Chapter 2 - Sunday Is a Good Day for Stalking
One night, an exceptionally somber atmosphere was hanging in the Yachi residence's living room.
Whether Haruaki, Fear or Konoha, all of them were narrowing their eyes as though facing a grave challenge.
There was only one reason, all because of the "enemy" whose imminent arrival was the day after. A difficult opponent who was absolutely impossible to escape from. A formidable foe who would bring unimaginable trouble were one to suffer defeat.
Everyone living in Japan was familiar with the name of this great and powerful enemy, namely—
"Muu— Hey~ How do you pronounce this kanji?"
Frowning while keeping her mechanical pencil clamped between her nose and lips, Fear was clearly troubled while she proudly brought her Modern Japanese textbook before Haruaki. Looking up from his English notebook, Haruaki answered:
"That's pronounced 'senren.' Are you really okay? If you can't even read that word..."
"Compared to knowing how to say things, this is on a different level of difficulty. You're being annoying. Besides, why must Japanese use three different written scripts? Don't you find that too complicated!? Although memorizing it outright can get me a few marks, there are limits, you know!?"
Fear's memory was quite good but still not too skilled in reading and writing. Japanese language class was her weak point and Haruaki could predict a failing grade with substantial certainty. But disregarding that one subject, she did have one subject where she definitely achieved high marks. Since they were having a group study session the day before the exams, Haruaki tried to ask Fear for help.
"Fear, I don't quite get the English composition here. I have trouble with the subjunctive mood."
This resulted in Fear puffing her chest out proudly:
"Hmph hmph~ Shameless brat. You finally want to beg me... Very well, let me teach you! That one is—Umuu, ifIhadmoneyIcouldhaboughta—!"
"Your pronunciation is too good. I can't make out a single word!"
At this moment, the table shook slightly. In other words, as Konoha gazed directly towards Haruaki's hand, her upper body had leaned against the table, displaying enough mass and volume to shake the table. The bulging suppleness yielded in shape. Her braids tickled the back of Haruaki's hand. The side of her face was filled with kindness and tender affection.
"Please ask me, Haruaki-kun. Uh—Is it here? This says... If I had had..."
Konoha carefully instructed Haruaki on the English words one by one. However, Fear apparently could not accept her task being stolen by someone else, hence she pouted angrily and said:
"Hmph, what's with your pronunciation!? I'm dying of laughter there! You Cow Tits, which country do you really plan on using this ludicrous language in?"
"Hmph, we're not tested on pronunciation in the first place so what does it matter? Besides, foreign speech is something that only needs to be used during exams! By the way, people living in this country should place greater importance in Japanese culture rather than foreign languages. For example, memorizing literature of the following type would be only natural! The nightingale is renowned as a bird with wondrous singing, its voice first and foremost, its appearance so elegant and adorable, but it is said that the bird no longer sang once brought into the palace—"
"Another attack of the mysterious incantations? Ooh, it makes my head hurt!"
"Uh—You two, we have less than ten hours until the exam."
The two girls glared at each other while returning to their seats and burying themselves in their textbooks and notes once again. Fear knew her performance in Japanese was uncertain. On the other hand, despite her excellent grades overall, Konoha's serious personality deterred her from taking things lightly. Currently, their top priority was staying focused to study.
Shortly after, Fear sighed as she stared at the textbook, murmuring as though talking to herself:
"Good grief, this is such a pain. I never expected school to be so much harder than I imagined. Is everyone suffering just like me...? However, I get the feeling that Kirika doesn't have such a tough time in her studies."
Still immersed in his notes, Haruaki answered without looking up:
"Right, I guess Class Rep doesn't need to study desperately at the last minute like us? She did mention that she stopped going to cram school recently. But given her prudent and rigorous personality, I'm sure she's been studying dutifully."
"Muu, I'm so jealous. Perhaps it'd be nice to have her join our study gathering for the next round of exams... Rather, speaking of jealous, I should be jealous of Sovereignty instead. Because that girl doesn't need to take exams at all!"
"Based on what you said, wouldn't you need to envy everyone who is not a student?"
Konoha's remark prompted a wry expression from Haruaki as he recalled one of Fear and Konoha's kindred, the maid who held the incomprehensible title of superintendent's secretary's assistant-in-training. That said, she was not always a girl at all times.
At this moment, Fear suddenly cocked her head and said:
"Hmm? Speaking of Sovereignty... What about that girl Shiraho? How does she study?"
The young beauty, Sakuramairi Shiraho, was Sovereignty's lover. Whenever Haruaki encountered her, she either treated him as nonexistent or gave him a vicious scolding accompanied by a cold smile of absolute zero temperature. They had never spoken like normal classmates.
Hence, for Haruaki's group, Fear had asked a most natural question.
Exchanging glances with Konoha, Haruaki cocked his head like Fear and said:
After days of group studying, they finally overcame the challenge of exams, but their hardship was not yet over. Lying in wait for them was the onslaught of wave after wave of graded exam papers.
Then after school once the last exam paper was returned, Haruaki's group walked to the superintendent's office. This was because Fear had proposed with a face filled with exhaustion: "If I don't drink some tea to heal the damage, I won't be able to walk home~"
Due to their personal ties to the superintendent, going to his office for fun was nothing unusual. Naturally, they would still control the time and frequency with care so as not to create trouble for others.
Haruaki arrived at the superintendent's office together with Fear, who was walking dejectedly, as well as Konoha, who had gained a spring in her steps now that she was liberated from the exams. At this moment, the door happened to open from inside. Out walked an ordinary male student. Judging from his indoor shoes, he was a third year student. He departed after bowing politely and glancing at them. How rare to find a student visiting the superintendent's office—thought Haruaki. That said, he was not really in a position to judge others on that point.
In any case, Haruaki's group entered the room as though substituting for the boy.
"Eh... All of you have come, what's the matter?"
"Oh, it's you guys! It's been a while! How did the exams go?"
Inside the superintendent's office was the cool beauty of a secretary—Zenon—accompanied by Sovereignty in her maid outfit as usual. Fear lightly raised a hand and said:
"Nothing much... I failed my Modern and Ancient Japanese. I'm even required to take supplementary lessons tomorrow on Sunday... Sigh—So I wanted to see if there are any tasty snacks and tea over here to help re-energize me."
"Hey Fear! Don't be so direct and tactless! On the other hand, Zenon-san, if you're busy, we'll take our leave... But it's been quite a while since we last chatted with Sovereignty~ If it doesn't bother you, could we stay a while?"
In response to Haruaki, Zenon smiled and said:
"Yes, of course it's not a problem. You don't need to be so polite. After all, the superintendent is not around and the visitor just left... Sovereignty, could you please brew and bring some tea over?"
"...Please calm down in earnest."
As the maid disappeared noisily into the room next door, who knew if she was actually listening. Zenon sighed then asked Haruaki's group to take a seat at the sofa. Everyone sat down and Konoha said:
"By the way, how rare for a student to visit. This is probably the first time I saw one."
"Oh... You mean the boy from just now? He has been coming quite often lately. In principle, we welcome students to the superintendent's office so long as they have any requests or suggestions for the school—But all he has provided are relatively inconsequential opinions such as suggesting changes in the types of flowers planted in the flowerbeds. However, since these kinds of suggestions can be handled simply by responding 'We will consider it,' they could be considered rather easy and effortless."
"I see~ So this kind of neurotic person actually existed in the school..."
