Hidan no Aria:Volume10 Chapter4

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4th Ammo: Three Roads of Immorality -Three Outs-[edit]

After school the following day-

Due to Kaname's constant nagging that I go to the movies with her, to the point of even physically pulling me, some mysterious anxiety plaguing her, I was left with no alternative but to follow her to Odaiba.

As we arrived in Odaiba, I made my way to the theater box office to purchase two tickets for an action film, when Kaname unexpectedly produced two previously-purchased tickets for a romance film.

Simply throwing them away would be too much of a waste, so I was forced to escort my self-proclaimed little sister as we sat side-by-side in that dim theater, and watch some sickeningly sweet romance film which I couldn't care less about.

Worse, at each and every plot point which saw the male and female characters stuck together, Kaname would grab my hand.

Even when I rebuffed her efforts, she'd simply reach out once more. I resigned myself to the torturous fate of "holding hands during a movie".

That girl kept rubbing the back of my hand with her fingers. Just what on Earth is she up to?

As the movie finally drew to a close-

"That was so good-!"

"...Well, the story was alright, I guess."

We headed to the McDonald's next door for a cup of coffee and a brief rest.

I was constantly worried that Kaname would, like the other day in the locker room, flip some weird switch and once again enter that mode so much like an animal in heat. In any case, it looks like today things are just fine.

"Especially that sunset scene. I wonder how they shot it?"

"It doesn't look like they used a rail. My guess is they took a helicopter shot at low-altitudes. Those birds seemed to be CG, though."

"Ah? No way!"

"It was a clever use of backlighting for shadows. Still, that scene was pretty skillfully done. By suddenly thrusting a setting unrelated to the story at the viewer, they completely changed the mood. It's a good trick."

"Ohh. That's right, the second I saw that scenery, I definitely felt a lot more relaxed. That natural scenery sure was beautiful."

As I chatted with Kaname, whom it seemed loved movies...

I discovered some of my sentiments were shared by her.

On an impulse, I shifted the topic to action movies. Delighted not one bit less, she continued the discussion.

Even thrillers and comedies, her feelings were exactly the same as mine. How surprising.

...To be honest, for a girl to share my interests like this; this is a first for me.

After all, considering the animal movies Aria likes, Shirayuki's favorite hard-to-understand old man films, or those artistic films requiring a peculiar sense of aesthetics that Riko watches, the girls of Baskerville sure have some strange tastes. Reki, of course, has never watched a movie before.

...But back to the topic at hand...

Back there in the theater, when she held my hand, and waved hers in excitement, I could see the numerous bandages she wore.

When I asked her about them,

"Ah. This is...because yesterday I made a present for Onii-chan, but I used too much strength, and pricked myself."

"A present?"

"That would be this! Here."

Having thus spoken, Kaname...reached into her Butei High designated bulletproof backpack, and pulled out a paper bag with the word "LOVE" written in large red letters.

At first I mistakenly thought that label was printed, but remarkably, it was entirely handwritten.

Just the bag itself was terrifying enough, but that didn't stop Kaname from handing it to me, her expression exclaiming "Open it! Open it!"

Without any other choice, I ripped the heart sticker sealing the bag closed (which the sticker, I should note, also seemed to be handmade), and kacha kacha pulled out what was contained within.

"..."

It's a handmade...

Plush...

Me.

It's deformed, sure, but without a doubt, it's me.

Attached to its left breast is a label: "Onii-chan".

"It was my first time doing something like this, so it was hard fought."

Even though Kaname cutely stuck her tongue out...but, but this thing...is moist with blood.

Signs that it's been vigorously washed were apparent as well, isn't this just like something from the set of a horror movie!?

Even though she mentioned pricking herself, but for there to be this much blood, no matter how I look at it, wasn't she badly hurt before she even started?

"...?"

With great consternation, I removed the "Kinji doll" completely from the bag. That leaves...

Attached to the right hand of the Kinji doll is a "Kaname doll".

The hands of the two dolls are connected by a red string, tying them together, as if to say, "No matter who tries, no matter what happens, nothing will ever separate them". [1]

"Onii-chan, do you like it?"

How on Earth could I like it? This kind of bloodstained doll! Are you trying to pick a fight!?

I was this close to blurting out these three lines...

But Kaname looked at me, eyes pleading "Praise me, praise me", as she laughed brightly.

With the atmosphere the way it is, she might just kill herself if I say something wrong. She seems to hold me on quite the pedestal.

Nevertheless, if I praise her too much, next time it might just be a full-size doll of me. With a full-size doll of her to match, of course.

Accordingly, I responded weakly.

"Um, yeah. Sure."

After answering, I returned the two dolls to their heart-covered bag with trembling hands.

"So anyway. What's the occasion?"

"Celebrating our becoming lovers."

"...Huh?"

"Well, Onii-chan, you've hugged me, kissed me, brought me to your home in secret, talked to me publicly at school; both in public and in private you've showered me with your love. You even promised me you won't meet with any other girls or love any other girls."

"..."'

Um, I'm pretty sure what we agreed on was pretty different from what she just said.

"-Onii-chan. Haven't I dutifully kept our promise?"

Right as I was about to throw the dolls away, Kaname painstakingly smiled and asked me this.

"Hmm?"

"I've been keeping our promise. I haven't done anything violent to anyone. That's why Onii-chan also hasn't met with any other girls or embraced any other girls, right?"

Confronted with her candid smile and question- yesterday's incident with Fuuma flashed through my mind.

But in any event, it's not like this happened anywhere near her, so it's not like I have any responsibility to report on it, right?

No matter how you look at it, it was out of my control anyway.

"Right."

Hearing my response,

"Hmm?"

Kaname continued to stare at me, her face not having so much as twitched the entire time.

"You know me, I've been quite friendly with my classmates. Haven't killed a single one. Don't worry, Onii-chan."

