Chapter 1 - Cultural Festival / The Party Begins With Nurses Everywhere / "Nurses excessive."
Everything started with the lightspeed nomination of the festive male classmate, Hakuto Taizou, as the "cultural festival executive committee's assistant." Due to his intense speech during homeroom regarding their shop for the cultural festival, even Kirika, who was originally supposed to summarize everyone's opinion, was overwhelmed by his vigor.
According to him, what people sought in the current era was still healing.
According to him, speaking of "healing," one would naturally think of nurses. With that, the perfect power for drawing in customers was secured.
According to him, for the sake of achieving higher sales volumes, one must consider the turnover rate. In other words, they needed to find shop space that could accommodate the more customers the better and as many staff as possible, as well as a spacious work area. Furthermore, the cultural festival allowed shops to be run by at most two homerooms as a joint venture. Hence, I hereby propose that we cooperate with our neighbors of Class 4 to open a nurse cafe...!
Given Taizou's enthusiasm, the interests of some of the boys who agreed that nurses equaled healing, as well as the curiosity of some the girls who went "Why not? After all, we don't have any other ideas for a shop and dressing up as nurses sounds like fun," the combined result was that the venture surprisingly went full steam ahead with astounding speed—
A few weeks after Taizou was nominated as the candidate, in other words, today...
United Nurse Cafe «Recovery Ward, Room 1314» was ready and approaching its moment of opening.
"Okay, «Crimson Blood Pack» done!"
Taking out freshly squeezed tomato juice that was kept in the fridge, the juice was then sealed into a thick plastic bag that imitated an intravenous drip bag. The original plan was to drink directly from the bag with a straw, but due to hygienic (cannot be reused) and economic (should not throw away after a single use) considerations, they ended up deciding to deliver the drink in the bag, then have a nurse pour it out into a paper cup. Although it was no longer an IV drip, what mattered most was probably the atmosphere.
"Then following that... «Milky-White Medicine», right? The assorted cheese platter seems to be quite popular."
Haruaki swiftly placed the cheese onto the platter and arranged them neatly. Although he had never worked at a restaurant to serve customers, having done similar tasks at home frequently, this was not a particularly tasking job for him.
Handing the arranged platter over to a nurse who was free, Haruaki finally found a rare moment of respite.
"Looks like there's a brief interlude after all that work. Why don't you have some water and take a break?"
Haruaki straightened his back and instantly downed the cup of water that Fear had handed over to him.
"Phew... It feels like I'm alive again, this is really the world's tastiest water~"
"Hmph hmph~ After all, it's the water I poured, of course it'll be tasty. I don't really know why, but people say that my getup seems to have loads and loads of healing effect on people's hearts and souls."
"Loads and loads huh..."
Haruaki re-examined Fear's outfit. Although she was dressed up as a nurse like all the other girls, Fear's costume was custom made to order. It was neither the standard white style nor the pink design.
Reportedly, the man in charge of this cafe had borrowed the outfit from a certain laundry store's owner (even Haruaki could hazard a guess who it was). Speaking of which, the outfit sort of counted as—retro style.
Namely, the kind of retro nurse outfit "worn by girls illustrated on legitimate medicine cans."
At first glance, parts of it somehow felt quite similar to a maid costume. A cute flounce skirt with a pure white apron. She was even wearing a dainty little headdress.
Furthermore, she was carrying a massive syringe plushie, roughly requiring both arms to hug around in circumference, on her back as custom equipment. Kana had brought this today from her personal possessions. After declaring "I found this at home! It should suit you very well!", she went ahead and modified it to be worn on one's back, forcing Fear to wear it. Although Haruaki clearly could not tell what meaning there was in carrying that thing, the plushie syringe did match Fear's outfit rather well, so he could not really stop Kana.
"Healing effect huh... Somehow, all I can picture is you holding that massive syringe, giggling as you try to inject people on sight... Hmm, feels horrifying actually. In other words, you are totally not the top candidate on my list of people who are suitable for a career change to nursing."
"W-What are you talking about? I'll curse you! I'm the angel in white, my existence equals~ healing! That's also how Taizou persuaded me with all his effort!"
"Haha~ So 'loads and loads of effect' must be that guy's saying too, right? Come on, could you please not believe everything that guy says..."
While smiling wryly at Fear who began to mutter "what do you know, you shameless brat—" to herself, Haruaki took a seat on a chair on the side. Taking a slight break now shouldn't bring about divine retribution, right?
In terms of arrangements for Class 3 and Class 4's cafe joint venture, Class 3's homeroom was used as the shop space to serve customers while Class 4's homeroom served as the work area. Precisely because the entire classroom was used as a preparation area, not only could Haruaki sit down for a break like this, he was also able to pitch in and help out immediately if things got busy. Taizou's sales target should be progressing smoothly, right? However—for some reason, Haruaki had a feeling that Taizou's vigorous advocacy for this joint venture must have ulterior motives.
"Hmm~ I'm finally able to return for a break..."
"Welcome back—Kono-chan, how are things next door?"
"Good heavens, there's really tons of people. The line has even overflowed into the corridor."
"That's really a lot. You should take a short break."
"Then I'll gladly take your advice~"
The girl in twin braids—Konoha—staggered over, but she smiled radiantly as soon as she spotted Haruaki.
"Thank you for your hard work, Haruaki-kun! You also look very dashing in that white coat!"
"R-Really? Konoha, you're the one who's been working hard. It seems hectic as hell outside."
"Yes. There will be another influx of prescriptions soon, so you should rest as much as you can now, Haruaki-kun... Ah, I should drink some water.
Konoha knelt down before the water cooler and began to pour herself some cold water. Sitting not too far away from her, Haruaki unintentionally glanced at her outfit—and frantically diverted his gaze.
Class 4's Konoha was dressed as a nurse, naturally, but unlike Fear's unique outfit, hers was one of the pink uniforms. But that alone was already sufficient in destructive power. A short skirt plus sexy garters, as well as—Pushed up from within the pink fabric, rather than an angel of healing, that bulging bosom was evocative of a mother earth goddess instead. Added to the fact that she was crouching down, a clear view was offered of the deep cleavage from above. Why wasn't she buttoned all the way up? Or perhaps... It wouldn't button...?
"Damn it!" (poosh)
"Gwah? W-What just stabbed into my ear? What are you doing, Fear? Don't go pricking me with your syringe mindlessly! Luckily, it's only a plushie!"
"Hmph, I'm very disappointed that this is only a plushie! Your shamelessness is already considered pathological. In that case, you need to be treated by my injection! This is simulation no.1 of when I actually obtain the real syringe of the wonder cure for shamelessness, the first thing I'll do is a direct injection into the afflicted area—The brain! A direct injection!"
"I told you already, don't dig into my ear!"
"Glug glug... Phew~ Please don't make a ruckus in other people's classroom, Fear-san."
"Nuu! Clearly it's all your fault for showing off your chest, how dare you say that to me...!"
"H-How am I showing off?"
Konoha covered her chest and awkwardly turned her body away to the side.
"I can't help it at all, this outfit is clearly the largest size already, but I can't button up the top no matter what..."
"K-Konoha-san is right! This cannot be helped, Fear-chan! You're going too far in blaming Konoha-san like this. If you want to blame someone, blame me for preparing the clothes!"
"Nwah! You scared me there. Don't go popping out without a sound, Taizou!"