Konoha nodded with a sympathetic gaze. Then as everyone started to chat for a while, Sovereignty emerged from the room next door, carrying a tray unsteadily.
Although Haruaki's group cast gentle gazes towards her, they slightly tensed their backs... Just in case she might fall down, sending the tray flying. Naturally, this possibility had already become far less likely through her continued efforts. Currently, the probability was roughly a tossup.
As for today, Fortune seemed to smiling upon them. Despite the dangerous looking process, the airheaded maid finally delivered the tea safely to the table, allowing Haruaki and the rest to breathe a sigh of relief.
Next, everyone began to drink tea together. A while later, someone suddenly knocked. Zenon replied "Please enter."
Originally chatting cheerfully with Fear, Sovereignty stood up with all smiles.
Standing at the doorway was a striking young beauty. The smile on her face disappeared as soon as she spotted Haruaki's group. Frowning with displeasure, she said:
"Thinking you were about to get off work, I came to pick you up... What are these people doing here?"
"Ehehe, they're having tea. Shiraho, why don't you come in and sit down for a while? Come on in. I'll brew you some tea immediately."
Shiraho scowled for quite a while then sighed as though she gave up on something. Entering, she took a seat on the sofa—Naturally, she picked the furthest spot away from Haruaki's group and sat down on the very edge.
Just as Sovereignty promised, she immediately returned from the room next door. This time, the tossup turned out favorably as well, what a miracle.
"Here's your tea."
"Thank you... Phew."
"Shiraho, are you tired?"
Nodding, Shiraho answered "yes" then spoke without acknowledging the existence of Haruaki and the rest:
"Sovereignty... About tomorrow, you mentioned that you wanted to go shopping?"
"Y-Yes! I've got something I want to buy!"
Shiraho sighed and took a sip of the freshly brewed tea. Then as though resolving herself—
"Sorry, I can't accompany you now."
Shiraho slowly turned her gaze away and whispered softly:
"Sorry, I couldn't hear you. Could you repeat that?"
"Basically, it's that..."
After a few seconds, Shiraho murmured something unknown—Then with great embarrassment, she finally uttered a simple term.
"Oh... I-I see."
Sovereignty shrugged and seemed to be at a loss on how to react. Next to her, Fear put down her teacup and suddenly stood up. Supporting herself with both hands on the table, she leaned forward and said:
"Hoho, I get it now! Shiraho, you need to take supplementary lessons as well! I see, I see!"
"Hey... It's none of your business! Why are you getting so happy about it!?"
"That's not what I'm happy about. How should I put this? Doesn't it feel like we're comrades!? Oh right, which subject did you fail? These guys here are so mean. They didn't fail anything. As for Taizou and Kana, they have to take supplementary lessons for English and mathematics, so there's no overlap with me. I was just worrying if there'd be anyone I knew in the same subject as my supplementary lessons. So, did you fail Modern Japanese? Or Ancient? Hurry now and tell me!"
Shiraho bit her lip and remained silent. Her clenched fists resting on her thighs, she blushed slightly as she glared at Fear. Then—
"Hmm? I didn't catch that."
Just as Fear leaned further forward, Shiraho looked up forcefully and yelled in self-abandonment:
"All of them, okay! Excuse me! Anyone got a problem with that!?"
Only the sound of people sipping tea could be heard in the room. Shiraho was originally exuding a murderous aura that threatened to kill anyone who dared to speak, regardless who they were. Finally, she calmed down.
"...So that's the situation. Hence, I'm very sorry about tomorrow... How about we go together the next holiday?"
"Y-Yeah—Though I was hoping to buy it as soon as possible..."
Although Sovereignty murmured a few words, she quickly came to understand the difficulties Shiraho faced. Hence, she smiled innocently as she gazed at Shiraho's face from the side:
"However, this can't be helped. Shiraho, your supplementary lessons are more important... Ehehe, it's really okay."
While watching Sovereignty's brave expression, Shiraho halted in her original movements. She was not glaring at Sovereignty. Even a bystander like Haruaki could tell that Shiraho was most likely suppressing the urge to embrace her tightly.
"Although I've no idea what you want to buy... It's something that you wish to purchase tomorrow if possible, right?"
"Eh? Yeah, that's right."
"Is it something you can buy on your own?"
"I think it's quite easy to buy... But I'd like to shop for other stuff as well on the way. Also, going shopping by myself is no fun at all. However, I don't really mind. I'll just wait for you at home tomorrow until you return."
"But I do mind. Seeing you smiling in that way, arghh... I can't stand it—I admit defeat to you!"
She put down her empty teacup on the tray with a clatter. Next, Shiraho glared viciously at Haruaki who had been observing their conversation as a mere bystander. Pulling Haruaki's arm forcefully, she—
"Come over here, human!"
"Woah? W-What are you doing!?"
Haruaki was pulled directly to a corner of the room by Shiraho. With their backs to everyone else, they were standing shoulder to shoulder. Shiraho's beautiful and elegant face immediately drew up close to him, startling Haruaki.
"...As much as I am extremely reluctant, it can't be helped. You shall serve as her escort!"
"Eh...? What you mean is that I'll accompany Sovereignty to go shopping tomorrow?"
"Duh, can there be any other interpretation? I can't accompany her to go shopping tomorrow but I don't want her hard-earned holiday to go to waste. Since I cannot let her go shopping alone without worrying, I have no choice but to find someone else to accompany her. Any questions?"
"I was planning on doing a large pile of accumulated laundry tomorrow..."
"Oh really? I'm most grateful that you would agree to my request so readily."
"Uh, isn't there something strange with this exchange of dialogue?"
"What are you talking about? In any case, please take careful note of three rules, each of which I've already prepared a most wonderful punishment, so please prepare yourself. First of all, you must obey that child's orders absolutely. Should you dare oppose her will, I shall kill you. Secondly, do not lay your hands on that child, not even a finger. Should you dare touch her, you shall lose your life. Third of all, you are forbidden from ogling that child with your perverted gaze. Should you dare ogle her, I shall end your life."
"Aren't all these punishments the same..."
"Because each rule concerns a crime of the highest offense, this sort of punishment is only natural."
Putting those unreasonable death sentences aside, Haruaki could see that his accompanying Sovereignty was already decided for him. Oh~ Farewell, my leisurely laundry time.
"All you need to do is follow her obediently like a knight. I do have concerns... Although it's possible that my worries may be excessive."
Shiraho spoke while her eyes suggested that she was recalling something. However, Haruaki could not quite understand her words.
"Sigh... Since you already asked, it's not like I have a choice, right? On the other hand, are you really okay with it?"
Shiraho smiled tenderly.
"Do you really consider yourself attractive enough to cause any cracks to come between us? No matter how high your self-esteem, do know your place, human... Also..."
No longer whispering in secrecy, Shiraho looked back, turning her head of beautiful black hair towards Haruaki. Looking completely proud, she finally murmured:
"All I wish is for that child to remain ever smiling for eternity. Nothing more than that."
The next day, it was Sunday morning.
Fear left the house only minutes after Haruaki had headed off for the meeting place. Naturally, she was dressed in her school uniform and even carried her schoolbag that contained stationery to use in her supplementary lessons.
Outside the house, just as she took a step towards the right, she stopped then crossed her arms before her chest to ponder "Hmm"—her entire brow was furrowed—Finally, she nodded as though she had committed to some sort of decision.
Just as she glared furiously and turned right to a large and angry step—
"School is in the opposite direction, Fear-san."
Leaving the house last, Konoha was staring coldly at Fear. Startled and panicking, Fear met gazes with her.