"Isn't that obvious?"

Why emphasize that?

"That thing before with Onii-chan, I was happy, you know."

"What thing?"

"When you protected me, back on the bus."

...?

Ohh. She means that time when we returned from the Butei hospital, when everyone crowded around, and I helped hold people back. It's quite surprising she still remembers.

Even describing it as "protecting", how exaggerated.

"That's why, I'll protect Onii-chan too. From shrewish women. If there are ever any sluttish women calling you to strange places to do strange things, make sure to let me know. There's no point in worrying about things alone."

Truth be told, my utmost wish right now is that someone would save me - from you.

"Today I wanted to confirm something."

"Which is?"

"Whether or not Onii-chan truly loves me. But Onii-chan was willing to go on a date with me, so I finally understood. I am loved by Onii-chan. When we were watching the movie, Onii-chan was willing to accept my hand - just like those dolls. I'm so happy. I can't help but want to cry out that if we could go on like this forever, it would be so wonderful. That's how I honestly feel."

"...For...forever..."

"I'll always love Onii-chan, and Onii-chan will also love me. Our mutual love will last for all eternity."

Her subtle gaze seemed to be aimed at the bag with the dolls.

Laughing lightly, she gently stroked her wounded hand.




Several days later, I received a call from Watson informing me that Aria and the others had been released from the hospital.

They were originally a rather rowdy bunch; my guess is, the reason they hadn't left the hospital until now is that "training camp" or whatever of theirs.

Even though Watson had already assisted me in explaining to them that the reason I was caring for Kaname was the strategy decided upon by Deen, but what Kaname had done in front of them was still easily misunderstood.

Under the status quo, if I were to run into Aria and the others in the course of normal school duties...

It'd be bad for my health no matter how I think about it.

Particularly Aria. If I'm not careful, she might just open fire instead of saying hello.

That being the case, I'd better start by humoring the good master.

Giving a call to my master, she responded with a command, "I also have something to say to you, come on over".

When I inquired as to her current whereabouts-

"I'm on top of the SSR building."

She answered thusly.

(Supernatural Searching Research?)

Ugh. I've got a bad feeling about this. Pretty soon, I'm bound to have ulcers.




I arrived at the SSR building I sorely did not want to see, climbed the mystifying stairway that had totem poles for handrails, passed through the magician-painted doors, and exited on the rooftop.

Under the light of the setting sun, I saw Aria, eyes closed, a complicated expression on her face, sitting in the lotus position.

Standing next to her, an SSR third year sempai, Tokitou Juria.

On the fence around us were seated a handful of seagulls.

"..."

Even more foreign looking than the quarter Aria was the half, Tokitou-sempai.

She extended her pale white fingers, resting her hand on Aria's head.

As if able to see me, Sempai turned those pale blue eyes whose pupils could be clearly seen to face me.

"Uh. I'm a second year, Tohyama, a classmate of Kanzaki Aria over there."

"Please, be calm."

Tokitou-sempai coldly responded. She was SSR's chief representative- she'd already received her recommendation to begin study next year in Russia, in the parapsychology program reportedly begun by the Soviets.

The impression she gave was of someone strikingly clever, and her grades were excellent.

But for various reasons, she had always been estranged from her fellow students.

"Ah! Kinji."

Aria finally noticed my presence and opened her eyes.

Look, you. Would it kill you not to sit in the lotus position with a skirt on?

The scenery underneath that short skirt was thankfully hidden by shadows, but if weren't for that backlighting, I'd have already struck out.

"Pay attention. Focus your mind."

Having been commanded by Sempai in a low voice wholly unsuited for a girl, Aria once again closed her eyes as if meditating.

...It sure is strange. That Aria, listening so obediently?

I stood silently off the side for some time.

I heard some sort of ear-piercing sound, probably from a far off jet or something similar.

"...Kanzaki. What was already bad has become worse. Your frontal lobe center's begun to emit Fmθ (frontal midline theta) brain waves. Just because the boy you like has appeared in front of you is no reason to lose focus."

"Wh, what?"

Her head raised, Aria's canines were bared.

Blushing so red that it could be clearly seen even in the sunset, she blinked in surprise.

She faced me, turned back to face Sempai, and then looked once more at me, her gaping mouth distorted into an amoeba-like shape. That's an expression Aria only wears when she's literally stunned speechless.

"-Your dream is to be held by that person?"

Hearing Sempai say this-

Kaboom! Aria's blushing face hit an entirely new level.

The way her face turns red is just like Hilda's three-stage transformation.

(Held by...me?)

The hell does that mean?

Well, I've definitely held her in a bridal carry before, even if that was while in Hysteria Mode.

When we spar, I frequently grab a hold of her to practice throws. Not that I've ever succeeded; she's always either counter-thrown me, or bit me, or even poked me in the eyes.

"~!"

Aria thump! thump! thump! bounced around while maintaining lotus position, in an attempt to vent her aggression (though seemingly without uttering a word). Tokitou-sempai, in the meantime,

"Even though your outer appearance is decidedly that of a young child, but the things you think about are quite precocious; even I can't help but be embarrassed. Wait until you're a little older to think about those sorts of things. If you do those kinds of things with that delicate body of yours, you might just break,"

Told Aria with a reluctant sigh.

"Wait! No! There's no way I would! Wrong! You're wrong! You're completely mistaken! Absolutely mistaken! That's, that's WRONG!"

Aria finally spoke.

Retreating a step, she waved her arms and stamped her feet like a child throwing a tantrum, denying Tokitou-sempai's assertion in wild abandon.

This was the reason for Tokitou-sempai's social isolation.

From the time she was small, Tokitou-sempai has always had ESP; in her homeland of Russia, she'd previously appeared on TV, her expertise the ability known as scanometry. This was the ability to read brain waves through the medium of touch, and from those, interpret one's thoughts.

