Chapter 4 - School☆Wars ~Ningyouhara Kuroe Is Not Bored~
A few days after the cultural festival ended, it was an ordinary morning.
"Then we're off to school—"
Time to head to school. Yachi Haruaki casually stepped out of the entryway as usual. Naturally, his group of cohabitants also followed behind him.
"I'm going to school—Oh, today's weather is really nice."
"Yawn... I'm off to school—"
Konoha swayed her braids while Fear yawned. Their voices could be heard coming from the entryway. Usually, someone would respond "Take care" from within the house, but today, their remarks were just a customary ritual made to an empty house. Instead—
"Yes, let's get going—Next, my long and dangerous strolling route will begin..."
"Clearly, it's neither long nor dangerous. On the other hand, you're leaving the house with us? It feels like it's been a while since the last time we all left together in the morning."
Always sleepy-eyed, Kuroe spoke as she skipped out of the entryway. Normally, Kuroe would hang out at home until it was almost time for her beauty parlor, the Dan-no-ura, to open for business. But occasionally, she would leave early like today. Making use of her stroll, she would walk together with Haruaki's group along the route to school before heading off to the shopping street.
However, since everyone was leaving the house, the home's doors and windows had to be locked, naturally. After making sure the entryway and the main door was locked, they set off. Everyone walked along the usual path to school.
Everything went as usual without any differences, but before long, Haruaki noticed something. It felt like the pedestrians on the street were staring at them from time to time, even more than usual.
(Hmm... I guess we're even more conspicuous than usual... Isn't that so?)
Haruaki sneaked a peek behind him. After some thought, he instantly knew that people's stares were justified. Although he was already used to it—First of all, Konoha possessed an extremely striking and voluptuous figure, one that did not seem like a high school student's. And of course, Fear attracted attention through her appearance. Furthermore, joining them today was an especially petite and sleepy-eyed prepubescent girl, dressed in casual clothing with her long, black hair swaying. Whether each girl's personal characteristics or considered collectively as a group, it was impossible not to draw people's attention.
Just at this moment, Haruaki heard the three girls converse.
"Oh right, by the way, Kuroe, I've always wanted to ask you this question. Did you ever study in school?"
"Oh, nope. After all, I'm already used to the human world, so I opened up a shop first—But I have been to school before. It was back when Haru was a middle schooler."
"...I don't get what you mean."
"What do you mean, you went to middle school before... You simply donned a uniform and sneaked in just for fun, didn't you? And you even caused a lot of trouble for others."
"That's right, that's right, causing others trouble is not good—But I remember you coming along with me, Kono-san."
"Hmm... Umm, indeed that's right... B-But how should I put this? I was overcome with worry about Haruaki-kun's situation in school, so... That's why I did it, out of my sense of duty as his legal guardian!"
Haruaki sighed as he heard Konoha's hastily fabricated excuse. He recalled those memories unintentionally... Back then, the school was really plunged into chaos.
"Hmm. Middle school. I'm a little envious of that."
"Really? After graduating from middle school, there's high school. I don't think you need to envy that as a high school student, Ficchi. Instead, I should be envying you—"
"Oh~ Why's that?"
"Because it's high school, which is on a completely different level from middle school in all meanings of the word. Ahhh~ High school, a secret garden where boys and girls ascend to the stage of adulthood—Surely adult events are taking place in there day and night. After school in the classroom, behind the school building, inside the gym storage...!"
"Adult events and the gym storage...? I don't really get it."
The subject seemed to be getting weird. Haruaki looked back while he walked and saw Kuroe bringing her lips to Fear's ear and chattering.
"Then I'll only give some hints... Mats... Jumping ropes... And also, vaulting boxes... Whisper whisper..."
"K-Kuroe-san! What bizarre things are you recklessly teaching her? Isn't this far too indecent!?"
Flushed red in the face, Konoha grabbed Kuroe's collar. Still sleepy-eyed, Kuroe remarked "I'm getting scolded by Kono-san—" For some reason, Haruaki got the impression that she was enjoying herself. Meanwhile, Fear pouted and complained:
"Hey Cow Tits! Stop interfering! I didn't get to hear anything at all!"
"It's better that you don't!"
"Hey, you girls, we're about to reach school. Also, there will be more students gradually, so please, don't do anything so embarrassing..."
Finally, Haruaki could not bear to watch any longer. Just as he narrowed his eyes at the three girls and warned them—
"What are you talking about? The only one embarrassing herself is this girl. More specifically, showing off those twisted lumps of meat is very embarrassing!"
"T-Twisted? You're finally starting the personal attacks? This alone I cannot let slide! Listen to me very carefully. I am very confident in my shape and figure...!"
The two girls started an even more embarrassing argument. Since this was business as usual, Haruaki pretended to be strangers with them and continued on his way. His destination, the school building had already entered into view.
"I'm so jealous of you, Haru. With two girls to accompany you to school, you definitely won't feel bored at all, right? I knew it, high school also seems quite fun—"
Walking beside him imperceptibly, Kuroe looked up and threw him a glance as she spoke. Normally, she always wore a blank expression but right now, she was smiling faintly.
"...Sometimes, I do wonder about 'living a peaceful and boring life'..."
Haruaki slumped his shoulders helplessly and could only answer in an exhausted voice.
"Then I'll be on my way—"
"Yes~ Today is a full day of classes. You need to put in effort at work too."
"You must work hard, Kuroe-san."
Waving her hand, Kuroe watched as Haruaki's group entered the school building.
Then she was left alone at the school gates. She could still hear students chattering on their way to school, "Wow~ That petite little girl is so adorable—" Kuroe originally planned to act even cuter and perhaps receive a candy for her efforts, but regrettably, it was almost time for her to get to the shopping street in preparation for opening her shop. Just as she turned around reluctantly, a student couple brushed past her.
"By the way, did you finish the Ancient Japanese handout?"
"Not yet, because last night's television was too good. Let me copy off you later, okay?"
"You leave me no choice... Don't tell anyone, okay?"
"Awesome~ That's why I love you. You're always so gentle."
"J-Jeez~ Don't go saying that openly in this kind of place..."
This couple could probably be aptly described as "harmonious." Holding hands, they looked at each other and smiled. The boy had a head of long, brown hair, his uniform was unkempt while there were many silver accessories on his fingers and arms. The schoolbag in his hand also had quite a few crosses and doll key chains hanging off it. Overall, he had a lot of random bling but it did not change the fact that he was handsome. On the other hand, the girl had medium-length hair and glasses without any outstanding characteristics. Compared to him, she was quite ordinary.
Kuroe halted, her eyes following the couple as they moved. No, to be more precise, she was following the boy with her gaze.
She could not tear her eyes off him, completely captivated.
A certain impulse surged in her heart.
The instant she saw the other party, she became extremely concerned.
She wanted to talk to him. Ahhh, however—Even she found this quite strange herself. Perhaps she was just imagining things. No, nevertheless, the feeling flowing out of her heart was—
While her heart was stuck in turmoil, the couple had already walked into the school building. As soon as the boy went out of sight, Kuroe closed her eyes and sighed lightly.
"What should I do...?"
After asking herself, she slowly opened her eyes. By then, she had already found the answer.
Were she to ignore it—If she ignored this impulse, surely...
She was going to regret it.
Kuroe once again turned her back to the school gates and started walking without changing her destination of the shopping street.
But as soon as she reached her shop, what she needed to do had changed.
Instead of preparing to open up...
She felt she must first put up a "Temporarily Closed for Today" notice.