"What about you? Didn't you say you had to work at the bookshop today? Even if you sprinted now, you're not gonna make it, right?"
Confronted with Fear's cold stare in return, it was Konoha's turn to display slight panic. After staring at each other for a while—
"...By the way, I seem to have caught a cold."
"...What a coincidence, me too. So I had to cancel my part-time job at short notice."
"I really can't get to school but lying down at home isn't making me better. That's why I'm going in this direction. How should I say this? Oh right, I think the power of Feng Shui will heal me."
"What a coincidence, me too."
"So, it can't be helped..."
"That's right, this cannot be avoided at all..."
The two girls nodded slowly. What their exchanged gazes confirmed was their mutual relationship as accomplices. Indeed, just for today. As much as they rubbed each other the wrong way, they both shared a goal necessitating mutual assistance.
Hence, after the two of them reached out simultaneously and shook hands to seal a definite agreement of secrecy—
They ran towards downtown where the excessively nice guy and the maid had agreed to meet, instead of the school or the shopping street where the bookshop was located.
Leaning against the big clock in front of the train station, Haruaki did not wait long before Sovereignty walked over from the station.
"Good morning—! Did you wait long?"
"N-No, not at all."
Haruaki was stammering a bit due to the refreshing sight of Sovereignty in casual clothing. Her miniskirt and striking color coordination suited her lively personality quite well. Perhaps to accommodate the autumn weather that was still quite warm, the collar and neckline of her clothing was wide open, causing Haruaki to feel a bit embarrassed, unsure where to direct his gaze.
"That's good... Eheheh. But I'm really sorry about today! Forcing you to accompany me on a Sunday."
Sovereignty leaned forward slightly as though inviting him to look towards her. This movement caused the sight of her chest to become even more dangerous. Haruaki had no choice but to divert his gaze and scratch his head while saying:
"I-It's okay, really~ After all, cleaning and laundry can be done any time. Besides, going shopping once in a while is not bad at all."
"That's true too. I was quite surprised in the beginning too, but since it's Shiraho's arrangement for my sake after all, I must enjoy myself thoroughly! This is also my first time going out to have fun with someone apart from Shiraho!"
Although calling it "Shiraho's arrangement" was a bit strange... Whatever, since they were already here, there was nothing more to complain about.
"Say, I don't really know the shops very well. If you want to have fun, I think that Fear or Konoha would do a better job—putting aside the fact that Fear needs to attend supplementary lessons just like Shiraho, I never expected that Konoha would need to work part-time today as well."
"Hmm... Somehow I feel a bit sorry for the two of them."
"However, it can't be helped. If there's a chance next time, you three should pick a date to go out and have fun together. That would make up for today's regrets, right?"
Haruaki proposed his little idea but Sovereignty simply smiled back in a polite and ambiguous manner, murmuring:
"Ahaha... I don't think that will really make up for much..."
"Anyway, let's put that aside for now. Standing here talking won't achieve anything, so we'd better get going. What are you thinking of buying?"
"Ufufu, that's a secret. I've decided to save my main goal for last, so let's just walk around first! This is a rare opportunity!"
"Following obediently like a knight huh... Is that it? I understand, Your Highness the princess."
Then the two of them walked side by side, towards the bustling streets.
"Those two... seem quite friendly... with each other... F-Fufu, fufufufufufu!"
"Don't you find their shoulders too close together~? Ufufufufu!"
Hiding in the bushes to spy on Haruaki and Sovereignty, Fear and Konoha displayed twitching smiles on their face. Whenever they saw their quarry move, they would move at high speed in a half crouching manner like ninjas or soldiers then take cover again behind another object. They completely ignored the dubious looks that bystanders were giving them.
"Oh... Hold on, Fear-san."
"What now? We're gonna lose them if we don't hurry... Hmm?"
Konoha pulled Fear's sleeve. Wonder what was the matter, Fear followed her gaze. Halfway along their line of sight towards Haruaki and Sovereignty, there was an extremely suspicious figure. Hiding behind a vending machine, a girl was furtively peeking ahead. The bizarreness of the giant pair of shades on her face only served to draw even more unwanted attention.
Fear and Konoha exchanged a glance then quietly approached the girl's back—
"Kyah!? It's you... two, why...!?"
It turned out to be Shiraho, who was so startled that her shoulder bumped into the vending machine.
"What are you doing?"
"W-What do you mean, what am I doing...?"
"Please be honest. Depending on the situation, perhaps we will assist you."
Fear and Konoha kept staring straight at her. Soon enough, Shiraho turned her face to the side.
"Well... Before Sovereignty left the house, I was originally intending to go attend supplementary lessons at school dutifully. But once she departed, I suddenly became very worried—By the time I regained my senses, I was already here—Hey wait! Aren't you supposed to be taking supplementary lessons too? Why are you here!?"
Silently, Fear extended her hand as though seeking for allies. Gazing into Shiraho's eyes, she nodded. Konoha also nodded.
After several seconds, Shiraho nodded as well.
Then slowly, she reached out and shook Fear's hand. Konoha also extended her hand and the three girls stacked their hands together, palms facing downward.
"If I'm spotted, Haruaki will be angry to find out I skipped my supplementary lessons. If you're spotted, Sovereignty will get mad for the same reason. As for Cow Tits, Haruaki will be angry to find out she skipped out on work. Therefore, our fates are as one."
"In any case, we must operate in secret—Although it's a mission fraught with challenges, so long as the three of us cooperate wholeheartedly, there is nothing we cannot accomplish."
"...How truly incredible. Only now do I find the two of you honest and reliable."
As soon as they withdrew their hands from the pile, the trio instantly resumed their surveillance stance, pressed against the vending machine. Haruaki and Sovereignty were chatting amiably while walking ahead casually.
"Look at the shameless brat's idiotic expression. I strongly predict that he'll do something shameless...!"
"Also, Sovereignty-san is too unguarded. Rather, she is the very embodiment of cluelessness. I would not be surprised if anything were to happen eventually."
"But simply observing secretly would be quite meaningless. What should we do?"
"Isn't it obvious? As soon as any shameless behavior is about to happen, we must take all necessary precautions to prevent it. Of course, we must do it without them noticing."
"Is that achievable?"
"Rather than predict, it's more a matter of imagination... Muu, they've entered the park!"
Luckily, there were many trees in the large park. While circling behind trees to hide, they moved to positions where they could observe Haruaki and Sovereignty. Since it was Sunday, there were all sorts of people at the park, such as family members having fun in harmony, kids playing soccer happily, old people sunbathing, as well as a few vendors...
"Oh no! I-I think something dangerous is about to happen!"
"Ah! Look over there, Sovereignty-san seems to be pointing somewhere!"
Fear was making the most of her imagination while following Konoha's directions to shift her gaze. Sovereignty was pointing at an ice-cream vendor. At this moment, a thought flashed through her mind with great alarm.
"Woah... I can foresee it, I can foresee it! After buying ice-cream, Sovereignty will end up in an embarrassing state as usual with melted ice-cream... Dripped on her chest!"
"Frantically trying to wipe it clean, further indecent developments will occur...!"
"No way, that must be prevented at all costs!"
"Of course. Great, I've thought of a plan to stop it! Follow me!"
The plan was very simple.
Basically, they were going to infiltrate the ice-cream stand.
...And threaten the owner to refuse the sale.
"...Strange...? Why do I... suddenly... get the feeling that we're doing something way out of line...?"