If what she saw she perceived as having potentially adverse consequences (even if only slightly so), she'd made it a habit of warning the person in question. Sempai seemed to regard this as a sort of a guiding tenet for her life.

Unfortunately, just like Aria was doing currently-

I'd heard that each and every person who'd been read had taken immediate offense, protesting with great umbrage that they'd never had such thoughts.

Because of this, she'd quickly become a hated individual. Besides SSR, Sempai had no place to call home, truly a solitary and lonely existence.

"-Then, let's call it a day, Kanzaki. Ever since Tohyama arrived, you've been completely distracted, to the point that I can no longer see a thing. Even if I've been able to grasp your alpha waves using your sigma rhythms as a base, there's no way to recover from that minimal mu curve. Simply put, this is otherwise the condition of one who is pre-occupied." [2]

"No! That, that... NO! NO WAY!"

Trying to rise from where she'd been throwing a tantrum, thud!

Aria instead tripped, falling over backwards and planting headfirst.

Just what has her so freaked out? To the point of falling over in such terrifying fashion.

It seems even the gulls atop the fence are flabbergasted at Aria's antics.

"Listen up, Kanzaki. The metier you seek isn't something you achieve through sheer force of will. It comes when you truly regard your target as part of your own body, the feeling you're aiming for should be as natural as moving an arm or a leg."

"Like a part of your body, huh. Then what do I do if it is a part of my body?"

"That just makes things simpler. The kidoujutsu used by the second-year Hotogi applies similar methods in physical enhancement techniques."

"So um, this body part. What if, for example, it were something like hair?"

"Hair? Hmm. Well, for hair like yours, let me see. Perhaps imagine it as having grown two extra arms, or maybe wings; that sort of image. The greater your ability to picture it in your mind, the better. A more conventional method might be to look at pictures of an angel or Buddha and practice that way."

"I, I see. In that case, I shouldn't have any problems imagining it. I just need to remember either Riko or Hilda, which should be plenty."

"?"

"It's nothing. I was just talking to myself."

"...One other thing. Eat whatever it is you like. Right now, you're like a budding flower; there's no way to tell what exactly it is that will cause that flower to blossom. Anyway, whether it be the first type, or perhaps even a mix of the fourth type ESP, use of one's ability - intentional or otherwise - will take something out of you. Afterwards, you'll notice a craving for those nutrients. So, how is it? Anything you want to eat in particular?"

"Mm. Peach buns."

Hey, look here, you. That's what you want all the time anyway isn't it?

"Peach buns is it? Kanzaki, you must be quite the sugar fiend."

Tokitou-sempai, having so spoken, turned to face the door to the rooftop, in other words, where I was standing.

Her twin, pale-blue eyes, pupils like black spots, zeroed in on me like a pair of leveled guns.

"You. Move. I won't think it rude. Though I will not, or rather, have no desire to, look in on the heart of a man, if I accidentally bump into you, because you haven't created proper distance, and you mistakenly think I tried to look, then I will not be pleased."

Hearing Tokitou-sempai's words, I carefully steered clear of her, and approached Aria.

No matter how precise Tokitou-sempai's powers were...I couldn't help but pity her. With the way things were for her, even daily life must be terribly inconvenient.

Just as Tokitou-sempai exited the roof, leaving me alone-

"Theeeeeeeeere's something I need to say first! Everything Sempai said just now, it's all wrong, alright? There's NO way I would think something so shameful! From the moment I was born, I've never once thought anything like that! It's wrong, WRONG!"

I walked over to Aria's side, who was screaming over and over "Wrong! Wrong!"

From the start, it's not like I was worried about what kinds of things she was thinking.

What's important isn't that.

"-Hey. Aria. What was that just now?"

"Practice for telekinesis, though it's not like it worked."

...As I thought...

Taking advantage of when I wasn't around to do the one thing I most dreaded!

Striking, slashing, shooting; this girl who could just about open a store in offensive techniques was now trying to add psychic powers to her repertoire.

I've counted before, the number of times she's opened fire on me is incontrovertibly more than the enemies we've faced. For her to master another superfluous weapon is of great concern to my continued wellbeing.

Please don't learn something like that. Regrettably, I'm quite clear; even if I tell her this, there's no way she'll just stop.

"Please don't learn something like that."

"Even if you say that, I'm not going to just stop. You should be quite clear on this, no?"

Upon hearing the conversation play out exactly the way I imagined, I couldn't help but be discouraged.

All I can do is to prepare myself. Maybe I ought to go take the picture they'll use in my funeral portrait.

"Why do you want to waste time and energy learning something like that?"

"I'm not telling you."

Tossing her head aside in response, I asked Aria more directly.

"Is this in order to revenge yourself against Kaname?"

"...Kamome?" [3]

Aria, having seemingly misunderstood, turned to look at the seagulls on the fence around us.

"Not kamome, Kaname. In short, GIV."

Hearing my response, Aria sharpened her already jagged gaze, her piercing glare focused on me.

"Oh? You've even helped her choose a Japanese name. How kind. Seems like you like her, that middle-school student, you lolicon!"

Bam! She abruptly stomped on my foot.

"That, THAT HURTS! It's not like I had a choice! She'd already gone around calling herself my sister, even transferring to this school! If I'd let her call herself GIV..."

"-I'll tell you what I told Watson: that tramp ambushed us, put us in the hospital! She's clearly an enemy! AN. ENEMY. And yet, still you people...!"

Aria glared at me with her camellia-colored eyes, her personal grudge evident in her gaze.

"Listen to me, Aria. Kaname was sent by GIII as an emissary of sorts. After she attacked you, she laid down her arms- even helped carry you all to the hospital! Right now, they still haven't chosen sides; they belong to neither Grenada nor Deen. If we want to persuade them to join- Ow! OW! That hurts! Stop it, stop hitting me!"