It was currently the break after the first period. Haruaki and the others were chatting near their seats as usual. Kana had just gone to the washroom so the people present were Fear, Taizou and Kirika. They were currently discussing the topic of "was the world history teacher, Konishi-sensei, wearing a wig?" Naturally, the most enthusiastic participant was Taizou, the one who had raised the issue.
"Definitely without a doubt. No matter what, it's too unnatural. The way the hair sticks up completely goes against the laws of physics!"
"Umuu umuu. I totally agree with you, Taizou."
"Discussing other people's physical characteristics like this isn't very appropriate... How absolutely ridiculous. But just for the record, let me offer my view as well... Is that a hair transplant?"
"Ohoh~ Immediately after you say it's an inappropriate discussion, even you are chiming in, Class Rep."
"I-I get bothered by certain things too, it can't be helped! Basically, it's his hairline! That hairline!"
Just at that moment, Kana returned to the classroom, holding Kuroe by the hand.
"I've returned—what what, a wig? You're talking about wigs? Oh how could you leave me out, Kana the wig researcher, that'd really bother me—There's no need for me to hide it. I'm the hidden mastermind who orchestrated the vice-principal's coming out at the full school assembly, resulting in the 'Diffuse Reflection Incident of May' that caused his popularity to explode—"
"Oh~ You're back? So you research wigs? I'm hearing it for the first time. So..."
Hearing Kana talk in her lively tone of voice, Haruaki turned to look at her, but the scene before his eyes filled his mind with extreme dissonance. Struck with puzzlement, Haruaki turned to to look again, as though twisting his neck off.
"Then I came at the perfect moment. You can count on me on anything related to hair... By these observant eyes of mine, I shall discern if the hair is real or fake with a single glance—"
"Kuroe? W-Why are you here?"
Holding her by the hand, Kana said "I ran into her on my way back from the washroom—" Then she started twirling Kuroe around as though they were ball dancing. Kuroe displayed her usual eyes of sleepiness while nodding and spinning. Naturally, she was wearing the school uniform, probably the smallest size available... Nevertheless, it was still not an exact fit for Kuroe's petite physique and the size was still slightly larger.
"Seriously, what are you doing here? And what's with that uniform? Did you ask Sovereignty to lend you one?"
"No, I did consider it, but the size probably won't fit. This came from the laundry shopkeeper's collection."
"Hold it right there, you people. None of that matters. The important thing is why are you at school—Ugh!?"
The classmates had discovered Kuroe's presence by now and were gathering around their seats. Whether boys or girls, all of them were saying with brightly glimmering eyes:
"Wow~ Wow~! She's that girl, right? The one who cheered for us during the sports festival! So cute~!"
"That's right, I was trying to find out about her back then! She's Haruaki's distant relative, currently staying at his house. Despite how she looks, she's actually a twenty-year-old hairstylist! Calling her a girl would be a bit too rude!"
"Were there flyers earlier? It's that shop. Uh—Remember? I even went there for a hair cut last month—"
"Remember that my family runs a chiropractic massage shop at the shopping street? Only when talking about her does my stubborn old dad make eyes like a fanboy who keeps emphasizing how cute she is. It's creepy, super creepy...!"
"Okay~ Everybody line up, line up first. One question at a time! But I hope you won't demand autographs!"
"Taizou, you're really in the way! I can't see her beautiful appearance!"
Haruaki could not help but recall the first time Fear came to school... Nothing was more noisy than this kind of affair.
In any case, he needed to find out what was happening exactly. Thinking "what a ruckus~", Haruaki approached the leisurely Kuroe, intending to question her properly. However, Kuroe grabbed his hand instead and said:
"Well~ I need to explain to you first so let's go somewhere quiet."
"It's great that you'll explain it to me, hey... Don't drag me..."
"Ficchi, I leave the rest to you! Answer whatever questions they have, even about us taking baths together!"
"Hey, how do expect me to handle things if you just toss me a hot potato like that!? Take me with you—Uwah!"
"Taking baths? Fear-chan, you must explain in detail about that!"
"Boys, back off, all of you! Anyway, please tell us about how you care for your beautiful hair!"
Kuroe was probably using Fear as a distraction. When the classmates all swarmed over Fear, Kuroe used the chance to squirm through the crowd and leave the classroom. Held by the hand, Haruaki had no choice but to follow.
Kuroe ran along the corridor and brought them to a corner of the school building. Haruaki was thinking she wanted to talk here but she ended up just looking around.
"Hmm~ Let's go in."
"Wha? Go in where... H-Hey!"
The place where Kuroe forcefully shoved Haruaki was a cleaning equipment closet at the end of the hallway. Due to the suddenness of it, Haruaki was unable to resist. His view was instantly plunged into darkness then he heard the steel door grating as it closed shut. It was very cramped inside and Haruaki had one foot in a bucket while he could feel a broom handle against his back. Then standing in front of him was Kuroe in school uniform. Her petite and soft body was pressed tightly against him. A fragrance, strong enough to ward off the smell of wipe cloths permeating this space, was exuding from her hair that was stimulating the tip of his nose all this time.
"Hey, what on earth do you want!?"
"Okay okay, calm down. Essentially, I'm an outsider, so I don't really want to be seen by teachers."
"Th-Then don't come to school in the first place...! Back to the issue, why are you here? What about work?"
"The shop is taking a break today. Because there's something more important... I need you to help me with something, Haru."
Wrapped around Haruaki's waist, Kuroe's arms exerted slightly more force. Her tone of voice sounded serious. Hence, Haruaki understood that Kuroe did not come to school simply for fun.
Frowning mildly, Haruaki looked down in the dark space to see Kuroe's head.
"...I'll listen to what you have to say first. What could actually need my help and be more important than work?"
"I want to... find... someone... Someone from this school. I know what he looks like but not his name."
"Looking for someone huh... Then why do you want to find him?"
Kuroe paused for a few seconds as though pondering something.
Then she slowly looked up and Haruaki heard—
"Uh... Love at first sight?"
What a shocking statement. It was quite concerning how she tilted her head slightly and even used an interrogative subtly. But no matter what, the statement was very shocking indeed.
The two of them stared at each other in silence.
From outside the cleaning equipment closet, the bell rang to signal the end of the break.
At this moment, the question surfacing in Haruaki's mind was "You're not going to ask me to skip class and help you right now, are you?" However, he did not say it out loud. Since he already knew the answer, there was no need to.
...Because Kuroe's slender arms were wrapped tightly around Haruaki's waist as though implying "don't even think of leaving unless you agree to my request."
Fear was thinking to herself: completely unbelievable.
During second period, the English leader was teaching the class. Skilled in English to begin with, Fear basically had nothing to learn from class. While tapping her notebook impatiently with her mechanical pencil, Fear shifted her gaze.
The neighboring seat was still empty. Haruaki—as well as Kuroe who had appeared in school uniform for some reason—had disappeared during break without returning. Where had the two of them run off to? What were they doing? All mysteries.
(No, wait a sec?)
She suddenly stopped the mechanical pencil and recalled the conversation on the way to school.
(Kuroe... That's right, she seems to be quite attracted to high school life. As for why she's attracted, I don't really know but she mentioned something about adult events. Also judging from Cow Tits' uptight look, it seems to involve shameless things. In other words—)
The computer in her brain began to crank out an answer.
Kuroe and Haruaki together.
A rare visit to high school. A wish to experience adult events in the high school context.
Two people playing shameless games together?