Just as Fear pointed out, Taizou had suddenly started standing in the classroom without anyone noticing. He was also dressed in a white coat like Haruaki.
Taizou glanced at Konoha but immediately turned his gaze away with his face all red. Then desperately facing a corner of the ceiling, he muttered to himself: "Nonono, I am a gentleman after all, so I can't look. No, her image has already been branded deeply in my mind, so it's okay... No, it's not like that." Then as though he recalled something, Taizou turned around to face everyone again as he stopped his gaze from drifting below Konoha's neck and said:
"Consequently! S-Sorry, Konoha-san... I, Hakuto Taizou, am to blame for not preparing a full range of sizes. It's all my fault, the fault of Hakuto Taizou. if you want to blame me, scold me, or gossip with me, I'll gladly accept any and all of it!"
Perhaps Taizou's sparkling eyes and vigor were too intimidating, Konoha retreated slightly and answered:
"I-I see... No really, umm... I'm not angry at all, it's just that..."
"I'm the one who's angry. Jeez, it's really shameless... Muu, I've got an idea! Just let this girl wear a white coat as a special case! With that, you can conceal that figure of hers that's nicknamed 'The Excess Meat.' I'm sure Cow Tits will happily raise both arms in agreement, right?"
"That nickname is too insulting! I demand that you take it back!"
"Fear-chan, there's no need to word things that way—Wait a sec, white coat? Konoha-san wearing... a white coat... on top of a nurse uniform... A white coat... A glasses-wearing female doctor... A-Ahhh! That also feels like... I think I picture something amazing——!"
Taizou's eyes began to wander randomly while he babbled incomprehensibly. He was completely unaware that Fear and Konoha were inconspicuously edging away from him with stiff expressions. Poor guy.
At this moment, a massive shadow suddenly appeared behind Taizou's head and there was a loud crash.
"Shock therapy—! Ahahaha!"
"...What are you talking about in other people's classroom? Absolutely ridiculous."
Immediately making their entrance was Kana in a pure white nurse uniform along with Kirika who was still wearing the normal school uniform. Kana was holding a human-sized advertising placard. In other words, that was the object responsible for the very loud impact on the back of Taizou's head.
Everyone present decided to ignore Taizou for now, who had fainted while clutching his head.
"Oh, Class Rep, you've returned? How did the publicizing go?"
"I checked out the storefront just now and it looks like it's working quite well. But my decision to act as a bodyguard really was correct... There were a few suspicious men trying to approach slowly with cameras."
"Oh dear~ This outfit's effects are really amazing, nishishi."
As Kirika murmured with a sour look, Kana happily tottered around, clutching the hem of her nurse uniform. The two girls stood in stark contrast to each other in many ways.
"Taizou, how much longer are you planning to slack off? If you've got time to waste her, go and serve as the bodyguard for the next publicity girl!"
"Oh! What have I been doing here... I feel like... I feel like I've forgotten about something that I must do first..."
Konoha thought "Oh no!" to herself as her eyebrows twitched. A white coat on top of a nurse uniform—She most likely did not want to dress up that conspicuously, right? Hence, she immediately made a perfect smile of courtesy and said:
"Uh, you were going to make a tour throughout the school building to pull in customers, yes? Taizou-kun? Protecting the nurses is a very important job. Please do your best."
"Oh... Ohoh, Konoha-san is cheering for me...! Very well! I'll set off now!"
His memories rewritten, Taizou left the classroom with the girl who was relieving Kana's shift. He had an expression of utter bliss on his face.
Everyone present saw the festive man off, bidding farewell to his back with their lukewarm gaze. Next to speak up was the festive girl who formed a pair with him.
"Okay~ Great, I will work hard at serving the customers outside too~ Then later, I'll also need to help out at the swimming club's booth, so I'd better work twice as hard for now... Ah, the sight is so dazzling! It's a bit late by now, but Fear-chan and Konohacchi are truly too dazzling for me! Pretty & Violence!"
"Dazzling—" Kana added her own sound effects as she covered her face in an exaggerated manner and fell over backwards. Her impression of "Violence" definitely stemmed from Konoha's particular body part that was full of destructive power.
"Hmph hmph, you're looking good too in your outfit, Kana."
"Yes, it suits you very well."
"Thank you for the compliments—But here right now, I'm going to back myself further into a desperate corner...!"
Kana began to search for something with a rustling sound. Her action caused Fear and Konoha to become baffled. Kirika glanced at those three nurses as she walked over to the long table that was used to cook orders.
"I'll leave the waitressing to you and the others, Kana. As for me, umm... I'm not used to serving customers, so I've decided to help out in the kitchen."
"Fufufu, do you really think you can get away that easily, Kirika-san!"
Finding the atmosphere a bit strange, Kirika looked back just in time to see Kana slowly approaching with a big paper bag.
"All the girls must take on the role of nurses... Isn't it a bit too naive of you to think you alone could be exempt, Kirika-chan? Serving customers in an inexperienced manner is part of the cultural festival's fun whereas watching that happen is also part of the customers' enjoyment—These words have struck a deep chord within me, thus I have reserved an awesome secret weapon only second to Fear's outfit...!"
"W-Wait a minute! Calm down, Kana! I definitely won't wear it, I can't! If you ask me to wear that type of nurse uniform with my arms and legs exposed—"
"Don't worry~ I know you don't like wearing revealing clothes, Kirika-chan. However, this outfit doesn't expose too much. In fact, it covers up even more area than your usual uniform."
"No, but... Y-You should reconsider!"
Kirika extended one hand forward as though she were saying "If we discuss properly, you'll surely understand" as she backed away slowly. But very soon, her lower back bumped into a long table.
Aware of why Kirika would rather die than wear something revealing, Haruaki felt that he had to step up and rescue her in this situation.
"Hey Kana. Class Rep already said she doesn't want to wear it. Don't force her, okay?"
"T-That's right. How about this, isn't it fine if I work doubly hard for Kirika's portion as well?"
"Uh—I believe that forcing someone to do something against their will is not too appropriate. P-Peace should come first!"
"No matter what you guys say, this is one matter I won't back down from at all. Say, Kirika-chan, I don't really mind if I need to help you change by force~! Kukuku, stripping Kirika-chan feels like... a very fun idea..."
Kana moved her hands eerily while slowly closing in like zombie.
Once the distance shrunk to zero, things would be over. In actual fact, were Kirika to resist seriously, pushing Kana away should be an easy task, but of course, she could not do that. But that said, if Kirika allowed herself to be stripped without resisting, Kana would find out her secret...!
The separation between Kirika's body and Kana's hands continued to shrink.
30cm... 20cm... 10cm.
Even Kirika's gulping was audible. Then—
"I-I got it, okay! Fine, I'll change, I'll change, okay!"
The zombie stopped her hands and her eyes returned to sanity.
In contrast to Kana's grin, Kirika slouched her shoulders dejectedly and sighed long and hard.
If the outfit is too revealing, I'll simply refuse to wear it. No peeking allowed! If anyone peeks, even if it's Kana, I'll get seriously mad! By the way, please keep watch for me, Fear-kun and Konoha-kun. If anyone tries to peek, help me stop them with full force! What? O-Of course Yachi needs to be stopped as well! What the heck are you talking about, Kana!? It obviously goes without saying. How absolutely ridiculous!