Bam! Bam! Thump! Thump!

"Shut up, shut UP, SHUT UP! You traitor!"

I grabbed hold of her head, and held her back; her tiny arms, swinging, hit only air. Like this, by relying on the difference in our arm lengths, I could keep her punches from connecting.

Having sealed her fists with this completely conventional method, pouting, she puffed her cheeks like a blowfish.

"Hmph! Forget it. You clearly just love that girl, and Watson and the others are scared witless. Continuing this conversation will just lead us in circles, so I'm not going to bother repeating myself. We'll do what we think is right; who cares what you guys do."

"You only talk, never listen..."

"That's you!"

At this anime-sounding retort from Aria, we traded glares.

"Changing topics, where's that girl staying now?"

"My room. With the way things have developed, I've been left responsible for keeping an eye on her."

"I knew it~"

Aria stuck out her lower lip, mood bad to the extreme.

"GIV...Kaname, you called her? Kan-a-me-chan~ As long as that suuuuper cute little sister of yours is to be found at your place, you can be sure I won't! There's not a chance in Hell that I'll share a room with an enemy!"

"Do you have to be so cutting? It's not like that was your place to begin with, anyway. It's not like I feel all that safe having to live together with her either, you know? It's to the point where I've considered asking one of you girls to be a bodyguard-"

Before I could finish what I was saying, all of a sudden one of the seagulls flap flap took flight.

These gulls from the Tokyo Bay are larger than normal, and subsequently, the sounds made as they flap their wings is also louder than normal. Both Aria and I reflexively turned to look.

It was almost as if it had sensed something bad was about to occur, and consequently, had beat a hasty retreat.

Don't tell me...the weather's going to take a turn for the worse?

"Kinji!"

Aria grabbed hold of my ear, and pulled my head back around to face her.

"You, you...don't tell me you did some, something weird to that girl?"

Flushed red, Aria bared her canines.

"Wha...huh?"

"If you've really done something, forget opening holes- be careful that the British Air Force doesn't blow the entire male dorms to smithereens!"

"Are you trying to start a war?! Listen, Aria-"

"Bu, bu, BUT, didn't you guys ki, ki, kiss!? You lech! You're seriously something; at that level, forget shameful, it's almost admirable! This damn womanizer!"

This time Aria used her legs to engage in a lower, middle, and upper attack combo.

Ouch, it really friggin' hurts!

This girl, because her hands have been rendered useless, has begun to kick without mercy.

"Like I had anything to do with that! She's the one who kissed me; you were there!"

"Even Riko couldn't help but exclaim 'To touch even his little sister, Kii-kun is seriously a human ditching humanity'!"

What do you mean "a human ditching humanity"?

Riko's words sure are hard to understand. [4]

"What do you have to say for yourself!? You've, you've even kissed me! And Shirayuki, Riko, even Reki! Honestly! This kissing bandit! Don't tell me you've kissed your sister again since then!?"

"Bam!" "Bam!" Aria began to stamp on the floor with great strength, intimidating me. I-

"Well, that's..."

This is bad. After that, it's true that we kissed.

But that was because I'd been grabbed so tightly by Kaname that I couldn't move, couldn't escape what came next.

It's not like I'd had any impure feelings about it either.

That said, it's not like I was completely blameless...but still, there should be room to defend myself.

In order to avoid having to deal with a roundhouse kick from Aria, or having her "open" holes in me, I'd better explain.

"Listen. If we're talking about whether or not it happened, well, it happened. But still! You, who grew up in England, should understand, that was just-"

"You...YOU! Come on here! You guys have only known each other for one week...just how far have things gotten between you!?"

"Let me speak! Stop always interrupting!"

"And...and with your own sister!"

Aria stabbed a finger in my direction, her posture loosening. I shouted in response,

"Listen to me! Kaname, she was never my sister to begin with! You're not the only one who's being driven half-mad by that self-proclaimed little sister!"

Right as I said that,

-Boom!

From near the large radiator installed on the rooftop, a burst of noise erupted.

-Pasha!

This time, the remaining seagulls all took flight in a hurry.

"-Iyaa!"

Causing Aria to scream as she jumped at me.

With her barreling into me, I fell backwards, crashing into the rooftop fence.

(...What was that sound just now...?)

I looked in the direction the sound had originated form.

There didn't seem to be anything strange about that old-fashioned radiator though; even after several moments had passed, nothing changed.

I guess something inside it must have broken down?

"Hey, Aria. Let go of me already."

With Aria in front of me, and the fence behind, I couldn't budge an inch.

But still she buried her head in my chest, refusing to release her grip.

This situation reminded me of the one with Kaname, except that Aria was holding on much more tightly.

"...wrong..."

Aria seemed to be muttering to herself as she whispered,

"...I'm the one who's wrong. Kinji sent me that ring on my birthday, clearly showing how he feels...but I didn't know how to respond...I'm the one at fault here..."

"Aria?"

Because she kept mumbling to herself, I lowered my head and sneaked a peek at her face.

Her face seemed to undergone a transformation, and she raised her head to answer my questioning gaze.

Her face showed her steely resolve.

Stifling her anger, she looked at me with uncertainty in her eyes.

"...That girl...really isn't your sister?"

"Why are you so suspicious of that?"

At my less-than-joyful rejoinder, she again spoke,

"Kinji, do you remember...Do you remember the fight with Jeanne, in that underground warehouse?"

"...?"

"At that time...you told me, 'As long as I live, I will trust you.'"

"Oh...yeah...I remember."

Even though I said it under the influence of Hysteria Mode, but still, it's embarrassing enough to want to die.

"Wait a moment. Why would you bring that up all of a sudden?"

"Because what I have no evidence to support what I'm about to say; it's purely my intuition."

"Intuition...?"