Fear knocked her chair over and stood up all at once. No way, that was unacceptable. After all, shamelessness was shamelessness. She could not turn a blind eye, even for Kuroe. Currently, the two of them must be cooped up somewhere like the gym storage or something...
(Ohoh... Mats and jumping ropes, and... Vaulting boxes, even...!)
The two of them were definitely practicing front handsprings, right? They were even laughing while counting their double jumps, right? Ahhh~ Even if it's the vaulting box, the two of them were surely trying out some kind of unimaginable jumping maneuver. That behavior was definitely beyond her comprehension, yet carrying scary and shameless implications...!
At this moment, Fear noticed that all eyes were drawn to her in the classroom. Oh right, class was still in progress.
"Excuse me... Cubrick-san? I-Is there anything wrong...? Umm, for someone like you who is native to an English speaking country, the teacher's pronunciation might be off... Uh—"
Seeing the English teacher speaking timidly, Fear decided she was backed into a corner. She had no choice but to steel her heart and try out that method. Namely, the great trick of "skipping class by pretending to be ill"!
Even if it was her first time skipping class, there was nothing to be afraid of. Although she had never gotten sick, that was not an issue either. She had witnessed many students heading to the infirmary halfway through a period, so all she needed to do was imitate them.
Hence, she began to search her memories, recalling the way girl classmates left the room during lessons. The most common illness was the one called a flu, right? And they would mention something about a fever... Then say they felt dizzy and hoped the teacher could let them rest in the infirmary and that they could make their way over on their own.
Quoting them directly might be too obvious, so she probably needed to edit the excuse a bit, like making subtle changes to the phrasing and maybe even the sequence as well. Hmm... Fever definitely means that the body feels hot—
Thinking "Okay!", Fear nodded.
Then in a voice loud enough to resound throughout the entire classroom, she yelled out her symptoms in a lively and forceful manner.
"Teacher! Umm... I am currently feeling hot all over, how should I put it? I feel very agitated inside. I think I need to rest on a bed in the infirmary, may I?"
Everyone in the classroom stared at her in dumbfounded astonishment. Perhaps due to excessive editing, perhaps some part became unnatural after all...
However, seeing that the teacher did not say anything, he was probably going to help smooth things out and explain that Fear still had not grasped Japanese completely.
Hence, of course, the teacher allowed her to rest at the infirmary. However, Fear felt that the teacher was making a stiff face, exuding an aura of surrendering that said "too lazy to make a snide response." She was definitely overthinking things.
Feigning illness so successfully on her first try, Fear left the classroom, greatly pleased with herself.
She even thought that her acting skills were amazing.
In order to search for Kuroe and Haruaki, Fear began to walk through the empty corridors while lessons were in progress. Immediately, she ran into a familiar face but instead of the people she was looking for, it was a girl whom she did not quite wish to meet.
Coming out from the girls' washroom, Konoha frowned and glared at Fear. Of course, not to be outdone, Fear glared back at her.
"What are you doing? It's currently class time."
"I should say the same for you, right?"
"I am simply coming out of the washroom, so there's nothing unaccountable about it."
"Yeah, then hurry and return to the classroom."
"Unfortunately, my class is having a self-study session, so a brief chat is well within acceptable bounds. On the other hand, your class should be having a lesson taught by a teacher, right?"
Fear's eyes seemed to say "could it be that she figured out I'm pretending to be ill?" That would be bad. Instantly, she desperately racked her brain—Rather than escalating the argument and risk getting taken back to the classroom, she decided it would be better to recruit her as an accomplice. Kuroe and Haruaki might not be in the gym storage, so having another person to search would help. Although Fear hated getting help from Konoha, she decided to tolerate her as a necessary cost.
"Wait, Cow Tits, listen to me. Actually..."
Fear started explaining to Konoha about Kuroe's visit to school, interlaced with her own imaginings.
One minute later—
Konoha stared in wide-eyed astonishment from behind her glasses, collapsing into a sitting position on the floor.
"A-Ahhhh! In the gym storage... Using the vaulting box... Opening and closing...!"
Her face went pale. Even though Fear could hear her murmuring, she was unable to make out what Konoha was imagining. In any case, it must have been shameless stuff.
"I-I must stay calm... No matter what, that kind of behavior should... Ahhh~ That's right. Normally speaking, it's an impossible possibility... But considering Kuroe-san, if Kuroe-san is the one who came, let's prepare for the worst before taking action... No, however...!"
"I don't know what you're thinking about, but anyway, I've told you what happened. The only thing I've got to add is this: 'in fact, Kuroe and Haruaki are skipping class together'—This undeniable truth. What you do is up to you, bye."
Judging from the way things looked, Konoha was not going to bring her back to the classroom. Hence, Fear walked past her and began to move through the corridor. Along the empty corridor, the footsteps of her indoor shoes could be heard.
The same kind of sound immediately chased after her from behind.
"On to the next class. Is he there? If not—"
"...P-Please, could you try not to move..."
Feeling the weight on his shoulders—or rather, the soft sensation of thighs against his cheeks—Haruaki groaned softly.
They were in the corridor. Although he had no choice but to search through the students in the classrooms, opening doors to peep was a bit dangerous. Any amount of noise would probably draw the attention of the entire class—Hence, Haruaki was forced to have Kuroe ride on his shoulders like this. In this manner, Kuroe was able to peer inside the classroom through the ventilation window above. Haruaki kept getting the feeling that he had once experienced the same hell between thighs during the sports festival as well.
But there were still differences compared to last time. During the sports festival, Kuroe was in a cheerleading outfit with bloomers underneath but right now, she was in uniform. Fluttering over his head currently was probably her skirt hem? Then against the back of his head was—No way, stop thinking about it any further.
Think of something else. Of course, there was Kuroe's purpose this time.
She mentioned love at first sight. On further thought, Haruaki had never heard Kuroe talk about her love life at all. Jokes were aplenty—But accompanied by concrete action like this? It was really the first time.
But the first thing that came to Haruaki's mind was that there were many problems. Kuroe's situation was unlike a normal human's. Furthermore, her appearance was like this.
But at the same time, perhaps there was no actual problem. Putting her origins aside, Kuroe was currently no different from human. Putting appearance aside, her social status was that of a twenty-year-old hairstylist, a member of the workforce. Haruaki thought to himself: "Oh~ right, I don't have the right to make any objections." If she wanted to pursue someone romantically, he had to respect her decision. Probably.
Even so, Haruaki still kept feeling uncomfortable in his heart. It resembled unrest or anxiety, an emotion that also felt like fear. Then there was a kind of... loneliness. He did not know why. No idea at all.
But back to the subject at hand, was Kuroe serious?
Haruaki looked up, trying to check out her expression. But in that instant—
"Wah... Haru, you're such a perv. You're the one who shouldn't move recklessly."
When looking up, due to changing the angle of the back of his head, it caused a certain spot to enter an awkward situation. Frantically, he looked down at his feet.
"F-Found him yet?"
"Hmm—Not this class either, let's try the next one."
Kuroe was impossible to read as usual, simply doing whatever she wanted with a blank expression. That was why Haruaki did not dare to ask her. Despite the questions he had, he did not voice them. What did she intend to do after finding the boy? Confess to him? Then—
While he pondered over these matters, a voice came from the side.
"Hmm? Hey, what are you two doing? It's currently class time!"
A middle aged teacher was over there, probably passing by coincidentally. He was the world history teacher for Haruaki's class—namely, the very Konishi-sensei they had been talking about during the break. His characteristic was that head of unnatural hair.
"C-Crap! What should we do?"
"We can't be caught here, so running away is the only option."
