Chapter 4 - Snow-Melting Population Density
One day, Haruaki's peaceful sleep was interrupted more noisily than usual.
"Oh no... Oh no oh no... This is serious, it's serious! Haruaki! Get up now—!"
A super heavy force crushed the peaceful dream world. Haruaki felt the air being forced out of his lungs.
Frantically opening his eyes, Haruaki saw—
A girl was sitting astride his chest.
"I-It's serious, I have to repeat this no matter how many times, it's serious! Get up now! Hurry!"
"Guh ooph... W-What's so serious?"
With an expression that resembled both nervousness and excitement, Fear was staring straight at Haruaki from above. In contrast to Haruaki's sleepy eyes, her eyes were staring wide open. Fear even went as far as to lean her upper body forward, making a fist in front of Haruaki and saying:
"Listen carefully... First of all, it's very white! White to the extreme!"
Definitely very white. Haruaki's hazy mind gradually grew awake. His sticky eyelids also opened slowly, causing him to see the color of white clearly. The white of Fear's lower body as she straddled his chest. The white beneath her skirt. More precisely, orange stripes on a white background. Haruaki frantically averted his gaze.
"Also, how should I put this? Hyahhh—! Like that!"
"Your guess is totally wrong! I mean it's very cold! Icy cold!"
Very cold? No wait, Haruaki was experiencing warmth. The warmth from the thighs on his chest. The warmth and softness of skin. Fear was inexplicably excited, omitting many keywords in her speech. Then she shook his body in agitation as though saying "You still don't get it?" Skin vibrating due to the shaking. Soft and warm thighs.
"Then there's the glittery shine! I've never seen that kind of brightness! Hey, you already know what it is, right? You figured out what the serious situation is, right?"
Fear pressed her upper body's weight against him again. Her shiny hair was brushing against his face. So bright. So ticklish. What dazzling, shiny brightness.
"Haruaki...? Are you listening?"
Oh, I'm still not fully awake. Haruaki could not help but reach out for that hair, with strong desire and tender affection. No wait, all he wanted to do was brush it away—
"Muumuu! You still look half asleep! In that case, I'll just have to let you see with your own eyes, get up now!"
"Eh? Ugh... Wawa!"
Fear grabbed Haruaki's extended hand, pulling him out from under his covers. In other words, she had forced him out of bed. With this, Haruaki's sleepiness was finally dispelled all at once. The thoughts from his semi-dreaming state and Fear's various sights he saw were suddenly making him very embarrassed. Haruaki tried his hardest to erase these memories.
Fear pulled him by the hand repeatedly, taking him out of the room directly. Still in pajamas, Haruaki felt very cold. So cold that it was a bit unusual.
"Hey hey, over here, over here!"
Pushing his back, Fear walked along the corridor. Then once they reached the veranda where the garden came into sight—
Haruaki figured out why Fear was so excited.
Taking a forceful leap, Fear jumped before his eyes. With the garden as the background, as though showing off the scenery, her silver hair scattered and flew as she spun around.
"See! It's amazing, right? It's very serious! I've never seen anything like this!"
In that very instant—
Reflected in Haruaki's eyes, everything was equally bright and shining.
Only brilliantly radiant objects existed before him.
The twirling silver hair.
Fear's proud smile.
As well as—Formed from the accumulated snow fallen in the garden, an expansive world of white.
"Oh my~ But yeah, it's anyone's guess how many years it's been since we've had so much snow."
"It probably started snowing since last night and it's still going. No wonder I felt so cold."
While staring out at the snowscape, they chatted together as usual—However, this was not the veranda where they usually used to hang out. As a side note, apart from Konoha, there was a visitor present.
Haruaki turned slightly to look at the visitor beside him.
"Class Rep, getting here must have been a tough journey. Sorry for inviting you so suddenly, but it's because Fear was making a ruckus, insisting that you come over."
"It's nothing. I happen to be free and it's a rare occasion of heavy snow. Compared to admiring the snowscape from my apartment's window, of course I'd have a better time over here with you... Cough, Fear-kun and the others to have fun together."
Amidst coughing noises, Kirika spoke in a serious tone of voice as befitted a class representative's style. However, her expression was very gentle with a faint smile on her face.
"Really...? Glad to hear that. But the question is, can this really be called having fun...? I'm so sorry for making you help out in this 'labor' activity as soon as you arrive."
"It would be absolutely ridiculous if you underestimated the weight of snow. Especially this kind of old house, a very serious accident could occur as a result, so it's best to take care of it as soon as possible—That's why I'd gladly help out with the snow shoveling."
Saying that, Kirika moved the shovel in her hand lightly, scooping up snow that had accumulated on the eaves.
Indeed, they were currently on the roof of the Yachi residence. Due to the house's age, the consequences of leaving a whole night's worth of accumulated snow felt rather scary. Hence, the whole group decided to clear the snow first. However, Haruaki felt quite apologetic to Kirika for asking her to help out with snow removal as soon as she arrived.
"Yeah... Especially if the roof tiles crack naturally because a certain very heavy person goes on this house's roof. If the house collapsed spontaneously, it'd be totally troublesome."
"Don't let it weigh on your minds. After all, I'm the one who offered to help on my own. Also, since this is my first time shoveling snow, it's actually not a bad experience... By the way, did you invite Sovereignty-kun and Shiraho-kun?"
"Yes, we basically tried, but as expected, Shiraho-san found it too much of a bother."
"That's true... Definitely, neither vigorously playing in the snow nor having an elegant snow viewing would suit her personality. Despite this rare snow, I can imagine her saying with a scowl: 'What on earth is with this cold-producing device? I really wish for its hastened destruction.'"
Speaking of playing in the snow with full vigor—Haruaki turned his gaze and looked down towards the garden below.
Two girls with figures resembling little children—Fear and Kuroe—were playing with the accumulated snow childishly indeed.
Fear must be seeing this kind of heavy snow for the first time. She seemed to find everything refreshing, showing great enthusiasm for all things, laughing heartily one moment, screaming in surprise the next, meanwhile running about over the snow-covered ground. At this moment, she suddenly stayed in one spot, then using the gloves Haruaki had given her as a return gift last year for Christmas, she scooped up snow and sprinkled it over her head. Snowflakes landed on the tip of her nose. Fear giggled again. She was really enjoying the current situation from the bottom of her heart. Although Haruaki had no idea what exactly was so interesting, just watching Fear was enough to bring a smile to his face.
Meanwhile, Kuroe was currently picking up snow in her tiny hands, then staring at the mass of white snow with her blank eyes as usual, she looked like she was pondering something. For sure, she must thinking of a new and original way to play with snow.
"Those two girls, seriously... Clearly they should be in charge of moving the shoveled snow away."
"They're already prepared after moving the wheelbarrow out from the storeroom. I guess they're just waiting for us to issue orders. After all, we did say earlier to wait until a certain amount piles up before moving the snow. Yeah, speaking of which, there's quite a lot accumulated down there now, it's almost time for—Oh?"
Just as Haruaki was about to stand up and call for Fear and Kuroe, he slipped. Luckily, he only lost balance slightly, but that was enough to send chills instantly down his back.
Finally regaining his balance, Haruaki then felt something pulling lightly on his waist. Looking down, he saw that the belt extended from Kirika's sleeve had already wrapped it self around his waist. It was just a tiny accident and actually did not need such a frantic rescue, but even so, she still extended her belt towards him immediately to serve as a life line.
"Th-Thank you. Don't worry, I only slipped slightly."
Hearing Haruaki, Kirika and Konoha frowned and objected.
"I was just thinking, this work is unexpectedly exhausting for both the mind and the body. Your legs are probably losing strength because you are tired, Yachi. You should hurry and leave the roof."
"Indeed, just leave the rest for Ueno-san and me to handle."
"Really? Yeah, I do feel a bit tired then I'll take your advice... Okay, I'll go help Fear and Kuroe down there. You two be careful too."
Haruaki decided to leave the roof obediently because it would cause everyone trouble if he really slipped and fell off the roof. Descending slowly down the ladder, he met up with Fear and Kuroe in the garden. In the middle of playing to her heart's content in the snow, Fear looked up.
"Hmm, what's up? Things are finished up there?"
"I've been fired because my legs are starting to get shaky. My next task is to supervise you two. Okay, stop playing. There's quite a lot of snow shoveled from the roof, so you need to move it over to a corner—Hey Kuroe, what are you doing...?"
Narrowing his eyes, Haruaki looked towards Kuroe as she started engaging in strange behavior.
Still displaying sleepy-looking eyes as usual, Kuroe was slowly adhering chunks of snow in her tiny hands against the chest of her coat. Adhering, again and again. Seeing the snow about to fall off, she plucked her own hair to use as wires for reinforcement. Hence, what she produced was—
"Th-This is... Truly a new sensation of weight! I wasn't just trying out a snow bra without thinking too much into it, but never did I expect to manifest a simulation of our ideal futures! Reporting! I predict this to be the state of things by next summer!"
"What a fast approaching future! Say, I can't believe you're indulging yourself in crafting this kind of simulation, leaving me behind as the leader of the Ladylike Bosoms Alliance, that's going way out of line! ...C-Cough, I'm relying on you for my share."
"A piece of cake~"
Fear puffed her chest out while Kuroe patted and piled snow onto her, inserting hair into them for reinforcement. "Those two children are playing bizarre games again..." Konoha could be heard grumbling in exasperation from above.
"There, there, How's that?"
"Oh... Ohoh...! So big, no, it's extra big! They feel so heavy!"
"Experimentally, I've copied the size and shape of nearby ready-made products. This is for the sake of realism... Hmm, speaking of realism, let's upgrade the level of resemblance slightly. This time, it's an experiment with heavy emphasis on detail."
Holding a bundle of hair in her hand, Kuroe began to sculpt Fear's snow bra cautiously as though she were playing one of those mold-carving games at festival stalls. Shortly after, Kuroe made a sweat-wiping motion on her brow as though going "Okay, done!" and stepped back from in front of Fear. Hence, Haruaki was finally able to see what she meant by detail—
This time, two people's voices were heard from above.
Rather than a bra on top of Fear's clothing, the finished product was more like an extremely realistic model of breasts. The mounds of snow bulged in an extremely natural shape, tracing out flowing curves, then under Kuroe's skillful rendering, the protruding tips were tiny—
"Hold on, Kuroe-san! Such realistic breasts are too immoral and unwholesome in public decency—Hmm? Hmmmm?"
Konoha warned Kuroe frantically but her sentence suddenly turned into a question. Kuroe answered calmly with confidence:
"I believe that erotic art like Venus de Milo is publicly accepted, you know? Also, just as I said earlier, I referenced the size and shape of ready-made products. If you want details, it's my memory from having a bath together. Even I can't help but think how fortunate it is that I always stared intently just in case it might come in handy one day."
