the Ladylike Bosoms Alliance who will never ever sag! Anyway, let's first wipe the tea away."
Kuroe began to use a cloth to wipe the tea that Konoha had spurted out. If that was not the issue, then the only remaining one was—
"So... Could it be that? Although it was just on a whim, I guess I really am at fault for doing it without asking permission. Kuroe, about that, I'll apologize to you honestly."
"Oh? What did you do to me?"
"There was one time after taking a bath when I tried out your panties in the changing area. Is that what you guys are asking about? Because the shape was quite weird, so I couldn't help my curiosity, and..."
"Oh~ That one? Muhu, how did you find it?"
"Just like its appearance, the sensation of wearing it is totally weird. What's the point of that design? So flimsy and gets buried in there, plus for some reason, it fully exposes the most critical spot—"
"Yes yes, allow me to tell you! That's basically... Mugumuga!"
"I-Immorality Blocker (Verbal Variant)!"
"Oh~ Stop it, you girls, the conversation isn't making any progress at all... Anyway, I'll just take this out directly."
Haruaki sighed in exasperation then took out a box from behind him and placed it on the table. It was a box roughly the size of a lunchbox.
"What is it?"
"How should I put it? It's something we were thinking it was about time for you to have. Things will definitely be more convenient with this. Since tomorrow is an important milestone in life, it's not an exaggeration to say the timing is just right... The three of us are in consensus."
"...I don't get you at all. Timing?"
"Anyway, you'll understand once you open it."
Tomorrow. Was anything happening tomorrow? —School was starting. That was all Fear could think of. The spring break was ending today. Did that count as an important milestone in life? However, come to think of it, Fear did feel that apart from the long vacation, there seemed to be some other significance.
Tilting her head, Fear ripped off the wrapping paper around the box. After seeing what was inside, she stared in surprise with her mouth gaping. Looking up forcefully in disbelief, she saw Haruaki's wry smile. After hearing the words he delivered in embarrassment next, Fear finally recalled the significance symbolized by the day of tomorrow.
"Anyway, let me say this... Fear, congratulations for promoting to the second year of high school. This is your promotion present. Treasure it well."
The next day—It was the morning of the first day of school ever since April arrived.
Together with Fear and Konoha, Haruaki was walking along the familiar path he had taken for the past year.
"Fufu. Somehow it feels like even this road's atmosphere is especially different today! Is it because we advanced to the second year!?"
"Really? This path to school is still the same as always."
"Hmph, obviously a crude and massive object cannot sense it, being too dense to understand the profound intricacies of the human heart. Hey Haruaki, what do you think?"
"Oh~ Now that you mention it, you're right. Perhaps it's due to all these students we've never seen before. Some of them are probably new students who started walking along this path for the first time today."
At Taishyuu High where Haruaki and his friends attended, the entrance ceremony took place on the same day as the opening ceremony. After the opening ceremony was held with the current students, the new students were invited into the venue for the entrance and the meet-and-greet ceremonies. During the opening ceremony, the new students would have their first homeroom meeting in their classrooms, which was why they had to arrive at school at the same time. Scattered about all over the place, these unfamiliar students dressed in new uniforms were probably all new freshmen.
"It's not like I cannot understand that aspect. But speaking of Fear-san, I believe she is simply getting carried away."
"Don't be ridiculous, I'm just the same as usual, not carried away at all.. Muu!?"
At this moment, Fear's gaze moved swiftly and instantly locked onto a certain spot.
"Ohoh... So furry, I've discovered the first furry animal after starting second year!"
"Oh, it's a cat. But if you go up to pet it, we'll be late."
"Pet it? Hmph... Having advanced to second year, I'm no longer the same. I was thinking of striking as soon as an opportunity arose, but didn't expect one to come along so soon! Simply stroking fur for a moment can no longer satisfy me anymore. Tremble before me now, for I have now obtained a method to preserve that furry feeling for eternity...!"
While boasting with exaggeration, Fear slowly approached the cat that was yawning on a wall. Of course, held in her hand was the present Haruaki, Konoha and Kuroe had given her yesterday—a cellphone.