"I feel that...between Kinji and that girl...exists some kind of unbreakable bond. This feeling is the same as the one I felt back then from Kana. Even though I'm still not sure I'm entirely convinced about the thing with that beautiful sempai, that is, your brother?, but to be honest, according to my intuition, it feels right. And right now, what I feel is similar, if you ask me. That is to say, that girl, GIV, or Kaname, whatever...I think she might really be your sister."

Even though I wanted to reject her words with a laugh...

But...I couldn't.

Even though the impression given by the textbooks in Inquesta classes is so far apart as to sometimes forget who she really is-

The Kanzaki H. Aria standing in front of me at this moment is without a doubt the flesh and blood of the one-and-only Sherlock Holmes.

When it came to the Sherlock who I'd battled on the IU, it was assuredly his nearly supernatural deductive ability that had brought him reputation and fame, but in all honesty, his intuitive prowess was no less impressive.

From that point on, I've been more than clear on one thing.

Aria has, without a doubt, inherited that intuition of his.

And that Aria has just told me...that Kaname might really be my sister.

"With that said, however, the relationship between you and Kana seems different from that of you and Kaname. I'm not quite sure how to explain this clearly, but...if I was to make an analogy, if I were to draw the relationship between you and Kana, you two would be one large and one small version of the same shape, similar, but not identical." [5]

Mm...I think I more or less understand.

After all, my brother really embodies the idealized form of my abilities.

"When it comes to you and Kaname, on the other hand; you two feel like two comma shapes, like Yin and Yang, only showing their true shape when placed together. That's how it seems to me."

Two shapes, incomplete on their own, which only achieve their true form when combined together.

I guess that's how she sees the relationship between Kaname and I?

It definitely isn't the clearest explanation, but still, what she said...

Truly has no basis, and yet carries quite the persuasive power.

I consequently entered a deep state of contemplation, pondering her words, until Aria grabbed me by my lapels.

"...Do you like her?"

"Don't waste my time with that crap. How could that even be possible?"

"Then..."

"...?"

"Then...let's just stay like this for a moment."

Aria held me, once more lowering her head and burying her forehead in my chest.

The atmosphere made it hard to refuse, so I looked to the heavens, trying my best to avoid the fragrantly sweet smell of cape jasmine which wafted over from her body.

The seagulls rode the air currents in the evening sky as they spiraled higher and higher.

"I...think I need to be a little bit clearer too."

"...Clearer?"

Having heard only bits of her mumbling, I asked for clarification.

"Lo, lo, lower your head! Un, un, until I can reach it with my face!"

She uttered forth the strangest command.

"Why? I don't want to. Your head..."

Almost blurting out, "Has an aroma that'll land me in Hysteria Mode if I'm careless", I swallowed my words and raised my head even higher.

"Er, that is, it doesn't matter who, no one wants their face stuck to someone else's head, right?"

"...Stop whining! Look down, down!"

Though her tone sounded almost like that of a drill sergeant calling, "Right, FACE!", by now, my pride was on the line. I stubbornly kept my head held high.

"..."

"..."

The silence continued unabated for a short time, before...

"Then...Kin, Kinji."

When Aria called out, her voice shaking, I lowered my gaze, but only my eyes.

Unexpectedly, her whole body was trembling.

What's going on here? Even though her head's lowered enough that I can't see clearly, she seems to be blushing. From her neck to the tips of her ears, she's thoroughly red.

"Um, then, then...Your, your..."

"...?"

"Your shoelace is undone?"

Reacting to Aria's strange question, as if stiffly read from a script, I couldn't help but look down in response.

At that precise instant, Aria closed her eyes, straightened her back, and stepped forward.

"...!"

"...!"

That blushing face, that tiny mouth...pressed down on my lips.

Without warning, Aria seemed to have become intensely feverish, the boiling heat of her body passing through her lips to me...This is...

Aria10 189.jpg

(A kiss...)

I was kissed...?

My brain only just made the connection.

By the time I came to this realization, Aria had already flipped around with her back to me, pigtails drifting along.

And swiftly bolted for the rooftop door like racing the 100 meter.

"ARIA!"

Just what is this supposed to mean?

I prepared to follow after her, but she dashed through the door like a bullet, hands clutched to her chest, as she disappeared down the other edge of the stairwell.

I didn't have the slightest hope of catching her at that speed. In any case, because of the injury to my right knee, it's not like I could run anyway.

"..."

I held my hand to my lips, confirming the beating of my heart.

Aria hadn't opened her eyes to confirm the location of my mouth, instead her clumsy kiss had seen our faces crash one against another, our teeth clacking as they collided...man, it friggin' hurts.

Even though the pain had slowed the feeling for a moment...

Here it comes.

That familiar flow of blood.

- Hysteria Mode -

As expected, if it's Aria, it'll appear. Quite easily too, and intensely.

My mind turned crystal-clear, my entire brain seemed to awake, and quite discernibly, I felt my senses sharpen.

Moreover, something like a sixth sense made itself known...and reported.

- An ominous feeling.

Back then, that sound that scared away all the seagulls...I had better double check what caused it. Was it really just a simple accident?

As I deliberated on the matter, I unconsciously drew my weapon.

I kept an eye out for anything suspicious as I circled around to the other side of the air conditioner.

"..."

But forget a person, not so much as a kitten appeared.

That said, there was one thing that stuck out as being rather odd.

Though the neat design of the manufactured fence ought to be laid out in a regular rhombus pattern, in this case, irregularities appeared all over.

Large rhombuses, small rhombuses, even triangles...

It looked as if some unknown person had distorted the shape of the fence time and time again with their bare hands.

Although this irregularity was clearly the work of a person, neither hide nor hair could be found of this mysterious stranger.

It's not like pranks like these were all that uncommon; I, myself, had done similar things when younger...but still, the sheer number of distortions was definitely out of the ordinary.