Crouching in the stand, Konoha murmured as she massaged her temples. Shiraho also murmured: "...What a coincidence, I get the same feeling too." Just like the other two girls, Fear was also crouching beneath the counter, but—
"Listen to me carefully. When those two come, just say 'the ice-cream's sold out.' If you dare call for help... You should know the consequences, right?"
"Y-Yes. I know...!"
Fear kept poking the male owner in the butt with her massive drill. Although they had subdued the shopkeeper with speed rivaling a SWAT team's, meaning that their faces should not have been spotted—How should one put this...? Was this morally acceptable?
"Oh dear, let's not be too concerned for now. Just let it go first. Everything is trivial in the face of a crisis. Although I feel a bit sorry for Sovereignty-san... I hope she can endure this hardship and go without ice-cream for today."
"O-Of course. Compared to having that child's skin exposed to the human's perverted ogling, the difference in importance is as disparate as heaven and earth. It's a severe crime punishable by death."
While listening to Shiraho, Konoha slowly peered out from the counter top to check out the situation outside.
"Let's fill our stomachs first! Hurry now—!"
Sovereignty jogged leisurely while Haruaki chased after her with a wry smile.
Just as the trio predicted, they were slowly approaching the ice-cream stand—
Then they walked past it.
"Found it found it! That's the shawarma I've always wanted to try out!"
Shawarma was a Mediterranean style of cooking that involved roasting meat on a rotating spit and carving slices off to serve and eat.
How did this option suddenly appear?
Greatly surprised, Konoha slowly looked back to find Shiraho expressionless while Fear was staring in dumbfounded amazement. Nevertheless, the trio simultaneously tensed their expressions and understood what they needed to do next.
Then with a serious expression, Konoha nodded silently to convey her thoughts to the other two—
"Uh—Excuse me... May I move now...? W-Well, it's also fine if you still want me to stay still. Please forgive me, spare my life—!"
Ignoring the shopkeeper's pitiful pleas, the trio prepared to flee.
"Eh—So it turns out the meat is eaten by wrapping it with bread? Looks very tasty."
"Oh, let's go over to the benches over there to sit down and eat—"
There were many crowds because it was Sunday. Almost all the proper seats were taken but luckily there was still an empty bench for Haruaki and Sovereignty to sit. As Sovereignty happily giggled "ehehe" without particular meaning, Haruaki exchanged a shy smile with her and began to take a large bite out of the newly bought shawarma.
"Mmm mmm.... Ah, this is delicious—!"
"Oh~ This is not bad. The saltiness is just right."
The pure taste of meat gradually expanded inside the mouth with just a single bite. This was probably a case of delicious food being delicious without requiring particular thought or evaluation... Simple it may be, it was an important truth. Haruaki decided to keep this truth close to heart and avoid getting conceited just because he was well-versed in a few cooking techniques.
"By the way, the two of you live alone in that house, right? How do you take care of meals?"
"Hmm—Well, we buy ready-made dishes half the time while we cook together for the remainder. Since neither of us are familiar with cooking, we pretty much feel our way through while looking at cookbooks. But it's really fun cooking together! Putting taste aside!"
"R-Really...? But the most important thing is you're happy, I guess. Anyway, please be careful with the flame. After all, you're, uh—How should I put it? Quite..."
"Hmm—After all, I know I'm basically a klutz. Take Shiraho for example, she keeps warning 'dangerous' to me and doesn't allow me to touch the knives or the stove."
Sovereignty pouted in a joking manner but immediately resumed her smile.
"Oh right! Haruaki-kun, you're quite good at cooking, right? Maybe next time you could teach us!"
"Sure, I don't mind. But you aside, I don't really think she'll listen to me obediently..."
Dice it? Y-You're very annoying! How about I start practicing with your fingers, human! —Haruaki imagined such scenes would become commonplace while reminding himself to be prepared.
Just as Haruaki smiled wryly in silence and was about to take another bite from the shawarma he was holding—
A slight impact shook his right hand, causing the shawarma to fly out of his grasp.
"Phew~ I'm full now... Eh, Haruaki-kun!?"
Entering her view was the sight of scattering meat and shawarma bread flying, as well as—
A small stone, flying in the air after bouncing off the target it had struck.
Haruaki did not know what had happened. The next thing he saw was Sovereignty reacting with superhuman speed.
Yelling "Heya!", Sovereignty caught the shawarma bread with her right hand that was free now that she had finished eating her own portion. Things did not end there. She also reached out with her left and caught the scattering pieces of meat with her fingertips—
"Wow—! I succeeded, I caught everything safely! I think my reflexes are really amazing!"
"Woah! You don't really need to catch the meat with your bare hands so desperately!"
"But food shouldn't be wasted~ My body acted on its own."
"That's a noble sentiment. But come on, who was that? Which child was throwing stones for fun? It's dangerous."
Looking at where the stone had come flying, Haruaki could not find anyone resembling a suspect. Perhaps he fled already... Were the parents around, Haruaki really wished they would scold the child properly.
"Luckily, it didn't hit you. Anyway, here you go."
Sovereignty handed the bread she had caught back to Haruaki, who accepted it with gratitude. However—
"Also, this meat... It'll still be a mess even if I try to put it back into the bread. So here, open up and say ah—"
Smiling radiantly, Sovereignty extended her hand in front of Haruaki. Impossible... Sovereignty, do you mean to perform that legendary act? That super embarrassing act.
"Uh—I don't really mind if you put the meat back in..."
"Eh—? You don't think that'll be gross? It's okay, I like doing this. I feed Shiraho like this all the time."
Just as Haruaki was about to object and say "the problem is that I'm not Shiraho," he saw her suddenly frowning sadly.
"...No? You find my fingers squeezing the meat too dirty? In that case, forget it..."
"N-No, that's not what I mean at all."
Now that she said that, it became harder to refuse?
Haruaki's gaze drifted for quite a while but it seemed like he could not escape from this. Surrendering in self-abandonment, thinking "Who cares!" He said:
"Th-Then carry on, I guess. Feed me quickly."
"I may? Okay, say ah—"
Sovereignty smiled happily and very readily performed a service that was, in a certain sense, quite fitting for her identity as a maid. Her gentle fingers reached slightly into Haruaki's mouth.
To be honest, the warmth of her fingertips felt far more substantial than the meat that was about to cool off.
"I-I won't forgive him...!"
Snapping branches in the bush where they were concealed, Shiraho groaned with murder written on her face. Fear concurred with her completely.
"Damn shameless brat, going this far right off the bat... Fufufufu!"
"Feeding Haruaki-kun... I can't believe she fed Haruaki-kun! Hmph, I'm so jealous!"
Murmuring angrily for a reason that differed from the other two, Konoha suddenly recovered her sanity and said:
"By the way, Fear-san, you're not the one who threw the stone?"
"No, it wasn't me... But if he keeps doing shameless things, I'll throw one eventually! Although I've no idea which kid is the culprit, it saved me a lot of trouble!"
At this moment, Shiraho narrowed her eyes with a strangely serious expression, staring straight at where the stone had flown. But as soon as she noticed Fear's gaze, she resumed her previous expression as though nothing had happened. Glancing at Haruaki and Sovereignty, she said:
"They look like they're about to leave the park."
"Okay, let's give chase. Next time, we must do everything possible to prevent shamelessness from happening!"
Just as the girls were about to continue following—Konoha spoke up seriously:
"Please hold on! Before that, something needs to be done!"
"W-What is it?"