"Ready-made products... Somehow I find the shape rather familiar... No way..."
Konoha's voice began to tremble. In contrast, Fear pouted slightly as she looked down at her simulated snow breasts.
"Hmm~ I get it now, so this is an experimental imitation of the enemy, I guess. My shoulders feel so heavy, it's difficult to look down and it's so heavy that I feel like it's life threatening... Ohoh, I can't believe it's this unsightly, this ugly and this much of an embarrassment! Also, it shifts my center of gravity to a weird spot, making me walk unsteadily, what a weird sense of balance. I knew it, for something existing on this planet, these things are way too unnatural, the culmination of recessive bad genes that need to be purged from evolution immediately!"
"A-Ah... Awawawa! H-Haruaki-kun, it's not like that! Although its excessive realism makes it look real, that's not actually the real thing and there are slight differences from mine. I don't think the tips are like that either, so I hope you'll believe me—Awawa, despite those clearly being mounds of snow, why do I get this embarrassing feeling like I'm getting seen topless by others!?"
Haruaki could tell simply from her voice that Konoha was totally panicking. Hence, without thinking, Haruaki looked up at the roof where the two girls were standing. Accidentally, unavoidable. Even though he was not supposed to look up.
"N-No, uh, let's put this aside for now, you should be careful where you step... Ooh!"
"What are you going 'ooh' and telling me to watch my step for!? Compared to that, taking care of Kuroe-san's creations must be prioritized!"
Haruaki carelessly looked up at Konoha and Kirika who were standing on the roof. Naturally, since they had not started the day with the intention to go snow shoveling, consequently, neither of the two girls were wearing clothing meant for the task. Instead, they were dressed as usual—having climbed to the roof in skirts. And now, Haruaki was looking up at them from below, accidentally.
Previously, the fact of their attire did not matter when he was together with them on the roof, but now it was bad. Very bad. Just as this occurred to Haruaki, Kirika and Konoha seemed to notice his gaze as well.
"Taking care of that... Ah, kyah! H-Haruaki-kun—!"
"Y-Yachi! Hey! Absolutely ridiculous, w-where are you looking at—!"
As a result, the two girls tossed away their shovels at the same time and frantically held down their skirts with their hands, squatting down reflexively. However, they were currently standing on a snow-covered roof and forcing themselves to squat down while leaning forward, due to throwing criticisms at Kuroe's snow breasts and giving panicking explanations. No matter how good their athleticism, they still lost their balance, of course—
"Uwawawawawa! «Black River»... N-No good, I can't grab anything...!"
"Oh no—! H-Hurry and move out of the way, Haruaki-kun, move out of the way now—!"
In the next instant, reflected in Haruaki's eyes was a pair of figures flying off the eaves at high speed like ski jumping off a take-off ramp. Namely, they were Kirika and Konoha, holding their skirts down with panic all over their faces. The two girls fell straight down, falling on Haruaki while he was looking up at them.
—Then came the final impact.
Haruaki felt his consciousness leave for an instant but immediately regained his senses. It took him a few seconds to realize that the coldness against his back meant he was currently lying on the snow-covered ground. In contrast, the front side of his body felt rather warm. What was going on?
Despite clearly opening his eyes, Haruaki found his view totally dark. Rather, black was the only color he could see. Furthermore, he found it inexplicably difficult to breathe. In other words, something black was pressing on top of his mouth—
"Kyah! Hold on... Yachi, Yachi, ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous!? Listen carefully, don't move and don't speak anymore! And don't move your nose either! Not allowed to breath, even! I'm getting up straight away!"
Haruaki felt a hard sensation on the tip of his nose, similar to a zipper. No way, could this be Kirika's that? Fortunately, his brain's natural defensive instincts kicked in and proactively gave up on clearing up the issue. I neither know anything nor understand anything.
Then he noticed the weight on his lower body. Another object was covering his body below the waist. Naturally, he could not see because a certain black object of Kirika's was blocking his view, but based on touch, he could discern that there seem to be two masses on top of his lower body. Moreoever, they were very soft, very warm and quivering with gentle softness, sandwiching his lower body—
"Ouch... Wah! Sorry, Haruaki-kun, are you okay? Did you break a bone somewhere? Are you alright?"
Accompanied by the nervous voice, Haruaki felt that sense of weight press even harder against him. Almost enveloping his entire lower body, this softness and warmth. No good, I can't allow myself to think about that side either.
At this moment, he suddenly regained light in his view. Stumbling forward to separate from his face, Kirika crouched down partially nearby, reaching behind to hold down her skirt near her bottom. Whimpering with her face flushed red, she was looking at Haruaki, possibly glaring at him.
However, Konoha's weight was still resting on his lower body—more precisely, that weight of Konoha's was still pressing on him. Haruaki was unable to move as a result. What should he do in order to move away? Konoha did not seem to be listening to him. Was it okay if he simply pushed her away? But pushing her would require touching that directly, which was actually a huge problem—Just as Haruaki's brain was spinning at full speed, pondering the monumental difficulties of this mission—
"I'll say this again, the sense of balance is very weird just as I thought. I don't want this kind of thing. I'm throwing it away."
A certain white mass flew past. Then—Smack!
A massive piece of snow directly struck Konoha's head while she was still mounted on Haruaki's lower body worriedly. The snow instantly flew apart into fragments. Haruaki went stiff all over. Naturally, the snow came from the imitation breasts that had been installed on Fear's chest a moment ago. After taking a look at Konoha, who seemed frozen in time with snow all over her braids, Fear nodded with satisfaction.
"I've heard of the game known as a snowball fight. Yeah, so in other words, what I want to say is that udders of this size have no value except for being used in a snowball fight while preventing shameless behavior at the same time—Take that! Next comes the shot from the left boob—!"
Plucking off a (temporary) body part from herself, Fear threw it forward. However, Konoha slowly separated from Haruaki's lower body from her originally frozen position. Just as Haruaki saw her standing up—
A flash of the sword. Sliced cleanly into two, the snow breast fell tragically by Konoha's feet. Retracting her karate chop, Konoha bent over lightly and picked up the remains of the snow breast.
"What is with this sense of guilt...? But rest assured, I shall avenge you."
"Owa—«A Hatchet of Lingchi»!"
This time, Konoha fired a white bullet towards Fear. Taking out the Rubik's cube from her pocket reflexively, Fear transformed it into a torture instrument to deflect the snowball. Clang! The sound of a metallic collision rang out.
Probably reeling back from the impact, Fear readied her hatchet in a stance unsteadily while Konoha was holding the remnants of the snow. Slowly closing in on each other, both girls were grinning maliciously.
"Fear~-san~ Although I was originally planning to have you work properly... Since you want a snowball fight that badly, there's no helping it, I shall accommodate your wish. Nevertheless, my snowball fights will not be so gentle."
"Took the words right out of my mouth. Since it's my first snowball fight, I'm sorry that I don't know how to adjust my strength. If I go too far, feel free to cry surrender in all unsightliness. Or better yet, surrender now!"
In the next second, snowballs began to fly back and forth. Using the hatchet to dig snow by her feet, Fear made giant chunks of snow to throw at Konoha. Using karate chops to engage, Konoha sliced the pieces of snow, making small snowballs out of them, then catching the snowballs in midair and launching them in succession. Sometimes, she used spinning kicks to deflect the incoming snow. On the other hand, Fear turned her weapon into a drill instantaneously then using it as support to jump like pole vaulting, she evaded all the attacks. Then the two girls glared at each other, cautiously adjusting their distance before starting another wave of intense attacks—
Haruaki could only watch the scene with a stiff smile. At the same time, Kirika seemed to have finally recovered from her confusion earlier, coughing drily.
"Yachi, shouldn't we stop them?"
"Haha... Once it develops to this point, stopping them won't be that easy. Oh well, instead of a hand to hand brawl, this is more like a snowball fight. They're mainly throwing snowballs at each other, that's all. As long as they keep this level of understanding, it's much safer than their usual fights—"
"Just when you think that, an enemy lying here in ambush appears! Openings to exploit!"
Suddenly feeling a wave of coldness against his back, Haruaki could not help but jump to his feet.
"Nwoh—!? Huhee, huha, huhahaheehee!?"
"Hyah... S-So cold... What is going on!?"
Apart from Haruaki, three other people also cried out at the same time, straightening their backs. Haruaki could not help but find the scream coming from a certain person beside him especially adorable, but decided not to dwell on the issue. Naturally, the culprit was the final person who had not screamed.
"I am the woman intoxicated by the joys of betrayal... Ahaha~ Dance for me~"
"Guh, Kuroe! What are you doing!? You stuffed so much snow into my back!"
It turned out that Kuroe had secretly manipulated her hair to stuff snow into the clothing of Haruaki and the others simultaneously. Reaching behind himself, Haruaki pulled out his shirt's lower hem and shook off the snow that had invaded his clothing.
"Hooha, so cold, so ticklish! So that's what it feels like to have snow getting into your clothing. I guess that's a lesson learnt. But anyway, huheehee! I-I must hurry get rid of it!"
In addition to Haruaki, everyone else also had snow stuffed down their collar relatively normally. Fear, Konoha and Kirika were desperately clearing snow out from under their clothing. Fear was frantically lifting the front of her shirt, pulling her skirt down, giving tantalizing glimpses of her navel and other parts. Konoha had pulled her collar open, hence almost offering a glimpse into her cleavage, then perhaps because snow was stuck inside, she was reaching into there with her fingers. The sight looked quite dangerous. Under Kirika's clothing, the black object, which was not supposed to be seen, was also flashing in and out of view seductively—Haruaki frantically focused his attention on clearing snow from his clothing. But after cleaning up, Haruaki still pretended to continue, pulling at his clothing meaninglessly, trying his utmost to enter a realm of oblivion. Is everyone done yet? Hurry and straighten out your clothes.
"Hey Kuroe! What are you doing!?"
"Since it's not every day that we get snow, I suggest opening your hearts and having as much fun as possible. In other words—clearing the accumulated snow that was shoveled from the roof can be done later! Also, how could I let Ficchi and Kono-san start playing on their own? Now is hte the time when everyone should join in for a blood-boiling snowball battle royale! What I just did was the first wave of attacks to declare war!"
"Listen here... I was simply looking to punish Fear-san a little. If you want a snowball fight, just play on your own with the others, Kuroe-san."
"Just so that everyone will play seriously to their heart's content, I've got a suggestion. Uh... The winner of the snowball fight earns the right to command one of the losers present, how's that?"