Although Fear's school life had started in the middle of the second term, throughout the first year, she had worked hard towards familiarizing herself with the environment. Together with Konoha and Kuroe, Haruaki had decided to give Fear a promotion present that was also meant as a prize for effort. Although it was not one of the latest models, the cellphone they picked did have a camera and other basic functions. As for methods of usage, Fear had probably asked Kuroe to teach her last night already.
"Eh, but in my view, she is totally getting carried away..."
"I agree, but starting out like this cannot be helped. We'll just have to watch her patiently."
Fear was excitedly snapping away like mad, taking sexy shots of the cat licking its own crotch. Haruaki smiled wryly while staring at the back of her head. Ultimately, Fear was still herself. Even after advancing to second year, her exuberant personality was not going to change overnight.
(Yeah, it's the same with everyone.)
No matter what changed or did not change, there was still a long way to go for the rest of their lives. In any case, let's maintain the current pace and enjoy the second year of high school in leisure—Haruaki thought.
Just as they were a short distance away from school, they recognized someone familiar.
"Oh Kirika! Good morning! Bonjour, second years!"
"How should I say this? What a strange greeting coming from you. Good morning, Fear-kun, Konoha-kun... And Yachi."
"Good morning, Ueno-san."
The instant he saw Kirika, Haruaki felt his heart rate rise slightly.
Because he recalled what happened on Valentine's Day.
On the roof, Kirika had given him chocolate while saying it was "not out of courtesy."
Of course, his mind was instantly sent into turmoil. Although he pretended to be calm in front of Fear and the others, his mind was actually so chaotic that he could not even sleep at night. If not out of courtesy, then what significance did the chocolate carry? No, but it's coming from Class Rep, after all. Impossible. But, what if... No no, impossible. Class Rep sees me as a member of the opposite sex? There must be some mistake there. But if there's no mistake... This continued endlessly until morning. In order to cook breakfast, Haruaki had sluggishly pushed his sleep-deprived brain out of bed then absentmindedly switched on the television—
Then a certain term jumped into his ears.
Apparently, this new custom had started for the occasion of Valentine's Day in recent years.
Haruaki instantly felt his worries being swept clear. He originally thought that Valentine gifts were either out of courtesy or romance, but this was already an outdated mode of thinking. Thinking from Kirika's standpoint, it made total sense. Given her rigid personality, surely she must be thinking: If I call it courtesy chocolate, then that gives the impression that "I'm only giving this to you out of courtesy," which would be too impolite. To prevent that from happening, she was giving him chocolate for a milder reason of "because we're friends." She must have said what she said out of kindness. The mystery was completely solved!
Having reached this revelation, on the day of March 14, White Day, which was several days prior to the third school term's closing ceremony, Haruaki made sure to give Kirika a boxed set of confectionery, with the same contents as what he had given Fear and the others as return gifts.
He believed this was the correct interpretation. Kirika had simply thanked him, saying "Th-Thank you" and accepted the return gift without any other special reaction. So it was just as he had thought. If, supposing the chocolate she had given him carried some special significance, surely she would have expressed a different reaction, right?
Oh dear~ How wonderful, I didn't misunderstand or say anything weird, thank goodness. Breathing a sigh of relief, Haruaki had gone into the spring break like that, moving on until now.
Seeing Kirika, Haruaki could not help but recall the heart racing feeling from back then. In other words, the sort of strange awareness stemming from his initial misconception, the feeling of being made aware again of Kirika as a member of the opposite sex.
No no no, I already concluded that was overthinking things. Stop beating so fast, my heart! Just as he warned himself—
"...Hmm~ Somehow it seems like Haruaki-kun and Ueno-san have been acting strange from a while ago... Could it be that something happened between the two of you?"
"K-Konoha, what are you talking about. There's nothing, nothing at all. Hahaha."
"Is that so...? It would be best if that were true... Hmm~"
Feeling Konoha's half-narrowed eyes staring at his back, Haruaki finally recovered his presence of mind.