Approximately 50 different places had been twisted beyond repair...it was no ordinary mind that was responsible for this.

"..."

My Hysteria Mode-enhanced perception also noted something else as out-of-the-ordinary.

Here where I stood, below my feet, beneath my shadow, something was strange.

I knelt down on a single knee, and touched the cement floor.

The floor was clearly irregular...strike that; rather, the floor itself was, for the most part, as expected, had clearly been left scored in places.

Though my immediate thought was that some sort of tool had left these scars, I don't think that's the case.

My fear is that this...was the work of a person; the scars carved into the cement floor by their nails with horrifying strength.

Seeing the slivers lying atop the floor, I guessed this to have occurred quite recently.

It probably happened sometime between when Aria and I kissed and when she had left- repeatedly and endlessly gripping - and scoring - the cement with their hands.

(Wait...is this writing? Letters, it looks like.)

"T...r...a...i..."

With my shadow in the way, the letters were hard to make out. I moved a little, allowing the setting sun to shine blood-red on the ground, illuminating the words before me.

The words scrawled into the ground weren't just on the ground...they were etched into the wall as well.

"Traitor" "Traitor" "Traitor" "Traitor" "Traitor"[6]

(What the hell is this?)

My blood ran cold. Who? Who could be responsible for such a thing, so much like a dark ritual to invoke a curse?

Well, then again...

This was, after all, the SSR building, a veritable Pandora's Box of strange types from whom such behavior would come as no great surprise.




Likely a result of that scene, straight out of a horror movie, the effects of my Hysteria Mode dissipated faster than normal.

Returning to the dorms, I found Kaname watching a satellite broadcast of a baseball match.

The announcer spoke in English, so it seemed she was watching an MLB playoff game?

"Ugh...two outs. How unreasonable, almost like gutting someone with a kitchen knife."

In response to her whispered, incomprehensible comments,

"Hey, I'm home."

As I greeted her,

Kaname's entire face seemed to smile as she turned to face me.

"Ah, Onii-chan. Welcome back. Dinner's already ready."

Looking more closely, the glass tabletop was littered with caramel candy wrappers.

Of the same kind as those I had previously bought for her at the convenience store.

She seemed to have gone on some sort of binge...was the game really that boring?

"Oi, Kaname. We still haven't had dinner yet, don't fill up on that sort of thing."

"Eh? Why?"

"What do you mean 'why'? Because it's bad for you. And to eat so many!"

I spoke as I took off my coat, and turned to look at her-

Only to find her, once again, with tears filling her eyes.

"Wha, what is it this time?"

"I'm so happy. Love can truly be found here. This just goes to show, I really am the best; after all, I am the youngest. Onii-chan's love for me is definitely deeper than it is for anyone else."

Kaname not only seemed to be speaking to herself, but seemed even to have drawn some inane conclusion on her own.

"You, just how in the world did you come to 'that' conclusion?"

"Because Onii-chan is worried about my health."

Kaname, having made a mountain of this minuscule molehill,

Began to rub her fingers against the back of the sofa.

Her fingers were now completely covered in Band-Aids; this time, her entire fingertips having been injured.

"Hey, what's up with your fingers?"

"Oh, um, this is, well..."

Diverting her gaze from me slightly, she replied,

"When...when I was cooking, I was a little careless."

"Can you really hurt yourself that badly just cooking? Are you alright?"

"Nn. Don't worry. Ehehe, I'm fine, I'm fine."

Kaname showed a bashful expression, waving her hands in embarrassment.

Honestly, I can't decide if she's amazing or just clumsy.

Afterwards...

Immediately upon returning home, the scent had given away that tonight's dinner was again curry.

Every two or three days, Kaname would again make curry.

"Do you really like curry that much?"

I asked, as we ate together.

"I don't dislike it."

"Only that much? Then why cook it every couple days? Not to mention, each time the taste is the same."

"Mm. That's because the first time I made it Onii-chan said it was delicious."

"Just, just because of that? I'm amazed you even remember."

"As long as it's Onii-chan, whatever you say, whatever you do; I remember everything."

Kaname looked down at the plate of curry with a wistful expression.

"When you told me that, I was so happy...so every time since I've used the same ingredients and the same sauce, in order to reproduce that same flavor, without differing by so much as a gram."

She nonchalantly said something pretty outrageous.

"Not even a gram different? Surely you're not serious?"

"I'm the kind of person who never forgets anything."

She lowered her head, her eyes peeking through her bangs as she watched my eyes.

That gaze...seen through the shadow of her hair seemed almost a glare. Why glare at me?

Then again, she is quite the moody child. It's pointless trying to interpret her every action.

I replied with a simple "Oh, is that so," before continuing to eat my decidedly delicious curry once more.




When it came to normal subjects, the level of instruction at Butei High was rather low by comparison.

It's possible it was because, as rumored, "that kind" of mind was predominant among Butei High students. However, the more likely explanation was simply that, as compared to the "well-rounded" nature preferred among normal students, "excellence in a specific expertise" gave a Butei High student the better chance of becoming a truly top-quality Butei. As a result, placing emphasis where emphasis was due had naturally given rise to the current way of things.

This being the case, one who was immersed in the Butei High curriculum for the entirety of their three years became quite the abnormal person, making such training a one-way trip. As an example, take Aria or Reki. While both are top-rated Buteis, put either of them to work in a normal company as OLs [7], and they'd surely make a mess of things.

Thus, it was for the sake of growing up as a normal adult that I so desperately wanted to switch schools.

(For the time being, let's put everything else aside, and at least work hard at these normal classes.)

Just as I'd finally motivated myself to take this English class seriously...

-Don! ~roll~ ~roll~

Almost as if intended to disturb my concentration, something flew from behind me and rolled onto my desk.

"?"

I picked up what looked to be a wad of paper.

It looked to have been treated with an alkaline solution, a technique Butei often used to pass confidential information to one another.