"Oh... One of the losers... present...?"
For some reason, Fear and the girls spoke simultaneously then for merely an instant, their sharp gazes all seemed to converge on Haruaki... Perhaps. It could also have been his imagination.
"Cough, I've changed my mind. It's not a bad idea to relax and play like a child at heart every now and then."
"Yeah, this is a rare chance with so much snow fallen. Having as much fun as possible is the only way to go."
"It would be truly and absolutely ridiculous if all I did before going home was shoveling snow and having tea after being invited over on this rare occasion. Sure enough, it's better that I get some exercise and have fun."
The three girls changed their minds with inexplicable readiness, expressing their intent to join the snowball fight with casual tones of voices. However, the only things casual were their voices and the expressions on their faces. Their actions stood in stark constrast.
Konoha knelt down and began to cut up the snow by her feet, using karate chops that moved so rapidly that afterimages could be seen—processing them into the shape of snowballs. Fear swung the spiked club of metal at air, leaving Haruaki puzzled as to how she intended to use that weapon. Kirika also started using the cursed belt, the «Tragic Black River», to pick up snowballs and practice throwing. Completely opposite to their claims which sounded like "no helping it, I guess I must participate," their actions were full of seriousness. Tension hung in the air. It was as though the girls were declaring they would show no mercy no matter what.
So thirsty. Despite his bafflement, Haruaki felt a sense of foreboding. He gulped hard.
"U-Umm, I haven't said whether I'm joining in or not, but I guess I have to, right...? Uh, oh, right! While you girls are having fun, I can clear the snow leisurely, wouldn't that be a good method to make everyone happy, right...?"
But the three girls—including Kuroe with her blank eyes, four warriors—ignored him, of course.
The four of them faced off against one another while giving off an atmosphere as though fighting would break out any moment.
The tension in the air heightened further. The space of pure white was distorted so much that it sounded like creaking.
Hence, just as the sense of nervousness peaked—Konoha's glasses flashed as she asked:
"I forgot to ask, but what are the conditions for victory?"
"Obviously the last one standing. After all, it's a battle royale."
"Then conversely, allow me to ask... What are the conditions for defeat?"
"Isn't that obvious? It's when the losers scream surrender on their own——!"
With Fear's yell as a signal, the heavy pressure, feeling as though time had stopped, exploded instantly.
Then with snowballs, karate chops, torture instruments, a leather belt and human hair flying all over the place, amidst resonding shouts and roars, an ordinary snowball fight took place.
"Hoo... Wars always make you feel empty inside..."
Reaching the realm of enlightenment, Haruaki sipped hot tea while sitting on the veranda. On his left and right, Kirika and Konoha were also sipping tea respectively, utterly exhausted mentally, catching their breath.
In addition, next to Konoha, Kuroe was totally limp and unmoving from exhaustion, looking as though her soul had left her body. Due to the snow boobs incident earlier, Konoha had focused her ice-cold attacks on Kuroe, forcing Kuroe to surrender early on. Apart from Kuroe, as well as Haruaki who had given up first thing(surrendering unconditionally, one could say) out of concern for his life's safety, the other three girls had not settled the contest between them... Since the rules required losers to admit defeat, conversely, no winner was possible if none of them were willing to surrender. Naturally, it resulted in total exhaustion on all sides.
In the end, the snowball fight turned into an invalid match of total stamina attrition without any winner at all. However...
"Here I go, here I go!"
"Wow, she's a lively one..."
Only Fear had recovered her energy and starting a while ago, she had been rolling a snowball the size of a football.
Pushing the snowball rhythmically with her hands, she rolled it bigger and bigger with a serious expression on her face, resulting in quite a heartwarming scene to behold. Haruaki smiled faintly. The ability to enjoy a first experience from the bottom of her heart—Perhaps this could be considered a type of talent.
"Fufufu, it's looking better and better, then I'm gonna speed up! Here I go, here I go... Ohoh? Crap, I can't stop it anymore!"
Fear rolled the snowball even more rhythmically, passing in front of the veranda where Haruaki and the others were resting, rolling towards the entryway.
"Perfect, then I'll go outside directly for a walk like this! When I come back, it'll surely grow so large it'll be astounding... And it's almost enough to reach my next goal, to build a snow man. Please look forward to my return!"
"Slow down there, I can do whatever you want in the yard but not outside. The snow-covered streets are very dangerous. Also, more specifically, your snowball could hit pedestrians or bikes and make people fall."
"Muu~ On the other hand, I really think it's wrong for people to go biking on a day like this."
"Although you have a point, it's still too dangerous, so just play in the yard... But judging from the way you look, you're not gonna listen even if I say that, right?"
"Duh! How can I stay cooped up at home on a special day like this!?"
"Can't be helped, then I'll have to go out with you to supervise you. Konoha, you girls can..."
"If you're going out, Haruaki-kun, I am coming along too."
"Then I'll accompany as well."
"Phew~ I've finally revived... Of course I'm coming together too~"
Haruaki was going to ask them to watch the house but Konoha, Kirika and Kuroe all expressed their wish to go out together. As a result, it became a stroll for everyone to take outside.
"Good, let's march, troops! Oh of course, I have to walk at the very front, because I want this little guy to absorb clean snow. Let's go, my snowball, go on and store up a ton of snow energy!"
"Ficchi~ May I help? If you're building a snowman, you need two snowballs, right?"
"You're right. Okay, Kuroe, I appoint you as lieutenant general! If you start rolling now, you'll make a snowball that's just the right size to put on top of mine!"
Fear exited the front entrance while rolling her snowball. Several seconds later, Kuroe followed after her, pushing a newly formed snowball. Immediately, Haruaki, Konoha and Kirika filed out after them.
As soon as they stepped out of the home, it was a totally different world outside.
Amidst a snow-white landscape, the girls were walking ahead, swaying their hair, silver and black respectively.
In the beginning, Haruaki had objected simply due to the one reason that he did not want Fear to wander around outside alone.
But this scenery was probably only visible on a special day like today. It was anyone's guess when another time would come again.
As soon as he thought that... Whatever, I guess this might not be bad after all.
Bearing a slight smile of wryness, Haruaki thought to himself while leisurely chasing after Fear and Kuroe.
Fear was using both hands to push the pure-white mass of snow. Left, right, left, right. Bit by bit, the snowball slowly grew large. This alone was already enough to fill her with joy.
The air was chilly. Looking up, one could see the ordinary town different from usual.
Utility poles covered with white snow. Wearing soft, fluffy caps of white, the post boxes looked very fashionable, different from their usual shade of pure red. White snow were piled upon nearby trees in long thin shapes, looking like marshmallows or clouds. Identical to the cotton decorations visible during the Christmas season—No, the analogy ought to be reversed in the first place. At the bottom of a wall, which one would not normally notice, fluffy, clean, white snow was piled up, pristine and untouched. One could call this a zone of fortune for bolstering this snowball. Let's go and absorb this snow!
"Here I go, here I go! I'm gonna make you big and pretty~"
Fear sped up even more, rolling the snowball along the bottom of the wall. She wanted to make it even bigger, to make a snowball so big that Haruaki was going to fall over in shock.
"Mufufufu... Hmm, on my?"
"Woah, be careful! Phew~ My beloved snowball Goliath-kun (tentative), the one I've been nurturing till now, almost fell into the gutter. Ficchi! Why did you suddenly stop?"
"No, it's because it feels so lively over there."
Next to the road was a small park where roughly ten children were inside, playing happily with the snow on their own. In addition, there were two adults, a middle-aged man with an elderly man about to enter the latter stages of life. They were watching the group of children with tender eyes of affection. Somehow, Fear felt that the two men looked slightly familiar.
At this moment, the middle-aged man discovered Fear's group. Raising his hand lightly, he called out:
"Oh it's you, Kuroe-chan."
"Hello~ I guess business must be bad after such heavy snow... Left without a choice, I've decided to devote all my effort to having fun. So what are you guys doing here?"
"I also left the shop for my mother to watch. Since it happens that a children's gathering was planned for today, everyone's all gathered so I've brought them to play in the snow here."
It sounded like this man was apparently one of Kuroe's friends from the shopping street. The other, elderly man also walked up and said:
"Since it's rare to have this much snow, it's good to let the children experience more of it... Oh, you must be Honatsu's kid, right? Hahaha, going out with so many cute girls, you're so blessed."
"Eh? Ah, uh, umm... Hello."
Haruaki bowed his head as a greeting, not knowing how to react. In contrast, Konoha offered pleasantries with all smiles: "Such flattery, you really know how to talk, ohohoho." Kirika also nodded to greet slightly shyly.
At this moment, Fear suddenly sensed a presence approaching her. Turning to look back, she found a little girl, probably in early elementary school, currently staring at her and the giant snowball.
"Hey lady, is this a snowman?"
"Oh? Fufufu, so you really can tell? Yes, you're right, it's a snowman... Do you want to see the completely assembled snowman?"
The little girl's eyes glimmered brightly while she answered instantly. Now I really must respond to the kid's anticipation.
"The size is almost ready... Okay, Haruaki, let's stay in this park for a while. I'm going to have the snowman combine here! Kuroe, are you ready?"
"Of course~ From the start, I've also prepared things like charcoal to put on the face."
"Excuse me... You guys don't mind if we join in as well, right?"
Haruaki asked the adults who were leading the children. Smiling genially, they replied: "Of course, you're very welcomed."
Rolling her snowball, Fear walked over to the center of the park. Since the snowball had grown quite huge already, all the children's gazes were gathered here... It felt so nice. However—
Not every child was looking towards her. Only one girl was uninterested, immersed in her own game. No wait, could that really count as a game? She was simply sitting on the ground, using a small shovel to randomly collect snow, piling it up to make a mound. From her expression, she did not seem to take much joy in her task. Sitting some distance away from the other kids, she did not even look in the direction of Fear's snowball, simply alone all by herself...
"Ficchi, it's best to assemble the snowman here, right?"
"Ah, yeah, you're right."
In any case, the snowman needed to be completed first. Rolling the snowball, Fear placed it at a spot which would not interfere with the playground equipment, then Kuroe pushed Goliath-kun (tentative) next to it.
"So, the next part is key. Shameless brat, I won't allow you to fail. Show me some spirit!"
"I guess I have to help? Yeah, sure."
"Have you gotten a good grip? Okay, let's do it... COM. BINE—!"
Fear and Haruaki picked up Goliath-kun (tentative) together and placed it on the body. After carefully adjusting its balance, they released their grips lightly. Positioned. Maintaining perfect balance, it was positioned there!
"Ohoh...! Th-This is...!"