"Sorry, Class Rep. Fear's emotions are especially excited today, so please don't mind her."
Until he spoke up, Kirika's expression looked a bit tense—This was surely his imagination. With her usual, calm and steady smile, Kirika replied:
"Hoho, I can tell. She looks very happy, because of advancing to the second year."
"Not only that~! Kirika, look at this! It's a double dose of pleasant surprises!"
Suddenly slipping between Haruaki and Kirika, Fear raised her cellphone before Kirika's eyes.
"Hmm, that's really a cute cat... Say, is this actually your cellphone, Fear-kun?"
"Exactly! Mufufu, finally, I've joined the club of cellphone owners like you guys. Now I can run along on the forefront of the times and civilization...!"
"Although you're blowing this out of proportion, it's just a promotion present. My position is that it's unnecessary but since Haruaki-kun and Kuroe-san asked, I still prepared it."
"Well, with this, I don't have to worry so much that you'll get lost or when you go out for walks on your own. By the way, Fear, not just ours, you should also enter Class Rep's phone number."
"Oh of course. What's that called? I remember Kuroe teaching me yesterday... Right, the beam! Kirika, let's fire our beams at each other to enter our numbers!"
"I guessing you're referring to the infra-red transfer? What an original way of calling it... Of course it's fine. But we're going to be late if we dally too long. Let's transfer while we're walking."
Fear and Kirika placed their cellphones together and started to walk side by side. Haruaki and Konoha also followed after them leisurely. Soon, the group reached the school.
The mood at the school gates was different from usual. Students dressed in brand new uniforms with anticipation and unease written on their faces passed through the gates successively. Unused to the sight of the petite silver-haired girl, new students gazed at her with curiosity and puzzlement. This felt quite refreshing as well.
Then just as they walked into the school's confines, Haruaki suddenly felt as sense of dissonance. The mood was different from outside of school. All the students seem to be noticing the same thing.
Then what exactly was it? —Haruaki casually turned his gaze towards a particular direction which looked like "something" was attracting the students' concerns. In the next instant, he saw a festive display of the colors red and white.
"...Oh dear~? Please allow me to say with fear and trepidation, everyone, it's been so long~ Also, good morning~"
There was a shrine maiden in school.
With a red hakama plus a white kimono jacket, it was completely a shrine maiden's outfit. With an endearing smile combined with black hair and pale skin, the girl was sweeping the floor with a rustling bamboo broom. Inside a school, this was a most bizarre scene to behold.
"Aren't you Shameless Shrine Maiden Number Two!?"
"I-Isuzu—? Why are you here?"
During the New Year's first shrine visit back on New Year's Day, they had gotten to know Isuzu due to a certain commotion. Currently, she simply tilted her head while continuing to smile pleasantly. Seeing that, Haruaki frowned.
"I-Isuzu...? What's with you?"
"Oh, you'd like to speak with Isuzu, yes~? Understood, please wait for a moment~"
Holding her broom under her arm, the shrine maiden freed both hands and cupped them behind her ears. Then half-closing her eyes and swaying her head for a while, she stopped moving.
"Probably because there are too many people, the sound is having trouble connecting~ Hmm~ Ho! Ah..."
The shrine maiden murmured to herself, repeatedly adjusting the angle of her head's tilt then holding it or turning her hands behind her ears. How should one describe it? The movements were as suspicious as someone trying to receive weird electromagnetic signals from outer space.
Just as Haruaki was starting to find the stares of the surrounding crowd unbearable, a nearby bush shook.
"Uwah, she appeared! Another one!"
An identical face suddenly emerged from the bush. This shrine maiden was also holding a broom, smiling pleasantly without saying a word. The first shrine maiden proceeded to approach the second shrine maiden swiftly.
