Chapter 1 - Possibly Hardworking Students. Later, / "Visitors—the physical educator and the dowser"
After school, the day just before the end of term exams—In other words, a few hours prior to the arrival of Haruaki's surprise visitor...
Haruaki and company were in the superintendent's office. On this rare occasion when he was actually present at school, the superintendent had invited them over for tea. The people present included Haruaki, Fear, Konoha, the room's master—the superintendent—of course, Zenon, as well as Sovereignty who was carrying the tea and snacks industriously but precariously. In addition—
"Oh dear~ One of the great trials of student life will begin tomorrow: End of term exams~"
"That's right, surviving this challenge means welcoming the arrival of the winter break."
"Hahaha, I can understand that what you really care about is the vacation. But studying is part of a student's duty. In order to enjoy your holidays, you must work hard and pass your exams. Especially people who did not do well on the midterms last time—I believe there was even a student who accomplished the amazing result of failing all subjects."
"N-Not me! Umm, I only failed two, that's all!"
"I admit you're working very hard, Fear-kun, but I hope you can pass everything this time. Anyway, it is most fortunate that the student who failed all subjects is blessed with a group of benevolent comrades. This time, they have gone out of their way to invite her to a study gathering. I only hope that she won't skip showing up because of meaningless stubbornness—Do you agree with me, Shiraho-kun?"
The bottom of the gas mask leaked out a strange breathing noise. Shiraho, who was originally drinking tea beside Sovereignty, sighed unhappily; was she trying to oppose the gas mask's strange sound? Then glaring viciously, she looked straight at the superintendent for the first time since entering the room.
"...You called us here just to tell us this? I never would have expected you to waste time on such inane matters. Why, how free you are, freak."
"It's not inane at all. After all, you're the daughter of my dear friend, so of course I must pay attention to your conduct. If he knew you were failing or going to be held back a grade, he would be very sad, right?"
Shiraho clicked her tongue hard as though deliberately making everyone hear her. Murderous intent was now added to her vicious gaze.
"...Can't I just study seriously on my own?"
"It's perfectly fine for you to think that. However, to ensure that you'll do well on the exams, I think you really need to know the 'tricks for getting marks.' But the problem is this: for a girl who used to rarely attend class in school, can she really figure out those tricks simply through self-studying...? To be frank, I'm really worried. By the way, Zenon-kun, could you free up one day in my schedule next week?"
"Please be patient for a moment—It is possible if various schedules are adjusted. May I ask why?"
The beautiful secretary spoke as she operated an electronic notebook.
"Yes, given the circumstances, I believe I need to pay respects at my dear friend's grave... And make a report to him briefly. Such as—I'm sorry but even though you entrusted your daughter in my care, I am apparently incapable of ensuring that she can graduate smoothly."
"I-I get the message, okay!? I'm going, fine, I'm going!"
Shiraho cut off the superintendent and violently put down her teacup. In a huff, she crossed her arms before her chest and closed her eyes. She apparently did not want to look at the superintendent's face any longer.
"Very well, so long as you're able to display your industrious efforts, no matter how many subjects you fail, I won't consider it a major problem. Do your best and good luck."
"Ehehe, if it's Shiraho, I'm sure she'll be fine—Hey, Haruaki-kun, would it be troublesome if I came along and visited you guys? I can serve you tea and help with different things."
Hugging Shiraho from the side, Sovereignty looked towards Haruaki. Of course, the moment Shiraho was invited to join them in a study gathering, Sovereignty was already included in the guest list.
"Of course it's okay. Besides, I think Kuroe might be a distraction to us. If you're willing to be her companion, it'd actually be a great help to me."
"Wow, that's right, Kuroe-chan will be there too. Yes yes, actually on further thought, it's been so long since I last visited your home, Haruaki-kun. I'm really looking forward to it!"
"Is that so... That's really... wonderful..."
Hugged by Sovereignty like a doll, Shiraho sighed in exhaustion. It was probably her lover's exuberant enthusiasm that caused her to realize she had no way out. If she still tried to skip out, the superintendent aside, even Sovereignty would be very sad. Shiraho probably would not allow that to happen.
"Yes, so Shiraho and Sovereignty are joining? Looks like tonight will be very fun."
"Wait a sec, Fear, this is no time for fun. Don't forget that your position is only second to Shiraho's."
"That's right. Like the very dismal performance you turned in for Japanese class earlier, are you really devoting effort in studying?"
"O-Of course... I... am."
"Why are your eyes drifting towards the side?"
Just as Fear turned the back of her head towards Haruaki and Konoha's narrowed gazes, there was a sudden sound resembling a fart. Rather than someone doing something embarrassing, it was the superintendent laughing wryly.
"Your Japanese is still no good yet? After all, the Japanese language really is tough~"
"Yeah, that's right. I think having three different scripts for writing is so inefficient. Like 'breasts,' 'glasses,' 'overweight,' etc, just use hiragana for all of them and be done with it!"
"A-Am I being over sensitive? Why do I get the feeling that you picked those words maliciously?"
Amidst the noisy conversation, there was suddenly a series of blunt noises. Someone was knocking at the door.
Zenon answered and the door immediately opened. A seldom-seen face appeared at the superintendent's office. Naturally, it was a very familiar face in Haruaki and the rest's daily school lives.
"—I am Kaidou. Making a delivery on Houjyou-sensei's request."
This was Kaidou Imi, the physical education teacher. Despite being a beautiful woman with long, sleek, black hair, her pair of sharp eyes exuded a weapon-like and dangerous aura. The faint scar on her cheek further enhanced this impression. The scar that gave off that kind of feeling no matter how one looked, combined with her calm and composed attitude resembling that of a seasoned warrior, inevitably gave rise to all sorts of speculation among the students. But to this date, no student had mustered the courage to confirm the veracity of such claims, of course.
She was always dressed in a bright red tracksuit. For a woman in her twenties, this manner of attire could be said to be too plain. Most attention-drawing of all was, of course, the tool she used to substitute for a PE teacher's bamboo sword—the metal shovel she always carried on her shoulder. Even the little flower hairpin she often used next to her ear only produced an impression in viewers that was completely opposite to "cute"—Haruaki recalled what Taizou had said—
"That hairpin... How should I say this? It looks like the kind of cherry blossoms that float down in yakuza films or period dramas after someone says 'Your life, I will be taking it'..."
In any case, that was the impression she gave off. As a side note, it was the comment made by Taizou after he was spanked by the shovel (Kaidou-sensei's unique punishment) for being excessively noisy in class.
"Did Ganon-neesama ask you to deliver this? I'm sorry she made you walk all this way."
"Worry not, by pure happenstance, I was just about to make my return to the teaching staff office."
Word choice reflecting ancient sensibilities and a strict expression more serious than anyone, these were her usual hallmarks and no longer came as a surprise to Haruaki and the rest. Then Kaidou walked over directly to Zenon while holding what appeared to be documents. Their eyes suddenly met during the process. Since she was Haruaki's assistant homeroom teacher, she would know his name and face, of course. Haruaki and Konoha nodded lightly to greet her and she responded in kind.
Sitting beside them, Fear also saw her reaction. However, Fear reacted in a manner that could not be considered a greeting, simply shaking her head strangely. She should have seen Kaidou but was making a tense poker face for some reason. Haruaki found Fear's attitude quite inexplicable.
"Thank you for your effort, I acknowledge receipt. I am really grateful to you."
"—Not at all, then I shall take my leave."
At this moment, the superintendent called out to Kaidou who was just about to turn and leave, having completed her task.
"Ah~ Could you wait a little bit, Kaidou-sensei?"
"...May I ask what is the matter?"
"Nothing particularly major. I was just talking to these students here about tomorrow's exams. As a teacher, do you have any frank advice to offer them?"
"The school prohibits the discussion of all matters related to the content of the exams. Besides, I am not a teacher in charge of preparing the questions this time."
In contrast to Kaidou's solemn answer, the superintendent shrugged casually and said:
"Nothing that serious, perhaps I should clarify, it's regarding mental preparation for exams—In other words, as an educator, could you provide them some related, overall suggestions?"
She paused for several seconds before answering. The metal shovel on her shoulder could be seen trembling slightly, or perhaps she was sighing. Then looking at Haruaki's group, she spoke earnestly:
"Th-That's all? In particular, Fear-kun is a foreign student, couldn't you say a little more..."
After the superintendent shrugged and said that, Kaidou looked towards Fear. For some reason, Fear's face showed tension like earlier and she sat up straight to wait for Kaidou's response. However—
Kaidou hastily averted eye contact in an unnatural manner for some reason.
Her voice was also very soft, even ice-cold.
"—I have nothing special to say. Excuse me, goodbye."
Saying that, Kaidou immediately left the superintendent's office, leaving Haruaki's group watching the door in puzzlement. Shiraho and Sovereignty were looking at each in bewilderment.
Fear frowned with her arms crossed before her chest. Haruaki elbowed her in the arm and said:
"Hey, did you ever do anything to Kaidou-sensei?"