"Ficchi, it's still too early to feel moved. Now that we've reached this point, we have to pay attention to detail. I will use charcoal to make the snowman's face. Uh... It'd be nice if only there were other materials that could be used for the arms."
"Lady, let me go pick up branches, 'kay?"
"Then I'll lend the snowman my scarf."
"Ohoh, you're so kind and understanding, kiddies! Great, let's all cooperate to make this guy a perfect snowman!"
Originally just one snowball on top of another, the snowman gradually obtained life after receiving the children's support. After the face was done, arms then sprouted and gloves were added. All this was so fun and delightful. Watching was enough to make one grow with joy.
However—In the end, that girl just now...
All lonesome by herself, she continued to build her mountain of snow, still not glancing over at Fear's snowman at all.
"I-It's done—! Totally perfect!"
"So amazing, it's like a snowman you see in picture books!"
In front of Haruaki, the children were looking up at the assembled snowman, cheering happily. Mixed among them, Fear and Kuroe also displayed satisfied smiles. Especially Fear, who also pointed at the snowman and said: "That part's really good, it's awesome. Yeah, don't you guys agree?", commenting on various things together with the children as though holding an appraisal conference.
"Oh my, that girl is called Fear-chan, isn't she? It's amazing that she's already become part of the children's group in such short time, isn't she quite talented in this area? It really helps us a lot."
"No no, I think she's simply doing what she wants, that's all."
"Indeed. Rather than a talent, I would consider her ability to get along well with kids largely stems from the fact that their mental ages are alike."
"Haha. But being able to approach anyone boldly is one of Fear-kun's strengths."
While the middle-aged shopkeeper was chatting with Konaha and the rest...
"Uwah! Ouch, it really hurts..."
"Ah—! Old mister Hatanaka really had a great fall!"
Seeing the children in a clamor, Haruaki's group looked over to see that the elderly man, Hatanaka-san, lying fallen on the snowy ground. He did not seem able to stand up, groaning in pain. The middle-aged shopkeeper hurried over to him.
"Hatanaka-san, what happened? Are you okay?"
"Oh, hmm... S-Sorry. My back..."
"That's why I asked you not to force yourself too much..."
Seeing Hatanaka-san in that state, the middle-aged shopkeeper shook his head slightly then carefully picked up Hatanaka-san piggyback style before casting a worried glance towards Haruaki's group:
"I'm really sorry but I'll have to send Hatanaka-san to the hospital first. He simply hurt his back from the fall, so I don't think it's anything serious, probably. So, as for the children—"
Pausing at this point, the shopkeeper suddenly displayed a thoughtful look with wavering eyes. He first glanced at the children behind him then looked at Haruaki's group.
"Umm, if you guys don't mind, could you help me watch these kids for now? It'd be such a shame for them if their gathering today in this rare snow had to be dismissed early because of this little accident. I'll hurry back as quickly as possible. All you need to do is take care that they don't do anything dangerous."
"I see... Uh, what are we going to do?"
Haruaki looked back to ask for the group's opinion. Fear nodded vigorously, the first to answer:
"Of course I don't mind. This counts as helping others and it's doing beneficial things for people. I don't have any problems with the request. Taking care of children is a piece of cake!"
"After all, our plans only consisted of playing for the next while~ If that's the case, all we have are extra guests when playing, right? I don't think it's a problem at all~"
Not only Kuroe but also Konoha and Kirika had no objections. In that case, Haruaki had no reason to refuse.
"Do you all agree? Wow, that's a really great help, thank you all!"
"I-I'm so sorry... My back is no good. That's what being old is like... Ouch."
"Please stay still, I'll send you to the hospital to see a doctor right away. Okay, sorry for the trouble, guys, I'm depending on you for the next bit."
The shopkeeper raised a single hand to express his thanks then walked out of the park, trudging through the snow. Although it was an unexpected development, now that they had been tasked with a responsibility, it was necessary to fulfill their duties in earnest.
"Uh, then what should we do first?"
"Hmm, if anything happens, it'll be too much of a pain to go yelling 'kids over there.' Rather, since everyone is a kid, there's no way of distinguishing them."
"Because you're a kid as well."
"Cow Tits, you're making too much noise. So first of all, let's have self-introductions. I'll start. My name is—"
With inexorable arrogance, Fear puffed out her chest and introduced herself. The rest of Haruaki's group also introduced themselves briefly, followed by the children. Since the children were yelling their names at the same time without any particular order, it took a fair amount of time and effort before their names could be learnt. Hence, after asking everyone's name—No, there was still one child whose name was still unknown. Namely, the girl who had been playing by herself all this time.
The girl was sporting a bob cut with a knitted cap. Kneeling on the ground with her feet outwards, calves against her thighs, she was using a small pink shovel to dig up snow, gathering it in front of her to build a small hill. Then—
She stabbed the pink shovel into the hill's center, causing it to collapse.
Repeating ad infinitum.
Neither talking to anyone nor making eye contact with anyone, she simply kept doing the same thing silently.
"Muumuu, that kid's been doing this all along, right?"
Fear cocked her head with an expression of deep thought. On the other hand, the children exchanged glances among themselves with embarrassed looks. Was there some kind of hidden story?
"Anyway, I have to ask for her name at least. I'm heading over!"
Fear ran over to the girl, then bent down slightly to say a few words to her. Then the girl shook her head lightly. Fear cocked her head in puzzlement but after persevering and saying more, Fear apparently forced the girl to relent and put down her shovel. Hence, Fear took her hand with a smile and had her stand up. Although it was achieved through a slightly forceful attitude, Fear did succeed in bringing the girl back...
However, the girl's expression and temperament definitely could not be described as cheerful. Head bowed slightly, her gaze was cast at her feet. Through her eyes, Haruaki could experience a sense of emptiness that should not belong to children, as though abandoning everything, feeking disappointment with everything in the world.
"So this is what we're doing, it's self-introduction time. Why don't you tell us your name?"
After a long time, the group finally heard a soft whisper.
She was speaking in a voice that was easily to miss if one did not perk up their ears to listen carefully.
After saying that, the girl turned around directly and returned to where she had been spending her time. Sitting down at once, she picked up the small pink shovel, then once again, she resumed piling snow up to make a mountain.
Fear simply stared at her back, probably thinking it would be forcing the girl too much if she chatted with her and dragged her over again. With sighing whisper, Fear said:
"Hmm... Youko huh...?"
"Kurako. Call her Kurako."
Haruaki turned to look at the sudden voice beside him, only to find a boy standing there. The boy had a shaved head and looked quite mischievous. Haruaki recalled the name he had heard during self-introductions... The boy's name seemed to be Kouta.
"Kouta, you know her?"
Hearing Fear's question, the boy crossed his arms and kept a stiff poker face as though trying to act older than his age. Then with a "can't be helped" kind of vibe, he replied:
"That girl's name is Kadokura Youko, or in other words, Youko with the naturally gloomy personality, that's why we call her Kurako. Everyone calls her that."
"What a disagreeable nickname. First of all, I would suggest that it'd be best if you guys came up with a different nickname... But let's put that aside. In other words, everyone came up with this unpleasant nickname because she's always acting like this?"
Kouta nodded simply after Kirika finished.
"Yeah, she's always like that. She doesn't talk much in class, her personality is gloomy. No one knows what she's thinking about."
"Oh, so that implies that you're classmates with her, Kouta-kun?"
Hearing Konoha's question, Kouta froze for an instant before puffing out his chest immediately as a distraction and continuing:
"Hmm... I guess. Totally by chance. So, umm... Classmates have tried inviting her out to play many times, but she always ignores them. I only brought her here today because my mom said I should, being neighbors and all. In the end, all she's doing is gathering snow like that, making small hills then destroying them, I totally don't get her..."
"I see, so she lives next to your house?"
"Th-That has nothing to do with anything. Totally by chance, okay? Anyway, Kurako always acts like that! So it's best that you don't concern yourselves with her! Like me, I'm totally leaving her alone right now!"
Saying that, Kouta kept throwing glances at Youko. Completely opposite to what he was saying, he clearly looked quite concerned. And extremely concerned at that.
Haruaki's group exchanged looks among themselves. Although they could get a vague feeling for Youko and Kouta's relationship...
"So, what to do?"
"There no 'what to do?' right... It doesn't sit well with me to leave her all lonesome to play by herself. I really hope she can join a circle of friends."
"But it's not like we can force her. Even if we drag her over here forcibly, I believe it would be pointless if she still doesn't feel happy."
"Konoha-kun makes a fair point. So, what should we do...?"
While the group was pondering this question, the self-introductions concluded. The kids finally reached their limit of their patience and rushed up to surround them. Naturally, Kouta was among them.
"Like I said, forget about her! The important thing is for us to play now!"
"Yeah, lady, let's play together!"
"What shiny hair! Can I touch your hair?"
"Nwah, hey! Hold on, slow down, calm it—! Argh, there's no calming down at all! Sure, you can touch my hair, hwah, but don't pull it, ouch ouch...! W-What should I do!?"
"No helping it... Anyway, let's all play together for now? Then at the same time, keep an eye on that child's movements."
"I guess it's okay to leave things like that for now. And we can't leave this group of kids unattended either. Besides, perhaps the girl might change her mind after seeing everyone playing happily together..."
Although it was a very passive choice, that was all they could do for now. "Since it's decided—" As a result, Fear picked up two handfuls of snow in an exaggerated manner then said in a joking tone of voice:
"You~ guys~ I can't believe you're so naughty, it's punishment time!"
"Kyah~ kyah~ Ahahaha!"
"Hey, stand still, not allowed to run away—!"
"She clearly went through a snowball fight at home already, but she's really energetic... Pwah!"
"Hehe, don't lower your guard, mister!"
As a result, the situation naturally turned into a game akin to a snowball fight. Without any rules, they were simply throwing snowballs casually at one another. Because snow was hard to come by to begin with, this alone was enough to allow everyone to play so happily—That was what Haruaki thought.
However, just as he bent down to make a new snowball, he turned his gaze at the same time.
There was no change in Youko's state despite the start of a rowdy snowball fight. She was not even glancing over at them. Sitting knees together, shins slanting gently outwards, she was using her shovel to gather snow to make a round hill, then after reaching a certain size, she collapsed it. Then she began to gather snow again—It was an incomprehensible game of solitaire that even went as far as to give an impression of asceticism.
Haruaki felt a light attack agaist the back of his head. The other person had simply thrown a sloppy, powdery snowball at him without compacting it hard first. Catching the sight of swaying silver hair in the corner of his eye, Haruaki understood that the culprit was standing right next to him, watching the same scene.