"So it's like this. Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, I am Nisuzu~ I have already called Isuzu out, so please go ahead and speak if you have something to tell her~ However, please allow me to do a transfer for this purpose~"
Smiling and staring into each other's eyes, the two identical shrine maidens leaned towards each other, looking as though they were carved from the same mold. The hems of their shrine maiden outfits rubbed together, their hakamas pressed against each other, their bosoms were also pushed together, but still they kept shrinking their distance, until their noses were almost touching, even the two shrine maiden's lips were coming together—
"What are you two doing!? That's too indent!" "Th-This is a school! Absolutely ridiculous!"
Konoha and Kirika frantically rushed at the two shrine maidens and pulled them apart.
"Please allow me to explain in fear and trepidation. Just as you all know, we only have one voice to share among us~ For a change of pace, today it is Nisuzu's turn to speak, so if you would like to talk to Isuzu, I must transfer the voice to her~"
Now that she mentioned it, that was quite true. As the set of "cursed kagura bells" whose bells could not ring, only one bell was able to speak at a time after taking half of the owner's voice.
"Even so, you don't have to kiss in this kind of place..."
"Of course there are other methods~ Would it be better if Isuzu turned back into a bell then I transfer the voice to her~?"
"Then when she turns back to human, she'll be completely naked, right? That's even worse!"
"Jeez, that's enough, you're all pretty much the same anyway. There's no difference even if we talk to you... Anyway, why are you here!?"
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, even if you ask me why~..."
Just at this moment, a voice came from behind the group.
"I forgot to mention, after the ceremony, don't you go running about. You must stay in place and wait obediently. Also, I don't think I need to say this, but if you dare come in to watch the entrance ceremony and attract attention, I will pinch you mercilessly afterwards, prepare yourself... Oh!"
Haruaki looked back to find a girl standing there. A hoarse and deep voice, along with glasses giving off a smart impression. Like the new students in the surroundings, she was dressed in a brand new uniform of this school's—Due to seeing her in this uniform for the first time, it was quite a refreshing impression. Haruaki had seen her in a sailor-style middle school uniform before.
"Shameless Shrine Maiden Number One! Nunu, seeing you dressed like this... Really? You got into this school too!"
"Yes, considering Isuzu-san and Nisuzu-san's appearances here, it is only to be expected. It was mentioned previously that they cannot stray too far away from Chihaya-san. It's exactly as Chihaya-san told us back in January."
"Right, I heard you mention it that time when you brought vegetables for us. Hmm, anyway, let me congratulate you on getting in."
"What... Guh... You guys..."
The girl—the owner of Isuzu and the bells, Chihaya—wrapped her arms around herself and retreated. Probably due to being seen in uniform, she was blushing in embarrassment. Next, she scowled as though to hide her embarrassment and sighed obviously.
"...Sigh~ What a poor omen, to think I'd run into you guys immediately..."
"Attending the same school, it'd be weird not to encounter one another. Besides, given the connection of shrine maidens who could not be more conspicuous, meeting up is absolutely inevitable. So, why are they holding brooms and sweeping the school?"
"I'm not obliged to tell you, great pervert. I only came here to remind Nisuzu... although Isuzu is here as well, anyway, I'm reminding her she's not allowed to watch the entrance ceremony. In any case... That's that. So—"
Chihaya's gaze glanced from side to side. "Oh." Realizing something, Konoha said:
"If you're looking for Shiraho-san, she's not here. We don't usually come to school together."
"What!? I-I didn't even say anything, what the heck are you talking about!? Totally nonsensical! Anyway, I've no interest in chatting with you guys, so bye—"
"Nunu, speaking of the devil, the devil's here! Hey~ Shiraho and Sovereignty! Hurry up and let's fire beams at each other, right now!"
There was another uproar in the surrounding crowd. Haruaki's unusual group was currently positioned in the crowd along the path between the gates and the school building's entrance. Now, further exotic elements were added—in other words, a maid and a beautiful girl.
"To think that the first day of the school year would be so inauspicious, I'll just pretend I didn't hear anything. I seem to remember the horoscope this morning did mention that today's lucky action is «Ignore». Correction, it absolutely did say that."