Before changing, Kirika had already established many rules with her face all red. Only then did she finally disappear into the changing area at the back of the classroom. As the curtain hanging down from the ceiling quivered slightly, Haruaki felt embarrassed for some unknown reason.
A few minutes later, the curtain swayed again and Kirika poked her head out from the gap.
"...I-I'm changed. I'm wearing the outfit now, but..."
"Then come on out—What do you think, it's not very revealing, right?"
"It's... not, indeed it's not. But... ummm... I still feel that this sort of outfit, is really—"
Kirika's gaze wandered, and for some reason, made eye contact with Haruaki a total of four times. Perhaps she was still seeking assistance.
"Uh—umm... I still think that if she's not used to it, just forget about it, how's that? You should know how challenging it is to make people dress up like this when they are unused to cosplay, right?"
Hearing Haruaki's words, Kirika narrowed her eyes and glared at him, murmuring to herself: "Hmm... Damn that Yachi! So what he means is: he neither wants to look nor is he interested? How truly frustrating..." Instead of helping, Haruaki had apparently incurred her wrath. Why was that?
But that apparently lit some sort of fuse, causing Kirika to surrender in self-abandonment:
"D-Damn it, I know, okay! If you want me to come out, fine, I'll come out! Here, have a look!"
The curtain was flipped open and appearing before everyone's eyes was—
Kirika was dressed in the traditional Japanese divided trousers called the hakama. Her upper body was clad in a kimono with wide sleeves. Combined with the hakama, it was perfect. Furthermore, she was wearing a big retro-style apron. Of course, there was also a large nurse cap on her head.
Seeing Kirika nervously clutching the hakama with both hands, speechless with her head bowed down, her face even redder than before, Kana once again made that pose as though she could not keep her eyes open due to the brightness.
"Kyah—! Goodness gracious, so amazing! So dazzling! Too charming, a retro nurse outfit in the style of the Meiji era... Too adorable! I've ushered in the birth of an even greater threat to the world—!"
"Wow... Compared to everyone else, it really is different. Low exposure too... I think it's quite nice, Kirika."
"Truth be told, this impression of purity suits you very well, Ueno-san."
Konoha lightly tugged at her own outfit and said: "I only have a normal nurse outfit, so I'm feeling a bit envious of you~" Haruaki discreetly whispered in her ear:
"So... The nurses back in the Meiji era, do they really dress like this?"
"Uh—I've never paid much attention so I have no idea about the details... But I do feel that something is off somewhere. But what does it matter? After all, it suits her well and it's very cute!"
"Really...? Oh well, I don't mind either."
"Hey hey hey, Akki! You're the only one here who still hasn't expressed an opinion! Kirika-chan says she must hear it."
Kirika looked up once but immediately bowed her head again. Meanwhile, her hands were repeatedly clutching and releasing the hakama, indicating her extreme unease. For some reason, even Haruaki began to feel disquieted.
"No, umm... I-I think it looks very good. How should I put this? It's very much in Class Rep's style."
Haruaki felt as though he heard Kirika sigh in exhalation, but that could just have been his imagination. Because in the next second, he heard Kirika talking in a nasal tone of voice:
"R-Really? Well~ This outdated, modest and uncute outfit definitely suits my style very well. In other words, that's the kind of person I am!"
"No, that's not what I meant!"
Haruaki frantically tried to explain, but Kirika would have none of it. Crossing her arms before her chest, she turned her face to the side:
"N-No explanations necessary, Yachi. There's no particular meaning in my wearing this outfit. I am neither happy nor delighted about this, neither do I harbor extravagant hopes for a certain someone's opinion. Whatever, it really doesn't matter. Truly, absolutely ridiculous... In any case, I'm already wearing it, so are you satisfied now, Kana?"
"Yes, satisfied—With this, Kirika-chan can also help outside now!"
"Seriously, I'm trying this only because I don't have a choice. Don't blame me if any problem arises. After all, this really is my first time waitressing."
"Don't worry. Fear-chan's performance has been commendable too."
"What! Shameless brat, what's with that skeptical gaze of yours!? I really am performing quite well!"
Just at this moment, a patter of noisy footsteps arrived.
"Uh—sports drink... No! Four portions of the «Nutrient Pack» and three portions of «Dark Green Medicine», please! Hey, those of you standing there! If you've got nothing to do, come out and help!"
The situation out front seemed to be getting hectic again. Fear and the girls readily answered the nurse's request and starting to leave the classroom.
"Excellent, it's time to put on a good show—it's time for everyone to witness the power of the Head Nurse, me, Miyama Kana!"
"Taking customers' orders, returning to the kitchen, then delivering the prepared orders back to customers. There's no difficulty here. Yes! I can surely do it!"
"Ueno-san, you don't really need to be that serious. After all, the customers are mostly students. Just think of it as a game of let's pretend and it'll be fine."
"A game of let's pretend...!? That makes me feel more and more embarrassed. But seeing as you've gotten used to it so quickly, Konoha-kun, I can probably handle it."
"What, Cow Tits is already used to playing let's pretend? For some reason, that sounds so shameless to me... After all, it must be the obscene kind of let's pretend that involves those breasts, right?"
"W-When did I ever!?"
A lively commotion. Haruaki felt like using "just as always" to describe the situation, but then it seemed a little inappropriate.
As much is it was something the girls engaged in frequently, as much as that kind of noisy dispute was not anything new.
But one thing was certain, this was a special and irreplaceable commotion that could only be seen during no other time but the cultural festival.
Haruaki enjoyed his work. Although all he needed to prepare were easy things on the level of assorted cheese platters, crackers and sandwiches, it felt happy enough to know that other people were eating his food. This was pretty much the same as what he usually did at home.
Haruaki continued to concentrate on his work and it soon came time for his shift to end. Intending to take full advantage of the hard-earned break, he decided to take a stroll and visit the other shops in the cultural festival. Checking the shift schedule, he ended up discovering that Fear, Konoha and Kirika all happened to be approaching break time as well. Hence, deciding to invite them to go check out the other shops, he went to see how they were doing.
Taking off his white coat, Haruaki went next door. Peering in through the back door reserved for staff, he found the interior decorated like a sickroom to match the theme. The blackboard was covered up by a curtain of white cloth. The desks were also covered up with the same type of white cloth and decorated with flower vases and baskets like those used for visiting the sick. Naturally, most evocative of a hospital ward were the nurses moving around between the desks.
Still wearing the nurse uniform with her bosom almost bursting out, Konoha walked over to him, carrying a binder (actually a menu) of patients' charts.
"Hi! It's the end of the shift, I wanted to ask if you girls were free, then how about we go check out the other shops in the cultural festival?"
"Yes yes, of course! Could you please wait a short while? Once my replacement for the next shift arrives, I'll get changed instantly."
"Also, I want to check out how Fear is working. Is she doing things properly?"
"Well, sort of, however..."
Haruaki followed Konoha's gaze and immediately found the little nurse with the giant syringe on her back.
"Uh—I'd like this «Round Pill» from the menu."
"Hmm~ The round pill. I'm scared of saying this too loudly, but this is actually awesome...!"
Fear brought her face close and even snickered eerily, causing the student making the order to be frightened by the creepy atmosphere.
"You said you're scared of saying this too loudly... Th-This isn't anything illegal, is it?"