"She's not even looking over here... What should we do? Hey Haruaki, why don't you fulfill your role as the shameless brat and throw a snowball at her or stuff snow down her clothes? She could very well join us, spurred by anger to get even."
"I don't think it's that simple. By the way, that would totally make me a villain!"
"Yeah, even if the plan succeeded, you would still have committed shameless acts against a grade schooler for sure. I will take responsiblity by calling the police, so don't worry."
Just at this moment, a shout was suddenly heard.
"Ohoh. Hohoho, too naive."
Fear ducked lightly to evade the flying snowball. Haruaki looked ahead to see Kouta going "Tsk~" and pouting. He immediately seemed to notice where Haruaki and Fear had been staring, saying:
"You guys are looking at Kurako again, huh? Like I said, just leave her alone."
"That's not gonna fly. This kind of game is only fun if everyone plays together... But anyway, she's always acted like this from a long time ago?"
Hearing Fear's question, Kouta stammered, looking like he had difficulty answering. Then scratching his shaved head, he replied:
"No... It only started last year. She wasn't like this before. Although she wasn't that cheery and lively to begin with, at least compared to now, she talked more often. I've also seen her go out and play with other girls who were her friends..."
"It started last year huh... Then do you have any idea what's the reason?"
After Haruaki asked, Kouta nodded: "Because we're neighbors, after all." Then lowering his voice, he said—
"Her dad passed away."
"Her dad was a nice guy. He played catch with me every now and then and I've seen him playing with her before, but—"
"I'm so sorry. I understand now. Thank you."
Haruaki interrupted gently and Kouta stopped talking, lowering his eyelids quietly.
Haruaki reviewed all the obtained information in his mind once more. Youko had started turning gloomy last year and gone reticent. Also, her father had passed away. The father who had been quite close to her—
"This situation is quite common... But it's really heartbreaking. In other words, she still hasn't recovered from the blow of her father's passing, right?"
Haruaki and Fear looked towards Youko again. Without making contact with anyone, the girl simply played with the white snow all by herself.
By the time he noticed, Haruaki found Kouta also staring at Youko's back silently, using those eyes that had very likely started gazing at her from a very long time ago.
Fear murmured softly.
"Clearly there's someone who's been watching you all along... That's such a shame..."
Probably murmuring to herself, Fear nodded vigorously once.
By this point, Haruaki already knew what Fear intended to say. But still, he asked her in turn:
"I-I still wanna help her. I don't know if it'll work or not, but I can't leave her alone. I wish... she could play with everyone and talk more, smile more. But maybe this is just my willful and overconfident wish."
"...Not at all. I feel the same as you too."
Haruaki smiled while he spoke. "Really?" Fear nodded, slightly relieved and said:
"Then we have to think up a plan seriously! What should we do to help her join in the fun? Fufufufu, I'm not gonna hold back at all~"
Fear crossed her arms and puffed out her chest. But after hearing her dangerous announcement, Haruaki was not the one to raise objections.
"However, I would still ask that you show restraint in your course of action. You can't go throwing snowballs at her deliberately to rile her up."
"Indeed, that could very well worsen the gap between relationships. I have to say it'd be absolutely ridiculous."
"Hmm... A way to make her take initiative to play together... I guess we have to make her get interested in us? So, how can we do that?"
At some point, Konoha, Kirika and Kuroe had also gathered by their side. Probably having heard what Kouta had said, they seemed to understand the current topic of conversation for the most part.
—Originally starting out as a target to strive for, it was now a clear and concrete goal.
They hoped that Youko could play with everyone.
Since such a simple wish was already born, all that remained was putting in actual action. The members Haruaki's group exchanged glances to confirm one another's resolve.
On the other hand, Kouta, who was supposed to be closest with Youko, simply threw out a comment with a face full of indifference:
"I suggest you guys give up... It'll end up a total waste of effort."
Then he walked over to his other friends.
"You're not going to succeed——!"
While sprinting, Fear and Konoha shot white bullets at each other. Then as though drawn in by some force, they stopped running in parallel and closed in on each other. Meanwhile, the two girls did not halt in their attacks, running past each other as bullets grazed each other's body. In the next instant, the two girls turned around, using their heels to control their momentum and brake all of a sudden. Purely in terms of physical skill, Konoha held the advantage. She was also the first to absorb her momentum and spring into action. Konoha unleashed a preemptive shot towards Fear who had yet to recover her balance. Nevertheless, Fear jumped sideways in desperation, rolling forward while firing three shots of white bullets simultaneously like a ninja counterattacking by throwing shurikens. The children watched in awestruck amazement at the series of spectacular battles, applauding and cheering in excitement.
But as though dismissing Fear's tactics of desperation as impossible to hit her, Konoha jumped up. Using the side of a set of monkey bars as stairs, she tilted herself and ran upwards, firing another shot along the way. While rolling forwards, Fear extended both hands, relying on split-second decision making to grab a horizontal bar that she was just about to pass under, spinning herself once around the bar to avoid Konoha's attack.
For an instant, the two girls looked each other in the eye, face to face.
"This will end everything!"
"Exactly what I wanted to say—!"
Konoha kicked at the monkey bars all at once, jumping high into the air. On the other hand, while using her angular momentum, Fear released the metal bar and slid over the ground with knees bent in a customary manner.
—From the air, Konoha rained down heavy artillery like thunder from heaven's wrath.
—Like a dual-wielding gunman from an action film, Fear slid on her knees for a long distance, leaning her body back while creating countless ammunition in both hands and firing randomly above.
One figure flew through the air while the other glided over the ground.
Both of them exuded steaming murderous intent while exchanging their relative positions of up and down.
Only for an instant, only for that very instant, time almost seemed as though it had stopped—
Konoha then landed, her eyes staring intently at the enemy from behind her glasses. Using the energy in her jump, she slid backwards on the ground while kneeling on one knee. As though break dancing, Fear used both legs to alter her body's direction, meanwhile noting the enemy's lingering vector while distancing herself. Lifting one knee to enter the same pose, she stared at Konoha.
Then they both clicked their tongues simultaneously.
"Tsk, you dodged it?"
"I originally intended to deliver a fatal blow, but it failed, I see..."
Instantly, silence shrouded their surroundings.
A beat later, having borne witness to the duo's spectacular snow battle that resembled an action movie, the children cheered thunderously.
Haruaki held his breath while watching the snowball fight executed in the style of hard-boiled action, feeling his heart race while clenching his fist tightly.
...This'll work. This'll surely work!
Carrying this certainty, he turned his gaze hopefully.
However, the girl in front, the girl whom they were giving their all, trying to stimulate her interest—
"She's not watching at all—!"
Youko still had her back against the group, using her shovel to pat the hill she had made by collecting snow. How could she possibly ignore the scene just now? She should be glancing a bit at least? Even Haruaki himself felt very excited after watching the spectacular and superhuman snowball fight that was filled with heart-thumping action. But in spite of that, how could she pull her gaze back so directly, uninterested?
"Hmm~ I can't believe she's ignoring this battle completely, it's really scary. And here I go, thinking this was a great plan."
"Absolutely ridiculous... Even putting on such a grand show, it's still useless? Instead, we ended up putting Fear-kun and Konoha-kun in a difficult situation."
Hearing Kirika, Haruaki turned his gaze to find Fear and Konoha surrounded and blockaded by excited children with glimmering eyes. "What was that just now? So amazing! How did you do it!? Teach us, teach us!" The passion was no less than a handshaking event at a hero show... This was probably the drawback of showing off their real skills. The two girls looked like they were not going to regain their freedom for a while.
(So this plan failed too...?)
Haruaki sighed quietly. Piquing the girl's interest using a snowball fight that resembled a real action movie—They were thinking this would work, but it ended up as wasted effort.
As of now, they had already carried out several plans. First was the snow bunny plan led by Konoha, which involved teaching the children how to make snow bunnies, thereby getting the girl to join in their fun. Holding a cute snow bunny, Konoha ran over in front of Youko, saying "Knock knock, this bunny really wants a partner~" as though performing a puppet show. But after receiving a cold reception, Konoha had no choice but to return listlessly. Tragic was the only word one could use to describe Konoha at the time.
In an attempt to rouse Youko's interest, Kirika also taught the children to make snow angels. This was a foreign game where people would lie face up on the snow then move their outstretched arms up and down and legs from side to side—Resulting in a design left on the snow that resembled angels with outspread wings. Naturally, the girl ignored this utterly as well.
Haruaki also tried using a sled that one of the kids had brought, sliding on it to approach Youko, or playing hide-and-seek which had nothing to do with the snow—But none of it worked. Hence, after some preparations, the group had carried out the action movie snowball fight just now. Normally, these actions might expose their superhuman existences to others, but since only children were present, they could probably manage by sweeping things under the rug. That was why they mustered their determination to carry out this less-than-ideal plan.
However, if even this plan failed as well—What could they do now?
Just at this moment, while watching Fear and Konoha encircled by the children, Kuroe nodded once forcefully:
"Hmm... Then it's my turn this time. It's finally the time to debut the secret move I've been saving up all time, just in case. Haru, Kiririn, can you two help me a bit?"
"Really? To be honest, I'm a little worried, but by this point, I'm willing to try anything."
"Of course I'll help. Then what should we do?"
"Your task is simple. I want you two to..."
It really was simple. Although Kuroe had not told them the point of all this, surely she must have some kind of ingenius plan.
The trio quickly put the plan into motion.
Kuroe approached Youko with extremely natural speed. While taking care not to hit Youko with stray projectiles, Haruaki and Kirika threw snowballs at Kuroe. While dodging as appropriate, Kuroe closed further in on Youko.
Then timing things just right—
After deliberately letting Haruaki and Kirika's snowballs strike her, Kuroe spun herself in an exaggerated manner and collapsed next to Youko.
(That's way too obvious!)
Haruaki trembled in fear but this was also part of Kuroe's plan. Probably.
Still building the mound of snow, patting it with the back of her shovel, Youko looked at Kuroe. Even though her eyes were indifferent as though saying that she was only taking a glance at a walking ant, Kuroe did not mind and proceeded to say:
"W-Who's there...? My eyes... cannot... see anymore. Oh, this can't be helped. Although it'll saddle you with a destiny filled with trials and tribulations... I'm leaving it to you. Please accept this legendary weapon, the one that I've prepared in case of emergencies, don't let it fall into the hands of demons..."
While speaking as though acting out a part, Kuroe took out something from under her clothing—Something extremely bright and colorful, resembling a water gun. As though her life had reached its end, she handed the object over to Youko, her hands trembling incessantly.