"I don't know. However, it's always been strange."
Fear eyed Haruaki beside her then her gaze fell to her feet. Her head cocked, an expression of puzzlement, she explained:
"Actually it's been like that since I first arrived. I keep getting the feeling that this teacher seems to be avoiding me on purpose..."
"Hmm—The situation just now was quite strange."
"Really? I believe that Fear-san simply has persecution mania. It feels like Kaidou-sensei is always like this normally... Although I've spoken to her very little so I don't know the details."
"What persecution mania!? Actually, there are other cases apart from today. Like there were two people talking and getting scolded severely by her, but towards me, she simply skirted the issue with a single sentence. There's also plenty of similar evidence! Rather than avoiding me, it'd be better to say she's looking down on me only!"
"Ah, I get it! Perhaps you're too adorable, Fear-chan, and you look too much like a foreigner, so it makes her really nervous. Does that work? What do you think, Shiraho?"
"Speaking of what I'm thinking right now, 'Can I go home now?' That's all."
Haruaki sipped his black tea that was about to get cold and pondered.
Although Kaidou-sensei was difficult to approach, oddly enough, the students did not dislike her. Naturally, Haruaki did not dislike her either. Her eyes were always stern and she never did anything emotional or irrational. She was always angry for legitimate reason and quite reasonable. Why would that kind of person single Fear out to treat differently? However, her attitude that he witnessed just now really did not seem quite normal...
(I really don't get it. Since there isn't some kind of misunderstanding between them, I hope I can find a way to make her treat Fear normally.)
"Yes, that's right. I agree with you completely. We must find a way to make her treat Fear-kun normally."
Haruaki suddenly heard a breathing noise by his ear. It turned out that the superintendent had already moved behind the sofa while Haruaki was immersed in his thoughts, giving him quite a fright.
"You can read minds, superintendent...?"
"Because your thoughts are too easy to see through. I simply made a casual guess."
On the other hand, Fear looked like she had already forgotten about Kaidou-sensei and was busy arguing with Konoha over trivial matters. The superintendent supported his lower jaw on his hand while resting his elbow on the back of the sofa, watching Fear's dispute through the gas mask. Soon after—
"A school is also a place for people learn how to get along with elders like teachers. If the other person is deliberately avoiding you, then things cannot start at all... And Kaidou-sensei is your assistant homeroom teacher as well. If there's a wall between you and the assistant homeroom teacher, that could lead to all kinds of trouble for Fear-kun in the future. Hence, corresponding measures must be taken."
The superintendent was muttering in a voice only audible to Haruaki. Despite feeling he should fully support what the superintendent was talking about, Haruaki could not help getting an ominous feeling.
This was because Haruaki seemed to be hearing a strange snickering coming from beneath the superintendent's gas mask, carrying some sort of motive.
(My ominous feeling was right on target...!)
Haruaki secretly sighed to himself as he recalled what had happened a few hours earlier.
Currently, Kaidou was opposite to the table, sitting formally in seiza posture with her back completely straight. The usual metal shovel she always kept by her side was resting beside her on the tatami floor. Although Haruaki had suggested indirectly "Perhaps it might be better to leave it at the entrance...", her reply of "Have no fear, I always wash it to a very clean degree" was totally incomprehensible. Haruaki felt that she was missing the point.
"...Say, Haru, who is that?"
Closing in discreetly, Kuroe whispered in Haruaki's ear.
"Kaidou-sensei is from our school."
"...I'm guessing that her nickname must be Scoop-sensei."
"Close, but a pity. The one in fashion right now is 'Scoop Teacher' or 'Scottie' in short."
"Why does that sound like a brand of tissues? Anyway, I got it. Then I'll casually try calling her. Hello Scottie—"
"Idiot, don't call her that! Do you want to die!? It's not like you can call it to her face!"
"Uh—Yeah... So... Kaidou-sensei, may I ask why you came to my house...?"
Haruaki muffled Kuroe's mouth as he smiled politely and asked.
"...I was sent by the superintendent to supervise this study gathering."
This was the first sentence of her reply. Then she continued explaining in her usual cool and detached manner.
As a member of the teaching profession, it was necessary to ensure one's reliability as someone whom students could depend on even outside of class. Judging that she was lacking in this area, the superintendent had assigned her this task in order to augment her skills as a teacher. Furthermore, since she was not in charge of the exam questions this time, there was no conflict in interest if she simply supervised or gave advice on study skills. Besides, in consideration of the special circumstance that one member of the study gathering included a foreign transfer student, there should not be anything unfair—
(Why did the superintendent employ such forceful measures...)
Haruaki glanced at Fear. On the surface, she was nonchalantly flipping through her textbook, but he could also see her sneaking glances at Kaidou from time to time. Clearly Fear was quite bothered by her presence.
"Uh... So, I have many things I need to think about, could you give me a little time please!? Why don't you have some tea first, Kaidou-sensei!"
"I do not quite understand what you are trying to say, but no matter, I shall have some tea first."
Kaidou sipped tea at the table while Haruaki and the rest took this opportunity to hold a strategy conference on the other side of the table. Originally nonchalant, Fear was also dragged into their meeting. This bizarre act was a bit rude to the teacher, but they did have their many difficulties after all.
"W-What should we do...?"
"You're asking me... What should we do now?"
"To be frank, I really have no idea how to deal with her. But it's not like we can just ask her to leave, right?"
"Sovereignty, I'm beginning to feel that it's better that I go back and study at home."
"Don't do that... Since she is a teacher, doesn't that mean there's one more person who can teach you? Isn't this great?"
"It doesn't really matter to me... What about you, Ficchi?"
Kuroe's question prompted Fear to cross her arms before her chest and turn her gaze to one side as she answered:
"...I don't really care. Ignoring noisy people like Taizou and Kana, if an unfamiliar adult hangs around here, it does make one uncomfortable more or less. Besides, the fact that we're not human might get revealed to her by chance..."
That was quite worrisome indeed. But even knowing the truth, why did the superintendent still make such an arrangement? Haruaki already knew the superintendent was concerned about Fear's relationship with the teacher, but bringing them so suddenly in close contact was not going to work that easily—
Just as he was pondering about these matters, the answer suddenly came from an unexpected source... Namely, from Kaidou-sensei's own mouth.
"Hmm... I almost forgot."
"Eh, w-what is it...?"
The teacup was placed down onto the table. Then the teacher spoke without changing her cold demeanor at all:
"First of all, I knew about you all very early on. I already know of the existence of cursed tools in this world. Consequently, there is no need for you to intentionally hide the fact."
Kaidou explained such an important matter in clear and simple terms. Fear looked up as though rebounding but did not make a sound. Hence, Haruaki voiced surprise on her behalf.
"Did the superintendent inform you? I don't really believe he would readily disclose to others..."
Konoha narrowed her eyes slightly as she spoke. Kaidou shook her head lightly:
"Your statement is half correct. I did indeed learn about your identities from the superintendent. However, as for the matter concerning the existence of cursed tools, I have known that fact since a very long time ago."
"What do you mean by that?"
This time, it was the teacher's turn to narrow her eyes, as though reminiscing something.
"...I personally experienced a certain incident once, an incident that involved a cursed tool. I wanted to understand the significance. Hence, after the incident, I heard about this school from someone and came to this place... I heard that there was a man here who understood cursed tools."
"Verily indeed. I sought the superintendent's counsel regarding the incident from the past but it was not a matter that could be understood immediately. That is also the reason why I started working in the school as a member of the teaching staff. All throughout this time, I have been consulting the superintendent and his aides on various matters. In other words... One could describe it as like an apprentice perhaps?"
Haruaki was suddenly reminded of the look on the gas masked man's face whenever he collected allegedly cursed tools, asking "How is this? It's not? Hmm, here's another one!" The notion of him taking an apprentice seemed unbelievable... However, he was the friend of Haruaki's father after all. Compared to ordinary people who were unaware of cursed tools' existence, the superintendent should possess more detailed information.
At this moment, Kudou glanced at Haruaki.
"—Yachi Haruaki of Seat No.16, the superintendent's intelligence network is more comprehensive than you may think."
"The second matter I forgot was the superintendent's message. He said: 'This is a good opportunity to bring it up, so let me tell you this: From now on, don't be shy and feel free to visit and have fun.'"
Kaidou shifted her gaze and ended up staring at Kirika.
"The superintendent already knew what your side thought they were hiding. In other words, for example... Regarding Ueno Kirika of Seat No.2, what organization you belonged to and the artifacts in your possession."
This time it was Kirika's turn to gaze viciously. Glaring with hostility at the teacher's face, she looked like she was trying to see into Kaidou's mind, thereby discerning the superintendent's true intentions.
"He knows... I'm from the Lab Chief's Nation?"
"Verily indeed, he knew all along from the very beginning."
"And about my partner?"
"He already knew."
