The backs of the students' heads were spaced out regularly in a row, with even some of them napping, nodding frequently. Next to the blackboard, the clock slowly carved out the passage of time. Someone's textbook fell on their desk with a thud. Some students were playing with their cellphone. Some girls were passing notes to neighboring desks. Some boys were reading manga under their desks.
Countless English letters were written in cursive on the blackboard. For some reason, instead of a certain new petite female teacher, starting from a few classes ago, these English words were written by the elderly head of year, currently teaching from the lectern. However, the English coming from his mouth was no different from a hypnotic incantation. The chalk wrote at a sluggish pace. The sound of attentive students turning the pages of their notebooks echoed within the classroom like the flapping of wings. No matter how much anyone wished, the hands of the clock did not advance at all—
To most people, this was probably a daily sight that could not be more commonplace.
But to Yachi Haruaki, that was not so.
This was simply the situation.
Resting his chin on his hand, elbow against the desk, he had his face turned to the side, staring out of the open window.
Spacing out, he cast his gaze towards the sunny blue sky.
Or rather, this might not be what one would call a stare.
Perhaps this was the act of "looking at nothing at all."
Silently, he sighed. Perhaps even he was not aware of it. Ever since this lesson started, it was anyone's guess how many times he had sighed already. His sighs were like lost children, drifting out the window, disappearing without trace.
Indifferent in gaze. Imperceptible will. He was completely like a plant.
Until the end of class, all along—
Staring ahead aimlessly nonstop, breathing out aimless sighs—
During PE class, the students were playing dodge ball. The girls were exchanging glances, even swallowing apologies back down their throats.
After the ball bounced off the silver-haired girl's head, she simply stood dazed in one spot, staring blankly without even glancing at the ball rolling away after bouncing off her.
"Umm~ Fear-chan, are you okay...?"
"Hmm...? What are you talking about?"
"Uh, basically... the ball..."
"Oh, sure, the ball. Yeah, the ball. I know. This one, right?"
Speaking in a distracted tone of voice, Fear sluggishly picked up the ball then passed it to the outfield girl who was talking to her.
"Take it, don't lose it again."
"Eh? No, umm..."
Fear turned around again, spacing out, standing inside the field. With a troubled look on her face, the outfield girl asked the friend next to her:
"What should we do? Is she saying that head hits don't count?"
"Maybe. Why don't you throw it again and see?"
"Sure... Fear-chan, are you ready~? I'm throwing it now~"
The dazed reply sounded no different from a moan. Although Fear had her back facing them, everyone knew that she possessed outstanding athletic reflexes. In a show of superhuman reaction, Fear might actually catch the ball to astonish them.
After the female student politely said "I'm throwing it," the ball flew in a parabolic trajectory.
Smack! Roll roll roll...
Apart from striking her shoulder this time, the rest happened exactly as before.
"Oh dear~ Fear-chan, are you feeling unwell~? Anyway, you're out so please take a break off the field~"
"Oh... Three people are out already...? Time to swap positions..."
Fear muttered, still spacing out. Pushing her by the back, Kana escorted Fear off the field.
Watching this scene, the girls in the outfield all shrugged and murmured quietly in exasperation:
"This is totally hopeless."
Dressed in gym clothes, sitting on the ground, hugging her knees, Kirika was watching the same scene from a slight distance.
Next she shifted her gaze. The boys were doing long distance running on the track. She could see one of the boys simply staring at the ground in front of his feet, showing no change in expression, mechanically moving his legs back and forth as though suffering some kind of punishment.
Quietly, Kirika held a hand against her chest.
There was no doubt about this. This could not possibly have nothing to do with her.
Then basically, this was what happened.
She was partly to blame for the current situation.
Her action had served as some sort of impetus.
So painful. So sad. Her heart felt like shattering into fragments.
But even so...
She could not pretend things never happened.
Neither could she do things over again.
Whether this simple yet surreal situation or everyone involved in it...
Or the confession upon which she had gambled everything of hers, for which she still had yet to receive an answer—
Burying her face against her knees that were pressed together, Kirika closed her eyes lightly.
Then when she opened her eyes again, would everything progress smoothly all of a sudden? Was someone able to take a time machine to go back and change this world for her?
She was totally lost as to what she should be doing next, to the point of making this sort of meaningless wish.
Hence, maintaining this posture, she murmured softly between her knees:
Meanwhile, Ningyouhara Kuroe was sitting on the veranda at home, gazing upwards at the sky or looking out into the large trees standing tall in a corner of the garden. Every now and then, she also turned her gaze to the exposed soil in the garden, the unkempt weeds or the accessory dwelling's window.
In other words, in rare moment, she was doing nothing at all. This was her current task.
Just at this time, the doorbell's ringing was heard throughout the house.
Kuroe looked up, startled. Desperately, she propelled herself across the corridor with her short legs as quickly as possible, then threw open the front door with full force.
"Oh, hello~ I've got a delivery for you, could you sign or put a stamp here?"
Standing before her was a delivery man dressed in the familiar uniform.