"J-Just running off like this? But I don't have time to put you down, whatever...!"
Hence, Haruaki ran with Kuroe still sitting on his shoulders. Konishi-sensei yelled "Hey, stop" and pursued. That meant Haruaki had no choice but to speed up. Kuroe was very light so carrying her was not much of a burden—But being too light was itself a problem. The recoil from his running was making Kuroe bob up and down slightly on his shoulders and even caused her skirt to cover up his head.
"Ehhhh? I can't see anymore!"
"Wow, Haru is inside my skirt... Lemme say this again: you're a perv, Haru."
"Now's not the time for saying that, okay!?"
"Relax, even if you can't see ahead, I can still guide you. This is the time for me to display my AI command skills honed from simulation games. Anyway, just keep charging straight and you'll be okay—"
"Rather than waiting for your guidance, wouldn't it be faster if you just pushed your skirt away!?"
"What did you say? Are you actually asking me to lift up my skirt? That's very embarrassing, I... But... If you insist, Haru... I don't mind..."
"I can tell you're very happy! You're absolutely enjoying this, aren't you?"
Despite arguing back and forth, Haruaki managed to pull her skirt up while in the process of running. Upon thinking further, Haruaki realized that given it was Kuroe, she was not likely to fall down even if he did not hold onto her legs. Then the annoying skirt fell down a couple times again, but he had not choice but to keep running as hard as he could. Just at that moment—
"By the way, I forgot to mention something very important."
"W-What is it?"
Haruaki asked without stopping but he could tell from the shift in center of gravity that Kuroe was turning her body. Most likely, she was looking at Konishi-sensei who was pursuing behind.
Then Kuroe announced in a serious tone of voice.
"The correct answer is... 'A hair transplant'!"
"I honestly think that's none of my business!"
Finally managing to evade Konishi-sensei's pursuit (along with his hair transplant), they found themselves confronted with the next break.
A boy was buying canned juice at the vending machine near the school entrance. Just when he was picking up the can from the machine, he suddenly sensed something and looked back. Standing there was a petite girl whose physique put her at elementary or middle school age.
She did not say anything. Biting her finger as a child would, she stared straight at him.
The student groaned.
"U-Umm... I-If you wanna use the vending machine, go ahead. No one's using it now."
The girl shook her head forcefully and eyed the can of juice in his hand with a gaze of desire. The boy groaned again.
"R-Right, by the way, I happen to have extra change to spend! I don't really wanna drink anything, but lemme buy another can for someone else to drink as well! Coffee... No wait, orange juice, I'd better buy orange juice! Okay, it's out. Then... Yes, here you go! Don't be shy, Onii-chan just happens to have change he wants to get rid of!"
Clearly the girl was in a high school uniform, but for some reason, the boy spoke as though he were facing a young child. Then after he shoved a can of juice to her, the girl accepted with surprise and looked up timidly at him—Then smiled.
"Thank you, Onii-chan."
"Guha! I-I-I... I feel like... my life has... meaning now...!"
Hand pressed on his chest, the boy staggered away. While waving goodbye, the girl watched him leave and added the can to a whole line of drinks hidden behind the shoe cabinets.
"Muu... How incredible. I can get juice simply by staring at people. It's already five so far."
"H-Hey—! Stop doing something so terrible!"
To think she'd do something so underhanded while I was finding a relatively deserted washroom to go to.
Hearing Haruaki, Kuroe simply pouted and said:
"Because... Even when I said no, the first person still shoved it to me. Refusing people is also rude, right? After all, since I can't drink them all, why don't you pick a flavor you'd like to drink, Haru?"
Haruaki sighed. Since Kuroe had not blackmailed them proactively, it could not be helped... Right? That said, Haruaki still felt like he had a ton of lecturing for her.
"As much as it pains me... But by this point, there's no way to return the drinks to people, so I'll just take one. I'm tired from all the running."
"I didn't think that guy with the hair transplant would be so stubborn—I'll take this can."
While conversing as they took a short break, the two began to drink. When they finished their juice, the bell rang again for the next period. Hence, Haruaki threw their empty cans into the trash while stuffing the left over drinks in his pockets. Just as he was about to set off to continue Kuroe's manhunt operation—
"Eek! Fear and... Konoha... W-What's up?"
Perhaps he was imagining things but the two girls seemed to be filled with rage. Although they were wearing smiles on their faces, it was actually quite scary.
"We finally found you two..."
"Yeah, we searched for a long time, such as in the gym storage or behind the school building... But to think you guys would be holding a juice party at the school entrance, we totally overlooked this possibility. You both seem to be enjoying yourselves, ufufu..."
"Sure enough, you guys are skipping class for a date within school."
"How envious... Rather, it's unforgivable..."
Haruaki did not quite get what they were saying. However, he gradually realized how dangerous the current situation was.
"H-Hold on, you two, there must be some kind of misunderstanding. Skipping class is not right, but there's a reason for it, okay!?"
"...Haru, I'm sorry. I don't know what will happen if you let Kono-san and Ficchi find out. Anyway, my wish is for the reason to be kept secret. Because I don't want to make too big of a deal out of the matter."
Kuroe tugged at his sleeve as she spoke. Backed into a corner, Haruaki helplessly thought "in that case, how should I explain things?" This resulted in—
"What are you two whispering secretly about!? Damn shameless brat, step right on out! I shall correct your mind!"
"Kuroe-san, you too! If you're just here to play, it's fine, but I can't believe you're having a date with Haruaki-kun in school! It's absolutely too indecent. I cannot bear the sight of it any longer!"
"Wah—Anyway, let's run away first, Haru."
"I think running away will actually make things worse instead."
In order to escape from Fear and Konoha who were rushing at them, Haruaki and Kuroe turned around and ran outdoors through the school entrance. Although they were still wearing indoor shoes, there was no time to be concerned about that. Fear and Konoha did not care either. Those two girls were serious. If I get caught, who knows how they'll torment me...! Simply the thought of that was enough to make Haruaki shake uncontrollably.
Haruaki and Kuroe ran as though they were following the edge of the school building. Although they were not discovered by other people like just now when the teacher chased after them, this also meant that they could not ask anyone for help. But even if there were someone to ask, Fear and Konoha would definitely beat them up without any hesitation.
"It's no good, I think they're going to catch up immediately! Say, Kuroe, I think we should give up and just explain things clearly to them..."
"Save that for the final resort. Haru, hold on tight!"
Kuroe suddenly stopped and forced Haruaki's arm to wrap around her waist. Then she looked upwards.
"Mode: «Chaotic Tadamori»!"
"D-Do you really need to go so far?"
Kuroe's hair rustled as it slithered and extended upwards. Then entangling the fencing at the top of the school building high above, the hair pulled Haruaki and her upwards like an elevator. Haruaki also recall experiencing something similar just a few days ago.
"Tsk, good grief! Next up is that, right? In other words, a date on the roof?"
"Speaking of the roof, the blue sky comes to mind. Speaking of the blue sky, there's afternoon naps. Speaking of afternoon naps... There's sleeping on someone's arm as a pillow? I get it. It stands to reason that the roof is also used for indecent behavior! Absolutely forbidden!"
Since they could not escape by running, there was no choice but to make use of vertical mobility. Leaving Fear and Konoha's voices down below, Haruaki and Kuroe reached the roof successfully. But their relief only lasted but an instant.
"Considering those two, it's very likely that they'll push themselves to climb all the way up. We'd better get moving and continue with the search."
"Hmm, how did things come to this...?"