With speed like a hunting hound assaulting its prey, Konoha jumped out of the bushes and dashed in the direction opposite to where Haruaki and Sovereignty were heading. Her murderous intent could even be felt. Wondering if an enemy had shown up, Fear frantically stood up and reached for the toy cube kept in her pocket.
At this moment, Konoha's eyes flashed sharply from behind her glasses as she faced off with the target—
"I'll have one, no, two of those! If possible, please put in extra meat!"
Konoha's instincts as a meat lover were completely displayed in front of the shawarma stand without pretense.
Haruaki and Sovereignty proceeded to the large department store in front of the station. The two of them were checking out a clothing store inside. As usual, Fear and company monitored them while hiding on the side. Haruaki and Sovereignty were barely within the trio's earshot.
"Let's see... Wow, that's so expensive! Girls' clothes are really quite expensive~ You can actually stomach these prices?"
"Hmm—Today I'm just going to try them out. But the next time my salary is paid out, perhaps I really might!"
"Oh right, you are receiving a salary after all... Oh, lemme go to the washroom. You'll still be in this section, right?"
"Yeah, I'll probably be trying on clothes when you return. Just call to me when you're back—"
Hence, Haruaki left the clothing section. Fear and her companions brought their heads together to strategize.
"Indeed, this place seems likely for shameless acts to happen again."
"...I remember you saying the same thing back at the ice-cream stand."
"Shut up, Meat Girl! Why don't you just monopolize all the meat from that vendor and be happy by yourself!? To think you'd casually fill your own stomach without concern for others. Don't you understand the situation at all?"
"Ooh... B-But it couldn't be helped. Because it really looked too delicious..."
Konoha stammered in embarrassment. On the other hand, Shiraho shrugged helplessly and sighed, saying:
"Let's stop arguing about that for now. So, what do you expect to happen? That said~ I can pretty much guess... Thrice a week, that child falls over because she did not put her skirt on properly."
"That's really useful information. It really raises the chances of an incident... Trying on clothes takes place over there with the curtains, right? That's too dangerous. She might go something like 'I can't fasten this~' and pull Haruaki inside, or, if like Shiraho described, she could accidentally fall over while she's changing and end up rushing outside in her underwear. If Haruaki were present..."
"That would be the worst. Even a death sentence would hardly pacify my wrath. He must suffer torture and punishment that puts an end to the cycle of reincarnation...!"
"Th-Then what should we do now?"
Fear once again examined the interior of the store. Sovereignty was standing at a display rack by the wall, comparing clothing. The fitting area had three stalls and all the curtains were open. In other words, they were all vacant. Fear began to giggle.
"I feel sorry for Sovereignty but... We have no choice but to make her give up trying on those clothes."
There were three stalls in the fitting area and they had three members in the group.
The numbers were just right, were they not?
"Eh, they're all occupied?"
Standing before the stalls, Sovereignty tilted her head in puzzlement while recalling that they had all been empty just moments ago. How strange~
"Hmm... Then I'll go over to have another look for more clothes? Yes yes, I've wanted to find a unisex hat for quite some time already—"
Then she quickly turned her back to the fitting area and returned to the interior of the store while humming happily.
Of course, she did not mind whoever was inside the stalls.
After going to the washroom, Haruaki returned to the store. Looking inside, he could not find Sovereignty. She probably went to try on clothing?
The three stalls in the fitting area were all occupied... Although it was quite embarrassing, Haruaki saw no other course of action apart from calling out. He started with the one on the left.
"C-Cough cough... You've got the wrong one, try another... No wait, please try another one."
Perhaps due to a cold, the answering voice was very hoarse. Despite how bizarre and out of place the voice sounded, Haruaki decided to forget about it and try the next one. This time, he stood in front of the middle stall.
"Excuse me, anyone there?"
"U-Umm—Ohoho, it's occupied. S-Sorry..."
A fake voice that was obviously put on deliberately. Still scratching his head at the sense of dissonance, Haruaki remained puzzled, but since he had confirmed that Sovereignty was not inside, he finally turned to look at the stall on the right. Since she was not in the previous two, she must be in this one.
Then just as he was about to call out lightly to the curtain—Something completely unexpected happened.
Someone pushed him hard from behind.
Due to the suddenness, Haruaki could not help but topple forward—falling towards the curtain of the stall.
Perhaps his forced attempt at stabilizing himself was not quite right, Haruaki ended up pulling the curtain off from its rail. Along with the detached curtain, Haruaki fell towards the inside of the stall as though he were trying to push down the occupant. The end result was completely different from his expectations. Sovereignty was not inside.
"Wawa... S-Sorry, I'm really sorry!"
Haruaki's face turned white as a ghost. Although the scream just now sounded familiar, now was not the time to be paying attention to that. Furthermore, due to being covered by the curtain, he could not see the other person's face—But that was not important either.
"I'm really sorry, I didn't do it on purpose!"
"Y-You're such a pervert! Pervert! Pervert! Pervert!"
"I'm going to back off immediately... Gwah! P-Please don't get violent—!"
Haruaki frantically tried to get up but the person beneath the curtain kept struggling, making it even harder for him to free himself. Finally with much difficulty, he managed to make his upper body upright, but in the next instant—
A completely merciless slap came flying from under the curtain, striking Haruaki directly on the cheek.
Due to the excessive force of the impact, Haruaki flew straight out of the fitting area stall just as he was trying to stand up. Not far away, a mannequin happened to block his path—
"Woah, oh no..."
Due to having lost balance, the mannequin ended up falling unsteadily. Worse yet, there was a customer crouching before a display rack with her back towards the situation. Just as she finished comparing clothes and was about to stand up—
"Yes, this is the one! Okay~ Lemme go try it on... Yawawa—!"
The mannequin fell on her from behind and pinned her to the floor. Naturally, that person turned out to be Sovereignty.
"Ehhhh? W-Who is it? Is this a sudden act of courtship? Umm, I'm very happy about your feelings but I'm already taken. So umm... Sorry—! Help—!"
Pinned down and struggling by waving her arms and legs, Sovereignty did not notice it was a mannequin. Perhaps embarrassed by the situation, she kept her eyes shut tightly. Due to her desperate struggle, her skirt was curled up to her thigh. When she accidentally touched the mannequin's hand with her body, she even moaned seductively, saying "Mmm! Don't... Let go now..."
(Woah... This makes it very difficult to rescue her!)
Watching this scene blankly at a loss, Haruaki suddenly noticed that all the fitting room stalls had emptied behind him. Putting aside the girl who had just slapped him, even the other two were gone.
"I was originally planning to apologize properly... By the way, who pushed me?"
Although Haruaki did not think that he was deliberately pushed towards the stall, the person who collided into him should have said sorry. How rude.
After a big sigh, Haruaki began to head over to rescue Sovereignty. By this point, there was probably no need to regret missing the chance to apologize to the girl in the fitting area.
This was because what followed was that he had to apologize profusely to the people in the store, so many times that he became sick and tired of it.
"Tsk, looks like I underestimated Haruaki's skills in shamelessness...! Who would have thought that even though Sovereignty clearly wasn't inside, he'd still intrude!"
"One false move and it would have ended up as a criminal act! I must punish him properly once we get back home...!"
"I'm the biggest victim here. As soon as I imagine what if I were actually changing back then, the terror chills me to the very bone...!"
Taking advantage of the turmoil to escape the store, Fear's trio regrouped, wiping sweat off their brows as they returned to their task of surveillance.