"This means that we mistakenly believed that we had infiltrated successfully when in fact we were under surveillance all along... Hmph, how absolutely ridiculous of us..."
Kirika took her gaze off Kaidou, exhaled slightly and smiled towards Haruaki's group.
"I know, after all, I've cut off ties with that side anyway. Frankly speaking, I originally planned to find a suitable chance to confess to the superintendent... After all, hiding this matter makes it more difficult for me to help you guys. This is actually good news instead. Apart from saving me the need to find a time to explain, it also allows me to discuss how that guy should be dealt with."
Kirika's mentioning of that guy probably referred to her partner? Haruaki had heard that Kirika had not seen him ever since she injured him, but judging from her tone of voice, he might be back some day. Haruaki decided to clarify the matter with her next time.
"However, I never expected the superintendent to... actually know about the Lab Chief's Nation. I always thought he was just a weirdo, but he might actually turn out to be more impressive than I thought..."
"Really? But then again, he really is quite a mysterious character."
"Speaking of impressive, his secretary, Houjyou-san, is actually quite amazing. Like during the cultural festival, she must have been putting on quite an act... Since the superintendent already knew about the Lab Chief's Nation, it's hard to imagine that she was not aware of things."
Kirika glanced at Kaidou again, who nodded lightly in response.
"Of course, the same goes for Houjyou-dono. She also requested that I pass along this message to Ueno Kirika: 'My sincere apologies. Next time you pay a visit to the office, I will be sure to prepare some tasty snacks and tea to serve you.'"
Kirika nodded, went "Really?" and sighed. She seemed to be whispering softly, dumbfounded at her own ignorance.
"...Actually thinking over things carefully, I should have realized considering that an ordinary student like me was involved in that bomb scare crisis. After all, it was quite strange more or less."
"After all, she is a person who's quite hard to read sometimes... Even if she deceives me, I don't have any confidence I'd be able to pick it up. This couldn't be helped."
"Now then, these are all the matters I have forgotten to inform you. Students, you may start your studying session now."
Since Kaidou was sent here on purpose by the superintendent, it would be improper to ask her to leave just like that. Now that the facts were out in the open, there was no need to worry about Fear or the others exposing their true identities. With that, there was no choice but to accept this supervisor and start studying hard. Currently speaking, this was the only option.
...For some reason, Kaidou decided to pick up her shovel at this time. It was quite disturbing.
"Eh, uh, so, I think I'll be excusing myself now..."
Kuroe decided to flee. You traitor.
"Sovey-chan, would you like to visit my room?"
"Y-Yeah...! I'm finding it hard to adjust to this boring atmosphere! S-Shiraho, good luck and do your best!"
"Sigh... I pray that all goes well."
Traitor No.2 followed Kuroe and left. Haruaki and the rest slowly opened up their textbooks and notes, then started to study hard for their respective exams.
Five minutes passed, then ten minutes—
The scene was completely silent.
(Th-This feels so awkward...)
Unable to withstand the pressure coming from Kaidou who was sitting motionlessly like the Buddhist guardian of hell, Haruaki looked around to check out his surroundings. Fear was sneaking glances at Kaidou's every move then writing something in her notebook. Kirika was flipping through textbooks lightly, her shoulder squirming on occasion. Shiraho looked like a statue holding a mechanical pencil, facing her textbook without moving at all.
Then Haruaki looked towards Konoha who happened to look his way as well. Blinking repeatedly, she seemed to be pleading for help, motioning with her eyes towards Kaidou-sensei...
Ah, that's right. If no one achieved a breakthrough in this impasse, the study gathering could not get started at all. Dialogue must be used as a chance to initiate the harmonious atmosphere of a study gathering where people taught one another. Someone had to step up even if it meant self-sacrifice in this dangerous mission. In that case, as the only man and master of the house present, I'll have to do it...!
Hence, Haruaki mustered his courage in a manner akin to self-hypnosis and resolutely looked up. Swallowing saliva to lubricate his throat...
"Excuse me... Kaidou-senei! I wonder if you could help me with this question here!"
Seeing Fear and the others twitch their shoulders in fright, Haruaki approached the teacher and handed the chemistry textbook over.
Despite being examined by Kaidou's sharp glaze, now was not the time to be afraid. This was the first step towards easing the tense atmosphere. Through dialogue with the teacher, building a bridge to lighten the mood in this room slightly...
"I see... This part?"
"Yes, right there."
Haruaki nodded. See, there's no need to be so scared to death. If I talk to the teacher, she'll answer properly. So long as we show how we're studying seriously, she will stand on our side. She's a teacher after all.
The teacher went "hmm" and nodded. Just as Haruaki was feeling relieved as though his efforts at communication finally got through to a man-eating wolf, a smile appearing on his face—
"—No idea, finished."
The teacher ended up pushing the textbook back with just a single sentence. It felt like trying to pet a wild wolf and getting bitten as a result.
But at this moment, a miracle occurred. The vicious wild wolf seemed to realize someone was hurt and consequently sighed as a self-reminder.
"My utmost apologies. I am a physical education teacher. If you ask questions about other subjects, I may not know the answer. If you wish to ask, please ask about physical and health education."
"R-Right! A-Ahaha, I'm sorry! Then... Uh... I'll find questions from the health textbook..."
"Yes, in that case, you can ask anything you want. If you cannot understand my explanations, I can even provide live demonstrations."
"Judo or similar sports are my specialty. Even if certain skills are difficult to understand through illustrations, they can be learnt through actual physical experience."
"In that case, uh... I'm not sure if I should say it's good or bad news... But judo isn't covered in the exam. Uh... I recall that this time, it's on first aid and lifesaving..."
"I see, then let me give you a live demonstration."
As Haruaki flipped through the textbook to confirm what was covered, Kaidou nodded vigorously in response. Then...
Suddenly, she unzipped her tracksuit and removed the jacket.
Spilling out. Volume that rivaled Konoha's, a certain bulging shape was almost spilling out of the gym t-shirt beneath the jacket. Next, Kaidou put down the shovel and laid herself down on the tatami floor.
"If you want practice, I can serve as your practice partner. Heart massage or artificial respiration, either is fine."
For an instant, Haruaki failed to understand what the teacher was saying.
Heart massage = touching that bulging body part that was heaving up and down slightly underneath that t-shirt.
Artificial respiration = doing that with those soft lips whose color looked vivid despite clearly having no lipstick on them.
As soon as Haruaki's mind confirmed those definitions again, he instantly stepped back in haste and answered:
"I-I'm not doing that!"
"Why? This is indeed covered by the examination—"
Kaidou spoke with full seriousness. At this moment...
"Yachi, what are you planning here!? I can't forgive you.!"
"Y-Y-You... You... shameless brat! I'll curse you as hard as I can!"
Instantly, Haruaki found three hands grabbing him by the collar, dragging him backwards.
"So~ Haruaki-kun! Chemistry, you wanted to ask questions about chemistry, right? I happen to be studying this subject as well, so let's study together!"
"Didn't you say you had questions on math as well? I'll teach you if you ask!"
"Okay, Haruaki, let's get back to studying! No, I've got a question for you, how do you read this kanji here?"
Haruaki listened as the three girls spoke in succession—with Fear going so far as slapping his head with her textbook—as they dragged him back to his original seat. Amidst the chaos, Haruaki saw Kaidou sit back up.
"...You do not require practice with physical education anymore?"
Appearing on her calm face was a questioning look as simple as her query. Indeed, she clearly was not aware why Fear and the girls had hastily dragged Haruaki away...
Haruaki exchanged looks with the three girls. Since he was being dragged away whole, his posture was such that they were looking down at him on the floor.
Once he obtained consensus regarding the conclusion surfacing in his mind, Haruaki slowly turned his head back and said:
"U-Umm... Because the physical and health education exam is only the last day, I think I'd better focus on the other... subjects first..."
"—I see. I agree with your assessment. Please study hard then."
Kaidou murmured as she stroked her chin gently, putting on her tracksuit jacket again. Straightening her back and sticking her chest out with a grunt, she resumed watching over the students in her hell guardian mode with a solemn expression.
Haruaki's group once again looked at one another awkwardly and whispered among themselves.
"I've rarely spoken to her so I don't know her quite well, but perhaps, is it possible that Kaidou-sensei might be..."
"Very possible. Perhaps because very few people get close to her, it has never presented itself."
"Muu, stop leaving me in the dark! What does that mean, tell me!"
"Uh... The opposite of 'cultivated,' I guess...?" Haruaki explained to Fear whose eyebrows were raised and eyes were glaring in anger.
"...?" Fear cocked her head in puzzlement as though a question mark had appeared over her head.
But speaking of question marks, Shiraho had no shortage of those. Completely oblivious to the commotion all this time, she was simply staring at the textbook, going "...!? ...!?!?!?" as though petrified.
Haruaki's brave attempt to engage the teacher seemed to have gotten results. Subsequently, the living room atmosphere became slightly more at ease. Although talking was not prohibited previously, the self-imposed silence finally ended. However, the teacher was still silently sitting upright on the side of the room.