"Ahaha~ Shiraho, since it's the first day, you really should say your greetings properly! So, good morning, Fear-chan! Ohohohoh, what's going on? Is that a cellphone? Kyah, Fear-chan, you can finally contact me on and off every single night! Of course we need to fire the beam!"
Shiraho glanced sideways at Sovereignty who was chatting happily and excitedly with Fear, meanwhile sighing with her shoulders slumped. At this moment, she finally noticed someone unexpected was present at the scene.
"Oh dear... You."
Under Shiraho's gaze, Chihaya reacted completely different compared to the how she treated Haruaki's group. Shrinking her shoulders awkwardly, she bowed her head lightly. Shiraho's lips curled slightly.
"I see you've enrolled at this school. Honestly speaking, I don't find it a particularly wise choice, but it's a little too late for that. Just be as careful as you can and don't fall victim to that perverted human or the gas mask freak... By the way, why are those shrine maidens here? Judging by appearance, they probably aren't students, are they?"
"Oh, umm—They're janitors!"
Chihaya answered immediately. Her attitude remained completely opposite when in front of Shiraho.
"After the exam, this school's superintendent phoned me, saying that he knew the whole story. Since Isuzu and the others cannot separate too far from me, I had them hide on campus back in middle school. But the superintendent suggested that instead of doing that, why not have them be present in school legitimately..."
"So it's that freak's idea. I've said it many times already, you would do best to be more careful."
"Yes, I will be careful." Chihaya nodded obediently in acknowledgement but then she noticed that the smiles on the shrine maidens' face seemed to have doubled in radiance.
"Ufu~fu~ Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, Nisuzu is so delighted that Chihaya-sama is so happy~"
"Isuzu says she feels the same way too~ Sakuramairi Shiraho-sama, please continue to talk more with Chihaya-sama from now on. Words cannot express our gratitude! Do know that Chihaya-sama is extremely... umm... towards you, Sakuramairi Shiraho-sama... Ouch, this really hurts~?"
"Giving you deathly pain is the point! Stop talking unnecessary rubbish!"
Flushed red in the face, Chihaya pinched Nisuzu and Isuzu's faces upwards together. Their relationship seemed to be the same as usual. Haruaki shrugged and said:
"Anyway, the superintendent hired them as janitors, right... How considerate of him. But it shouldn't be necessary for them to split up, right? After all, she already attracts a lot of attention."
"Really~? A janitor's job is supposed to clean the campus, so the more people we have as janitors, the cleaner we can sweep everywhere, right~? As long as nobody sees all fifteen of us gathered in one place, I don't think there's a problem in explaining that we're twins, triplets or quintuplets~"
"Wouldn't it be a good idea to settle on your cover story and decide first on how many sisters you have...?"
"By the way, as long as you don't dress as shrine maidens, I think you'll attract much less attention to a certain extent."
Konoha and Kirika expressed their respective opinions in exasperation. Still smiling pleasantly, Nisuzu answered:
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, the shrine maiden outfit is like a uniform for us~ Also, a very practical issue is that we don't have any other clothes apart from shrine maiden outfits~"
In that case, it could not be helped... Right? Haruaki knew that buying clothes for all fifteen of them would be a huge expense. Still, he hoped that they could purchase some gradually from now on.
At this moment, Fear had finished exchanging phone numbers with Sovereignty and walked over.
"By the way, Chihaya, how's your mother lately?"
"Eh? Hmm... Although she can't be discharged immediately, she seems like she's recovering bit by bit. Y-You don't need to worry about this matter."
"I don't agree with that. The vegetables you and your mother planted were very tasty. We have to thank her later. Yes, it's great that she's fine. I hope she can leave the hospital soon."
"Ah... Ooh..." Chihaya's lips moved in confusion. It looked like Fear's smile and words were too direct, rendering Chihaya unable to respond suitably for the moment.
