CubexCursedxCurious:Volume7 Chapter5

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Chapter 5 - How to Tame Ueno Kirika[edit]

Part 1[edit]

The heavy rain poured nonstop.

A young housewife stood in front of a mailbox, holding an umbrella in her left hand while carrying in her right one of those large envelopes for containing documents.

Reaching out lightly with her right hand, she was just about to insert the envelope into the mailbox. However—She suddenly halted in her movements. The rainwater splashing off her umbrella soon drenched her hand and the envelope.

She was hesitating, with various thoughts such as "Should I really do this?" "Is this really appropriate?".

But that hesitation instantly vanished.

She recalled the "thing" inside the envelope—those nightmarish days caused by it, as well as the rare opportunity that finally arrived to free herself of that nightmare.

Indeed, this thing was very scary. Extremely dangerous and evil. She could not bear keeping it by her side for another moment.

Of course, she had tried to discard it many times in the past but never succeeded. For some reason, she could never let go in the final moment, because it probably imposed its will forcibly on the owner to control her thoughts. This was really too scary.

That feeling still existed right now but not to an unbearable extent. Perhaps this was because her current act was not "abandoning" it but "handing it over" to someone else. No problem. All she needed to do was reach forward a few more centimeters, toss this into the mailbox, and she would be free from all that suffering.

She did not know if this envelope might actually reach the destination. According to what she had heard, even the address was quite vague. Besides, whether the receiver was actually an appropriate place to send this over, the rumor was unsubstantiated. Were it an ordinary family, she would be simply pushing someone else into the nightmare.

Nevertheless, it was very clear that her own troubles would be over once she released this hand. The return address on the back was randomly scribbled. Even if it failed to reach the receiver, it could not possibly return to the sender. Hence, hence—

"..Sorry..."

She repeated as she let go. From the mailbox came a small thud.

But before she could hear that sound, the woman had already turned around and left the mailbox.

Bowing her head slightly, she jogged away.

...As though trying to escape from her own crime.


Ultimately, this would end up as the impetus for a disaster that later rocked the Yachi residence.

Part 2[edit]

During a perfectly ordinary trip home from school...

"Hmm—Really? If that's the case, it's okay... Oh, I'm just on my way home after some grocery shopping. I'll be home in a little while... Sorry, could you wait for me briefly? Yeah, then see you in a bit."

Haruaki ended the call on his cellphone. Swinging the supermarket shopping bags forcefully while she walked, Fear immediately glanced at Haruaki and asked:

"Who was that on the phone?"

"Class Rep. She asked if I had some old cookbooks and whether I could lend some to her. She even said she tried looking in the bookstore once but couldn't find anything suitable."

Fear nodded lightly:

"Hmm~ As expected of Kirika, so devoted to constant self-improvement... I can understand the how the humiliation must be, losing in those lunch duels again and again. By the way, why don't you simply give Kirika some actual guidance? Then she doesn't need to go through this convoluted way of borrowing books or whatever."

"Well—I have tried to mention that casually before... But for her, it feels like accepting favors from the opponent, so that doesn't seem to work. If it's a cookbook, however, how should I put this~? It's like studying from the same textbook in preparation for an exam, so it's fine. That's how she described it herself."

"I don't quite get it, but basically, it involves the matter of Kirika's pride? Then she'll be visiting later?"

"She said she's already at our entrance. Since I'll feel bad if she waited too long, let's hurry back home."

In accordance with what Haruaki said, they picked up their pace. After a few minutes, they could see the familiar uniform-clad figure of a girl standing at the familiar entrance of their home, leaning against the wall. Kirika snapped shut the cellphone she had been playing with in her boredom.

"Hello... Sorry for making a sudden visit."

"No, it's fine. Did you wait for long?"

"Not really that long. Hmm, Konoha-kun isn't with you two?"

"Having stayed away from work for so long, Cow Tits happened to run off for her part-time job today. Fufufu, lucky that obstructing Cow Tits is away, I can play while eating rice crackers as much as I want. Okay, Kirika, let's go inside right now!"

"I'm just here to borrow a book... But since I'm here anyway, I might as well take advantage of your hospitality a bit."

Kirika smiled wryly as she spoke. Naturally, Haruaki had no objections.

"Then I'll open the door right now. Please be patient... I guess I'll get the mail as well. Wow~ Quite a lot of letters."

Haruaki opened the mailbox beside the door and casually took out the letters and flyers inside. Perhaps due to the heavy rain the night before, many of the letters were still wet.

Deciding to check out their contents later, Haruaki clamped the mail under his arm and unlocked the door, then he opened the main residence's entrance. With that, they had successfully returned home. In any case, he invited Kirika to the living room first.

"Hmm, you guys took out the kotatsu[1] for heating already? Speaking of which, it's about that time of the year, I guess."

"We just put it out yesterday. Oh right, you don't seem to have a kotatsu at home, Class Rep?"

"What!? Kirika doesn't have a kotatsu at home? Poor her... This is a napping device that's so wonderful, even I was astounded! So warm and comfortable that it makes you wanna yawn. Speaking of which, it's an amazing invention...! Of course, I'm already clear on how to use it. Switch ON! Here you go, Kirika, feel free to bury yourself beneath the kotatsu!"

"Your Japanese is a complete mess. Whatever. Class Rep, please warm yourself with the kotatsu. After putting the newly bought groceries in the fridge, I'll go find the book immediately."

"You don't have to hurry in finding the book. Well then, uh—Thank you for your hospitality."

Saying that, Kirika sat down beneath the kotatsu. The sight of her sitting formally in seiza seemed especially amusing.

Haruaki took this opportunity to put down the mail from under his arm, putting them on the kotatsu's edge, then he led Fear into the kitchen.

"Hey Haruaki, leave this to me today. I'll show you the results of my learning."

"Eh—Is that really okay? Let me test you first... Where does this head of cabbage go? Try it and see."

Haruaki randomly grabbed a cabbage from the shopping bag and handed it to Fear. Scoffing, Fear said:

"Don't underestimate me. It goes down there!"

"Next question, what about the eggs?"

"Eggs go here!"

"Mackerel."

"Fish goes on this side!"

As part of her test, Fear placed the various ingredients into the fridge. Amazingly, all the locations she picked were quite correct. However, given the existing food in the fridge serving as hints, it came as no surprise that she would make no mistakes.