"So, for this type of question, just memorize the formulae on this side and over there. That'll basically solve them... Shiraho-kun, are you okay?"
"I-I get... it... Ah, seriously, my brain feels like it's about to explode..."
"Haruaki Haruaki, how do I pronounce this one and that one?"
"Come on, you there~ Couldn't you check a dictionary by yourself on occasion?"
Oh right, so this is the attitude a study gathering should have the day before the exam. Feeling moved for some reason, Haruaki continued to study his own materials. As a side note, Kuroe and Sovereignty still had not returned after deserting them. Since the light on the second floor of the accessory dwelling was on, they were probably still having fun in Kuroe's room. Haruaki could not help but feel heartfelt envy for those who had already entered the workforce.
But there was no way to swap places with them. The superintendent was right, studying was a student's duty. Although there was the unnerving presence of the teacher with the cool exterior but a personality that was oblivious in certain ways, as long as he concentrated on studying, there was nothing to be concerned about—
Just at this moment, Haruaki suddenly realized why the superintendent had sent Kaidou-sensei over.
(He originally wanted to bring her and Fear closer together... Probably that. But if Fear's just studying while ignoring her, it's a bit pointless.)
He shifted his gaze. Although Fear was studying will full seriousness, she clearly did not show any intention to make contact with Kaidou-sensei.
(Hmmmmmm... But a forceful method could end up counterproductive...)
Hence, Haruaki reviewed Kaidou's past behavior on his own.
The only thing he figured out was that he was not mistaken.
She did act strange sometimes. For example, whenever Fear spoke up, Kaidou's shoulder would suddenly twitch. When Konoha walked past, her body would stiffen unnaturally. Her changes in attitude were brief and subtle to the point that they were imperceptible unless one examined closely. Just earlier when Konoha was talking about the superintendent, she responded but did not make eye contact with Konoha. Furthermore, this unnatural behavior did not surface when she was dealing with Haruaki or Shiraho. That implied...
(Does she harbor further thoughts on Fear and Konoha's kind?)
Haruaki could only guess at the reason. The hint was probably what Kaidou had mentioned earlier—that she had been involved in a past incident. As much as he wanted to ask and clarify, but seeing as it was an incident related to cursed tools, Haruaki knew that happy memories were rather unlikely. Even if he were to ask, the time and place must be carefully considered.
"Hmm... What should I do..."
"Haruaki-kun, are you stuck somewhere? Maybe I can help you?"
Haruaki's thoughts slipped out. Hearing his words, Konoha smiled happily and leaned over. Haruaki did not dare reveal that he was actually pondering something unrelated to studying so he asked her questions about English sentence construction that he actually had some trouble understanding.
...Timing was the most important. There should be a chance to talk to Kaidou-sensei eventually. Although the matter of Fear and the teacher was very important, it did not change the fact that the exams tomorrow were crucial. In any case, Haruaki decided to study seriously for now while looking out for opportunities...
While thinking over these matters, Haruaki heard explanations of katakana English without registering, causing Konoha to scold him: "Are you actually listening seriously?"
Another kanji I don't know how to read, this is so annoying. Fear frowned and looked up:
"Say, Haruaki, how do I read this..."
However, Haruaki, whom she intended to rely on, was currently receiving Cow Tits' instruction on English. How could something so stupid be happening? As much as Fear felt an impulse to rush over and yell at them, she tried her hardest to suppress that urge. After all, when the time came, they were going to be the ones making fools of themselves as a result of such primitive English ability, not her. In any case, the most important thing now was to find out how this kanji was read. Thinking "in any case, I have the most reliable helper here," she turned towards Kirika, but found Kirika instructing Shiraho examination techniques in earnest. From Fear's perspective, she would feel bad about interrupting other people... Although Shiraho's slightly hollow gaze was a bit concerning.
Her eyes ended up drifting spontaneously to a certain person, also sitting on the tatami floor—The teacher guarding this group students.
Instantly, opposing thoughts crisscrossed Fear's mind.
One part of her mind muttered: "This is a great chance, go and try asking her." After all, this was neither chemistry nor mathematics but simply the reading of a kanji. Since she was Japanese and an adult, she should be able to answer.
But another part of her brain had a different idea, stammering timidly: "It's best not to ask her." Although she had no idea why, somehow she had apparently incurred the teacher's dislike, hence she did not want to confirm it specifically.
These two thoughts were almost equally strong and reached a stalemate, causing Fear to feel very troubled. Just as she was at a total loss—
They made eye contact for an instant but the teacher shifted her gaze away on her own initiative.
Fear thought: "I knew it."
She softly made an extended sigh but even she did not understand why she was sighing. Relieved? Disheartened? Scared? Troubled? Or disappointed?
(...Disappointed? Why must I feel disappointed?)
This was nothing. Indeed, she was not so fragile as to feel setback by this sort of thing. Because she had not done anything wrong, she could puff her chest out in pride and face the teacher. There was no need to feel concerned about such a woman. Just keep studying.
Fear comforted herself in this manner and intended to skip over the unknown kanji and continue studying hard. However...
The painful feeling in her heart ended up generating countless pairs of ominous questions and answers.
(—I've done nothing wrong? Really?)
(Or perhaps, I simply failed to notice?)
(Speaking of which, aren't you a tool that repeatedly perpetrated atrocious crimes since a long time ago—)
Fear gripped her mechanical pencil forcefully, biting her lip hard as she pressed the pencil's tip on the notebook.
Currently, that was all she could do.
Konoha's English lesson did not last long. Perhaps feeling thirsty after talking too much, Konoha took the bottle of juice and poured it towards her cup—But the result left her puzzled.
"Oh... The juice is out."
"After all, with so many of us here, it's getting consumed quite rapidly. What should I do, go buy more? I'm actually fine with just having tea, however."
Just as this moment, Fear, who had been glaring solemnly at the notebook, looked up as though she were startled. Her face instantly brightened as though the situation pleased her.
"I'll go buy it! Yes, I was just thinking of a change of mood, leave it to me! Whatever else you want, I'll buy them all for you!"
"Hold on, you absolutely cannot be trusted with shopping. No matter how I think about it, you'll surely end up buying a certain crunchy type of object."
"That's right. Do you really think you're in a position to waste time? Up until this point, you still haven't asked me a single question. I'm feeling really concerned. Listen to me carefully, ariorihaberiimasokari—"
"Ooh! Cow Tits is trying to brainwash me with a mysterious incantation again!"
Hearing this dialogue, Kirika looked up from her textbook and said:
"Yachi, I'm fine with drinking tea as well... But since I'm the one imposing myself at your home, if you need anyone to run errands and go shopping, let me do it."
"Class Rep, you're a guest here, and besides, you're also busy teaching Shiraho, right? After all, having tea is fine so there's no pressing need to go out to buy—"
Halfway through, Haruaki thought "wait a sec." He suddenly recalled something.
"...No, we'd better buy some juice after all. Studying causes the blood sugar level to drop so it's best to have some kind of sugary drink. I should go buy some."
"Oh, wouldn't it be better to ask Kuroe and Sovereignty at a time like this?"
Konoha's suggestion was reasonable but Haruaki could not follow her advice at this time because it was a rare opportunity.
"Ah... But they're currently playing happily, it'd be a shame to interrupt their fun. After all, the supermarket is just ahead, I was thinking of a change of mood too. Besides, this is my duty as the master of the house to entertain my guests. I'll go buy the drinks."
"I-I'm the one who wants a change of mood, so let me go as well!"
Fear endured Konoha's attacks of ancient Japanese as she spoke.
(She wants a change of mood huh?)
Haruaki could understand roughly what her reasons were. It was probably not simply fatigue from studying.
Haruaki stood up with a wry smile, stroking Fear's silver hair forcefully, almost treating her as support for standing up.
"That's not necessary. Why don't you stay here obediently and accept Konoha's instruction? You don't want to fail again and ruin your entire winter break with supplementary lessons, right?"
Fear was still dissatisfied. Softly, Haruaki spoke a sentence to her that held multiple meanings on different levels.
"Don't worry, leave it to me."
Indeed. In any case, Haruaki hoped that Fear would let him handle things. This was an excellent opportunity.
Hence, Haruaki tried to look around the room as naturally as possible, taking utmost care not to let this action look like an act.
"Hmm, but if one person is willing to come with me, that would be a great help... Ah yes. Excuse me, Kaidou-sensei, I have an impolite request. If you don't mind, could you accompany me to go shop for drinks? After all, it would be best not to interrupt these girls who are hard at work studying. If you'll come with me, that'll be a great help."
The two of them were walking along the way to the convenience store.
Haruaki had wondered if Kaidou might say "I must stay here and supervise" but unexpectedly, she readily went along with his suggestion. Perhaps she believed in the student's self-discipline while she was absent and accompanying Haruaki on his shopping trip.