Just as Haruaki stumbled his way onto the roof and muttered, Kuroe spoke quietly:
"I'm really... sorry for causing you trouble."
Judging from Kuroe's profile, she was not lying. Her eyes were narrowed greatly as though she really felt apologetic. Haruaki could get a real sense that she was actually serious. Despite knowing it was troublesome, she did not intend to stop searching for the boy of her thoughts... If this was not being serious, then what would be serious? Haruaki could still feel turmoil in his heart but—If that was her sincere wish, then he had no right to make any irresponsible comments. That was what Haruaki believed.
Hence, he smiled lightly and caressed Kuroe's head.
"We're on the same boat already. By this point, I've no choice but to accompany you to the very end... We'll flee as hard as we can and find that guy you must find no matter what."
Kuroe smiled demurely.
And said "Thank you."
However, reality was not that simple. Despite having mental resolve, it did not mean that things would proceed smoothly. In other words, a couple dozen minutes later, Haruaki and Kuroe were once again being chased by the hunting hounds—one silver-haired, one glasses-wearing. Furthermore, perhaps due to the anxiety caused by their unsuccessful chase, the two girls were getting more and more serious.
The thought of instantly apologizing "sorry for skipping class" had occurred to Haruaki, but by this point, twenty-twenty hindsight was of no help. Currently, they were running along the first years' corridor again.
At this time, the bell rang for the conclusion of the third period. Haruaki was hoping that having greater crowds might make it easier to escape, but this thought only lasted for an instant. In her seriousness, Fear did something crazy and unexpected. Taking a deep breath, she then yelled:
"Wake up, everyone from Year 1 Class 3! Listen to me! Haruaki is skipping class and intends to do shameless things with Kuroe in school—!"
"W-What—? Absolutely unforgivable!"
Instantly, all her classmates rushed out of the classroom in a jumble. To Haruaki, they were like a summoned herd of demonic beasts. Naturally, their loyalty towards their summoner was at maximum—All of them were fully fired up. Logically speaking, their contact with Kuroe was too brief to have such a strong response, but right now, everyone was treating her as a princess for whom they would lay down their lives to rescue, preparing seriously to apprehend the demon king (Haruaki) who had kidnapped Kuroe. Give me a break, okay?
"Damn you, Haruaki, keeping the goods all to yourself!"
"The reward for catching him is a school date with Kuroe-san? I'll gladly do it in exchange for my life!"
"What must I do to add the option of calling me 'Onii-chan' as well?"
"You guys, why are you so serious! Also, don't go changing other people's words to suit your own personal desires!"
There was no time to turn around. Also, Fear and Konoha were currently approaching. Haruaki had no choice but to break through the blockade directly. Lost in reckless abandon, Haruaki picked up Kuroe's petite body and squeezed through the arms of the classmates blocking the corridor. Naturally, there continued to be pursuers after he went past the blockade, hence he still had to continue moving.
"Guha, what a pain...!"
"Haru, do you wanna find a place to hide first?"
"Good idea, uh... Right now, the only place I can think of is there!"
Obstructed by the members of the class, Fear and Konoha ended up getting slowed down instead. Making full use of this fortunate turn of events, Haruaki and Kuroe continued running and charged into the staff block. Panting as they ran up the stairs, they prioritized looking out for pursuers in the surroundings then ran into a certain room on the top floor. This was the very familiar office of the superintendent.
"...Eh? May I help you?"
"Wow—Kuroe-chan? In a school uniform as well, could it be you're transferring, you're transferring here as a student?"
Inside were two ladies—the superintendent's secretary Houjyou Zenon and her assistant Sovereignty the maid. The absence of the weird superintendent was perfectly commonplace.
Haruaki threw a sideways glance at Kuroe who was casually raising her hand to greet "Hi—We're here to play—" while talking to the occupants of the room:
"Uh—I can't explain the reason! But right now, Fear and Konoha are chasing us. Could you let us hide here for a bit? Please!"
"Well... But Fear-sama and Konoha-sama are also important friends of the superintendent. Perhaps they might complain afterwards, so... At least let me in on the reason so that I may make a correct decision."
"Hmm—Actually, it's not like who's right or wrong here, rather, it's just caused by an unfortunate chance encounter."
Kuroe muttered while Sovereignty, dressed as a maid, walked briskly over to Zenon and spoke her ear:
"Excuse me, Zenon-san, I have an idea. What was discovered in the storage closet... Ask her... to do that... in exchange..."
Originally expressionless, Zenon's eyes suddenly lit up like a robot that was fully charged. Naturally, that was just an analogy. But undoubtedly, something definitely had entered her on a mental level.
"Then please head over to the room next door and leave the rest to us."
"I-I don't really get it, but thank you to you both...!"
Currently, there was no time for doubting why Sovereignty and Zenon had suddenly changed their minds. Next, Haruaki and Kuroe moved through the side door to the room next to the office, which could be considered the secretary's room. Inside was a large steel desk, a closet that appeared to hold clothes for changing, as well as a sink providing water for brewing tea. As for the gigantic elephant plushie sitting on the desk, Haruaki decided it would be better to pretend that he never saw it.
In any case, as soon as Haruaki and Kuroe entered that room, the door to the neighboring superintendent's office opened noisily.
"...Welcome, Fear-sama and Konoha-sama. May I help you?"
"Oh, Zenon and Sovereignty, I've got something to ask you."
"Did Haruaki-kun and Kuroe-san come here? We are currently looking for them."
Naturally, these were the voices of Fear and Konoha. Haruaki and Kuroe pressed their ears against the door to listen.
"No... I have not seen them today. Since you are looking for them, should Yachi-sama and Kuroe-sama visit, do I need to contact you?"
"Ooh, muu. Really? Then if they come here, could you call this girl's cellphone to contact us? However, please do it secretly without letting them know."
"The chances of them escaping here are very high... However, those two should also know that we'll come here in search of them. Perhaps we fell into their trap instead."
"Damn it, how could they be allowed to escape!? Let's go, Cow Tits!"
Then the two girls rushed out of the office in a flurry of footsteps. It looked like they were deceived successfully. Just as Haruaki was sighing and thinking "what a pain," he opened the door and saw Sovereignty.
"Y-Yeah. Thanks Sovereignty."
"After all, you're both my friends, Haruaki-kun and Kuroe-chan. I feel sorry about deceiving Fear-chan and Konoha-chan, but it's fine since I'm able to help. But convincing Zenon-san requires a price... Okay, Haruaki-kun, shoo, get out of here. Kuroe-chan, stay here, stay here."
"W-What? A price?"
Sovereignty simply said "don't ask so much" and forced Haruaki back into the superintendent's office. Although he had no idea what was going on, he felt he should still thank Zenon for helping to deceive Fear and Konoha. Surveying the room—
"There is nothing more wonderful than the safety of you two. Please wait here until the storm passes."
"O-Okay... That's fine, but..."
"...Is there a problem?"
Rather than problem, Haruaki would say that her behavior was very suspicious. For some reason, Zenon was kneeling on one knee and had taken a digital camera out from somewhere, pointing it at the door leading to the adjacent room with flawless posture. Like a photographer who did not wish to miss a decisive moment... Or rather, the level of intensity had probably reached that of a photographer who did not wish to miss the instant the president was assassinated.
In any case, Haruaki sat down on the sofa to wait for Kuroe and Sovereignty's return.
A few minutes later.
"I-It's done... Zenon-san!"