"Of course not, it's something so good it's unbearable. How should I say this? It's something that feels very soft and fluffy, like being in a dream... Or let's put it this way. I-I... I remember it starts with 'mar' and is spelt with nine or ten letters..."
Marijuana—Of course not.
"Yes, that's the one. Thanks for your help, Kirika."
Passing behind Fear by chance, Kirika intervened to help clear up the misunderstanding. Although her stiff expression was quite concerning, she did seem to be working her hardest in the retro outfit. Feeling a bit worried, Haruaki decided to focus his attention on her longer.
"Oh, may I order?"
"...Please go ahead."
"Excuse me, I'd like a cup of water here."
Seemingly glaring eyes and a poker face seemed to be Kirika's default. Perhaps she felt very embarrassed because she was unused to cosplay? But very unbelievably, the retro outfit actually matched her poker face quite well. She looked like a stern and dignified daughter hailing from a warrior family, looking after patients in an inexperienced manner.
Meanwhile, Fear was, for some reason, hard selling her suggestions to the customer from just now.
"But I still recommend this one! The «Brown Medicine»! This was added to the menu only because of my strong recommendation. It's crunchy and savory, even tastier than marshmallows. I really think you should order this and reward me with a piece as tips."
"I-I still don't get it, anyway, please get me an iced coffee first..."
"The «Chilled Black Liquid Pack» and the «Brown Medicine», right? I got it!"
"No, I didn't order any medicine! Ah~ Wait up, Miss Nurse!"
...In a certain sense, Fear turned out to be hard at work as expected.
Haruaki and the girls were casually strolling through the school building, surrounded by the noise and bustle that filled the cultural festival. Compared to the school's normal state, this would be like an alternate reality. There were many visitors in casual clothing and students in their uniforms, a yelling sandwich man, people walking about in theatrical costumes probably for publicizing the drama club, people dressed in mascot costumes that looked absolutely stifling in the heat—All these people were walking disorderly in the corridors. From outside the windows, wafted in the various aromas of sauces and baked flour.
Changed back into her uniform, Fear was directing her inquisitive gaze in all directions like a random laser.
"Nuohoh~ Amazing... The fair from a while ago was also great, but I never expected something similar would be held in school as well! Unbelievable, this is so new to me!"
"Now you know what a cultural festival is, right?"
Fear nodded solemnly with a "Yes" but then she answered in an overly forceful voice:
"You still don't get it!?"
"You dummy! I said no idea exactly because I now know what a cultural festival is about. With all sorts of random things and no idea who is doing what, it's hard to describe in a single sentence... After all, it's just chaos followed by chaos, that's what's called a cultural festival! Anyway, it's all very new and fresh!"
Dressed back in her uniform like Fear and sighing in relief, Kirika also agreed with her description.
"Since it's only held once a year, it's also quite a fresh experience even for us. So Fear-kun's experience should be even more intense than ours, right?"
"Yeah, everything today has felt quite fresh, like when I first started greeting and serving customers... Fufufu, and it turns out even simpler than I imagined. In that case, working part-time jobs should be a piece of cake...!"
"Wait a minute, don't get so full of yourself just because of this. A real job is miles apart from this."
"Listen to him. Besides, today's customers are mostly students and they also know that we're not professional servers. That's why things went so smoothly... If these were real customers, a single mistake could be fatal. If you make a serious blunder, you'll either get fired instantly or face the fate of lawsuits."
"Lawsuits... I've seen those on television. Like messy divorce cases, right? Apparently you'll be forced to pay huge sums of money, so that's really troubling."
Fear frowned with worry. Haruaki smiled wryly as he thought "that's scaring her too much" to himself.
"Actually, you'll be fine as long as you don't screw up badly. To prevent screwing up in a real job, let's work hard today. By getting used to the atmosphere of working, you'll help yourself gain experience. So don't take things lightly and work seriously in your next shift. After all, this is important job training."
"That's true, practicing is important. Of course I'll work seriously. Besides, I've been very serious all along."
Despite thinking "your seriousness actually ends up making people uncomfortable~" to himself, Haruaki asked Fear as a test:
"...Do you... enjoy working?"
As expected, she answered instantly. Swaying her silver hair, Fear turned her head around and displayed to Haruaki her blooming smile. She really looked quite happy and blissful, causing him to wonder "Does something that wonderful really exist in this world?"
"Because everyone keeps saying 'Thanks' to me! Although I think I'm not doing a great job in delivering the food and drink sometimes, people still thank me in spite of that. Strangers were thanking someone like me. S-Someone... like me."
"...Really? Then that's really a good reason to be happy."
Haruaki understood the hidden meaning in her pause between "someone" and "like me." He knew that this hidden meaning consisted of words that did not need to be said. Neither were they words one would want to say. Naturally, Kirika and Konoha also understood very well.
—Someone cursed like me. A tool of torture and execution like me. Someone who only harms humans like me.
"Yes, very happy. That's why I like working... Fufu!"
Fear suddenly gulped at this time and looked towards the front, her silver hair swaying. Staring at the bustling cultural festival, she muttered:
"Really... This is so fresh. So many things I've never come across nor seen. There are still so many new things in this world—That's the message this 'cultural festival' event seems to be tell me. Looks like I'm still very ignorant. So I've renewed and adjusted my plans—In other words, 'I want to know.' Through all sorts of ways, I want to understand all sorts of things."
A pure and innocent wish. How truly delightful.
Standing behind Fear, the trio all spontaneously smiled in agreement.
But in the next second, Fear's originally calm voice suddenly turned into her usual, loud as heck voice.
"Oh, what's that? Immediately, something appears that I want to know about! Lemme see... A haunted... house. Say, Haruaki, what kind of shop is that? Hurry and tell me!"
"Yes yes yes... Rather than a shop, the inside is actually more like a maze. Then people dressed up as ghosts and monsters will jump out to frighten the customers. It's a tasteless shop for people who enjoy scary memories. That said, we don't really have the right to make that comment."
"—You have any objections to tastelessness, human?"
Haruaki turned towards the source of the voice. A set of desks and chairs was arranged in front of the haunted house classroom. Sitting there was a female student of exceptionally exquisite beauty. Looking bored, she was resting her chin on her hand, staring at Haruaki's direction with disinterest.
"This is your class? What are you doing? Though I guess it's obvious that you're stationed at the reception."
Hearing Haruaki's response, Shiraho smiled in a manner that would inspire abject terror in the viewer.
"Since it's obvious, I should advise you not to ask, human. Such stupid behavior merely serves to highlight the fact of your stupidity, that's all, although stupid as you are, you could not possibly understand that."
Jeez, I simply felt that you might be rather unsuited to a task like doing the reception... Aren't you being excessively harsh? Oh well, this probably implies that you're getting used to being a member of your class.
"Uh— ...Anyway, how's the situation?"
"If you want to go in, I won't stop you. No matter how much emphasis they devote to cosmetics and atmosphere, it's ultimately a high school cultural festival after all. I'll feel troubled if you enter with excessive expectations."
Shiraho casually answered Konoha's question as she glanced at her watch. Then frowning, she murmured:
"Where did that Hinata wander off to... There's no time to spare until Sovereignty's break time. Seriously..."
At this moment, a female student poked her head out of the classroom and said:
"Oh Sakuramairi-san, it's time for your shift to end—"
"Is that so? I understand. But Hinata still hasn't returned, do you know where she went?"