Haruaki looked up to glance at Kaidou's shoulder as the firm footsteps of her sneakers trudged along the asphalt of the road. Although the school community was already used to the sight... Someone walking along the street at night with a shovel on their shoulder would look rather dangerous.
"...Kaidou-sensei, by this point, it might be a bit strange for me to ask this, but why do you always carry a shovel?"
"My apologies, I do not understand your question."
"What I'm saying is, isn't it more typical for PE teachers to carry bamboo swords?"
"Is that so? Well—If one really had to give a reason, it is purely my own habit. Simply the act of carrying it gives me a sense of calm."
"I-I see... A habit huh."
"I once worked at a construction site, so carrying a shovel everywhere I go should not come as strange, right?"
No, it's very strange. Although the thought entered Haruaki's mind, he skipped it and continued:
"...That was before you became a teacher?"
"Verily indeed. If I may supplement the explanation, this shovel was a birthday present I received from someone very dear to me. I would carry it to the construction site every day and eventually I even kept it by my side even on days without work. Before I knew it, somehow it progressed to the point where I would feel completely unsettled without it by my side."
"I-I see, so its significance is actually that special."
"...Yes. It is currently substituting for a lucky charm—almost a part of my body now. Although there was no choice but to replace the tip due to wear and tear, the main portion has always been kept the same."
Did anyone in this world give shovels for birthday presents? Haruaki had never heard in his life that shovel parts were replaceable. Despite the numerous irregularities he felt an urge to point out... Seeing as this was a rare opportunity when Kaidou was willingly telling him these things, there was no need to deliberately say something displeasing, right? Thus, the two's conversation continued.
"Uh... Kaidou-sensei, would you happen to enjoy watching historical dramas?"
"W-Why? I don't really know how to answer. But your tone of voice when you often say things like 'verily indeed' sounds very historical drama-like..."
"Tone of voice, you say?"
The journey to the convenience store was even shorter than imagined. The destination loomed just ahead in sight. The pair continued to make their way towards the brightly lit area while conversing.
"...The foreman at that construction site was an elderly man. He loved watching historical dramas."
"He could be considered our surrogate guardian, taking care of us whether in official or private matters. I probably picked up this preference for historical dramas while watching them with him. On further thought, I must have been infected by his manner of speech. I hope he remains in good health these days... We have arrived. Then I shall wait for you here."
"O-Okay. Then I'll be back soon."
Kaidou apparently knew as well that carrying a shovel openly inside the store would not be a very sensible thing to do. Leaving her outside, Haruaki entered the convenience store and began to pick out juice, snacks and biscuits as appropriate. While naturally tossing a whole bag of rice crackers into the shopping basket, his mind was occupied by the conversation just now, of course.
(I never thought she'd tell me so much in such a relaxed manner... Since this is a rare opportunity, let me ask a bit more about her past on the way back.)
Haruaki swiftly checked out at the counter and exited the convenience store, carrying two shopping bags. Without saying a word, Kaidou took one of the bags from Haruaki's hand and started walking matter-of-factly. How manly.
Regretting the short distance of the return route for the very first time, Haruaki took a deep breath and spoke up:
"So... Kaidou-sensei. This question might sound very strange, but what's your opinion on Fear and her kind?"
Instantly, Kaidou stopped walking.
"...I can understand the reason why you are asking this question, so let me answer honestly."
"In short—'No idea how to face them.' That is all."
Neither dislike nor hatred.
Simply no idea how to face them.
What was the meaning behind her choice of description?
At this moment, Kaidou resumed walking forward without looking back at Haruaki behind her.
"...They are good people."
"Since you say so, that should be true."
"Then why... Kaidou-sensei, do you feel that you have... no idea how to face them? Perhaps it may be related to your past? Like the incident you experienced before..."
Haruaki summoned his courage and tried asking.
Kaidou continued walking a few more steps in silence. Haruaki walked while waiting patiently...
"You desire to know about that incident?"
"Uh... Umm... I do. Only if you don't mind telling me."
"Actually, it is easily conveyed through two points. You are free to conclude on your own how they are related."
"First point. My parents passed away very early on, hence, my younger sister and I have always lived by relying on each other."
At this moment, Haruaki was reminded of the construction site foreman that Kaidou had mentioned just now—Our surrogate guardian.
Of course, this was the first time for Haruaki to hear about Kaidou's family. But then all sorts of questions began to emerge in his mind. Such as, what was her sister called? How many years apart were they? Were they alike in appearance and personality?
Just as Haruaki was about to turn these countless questions into words, Kaidou continued as though interrupting his thoughts.
Her tone of voice was exceptionally calm, like clear lake water without the slightest ripple.
However, the words themselves were fully cursed.
"Second point. But currently, my sister is already deceased—The end. There is nothing more to say."
Haruaki gasped and held his breath. How the two points were related, it was so obvious that no thinking was required.
Because she had said that she experienced an incident "related to cursed tools."
Ah~ In that case—
The reason why her sister was no longer alive, vanished from this world, really turned out to be—
Haruaki wondered "I should say something" but the current atmosphere did not permit him to do so.
Then Haruaki watched from behind as the teacher puffed out her chest and held her head high while walking ahead, rejecting all questions with silence.
In the next instant, a figure suddenly rushed out of a side street and crashed into Haruaki.
A direct collision caused Haruaki to be sent flying flat on the asphalt. But the other person ended up in the same state as well. Upon closer examination, a petite girl was lying opposite to him.
"Ah... Ow ow ow..."
She was frowning while rubbing her backside desperately. The girl's hair was styled into two buns, one on each side of her head. Dressed in a public school's sailor style uniform, she also had a large side pouch at her hip. Perhaps either the girl was too petite or her uniform was too large, her fingers were hidden in her sleeves. Finally, due to falling on her bottom against the floor, her skirt was naturally flipped up, providing a full view of her thighs and other parts, clad in tights...
Haruaki frantically turned his gaze away and stood up.
"S-Sorry, are you alright?"
"Y-Yes, it's alright... It's Satsuko who should be very sorry instead..."
Her expression was as timid as a young puppy with the corners of her eyes drooping. Perhaps due to the pain in her backside, her eyes were slightly tearful. By this time, Kaidou, who had been walking ahead, noticed the situation and doubled back.
"...Any injuries, either side?"
"No, I'm fine here."
"Nothing, Satsuko is completely fine..."
Kaidou was stunned for some reason. Her eyes slightly widened, she was staring straight at the girl on the floor. But the girl was cocking her head slightly in surprise. It looked like they probably did not know each other... So what on earth was going on?
"Uh... So, since you're fine, please hurry and stand up. Otherwise, your posture is a bit embarrassing for me..."
"Eh? ...Wah! S-Sorry! Even seeing the panties of someone like Satsuko, you probably won't feel happy or aroused, right? So sorry! Please forgive Satsuko's lack of self-awareness!"
Haruaki held her hand and pulled her up to her feet while listening to her incomprehensible words. Just as indicated by the manner the sleeves of the uniform were hiding her fingers, she really was quite petite. Probably giving Fear or Kuroe a good run for their money. Furthermore, Haruaki noticed another thing when holding her hand—
"This? It's a dowsing rod—"
The girl was holding a strange object in both hands. The handles resembled those hand grippers for muscle training and each was connected to four slender metallic rods that were roughly a meter in length. The rods extended horizontally in separate directions, comprising two sets, one in each hand... A total of eight metallic rods were protruding from between her fingers.
"...I only know about the type that uses two rods."
Just as Haruaki commented with a troubled expression, the girl's eyes shone as she answered:
"That's right, that is the usual type! But this one has eight rods, so in other words, it harnesses four times the power of two rods. For someone like Satsuko, this is an awesome and useful thing..."
Intimidated by her enthusiasm, Haruaki agreed half-heartedly. Was she the type who suddenly gets talkative regarding things she was interested in?
"Anyway, it's lucky you weren't injured. Although I have no idea what you're dowsing for, it's quite dark now so it could get dangerous if you don't watch carefully where you're going."
"Yes... Ah, right! Umm... May Satsuko ask something while she's here? Since it only concerns Satsuko personally, it might only displease you two as a waste of time and effort, but if possible..."
Her excessively masochistic attitude ended up making others feel bad as though they had done something wrong instead. Unfortunately, Haruaki's heart was not strong enough to dare say "No, excuse us but we must get going" and part ways.
"W-What is it?"
"Oh, thank you very much! Uh... Satsuko has been using this quadruple-powered dowsing rod to find someone, but for someone like Satsuko whose human abilities are of the lowest level, the effectiveness really turns out to be quite limited, in other words, fruitless so far... Or rather, Satsuko is hopeless with directions to begin with. Because she is too stupid to confirm that person's location, getting lost is only expected."
"Oh, so instead of treasure, you're looking for someone?"
"Yes. Umm, Satsuko's friend's friend's friend simply told Satsuko: 'By the way, I think I heard a rumor but I'm not too sure' that there's an amazing psychic nearby... Do you happen to know about this?"