"I've no idea what's going on, but to think I was asked to change—"
Pushed out from behind by Sovereignty, Kuroe was dressed in a maid outfit. A frilled skirt, fashionable apron as well as a pure white headdress contrasting with her black hair. The look suited her quite well. Sovereignty smiled while forcing Kuroe into cosplay, still in her usual sleepy-eyed demeanor. Naturally, Zenon was furious pressing the shutter button of her camera the moment Kuroe appeared. She kept taking all sorts of photos, including closeups, changing angles, high angles and low angles. For some reason, Kuroe did not seem annoyed and even starting changing poses on her own during the latter half of the photo shoot.
Haruaki watched in amazement. Sovereignty walked over lightly.
"Ehehe, because Zenon-san knows that there's a maid outfit in the closet. And she says she absolutely refuses to miss out on Kuroe-chan's maid look. Rather, I want to see it very much myself! This is basically the price for our help!"
"So that's what you two were discussing...? But if doing something trivial like this can buy us personal safety, it's quite cheap... I guess?"
If they headed out right now, Fear and Konoha could still be wandering in the area, so killing some time was necessary. Besides, Kuroe looked quite happy, so there was probably no problem—Haruaki decided to think that.
"Hmm—Kuroe-chan really looks so cute! I really wish you could start working alongside me from today onwards!"
"...If the beauty parlor ever goes out of business, please hire her."
"How rude, how could it go out of business so easily, Haru... Correction, it will never go out of business~ Dear master—"
"You're dying to try it out, right? Like today, you closed up the shop on your own."
As Kuroe answered while making poses, Haruaki was suddenly struck by a question. Indeed, Kuroe had deliberately closed her shop in order to come over to school. She was currently looking for her love at first sight. Due to her forcefulness, Haruaki had failed to realize until now... Did he really need to find the person so urgently? Even if feelings of love cannot be suppressed no matter what, was it really necessary to search so urgently—?
However, his questions were interrupted by Zenon suddenly standing up.
"Oh, what's the matter? Zenon-san, have you completely captured Kuroe-chan's cuteness with the camera? You must show me later!"
"Sovereignty, you have misunderstood something. My purpose in taking so many photos does not lie in capturing her cuteness—Indeed. This will be used as recruitment materials in the future should greater manpower be needed and another assistant has to be hired. Naturally, you must move into the shot as well, to produce an image of how 'senior colleagues even provide careful instruction to novices.' This is what it's about. This photo shoot is undertaken purely on grounds of business necessity rather than any intent to capture cuteness."
Haruaki felt that Zenon's glimmering eyes were actually revealing her true thoughts of "apart from 'adorable,' how else would you describe two maids together?" in direct opposition to what she was saying aloud. However, pretending not to notice probably counted as a form of kindness.
"Thus, we now proceed to photographing you two together. You come over here as well."
"O-Okay~ Please be gentle..."
Clearly, this photo shoot was still going to continue for a while longer.
The fourth period began—and so did the manhunt—but still, Haruaki and Kuroe had yet to locate their target. The girls who had gotten the wrong idea were also relentless. Since they were relentless, shaking them off completely was impossible.
Finally—Haruaki and Kuroe were backed into a corner by the two obsessed and highly resentful girls.
On a roof with no place to run. Even if they used Kuroe's hair to move vertically, it was meaningless unless they moved up rather than down to escape, because the girls would surely jump down directly.
"A-Actually, please listen properly to our explanation. You'll understand!"
"What are you talking about... What do you want us to understand? Regarding the two of you getting into secret acts of intimacy... I'd like to do the same too, but I hold back—Rather, school is a place meant for studying industriously...!"
Hopeless, Konoha had already turned into a glasses-wearing demon. In that case, Haruaki had no choice but to place his hopes in the other girl.
"Say, Fear, you should know me! I'm really not doing anything against my conscience—"
A simple word was enough to show that she did not listen to anything at all. This was further accompanied by the clicking sounds of the Rubik's cube being turned. No matter what barbaric act she was going to commit, there were no witnesses here... This thought alone was enough to make Haruaki feel bone-chilling fear.
The two girls took a step forward. At this moment, the lunch bell rang, sounding like a bell to announce the beginning of an execution. Timing just as the bell finished ringing, Kuroe spoke up.
"Hmm— ...Originally, I was thinking 'if possible, I'd like to handle it alone.' But by this point, I guess it's fine to reveal the matter."
"You're referring to?"
"Uh—I'm actually looking for someone. I simply asked Haru to help me out."
"I don't believe it. Then why didn't you say so from the very start?"
Fear and Konoha did not lower their guard at all, still slowly closing in. Was it too late to explain...? Had they explained at the start, perhaps the girls would have believed. But explaining after fleeing desperately for so long, there was probably little credibility, right? Just as Haruaki agonized over what to do next—
"Seriously... What are you all doing!?"
"Uh hi, Class Rep."
Opening the metal gate to the roof, Kirika appeared, her ponytail swaying in the wind as she narrowed her eyes at the group.
"Skipping lessons starting from second period... As the class representative, I can't ignore that. How absolutely ridiculous. Even if Kuroe-kun came to school to play... What on earth are you all thinking? Yachi, Fear-kun and Konoha-kun!"
"K-Kirika, this does, umm—have reasons."
"Th-That's right. Uh—They're secretly having a date in school..."
Confronted by Kirika who was not directly related, Fear and Konoha probably could not legitimately muster excessive aggression in attitude. They simply hunched their shoulders slightly and murmured what appeared to be excuses. However, Kirika could not possibly accept things so easily, hence she proceeded to glare at Haruaki and the others. Haruaki simply stood there, unsure of what to do.
"Sigh... That's right, with a third party here, perhaps they could listen calmly to our explanation. I will try my best to explain. Kono-san and Ficchi, listen carefully to me."
Kuroe seemed to think that this was a good opportunity. Hence, she began to tell Fear and the rest what she had already told Haruaki earlier. L-Love at first sight? Fear, Konoha and Kirika looked at one another in surprise. Then they eyed Haruaki with skepticism. Naturally, all he could do was respond "that's what seems to be going on."
"Say, Kuroe, why didn't you say so earlier!?"
"Well... Because there's no real proof... No, umm, I find it embarrassing. But it can't be helped now that I've said it already. Will you all help me in the search?"
"Umm... I don't really mind. After all, it's Kuroe-san, love at first sight... huh...?"
Not entirely convinced, Konoha tilted her head in puzzlement. Standing on the side, Kirika sighed greatly in astonishment and said:
"How absolutely ridiculous... There's no need to search during class time, right? However, since you only know his face, perhaps that's one method... But do you have any other clues?"
"Even if you want clues, I only passed by him once. But he was wearing a silver ring."
"Although that's against school rules, there are a couple of students like that. But most likely, they'll take their rings off during class... Did the students call each other by name or mention their class? At least we'll know which year they are."
"They didn't mention that~ What they chatted about was... Hmm?"
At this moment, Kuroe suddenly cocked her head as though recalling something.
After a while...
"Right, they talked about... Whether they had finished the Ancient Japanese handout or something...?"
Kirika frowned and sighed even more than just now.
"How troubling—In that case, rather than searching the classes one by one while lessons are in progress, why don't we do something else first?"
"What do you mean, Class Rep?"
"...If I were doing it, I'd start with the office of the Japanese language teachers."
Haruaki and Kuroe looked at each other. After a while, Kuroe clapped her hands together in realization. Haruaki figured it out at the same time.
There was no need at all to search every class one by one like just now.
Since the couple had mentioned an Ancient Japanese handout, naturally...
The person sought by Kuroe must be limited to the classes that had to hand in a handout for Ancient Japanese today.
