Slither~ Slurp slurp.
"Hey Haruaki... It's true that this is tasty and it's not like I'm complaining."
"But isn't today a special occasion? I was thinking surely the cooking would be much more special than usual."
As though trying to prove that she was not complaining, Fear noisily sucked up the noodles in one breath from the large bowl she was holding. Haruaki was eating the same noodles—namely, New Year's soba noodles—while replying:
"Special food? But I can't help it. Starting from a long time ago, the tradition is to eat this on New Year's Eve. But I guess it's true that it's a bit plain."
"Yes, speaking of plain there's Cow Tits. Then you should know quite well why soba noodles must be eaten?"
"What do you mean, 'speaking of plain,' how rude! Whatever, I'll still explain to you. The point of eating soba is a wish for the coming year to bring happiness in a long and slender stream."
"Long is good, but wishing for happiness to become slender sounds kinda negative in imagery, right?"
Kuroe slurped soba noodles into her dainty mouth while cocking her head slightly. In response, Fear nodded vigorously in agreement.
"That's totally right! Damn Cow Tits, to think you'd stoop to deceiving us with a half-assed explanation—This must be whatchamacallit. How do I put this? Surely you must be targeting the concept of 'slenderness' and involuntarily exposed your subconscious wish. Seriously, you really with for slenderness that much huh... Yeah, I'm sure of it."
"H-How dare you say such rude things with utter conceit on your face!? To think I explained in good faith!"
Even on the very last day of the calendar year, the Yachi family's dinner table remained noisy as usual. Haruaki smiled wryly as he recalled all the events over the past year—especially all sorts of sudden incidents that happened starting from the second school term.
First came the delivery of the black cube, then the discovery of the rice cracker thief, successive attacks from enemies and other characters, getting to know Sovereignty and Shiraho, the sports festival, the cultural festival, followed by exams and Christmas...
"Hmm, what's with you, Haruaki? Why are you suddenly making such a shamelessly perverted smile?"
"No I'm not... I was just thinking that a lot happened this year. Although some of it really was quite serious... But thank goodness we can sit down casually right now to welcome the arrival of the New Year."
After hearing Haruaki's honest thoughts, Fear averted her gaze in embarrassment. Then playing with the television remote, she carelessly changed channels and said:
"Muu... That too, it's not like I can't understand what you're feeling. But next year, more unwanted and uninvited visitors could continue to show up."
"Fair enough... But still, I'm thinking very optimistically that since we got through this year successfully, next year will surely be okay as well. We'll always manage somehow. Yeah, even those visitors probably won't be so free during New Year's as to come over and play. Anyway, we should relax a bit, at least during New Year's."
"Isn't that a bit too optimistic... Although that's what I wish for as well."
"I agree~ After all, this is the first time we're celebrating the New Year since Ficchi's arrival. I also hope we could relax and have as much fun as possible~"
Having finished their noodles, Konoha and Kuroe also smiled and commented. Moments later, Haruaki finished his soba as well. Konoha stood up, prepared to handle the clean up, then brewed hot tea. Meanwhile, Fear simply stayed in the warm kotatsu while surfing television channels.
"I wanna relax and take a break too, but today's television keeps broadcasting these strange things... They're not going to have those shows with the fluffy furry things? I was originally thinking, on this kind of occasion for eliminating a whole year's accumulated fatigue, I really need to receive more of their healing energy en masse!"
"It's because New Year's Eve is reserved for a lineup of special programmes~ Also, there's the Red White Song Battle... Although just like you, I'm not quite familiar with the latest pop music."
"Oh, then at this time I'd like to propose a great idea through reverse logic. Since there's nothing good to watch, let's amuse ourselves with something apart from the television~"
"Ohoh, Kuroe, you have some kind of fun suggestion?"
"Of course." Kuroe searched her chest pocket for a while then took out a small box.
"I already expected this to happen, so I took out a set of karuta from my room just now. Would you like to move ahead of schedule and start playing before the New Year, Ficchi?"
"What is karuta?"
Fear tilted her head and asked in puzzlement. Kuroe replied in an exceptionally cautious tone of voice:
"Fufufu. Karuta is definitely no simple game, requiring the use of wits, physical stamina, luck, memory, vigilance and reflexes, all at the same time. Although the rules are simply, you'll lose if you don't make use of your full abilities. It's a traditional Japanese card game... Yes."