"No idea... After all, it's that girl we're talking about, she probably ran off somewhere to take a nap?"
"Worst of all, that's very likely what happened. Whatever, I'll rest a while inside and then go look for her. After all, given the way she's dressed, she should be found instantly."
Who could have thought that Shiraho could converse so naturally with her classmates? How novel. As this impression surfaced in the minds of Haruaki's group, Shiraho pushed her chair and stood up in front of them. However, something seemed to roll out from under the desk as a result.
"Hmm? What's this?"
Fear bent down and picked it up. It turned out to be a chibi-proportioned, super deformed plushie doll in the form of a boy wearing a black coat. Probably the protagonist of some video game? There was also a note safety-pinned to its arm. On closer examination, written on the note were the words "This is required for the event, please do not touch♪"
"Who knows which class put it here at some point in time. Truly such a bother."
"By the way, just now when I followed Kana to publicize the cafe, I remember seeing quite a few dolls identical to this one."
Kirika commented with her head cocked mildly, but Shiraho continued to speak as though she were looking at pebbles:
"Utterly meaningless without bound. If you want to take it away, I won't stop you."
"If only it were more furry and fluffy, but this kind... Let's just put it back."
Saying that, Fear placed the plushie back under the desk. Shiraho made her way towards the classroom with disinterest. Beside the exit curtain, there seemed to be an area reserved for staff. But just at this moment, the exit curtain was raised as people came out. Two female students were leaving the haunted house.
"Ahaha, that wasn't scary at all~"
"Aren't haunted houses always like this? Do people still use konjac jelly anymore? Bursting out in laughter just now, I felt so sorry for them—Hiyaaa!"
Glaring coldly at the girl who had screamed at the sight of her face, Shiraho simply lifted the curtain in the path and entered. Rooted to the spot, the two girls looked at each other and said:
"Ah, that scared me to death...!"
"This final part was really scary. Who is that girl? She looks so much like a beautiful female ghost... If she wore white clothes inside, I'm sure little children will burst out crying from fright."
"But the scary thing is that I can't believe she's just a girl like us. This world is too unfair..."
The two girls sighed, slumped their shoulders and continued forwards. As Fear silently watched them leave—
"So... What should we do now? Let's go in for a look?"
Arms folded across her chest, Fear turned her head to motion at the haunted house with a solemn expression.
"But let's not, I guess. After hearing those two girls' review, it seems like Shiraho is the scariest. But the problem is that we're not afraid of her, so in other words, it's totally not scary inside... This is a shop for enjoying being frightened, right? In that case, isn't it meaningless for us to enter?"
Then the group basically toured the school building and experienced the cultural festival atmosphere. Outside, they observed the situation in rival cafes, browsed the flea market and took a look at the photography club's exhibition.
"Hmm, all these different kinds of shops are so interesting! If only Kuroe could come as well."
"Yeah—It was great that the beauty parlor took a day off for the sports festival, but today happens to be Sunday."
Brokenhearted over "the many customers who had to pick this day for their appointments," Kuroe was currently working hard at her shop. Naturally, had there been no appointments, she probably would have taken an unscheduled break and visited the school to have fun.
"But it can't be helped. Let's tell her all about our experiences when we get back."
"Yeah. By the way, I've been wondering for some time now, where's that aroma coming from?"
"That's the smell of crepes, right? Uh..."
"It's probably wafting in from the courtyard? Since all the stalls cooking with an open flame need to be located outside, let's go over and check it out later."
"Stalls huh... It really reminds me of the fair earlier."
The autumn temple fair held nearby earlier... Many things had happened at the time as well. Just at this moment, Haruaki suddenly recalled something.
"Wait a minute, Fear... Are you carrying any money? Last time you forgot to bring money to the fair, but you should have earned some for helping with the beauty parlor's opening, right?"
"Th-That's the first money I earned for my labors, of course I'm keeping it somewhere safe."
"You~ Clamoring about eating rice crackers all day and night... Don't keep expecting you can get cash from my wallet all the time! Please remember that my money has to take care of the family's living expenses!"
"I got it okay... Hmph hmph~ Your money~ is my money~"
"It's useless, Haruaki-kun. Clearly she doesn't understand at all. Look, she's even making up her own song!"
Conversing among themselves, Haruaki's group exited the photography club's exhibition classroom and contiued on their way.
"Are there any activities in the school building over there?"
"The special classrooms block... I remember the classrooms there. They've always been provided for the cultural clubs to use. Like for showing the film research club's videos or exhibiting the calligraphy club's works, etc."
"It feels like it's filled with an air of maniacs... And looks like there's virtually no one there."
"Maniacs would take offense to that comment, Haruaki-kun."
"I'm not really sure what's going on there, why don't we go and have a look?"
At Fear's suggestion, the group advanced through the connecting corridor and was about to enter the special classrooms block. However, they encountered an unexpected person.
The manga research club's poster had an especially cute and popular character drawn on it. A certain person was staring at it intently, rooted to the spot—
The cool beauty and secretary instantly turned to face Haruaki's group with a literal "whoosh" sound. The aura she gave off seemed to be saying "the scene an instant ago was an illusion, clearly and definitely an illusion, got that?"
"Good morning, Yachi-sama, Fear-sama, Konoha-sama—and Ueno-sama."
Kirika's eyebrow twitched and then she spoke respectfully as though she were talking to a teacher:
"I didn't expect you would know my name."
"Since the superintendent stands as the highest authority in the school and I am the secretary who assists him, remembering all the faces of the entire school's teachers and students is naturally part of my job."
As only befitting of the perfect (disregarding her interests and hobbies) and beautiful secretary, what a shocking truth to discover.
"Really? I know that the superintendent and Yachi's family are acquainted on a personal level... But you really don't need to use the '-sama' honorific with my name, Houjyou-san. After all, I'm merely a student."
"—Then let me express my utmost apologies for I rarely have a chance to interact with ordinary students... Please excuse me for my poor manners, from now on, I shall call you 'Ueno-san'."
Zenon spoke as she took a light bow respectfully. Her personality was still rigid as always.
"By the way, why are you here?"
"I know! You must be like us, experiencing the surprises of the cultural festival through a tour, right? If you want to walk around with us, I have no objections."
"No, because the superintendent is out on a trip as usual, I am trying to contribute despite my meager power by patrolling the school grounds. Have you encountered any problems so far?"
"Nothing... Did something happen?"
"Currently received are the following reports: one alleged theft of personal belongings and one case of a fight involving a student from another school. Other than that, there are various sundry reports on a video voyeur, someone furtively touching girls' bottoms when walking past them, cashiers giving the wrong change, loss of an important ring, a celebrity supposedly visiting our cultural festival, sightings of a wet woman youkai, etc etc."
"I recall that's a youkai that emerges from bodies of water to attack humans on shores. Her hair is always dripping wet."
Despite Haruaki's group asking trivial questions, Zenon answered in full seriousness. In response to her rigorous attitude, Konoha smiled wryly and ambiguously as she spoke:
"U-Umm... So what you mean is this: although nothing major has happened, you're out patrolling just as a precaution, right? Your efforts are commendable, Zenon-san."
"Please do not say that. Even if no major problems have been reported, situations could possibly arise in deserted areas. Besides, while the superintendent is away, I am managing the school in his stead. Particularly on days like this when many outsiders enter and exit the school, one could never be too careful. That is why I am patrolling areas with few people, like here for instance—"
She stopped speaking abruptly in an unnatural manner. After surveying the surroundings, Zenon's gaze rested on a certain spot, just outside the window.