Arriving at the office for Japanese language teachers, they found the necessary information. Although the teachers stared at them in surprise, since this was not information that could be used maliciously, they readily provided it—Very fortunately, there was only one second-year class that needed to turn in their Ancient Japanese handout today. Since none of the afternoon classes needed to turn in handouts, it was quite easy to narrow down the target's class. Next, Haruaki went with Fear and the girls to that classroom. As a side note, Kirika said "I've no interest in intervening in other people's love affairs. You guys better be back for the afternoon classes." Having said that, she had returned to her own class before the group made their way to the staff office.
After arriving at the second-year class, Kuroe peeked inside. However, the person she sought was apparently not there. As a result, Haruaki asked a student in that class. After confirming based on Kuroe's description of the boy's physique, hairstyle and accessories, etc—
"Oh, if you're looking for that guy, he usually eats lunch with his girlfriend in the courtyard."
"Okay, is that so? Thank you... Eh, girlfriend!?"
The instant they left the boy who answered their questions, Kuroe had already started dashing off. Haruaki frantically chased after her.
"Hold on a sec, I didn't hear you say anything about him having a girlfriend!?"
"Doesn't that make the situation terrible, Kuroe-san?"
"It's not terrible at all—Relax, don't worry."
Although there was obviously a huge problem, Kuroe did not slow down. Without any choice, the rest followed her, changing into outdoor shoes before heading to the courtyard.
Kuroe kept staring at a bench, standing totally still. The boy sitting there was probably the one she was searching for. His appearance was just as she described: long, brown hair, accessories all over him, very handsome, however...
"Uh—May I offer my personal opinion? Summed up in a single description, I think he's very frivolous."
"I don't really understand that saying, but anyway, he looks kind of weak. He also seems to be using perfume... Kuroe, you like this kind of boy?"
"H-Hey, you two with the comments! Anyway, that's the guy, right? Kuroe."
"It's him alright. The schoolbag is here too, thank goodness—Well then, I'll handle the rest from now on. You guys can watch but don't interfere."
"Well~ We have no intention of interfering either."
Next, Kuroe slowly walked forward while Haruaki's group followed while maintaining a certain distance. This could be easily attributed to natural curiosity. After all, having been manipulated to this point, there were many things that they wished to clear up.
Finally, Haruaki's group closed in and stopped just barely far enough away to listen to the voices at the bench. Kuroe continued to swiftly approach the two people there.
"Are you Yokkun's friend? A first year... But you're really petite."
"No, I don't know this girl."
The couple was looking at each other in puzzlement. Kuroe approached the bench even closer.
Her blank eyes were focused on a certain target without blinking. Naturally, this should be the face of the skirt-chasing boy whom she fell in love with at first sight—
It was the schoolbag.
His schoolbag was on the bench. Kuroe was staring at the schoolbag, which was just as covered with accessories as he was, with many key chains and a jumbled mess of ornaments.
Then she reached out.
And plucked a doll key chain from amidst the ornaments—
"H-Hey! What are you doing? Give it back!"
Kuroe ignored the boy and simply asked in a calm voice:
"This doll was handmade, right? Who made it?"
"Answer me. This is very important."
"Well... This girl made it. She gave it to me as a present, so I can't let you have it—"
"Really? Sure enough, just as I expected."
Kuroe shifted her gaze. For some reason, the ordinary-looking female student, sitting beside the boy, was so scared that she kept shaking. She was staring straight at the ground as though afraid of Kuroe's cold gaze.
"...In that case, I should talk to you. Could you come over to me for a bit?"
The girl remained silent for quite a while but finally nodded and acquiesced. Legs trembling, she stood up from the bench—
"Hey, wait up! What do you intend to do to her? Say, give that key chain back! It's an important present—"
Originally about to turn away, Kuroe giggled expressionlessly.
"...There's no need to say something so insincere. I don't believe that you cherish this doll at all. No matter how you try to hide it, I can tell."
Even to observers such as Haruaki's group—
These were terrifyingly—
Consequently, the boy immediately sat down on the bench in shock. Kuroe led the girl to the back of the school building. Maintaining a certain distance, Haruaki's group followed.
What a completely unexpected development. Only totally incomprehensible things were happening.
However, one thing was very clear and definite.
The reason why Kuroe was searching for the boy—
Was definitely not due to love at first sight.
Behind the school building, where there was no one else, Kuroe and the girl were facing off, separated by a subtle distance. Haruaki's group were peeking while hiding in the shadows of the school building.
The girl simply bowed her head in silence. Kuroe gazed at her with the usual, blank eyes. Finally, she slowly held up the doll key chain and said languidly:
"So, why did you... put a curse on this doll?"
One could easily surmise why Fear and Konoha were silent while suppressing their surprise. Haruaki was crouching while the other two were on top of him, peering behind the school building, hence their faces were not visible. In Haruaki's view was the girl, her shoulders trembling in fear after hearing what Kuroe said. But at this moment, she looked up and said with a stiff smile:
"W-What nonsense are you talking about? I don't understand a word you're saying."
"You understand. This doll carries malice. Put bluntly, it is gradually getting cursed."
"S-So what!? I already said I don't know! Although I don't understand what's going on, I only came over to hear what you had to say. Totally incomprehensible, I'm leaving... Also, return that to me! It's just a doll, a gift I gave to my boyfriend. It's only a doll, okay!?"
"No way. Then excuse me."
In the end, Kuroe reached out with her free hand that was not holding the doll—
And twisted the doll's head off.
The nondescript superdeformed doll's head was taken off. Kuroe then stuck her fingertips into the head and dug out the cotton inside. After removing a substantial amount of cotton, Kuroe pulled out something from the cotton, pinched between her fingers.
"Why would a hair be hidden in an ordinary doll?
Kuroe's calm voice caused the girl to bow her head again.
Kuroe waited for her to answer. So did Haruaki and company.
Then after a long silence, almost enough to make them forget what her voice was like, the girl finally spoke.
"Because, I know... He's two-timing..."
She continued in broken speech.
Just as everyone could see, the boy was very popular with the girls. Even knowing he was two-timing, the girl did not dare confront him for fear of getting dumped. Hence, she pretended to be unaware on the surface. Even so, it grew unbearable as the number of instances increased. Her heart was filled with indignance, rage, hatred—hating her rivals and also hating her unfaithful boyfriend. Despite loving him in her heart, she also hated him.
"So... I was trying it out for fun... I made... that. On the net, there are rumors about how to make... your significant other... incompatible with rivals... Small magic and the like."
"That's right—It'd be okay if it's something specific like romantic incompatibility, but this thing is different. Uh—I can be considered something like a psychic so I know very well. If months or even years were to pass and you continued to invoke a curse through this doll... Well, I wouldn't be surprised if your boyfriend ends up in a car crash."
"N-No way... It's just... small magic only..."
"Even if it's just small magic, your malice—That curse is real. And it really will harm others. However, it's up to you whether you believe me or not."
"Anyway, I noticed this doll because of that curse. Since it drew my attention, I couldn't turn a blind eye to it. That's why I did this. And also to satisfy my personal curiosity. I have no intention of forcing you to do anything. However, I just have one tiny request..."
Her voice was very gentle.
And sounded a little lonely as well.
"—I wish you won't use dolls as tools for cursing ever again. I also hope you'll never make a cursed doll again."
"But, it's because... Then what should I do...?"
The girl's voice was also trembling.
"That's a problem for you to think yourself. You can maintain the status quo and continue pretending to be unaware. It's also okay if you force him to make a choice or if you simply forget about that skirt-chaser completely. Although throughout the process, you might find yourself suffering a great deal."