In the end, Chihaya yelled one-sidedly at Nisuzu and Isuzu: "Argh, jeez! Anyway, that's it! You girls have to do your job properly!" while fleeing towards the shoe lockers. "Oh, I've got to get going to! Bye bye~" Next, Sovereignty frantically twirled her body, clad in the maid uniform, and ran towards her workplace. Miraculously, Sovereignty did not fall over. In other words, she did not provide the service of an upskirt view to the new first-year students who were staring speechlessly at the maid who was just as exotic as shrine maidens in school. Had Sovereignty really slipped and fell, then these new students, looking forward to a bright future filled with hope, probably would have suffered a hellish scene where Shiraho poked their eyes blind one by one. Utterly horrifying.
"So, we'd better get going too."
Haruaki said without thinking. Hearing him, Konoha pushed her glasses and for some reason, her eyes flashed forcefully with solemn light as she whispered:
"...Are we really going? Really... Finally... We have to go over...!"
"Uh, we don't have a choice, right? Why are you so fired up?"
"Haruaki-kun, don't you understand? This is a matter of great importance, to the point that one cannot even mention it lightly. I believe everyone deliberately avoided bringing it up until now."
"What are you talking about? Did your nutrients finally get absorbed completely by your boobs creature and failed to reach your brain? No, perhaps the person speaking now is not Cow Tits but the giant boobs themselves!?"
"Saying utter nonsense again... Ueno-san, you've already realized, right?"
Walking towards the shoe lockers, Kirika answered with eyes as serious as Konoha's:
"Of course. This is an extremely crucial element that will determine an entire year's developments henceforth. It is waiting for us ahead—Namely, class adjustments."
Fear's footsteps stopped abruptly as she looked up in trepidation.
"Hold on, let me confirm this. No way... No way—After promoting to the second year, umm... The class membership will be different from the first year...?"
"You've never heard of the concept of class adjustments? Of course, that's how it goes."
"What!? T-Tell me earlier about this kind of thing! Bad... This is very bad! Of course, it's not like I have to be together with a certain someone, or there's someone I want to be in the same class with... No, wait, there is! I still want to be in the same class as Kirika, Kana and the others, but there's a total of six classes in a year group, so the probability is only one out of six... Oh no, that's terrible, the probability is so depressing...!"
Fear's face was instantly filled with abject gloom.
"This doesn't even matter at all. If possible, I'd like to enter the totally nonexistent Class 7 all alone."
Shiraho coldly left these words behind while advancing swiftly. Kirika and Konoha exuded nervousness while Fear dragged her feet while following glumly.
Haruaki walked at the tail of the group, his head tilted in puzzlement:
(Hmm~ Why is everyone acting like it's an important contest where their lives are at stake? Hold it, speaking of which, have I told these girls about that...?)
While he was thinking, the group arrived at the school building's entrance. A large poster was put up next to it where countless students formed a human wall. Students could be heard yelling loudly in rapid succession, exhibiting a wide range of emotions from happy to sad.
"Although it's absolutely ridiculous, I am even willing to resort to fortune telling for a time like this... So...!"
"I tasted despair last year already. Having endured a year already, this year... This year must...!"
Haruaki also tiptoed to look at the poster of class lists, searching for his name... Then he soon found it in Year 2 Class 1. There were also many familiar names in the class.
"Th-Thank goodness...!" "~~~~!"
Kirika breathed a forceful sigh of relief while Konoha turned around without saying a word, repeatedly clenching her fist to make a "Yes!" gesture. Just as Haruaki was puzzling why Fear had no reaction, she finally stopped tiptoeing and lowered herself, then turning her head around in an exaggerated manner, she spoke with a shocked expression:
"...My name is listed under Class 1."
"What a coincidence, me too."
"Muhu... R-Really? Really really~ Come to think of it, the days of suffering the shameless brat's various surveillance every day are starting up again. How troubling. I'd have such a relaxing time if we could be in different classes. But being in the same class means I shove a lot of miscellaneous stuff on you, yes, it's not like it's totally unbearable for me!"
Instantly, Fear became inexplicably energetic. Haruaki smiled wryly while Konoha continued to be clenching her fist nonstop as though going "Yes! Yes!", so he turned to Kirika.
"Same for you, Class Rep, we're in the same class again. That's wonderful."
Kirika stared at him intently with a serious expression.