"...But truth be told, I originally did not expect anything to happen, but it looks like that thought needs to be amended."
Following her gaze, Haruaki's group was rendered speechless and holding their breaths.
Looking through the window, at the back of the school building—
A girl in her gym clothes was lying there collapsed.
Who could have done it? Why? But now was not the time for seeking answers to the various mysteries. Without saying a word, Zenon turned and started walking. Haruaki and friends also followed and rushed down the stairs.
Then Haruaki and company discovered the shocking truth.
That girl... Yes, that girl—
Was only sleeping.
"Eh? Ah, wah—! I fell asleep again, oh on! What's the time now, what's the time?"
The female student hastily wiped away her drool that was like the Niagara Falls and surveyed her surroundings frantically. Despite wearing an unfashionable pair of glasses, she did not resemble the quiet and hardworking type of student. Her careless airs were quite reminiscent of Sovereignty's.
"What's going on here... But thank goodness you're okay."
"Good grief, how did it turn out like this—This is totally deceptive!"
"Wah! W-Why am I getting scolded... the second I wake up?"
Zenon stepped forward and approached the cowering girl.
"Luckily, nothing happened to you. Why were you sleeping in a place like this?"
"Eh? Umm.. I-I'm the type who can instantly sleep anywhere, any time... Because I absolutely love naps. My mother said that in light of that, she really wished she could change my name, but I actually like my name quite a bit. But then again, many people don't know how to pronounce my name without furigana, so it's a bit troubling."
"...You can tell us about that another time. What I want to know is this: why are you sleeping here in your gym clothes?"
"S-Sorry. I was wearing a mascot costume to publicize my class' shop, but halfway through, I felt super hot and found myself walking here. I was thinking I'd take it off and rest for a bit, but I ended up going 'Ahhh~ So much cooler—' and lying down briefly. But who could have expected time to fly so fast, for it became now within the blink of an eye! Without my noticing—I become dressed like this in my gym clothes! Speaking of which, eh? Strange? My mascot costume is missing!"
The girl suddenly began to panic. Standing up, she nervously walked around and even patted the dirt off from the soles of her shoes. Naturally, she did not find anything there.
"Uh... In other words, the mascot costume you were wearing is now gone?"
"That's right! I clearly took it off and put it down over here! Wahh... This is terrible! That costume was rented... Who could have taken it to wear...? Putting that mascot costume on with all that smelly sweat!? Wah—That feels so embarrassing! Wait a minute, could it be some kind of maniac!? A maniac with a fetish for sweat?"
The girl descended into serious confusion. Kirika lightly shook her head and said:
"It's a relief that we don't have a fainting incident, but instead, it's turned into a theft incident..."
"I'll surely be scolded to death by everyone! Who knows how much it'll cost to pay for compensation, will I be able to afford it? —I can already imagine her angry look! She's gonna sneer and harshly reprimand me with a tongue lashing! But strangely enough, why do I feel a little happy!?"
Despite seeming a bit incomprehensible, the girl remained in an apparent state of confusion. But because she was too noisy, she really did not evoke any sense of tragedy.
Just at this moment, Fear tilted her head and asked:
"Why would you give up so easily? You don't plan on searching for it?"
"But... There's so many people and I don't know who stole it..."
"If those are your reasons for not searching, that's truly stupid! Okay, I know! I'll help you look for it! This is nothing to be concerned about, because my mission is to do beneficial things for people!"
"Eh? Umm, I'm really happy you're helping me..."
Haruaki had known that things would turn out like this, but could not bring himself to leave so simply. And from his personal perspective, he had no objections. Glancing at Konoha at Kirika, he found them both giving off a feeling that said "Can't be helped, it's her~" and shrugging in exasperation. They did not have any complaints to voice either.
"So Zenon, we'll also help to resolve this matter."
"Honestly, that really would be a great help... But do you have a plan?"
"Plan? Logically speaking, it's simple. Hey, I'm asking you, is that mascot costume very valuable?"
Fear asked and the girl shook her head:
"It's a costume from that «Bludgeoning Gentleman Gasha Skull» special effects hero show... Hmm—Even if you try to sell the outfit, it probably won't fetch much of a price..."
"In other words, it probably wasn't stolen for money, right? Then that means this! Just as you said just now, it's definitely a freak who has a fetish for clothing dripping with sweat from girls! Then it's meaningless not to wear it, so this guy must be walking around openly in the costume right now! Based on logic, the culprit should be obvious!"
"Umm... Fear-san, to be honest, there are too many things I'd like to object about in your logic. Even if the guy is a freak as you say, what if he took it home before wearing it?"
"Freaks could not possibly possess that kind of patience and self-control!"
"You're really jumping to conclusions..."
"Shameless brat, do you have any objections? If you've got a better idea, let's hear it!"
...He had none. Seriously speaking, there was too little information.
Seeing Haruaki silent, Fear hummed proudly.
"If there are no other suggestions, then it's decided. Why don't we first locate the guy who's wearing the mascot costume? Hmph hmph~ This damn freak! I'm gonna catch you and make this enemy of women suffer divine retribution, kukuku!"
As a result, Haruaki's group began to take action for the sake of resolving the case of theft that had happened during a certain girl's nap.
Furthermore, approximately one member of the group had already altered the goal of retrieving the stolen goods to making the freak (as yet unconfirmed) suffer divine retribution.
Meanwhile, the suspect who had stolen the mascot costume—Nikaidou Kururi—was behind a different building in the school.
While supporting her hands on her knees, she caught her breath. So hot, so damn hot, but that was only to be expected. After all, her entire body was currently wrapped up in a poorly ventilated costume with a skull masked design. More importantly, her current goal was fleeing as fast as she could from the hindrance that possessed horrifying skills.
Kururi recalled the face of the man she had been looking for.
Furthermore, there was the person who had effortlessly deflected her sudden attack, even going so far as to strike back mercilessly—that dark-skinned woman who seemed to be that man's bodyguard.
Cursing the unexpected hindrance, but finally breathing steadily, Kururi straightened her body.
What she sensed now was a gaze.
Did that woman catch up? Kururi narrowed her eyes and surveyed her surroundings, but there was not a single soul in this deserted area behind the school building. Only the noise of the cultural festival could be heard in the distance.
(Are my nerves overreacting... No!)
The other person was above, standing upright on the school building behind her, a strange figure looking down towards her. Furthermore, this person was definitely not a student at this school, for the figure's appearance was completely out of place, carrying on the shoulder a long, rod-shaped object wrapped in some kind of cloth.
Who was it? An enemy?
Just as Kururi reflexively entered a stance, the figure on the roof also moved.
Effortlessly going over the fence, the person descended by thrusting the rod into the school building's outer wall a number of times.
"Yo. Hello. By the way, who are you? Our gazes just met but I felt that you're a bit strange, so I came down here. Are you perhaps my enemy? If you're uninvolved in my affairs, then it's fine... But then again, you did witness the scene just now, after all... So perhaps, I'll have to give you some pain."
Faced with the figure that landed before her eyes, Kururi could not help but hold her breath. The person was a woman in parka with the hood covering her entire head.