"Then here's the final question. Uh... That's the bag of rice crackers, right?"

Fear smiled proudly. For her, this question could not possibly be easier.

"Where that belongs, it goes without saying. Neither the fridge nor the cupboard—in other words, my belly! Fufu, I'll put a few into my stomach right now!"

Haruaki nimbly dodged Fear's hands that were reaching for the bag of rice crackers and sighed:

"I get it, I get it... Stop playing dumb with me and put them away properly. These are the tea snacks to bring out for Class Rep. Once you put the other stuff into the fridge, take the rice crackers to the living room."

Haruaki placed the entire bag of rice crackers onto Fear's head with a smack. Fear's eyes brightened as she went "Seriously?" Keeping the bag of rice crackers balanced on top of her head for some reason, she resumed rummaging through the things in the shopping bag.

"Great, the rice cracker party can start once I hurry and put the food away! You're not needed here, leave everything to me! Uh—This thing... Whatchamacallit... I remember now, mockery flower is a vegetable, so it goes here..."

"What's with that really weird naming sense? I know you mixed up broccoli and cauliflower, but what's with the 'm' in the beginning?"

"Y-You're being noisy. Isn't it fine as long as I put it in the right place?"

"But that's completely unacceptable on an educational level. Anyway, this is called broccoli. The white one is cauliflower."

Telling her the correct name as a matter of principle, Haruaki sighed. Although he was still worried, as long as she did not put eggs into the freezer, it was fine even if she messed up the remaining stuff. After all, her enthusiasm was a good thing. Haruaki decided to leave things here to her for now.

"Then I'm going to the room to find the book for Class Rep. If there's any food you don't know where it goes, just leave it for now. Do things properly."

Haruaki turned around as he spoke and heard Fear answering behind him with a perfunctory "Fine—"

"Hmm, this is the curly ball. This is definitely the curly ball. It goes here..."

What on earth was the curly ball? Quite worrying.

Part 3[edit]

As the kotatsu's warmth slowly seeped through her knees, Kirika exhaled softly. A fixture of this sort would take up a lot of space in the apartment. Furthermore, the air conditioner's heating function was more than enough, so there was no need for it—But indeed, the kotatsu was a wonderful thing.

Slowly, Kirika adjusted her sitting posture and relaxed her legs. Although she knew very well how uncomfortable it was to sit in seiza, spreading her calves and lowering her bottom to the floor was her limit. After all, vulnerably extending her legs out in such a cramped space would be quite dangerous, right? Besides, she was wearing a skirt, so... If that guy happened to take a seat at the kotatsu as well, what if their legs were to make contact—

"...Tsk!"

What delusions were she undergoing?

Although no one could see them, she still felt extremely embarrassed. As though trying to smash the kotatsu with her forehead, Kirika attempted to hide her current expression. At this moment, she heard a kind of rustling noise of friction. Looking up, she discovered that the mail which was originally on the corner of the table top had slid off the kotatsu, perhaps as a result of the impact just now.

Then Kirika saw that thing.

Who knew if it were because the envelope was not sealed tight or because it was drenched in the rain, a brown document envelope in the pile of mail opened up and even spilled its contents. It was not a letter. Extremely weird. Kirika could not fathom why such an object would be found among the mail.

"...?"

Thinking that "the contents of the envelope fell out, I must pick it up," Kirika carelessly reached out and grabbed it.

Instantly, her blood began to boil.

An impulse surfaced in her mind. No, it was not simply an impulse. Unbearable, absolutely unbearable. One after another, her brain cells were singing in perfect unison, slowly conveying a certain desire.

Indeed—The desire to put it on.

The hand holding the object lifted it up on its own accord. The body was greedily trying to satisfy this this desire of hers. What was going on? So strange, I absolutely can't do this. Stop it! Why? In fact, I don't want to wear this kind of thing. I absolutely can't. So absolutely... Dear heavens, I really, really want to wear it...

(Oh no... Could this thing... actually... be cursed—?)

The remaining vestiges of reason in her mind drew out the answer.

But it was too late already.


"Eh, Class Rep... Where have you gone?"

Carrying quite a few cookbooks in his arms, Haruaki returned to the living room, but could not find any signs of Kirika. The only change in the room was that the pile of letters on the kotatsu had all slid off. Kirika's schoolbag was still present. She could not possibly have gone home on her own without informing him. Over in the kitchen, there were still sounds of shouting such as "This one goes here!" Hence, it did not seem like Fear had taken Kirika away. Most probable of all, she had gone to the washroom, right?

Thinking "I'll just have to wait for her return," Haruaki sat down at the kotatsu. Picking up the fallen mail and placing them on the kotatsu's table top once more, he slid his legs into the kotatsu. In that very instant—

Soft.

His legs felt a strange sensation.

Soft, supple and especially warm. Furthermore—quite large in size.

"W-What...?"

Haruaki could think of several possibilities.

(1) Kuroe or someone else had stuffed something like a doll inside.

(2) A lost cat had somehow trespassed at some point in time, but it was a really huge cat.

(3) He was imagining things.

"N-Not the third possibility...!"

While mentally rejecting his answer, Haruaki used the tip of his foot to poke the mysterious object. Soft... Supple... Furry. The object had long hair. Rustling, the object moved.

Haruaki gulped.

All he could think of was the second possibility. A giant cat of the long-haired variety. If it were a foreign breed, a larger body size would not be surprising. Indeed, that must be it. There was nothing to be afraid of, but he had to confirm...!

Having made his decision, Haruaki slowly lifted up the kotatsu blanket. Bit by bit, he slowly lifted it.

Then just as he held his breath while peering into the interior of the kotatsu that was filled with red light—

Something rushed out of the kotatsu instead.

"Eeek!"

"...Meow—"

In terms of end result...

(2) was the correct answer. A cat.

...But it was also Kirika as well.

Extending just her upper torso out of the kotatsu, Kirika was rubbing her face against Haruaki's chest.

Thinking this was utterly impossible, Haruaki devoted his utmost effort towards denying reality before his eyes. This was a dream. She is fake. Kirika could not possibly be doing this. She could not possibly be meowing like a kitten. She could not possibly be smiling affectionately while seeking to be spoiled.

Right, furthermore, there was the most impossible detail. This was impossible even if the world was turned upside down.

Indeed, to think Kirika would sprout... sprout—


Logically speaking, cat ears could not possibly have sprouted from a human's head, right?