"Hmm, this sounds more fun than watching television. Although I don't really get it, let's try it out."
Fear showed enthusiasm on her face as she crawled out of the kotatsu.
"Haru, do you want to play with us? After all, including the person reading out the cards, the recommended number of players for this game is three or more. Although two can still play alone, it's more fun the more people we have, after all."
"It's really been quite a while since I last saw karuta cards... I don't mind playing, but lemme help Konoha get the kitchen in order first. I'd feel really bad if I forced the final clean up of the year on her. You should teach Fear the rules while you're waiting."
"Got it~ Uh... Ficchi, first the cards are arranged properly like this. Then you inspect the drawing and the words on the card. Next, over here are the 'reading cards' with lines of poetry written on them..."
Haruaki walked to the kitchen while hearing the voice of Kuroe's explanations. Konoha was currently washing the dishes.
"Let me help as well."
"Oh dear, Haruaki-kun. I don't mind doing this myself at all."
"Don't say that. After all, it's New Year's Eve. If I slack off on the last day, it feels like I slacked off an entire year."
"Ufufu, that sounds reasonable enough. Then thank you very much, I'll be relying on your help."
Then Haruaki and Konoha stood before the kitchen sink and started to wash the dishes together. For quite a while, they worked silently without saying a word, but...
"I guess... Right now, I'm suddenly confronted again with the feeling that this year is about to end~"
"Fufu, making such a remark while doing the dishes, that's really something you'd do, Haruaki-kun."
"R-Really? I'm not too sure either. Oh by the way..."
Suddenly, Haruaki recalled what he needed to say to Konoha. Although it felt slightly embarrassing, this was a good opportunity because the new year was arriving several hours later.
"Uh... In other words, I'd like to thank you for the entire year. Not just for this type of domestic chores, but also other areas where you've helped me tons. I'm really grateful to you."
"Eh!? O-Oh dear."
The dish she was washing jumped lightly. Konoha glanced sideways at Haruaki. Due to feeling shy, Haruaki did not look back at her. Next, he heard a gulping sound from Konoha's throat.
"...Thank you. Although I don't feel like I've helped you especially..."
"No, really. I seriously feel that it's wonderful to have you here, Konoha."
"Fufu... It'd be lovely if that really were the case. Then I'll be very, very happy... Yes, simply hearing that from you, Haruaki-kun, makes me feel very blissful."
That's going a bit far—Haruaki thought, but at the same time, he knew that Konoha's words came straight from the heart. Feeling even more embarrassed, Haruaki sped up his dishwashing. Konoha seemed to make a wry smile.
"B-By the way, tonight's New Year spirit seems to be totally different from last year's."
"That's right. Kuroe-san... was also here last New Year's Eve. In that case, it really is the result of that child's presence. Really, there's never a moment of peace and quiet."
"Haha, but it's quite a refreshing change too. Just now, she even agreed to play karuta and is memorizing the rules right now. After the dishes, do you want to play together?"
"Wow~ That's really nostalgic. Very well, I'll show her what it means to be experienced... Oh no, I'm not trying to say I'm old, simply that regarding things that have been present since the past, it's natural to be more familiar as a result of longtime contact!"
"I know I know, you don't need to try so hard to explain! Anyway, please show some mercy. To be honest, the scene surfacing in my mind consists of a battle between a drill and your hand above the cards. No matter how easily accessible the cards may be, I wouldn't dare reach out with my hand!"
"Ooh. I-I will keep things appropriate... Say, will Kuroe-san really teach her the correct rules? That's a bit worrying. That child's ignorance has already reached the point where it's necessary to state explicitly beforehand that 'attacking others directly is forbidden.'"
"Also today is apparently the first time she's heard of karuta... Hmm, I'm beginning to feel worried too. Will Kuroe teach Fear properly?"
The two chatted while finishing the dishes, then turned off the faucet tightly. At this moment, they could now faintly hear the voices from the living room that had been covered by the noise of the water.
"Those are basically the rules. Let's try practicing now. I'll be in charge of reading while you find the matching card as quickly as possibly and grab it, Ficchi."
"Okay, leave it to me."
"Then let's start. «Noble Princess / 'Guh, to think these lowly peasants dare do this to me...' / Despite saying that»~ Okay, find the «Noble» card!"
"N-Noble... Got it, this is the one!"