Haruaki's face twitched. He had an ominous feeling. An extremely ominous feeling.
"You mentioned a psychic... I have no idea about that. But lemme ask just to be safe, do you... happen to have questions about... cursed tools or something like that...?"
Instantly, the girl jumped in fright then spoke frantically:
"Y-Yes yes indeed! Could it be... You're the psychic! So you can read the minds of someone like Satsuko? Ahhh, so sorry! Satsuko is so sorry for her unguarded ways!"
The young girl kept hugging her petite shoulders and worrying but then she looked up towards Haruaki. Her timid and tearful eyes displayed a sense of solemnity.
"S-Satsuko has something to discuss with you, please help Satsuko! Although Satsuko cannot afford to pay very much money, she really is in a tough spot. For someone like Satsuko who is so cowardly, she is really helpless with no idea what to do...!"
"No, I don't want your money!"
"Oh, so what you mean is that for someone like Satsuko, no amount of money is enough? Sob sob, in that case, she has no choice but to pay with her body...? Although it's quite troubling, Satsuko really has no other solution... Sob sob, Satsuko understands. But Satsuko is shy, if possible, she hopes she doesn't need to take off her clothes..."
Fallen into all sorts of mysterious and masochistic thoughts, the girl trembled as she grabbed her skirt and slowly lifted it up on the spot for some reason. Was she acting out of her mind due to confusion? Or was this her personality? Just as Haruaki decided he must stop her and frantically tried to take action—
"...! Come over here!"
Kaidou-sensei had suddenly regained her senses for some reason and dragged Haruaki by the arm into the alley where the girl had rushed out of earlier. Then she pressed him against the wall as though mugging him. Her eyes were more strict than usual, in other words, it was super frightening.
"I do not suppose you have been engaging in this type of activity all along to this date, have you?"
"I-It's a misunderstanding!"
"Is that so? Do you dare swear to the heavens, the earth and the gods?"
At this moment, a certain object was glinting at an extremely close distance—The shovel was actually pressed against his neck.
Haruaki's mind was in a total state of chaos. Excessively close, the teacher's breath was striking him in the face. Between them, they were only separated by the bulge beneath her tracksuit jacket. The metal edge of the shovel felt so very cold.
(Man, it feels as though things are getting more and more out of hand...!)
Feeling like he wanted to cry, Haruaki looked around his surroundings for help.
On the other hand, the girl remained rooted to the spot, apparently oblivious to the fact that Haruaki had been dragged into the alley.
"...Disappeared? Satsuko really ended up abandoned and ignored!"
Almost about to cry, she was frantically looking in all directions.
Thinking "Oh well, let's just listen to what she has to say first," Haruaki brought the young girl home. In front of Fear and the other girls' skeptical eyes, the girl calling herself Ontenzaki Satsuko said:
"Actually... There's a ghost pursuing Satsuko!"
Everyone exchanged gazes over the table. This included Kuroe and Sovereignty who had returned to the living room at the news of a new guest. Even Shiraho, who felt uninvolved and had been burying herself in her textbooks, looked up with intrigue. Then Fear spoke on behalf of everyone:
"Hmm... Girl known as Satsuko, due to my stance of helping others, I really want to hear your request. But unfortunately, no one here has skills in exorcism, so you'd better find someone more suitable."
"Wait a sec first, I think she's omitted a lot of stuff. Didn't you mention cursed tools just now? Does that apparition have anything to do with cursed tools?"
"That's true. If it concerns a tool turning into an ghost or something, that would be understandable."
Konoha's remark prompted Satsuko to timidly incline her head in puzzlement. She shrank her petite shoulders even more and said:
"Uh—... It's not like that. It happened today after school..."
Hence, Satsuko began to explain the whole story from the start. While on the way home from school, she had suddenly met a stranger—a weirdo resembling a ghost—who attacked her. The weirdo also said to her: "You must have a cursed headless doll in your possession, hand it over now." However, Satsuko did not recall having anything like that. No matter how she explained, the attacker refused to believe her, so she ran for her life. While being chased, she continued to flee, meanwhile trying to find someone who could help—
"Then Satsuko arrived here..."
"Did you say a cursed doll? How scary~"
"That's really scary~"
Kuroe and Sovereignty were nodding to each other with serious expressions. Apart from Satsuko and Kaidou, everyone else narrowed their eyes halfway in skepticism as though going "You two... You've got to be kidding me?" as they watched the two dolls.
Soon after, Fear shook her head lightly, having organized her thoughts and said:
"Anyway... If it's this kind of thing, I think we basically understand. Some mysterious person covets that cursed headless doll and attacked you, so you came running for help. That's what happened, right?"
"Yes... Uh—That person also used other names to call that doll... What was it? Something like the 'screaming and crying headless doll'..."
"This should be obvious, but we really have never heard of it... But let's put that name aside for now. What about you? Do you really have no idea at all?"
"Well said. That's the most important point."
Kirika and Konoha's words prompted Satsuko to furrow her brow hard.
"Well~ Entirely no idea..."
"Would it be something belonging to someone in your family?"
"Ah, that's what Satsuko wondered in the beginning~ Because grandma who passed away last year loved collecting antiques... But to this date, Satsuko has never seen that kind of doll, not even when going through her past possessions. Besides, Satsuko also called mother but she said she didn't know."
Much could be speculated from here. For example, her grandma might have possessed that doll in the past but could have given it away or discarded it. Of course, it was also possible that the grandma never had the doll in the first place and the seeker was mistaken.
"This might be a tangent, but have any ghosts chased your mother?"
"Ah, no, she seems okay. Or perhaps the person already knows that Satsuko's mother never appreciated grandma's collection of antiques... Also, Satsuko's love for the occult is related to grandma's hobby. The attacker probably concluded from this that Satsuko must have received the doll from grandma."
"I see. In any case, if it's just an ordinary cursed doll, just giving it up obediently to end the harassment is another method... But if the object in question doesn't exist, there's no solution. What an absolutely ridiculous affair."
"Indeed. That's quite unlucky of you to be attacked. Say, what was the attacker like? Did they say where they came from?"
"No... Anyway, the person looked kind of fluttery like a ghost and kept repeating 'Hand the doll over, I will destroy it' without saying where he or she was from..."
"Hmm... This is useful information. Speaking of 'destroying,' it could very well be that rotten organization—The Knights Dominion."
Fear frowned with displeasure as she murmured. Konoha also slumped her shoulders dejectedly in agreement.
"Attacking someone indiscriminately in this violent manner does sound like their methods... Sigh~ Looks like we're going to have our hands full for a while."
"Y-You are all so amazing. Although Satsuko doesn't really understand, you all seem so dependable... So, what should Satsuko do next...?"
Even if she asked "what she should do next", no one knew how to answer. Haruaki's group looked at one another and discussed how Satsuko should proceed. Since they had no idea where the attacker was, waiting was the only option.
"Looks like we have no choice but to wait for the attacker to show up again then beat him up."
"Yeah, let's take turns to protect Satsuko-san starting tomorrow. But since I don't think the attacker will dare attack her among crowds in open daylight, I think we can manage."
"Then leave it to me. In case anything happens, I have ways to help Satsuko escape. Also, I wasn't here to help when the Knights came last time, so I want to do something."
"If we want to resolve this as quickly as possible, there's also the 'baiting strategy.' Of course, the most crucial part is still ensuring her safety above all."
"S-Satsuko finds you all so amazing..."
Satsuko gazed in admiration at Fear and the rest as they discussed with enthusiasm. Naturally, she could not understand the details.
Nevertheless, Haruaki still found it quite unbelievable how quickly she got the idea without comprehending everything.
"Excuse me, it's great that you're discussing this incident with us, but have you called the police? I think a normal person would find it very strange if they heard about a 'cursed doll' all of a sudden, right?"
Satsuko jumped in fright then cowered delicately as she answered:
"Satsuko did not call the police... Even if the police were informed, they probably wouldn't believe it. Also, Satsuko thinks that ordinary people cannot defeat that ghost. Also, umm, putting aside why the ghost is chasing Satsuko relentlessly, Satsuko already knew about the existence of cursed tools... Is that strange?"
She cocked her head to one side slightly as she spoke the final sentence.
Haruaki was surprised. "So you actually knew about the existence of cursed tools all along?"—Before Haruaki had a chance to ask this question, Satsuko went "Ah" and clutched her head:
"Oh right, that is quite strange! Because Satsuko is a fan of the occult, she assumed that it was only natural for others to know about that area. Like the Hope Diamond, Tutankhamen's Ring, Busby's stoop chair, etc. But average people don't know, right? Sob sob, Satsuko is really quite weird, so sorry..."
"Oh, what the heck, so that's what's going on?"
Haruaki was slightly convinced. What she knew about did not include the matter of excessively cursed artifacts taking on human form. She was apparently just a fan of the occult, having absorbed related knowledge about mysterious and strange occurrences from books or the internet.
"You said 'that's what's going on'... Umm, did Satsuko say anything weird...?"