Part 4[edit]

Okay, the mystery was finally unraveled. The cat was also Kirika. Currently, Kirika was imitating a cat's behavior right here. This fact needed to be acknowledged. After all, this reality was displayed before his eyes. If he did not acknowledge it, nothing could proceed from here. But naturally, the problem was why would Kirika suddenly act like this despite her normally cool demeanor—

"Cl-Class Rep? What are you doing? Why would you suddenly play this kind of game? Rather, I should say that it's a bit inappropriate for you to press so closely against me. I'd be very thankful if you'll get away from me first. I-I get it, this must be a punishment game. Is this some kind of punishment game? It must be a tough life, being a class representative. Oh dear, it really must be tough! So, okay, it's almost time for your punishment game to end. Please come out from the kotatsu as well!"

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"...Meow—?"

Despite Haruaki's stiffly delivered speech, Kirika simply tilted her head in puzzlement while still continuing to rub against his chest. She really sounded like a kitten while her eyes looked upward at him from close range. Impossible to know what had happened when she was burrowing into the kotatsu, but her original ponytail had become undone completely.

"Class Rep... Are you listening to me?"

"Mew... Meow~"

Clearly she was not listening and resumed the act of vigorously rubbing her cheek against his chest. Through the school uniform, Haruaki could feel Kirika's substantial body warmth that was bolstered by the kotatsu. That soft existence, hidden behind the fabric and the leather, was constantly pushing and pressing against him. Even if Haruaki wanted to struggle free by force, the kotatsu was in his way, preventing him from moving—

Weird, this was absolutely weird. Kirika was abnormal. Then why had she become so abnormal? There must be some reason behind this. The reason was what... What was it—?

"Could it be... this... thing...?"

Without any searching required, the number one suspect was right before his eyes. A mysterious ornament that neither belonged to this home nor could it possibly belong to Kirika—in other words, the cat ears worn on Kirika's head. Something like this could belong to Kuroe, but she was currently working at her shop. Also, it was impossible that she would leave this kind of thing lying around in the living room.

Haruaki reached out to lightly touch the cat ears. They felt soft and furry like a plush doll. Obviously, they could not be the real ears of a cat. It was one of those party goods that was worn on the head like a headband. But supposing it were the reason for Kirika's strange behavior, it could not possibly be any ordinary party good. In other words—

(It's a cursed tool...?)

In that case, it really could explain why Kirika had become like this. No, judging from the current situation, it was the only conclusion. That said, Haruaki still had many questions, such as: Where did this tool come from? Why did Kirika put it on? Besides, could this kind of party good really be the recipient of a curse? In any case, all these puzzling questions could not be answered until Kirika was restored to normal. Hence, the first thing to do was to take those strange cat ears off.

While trying hard to ignore the sensation of Kirika's body that kept pressing towards him, Haruaki used his fingertips to grip the furry cat ears. Then he slowly pulled upwards—

"...H-How odd? Why doesn't... it come off..."

"Miii! H-Hu meow—!"

The cat ears showed no signs of budging. On the other hand, he was pulling Kirika's head upwards, accompanied by small screams. She even shook her head forcefully to get Haruaki's fingers to leave her cat ears. Perhaps it hurt.

"Woah... S-Sorry!?"

"..."

Kirika angrily pouted and looked up at Haruaki. Never seen this kind of expression from her before, Haruaki could not help but find her adorable. But he instantly recovered his rationality and shook his head.

(No, wait! Now isn't the time to be considering that, right? Although I've no idea how this happened, this is a huge crisis. Anyway, it's a very severe situation. I must find a way to return her to normal...!)

But why could these cat ears not be taken off? Was it the power of the cursed tool? No, jumping to that conclusion would be too hasty. Anyway, Haruaki decided to try again.

Perhaps feeling bullied, Kirika shrank back subtly with the kotatsu blanket covering her head while she looked up at him from time to time... This meant there was no way to touch those cat ears for now. Haruaki decided he must start with improving their relations first.

Haruaki coughed, cleared his throat and made a smile that even he himself found it quite fake. Then bending over to match the height of Kirika's sight, he started to please the Kirika Cat by using sounds that were basically for soothing a cat.


"Okay~ Great, a perfect finish! As much as I'd like to say that... Uumuu, there's still this one left?"

Fear frowned and took out the last item from the grocery bag. It was brown, slightly curved in shape and there was a bit of soil on its surface.

"Muu. This looks more mysterious the more I look at it. Although I think it's like a vegetable, it also resembles an ordinary tree root... Is this really food? I can't completely rule out the possibility of it being firewood."

Fear knew if Haruaki scolded or mocked her after the fact for putting things randomly into the fridge—How should she put this? She would be furious. Left without a choice, she decided to take the thing to the living room and ask Haruaki directly where it should go.

"Anyway~ The food is pretty much all put away, it's time to start the all-important rice crackers party!"

Holding the mysterious tree root (tentatively named), Fear proudly exited the kitchen with the entire bag of rice crackers still perched on her head. Seeing as it was placed on her head to begin with, Fear believed that it was well within her pride as a rice cracker fan to maintain its position. While keeping the rice crackers balanced without falling from her head, Fear ran nimbly to the living room. Just as she was about to enter and was thinking to herself, "by the way, we have rice crackers but no tea here, I'd better ask Haruaki to brew some tea"—She heard sounds from the living room.

"Sorry, Class Rep. It must have hurt when I did it so suddenly... Right?"

Haruaki's cat-soothing voice sounded unnaturally gentle and perverted.

Fear's expression instantly froze. What? What was happening inside?

Holding her breath, she slowly peeked into the living room from the doorway. Haruaki was sitting at the kotatsu with his back towards her. The words he just said were most likely directed towards Kirika, but she was not visible. No, on further examination, Haruaki had lifted up the kotatsu blanket and was speaking at the kotatsu's interior—or rather, towards the space between his legs. That was even more incomprehensible. Fear could not comprehend at all. But judging from his behavior in conjunction with his earlier words, no mistake about it—All Fear could conclude was that Haruaki was pressing Kirika down between his legs.

"I'm sorry about just now. So please, come over here..."

"...mmmmmee..."

Kirika moaned unbelievably and Fear could hear the friction of clothing. Haruaki's voice turned even more gentle—

"Yes, good girl. I won't hurt you again. Please. I'll be gentle. May I touch again...?"

"Meew... Meow!"