"Nice reaction speed. Next comes the second card. «Knight Maiden / Just because the opponent is a slime / Do not underestimate»~"
"Knight, right... Knight? Th-There's none, oh there! Since it's a knight, there should be a weapon wielded, is this the one? No wait, that's the «Despite» card."
"That card reads «Despite being a warrior / Once fallen in enemy hands / She is nothing but an ordinary woman», right? As for the hint on the card, I remember there's a drawing of a translucent monster with tentacles, entangling a girl clad in armor..."
Haruaki and Konoha exchanged glances with twitching faces.
Clearly before worrying about the rules, the greatest issue lay in Kuroe's set of cards.
Seeing the cards put back into the box again, Kuroe made an exaggerated expression of sadness, hanging her head gloomily. Drained of strength, she sipped the tea brewed by Haruaki.
"It's not every day that I specially take out my prized «Dark Fantasy Karuta» deck, wanting to play with everyone... To think I'd fall to improper censorship from above, what an utter shame~"
"This is proper censorship! Th-Those indecent cards can't possibly pass, of course! What were you thinking!?"
"Damn Cow Tits, it took me so much effort to memorize the rules, yet here you go with your tyranny... That said, is that deck of cards really that shameless in content? To be honest, I couldn't really understand the drawings and writings on them."
"Do you wanna know? C'mere, for example, the first card is..."
Kuroe whispered discreetly into Fear's ear. Fear started off nodding then suddenly her cheeks went red.
"W-What, that's really too... too shameless! You shameless brat!"
"Eh? Why did the conversation just now suddenly develop into pointing your drill at me!?"
"This is my feeling! Shameless things are basically all your fault!"
"Totally incomprehensible and unreasonable to an astounding degree!"
"Also for the second card, the main point is the special ability gained by improved slime breeds..."
"Enough, that's enough for the two of you! In any case, we're not going to play with that deck anymore, so it doesn't matter if you don't understand the meanings! This topic of conversation is over!"
Konoha slammed the table repeatedly to prevent Kuroe from continuing her explanations. Fear pouted unhappily and turned the drill back into the Rubik's cube. Konoha exhaled in exhaustion and said:
"Phew... If it weren't for that peculiar deck, I wouldn't actually complain. Kuroe-san, don't you have any ordinary cards?"
"At least not in my room! What about you, Haru?"
"Hmm~ I don't think I have any in my room either... But there very well could be some in the cupboard there. I remember that all the old toys are gathered there."
"Ohoh! Then let me try searching. If there's a set of karuta, that'll be just right, but I don't really mind other New Year games."
Saying that, Fear crawled out of the kotatsu and started to rummage through the cupboard in the living room. But despite reaching with her body into the cupboard, all she could find were old instruction manuals for household appliances, hourglasses, bear-shaped paperweights and other random things. It looked like Fear really wanted a game for passing time. Despite the small mountain of objects by her feet, none of them matching her search, she continued to search the cupboard singlemindedly.
Hence, when a certain object appeared from the depths of the cupboard, she was completely unprepared for the unexpected shock.
In fact, upon further contemplation, Fear's instances of surprise were not particularly numerous in relation to this home.
Because this home was the facility that existed for the purpose of accepting cursed tools.
The unbelievable object that Fear had pulled out from the bottom of the cupboard—
Gave off loud laughter.
"Ee~ Heeheehee Oohyahahahaha!"
While screaming, Fear took out her Rubik's cube from her pocket and turned it into the massive drill again, pointing it against the object that had fallen from the cupboard.
"Oh... Excuse me~, umm, Fear?"
"H-Haruaki! Oh no, it's appeared! A cursed tool has appeared! Why are you making such a stupid expression? Can't you see that thing!"
Fear pressed the drill against the object and only turned her head while screaming at him in panic. Haruaki half-narrowed his eyes.
"...A cursed tool? You mean that thing?"
"D-Duh. I've never seen such a strange tool before. Can you help me check it out? Okay, check very carefully..."
Fear slowly approached and poked the old cloth bag with the tip of her drill.
"S-See, look, I'm not mistaken! Although I've no right to say this of others, this tool is too evil and incomprehensible...! How could you leave something like this so unguarded, shameless brat, you should have better danger awareness than that, right!? Hey you, by the way, you've gained self-awareness? If you have, answer me, who are you!?"
"Oh~ Excuse me... Fear."