Kuroe remained still for quite a while, looking upwards at the guy with slightly resentful eyes.
"Umm~ Is something wrong...?"
Finally, making a forlorn smile, Kuroe shook her head and answered the troubled delivery man with words that could not be more true.
"Nothing. It's just that... what's delivered isn't the goods that we desire the most."
The lunch break was about to end.
Along the corridor in school, two pairs met each other by chance. Each pair consisted of a female student paired with a girl who was dressed in a most unnatural outfit, objectively speaking. But inside this school, everyone had already reached a consensus that this unnaturalness was a daily sight, nothing worth getting worked up about.
"Ara ara, please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, greetings to you two~"
Shiraho and the maid outfit-wearing Sovereignty were standing side by side next to a window in the corridor, looking outside the school building. Passing by coincidentally, Chihaya was accompanied by Isuzu who was dressed as shrine maiden. They looked out as well, following Shiraho and Sovereignty's gazes.
Clutching textbooks and other belongings to their chest, a group of students were moving through the connecting passageway between buildings outside the window. Since the next period consisted of electives, they were having class in the specialized classrooms. However, since Shiraho's elective was different from them, that was why she was standing here.
Watching the group through the window, they could see a few familiar faces.
At the same time, those people's faces were rather distracted.
"Shiraho-san, have you heard?"
"Me too. It's so worrying... How did things come to this?"
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, I feel the same way too~"
At this moment, Shiraho scoffed and crossed her arms.
"I, on the other hand, am not worried at all. No matter what happens to them, it has nothing to do with me."
"Jeez, Shiraho~ Seeing Haruaki-kun and the others like that, it does make us feel a bit depressed. I really hope they can lift their spirits soon."
"Even though it's perfectly clear what will lift their spirits~"
Just at this moment, an even taller figure joined the quartet staring out the window. This person was not a student, but unlike Sovereignty and Isuzu, she was not dressed out-of-place either. Well, she just had a shovel on her shoulder, that was all.
"The problem lies herein. Even though what is required is known, carrying it out is impossible."
"Wah! It's Kaidou-sensei."
Suddenly noticing the Scoop Teacher standing next to them, Sovereignty jumped in surprise. Kaidou turned her gaze and said:
"I fear that the situation is very difficult to handle. Precisely because of that, I believe that one must not put up brave appearances. If you do that, you will not be able to help your friends even when you really want to. Sakuramairi Shiraho, girl, Seat No.6 of Year 2 Class 1."
"I-I... Nothing of that sort..."
At this time, the group of students in the connecting passageway had entered the school building. Almost at exactly the same time, the bell rang to signal the end of the lunch break. Shiraho exhaled as though feeling saved.
"I must go to class. Sovereignty, do your best at work too."
"I will~! Shiraho, don't nap in class either!"
"Yes. Hurry along back to class, or else you will be late. The same goes for you, Hayakawa Chihaya, girl, Seat No.15 of Year 1 Class 4."
Why does she even know my seat number? —Chihaya muttered quietly. Bidding Shiraho and Sovereignty goodbye, she then prepared to step away from the window side. However, Chihaya looked back one final time to see those students disappearing into the school building's entrance.
Most striking of all was, of course, that head of long silver hair. Afterimages of the silver hair seemed to linger in the connecting passageway.
Furthermore, chasing after those afterimages, glittering like gemstones, running about in a hurry was a certain mirage of someone tall. Chihaya watched that scene of the deserted connecting passageway. With a feeling like someone was choking her chest, she watched that scene.
"Maybe she still hasn't come to terms with it... What a great big idiot..."
Chihaya bit her lip lightly and looked forward again. Just as she took a step, intending to return to her classroom, her face collided into some kind of soft object. Immediately, she then felt a hand on top of her head.
"Isuzu, what are you doing?"
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, I am currently burying Chihaya-sama's tiny face in my bosom and stroking your head~ As for the reason, Chihaya-sama, it's because you seem to want me to do so—"
"You... idiot. I'm gonna... hurt you..."
However, she did not put her words into action.
Chihaya did not do anything. As though trying to erase something, as though trying to suppress certain memories, she shook her head lightly in Isuzu's bosom.
Hence, after discreetly confirming that there was no one else in the corridor after the bell had rung, Isuzu smiled gently and said:
"Yes. Well then, before you hurt me, let's stay like this for now."
Even a day like this was coming to an end.
It was the last period of the day. Still staring blankly out the window, prompted by no particular reason, Haruaki finally turned his gaze into the interior of the classroom.
His gaze stopped on a certain desk.
An empty desk. A desk where no one was sitting at. A desk that had lost its owner.
An equally ordinary sight, existing amidst the scenery of the ordinary lesson—But precisely because of that, the terrifying sense of reality was implanted deeply into Haruaki's brain. Mercilessly, cheerlessly, it told him, this was reality.
Yes—He felt it concretely.
For who knows how many times, how many dozens of times, how many hundreds of times, this sense of reality that he did not want at all.
No matter how much he denied it, this sense of reality surging back every time, or in other words, it was simply reality.
—Konoha had gone missing.
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