"N-No, nothing at all."
In any case, because she was knowledgeable in related matters due to being an occult fan, she was unexpectedly accepting of these abnormal situations. Compared to an ordinary person's panic, this was less troublesome in a certain way.
But even though Satsuko had basic knowledge in this area, Haruaki felt that telling her everything would only make her more confused. He did not believe that Satsuko would readily accept the existence of organizations involved with cursed tools or the true identities of Fear and the others. In any case, it was enough for her to know that there was 'a weirdo target coveting cursed tools' and there existed 'a group of psychics who can oppose him'—namely, the people here.
"Anyway... You did the right thing in coming to us instead of the police. You don't need to over think the incident too much. I may not be very dependable, but these girls here are very trustworthy."
Then Haruaki suddenly recalled something.
"It's getting late tonight. If it's convenient for you, would you like to spend the night here? After all, it'd be dangerous to let you walk home by yourself during the night. That goes without saying especially when you have someone chasing you."
Fear and the girls went "Hmm!" without speaking and looked towards Haruaki. Although they did not object, somehow they all looked a little unhappy. As a side note, Kirika's lips were quivering as though murmuring something but she ended up not saying anything.
On the other hand, Satsuko was staring wide-eyed in surprise, her shoulders trembling with unease. Haruaki nervously added:
"Oh, that's really only if you find it convenient. If your family will worry, then don't force yourself. We'll send you home or try to think of another solution. Are your parents strict?"
"Ah~ Satsuko thinks that father and mother are... umm... probably the ordinary type..."
Satsuko bowed her head as though pondering something but quickly looked up again, still smiling in that timid manner of hers. Then with even more unease than before, she said:
"But... As long as Satsuko tells them, it should be okay, probably. Satsuko will call home later so... Umm... If you don't mind the trouble, Satsuko will be in your care..."
Haruaki smiled wryly and said:
"Of course it won't be any trouble. Besides, I'm the one who suggested it in the first place. My house's greatest advantage is its spaciousness. Don't worry and stay over tonight. You can relax."
"Th-Thank you very much... Or rather, very sorry that you need to treat someone like Satsuko with such gentleness... You are all wonderfully kind people!"
"You don't need to keep adding 'someone like' when talking about yourself. I already consider us kindred."
Fear spoke as she approached Satsuko and examined her body with a serious gaze, especially her flat chest. After grunting "Mmm!" in approval and nodding, she patted Satsuko on the shoulder.
"You pass! I permit you to join our alliance! Kuroe, you shouldn't have any objections, right?"
"Of course not. It's truly a joyous occasion for celebrating the birth of a new ally—"
Satsuko watched Fear and the others' faces in surprise. Kirika shrugged, Sovereignty applauded happily while Shiraho continued her struggles with the textbook as though nothing else concerned her. Then Haruaki secretly shifted his gaze to check out the last person's reaction.
Kaidou was still staring at Satsuko's face without saying a word.
Her eyes looked as though she were reminiscing.
Not long after that, Satsuko took her cellphone and left the living room. Just as she mentioned earlier, she was going to call her family. Haruaki wondered "Is it really okay?" as he waited for her to return, meanwhile moving his mechanical pencil habitually. But no matter how Satsuko's request for permission ended up, there was still another problem—The impending examinations were not going to disappear on their own.
However, while waiting for her to return, after a quite a duration—
Fear suddenly looked up at the clock from her noisy flipping of the textbook and said:
"Hmm, Satsuko isn't back yet? Isn't she taking too long?"
"Now that you brought it up, it really has been a while... Maybe she got into a lengthy argument with her parents. I'll go check on her."
Glancing at the supervisor, Kaidou, Haruaki stood up. He originally thought she might nag at him for interrupting his studying but unexpectedly, she turned out to have no reaction.
As soon as he left the living room, he heard tiny chattering from the other end of the corridor. Taking a look in that direction—
"...Satsuko already said, there's no problem at all! Yes... Yeah yeah. So—"
Satsuko's voice on the phone did not sound as cowardly as during her earlier conversation. Haruaki got the sense that she was less reserved when dealing with familiar people. Also, because she was less reserved, she did not need to hide the slight sense of anxiety mixed in her voice. Although it was only natural for her to have this kind of attitude seeing as her parents were on the other side, this stood in stark contrast to her masochistic and cowardly appearance earlier, giving Haruaki a sense of dissonance.
"Yes... Ah. U-Umm, wait a sec!"
Originally talking on the phone, Satsuko discovered someone approaching so she frantically covered the receiver and moved the cellphone from her ear.
"Sorry, did I disturb your call? Because you took so long, I was wondering if you're having some kind of argument with your family."
Haruaki lowered his voice but Satsuko instantly returned to her cowardly voice from before.
"Ah, Satsuko is really sorry... Uh—Umm..."
"In that case, perhaps it might be better if I greet your parents first as the master of the house you're staying at... No, wait a sec, even though I'm the master of the house, hearing a male voice might make them more worried. If your parents need reassuring, let me call Konoha over here to greet her in my place."
"N-No need, it's okay now! Satsuko just got permission! ...Oh no, if you guys talk to mother, she might reveal Satsuko's embarrassing secrets like 'that child was still wetting the bed even after she entered elementary school~'...! So please, Haruaki-san, you guys don't need to trouble yourselves with that, really!"
Haruaki thought to himself, "You already revealed it yourself, so it doesn't matter, right?" However, Satsuko seemed very embarrassed at the thought of letting Haruaki talk to her parents so she hastily pressed the cellphone to her ear again:
"So it's agreed! Thanks a lot!"
Then she hung up. Seeing Satsuko breathe a sigh of relief, Haruaki scratched his head and said:
"Uh... Well, since you've already got your parents' permission, that's wonderful. But is it really okay? Just now, it sounded like you were in some kind of argument with your parents?"
"Ah~ Sorry that you saw an embarrassing scene. Umm, because it was so sudden, Satsuko got scolded a bit, that's all."
That was hardly surprising seeing as a teenaged daughter was suddenly asking to spend the night away from home. Very few parents would actually be pleased, right? Worrying and getting angry about it would be human nature.
But Satsuko relaxed her expression and spoke at this time:
"However, they really gave permission~... This is Satsuko's first time staying out overnight so although mother was angry, she still agreed. She even nagged a lot and said: 'Don't make trouble for others' so Satsuko retorted against her a bit... Ehehe, anyway, it's lucky that mother gave permission."
"Really? This might sound strange coming from me as the person who suggested the stay over, but I think you should apologize to your mother when you go home."
"Satsuko will do that!"
Then the two of them turned around and prepared to return to the living room.
"By the way, you use honorific speech even when talking to your parents?"
"Sorry, it's Satsuko's habit. Is it very weird...?"
"No, there are people like that, there's nothing weird about it. It's just that personally, I could never imagine myself talking to Pops using honorific speech."
"Oh... So what kind of person is Haruaki-san's father like?"
"Eh? Uh—Well, I-I guess all I can say is that he's my bastard Pops..."
Chatting about unimportant topics like this, they returned to the living room and told everyone that she had already obtained permission to stay overnight. Originally worrying about Satsuko's lengthy phone call, Fear held Satsuko's hands tightly and welcomed her once again.
In any case, there was no problem with arrangements for the rest of the night. As for guarding Satsuko starting from tomorrow, coming up with a solution should not be too hard. Basically, the current situation could be summed up as "Okay, with this settled, we can _____ tonight without further worries" except that the blank involved a rather unpleasant activity. This sort of choice really was the worst.
Satsuko's school was also having exams soon, hence the study gathering resumed with her joining in as an additional member. She had described herself as a first-year high school student during her introduction, hence in a certain sense, this counted as rather serendipitous... Seeing her take out textbooks from her bag and staring at them petrified, Haruaki found her position quite similar to Shiraho's.
After the study gathering resumed, Kuroe and Sovereignty helped Fear and Shiraho massage their shoulders for a while before disappearing off somewhere again. Seeing the meaningful glances they exchanged with each other before leaving the living room, Haruaki could not help but suspect some sort of scheming in the air. Hopefully, they were not going to do something disruptive to people's focused studying.
Within the living room, one could hear Kirika patiently teaching Shiraho, Fear arrogantly asking about kanji she did not know, Konoha reminding her to pay attention to her word choice, as well as Fear pouting and starting a dispute with Konoha—Under such conditions, Satsuko suddenly cried out in joy.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing... Satsuko just finds this home so lively..."
"I really don't know if I should call it lively or noisy, but yeah, that's basically the feeling."
"Ahahah. But Satsuko has never gathered in someone's home like this with so many people. As Satsuko told Haruaki-san just now, this is her first time staying overnight away from home... So, it feels very new."
She kept drawing meaningless black circles in her notebook with great fervor and smiled with a hint of loneliness. Fear and Konoha stopped arguing and stared at her with complicated looks on their faces.