I carefully straightened out the paper.

"Discovered 3's true identity. Come to the art equipment room at 1700 hours for debriefing.

P.S. At the same time, how about some rehabilitation?

L. Watson"

Having read the contents of the paper, I turned to Watson, who frowned in disgust, her face appearing to protest, "Moron! Look forward!"

When Watson had lobbed the paper my way, Aria had been blowing her nose, while Riko was fast asleep...It seemed neither of them had noticed our interaction.

But seriously, Watson. Did you really need to communicate with this thing? Couldn't you have just sent me a text, like a normal person?

As I entered the dimly-lit art equipment room, with its curtains drawn, I complained to Watson as I had planned, to which she responded that I'd promised to ignore all texts from her.

She seemed a bit disagreeable.

I could tell from the way she struck my foot with a paper bag enclosing a female school uniform.

This bastard. While in public, she puts up the facade of a dignified honor student, but the second we're alone, she's like a mischievous brat. What was with that just now?

I've always felt like her interactions with me were rather perfunctory, almost like putting on a show. Damn her, looking down on people like that.

"As long as the contents include the words 'rehabilitation', you always pretend you haven't seen a thing."

Watson's cheeks flushed slightly in anger. Well, it's not like there isn't something to what she said...

Watson had relentlessly sent me invitations for rehabilitation, and I had just as consistently completely ignored them.

The so-called "rehabilitation" referred to her dressing up once more as a girl. Watson, who had entered Butei High as a cross-dressing student, was training in preparation for confessing her true gender and her inevitable return to society. According to Watson, this was also to serve as training for me, who she described as having insufficient understanding of the opposite gender, giving me the opportunity to increase my familiarity with those of the feminine persuasion.

And what exactly did that entail?

The two of us locked in a room, as Watson would simultaneously conduct her training to become more feminine while I sought to "become more manly".

Simply put, it saw the two of us engaging in a low-level roleplay; in other words, we played house. Even though we're clearly second years in high school already.

The important point, if you ask me, was-

There was no way I wanted to be caught alone with a girl (Watson) in a small, dark room like this one.

Hence my desperate attempts to avoid her messages at all costs. Can't you take a hint, Watson?

What made things worse was the nigh-obsessed attitude she seemed to take towards these things. Ever since she'd realized that I'd been ignoring her messages, she'd tried every method imaginable to stubbornly force me to come. Take this time, for example, where she'd intentionally paired up her invitation with a matter of actual importance.

In just such a manner, I'd found myself coerced into attending some five, six "rehabilitation" sessions.

"I know you can't wait to get started with the rehabilitation, but first, fill me in. The '3' written on that paper just now- that was referring to GIII, yes?"

"Indeed. You're going to join me for rehabilitation in just a sec, right? I've been waiting for this for so long."

Having reminded me again of the fate that awaited me, she reached her hand into her backpack and pulled out a single page of A4 paper.

"Though I'm still unclear regarding the one who lives with you, GIV, that is, Kaname, but I believe I've been able to ascertain the true identity of GIII."

"You found out from contacts in Informa?"

"No. The name seemed familiar to me, so I visited the Liberty Mason Grand Lodge in London. As I was looking through the American group's 'Non-friendly party list', in the section for 'Agents having received, but rejected, an invitation from Liberty Mason' I found GIII's name. He seems to be quite the big-shot in American Butei circles. Furthermore, his detailed information was all classified at the 'Secret B' level."

"A big-shot?"

"Yeah, famous to the point that we pulled his data pretty much instantaneously. Here's part of what we found."

Watson pulled out a photo.

I saw a man who looked just like GIII.

Although he wore a black suit and black sunglasses, it was, without a doubt, GIII.

"Huh...hey, wait, this...It can't be...?"

What had astounded me wasn't GIII, though.

Rather it was the man next to him, about to enter a black Rolls-Royce.

This person...was the 44th President of the United States of America...Barack Obama.

From where GIII stood relative to the President in the picture, he seemed to be employed in an escort or bodyguard capacity.

"This is the real thing. He's originally an American Butei, but more than that, he's not just an S-rank either, but a rank higher- an R-rank."

"R-rank...?"

"You haven't heard of it? Among the Butei in Japan exists another R-rank, so I figured you'd heard of it. This rank really exists, and there are only seven Butei in the entire world who have been bestowed with this rating. Since they nearly all serve heads of state or royalty exclusively, they've taken the first letter of the word 'Royal' to serve as their rank name, hence 'R-rank'."

An existence superior even to S-ranks...R-ranked Buteis.

Further, there are only seven of them in the whole world...just how crazy are these guys?

Even if we look at S-ranked Buteis, there are only 712 of them in the entire world.

"An S-ranked Butei can singlehandedly deal with a company of soldiers. An R-rank, on the other hand, can fight an entire battalion. If it's small enough, then just one of these individuals could suppress an entire country."[8]

"My God. Next time, pass on sharing all the gory details, please. I more or less understand what kind of nightmarish existence GIII is now. This is ridiculous...how can someone like that even exist?"

Seeing me grow weak at the knees, Watson continued to flip through the information recorded in English.

"Even though the data is still somewhat unclear, GIII's genius seems to be man-made, that is to say, his abilities appear to be artificially enhanced."

"Man-made...genius...? What the hell are you talking about?"

-Wait, hadn't I heard this before?

Watson seemed to have more or less figured out what was on my mind, so she nodded.

"IU- after the second World War, the submarine IU definitely disappeared, but the plans for its creation were handed over to the United Nations by the Germans. Ever since then, the Americans have been plumbing its depths for research. Their results came in the form of the 'Los Alamos Elite', a plan to artificially create superhumans with science."[9]

They seem to have inherited the IU philosophy.

Although, as compared to the superstitious IU, they seemed to have tackled the problem with a scientific approach.