"You'll let me touch? Th-Thank you. So... I'm going to touch you. Relax, don't be afraid. Look..."

Fear could hear a sound like something breaking in her mind. Then she began to countdown.

Three. Two. One—

Then came zero. At the same time, a critical sentence was heard.

"So, Class Rep, I'll be very gentle to you. Just a little bit, may I... pull this...?"

"OF. COURSE. NOT—Forbidden!"

Fear charged forward and used the mysterious root in her hand to strike the back of Haruaki's head viciously.

Accompanied by a cracking sound, the object broke into two.

"Guh! Th-That really hurts! Why the heck did you suddenly attack me with the burdock!?"

Fear finally got her answer from Haruaki's screams.

So this thing was called the burdock? Why did it look completely different after being cooked and served on a dish?

Part 5[edit]

"O-Oh~ ...I see now. Truly shameless. Anyway, I already understand the whole story. Truly shameless. I can tell that Kirika does look quite strange. Truly shameless. If the cause really is a cursed tool, that's truly shameless. This must be handled calmly. Truly shameless. Go and die."

"C-Completely exposed! Your true intentions are completely exposed in between those sentences of yours, Fear!"

Arms crossed before her chest, Fear went "Hmph!" and turned her face to the side. While explaining the circumstances to Fear, Haruaki also managed to pull Kirika out from inside the kotatsu—But rather than improving, the situation had deteriorated subtly. Kirika was now leaning her face against Haruaki's thigh and rubbing it furiously while he sat cross-legged. Meanwhile, she kept purring happily. If anyone tried to pull her away by force, she would made a sad expression. The situation was extremely tricky.

Haruaki rubbed the still aching back of his head while sighing. As a side note, the tragic remains of the fibrous murder weapon was now lying on top of the kotatsu.

"How troubling, but we must handle this calmly. Why don't you settle down and help me, Fear? Otherwise, I'm completely out of ideas by myself."

"Jeez—it can't be helped. For now, I'll pretend I never saw you taking advantage of the situation to enjoy the shamelessness earlier... Umm, anyway, it's undeniable fact that we must find a way to solve the problem of Kirika turning into a cat."

"Rather than a cat, I think she's closer to a hybrid between a kitten and a human. What happened just now gave me a thought. She seems to be able to understand what we're saying. However, she only answers... in cat language... H-Hey!"

Kirika placed her head on his lap and started rolling about. Since she was wearing the school uniform, her skirt was curling up slightly and it looked quite dangerous. In many ways, it was extremely concerning.

"Hahaha. She really likes to stick to you, Haruaki."

"Y-Your cold laughter only fills me with terror... Hurry and come up with a solution, okay!?"

"Even if you say that, I can't help it. Hey, Kirika Cat, do you wanna play with me—? Come~ This way this way!"

Fear clapped her hands and tried to get Kirika's attention. Curious, Kirika went "Hmm hmm?" and looked up towards her. Fear continued:

"This is a special privilege for you. I allow you to play with my silver hair—Okay, come here now—"

Fear started to shake her silver hair lightly. Perhaps curious about the hair, Kirika slowly turned her upper body and stared straight towards Fear's hair that was dangling over the tatami floor. She had a hesitant expression as though wondering whether she should play with it or not.

"M-Muu~ This might be disrespectful towards Kirika, but don't you find her especially cute the way she acts like a cat...? Oh, so the number one culprit candidate is this pair of cat ears?"

Fear looked downwards at Kirika's head as she approached, frowned and spoke:

"...Well, I can feel an ominous aura from it for sure. If you say it's cursed, I don't think that's likely to be wrong."

"Really? I knew it. So things should be solved by taking it off... But like I said just now, it doesn't come off no matter what."

"Hmm..."

For a few seconds, Fear stared straight at the cat ears that were waving back and forth before her eyes.

Suddenly, she grabbed the cat ears and pulled upwards.

"H-Hu myaaaaaaah!?"

"Hey!"

It must have hurt a lot? Originally intending to reach into the silver hair, Kirika was so surprised that her entire body jumped outright. After performing a somersault, she leaned against Haruaki's body again.

"Hey, didn't I just tell you that it can't be pulled off!?"

"I-I just wanted to confirm for myself! S-Sorry, Kirika. It's my fault just now. I won't do that again. I'll be very gentle. Okay, come over to me~"

Fear's cat-soothing voice only sounded terrifying to Kirika. Whimpering softly, Kirika only dared to peer hazily at Fear with her tearful eyes while hiding behind Haruaki's back.

"Guh... S-She's really too cute. But she only sticks to you, Haruaki, I'm so jealous... No wait! You shameless brat, that's so underhanded of you! What shameless means did you use to entice the Kirika Cat? I won't forgive you! Looking at the way she sticks close to you so obediently, you must have tamed and broken her through utterly shameless means for sure! I'll curse you!"

"Stop saying weird things like broken! It's just she met me before you, so she's more familiar with me, okay!?"

"Hmph... Like anyone would know. Whatever, anyway, those cat ears can't be taken off by force apparently. In that case, the remaining method is—"

"Hmm...? Wait a sec, I've got an idea."

"What? What do you mean by that?"

"Well, it's actually quite simple. Since it can't be taken off, why not just break it? If I asked Konoha, I'm sure it can be cut safely whether she did it in sword or human form... But the problem is that she needs to work until night. If I call her and asked her to get off early... I dunno if that'll work or not... Hmmmmmm."

As the saying went, sacrifices were unavoidable when trying to get out of an urgent situation. However, Konoha's part-time job was also quite important. In any case, Kirika's affliction only seemed to be acting like a cat, so there should not be any major problem in leaving her in this state until night came... No wait, it might be too late to react once something damaging happened...

Thinking to this point, Fear nodded forcefully.

"I see. Breaking is not a bad idea indeed. But—"

"But what?"

"...There's actually no need to wait for Cow Tits to return. Neither do you need her to get off work early. Her help is not needed at all. Just let me do it. Fufu, let's just use this... Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»—Curse Calling!"

The Rubik's cube taken out by Fear instantly turned into a metallic cube, then it transformed rapidly, finally presenting a vicious hatchet. The blade glimmered brightly. Simply by looking at its long and massive shape, one would feel their life was endangered.