Haruaki and Sovereignty were desperately apologizing to the sales staff and finally managed to obtain their forgiveness. Miraculously, the only harm done was the detached curtain and the toppled mannequin. Had any merchandise been damaged, the store probably would not have let them off so leniently. As much as this mess was blown far bigger than imagined... Haruaki did not think that he was to blame, probably.
Walking out of the store, Haruaki and Sovereignty scratched their heads as they continued on their way.
"...How should I say this? It feels like this commotion got blown way out of proportion. Maybe we haven't kept our cool enough thus far—Should we first observe for a while? Let's try hard to resist our urge to prevent indecent events."
"Yes... Well, resisting a little should be okay. Believing in others is important too. Sovereignty can't possibly run into indecent mishaps one after another without end, right?"
"Normally speaking, believing in others should come first, right...? Oh well, whatever."
Hence, the three girls decided to change their approach and observe before intervening. Then they restarted their tailing operation.
Still oblivious to Fear and the others, Haruaki and Sovereignty were casually browsing through the department store. At the home appliance corner, Haruaki looked at the latest washing machine model while going "Hmm... Wouldn't life be a lot easier with these types of functions~ I'd really love that." This comment, atypical of high school boys, caused Sovereignty to giggle spontaneously. Other than that, they also visited the CD shop to check out prices without buying anything and tried on matching moustaches at a party goods outlet.
The most problematic person, Sovereignty, did not get into any further mishaps, causing the trio to spend their time simply watching the two of them shopping. Logically speaking, this should be a satisfactory result but for some reason, there was an inexplicable sense of sadness, as though isolated in a different world.
"What the heck... Where there's a will, there's really a way..."
As though trying to chew apart the sense of discomfort on the spot, Fear murmured. However, the situation deteriorated in a nosedive at this moment.
Someone was picking a fight with Haruaki and Sovereignty.
"Yo! It's you! You're the bastard who's disrespectin' our gang, ain'tcha? How dare you!?"
The sudden voice caused Haruaki to look back. Standing before his eyes were a couple of men who looked like gangsters. The intimidating sight caused Haruaki to back away slightly and reply:
"U-Umm—Excuse me, perhaps you've mistaken me for someone else...?"
"Stop playin' dumb, foo'! ...As if anyone's mistaken! Didn't you just act all cocky and shit, tryin' to pick a fight with us? I ain't gonna take this lyin' down like some chicken shit mofo. Anyway, git yo' ass right over here!"
Without waiting for Haruaki's explanation, a man grabbed his arm. Haruaki had no idea where they intend to take him but surely it was not going to be a happy place. Reflexively, he stood his ground and secured his stance. Just as the gangsters clicked their tongues with displeasure—
"You guys—! He already said you mistook him for someone else, violence is not allowed—!"
Using both hands, Sovereignty shoved the man on his chest. From her perspective, this was probably a light "push"—But since she was no ordinary human, the man was sent flying a couple meters by her push, falling flat on the ground.
"Tsk... Y-You damn kid...!"
"Th-This isn't good! I've no idea what's going on, but let's run away first!"
Haruaki pulled Sovereignty's hand and ran. Naturally, the men chased after them with great alarm on their faces. One of them even used his cellphone to call for reinforcements—
"W-What did we do?"
"Apart from pushing that guy over just now, nothing at all!"
The two of them ran desperately inside the department store. Going upstairs would only end up getting stuck in the crowd, so they decided to run downstairs. Although they were just talking about leaving the place, never did they expect they would be rushing to the exit at full speed like this. Dashing down the stairs, they switched to the escalator as soon as they discovered an ambush, then traversed the next floor to find another staircase to descend.
"Very good, we're almost there...!"
"Hold it right there, bastard!"
"Woah~ They're chasing from that side too—!?"
The stairs to the ground level were just before their eyes but a group of murderous thugs were appearing from the side. Would it be possible to reach the stairs before the pursuers caught them? After all, it was so close!
But just at that moment, something fell over right by the gangsters' feet. This was a statue of a white-haired, white-suited elderly gentleman that originally stood before a shop's entrance. The men were tripped over as a result.
"Thank you, Colonel Sanders...!"
It almost seemed as though someone had timed perfectly to kick the statue flying, but there was no time to question the matter. Haruaki and Sovereignty rushed down the stairs and dashed outside without waiting for the automatic doors to open fully.
Thinking they were free at last, it turned out to be short-lived joy because a noisy clatter of footsteps instantly came from behind. Those gangsters still had not give up yet. Haruaki really wished they could devote some of that vigor towards contributing to society.
"Haruaki-kun, this way! Let's hide first!"
Sovereignty was pointing to a narrow gap between two buildings, less than a meter wide. Hiding into there with their clothes rubbing against the walls, however—
"Gah, this is too narrow! Let's hide somewhere else—"
"We have no choice now that we've reached this point—! S-Squeeze in, squeeze in!"
"No way, it's really not working!"
Although they did everything to squeeze in, it really was quite cramped. At this moment, the idea of entering sequentially suddenly popped up in Haruaki's mind had he known earlier, but it was already too late at this point. No matter what—
"Damn it, where those mofos escape?"
"Split up and chase them down! You guys go that way!"
Although Haruaki could catch slight glimpses of the group of men, fortunately, they did not look into the gap. Their clattering footsteps could be heard receding into the distance.
"Phew... Who knows what'll happen next...?"
"No idea—They'll probably give up after a while. Let's endure this a bit longer."
Just as Haruaki replied "okay" simply, he noticed the current situation.
Packed like sardines.
That was the only description Haruaki could think of. After all, since the two of them had entered this narrow gap simultaneously, this was hardly unexpected. But their bodies were packed tightly together, almost as one.
Their faces were in extremely close proximity. As for their lower bodies, the four legs were crossed together. Simply turning his body would mean touching Sovereignty's thigh through her skirt. The situation with their upper bodies was even worse. A certain volume possessed by Sovereignty—soft, warm and elastic—was being flattened between their two bodies—
Sovereignty smiled demurely and looked up at Haruaki.
"Umm... S-Sorry, this is getting in the way, right? A little smaller would be better..."
"N-No, nothing of that—sort. Rather, how should I say this? Whether big or small, it's just a personal characteristic, at least I'm not going to criticize anyone because of that... Wait a sec, I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore, uh—"
Seeing Haruaki rambling incomprehensibly, Sovereignty laughed lightly and said:
"Ahaha, I wasn't talking about personal preferences but the problem of size instead. But I see now. I've gained some valuable information—Yes, this feels quite fair to me. Excellent."
"Oh, pretend I never said anything just now. Just pretend and forget about it. Uh—What I mean is that there'd be more space if it were smaller, making things easier. Basically that."
"Oh okay~ That's true, but what on earth..."
At this moment, Haruaki recalled a fact. Like Fear and the others, Sovereignty was a little different from ordinary people. Hence—in her case, the size of her chest could be adjusted.
"I was thinking 'it'd be nice if things became less tight~' But then there's a problem."
"Uh— ...Growing in size is easier but shrinking is a bit harder. Umm, because I can't do it simply by yelling 'transform' to get an instant change."
Haruaki met gazes with Sovereignty whose cheeks were blushing and—
"...Physical stimulation is needed. And right now, my hands can't really move so Haruaki-kun, I can only ask you to help me rub—"
What kind of nonsense was this child talking about?
"I-I don't mind! I don't find the current posture uncomfortable, so there's no problem at all! Okay, let's just gossip while waiting for things to calm down!"
"Is it really okay? I really hope so..."