Although they had never met before, Kururi could ascertain one fact from the woman's words. Furthermore, there was her bizarre appearance, the weapon in her hand, as well as the strange phenomenon with the way the weapon stabbed into the wall without resulting in a single falling fragment. Kururi was absolutely certain.
This was someone from the Family.
Surprised, Kururi murmured involuntarily. Hearing her response, the woman cocked her hooded head and said:
"Eh? Never would I have thought you'd recognize me, then you're clearly not someone uninvolved... So, who are you? What are you doing here?"
Her attitude remained unchanged but Kururi could sense faint murderous intent coming from her. Kururi could only blame herself for the slip of the tongue. By this point, it was impossible to feign innocence—Kururi bit her lip and replied:
"I should be the one asking you that. Aren't you supposed to be dead already? I know there were such orders."
"You really know how to poke someone in a sore spot. Indeed, you're completely correct... Sigh, it's all because many things went wrong. Right, since you have inside information, are you perhaps a member of the Family as well?"
This time, a cautious answer was required.
The problem was: did this woman know already?
That the Family had already collapsed and lost its symbol.
Also—the one who finished the task was Kururi, present right here.
If the woman knew, then she would surely attack Kururi. In that case, concealing her true identity would be best for now.
"...No I'm not. I belong to neither the Family nor other organizations—Right, I guess I count as a helper for the Family. That's why I know about what's going on and I'm not your enemy."
Kururi made up excuses as she put away her battle stance because there was nothing to gain in fighting this woman now. Perhaps this attitude worked, for the woman nodded lightly and said: "Oh right~ There's that category as well." Then she returned the weapon she was swinging around back to her shoulder. Based on Kururi's answer, that weapon could very well have attacked her without hesitation. That said, the risk currently had not disappeared entirely yet.
Deciding to play it safe for now and stay in dialogue, Kururi felt compelled to find out at least why this woman was here. More than likely, she had not fully accepted Kururi either. One false step could cause her to attack indiscriminately.
"So, little miss helper, what are you doing here?"
"I... am just searching for someone, but it's got nothing to do with the Family."
Feeling that deception would seem unnatural, Kururi went with the truth—The fact that she was searching for a man. Although she did not know his name, Kururi knew his face and physique. Although she had discovered him just now in the school, he had a bodyguard intervening by his side. Once Kururi began to describe the man's most obvious characteristics, the woman's attitude changed. She clicked her tongue impatiently and remarked:
"It's that guy? That's right, he's already here... I suffered lots from his nagging and the other stuff. If I were to find him, I'd definitely attack before anything else."
Hearing her answer, Kururi could not help but frown for a second. She must keep those words firmly in mind. However, the most important thing right now was to understand the woman's goal. Asking "On the other hand, I'd like to know what you're doing" resulted in—
"Yes, it counts as a coincidence. In actual fact, I'm looking for someone too. If that person is not found, I can't fulfill my goal."
Kururi asked "...Objective?" but the woman answered very simply: "It's not something I really need to hide."
A goal superficially similar to hers but different.
Her answer provided Kururi with the following information, namely that "this woman did not know about the Family's current condition."
"But I'm facing a troubling difficulty. Although I know what the guy is called and I know what he looks like from the photograph, Japanese faces look all the same to me. I can't really tell them apart unless I examine closely. But there's people everywhere today, making me all confused. Ah~ Perhaps you might actually know him? He's a student at this school, his name is—"
Someone Kururi knew. Appearing in her mind was the friendly face of that boy.
Kururi racked her brain to decide how she should respond.
It was dangerous, but using this woman could achieve her goal. No, thinking over this calmly, there was no other way but this. Hence—
"I know about that guy and what he looks like."
"Ohoh~ Really? Then please help me look for him."
Her reaction was just as predicted. Kururi nervously gulped and said:
"I don't really mind, but..."
"But I hope you can help me out as well. I'm looking for the man I told you about just now and need to make contact with him, but there's this really strong bodyguard by his side. You have a grudge against him as well, right?"
The woman pondered for a moment, but—
"Hmm... Well, surely the other side will make a move on me once he discovers my presence here, after all? If the end result is a huge fight anyway, there's not much difference. So, even if one of our goals is fulfilled first, let's maintain our cooperative relationship until the other person's goal is achieved as well, okay?"
"...No problem. But if you are rendered immobile along the way, I'm going to continue without you. Because I can't possibly take care of you to that extent."
"What a merciless helper. Fine with me, it's a deal."
This was a gamble. She had no idea how things would turn out, depending on what order they find their targets—The only things she could do now was pray that her own target was found first. But if this wish did not come true, there would be a problem.
In truth, she did not know if finding the boy was related to achieving her goal or not. But asking too much about the matter would probably arouse the woman's suspicions. Since both sides' goals were similar, there was no need to actually search in the same manner. Kururi would simply follow her own path. Hence, what would happen to the boy was honestly irrelevant to her. But if this woman achieved her goal first, things would become tricky to some extent. Worse comes to worst, depending on the situation, Kururi might have to sabotage in an indirect manner...
"By the way, why are you wearing this crazy outfit?"
"Because your target knows who I am. Also, you have no right to criticize me for my crazy outfit."
The woman giggled. Water dripped from her red hair exposed by the gap in her hood. Kururi discreetly clenched her hands under the mascot costume and made a certain decision in her mind.
This cooperative relationship had many problems but she had no options currently.
After all, Kururi had an unshakable goal, a task that she needed to complete at all costs.
Namely, to find that man, use this woman to defeat the bodyguard, then make contact with him.
Furthermore—She must find out the answer.
After finding out about the mascot costume's appearance from the female student, Haruaki and his group started walking around the school building, parting ways with the girl and Zenon. This was because the girl needed to return to her class to explain the situation and also—
"It's probably meaningless, but I'd better send someone to monitor the school gates."
Zenon had gone off to busy herself with other tasks. Since the costume was large and not easily concealed, plus security had been alerted to stop anyone carrying anything strange, monitoring the school gates should not be meaningless.
Apart from that, the group also considered the idea of using a public announcement. But if the suspect knew he was wanted, he might start brandishing a knife in reckless abandon. This could possibly develop into the following situation: "large scale arrest operation undertaken among crowds of students where the suspect is discovered → panic → cultural festival suspended." In the end, they decided to give up on that method.
While the group was visually searching for the suspect, Fear, whose furious glare was saying "Hurry and come out if you wanna live, freak!", suddenly narrowed her eyes.
"Nuu!? Th-That's—Take this!"
"Uwah? Hey, wait up, Fear! That's a cat, it's a cat!"
Haruaki frantically chased down Fear who was about to charge into a tiger-striped cat mascot and forcibly dragged her away. After he apologized for Fear's rash behavior, the mascot muttered "Scared me to death..." emphatically while leaving.
"That's totally wrong! We're looking for a humanoid mascot, right? Something similar to a skull mask."
"I know, okay. It's just that whenever I see furry object, I'm overcome with the urge to pounce."
"I-I'm being serious! Just now, it was only... Recharging my energy, I was just replenishing my motivation! Anyway, those are my needs! Okay, let's go!"
Fear waved her hands as she spoke then began walking in front. Haruaki and Konoha exchanged glances and could only shrug helplessly. Just as they prepared to catch up to Fear—she had already disappeared. More accurately, she had taken a great fall with intense momentum. Due to the suddenness of the situation, for an instant it seemed as though she had vanished from view.