I'll poke this guy to death instantly if anything happens—That was the kind of tension expressed by Fear's dainty face while she glared sharply at Haruaki and the rest of them. Drats, it'll be over if I accidentally burst out laughing. I must endure. As a side note, Konoha and Kuroe were currently bowing their heads with their hands covering their mouths, apparently on the verge of exploding, their shoulders shaking violently.
"...Uhh... Well, that's not a cursed tool. It's a kind of toy called a laughing bag. It used to be quite popular a long time ago."
"What? It's a toy? ...What's so fun about making a bag laugh?"
On further thought, Haruaki could not help but agree that Fear's doubts were perfectly reasonable. Why would this kind of thing become popular?
In any case, Fear seemed to accept the explanation. "Damn it, how dare you scare me!" She kicked the laughing bag lightly, thus producing "Uhyahahaha!" "S-Shut up!" At the same time, she resumed searching the cupboard.
"Haha... At least it confirms that you've reached the old toys zone. Perhaps there will be karuta cards nearby."
"H-Hmm. I was searching for a deck of karuta to begin with, so let's ignore this incomprehensible toy for now. Since you said it's nearby, let me look again—"
At this moment, another object dropped out from the cupboard that Fear was searching with a thud.
A thick piece of cardboard with a person's face on it. However, the eyes and nose parts were no longer in their proper positions.
Fear's entire body jumped. Then slowly, she turned her head and spoke in absolute seriousness:
"...Careful. This time, it really could be an evil and cursed tool for sacrificial rituals."
In the end, New Year's Eve was spent playing Old Maid with an old deck of cards that Fear had found in the cupboard. It it were just ordinary playing cards, Kuroe probably had them as well, but this was basically being adaptable. During breaks in between, Fear also tried playing with evil sacrificial ritual tool (the Lucky Laugh) or poking the laughing bag, so all in all, it felt like quite a traditional way to pass time during New Year's. As a side note, after arranging the Lucky Laugh, Fear produced a monster whose facial features rivaled those depicted in Picasso's paintings.
"Hmm... How about this card? Ugh!"
"Huhaha~! Quite a shame, Haruaki, that's the old maid! Next, I'll show you my true power... I'll draw this one! Yes, I finally win for once, it feels great! Kukuku, you've been deceived by my perfect strategy!"
"Aren't you lowering your head because your expressions keep betraying your secrets...!?"
"This isn't your first victory but simply your first time to avoid finishing in last place."
"Cow Tits, shut up!"
"But losing is losing, no matter what. It's finally my turn to shuffle the deck huh... Oh, it's already this late."
The clock's hands pointed to half past eleven. Normally, this would be bedtime pretty much. Rather, since Haruaki was essentially an early sleeper, most of the time, he would already be in bed by this time.
"You can't be suggesting it's time to sleep now, are you? I don't wanna go to bed! One more time, another game!"
"After all, in a certain sense, this is the only day of the year when an all-nighter is acceptable~ Say, is it really okay to keep playing cards on this special occasion? Not sleeping is fine, but don't you feel hungry?"
"Now that you mention it, that's true."
"Yeah, let me go prepare."
"Nunu, on a normal day, clearly you'd only nag at me and say I'm craving rice crackers for a midnight snack again..."
"That's because today is a special occasion. Although we stole ahead a little, since we've played cards already and it's almost New Year's anyway, it should be fine... Let's have the rice cake soup that I already finished cooking earlier."
"Rice cake soup? I've no idea what it is, but I'll accept as long as it's tasty!" Haruaki listened to Fear's remark as he walked to the kitchen. As usual, Konoha went over to help with preparations. In actual fact, Haruaki had spent the daytime preparing a whole array of New Year cooking apart from rice cake soup. Even Haruaki himself found it a bit excessive. Had he told Taizou and Kana about his cooking, they would surely have made fun of him, saying "What a housewife!?" Of course, Konoha also helped him a lot during his New Year cooking... Haruaki really felt grateful to her.
Taking the reheated rice cake soup on a tray, Haruaki returned to the living room. The Yachi family's rice cake soup consisted of standard fare including rice cakes, chicken, carrots and fish cakes cooked in broth. Although the outward appearance was not especially dazzling, Haruaki did put a lot of effort into the flavor instead. Hence, having tried rice cake soup for the first time, Fear offered a passing grade in her comment for the soup.
"Mu, nyo~... These rice cakes are so stretchy~ ...Munch munch. Pwah~ But this is really tasty, what good rice cakes!"