Judging from their expressions, they were wary of asking Satsuko something inappropriate. Hence, Haruaki pointed to Fear and the girls' faces with his pencil and deliberately spoke to Satsuko on their behalf:
"...If you find this experience new, then just relax and enjoy it. Although you can't think about fun all the time when studying, at least you can relax and get along with them here."
Satsuko was taken aback with surprise but she instantly smiled and said:
"Yes, Satsuko will do that. Satsuko hopes to become good friends with them..."
Fear also smiled at this moment as though her expression had caused a chain reaction. Nodding as though saying "Leave it to me," she said:
"Yes, building friendly relations with a fellow ally is of course my greatest wish. By the way, Satsuko, I can teach you if you have any questions about English. Feel free to ask as much as you like. Or perhaps, you find it tiring to study in someone else's home? If that's the case, you can take a break."
"Uh—But everyone is studying so hard, if I take a break by myself, it's a bit..."
Just at this moment...
The paper door leading to the veranda was suddenly slid open—
"Hello, everyone, thank you for waiting. As customary, the beautiful cheerleaders have arrived!"
Saying weird things as usual, Kuroe appeared. Gazing blankly, she clapped her tiny hands together loudly in front of Fear and everyone else.
"We have heard everything—Let us handle things here."
"Let you handle things...? What are you going to do?"
"Well, simply stated, I just want to suggest that everyone take this opportunity to rest for a while. A suitable break can extend concentration for longer... There shouldn't be a problem, right? Teacher."
Arms crossed before her chest, Kaidou only glanced with her narrow eyes and consented with a single sentence.
"Yes yes, so!"
Kuroe instantly spun on the spot meaninglessly. Once Kirika and the rest who were dumbfounded by her sudden appearance had turned their attention to her, Kuroe pointed to the other other end of the living room—the entrance by the corridor.
"My bosom buddy Sovey-chan will try her best to perform a live show to help everyone relax. Enter stage~"
"Coming coming~ Everyone, you've worked so hard~"
As the paper door slid open, a maid appeared before everyone's eyes, smiling in an even more laid back manner than Kuroe. She was carrying a tray in her hand with many teacups containing a white liquid.
"Ehehe, you didn't actually need to go out just to get juice—But because I wanted to give everyone a surprise, I didn't say anything... Uh—I've brought specially prepared drinks to help everyone recover from your fatigue! It contains ingredients like yogurt and honey! Please drink these and continue studying hard!"
Instantly, apart from Kaidou and Satsuko, the same formula surfaced in everyone's mind.
Sovereignty + Tray + Unfamiliar house = The Usual Result
This formula embodied the legitimate logic everyone agreed on, naturally—
Sovereignty tripped as her toe got caught on the door frame. The tray flew into the air, sending the teacups flying as well.
Many of the teacups fell down by Sovereignty's feet but a number of them were flying towards the table where Haruaki and the others were sitting. Konoha swiftly caught one barehanded while Fear used both hands to catch two cups that were about to crash into the table. At the same time as those two, Kaidou also took action.
With a sharp breath of exhalation, the color of steel raced instantly as her black hair fluttered behind her. Next, Haruaki was confronted with the sight of Kaidou kneeling forward with the shovel extended, the teacup balanced stably on the tip like a circus act.
As though in mockery of their valiant efforts—
"Oh no! Ah~ As expected, given the luck of someone like Satsuko, this result is only natural—"
"...Thank you, Sovereignty. I'm delighted by your kind intentions... Yes, very delighted indeed..."
The two final cups which no one managed to catch had struck Satsuko and Shiraho directly. Their hair, face and clothes were all drenched soaking wet by the spilled juice.
Shiraho and Sovereignty were no longer present when the living room was finally cleaned up, because they had gone to take a bath. Although Sovereignty did not need a bath and despite Shiraho's look of awkwardness, she could not harden her heart to refuse Sovereignty's tearful plea: "I must apologize to you no matter what, so at least let me help you scrub your back!" Sovereignty had also extended the same offer to the other victim Satsuko but squeezing all three of them in a bathroom would be too cramped. Furthermore, Satsuko refused desperately, saying that "there's no need for you to go that far!" Hence, she went over to use the bathroom at Kuroe's room instead.
Currently, the living room was back to studying mode except for the absence of the bathing group. However, Haruaki keenly detected something peculiar about the mood. Wrong, there was clearly something wrong with this mood.
Whenever Haruaki reached out to pour some juice, Kirika glared viciously at him. Whenever he scratched his head and thought "how do I solve this question~?", Fear would glare with widened eyes and grip her Rubik's cube hard. When Haruaki spontaneously stretched, Konoha stood up and emanated a murderous aura as though warning him "Don't even think of going there!"—The three girls were monitoring his every move.
Ever since Satsuko's arrival, Kaidou's hell guardian mode had become even more intense than when the study gathering first began. In charge of supervising the proceedings, she could not remain silent at the sight of this situation of course.
"Ueno Kirika, you girls are acting very on edge right now. You must concentrate!"
"Yes, but I am concentrating, in fact, I've never concentrated more than now. But I'm sorry to say, this is a very important matter...!"
Kirika spoke with unusual vigor while Fear and Konoha nodded firmly in agreement.
"...Is that so? I have no idea what this matter is, but if you say so, there must be some sort of extenuating circumstances?"
Thus replied the teacher. It was hopeless, Kaidou-sensei was way too oblivious in certain ways. Haruaki gave up on relying on her.
Haruaki was not the only one who felt as though he were sitting on pins and needles. Bored to death because her playmate Sovereignty was not around, Kuroe was feeling the same as she killed time by curling up someone's textbooks.
"Cough cough, I'm feeling thirsty... Let me go to the kitchen."
"Take this juice if you're thirsty. Very well, take a good gulp of that."
"Hmm, Kono-san, you're such a demon... I understand why you're bothered about Haru, but why are you involving me as well?"
"Shiraho-san and the others are guests at our home so there cannot be any lapses in hospitality... In any case, it is absolutely impossible for there to exist people barging into the bathroom for fun or immoral males trying not to miss out on Shiraho-san and others taking a bath in our house. Logically speaking, those kinds of people absolutely cannot exist in this house... Fufufufu!"
Konoha's glasses flashed as she chuckled in a terrifying manner towards everyone present. Haruaki was so frightened, his shoulders shrank together. Why was he distrusted to such an extent?
Whatever, after all, he had no intention of peeking at them in the bath in the first place. I'll just wait here without a fuss until Shiraho and the rest finish their baths. Surely, that'll regain Konoha's trust in me—Just as Haruaki mustered his concentration to get back to studying, Kuroe refused to give up.
"Hmm... Giving up on Sovey-chan's side is a tough choice, but having Sacchi taking a bath here is also a rare occasion—After all, facing each other naked in the bath with nothing to hide is the best way to enhance mutual affection. I've always advocated that."
"Kuroe-san, are you still going on about that? If you barged inside, all you're going to do is grope others. Hence, not allowed."
"Your word choice is too deplorable, I raise my objection. Of course I'm not going to grope, I'll just touch... Very lightly and gently. But also very passionately!"
"Isn't that the same!?"
Fear suddenly looked up and made an "Oh right" kind of expression, gazing at Kuroe as though she had remembered something.
"Enhancing mutual affection... Really? Hmm~ I'd really be at a loss if she keeps making that kind of face all the time. This could very well be a great opportunity..."
Fear murmured to her self then suddenly stood up.
"I just realized I got splashed by the juice just now, so it's sticky unless I wash up. I'm gonna take a bath to rinse myself clean, but I don't wanna use Cow Tits' bathroom that's oozing with a dairy cow's essence—So, Kuroe, lemme borrow your bathroom too. I'll entrust you with the mission of monitoring the shameless brat!"
Without waiting for Kuroe to reply, Fear ran noisily out of the living room. Haruaki and the others exchanged glances and smiled wryly in secret. After all, anyone could tell that Fear had not been splashed by the juice at all.
"Okay, then I'll go help Ficchi..."
"Like I said already, Kuroe-san, you may not go. Speaking of which, packing three people in that bathroom is physically impossible, so please abandon your notions."
"So mean, this is total discrimination—"
Konoha caught Kuroe's collar as though she were capturing a cat. Kirika lightly brought her face close to Haruaki and said:
"...I knew it a long time ago... But Fear-kun really has a kind heart."
"It's not like she isn't going to grope either, but at least it'll be better than Kuroe."
As Haruaki shrugged, he heard the sound of slippers coming from the yard out front.
He understood what Fear was thinking. She must have recalled the lonely expression that Satsuko made when mentioning how new it felt to be gathered with so many people. There was also her wish to become good friends with everyone. Hence, Fear took initiative to reduce their distance and get along harmoniously. It was definitely a good thing.
(...Good luck, Fear. You're in charge of the first step.)
But at the same time...
Haruaki also wished she could apply that kind of initiative towards the teacher as well.
Hence he took a sideways glance at Kaidou.
Looking as though she had not heard Fear, she was simply resting awake with her eyes closed.
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