It was handed over successfully. Probably because Kuroe's words and behavior were too sudden and inexplicably, it looked like Youko had no choice but to accept the object resembling a water gun. Frowning in puzzlement, she finally spoke up again in a quiet voice.
"What is... this...?"
She was curious! Great chance! Kuroe's eyes flashed.
"This is called a snowball gun. It's a toy for firing snowballs in place of a water gun. I'm so glad I bought it specially from the internet, thinking this day would finally arrive. As for how to use it, just press here and here..."
Kuroe sat up suddenly, then after teaching Youko roughly how to use it, she dutifully screamed "gah~" and collapsed once more.
"Then that's it. Please avenge me, hero, I'm counting on you... Gack."
Looking down with eyes completely devoid of emotional fluctuation, Youko stayed silent for a long while. Kuroe continued to play a corpse's part. Haruaki and the others gulped while observing Youko's reaction.
Originally kneeling with knees together, feet slanting outwards, Youko slowly stood up.
Then she walked over to Haruaki's group, step by step. Undoubtedly, she was walking towards them.
"No way..." Haruaki could hear Kouta muttering quietly in surprise. He could also see Kuroe remaining sprawled on the ground, making a forceful thumbs up gesture.
Who could have thought that she would join in their games for this kind of reason—
Just as this thought crossed Haruaki's mind...
Youko stopped walking. In front of her was Kouta.
Youko presented the snowball gun to Kouta. With those eyes, completely unchanged all this time, unmoved by everything, showing an expression of gloom, she said:
"Tell them what...?"
"Tell these people..."
Then Youko forcefully shoved the snowball gun into Kouta's hand.
She threw Haruaki's group a glance.
Looking very unhappy for real, she said—
"...Stop getting in my way."
Far surpassing the indifference she had expressed to this point—Rejection.
The snowball gun remained in Kouta's hand. Haruaki could only groan. Youko then turned around, but did not return to where Kuroe had fallen. Instead, she changed her site and continued to gather snow, making a small hill, smoothing out the surface, then stabbing her shovel to collapse it—
Haruaki could only watch the scene silently. During this time, Kuroe rolled back over to them while maintaining her posture like a dead fish. Then getting up while patting off the snow all over her clothes, she cast her blank eyes towards Youko and murmured:
"What a miscalculation. I never thought she'd be indifferent to this extent."
"Hmm. Don't get in her way huh... From her perspective, perhaps our invitations to play together is a kind of harassment... I really have no idea if this counts as something absolutely ridiculous."
Haruaki turned to see Fear and Konoha also staring at Youko's back, at a loss what to do. Half of the children were still hassling Fear and Konoha while the other half, surprised that Youko had stood up, were looking at her like Fear and Konoha.
Only one person. Only Kouta, whom Youko had spoken with directly, was frowning with a furrowed brow, narrowing his eyes forcefully, glaring at the snowball gun he had received.
"...Damn it. This is no joke, idiot..."
Just as Haruaki heard Kouta's suppressed and quiet mutters—
Kouta suddenly shoved snow randomly into the gun and made a pose.
"I don't care anymore! You big idiot—! Take this and that—!"
Then in resignation, he randomly shot snowballs in all directions without caring about anything. Simply by holding down the trigger, the muzzle went "Bang bang bang bang!" and shot snowballs with alarming speed.
"Nwah! Hold it, that's too cheating of you! If you're a man, do it fair and square... Wap!?"
"Kou-chan, you're amazing!"
"Everyone, let's gang up to defeat Kou-niichan!"
The scene instantly turned chaotic. While dodging snowballs, Kuroe whispered as though she had nothing to do with it: "Oh crap, the legendary weapon has fallen into a demon's hands! Can the heroes of light save the world!?"
However, despite the lively and rowdy surroundings, Haruaki's heart was filled with bitterness.
—Failing to save the world did not matter. Clearly what they did not want to see was loneliness on that child's face. Perhaps it would be presumptuous to call it saving her, but they were just trying to help her.
Was everything they did simply unwarranted meddling?
Hoping she could laugh openly together with everyone, were they being presumptuous—?
Due to pondering these questions, naturally, Haruaki did not succeed in dodging the snowball that Kouta had fired towards his face.
The sun was about to set.
As the setting sun's rays illuminated the interior of the park, there were almost no children left.
Not long earlier, the shopkeeper had returned after taking Hatanaka-san to the hospital, prompting the children to disperse. After thanking Haruaki's group profusely for playing with the children all this time, the shopkeeper left with the children who were too young to go home on their own.
Hence, there was almost no signs of children in the park currently.
Conversely, two people remained.
That girl was still present.
Bathed under the orange glow of the setting sun, Youko was randomly gathering snow to make a small hill. But soon after, she stabbed her shovel into the hill, causing it to collapse. Without making eye contact with anyone, nor conversing with anyone, neither did she laugh with anyone, she simply repeated these actions.
An endless, solitary and lonesome game of solitaire.
Kouta was watching the scene silently. As though watching over her was his duty, he kept staring intently. After all, the two of them were neighbors and his parents had probably reminded him to walk Youko home together. However, he did not know when he should speak up. Neither did he know if he ought to speak up—That was what it looked like.
Haruaki's group also had no choice but to watch her.
"In the end... All she's doing is that the whole time."
Fear said lightly.
"Clearly she doesn't seem to be enjoying it, but why is she repeating it nonstop? Sigh, I haven't even asked her about this matter... How should I say it...? It's really such a shame."
Haruaki continued to keep his gaze on her while he spoke. What meaning was there behind her game? They still could not figure it out, even now. Compared to a happy snowball fight, compared to making snow bunnies, Youko preferred doing that?
She preferred doing that?
Under the setting sun, the view of the young girl's petite back could be seen amidst this scene. Something suddenly flashed across Haruaki's mind. Oh right, lemme think again carefully. What was with that game of hers?
First she sat on the ground. Then gathering snow with her shovel, building up to a certain point, she then patted its surface to make it round and smooth. After examining it for a while, she stabbed her shovel into the side of the hill, causing it to collapse—This was repeated endlessly.
Without finding it tiresome at all, she kept repeating the same behavior.
Almost—It was almost like she was saying that this must be done.
Up until now, Haruaki was thinking that it was only a game to relieve boredom. A meaningless act of protestation that expressed "I don't want to play in a snowball fight."
But was that really true?
Was it really destructive behavior purely for killing time without particular meaning?
(Stop getting in my way.)
These words were only used when purposeful behavior was obstructed, right—?
"Haruaki-kun? What's the matter?"
"Hold on, wait. I think I'm on to something... You girls should think about it too."
Haruaki told Konoha and the girls about his doubts. Their expressions changed instantly.
"Indeed... How very odd. Although it's absolutely ridiculous, I totally didn't notice."
"Yeah, taking a closer look, it really is the same action, repeated identically. No, not completely identical, I guess. There might be clues in what's the same and what's different..."
The group focused on Youko's movements.
Gathering snow, forming a small hill, smoothing it with the shovel. Just as Kuroe pointed out, there really were minute differences. This time, Youko even used her gloved hand and arm to flatten the surface. Once it became round, only then did she pick up her shovel and stab it into the side of the mound of snow, collapsing it—
"...Is she really 'collapsing' the mound of snow?"
"What do you mean by that, Fear?"
Arms crossed, watching Youko with serious eyes, Fear proceeded to say:
"Just now, she deliberately picked up the shovel from the side, then stabbed it into the mound of snow. That's what she's been doing all along. If all she wants to do is destroy the mound, couldn't she just kick randomly with her foot, for example? But she didn't do that. Always using a shovel—and going from the side, moving towards the same spot. Is there some meaning behind that? In other words, she's not trying to destroy the mound, for example—"
Fear cocked her silver-haired head and continued:
"The impression I get is, that's right—She looks like she's trying to dig a hole in the middle, right?"
"Dig a hole...?"
The speaker was not Haruaki but someone standing next to their group, watching Youko in a trance. Then he looked at the mound of snow in front of Youko with surprise, also widening his eyes as though he had discovered something.
"Hey Kouta, did you actually think of something?"
"Ah, uh, no..."
"Kouta-san, could you please tell us?"
After Konoha asked gently, Kouta hesitated for quite a while. Finally, he started speaking in resignation:
"Her dad... seems to be from the north. So they used to go to the north on trips as a family, skiing or snowboarding. Maybe they took the opportunity to visit his hometown as well? I don't really know."
"Also... I've been in her room before and saw a photo that she's decorated like she really cherishes it. She even put it in a photo frame and placed it on the most obvious spot on her desk. I think she really loves the photo."
"What kind of photo is it? Does it have anything to do with her behavior?"
Hearing Fear's question, Kouta bit his lip hard and bowed his head, then said:
"—A photo of a snowhouse. Along with auntie and uncle when he was still alive, the three of them together... Squeezed together in a snowhouse with happy looks on their faces, everyone making victory signs with their hands at the same time."
The scene visible so far. The scene still visible currently.
But now, these scenes carried a different significance, rendered completely revised before Haruaki's eyes.
Gathering snow, piling it into a mound, flattening its surface to make it round. Inserting the shovel sideways to hollow out the center. But resulting in failure, the collapse of the mound... Hence, the process was repeated all over again.
Yes, observing after thinking over things this way, it did become all clear now.
She had wanted to do this all along. Because it snowed, she remembered.
All alone, using her own method—She was attempting to make a snowhouse.
Apart from her, the space was deserted. A desolate space with nothing but white snow, shaded red by the setting sun.
Over there, all one could hear was the sound of the girl entrusting certain thoughts to the white snow.
Shoveling, patting, shoveling...
As for what those thoughts were, naturally, Haruaki could not understand just by watching her from the side. Perhaps she was simply reminiscing about the past. Maybe she had made a wish impossible to realize, wanting to return to a certain instant in the past. Or perhaps it was something even more complicated, more profound, impossible to comprehend casually.
The only thing that could be understood was—This was precisely her wish.
With this rare snow, it was anyone's guess when snow would fall again. On a rare day like this, rather than having fun, rather than having joy and laughter, she singlemindedly prioritized a challenge more than anything else—her wish.
"Hey Haruaki, I've thought of a plan that might succeed in making her smile."
"What a coincidence, me too."
Fear was standing next to Haruaki, narrowing her eyes as though looking at something bright, gazing at the girl's petite back. It was true that the setting sun's rays was a bit dazzling, reflecting off the white snow, but surely that was not the only reason.
Not only Fear and Haruaki but as one would expect, everyone was also looking at the girl.
Not a lonely game of solitaire—
This scene was filled with a sincere and ascetic wish.
Hence, everyone knew what they had to discuss, of course.
"But is it possible to make? There seems to be a number of problems that need to be resolved."