Kuroe stepped forward lightly. One step, two steps. To her side.
Then reaching out with her small hands—
She hugged the trembling girl tightly.
"—If it feels painful, then feel free to cry. Hugging a doll, vent the resentment in your heart and cry to your heart's content. If dolls were used for that purpose... Then it will definitely... have no complaints."
"...Guh... Eee... This sucks, why am I crying..."
"There there, until your heart calms down, just stay like this."
Kuroe patted her lightly on the back while hugging her with gentleness.
The doll that used to be unable to hug back as a human, after enduring cold curses, finally obtained this ability—
Because of the warm embrace of humans.
The girl sniffled while leaving the area behind the school building. Haruaki and his group walked out from the corner in embarrassment. Fear scratched her head shyly while speaking to Kuroe who was standing calmly:
"Kuroe... Umm, sorry. Looks like I jumped to conclusions."
"Don't say that. It's my fault for running like mad without explaining anything. Don't worry about it."
"By the way, why did you lie about love at first sight?"
Spun in circles by that lie, Haruaki asked. Kuroe shrugged lightly and said:
"Because when I saw the doll in the morning, what I felt was only on the level of 'maybe?' Unless I held it in my hand to confirm, there was no real evidence. If I was mistaken, it'd be very embarrassing, right?"
"Even then, you don't need to make that kind of lie, right... It's also okay if you don't have real evidence. Also, if you explained to us from the start, we might have assisted you in various ways."
"You're right~ But the problem is that it wouldn't be good to make too big a deal out of it... It's also impossible to rule out the possibility that Ficchi or Kono-san might punish the child because of your strict stance against cursing others."
"I-I won't do that."
"That's right. No matter what, that level of violence should not be allowed... Probably."
Fear groaned with her eyes narrowed while Konoha shook her head in exhaustion.
"Oh, more accurately, the doll hasn't even reached the level of almost acquiring a curse. Miraculously, I knew roughly that the doll was beginning to be cursed, that's that. I also told that child that no harm will manifest as long as she doesn't continue cursing."
"...Even so, you still felt very concerned, right?"
Kuroe nodded yes. Her eyes drifted afar as she continued:
"Especially because I believe that dolls are very easy to get cursed. Although the probability is not high, or it might happen in the distant future, but if it were to become like me... Wouldn't the doll be very pitiful?"
"O-Okay now~ Don't make such a grave expression, Kuroe. You did something good! Or maybee I should apologize to you again, sorry for chasing you like that! Although I think that Cow Tits should get most of the blame!"
"I-Isn't it all because of what you said first!? Something about Haruaki-kun and Kuroe-san definitely having a shameless date in school, hence we must chase them down and the like! It's totally unfair for you to push the blame like this!"
"What are you talking about? I'll curse you!"
Fear and Konoha were arguing as usual. Kuroe also smiled happily. Then she glanced at Haruaki whose narrowed eyes were watching the girls argue.
"...By the way, Haru, back when I said I fell in love with someone at first sight, honestly, how did you feel inside?"
"I really wanna know—Were you shocked?"
"W-Why would I be shocked... I think... it's... great..."
Haruaki stammered and did not speak clearly. In actual fact, he had no idea himself.
If possible, he wished to remain silent but Kuroe's gaze did not move away. Hence, Haruaki gave up and sighed.
"Oh... How should I put this? Back in middle school, Taizou once mentioned how one of his cousins was getting married. Then his eyes drifted into the distance while he said: 'If I visit my relatives for summer, maybe she won't play with me anymore?' For some reason, I think I may be able to understand now how Taizou felt back then..."
"Haru, your Japanese is very weird."
Kuroe smiled. Although he did not know whether she was satisfied with his answer or not, in any case, she did not press the issue any further.
"An older cousin... Hmm, there's that too, perhaps it's not a bad type of relationship..."
Softly, Kuroe murmured something incomprehensible. Then she turned her gaze lightly towards Fear and Konoha. The two girls were still arguing.
"First of all, you're the one who told me that a date in school was shameless!"
"No, although that's correct, the problem does not lie there!"
"Oh~ You're talking about correctness now? Then tell me, how shameless is the gym storage? Using what and in what kind of shameless manner are games played? After thinking calmly, I don't see anything shameless about front handsprings or jumping ropes. If there are other ways to play, you tell me."
"W-Well... I can't say it out in a place like this...!"
"Oh dear, looks like I should take some responsibility and act as an arbitrator here—"
Prior to this, Kuroe was showing seriousness slightly beyond her usual level. But she proceeded to revert to her usual self. Sleepy-eyed, emotionless, unreadable—
"Okay okay, you are both correct, so don't fight anymore. A date in school is indeed an adult's erotic game. While searching for that person, I was having a date with Haru in school, that's also the truth."
Fear and Konoha made eyes saying "Oh really? as they dangerous gazes pierced Haruaki.
"W-Wait a sec, why do I have no recollection of this!? I don't remember any date!?"
"Muu, Haru, you've forgotten all those fun times...? Like the secret hug in the closet, the heart-thumping ride on your shoulders, belong only to the two of us... For me, each and every memory was wonderful. Oh right, my skirt was even covering your head. You even said then: 'Hehehe, why don't you lift it up yourself?'"
"Your explanation is barely acceptable until the middle, but I definitely did not say those final words!"
"Also, later on... I remember a conversation where you said you were uninterested in hair."
"Hair? You mean Konishi-sensei's hair, right?"
Haruaki could feel an ominous presence approaching rapidly. For some reason, scenes from horror films were surfacing in his mind. Like a great white shark in the water or xenomorphs under the floorboards. What was the next scene about to happen?
"There you go again, Kuroe-san. Those things could not possibly have happened, hahaha."
"That's right, no matter how shameless Haruaki is, he can't possibly do something so shameless in school, right? Yes, I believe in Haruaki."
However, Konoha and Fear's responses were completely opposite to what Haruaki expected. Haruaki groaned "wow" and felt a bit touched. Indeed, Fear and Konoha did believe in him on occasion. They did not simply misunderstand all the time and pursue matters to the very end—
However, in the end...
Only those particular responses ran counter to his expectations.
"Uh... I'm happy that you're saying that, but why is Konoha holding my shoulder down so tightly? Also, Fear, why are you swiveling that Rubik's cube...?"
"That's putting it wrongly~ This is just a massage from me as an apology to you."
"There happens to be no one here. Of course, it's got nothing to do with the shameless brat. Even though I haven't been getting enough exercise lately, I'm just speaking from the perspective of starting some batting exercises."
"That was a feint just now? You girls are using 'a prank among friends' to make me relax, then using the time lag to make Jaws appear? Is that it?"
"Oh dear~ I see you're a bit confused~ Everyone should chat while calming yourselves down... Ufufu."
"I know what Jaws refer to, it's that shark movie, right? Okay, let's talk about sharks. Speaking of sharks, then you can't leave out those terrifying teeth. As it so happens, I also have a saw called «The Teeth»... Kukukuku."
Holding onto Haruaki's shoulder, Konoha's hand was clenching and relaxing repeatedly. Meanwhile, Fear was pressing the Rubik's cube against Haruaki's forehead while playing a song with the clicking noises of plastic.
Then Kuroe, the one who had sown the seeds for the entire commotion—
"Wow~ High school really is fun as expected... It's completely different from home and it's great. I should come again to play another day."
While saying that, she leisurely watched by herself as usual while those seeds of hers germinated.
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