"Are you trying to say there are bad rice cakes? Say, can't you be more quiet when eating?"
"Bad rice cakes? Of course they exist, I even know them! Not only are they poor tasting and inedible, they are also rice cakes that are completely useless. They're also giant beyond necessity, both an eyesore and quite shameless, and especially enjoy living as parasites on the bodies of stupid girls. Sometimes, they even whisper: 'hehehe, before long, I'll have sucked up all the intelligence from this host...' One could call them mankind's natural enemy—"
"Oh, I can hear it! I can hear it right now, Ficchi~!"
"What! That's no good, the Earth is in danger!"
"What's wrong with you two... On this occasion when the year is about to end, you're even going as far as to treat these as living creatures!?"
Konoha was right, the year was about to end. As Haruaki watched the usual bickering unfold, he could not help but smile, meanwhile changing television channels casually. There were variety shows with celebrities making exaggerated grinning faces, talk shows, as well as news programmes calmly delivering weather reports of "a rapidly forming low pressure zone is approaching Japan, rain on a national scale is probable in the afternoon..." Heavy rain right on New Year's, how troubling... Hence, Haruaki paid slightly more attention to that weather forecast. Soon after, the news on the screen switched to images of a great bell sounding repeatedly for New Year's Eve. Quieting down was a good thing, but Haruaki was beginning to feel sleepy.
At least during the New Year's countdown, some lively noise would be better. Hence, Haruaki picked a variety show. After finishing her rice cake soup, Fear sat down in front of the television as though attracted by the hustle and bustle.
"Uumuu, I somehow feel a bit nervous... Oh, it's counting down for the minute now?"
Fear gulped and stared at the television screen. A gentle expression on her face, Konoha rested her jaw on her hands with her elbows on the kotatsu tabletop. On the other hand, Kuroe was thinking something (with great certainty, she must be thinking if something fun could be done during this one minute) with sleepy-looking eyes while staring at the television. As Haruaki watched the girls, mesmerized, the final minute of the year was passing away with incredible speed. Then—
"Five... Four, three, two, one... Zero!"
In tune with Fear's whispers, fireworks lit up in the television screen. The guest celebrities' smiling faces. The audience's loud applause. The brightly colored onscreen captions. "Wow~" Fear's mouth gaped as she watched all these lively and festive images.
"Okay, a new year has started again... So, Happy New Year to everyone."
"Happy New Year's greetings to you, Haruaki-kun."
"Happy New Year! Haru, I continue to be in your care this year."
After exchanging New Year greetings with Konoha and Kuroe, Haruaki looked towards Fear.
"You too, Happy New Year."
"Muu. Although I don't really know what's the difference after starting a new year... However, this is considered a kind of ritual, right? Then let me say, Happy New Year."
Fear nodded as she spoke. Haruaki smiled wryly and stood up, saying "Then up next is..."
"Where are you going? Are you making the first toilet visit for the new year?"
"Of course not. I mentioned it during the day, right? We set off once the new year arrives. Just now, the weather forecast said there might be rain in the afternoon, so let's get going. Although you don't need to rush, let's start getting ready, everyone."
"Come to think of it, I did hear you say something like that... But I forgot afterwards, because when you said 'once the new year arrives,' I thought surely you meant going out after a night's rest. Then where are we going in the middle of the night?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Haruaki smiled. This was probably another first experience for Fear—and for Haruaki and the rest, it was something that could only be done once a year—a customary New Year's event.
"This is the New Year's first shrine visit."
Translator's Notes and References
- 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.
- Red White Song Battle(紅白歌合戰): commonly known as simply "Red-White"(紅白), an annual music show produced by Japanese broadcaster NHK for New Year's Eve. Performing in this show is strictly invitation-only, meaning that only the most successful singers in the Japanese music industry can perform.
- Karuta(カルタ): a Japanese card game that involves matching cards and grabbing the required card before the opponent can do so. Cards are divided into "reading cards"(yomifuda) with corresponding "grabbing cards"(torifuda).
- Lucky Laugh(福笑い): the fukuwarai is a Japanese game played around New Year's where players pin different facial parts (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth) onto a blank face and laugh at the humorous results.
- Rice cake soup(お雑煮): ozōni is a Japanese soup containing mochi rice cakes. Strongly associated with Japanese New Year's, it is one of the most auspicious foods eaten for the occasion.
|Back to Illustrations||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 1|