Hiding behind Haruaki's back, peeking at Fear from over his shoulder, Kirika was so frightened that she curled herself further into a ball. Haruaki could feel the sense of terror she was exuding as she hid behind his back—

"No, wait, I think that's too terrifying! You need to be more gentle. So I think it's better to get Konoha's help instead!"

"What are you talking about? We can't possibly wait until night. Besides, that means I'll have to keep watching Kirika intimately stuck to you until tonight. No wait, you're asking me to watch from the sidelines while feeling jealous of how you're monopolizing the adorable Kirika Cat—Arghhh, I can't tolerate this any further! So I must destroy it right now, let me do it!"

"Calm down! Look carefully, it's possible that not only the ears but you also need to be precise enough to destroy the headband portion together at the same time! Y-You wouldn't happen to be thinking that just because she's Class Rep, injuring her a little wouldn't matter, would you?"

"Stop looking down on others. My intentions are not that awful. I'm confident that I won't harm her at all! What~ I just need to destroy it precisely, right? Leave it to me... Fufufu."

Fear smiled confidently and malevolently while approaching slowly with the axe in her hand, meanwhile gesturing with her free hand in an attempt to summon Kirika.

"Okay, Kirika, come on over to me, okay...?"

"H-Hu mii..."

Kirika sounded even more like a kitten while her shoulders trembled nonstop.

"You don't need to be so afraid, this is to help you..."

"...(twitch twitch)."

"Just close your eyes and it'll be over in an instant..."

"...(shudder shudder)."

"Ahhh~ Look how you're trembling so much, you really look quite pitiful. Don't worry..."

Moving in a floating manner like a ghost, Fear took another step forward.

Then she slowly raised the hatchet.

"That's right, don't... worry... I won't hurt you! Fufufufu!"

"Eee... Eee meow—!"

"Hey—! You're deliberately scaring her, right? I can tell from a single glance! Eh, Class Rep?"

Accompanied by a loud scream, Haruaki's shoulder suddenly felt lighter. As he looked back, he saw Kirika's hair swaying as she rushed out of the living room and disappeared from sight.

"Aww crap! She ran away!"

"That's totally obvious! In that situation just now, even I wanted to run away!"

In any case, they had to chase her. Haruaki and Fear ran out of the living room together but did not see Kirika in the corridor.

"Hey~ Class Rep, where are you—?"

Thud!

Hearing the noise, Haruaki and Fear exchanged glances then slowly made their way towards the apparent source, the kitchen. They ended up finding Kirika who was trying to hide like a cat.

If one had to sum up the scene in a single sentence...

She was in the cupboard.

Hiding in the lowest shelf. Naturally, the cupboard was filled with stuff while Kirika was a human-sized cat, which meant there was no way she could hide completely... She was simply concealing her head while exposing her rear, and rather than rear, it would be more accurate to describe the outrageous scene as her lower half poking out of the cupboard.

"Class Rep...?"

"Mew..."

"What kind of hiding is this? I've found you."

"Meow!"

Kirika responded to Haruaki's calls and exposed her face, but as soon as she spotted Fear's presence, she immediately scurried away and fled. Due to moving bipedally, her speed was quite fast... But even if she moved on all fours like a cat instead, there would be other troubles. First of all, the most dangerous part was her skirt which would further increase the feeling that he might see something that he should not.

"Woah, she ran away again! Anyway, Fear, put that hatchet away first!"

"Muu, I forgot."

"Jeez..."

After waiting for Fear to put away the torture tool, Haruaki left the kitchen together with her. But again, Kirika's trail was lost. Further delays might end up with her running outside, hence they had to hurry and find her—

But at this moment, an extremely ominous feeling surfaced in Haruaki's mind.

He asked himself:

...Generally speaking, escaped cats were never that easy to catch, right?


Haruaki's prediction proved to be correct as their fruitless chase persisted for quite a while. Kirika ran randomly all over the place inside the house, crouching behind the shoe cabinet, burrowing into the futon that Fear had not put away after getting up from bed, or entering the kotatsu again, or charging into a cupboard—

"Guah... Lost her again... Where are you?"

Haruaki groaned while searching the corridor. Fear was not with him, for she had fled screaming, scared off by a spider that came running out of a cupboard. Once she recovered from her shock, she was probably going to resume helping with the search. Although he would be sorry to say this to Fear, judging from the reason why Kirika was running away, Haruaki felt that he would have a higher chance of catching her by himself alone...

Advancing casually, Haruaki was thinking "it'd be nice if I found her during this time"—He heard a noise again. This time, it came from the changing area of the bathroom. Tiptoeing his way into the changing area, Haruaki did not see Kirika. Neither had she covered herself with the dirty clothing. In that case, she was probably in the bathroom.

"But why didn't I see her... Could she be over there?"

Haruaki pushed open the bathtub lid and looked inside, the result was—

"...M-Meow."

He found her. Kirika had curled herself up to hide in the empty bathtub. Although he startled her the instant the lid was lifted, as soon as she discovered that it was Haruaki standing before her, she breathed a sigh of relief.

"Fear has incurred your dislike already huh... But let's put that aside first. Class Rep, it's okay now. Anyway, please don't flee again. Come with me."

"Hu mii..."

"Don't worry, relax. Okay, I'll protect you from getting harmed by that silver demon."

Haruaki smiled as he spoke to her. Only after a long while did Kirika slowly extend her hand from the tub. Just as Haruaki gently held her hand in return—

"Seriously, that damned weird creature... So good at running. Hey~ Haruaki, where are you—?"

"...!"

"Woah!"

As soon as she heard Fear's voice, Kirika withdrew her arm forcefully. Left without a choice, Haruaki was dragged into the bathtub. Kirika even closed both her arms tightly around the back of his neck. During this time, Haruaki heard a thudding noise behind him as his view grew dim—Kirika had probably used her feet to close up the bathtub lid.

(This... is...)

Perhaps afraid of being discovered by Fear, she wanted Haruaki to hide together with her. As much as Haruaki could sympathize with how she felt, having their bodies intimately pressed together like this was really quite problematic. Due to the closed lid, Haruaki could not see clearly but not only were his ears feeling Kirika's breath, he could also feel something soft underneath him and even his legs were being clamped immobile by something—As soon as he calmly pondered his body's state, Haruaki could not help but think "this is quite terrible."

Just as Haruaki remained frozen there, Fear's voice came closer and closer.

"Hey, then is it the bathroom...?"