"Yeah. First is the amount of snow. The snow has stopped falling for quite a long while now... Just as everyone can see, the remaining snow is almost about to melt away. However, certain places should still have some accumulated snow."
"Yeah, I agree that a large amount of snow seems to be needed... Youko-chan apparently wants to make a miniature snowhouse, but given this rare chance, I hope we can make a full size one."
"I've got a basic question. How are snowhouses made, anyway? Youko-chan has already repeated attempts to make miniature snowhouses without succeeding... I'm thinking her method might be wrong, or there might be more reliable and feasible ways, right?"
When Haruaki finished speaking, Kirika rested her chin on her hand in deep thought.
"Yes... Although it's an absolutely ridiculous notion, it's possible that she's more clumsy than average... But even if that were true, she's repeated the challenge so many times already. It might have something to do with the snow texture. As for method huh...? Let me check on the internet first."
"We're counting on you, Kiririn~"
Kirika operated her cellphone and began to gather information. Soon after, she looked up with a slight frown.
"Reportedly, the reliable method is... Make a mound of snow first, pour water over it. After leaving it overnight to freeze, just hollow it out the next morning. Indeed, by using this method, the texture of the snow becomes irrelevant and ordinary people can make it, apparently."
"Perhaps it's doable in places with greater snowfall, but our current snow is about to melt away. After leaving it overnight, it's going to melt completely, right?"
"In the end, this method is difficult to use too..."
There were countless issues. Snow volume, snow texture, even if they wanted to use the technique of freezing overnight, there was still the issue of air temperature.
They had finally found out Youko's wish after so much trouble.
Despite finding the method capable of making her smile, making her happy...
They were unable to make it work?
Ultimately, they were powerless...?
Haruaki's group fell silent. Time ticked away as they watched Youko from behind without saying anything. The shadows cast by the setting sun gradually grew dark and long. The pristine, white snow slowly turned into pitch-black silhouettes.
Once the sun set completely, turning into night...
The day would end. The girl would probably go home. Even if she did not, she must be made to go home.
This incomparably precious day when snow had fallen—wasted entirely on a wish impossible to realize. That would be way too depressing, Haruaki thought. No matter how insignificant, he really wanted to create some memories for Youko before she went home, allowing her to smile when reminiscing this day some time in the future. Otherwise, it would be too tragic.
Just at this moment—
"Hmm... Hold on."
Still using her cellphone to do research, Kirika suddenly stopped her fingers and called to everyone.
"Class Rep, have you found something?"
"Yes. This method might work... Though there are still problems to overcome. But if we can resolve them, it'll be fine."
Hence, everyone leaned forward to look at Kirika's cellphone while she gave a simple explanation.
An Inuit-style snowhouse. More accurately, it was how to construct the building known as the igloo.
First, numerous blocks of snow were cut out and then stacked together in a hemispherical shape to form a snowhouse. The method was completely different from Youko's way of making a pile of snow then hollowing out its center.
There was only one problem with this method, namely, blocks of snow needed to be prepared. The Inuits would cut blocks of snow from the snow underfoot resembling glaciers, but this would be too hard for Haruaki's group. The issues of snow volume and texture still remained. Even if they gathered snow, stuffing it into a mold to make blocks of snow, the fallen snow would still continue to melt during this time. Even though Kirika had discovered this method, the difficulty was still a bit too high... Just as Haruaki was thinking that—
"Blocks of snow...?"
Fear seemed to realize something as she suddenly looked up.
"What's the matter? Perhaps you've come up with a way to make blocks of snow?"
"Yeah, I did. That's right."
"However—there's a problem too. A very personal problem and a matter of feelings."
"A matter of feelings...?"
Just as Haruaki wanted to pursue the issue further, he suddenly stopped talking.
Fear had turned her face away from him, narrowing her eyes to focus on the view of Youko's back. The sorrow evoked was identical to what Haruaki had seen numerous times so far.
—This was Fear's expression whenever she recalled her own past.
"I want to make that child smile, make her happy, and make wonderful memories for her to recall. But to do that, I need to use my contemptible past self... This feels very contradictory to me. That's why I was thinking, is this actually okay...?"
Fear watched Youko silently, at a loss, her eyes unblinking.
By the time she realized, Haruaki had already extended his hand towards her silver-haired head.
"...It's all in the past. You're no longer your past self. You know that very clearly, right?"
What exactly was it that had gently melted Fear's confusion as though it were snow?
If Haruaki were feeling conceited, he would probably say it was his hand's warmth. Perhaps by watching over and protecting Youko's back, Fear had discovered the warmth of certain feelings within her own heart.
"In the past, my mechanisms have taken people's lives. If I can make use of them now to bring smiles to a certain person, then duty compels me to do it. Although I've no idea if it's acceptable, at least I believe it's better than doing nothing, so I'll extend a helping hand. This is what I've been doing all along and will continue to do... There's no need to hesitate."
Fear suddenly relaxed her tense cheeks and shoulders, revealing a smile.
Then immediately, it was perfectly clear what she was looking at, what they were all looking at.
The group continued to watch Youko—as well as the side of his face while he was clearly listening to their conversation all this time.
Facing forward, Kouta spoke up again after a long while.
"—You guys... have a way?"
A gruff tone of voice, yet it could not conceal the feelings behind them.
Fear smiled again. After taking a glance at the side of Kouta's face, she looked out towards Youko in the distance again. Then smiling, she murmured as though asking the petite figure:
"Clearly there's someone watching you all along... Isn't it a shame for you to be staying in that kind of place? You're not locked away in darkness where no one can see you. Neither are you a cursed, useless object, abandoned, submerged in oblivion, deserving of abandonment—People still need you. So come out. If these hands of mine can help, I will gladly offer them to you any time..."
"Lady, what are you talking about?"
"Fufu... I'm just murmuring to myself. Don't mind it."
Fear turned to face Kouta instead of Youko. At this moment, Kouta finally looked towards Fear.
"What are you guys planning?"
"Don't worry, just leave everything to us. We will make a snowhouse."
"I don't quite get it but didn't you guys say there are problems?"
Unexpectedly, Kouta had paid quite close attention to their conversation. He now pouted unhappily. In response, Konoha said:
"Fufu... I have already thought of a solution to the issue of snow texture. As for where a lot of accumulated snow still remains, I have some idea already. Since sunlight doesn't quite reach that place, we should be able to make it in time if we hurry over... However, it would be best to use the yard at our home as the actual production site."
The yard at our home, in other words, that place which is very close to it. Haruaki instantly figured it out.
"Oh right, the forest behind our house!"
"Indeed, a lot of fallen snow might remain there."
"Our yard is really a great idea. The pile of snow from our shoveling should still be there. We can also use that snow for minor things like reinforcement."
Kirika and Kuroe also nodded. Hence, the venue was decided. However, Kouta still seemed full of doubt.
"Say, I still don't get it. Before talking about the amount of snow, didn't you guys say that the method is difficult to carry out as well?"
"Kouta, that's simply a problem of having enough resolve or not. But once resolve is committed properly, there's no problem at all. I'm not an ordinary person, so I'm able to use methods that beyond ordinary people's ability or belief—Fufu, that's all."
"Eh~ Why did things suddenly get so suspicious? What do you mean by not an ordinary person?"
Kouta frowned deeply. In a joking tone of voice, Kuroe answered:
"Nufufu, let me give you three choices. You can pick the answer that you like. Number one, we are actually magical girls and can use magic. Number two, we are superpowered warriors summoned from another world, able to use superpowers at will. Number three—"
"We are cursed tools, obtaining human form as a result of receiving excessive curses, which is why we're able to use the abilities of our original forms—That's all."
Smiling lightly with neither pride nor shame, Fear provided the final option.
Kouta puffed out his cheeks and said:
"Stop playing around with me. That's total nonsense. But the last choice seems the most impossible... Because I've never heard of such a weird backstory. Also, you ladies look more like you're able to use magic or superpowers."
The smile on Fear's face deepened quietly.
Then in the same manner as how Haruaki did to her, Fear reached out lightly to stroke Kouta's head.
Kouta frowned and said awkwardly:
"Wah! Lady, what are you doing!? I'm not a kid... Oh right, what about me? Is there anything I can help? If you're making a snowhouse at your house, I can go there too! Umm... After all, I've got plenty of free time!"
"Absolutely ridiculous. You should take her home first."
"That's right. It's not like we could let you two wander outside at night, making your parents worry while waiting for you to go home for dinner."
Kirika and Konoha spoke strictly. Just as Kouta wanted to object, Fear's hand patted the top of his head lightly and rhythmically.
"Kouta, listen to me. I hope you can leave the snowhouse making to us. But of course, you have a great mission too. And it's something only you can accomplish. So I have to count on you... Will you do it?"
"It's very simple. Once the snowhouse is completed, someone will go find you to lead you to our house. When the time comes, you should take Youko out secretly. After all, since today is our first time meeting her, it'd be difficult to get her to agree to go out."
"...Isn't that what people call wandering outside at night?"
Kouta narrowed his eyes halfway, countering sharply. Fear could not help but tremble then hastily make up an excuse.
"M-Maybe, but that's that, the Cow Tits who just warned you isn't that respectable a person to begin with. Lemme tell you honestly, she's actually a great villain. As long as you ask her for a favor, she'll turn a blind eye and should understand us more or less... Okay, actually we've already reached an agreement, I will bribe her with rice crackers so there's no problem. All we're doing is entertaining the two of you for a while after the snowhouse is done. We'll definitely find someone to protect you while you're walking in the streets at night. So feel free to thank me all you want while carrying out your mission without worry."
"Bribery? Adults sure are dirty~" Kouta grumbled as though he understood worldly matters. On the other hand, Konoha pouted and groaned, inexplicably forced to go with the flow by playing the role of a corrupt bureaucrat.
Later on, at the forest behind the Yachi residence...
Unlike Japanese snowhouses, Inuit-style igloos were constructed from blocks of snow. Provided that snow blocks could be made, all they needed to do was stack the blocks alternately in circles, which was much easier and more convenient than Japanese snowhouses.
But of course, therein lay the problem. How to make snow blocks? How could they use the scant remaining snow in the surroundings, slightly melting and softened, to make dozens of snow blocks?
The answer was—
"Mechanism No.10 gripping type, compressing form: «Iron Coffin of Lissa», Curse Calling!"
Transformed from a Rubik's cube, the steel cube made sounds akin to the screams of the dying, grating as the mechanisms compressed while changing its form. Dark-colored steel stood upright in its original location. Simply by staring at it, one would feel oppressed by the overwhelming mass of foreboding violence, a sense of coldness that almost made one freeze.