A plastic trash can in the corridor was tragically flattened by Fear's bottom. For the sake of personal safety, Haruaki decided not to express any opininon regarding her destructive power (namely, Fear's weight).
"W-What on earth are you doing? Are you okay?"
"You're being too impatient. You should calm down a bit before taking action..."
Still sitting on the floor, Fear rubbed her backside where the impact had struck. Thinking "Never mind your backside, hurry up and cover up those striped panties!", Haruaki frantically turned his gaze away from the sight between Fear's legs.
Very quickly, Fear noticed Haruaki's gaze and held down her skirt as she stood up, blushing red.
"Oooooh... Why is this corridor so wet! That's the reason why I slipped. What are the people in charge of cleaning actually doing!?"
Fear's fury was justified. The floor under her feet was as wet as though someone had knocked over a bucket of water. With clearly no water faucets nearby, this was really bizarre. Fear kept throwing a tantrum in the corridor but then she suddenly frowned and brought her face near the wet floor of the corridor as though she were staring at something.
"Wait a minute...? It's really weird for this kind of place to be soaking wet. It feels like... Just now... I recall hearing the name of something. Whatchamacallit? Wet... Wet... Wet—Ah!"
"W-What is it?"
"The wet woman! Didn't Zenon mention about the 'wet woman youkai' just now!? I can't believe it really exists!"
Haruaki surrendered. To think he actually expected her to say anything decently serious.
"Say, Fear... Whether it's the wet woman's fault or any other, we're currently looking for the mascot costume thief, right!? Let's leave the youkai for youkai hunters or survivors of ghostly tribes to handle. We should hurry and get going!"
"What are you talking about? Being weird and monstrous is what it means to be a youkai! Although he's a mysterious thief of mascot costumes, he's also a mysterious freak with a sweat fetish and a bizarre madman to boot! Madmen are always involved in crazy things, so this is definitely a clue... Muu! Haruaki, look, it's wet over here as well! Looks like the trail leads up the stairs, let's give chase!"
"Hey! Wait a sec, Fear!"
Fear ignored Haruaki and rushed up the stairs on the side. Since they were currently on the fourth floor, this staircase led to the roof.
Left with no choice, they could only chase after Fear. The stairs were also wet. Water was left on the stairs in intervals corresponding to footsteps. In any case, there probably was no youkai, but the scene confronting them was indeed quite strange.
"Are you alright? Rushing too fast is very dangerous... Or rather, since there's nothing up here, there's no need to rush."
"Right. I'm sorry to tell you this, Fear-kun, but I remember that the door to the roof is supposed to be locked for today."
"Really? After all, it would be quite dangerous if young children could go up there on their own."
Reaching the end of the staircase, Fear stood motionlessly in front of the door leading to the roof.
However, her reason for standing there was completely different from what was expected.
"Someone broke the lock."
"What did you say?"
Fear was right, the door handle was completely destroyed.
The whole group held their breath nervously and the surrounding atmosphere grew tense imperceptibly.
"This means someone forced their way up to the roof, although who knows why they were so desperate they had to break the lock."
"Judging from the wetness of these stains... This happened not too long ago. Assuming that the lock breaker and the person dripping with water are one and the same."
"So, do we need to consider the possibility that the person is still on the roof...?"
"Let's be careful, everyone."
Konoha narrowed her eyes and said:
"—Let's open the door now."
After a quick glance at everyone's face, Fear forcefully kicked the door open. Having lost its lock, the door opened with a metallic grating sound. Shining into their eyes, the glaring sunlight came from the vast and open sky. While enduring the dazzling sunlight, they looked around on the roof. However, the empty space was completely deserted without any moving creature at all.
"Not here huh... Hmm, that's...?"
Fear discovered something and ran over to the edge of the roof, bending over in front of the fencing. Haruaki caught up to her and checked out the sight from behind her silver hair.
Indeed, there was a patch of wet concrete. Due to the abundance of sunlight, the water had almost completely evaporated. But there was no mistake. Upon close examination, there were what appeared to be vague footprints leading from the roof entrance to the edge here.
"Indeed there's no mistake. The person probably walked from over there. Judging from the amount of water, that person stood here for quite a while—"
Haruaki abruptly stopped speaking because he was struck by a terrifying feeling. Then what? Did the person suddenly vanish from this spot? Or perhaps, went over the fencing and jumped down? But both were impossible.
"Then what on earth happened? Why does this feel more and more like a supernatural tale?"
"Th-That's too scary. I'd rather that sort of thing only happen to that doll with the extensible hair at home."
"In any case, let's first check out the situation downstairs. If that person didn't vanish, then that only leaves crossing over this fencing... I only hope that we won't see something that we don't want to see."
Kirika was right. After taking a nervous gulp, the members of the group approached the fence on their own. Then right at the instant they slowly peered down—
Haruaki was the first to hear the noise.
"Who is it!?" "Who's there!?"
Konoha and Fear turned around simultaneously and shouted ferociously, then—
"What... This is—?"
Kirika's voice expressed doubt and shock as something metallic was fastened tightly around her neck.
Finally realizing the irregularity of the situation, Haruaki turned around for a look.
Without them noticing, two people had started standing behind them.
"Completely unguarded... Is there something really fun over there...? Anyway, thank you for your efforts, Un Izoey."
"My feeling: delighted more or less. The honor of your praise is my glory."
The first to speak was a man standing leisurely not too far away. Answering him in awkward Japanese was the person who leapt back to his side—namely, the girl who had secretly crept up behind Haruaki's group just now.
The girl seemed to be the same age as Haruaki's group. Dark-skinned. Her gray hair, almost white in color, was cut suitably in a short hairstyle. Beneath her hair were dense eyebrows displaying great willpower as well as completely emotionless eyes.
Her attire was quite avant-garde. Using a piece of cloth whose design seemed rather tribal, her lower body was wrapped in the manner of a long skirt. Exposed beneath the hem was a pair of dark-skinned legs that seemed as strong as a wild beast's. On her upper body, she was wearing something like a white coat but one could hardly be certain. Even though all the buttons were fastened, did any white coat existing in this world deliberately exhibit a person's navel and sturdy abs? Above the triangular patch of exposed, dark-colored skin, there were exquisite curves of voluptuousness, clearly pushed up by the skin-tight fabric—How should one describe it? But most certainly, it was already close to winter yet the girl's upper body was wearing nothing except for this kind of white coat.
The girl was clearly suspicious but her attire was not the most pressing issue. Rather it was why would she secretly creep up behind them?
"Guh... Yachi! Don't ever let your attention stray from these two people!"
"B-But Kirika—There's something on your neck!"
Just as Fear pointed out, a black object had been imposed on Kirika's neck. It resembled a large choker made of steel or perhaps something resembling a dog collar. Kirika frantically tried to take it off but the man before them stopped her with an intriguing voice.
"Careful. I would advise you not to do anything rash. You wouldn't think that is just be an ordinary collar, would you, Kirika?"
Kirika went "Guh!" and bit her lip. Despite her murderous stares, the man laughed nonchalantly.
Their conversation prompted Haruaki to ask a most natural question.
"Class Rep, do you know that guy?"
Narrowing her eyes in a vicious expression, Kirika glared straight ahead.
With great resentment—
She spoke the man's name.
"—His name is Yamimagari Pakuaki. He's my... absolute worst of an older brother."
Translator's Notes and References
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