In any case, Sovereignty was apparently persuaded. Although this did not change the fact that those soft things were pressing against him, Haruaki tried his hardest to not think about that area and quietly waited for time to pass. After a while, they could no longer feel any signs of those men out on the streets.
"How troubling. It should be fine to go outside now, right?"
"Yeah. Well, the final and main thing I wanted to buy, can we go get it now? It's not located downtown, so I think those people won't find us there."
"Where do you want to go?"
"Ehehe... Actually, it's a Shinto shrine."
"I'd never guess that your main goal would be that weird a place. I don't mind at all."
Hence, the two of them prepared to exit the gap. Although Haruaki tried to slide his back out, the friction with the wall was hurting like hell. He tried to withdraw his leg but for some reason, seductive moans of "Ah..." could be heard. Even if he wanted to move his hands, there was nothing to grab onto.
"I'm sorry, could you exit first?"
"Heave-ho... N-No good. I can't move."
"...I can't move either."
This meant there was a huge problem.
Neither of them could get out.
Silently, they looked at each other for a while.
"Looks like there's no choice but to... rub?"
Fear was pondering two problems. The first concerned the two people who were stuck in a gap, packed tightly in quite a predicament. Fear could not help but feel an urge to grab Haruaki's hand and pull him out by force. Although this could very likely cause him great pain from the friction, it would be just right as punishment. But for now, she must suppress the impulse first.
Then the other problem was—
"But it's too weird no matter what. Those two definitely did not do anything to provoke those hoodlums. But if they really recognized the wrong person, their behavior seemed too serious for that... Can we really be sure that Haruaki and Sovereignty hadn't said anything that disrespected those guys, or done something that shamed them in some way?"
Fear murmured while hiding behind a pharmacy's frog. Konoha nodded, very much in agreement.
"That's right... Upon further thought, take that stone in the park, I think it's appearance was too much of a coincidence. Then there's the intrusion into the fitting stall. There could very well be some other cause instead of Haruaki-kun's own intent."
"Hmm, that almost sounds like someone is targeting Haruaki. Come to think of it... Back when the stone was thrown at Haruaki, I noticed a certain person acting rather suspiciously. As for the person, I have some ideas but I dunno if I'm just imagining things. Shiraho, what do you think?"
Konoha stared at Shiraho. Although she remained expressionless for a while, her eyes began to waver slightly—Watching Haruaki and Sovereignty escape from the gap with much difficulty, she finally sighed as though surrendering.
"It looks like my ominous feeling was completely on mark."
"What do you mean by that?"
"It was probably not long before the midterms. I keep feeling this strange gaze, such as during school or when I went shopping... But only when I'm together with Sovereignty, not when I'm by myself. I originally thought I was imagining things, but judging from what's happened, that's probably not the case."
Closing her eyes, she exhaled again.
Next, when Shiraho opened her eyes again, her face displayed nothing except her usual cold hostility.
"To be frank, it's probably... a stalker. The target is not me but Sovereignty."
The shrine was located on a little hill somewhere, quite some distance away from the commercial district. Unlike the bustling urban area earlier, it was filled with peace and tranquility.
"Did you come here to pay homage to the shrine?"
"Mmmfufu—I don't think it really counts as one—"
Passing through the ancient torii, they entered the desolate shrine. While following behind Sovereignty who was checking out the surroundings, Haruaki stepped into the shrine's confines. The gravel crunched underfoot, producing a most pleasing sound to the ears.
Sovereignty's footsteps crunched. Haruaki's footsteps also crunched.
Then someone's footsteps behind them—made crunching noises a beat slower.
Haruaki looked back to find a boy with a shoulder bag. His appearance lacked notable characteristics but somehow Haruaki got the feeling he had seen him somewhere before—Or maybe not—?
(Oh, he's the guy at the superintendent's office yesterday...?)
Haruaki recalled him. The upperclassman who had brushed past them for an instant. In other words, he was the student whom Zenon had complained about frequent visits to the office despite a clear lack of important things to talk about.
"Eh? You're... Uh—"
Sovereignty tilted her head in puzzlement as she spoke. The other person interrupted her. His furious eyes glared directly at Haruaki as he spoke:
"Why are you dating this kind of guy!? To think I pay so much attention to you!"
Sovereignty tilted her head even further but Haruaki finally understood. He understood the simple words the boy had uttered. This guy seemed to be quite dangerous.
"To think I've always paid attention to you. No matter whether you're out shopping or at school, I've always watched you... I even ran all the way to the superintendent's office in order to see you!"
"Y-You've always paid attention to me, why?"
"Isn't that obvious? Because I love you! I love you..."
He laughed with a slightly dazed expression then he said forcefully:
"...I love you in your maid outfit!"
Indeed, this was also quite dangerous in a certain sense. And once again, Haruaki understood those simple words of his. Furthermore, more than fearing him, Haruaki felt that it would be more correct to regard him with eyes of pity.
"But you ended up with this kind of boy, this kind of boy... Unforgivable! You've not only made a mistake, but I also need to punish that boy no matter what!"
"Punish...? ...C-Could it be that those accidents earlier were all of your doing?"
"That's right. That kind of guy deserves to have his skull cracked by a stone, deserves to be arrested by the police as a sexual predator who intrudes into fitting rooms, deserves to be abducted by gangsters... Haha, I told the gangsters roaming the streets every bad thing I could come up with and that the one looking down on their gang was you. Very clever of me, right?"
Thinking "Umm, that's not really something worth being proud about," Haruaki held his tongue. After all, he was still a little apprehensive about the slowly approaching guy.
"However, I can't stand it anymore. To think he would take to such... such a cramped space to engage in lewdness... Get away from him now. I shall personally bring down the hammer of justice upon that boy!"
"N-No, stop it! If you don't stop this, I'm very sorry but I'll have no choice but to stop you!"
"Don't worry, Haruaki-kun. It would be bad if he's carrying some kind of bladed weapon."
Sovereignty stepped forward and entered a stance, fists mildly clenched. Her body differed somewhat from a normal human's. But if one had to explain further, if the boy truly loved Sovereignty, he probably would not want to hurt her for real—Hence, there was no reason for her to lose. Although Haruaki felt ashamed for being protected by a girl, it would be better to let her handle the current situation, right?
Just as Haruaki was thinking that, the boy cackled malevolently and said:
"Then it can't be helped—Watch this!"
He took a certain object from his shoulder bag. Then using it as a shield, he raised it in front of his body while extending a boxcutter's blade to press against it. So that turned out to be the hostage. He was treating that as a hostage. Indeed—
He was treating a maid outfit, fluttering in the air, as a hostage.
At a loss for quite a while, Sovereignty turned her head back stiffly and asked:
"Uh... May I go ahead and beat him up."
"Be my guest."
Haruaki answered immediately, but—
"Hey, wait! This is your work outfit, in other words, it's your way of life! Are you fine with seeing harm come to your meaning of life? I've always felt that you were more suited to maid outfits than anyone else, the maid among maids... Your entire existence devoted to the concept of maids, you can't possibly care nothing about this outfit! Is your love for maids only this shallow!?"
"A-Ahhh! Love...! That's right, I-I-I am very proud of the job of maids... Umm, are you trying to confirm that love of mine...?"
"Indeed that's right! Okay, then are you still going to punch me?"
"Urggghh... No! I.. can't!"
"Excuse me—The two of you—?"
Feeling exasperated by their idiotic dialogue, Haruaki tried to interject but was ignored. "What should I do?" He thought.