The cube's transformations finally took on a form similar to omnidirectional suspended ceiling panels. A steel coffin capable of compressing its internal volume vertically and horizontally. Only the front face was opened, waiting for a victim. A gloomy instrument of torture and execution.
"Ohoh, this is one of the thirty-two types of magic wielded by magical girl Fear Red, «Magical☆Death Box♪»... Normally, fragments of stars, glittering from the energy of dreams, are kept inside of it!"
"Hey Kuroe, what are you talking about?"
"Because it's a rare chance, I'm just trying out an explanation for Kouta-kun, using one of our real identities—the magical girl theory—to make up a story."
"Rather than a magical girl, I think 'Fear Red' sounds more like a Power Ranger..."
Whatever, it's Kuroe's creation after all—Haruaki reinvigorated his spirits.
"Anyway, let's try to make the first block of snow. Fear, are you ready?"
Using a shovel, Haruaki scooped up snow from between the trees and threw it into Fear's coffin. After accumulating a certain amount, Fear began to shift the torture tool's outer panels while shrinking the coffin's vertical, horizontal and back faces. This was the mechanism's original purpose—namely, torture via simple "compression of volume" as well as an action performed during execution.
But currently, it was not harming anyone.
Instead, it was currently existing as something to pray for the birth of the opposite.
"Hmm, probably like this."
Fear waved the chain of cubes connected to the iron coffin, causing the steel panels to shift back to their original positions, returning to its initial volume. Then opening the front panel—Inside, the snow that Haruaki had shoveled had been compressed to become a beautiful and straight block of snow.
"Ohoh, well done!"
"Hmph, this actually requires operating more carefully than expected. So this is only possible thanks to my outstanding control. You'd better praise me more!"
"Ficchi, you're so amazing! I'll praise you madly! Head stroke head stroke."
Fear puffed out her chest proudly. Kuroe grinned and stroked Fear's head. As a result, Fear went "hmph" with satisfaction.
"Then let's confirm the next step... Then we're going to move this block of snow to the yard, right? Are we using the pyramid transport method?"
"Uh, in terms of imagery, it's like putting several logs under the snow blocks, then rolling the blocks on top of them... Something like that. Yeah, that's similar to how they moved moai on Easter Island, right?"
"I don't really know... But I get a basic idea of what you're trying to say. Then we have to prepare tree trunks. Also, it would be best to prevent the snow blocks from bumping into things, so we need to make a transport container first to put on top of the logs. Just like a trolley."
"As expected of Kono-san, the reliable magical girl Konoha Pink! Swiftly making short work out of every kind of problem!"
"You're making me out to be some kind of phantom slasher... But pink? Ehehe, in other words, implying the most feminine, right? In a certain sense, this goes without saying?"
"Eh? No, when speaking of Kono-san, meat is inevitable! So you can say it's the color of fresh slices of raw pork—Cough cough cough. Uh, anyway, let's just say that it's the most suitable color for Kono-san! Explaining it will ruin the mood!"
"...I feel like I've heard a bizarre explanation but anyway, I'll pretend I didn't hear it."
Konoha shrugged forcefully and sighed deeply. At the same time, she began to chop down nearby trees with her bare hands, producing a number of meter-long logs. Then she chopped a particularly stout tree trunk into half and hollowed out its center, creating a container that resembled sliced-open bamboo.
"Then using the path of logs and the container to transport snow blocks to the wall, going over the wall and placing them into the yard, leave this task to magical girl Kuroe White, me! I will play the part of the pure and beautiful young shrine maiden character who bears the powers of the goddess, Her Augustness of the Sleek Black Hair, nice to meet you. With a shake of the hair like this~"
"Then I'll use the «Tragic Black River» to catch the snow blocks and arrange them... Right?"
"Just like her moniker of black, magical girl Kirika Black is the cool strategist type. But actually, only in front of the one she likes, she can't help but manifest her type as a tsundere!"
"K-Kuroe-kun! N-No, I always present myself in a realistic and unbiased manner. There's no capricious attitude in front of a certain person at all..."
Kirika stuttered something, but Haruaki did not quite catch it. In any case, their tasks were thus assigned and divided. A bucket relay method.
The more time they wasted, the more snow would be melted. Hence, everyone decided to start working immediately.
Using a shovel to collect snow, Haruaki tossed it into Fear's torture tool. Fear compressed it with a clang, producing a block of snow. Konoha then moved the snow block onto the container, rolling over the logs to reach Kuroe who was waiting by the wall. During this time, Haruaki gathered more snow to make the next block—
Due to a lack of time for resting, this was actually quite labor-intensive work. Haruaki could feel his shovel-carrying hand grow heavier and heavier.
However, everyone was serious, devoting themselves to their task.
Fear was nearest to Haruaki, hence he could see her hard work the clearest. Controlling the torture tool probably exhausted her greatly, but she never complained even once. Neither did she wipe the sweat coming from her forehead. She simply did her best to make snow blocks nonstop.
While shoveling, Haruaki said:
"Once the snowhouse is done..."
"I guess we really should bring a candle to put inside for lighting. I think it'll be really good for the mood."
"It's not like I can't understand. Mood huh... Yeah, you're right. After imagining it, I really think the mood will be great. Inside a space surrounded by snow, a candle's flickering flame, then lighting up—"
"Oh right, we should prepare rice crackers and tea. But once the snowhouse is made, as long as the water is boiled while waiting for Kouta-kun and Youko-chan to arrive, there should be enough time..."
"Hey, stop reading my mind! You must be the magical girl who's always kept for the last, Shameless Green. Because your best magic is preparing rice crackers and green tea, your color is green!"
"I'm not a girl, okay? And at least put the name 'Haruaki' somewhere in there!"
While they chatted meaninglessly, they kept working nonstop.
Haruaki's breathing grew more and more rapid. He could also feel his upper arm getting tense and stiff.
Their dialogue gradually lessened as silent periods of working increased.
Even so, they did not find it tiresome. They did not find their work too hard, nor did they feel suffering.
Their hearts carried elation and a sense of mission.
Because they could envision the future product waiting for them, they were able to endure.
Indeed, definitely, absolutely, undoubtedly.
When this snowhouse was finished, waiting in front of them—
Surely capable of blowing away all their fatigue—
Today, on this special day when a rare amount of snow had fallen, turning into an even more special memory, powerfully etched into their minds—
The incomparably beautiful scenery.
Clong. A pebble struck the house's window on the second floor.
A young girl peered out to see a boy's stiff and awkward face.
"Get ready to go out, come down."
Arriving as their guide to call Kouta and Youko, Haruaki was standing slightly further away, watching them.
Kouta was wearing winter clothing from head to toe. Written on his face was nervousness, unease and excitement about sneaking out of home at night. Currently, one could even observe faintly the fear he felt, wondering about the reaction of the girl above whom he was looking at. What if she closed the curtains without saying a word? What if she closed the window firmly? What if she called her mother?
On the other hand, Youko did not say a word, looking downwards to stare at Kouta intently, as though trying to deduce Kouta's intentions.
Sincerely, he racked his brain to the limit.
Then he said words that would motivate her to move.
"...If you wait until tomorrow, all of it will be melted."
Several minutes later—
There was a change in positioning.
Rather than the second floor window and the roadside, the two kids were now facing off, standing in the road. Youko was dressed in a ski jacket with a knitted cap but took forever to move her legs, standing in the same spot in hesitation.
Haruaki remembered. Back when collecting Kouta, Kouta was also very hesitant, muttering to himself: "I've no idea how to bring her over."
Haruaki had given him two suggestions.
Compared to him, Kouta understood Youko better, so Haruaki was giving him free rein. Don't feel too concerned about our suggestions. Just express your own feelings sincerely—That was the first suggestion.
Rather than Haruaki, the other suggestion came from Fear who was waiting at home.
(What if Youko takes forever to move? Hmph, isn't it obvious what needs to be done at times like that?)
In a joking tone of voice, Haruaki had passed along Fear's suggestion.
Hence, Kouta put it into action.
In other words—
(Make a move directly. Provided you believe what you're doing is correct, words are not needed. Use brute force to capture and bring her over!)
Shyly, in an embarrassed manner, Kouta—
Grabbed the girl's hand firmly. Then pulling her, he broke into a run.
Despite showing a look of confusion, Youko still ran in this manner together with Kouta.
Smiling as he watched this scene, Haruaki suddenly recalled his own mission.
"Oh dear, I'm clearly responsible for leading the way. It'll be pointless if they leave me behind."
Haruaki could not help but smile from the heart, watching the two children, awkward yet trying their best. In order to catch up to them, he started to walk as well, stepping on the snow that was about to melt.
Despite having no idea what was going on...
But perhaps—carrying a little bit of anticipation, she allowed the power from his hand pulling her to guide her body forward.
Finally, they arrived at an unfamiliar Japanese-style house. An old place that took up a vast area.
Her childhood friend was probably visiting this place for the first time too, looking this way and that while entering the premises. The man from the daytime, leading the way, did not press the doorbell, instead moving through the home directly, walking to a place resembling a garden. Holding her by the hand, he was also taking strides, following the man.
Then right there—Appearing in a corner of the spacious yard—
"Hwah... K-Kouta-kun, this is..."
His tone was still gruff.
She stared at the white dome's entrance where candlelight flickered.
Applying more force while holding her hand, he spoke rapidly:
"Just as you can see, although it's not very big, but if it's just these ladies here, they still don't have enough people. There'll be a gap if everyone doesn't squeeze to sit inside, making them shiver in cold, so we'll just have to enter and take a seat... Let's go! It can't be helped, we're going in!"
Pulled by him, they stepped forward.
Gradually, they approached the source of the flickering candlelight that was leaking from the entrance.
Bending forward slightly, she looked inside with trepidation—
The group inside was not the trio of her father, her mother and herself.
As expected, they were the four women she had seen during the daytime—But even so, Youko still thought to herself:
It's so similar to the photo I keep on my desk at home.
Everyone in the igloo was showing a face of happiness.
Despite clearly being surrounded by cold ice, there was a very warm population density here.
Hence, naturally, a certain expression also formed on her own face.
Seeing that, one of the girls nodded once, vigorously, and said:
"Yes, that's a great expression! Now that's more like it!"
Even if you say that—Youko thought to herself.
Because, that person with the head of long, pretty, silver hair...
Was making the happiest face of all those present—
An extremely radiant smile, as though her sincere wish and all wishes had been realized—
Her face really showed absolute bliss while she was eating rice crackers.
Translator's Notes and References
- Youko(陽子) and Kurako(暗子): the first character you(陽) in Youko means sunny while kura(暗) in Kurako means dark.
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