At this moment, Kirika suddenly applied greater force to his neck. In other words, something was pressed completely against Haruaki's body. Haruaki had no choice but to focus like an ascetic monk and avoid thinking.

Their pounding heart beats sounded in unison for a few seconds—

"Hmm~ Not here..."

Fear did not continue speaking. Apparently, she had not discovered the two of them here. Haruaki exhaled with relief and spoke softly in the darkness:

"S-She seems to have left. So Class Rep, could you please let go of me..."

"Suu... Huff~ Mew..."

"Y-You're sniffing scent...?"

"...Meow, mmm—!"

"Woah, why are you hugging me tighter and tighter? Wait a sec, okay, the danger has already left, calm down! Class Rep, wah! Why are you pressing that spot against this place—?"

Just as Haruaki struggled desperately, trying to free himself from Kirika's embrace, his dark field of view suddenly became bright, allowing him to see Kirika's ecstatic expression while hugging him. This situation meant that someone had lifted the bathtub's lid—

"Ah... Ah..."

With stiff motions, Haruaki looked back. Standing over there, obviously holding the lid, smiling at the sight of Haruaki and Kirika entangled together in the narrow space—Fear.

"Fufu... Thinking you were probably here, I bluffed and wouldn't you know it, I caught you red-handed... Fufufu."

Then Fear smiled like an executioner—

Silently, she took out the Rubik's cube from her pocket.

"You misunderstood, Fear! This isn't what you think..."

"Hahaha, it doesn't matter, Haruaki. I already know everything. You don't need to explain anymore..."

Just as previously, the toy clicked and transformed into a vicious hatchet.

"I really made a mistake. The first person this hatchet needs to chop is you instead of Kirika! I will teach you a good lesson, you shameless brat! Just sit there obediently—!"

"Eeeek!?"

"Hu meow!?"

Fear's expanding aura of murderous rage was enough to send Kirika into an even more serious state of panic. Hence, she desperately struggled in the cramped bathtub, finally standing up.

C3 07-259.jpg

"Wah~ Class Rep, please calm down... Ouch ouch!"

"Meow—!"

Stepping on Haruaki's shoulder and head as a foothold, Kirika tried her utmost to escape Fear who was right in front of her. But because Fear blocked the way to the rinsing area, she ran in the opposite direction... In other words, she noisily opened the window above the bathtub and escaped outside. Thinking "Oh no!", Haruaki frantically poked his body out of the window and looked outside. Perhaps bringing out primal instincts due to desperation, Kirika displayed cat skills even further and instantly climbed up to the roof using a nearby drainpipe.

"Oh man, things have become even worse...!"

"Th-That's not my fault, okay? Everything just now was your fault for being too shameless!"

Fear spoke while putting on her shoes to go outside. Looking up at roof from the garden, they could see Kirika curling herself into a ball on the tiles, her body trembling.

"Cl-Class Rep..."

"Hurry and come down—I'm really sorry for earlier. Look, there's nothing in my hands anymore—!"

The two of them tried to call her down, but only managed to make Kirika even more afraid. The instant she heard the noise, she became frightened and frantically tried to dash to the other end of the roof to find a place to hide. Peering from highest point of the roof to reveal half of her face, she looked down towards them with worried eyes of trepidation.

"It's not working... It'll be bad if she fell down. We must hurry and protect her."

"I can jump that kind of height, leave it to me!"

Haruaki narrowed his eyes in derision and tightly grabbed Fear's collar just as she crouched down in preparation to jump.

"Hold it right there for me. I haven't forgotten how you damaged the roof tiles when you first arrived here. If you break the tiles again, I'll definitely need to call someone in to fix it... Also thinking back now, it's quite a miracle that only the tiles were broken at the time. If you end up making a huge hole in the ceiling as a result of believing in another miracle, it'll drive me nuts."

"I-I'm not that heavy, okay! I'll curse you!"

"By the way, I think if you go, you'll only scare her into running all over the place. In this kind of state, the same could happen if I went, but at least the chances are much better than yours. So I'll go up and you wait here. Uh—I remember the ladder being in the storeroom..."

"Muu... No other way, I guess."

Despite her reluctance, Fear seemed to be persuaded after all. Hence, Haruaki took out a foldable ladder from the accessory dwelling's storeroom and used it to climb to the roof top. Perhaps because the sun was about to set, at this unsheltered location, the wind felt especially chilly.

"Well... then..."

He checked out the roof top and found Kirika looking towards him from the other end of the roof, her eyes still filled with terror.

"A-Aren't you cold, Class Rep? We can go back to the kotatsu to warm ourselves—"

"..."

Haruaki took a light step forward. Kirika swiftly moved to the side. Whenever Haruaki tried to circle over to her side, she would move in the opposite direction to increase their distance. Perhaps due to the excessive terror caused by the earlier murderous aura, her wariness was unprecedented.

"It's really okay. See, I'm alone."

"Meow..."

Although Haruaki spread his hands to show that everything was safe and alright, Kirika still refused to lower her guard. She simply maintained a fixed distance and stared directly towards Haruaki.

No good... Haruaki sighed. Seriously, how did things come to this? Naturally, it was entirely the fault of the cursed cat ears—

Haruaki thought "oh right." A cursed tool—Due to their obvious existence, he had forgotten that this home was that kind of place, a house where cursed tools were gathered. Although he had no recollection of those cat ears, it could very well have come from somewhere in his own house. Just by chance, Kirika came upon it, and just by chance, she had put it on, probably. Simply put, the reason she became like this was—

"Class Rep... I'm sorry."

He muttered.

Indeed, his home was to blame. Upon reflection, Haruaki remembered that this home was used to keep large numbers of cursed tools. Although he was fine due to his constitution, to others, to ordinary humans like Kirika, this kind of place was far too dangerous.

Were this an ordinary household, Kirika obviously would not have suffered such a fate. She would have visited this home normally, drank tea normally, then returned home normally after borrowing the cookbooks normally. Nevertheless, none of these matter-of-fact imagery could be witnessed in this home. Because it was this kind of home, those imagery could not exist.

However—Haruaki narrowed his eyes.

That sort of normal life would require everything here in exchange. Were it not for this house being the place where cursed tools were gathered, Haruaki would not have gotten to know Fear, Konoha and Kuroe. As for Kirika, perhaps their relationship would not have grown so close either.

Actually, thinking over these hypothetical situations was useless, because right now, only this kind of life and this kind of home was "normal." There was absolutely no way of changing predetermined reality.