Treating the maid outfit as a hostage, the boy was slowly approaching.
Making a combat stance, gnashing her teeth at the sight before her was Sovereignty.
The seemingly tense face off, but was actually nothing of that sort, lasted a minute or so, then—
Haruaki suddenly knew that the standoff was about to end. However—
It was not because Sovereignty and the boy did anything different.
Rather, this was because Haruaki saw a familiar drill thrusting out from the thicket behind the boy.
...Several seconds passed.
The poor stalker was subdued to the ground, trembling without saying a word.
Rather than piercing with the drill, Fear had casually swept it sideways to strike the boy squarely in the flank. Using some kind of aikido technique, Konoha had effortlessly thrown the guy. The two girls had now stopped attacking and were watching the scene before them with expressions that were difficult to describe. This was because only one person was assaulting the boy with increasing intensity—namely, Shiraho.
"Contemptible! Contemptible... What on earth... are you... thinking!? To dare make a move on that child, did you think you could get away scot-free? You... Trash, insect, even lower than humans...!"
Arms crossed before her chest, she kept stepping on the boy's backside repeatedly. For some reason, her face was locked into a super furious sneer. There was nothing more terrifying than that.
"Say... something, okay... Hey, are you listening? Could it be that you haven't had enough of me stepping on you? You wish for me to step harder? You even want to be flattened pitifully like a bug? You wish to be further trampled to such a sad state that you become trash impossible to categorize, is that it? Then it cannot be helped. Take this! Take this! Fufu, ufufu...!"
"E-Excuse me, Shiraho-san...?"
"I think we should end things here... Probably better that way...?"
After Konoha and Fear spoke, Shiraho slowly looked up. Locked on by her ice-cold smile, Fear was so startled that her shoulders shook. Shiraho said:
"Hey, lend that to me."
"Y-You mean this perforator here? N-No, no way! I think something terrifying might happen...!"
Fear frantically hid the drill behind her back. Shiraho's ice-cold smile finally disappeared at this time. Finding things no fun at all, she made a nasal sound and said:
Next, Shiraho began to look around as though searching for something. Arms crossed before her chest, she continued to keep one foot stepping on the boy's rear end. After spotting a certain object, she murmured as though to herself:
"...That stone lion... I wonder if it could be moved from its pedestal..."
What did she intend to do by moving the stone lion?
Terrified to the bottom of their hearts, Haruaki's group began to try their best to dissuade Shiraho.
"By the way, why are you here, Shiraho? Don't you have supplementary lessons?"
"Eh? Umm... Umm..."
"I want to ask Fear the same question. Speaking of which, Konoha, didn't you say you were working today?"
Haruaki spoke with a cold gaze. Fear and Konoha whimpered together and avoided eye contact. The aura of a guilty conscience was exuding from their entire being.
"L-Let's not worry about that. Anyway, I'm sorry, Sovereignty. I should have discovered the existence of this guy earlier."
Shiraho clearly wanted to change the subject. Sovereignty shook her head and said:
"No, I'm to blame for not noticing. Shiraho, you don't need to apologize."
"Sigh... Had I known from the start, I'd never have let you go shopping outside. However, I did have this ominous feeling, which is why I asked this human to stay by your side just in case."
Haruaki recalled what happened at the superintendent's office. Prompted by her, he was reminded of how there was something off about Shiraho's behavior from the start. So that was why she had, in her own words, asked him to take on the role of a knight... But in terms of results, all Haruaki managed to do was act as bait to draw out the stalker.
"On the other hand, why did you come to a shrine? There should be something you want to buy, right?"
"Oh right! Wait for me a bit, okay!?"
Sovereignty rushed ahead. Rather than the shrine's main hall, she was running towards the vendor area on the side. Loudly yelling "Excuse me~!" to call out people from the shrine, she bought something and ran back—
"Here, take this. A present for you, Shiraho."
Handed over to Shiraho was a talisman bearing the words "academic accomplishment." Surprised, Shiraho kept staring at the talisman and Sovereignty.
"Umm... I... wanted to help cheer you on, Shiraho. Seeing you work so hard to study before the exams, but the results didn't turn out very well, you seem quite frustrated, so I..."
"Sorry, all I can do is... this kind of small stuff. Shiraho, since you rarely attended school lessons in the past, maybe you reached a bottleneck because you're unable to adjust to school life... But I will stay by your side. Do you understand? I will cheer for you, so please continue to do your best."
Instantly, Shiraho embraced Sovereignty tightly without saying a word. Startled into exclaiming "Wah!", Sovereignty immediately smiled and hugged Shiraho in return.
A most heartwarming—
Watching this unfold, Haruaki could not help but smile while stroking Fear's head beside him.
"Hey, Haruaki! What are you doing? I'll curse you!"
"Looks like when the end of term exams roll around, apart from Class Rep, we'll have another companion joining us."
"Aha, yes. The more the better. Looks like studying as a group will become more and more fun."
Konoha made a gentle smile.
"Hmph... However, this also can't be helped... Let my English ability pour forth into the brave soul who failed every single subject. But of course, I demand rice crackers in return."
Fear nodded proudly. Although it was a bit difficult, Haruaki could hear some sort of anticipation hidden in her words.
"The word 'failed' reminds of something. Okay, Fear, tell me about your supplementary lessons."
"No way? Could~ it~ be~ that you actually skipped your lessons? That's going way out of line, right? If you really skipped, then I really must raise my voice and do some scolding—"
"And seriously, Konoha, since you're together with her, why didn't you stop her? You have to force her even if coercion is required, otherwise, that's not in her best interests. And the same goes for you, why didn't you go to work? If you take time off without a legitimate reason, you're causing trouble for the shopkeeper!"
"N-No umm... Th-There's many complicated reasons going on here..."
Unsure where to direct their gazes, Fear and Konoha suddenly looked at each other and nodded. Coughing at the same time to clear their throats, they spoke up:
"No, there's something more important than that. I demand answers from you!"
"That's right! Put your hand on your heart and recall carefully today, what have you been doing all day!?"
"What—? How could you two interrogate me instead?"
"Shut up with the nonsense! Or else I'll curse you! Listen to me carefully, from the first moment when you met up, you've been making shameless faces and laughing idiotically. We felt shameful just from the sight of it. I wouldn't be surprised if you were arrested for it—"
"You went 'Ah—' and had her feed you, right? You even licked her fingers, right? You even charged into the fitting area stall and hugged Shiraho-san, right? Then the two of you even squeezed into a narrow space and rubbed back and forth—"
"I'd like to make many objections, but it's totally unfair that you're ganging up on me, two against one!"
Haruaki turned his head to seek help, meeting gazes with Sovereignty and Shiraho who were still tightly embraced together. Sovereignty was smiling happily. In a rare moment, Shiraho was also giggling with laughter.
Next, she began to speak up as though going "you leave me no choice."
Ahhh~ She's willing to help me. That's right, I was trying hard to be a knight. I did quite well today, I'd say. Hence, she must be acknowledging my efforts by extending a helping hand willingly—
That was what Haruaki thought.
Shiraho's calm expression felt almost like a smile from the Virgin Mary.
Haruaki heard her use an excessively gentle voice:
"By the way, there's a bug that needs to be squashed even more urgently than this stalker. Say, you girls over there, could you help me move that stone lion?"
Translator's Notes and References
- Frog: one of the ways Japan's fascination with 3D characters manifests itself is through mascots commonly found outside pharmacies. Kowa Pharmaceuticals uses a frog mascot.
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