"...Do you honestly think this is wonderful?"
Although he had no idea why she asked him to confirm, of course he only had one answer. After hearing this answer, Kirika finally smiled radiantly.
"Me too... Seriously... That's wonderful. I'm so glad and what a relief. Seriously."
Her smile caused Haruaki's heart rate to rise for a while uncontrollably. It was a very attractive smile, one that he found adorable from the depths of his heart.
Haruaki consciously tried to suppress his quickened heart beat and looked at the class lists again, hence discovering the name of another person present. Nevertheless, her reaction was completely different from Fear and the other girls.
In other words, Shiraho simply murmured briefly amidst sighs:
"—How utterly terrible."
Slightly earlier—Hayakawa Chihaya was changing into her indoor shoes at the shoe lockers of her class after confirming her class at the poster, thinking to herself: What will it be like, walking into a high school first-year classroom for the first time?
She had no expectations and harbored no hopes. Social skills were not her strength. Besides, this was even more of a special situation. Chihaya was in a sour mood simply at the thought of the upcoming self-introduction time and the gazes of classmates curious about her hoarse voice. I must do my best to make friends sooner—Naturally, she did not harbor such lofty goals, but she hoped to avoid making enemies at least. In any case, she was going to try hard to spend the day quietly, trying her best not to attract attention, trying her best to avoid talking to people or letting people talk to her—
"Hey hey! I've got something to ask you!"
Her goal suddenly did not seem optimistic. A girl was clumsily stuffing her shoes into a locker in the same area while striking up conversation with glimmering eyes. The girl was very tall but her cute face relieved much of the intimidating pressure from her height.
"...Who are you?"
"I guess I haven't told you yet, I am Hiwatari Yume! Nice meeting you today, let's get along from now on!"
To match the greeting, the girl saluted vigorously with a grin all over her face. Chihaya had never heard this name before. Due to the girl's friendly attitude, Chihaya wondered at one point whether they had graduated from the same middle school, but that was apparently not the case. Simply a fool who had no concept of personal space and separation—Chihaya concluded and quickly had this Yume girl's personality pegged.
"So, dear classmate, you know the super explosively cute little girl who was chatting with you just now? Are you friends? Or sisters separated since birth? Or roommates living together in the same girls' dorm?"
The girl talked very much in the style of the athletically inclined. Ignoring the girl was probably fine, but seeing the girl unconcerned about her hoarse voice, Chihaya decided to reward her by answering a few questions.
"Hmm... We do know each other. What about her?"
"Oh my~ I'm so jealous... Honestly, it's like explosively love at first sight! I wanna get close to her, wanna talk to her, wanna start a fan club for her! If there's a chance next time, please, you must introduce me to her! I beg you!"
The girl clapped her hands together and worshiped Chihaya, bewildering her. That silver-haired girl's level was completely beyond that of beauties commonly seen on the street. As a girl, admiring her was only natural. But to be honest, Chihaya did not want to go around publicizing this. Being acquainted with that girl and able to converse with her, it was true that Chihaya felt a sense of superiority to some extent.
"But she doesn't like this kind of thing."
"Please help, I beg you! I really wanna hold her tight! I wanna stroke her head!"
"Come on... She's essentially our senior. She'll get mad, you know."
"But but, don't you feel that she gives off a feeling that makes you really wanna hug her tight? If a plushie like her really existed, I'll surely buy the plushie and sleep with it! Don't you feel the same?"
"No way~ But this is surely what most people would feel, I won't back down at all! Lemme try asking for other opinions. Uh~ Hello there, what do you think?"
Yume suddenly struck up conversation with a nearby student who was using a shoe locker in the same area. Seeing Yume's friendly attitude, the student was probably struck by the same doubts that Chihaya had felt.
"Uh... May I ask who are you? Have we met before?"
"Probably not! About to become your classmate, Hiwatari Yume is pleased to meet you!"
Yume made another vigorous salute. Chihaya had noticed for a while that she made many useless movements. It was probably her habit.