Hence, hence all he could say to her, sure enough, was—

"...S-Sorry."

Repeating the same word, Haruaki could only smile wryly as he watched Kirika make a slightly doubtful expression of "...?" while he slowly sat down on the spot. Haruaki felt the hardness of the tiles from his bottom.

"Hmm... I will accompany you until you're willing, Class Rep. Before you calm down, I'll be right here waiting for you. I won't force you to do anything and I absolutely won't do anything excessive. I promise you... So, anyway, we'll just wait here leisurely."

"Meow...?"

"Haha, you can understand what I'm saying...? Oh well, it's been quite a long time since I last visited the roof, so it's quite refreshing for me too. It'd be better if only I had brought tea or something up here—Ow!"

Just as Haruaki mentally prepared himself for a long haul and his hand reached behind his back to support himself, he felt a slight pain on his palm. The roof tile at that position was already cracked so his palm was cut by the slightly protruding edge of the broken tile. Seeing the continuous bleeding, Haruaki frowned.

"Hmm, how unlucky, is this caused by the destruction Fear wrought last time? Looks like I better not be stingy with the money and get someone to fix the tiles as quickly as possible... Woah!"

His body suddenly felt an impact and was pushed over with a slam. If he were not sitting, surely he would have been sent flying and fallen off the roof. Feeling terrified, Haruaki looked at the object that had charged at his body—Naturally, it was Kirika.

"Meow... Meow~ Meow..."

Her voice sounded sad. Her expression likewise. Having pushed Haruaki down, Kirika lightly brought her face against Haruaki's hand—

Then she stuck out her tongue.

And licked the wound.

"Meow... Mmm... Mmm, meow..."

"W-Woah~ Class Rep?"

There was a slight sound of moistness. The blood flowing down the palm was carefully licked clean by Kirika's mouth. Haruaki could feel surprising warmth from her tongue. Perhaps due to the pain of the wound, he could no longer distinguish her temperature. Calmly and without hurrying, she continued to move her little tongue nimbly. Lick lick, lickety lick.

"..."

Although this situation was absolutely embarrassing, Haruaki could not move his hand because Kirika was gripping it tightly. Neither could he shake her off forcefully. In any case, he had no choice but to acquiesce to her wishes.

At this moment, an unimportant question of "do cats have this kind of habit?" crossed his mind while he sighed slightly wryly.

"To think I had such a tough time catching you earlier, yet once I decided to wait patiently, I ended up catching you successfully instead. What is this?"

"...Meow?"

Reacting to Haruaki's muttering, Kirika looked up at him.

"Oh~ It's over? Uh—Thank you for licking my wound... Should I thank you first for that? Okay, the bleeding's almost stopped, it's already okay."

Haruaki lightly clenched his fist and opened it to show that his hand was already fine. Kirika also smiled happily, purring vaguely in cat language, then she pressed her entire body against Haruaki tightly. He was once again cornered with no way out.

"How troubling... I guess I'll have to stay like this for now."

Hearing her answer with a meow, Haruaki made a wry expression. He could hear a cat's purrs by his ear. Kirika's warm body weight was resting on top of him, as though trying to protect him from the chill of the blowing wind. The view before his eyes was still the familiar and peaceful sky, generously displaying a wondrous and picturesque sunset. On further thought, Haruaki realized that the last time he had lain down like this to watch the sky was already a long time ago.

"Mmm meow... Hoo—..."

Suddenly, what entered Haruaki's ears were breathing noises following a regular rhythm. Bringing his gaze back from the sky, he found Kirika sleeping with a blissful expression on her face with eyes closed. Furthermore, she was using his stomach as a pillow.

"Doing as pleased, nothing less expected from a cat... Woah!"

"..."

Haruaki almost jumped out of his skin. Without him noticing, Fear had climbed up, standing on the top of the ladder, she leaned her upper body forward onto the roof to look in his direction. Fear's vicious expression looked as though she was about to break out in loud cursing but immediately, she noticed that Kirika was sleeping. Hence, she reluctantly shut her mouth, probably deciding that there would be no benefit in waking her up at this point in time.

Instead, Fear pouted with displeasure, gesturing with one hand repeatedly while standing on the ladder. Was she trying to convey some kind of message?

(ʞ... i... l... l...? W-What kind of secret code is this...?)

She kept repeating the same motions. Haruaki finally figured it out. It was mirror-reversed because he had not realized that his position was opposite to hers. In that case—

—I'm gonna kill you.

(You've got to be kidding, right!?)

Just as Haruaki tried to gesture in response that "You've got the wrong idea, it's Kirika who hugged me on her own until she fell asleep"—

The motion of his arm ended up causing his fingertips to touch Kirika's cat ears lightly.

"...Eh?" "Hmm?"

Haruaki stared in wide-eyed amazement while Fear frowned and leaned forward in puzzlement.

The cat ears that originally could not be pulled off no matter what, unbelievably... What on earth was going on?

The cat ears easily separated from Kirika's head and rolled over the roof tiles before their eyes.

Part 6[edit]

With that, the mystery was completely solved.

While relying on Fear to transport the sleeping Kirika secretly back to the living room kotatsu, Haruaki discovered a scrunched up envelope beneath the kotatsu blanket. Inside was a letter that started with the following greeting: "I am a housewife, please forgive me for writing this letter out of the blue..." Reading further, Haruaki found the explanation about the dangerous item she had enclosed with the letter.

The letter explained that her husband had bought the item from somewhere. While treating what he had heard from the seller as a complete joke, the husband had retold some of it to the housewife. The tool was a problematic object, apparently used by a certain pervert in the past. A man who was abnormally obsessed with cat ears had imprisoned his lover and frequently forced her to behave like a cat while wearing cat ears. This coercion went as far as to persist for a number of years. The housewife's letter also mentioned that the cat ears were very scary. As soon as one laid eyes on them, one would be compelled to put them on. She had worn them once, but it was also the final time as well, because this thing was impossible to remove unless the wearer fell asleep from exhaustion while playing around as a cat...! She was truly and very sorry, although she had only heard rumors, if this letter really managed to reach its destination, she hoped that the receiver could get rid of this inauspicious tool. Ultimately, the true culprit was her own husband and she never imagined that he would have that kind of fetish. Hence, her passion that had lasted many years suddenly cooled off and she was now seriously considering divorce, etc. Since the remainder of the letter consisted of a long series of domestic resentment, Haruaki simply skimmed over the rest and only read the important parts. During the few seconds it took for him to browse the remaining content, Fear had already swung the hatchet to chop the cat ears accessory into two.