"So, about that person who was outside just now, I wanted to ask if a plushie like her existed, would you want it!?"
"Oh, we really are meeting for the first time... Uh, I'm Kagidou Himeno. Sorry, I'm not quite sure who you're talking about. Who are you referring to?"
The girl calling herself Himeno turned her face to the side, smiling wryly. Although there were no striking features, her cute face was above average. Undoubtedly one that would be quite popular with the boys.
"No way! How nervous were you on the way to school if you failed to notice that girl!"
"Ahaha, yeah, sorry. Because it's my first time being a high school student, it feels so nervous."
"It should be the first time for most people."
Chihaya lightly exhaled and walked towards her classroom. Naturally, the other two followed.
"Umm... May I walk with you? I'm afraid I'll get lost on my own."
"I don't mind."
"Wait for me! The conversation's not over—Uh... What were we talking about?"
"Asking me to introduce you and something about a plushie. Although it's none of my business, I find her more of a doll than a plushie. Because she's too beautiful, I wouldn't even dare dream of touching her. It feels more suitable to put her up as decoration for admiring."
"Eh~? Hmm, true, that long and shiny hair is so pretty... But her petite figure and rambunctiousness makes her feel more like something meant to be hugged!"
Not working. Chihaya narrowed her eyes. She somehow got the feeling that their conversation was impossible to connect.
"Umm... Let me quickly confirm. Who are you talking about again?"
"Of course the person who was just talking to you, with the long silver hair, petite build, with the unimaginably otherworldly cute looks! Are you finally willing to introduce me?"
Not caring about this from the bottom of her heart, Chihaya gave a noncommittal reply:
"...If there's a chance. Rubbing her face or kissing her, do whatever you want."
In terms of timetables, the first period was the opening ceremony, but after that, there was still a homeroom meeting lasting roughly ten minutes.
This was classroom of Year 2 Class 1 that they were going to be spending the next entire year. Haruaki surveyed all directions inconspicuously.
To be honest, there were many familiar faces. Unusually many. Fear, Konoha, Kirika, Taizou and Kana. Shiraho. Plus the gray-haired dark-skinned girl, Un Izoey. Even—
"My name is Kaidou Imi, in charge of Physical and Health Education. This is my first time taking on the role as the homeroom teacher, so I am certain there are sure to be many inadequacies. If you have any requests or suggestions for improvement, students, please be upfront with your opinions. Also, here is our assistant homeroom teacher, the newly hired Sagisaki-sensei, responsible for teaching English. Sagisaki-sensei, please go ahead and greet the class."
Standing behind the lectern, sweeping her gaze across the students, wearing a bright red tracksuit, a scar on her face, definitely problematic in terms of education but no one dared to criticize, carrying a metal shovel on her shoulder, was the "Scoop Teacher", Scottie-sensei. On the other hand, the assistant homeroom teacher was a woman wearing thick spectacles who looked quite timid and cowardly. She was currently introducing herself in a quiet voice in trepidation.
(Hmm... No matter how you look at it, we were all intentionally assigned to the same class...!)
Troublesome humans and those non-human girls. Indeed, in accordance with a certain someone's will and intentions, they were all assigned to this class. There was probably only one reason. With this, it was probably easier to keep an eye on everyone at the same time.
As for the identity of that certain someone, Haruaki could only think of one person. Namely, the superintendent.
Haruaki had forgotten to tell Fear and the others... During spring break, while making a phone call to greet and chat, the superintendent had said: "Just leave things to me regarding class adjustments. I won't disappoint you guys, hohoho." At the time, Haruaki was thinking that at most, he would be placed in the same class as Fear who would be quite worrying to leave alone unsupervised. Never did he expect to have everyone, who knew about the truth of cursed tools, all gathered together.
This allowed them to instantly react and cover things up if anyone did anything strange. It was good in this regard. On the other hand, this class was definitely going to be way too chaotic. Too many weird characters were definitely gathered together.
How troubling—Haruaki exhaled.
For the next twelve months—
Were they going to be able to enjoy peaceful days for their second year in high school—?
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