Naturally, the letter and the cat ears were taken care of discreetly, all buried in darkness. Not long after that, Kirika woke up in kotatsu, apparently with no recollection of what had happened. This came as quite a relief.

Due to the time getting late, Kirika also prepared to return home. Haruaki accompanied her to the entryway to see her off. As a side note, during this time, Fear was industriously wrapping the snapped burdock in newspaper and placing it in the cupboard.

While Kirika was bending over at the entrance to put on her shoes, she murmured emphatically:

"How troubling, to think I'd fall asleep in someone else's house. Clearly you should have woken me..."

"Eh, umm—Well, uh—That! Because you looked like you were sleeping very comfortably, Class Rep, we felt bad about waking you up. That's basically it!"

Kirika straightened up while gazing back at Haruaki who was acting bizarrely.

"Why does it feel a bit strange... Could it be that something happened while I was asleep? With Fear present as well, I can't help but imagine in a very ridiculous direction."

"W-What are you talking about, Class Rep? How could anything like that happen? That really would be absolutely ridiculous, right? A-Ahaha!"

Eyes of skepticism shot back at him but Haruaki had no choice but to feign ignorance of the matter, because everything that happened today was best forgotten... Whether for Kirika's or their sake. After all, given how cool her usual demeanor was, who knew how serious the mental trauma she would suffer were she to know what she had done.

Damage. Trauma. Such terms lingered in Haruaki's mind. The thoughts that had crossed his mind earlier on the roof surfaced again. The cause of Kirika's condition really did stem from this house. Today, he could still pretend to have no memory of what happened but that was impossible to guarantee next time because more direct harm might result.

"Then, uh... Class Rep."

Finally speaking up with much difficulty, Haruaki began to hesitate. What should he say? The idea that "this home might be very dangerous to Kirika" did cross his mind indeed, but he neither dared nor wanted to tell her something like "So please don't come again." Dear heavens, what should he do—

Just as Haruaki acted indecisively because of such issues, he heard Kirika giggling.

He looked up to see her friendly smile.

"—I will visit again. In actual fact, even I'm a bit embarrassed about coming over without notice."

"Eh?"

Her words sounded as though she had read his mind. Just as Haruaki looked back at Kirika's face, she blushed for some reason and diverted her gaze, even continuing to speak softly:

"W-What is with that amazed expression on your face? It's not like this is anything weird... Your home is a Japanese-style house that's quite rare in the modern age. Apart from the sense of nostalgia, it also feels fresh, plus Fear-kun and the others live here. Well... I feel... very happy. There's no other... special meaning, okay?"

"Ah—Yeah. If you want to visit, it's no problem at all, umm..."

At this moment, Kirika coughed to clear her throat and interrupted Haruaki, then she said:

"Well... If there's anything to worry about, it's that this home's situation is a bit special. If any dangerous item were to be released from your home, it would be troubling from my perspective. However—even if there were any dangerous tools that had caused problems in the past, so long as you manage them properly, there shouldn't be anything to worry about, right?"

"Ah, yeah, that's right... Well said. I'll manage them carefully, absolutely."

Haruaki carved the words he said deep into his heart. That was all he could do—He resolved with determination. After all, there was no way to change the situation at home—In that case, all he could do was work hard to avoid exposing Kirika to danger.

Although he was only shouting mentally, Haruaki felt his mood seem to lift slightly. Once again, he steeled his resolve and looked up at Kirika, only to find that she had turned around and placed her hand against the main door. Lifting her schoolbag lightly, she said:

"So, that's it for today. Also, thank you for your cookbooks... If my lunchbox tomorrow rises exceptionally in quality, that means I've been losing all this time because of my reference books rather than my cooking skills...! Fufufu, you should prepare yourself for defeat."

"Then I should ask you to show some mercy..."

The entrance opened and then shut.

The space where Kirika had departed from was filled with Haruaki's sighs.

Although a lot had happened, it was finally over. Luckily, he covered it up successfully... Or rather, when parting, the thought of "that was close" had crossed his mind. It would have been a bit unnatural if he had been the one to bring up this home's situation. Also, had he really done that, it would have brought forth unnecessary speculation from the other person. Ahhh, seriously—

Thank goodness that Kirika happened to bring the subject up on her own.


Back to her own apartment...

"..."

Walking into the living room, Kirika dropped the schoolbag by her feet. Immediately she fell upon her knees on the floor. Then Kirika—

"...Uwaaaaaah!"

Clutching her head, she began to roll from side to side.

In actual fact, she remembered everything.

She remembered everything very clearly.

Everything!

"I-I can't believe... I did that, I... To think I... To think I...!"

I had no choice but to pretend I forgot. How should I face him from now on? I don't want this kind of memory. I hope it can disappear. Oh God, please, God! The embarrassment is killing me, I just want to die and end everything! I'll simply kill him and suicide straight after. Calm down, even if I do that I won't wipe away the fact that I was once a cat. Rubbing myself repeatedly against him and hugging him tightly, even sniffing his scent and licking him. There's no doubt that I'm the one who did those actions, using this body...!

"Ooh, uwah... Uwaahh...!"

Roll roll roll.

Roll roll roll roll...

Kirika continued to roll on the floor in solitary agony, clutching her head as though trying to cover up her blushing cheeks.

Rolling nonstop, rolling nonstop.


The next morning, a certain mother and daughter in the family living one floor below were discussing the mysterious and inexplicable phenomena they had experienced separately the previous night. "I think I heard a scary girl's moans." "No wait. What I heard was the sound of something rolling." Then hearing their discussion, the grandmother began to recount the past in a grave tone of voice: "In these parts, long long time ago, there was a legend of a woman executed by decapitation, whose 'rolling head' kept searching for her body..." During this time, only the father, whose status was pitiful in this household where female authority reigned supreme, humbly proposed a very straightforward idea: "Perhaps there's a large cat messing around upstairs...?"

Of course, in a certain sense, his suggestion was the correct answer. Nevertheless, it was instantly ignored by the entire family.


Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. Kotatsu(炬燵): is a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, often built into the table itself. Kotatsu are used almost exclusively in Japan, although similar devices are used elsewhere.[1]
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