"The thing is, successful results of the Los Alamos Elite program are quite few. Or rather, zero."

"Zero? Is GIII not a success?"

"Well, at first he was most definitely considered a success. Even at an institution like Los Alamos, his rate of learning was such that it was only a matter of time before the positions of teacher and student between him and the staff had swapped. When it comes to athletic ability, though unofficial, I've heard he's broken countless Olympic records. The clincher is- he did all this while only a teenager."

"Then isn't that a huge success? He even became the personal bodyguard for the President, an elite among elites."

"Up to here, yes. Unfortunately, at some point afterwards, things changed."

"...Things changed?"

"The notes say he went mad. When he escaped from the laboratory where he was raised, with his bare hands, he crippled every member of the entire unit stationed there."

An entire unit...with his bare hands...?

Just how strong is this guy?

And he's insane, to boot. This is no joke.

"Afterwards, the American government sanctioned a hit on him, and they didn't just send one assassin. But even though these were the best, the vast majority of them couldn't catch so much as his scent. Those that did manage to find him never returned."

"...They were killed?"

"No. They became his subordinates. GIII has a real aura of leadership about him, a real charisma. Some minor differences aside, it's just like you."

"Please don't talk about us like we're the same. I'm nothing like that."

Tsuzuri-sensei had said the same thing before. For whatever reason, people seem to occasionally make this mistake. It's not like I even have that many friends, after all.

"-The driver who brought us back from the Shinagawa geofront is another individual who was turned by GIII. With the way things were, it was like sending assassins after GIII only served to increase the size of his group. The American government came to this realization, and called off the hit. They've since switched to negotiations instead, which are yet ongoing."

A "man-made genius" that even the American government can't handle...

A monster like that, there's no way he would ever lose to a group with mediocre grades like ours.

It looks like Tamamo and the others were right...crossing swords with someone like that is definitely not a good idea.

Having finally understood what we were up against, I was at last able to accept this point.

"GIV, Kaname, appears to have been another artificial superhuman who fled with GIII as he escaped the lab. It's just that since she escaped without ever having entered society as he had, there don't seem to be any records of her existence."

Oi. It's not like I hadn't figured out that much on my own. I mean, look at their names!

"...Why would guys like that want to take part in this 'Far East Warfare'?"

"That I'm still unclear on. We're looking into it."

"..."

"Ok, now the debriefing is over. Let's get started on the rehabilitation."

"..."

"We're starting the re~ha~bi~li~ta~tion, yes?"

Watson showed an expression like that of a small dog whose master had refused to play ball.

"Ah, right."

I, who had gotten lost in a train of thought, quickly raised my head.

Whatever...she'd done her part, so I might as well obediently play along.

I can keep her company for today, I guess.

"Ahem. The setting for today's 'play' is this: I'm a female club manager, and you're a member of the selfsame club. The scenario as well as the script are recorded in the notebook."

"Aren't you going way overboard with this? And please, for the love of God, say the full name - 'role play'; 'play' sounds weird."[10]

My protest seemed to go in one ear and out the other.

"What kind of club should it be Tohyama? How does an old-fashioned equestrian club sound?"

"How is that old-fashioned? Anyway, who cares what kind it is, just hurry up and begin."

"Ok. Then, Tohyama, go and face the door. I'm going to change."

Shortly after speaking, Watson reached into her paper bag and pulled out a school uniform. From behind me...

~rustle~ ~rustle~

...came the sounds of Watson taking off her clothes.

Because she'd violently compelled me to watch before, I knew that beneath her male clothing, only her bottom half was covered by female underwear.

That means that, right now, that..."that" is completely exposed?

So fair it seemed to glow in the light of the setting sun, that...

(This, this is bad!)

Strange memories threatened to bubble forth from deep within my memory.

If I was to enter the so-called "Recall Hysteria", that is to say, if I was to enter Hysteria Mode all on my own at these memories, then I'd have played quite the fool.

I need to think of something else, distract myself.

Even if this is completely stupid, let's look for stains on the door or through the keyhole.

Doing so, I noticed something strange about this terribly ordinary door.

(...Hmm?)

Some sort of light seemed to come in through the keyhole, and looked almost to waver...

Moreover-

I could have sworn I heard someone gritting their teeth in anger on the other side of the door.

(Don't tell me there's someone on the other side...?)

I knelt down, and peeked through the keyhole into the hallway.

Though the hole was, of course, quite small, and thus I couldn't get a clear picture of the whole hallway...

But I at least could see what was immediately in front of me, and there didn't appear to be anyone in front of the door. That sound must have been made by someone passing by.

Be that as it may, what I had heard was no illusion. Maybe it was best to end this rehabilitation session as soon as possible?

"Are you done changing?"

I inquired of Watson.

"Not, not yet. When I was putting on my neckerchief, the hook for my bra came loose. This is such bad luck."

Is the play-by-play really necessary!?

"...Ok, I'm good. Man, when you wear a skirt, the wind keeps blowing in. This just feels so weird."

Finally hearing the words I'd been waiting for, I turned my head - as if playing Red Light, Green Light - to see Watson, dressed up like a girl in her sailor uniform.

Although, to be accurate, she was a girl to begin with, so the real "dress-up" is when she pretends to be a guy normally. Sadly, the opposite impression seems well engraved into my mind.

(On another note...when I look carefully...she really is a girl, isn't she?)

The slender lines of her legs give off a healthy feeling; for them to always be hidden by pants really is a shame.

"...What do you think you're staring at, Tohyama? Oh wait! No, never mind, it's ok! Look to your heart's content. I am, after all, a girl. There's no way I can allow something this small to throw me off. I know even if you normally don't show it, deep down, you're still fond of me."

"What the hell?"

"That's how the script goes."

Watson answered me as she stabbed the notebook with her finger.

"What do you mean 'that's how it goes'? You're the one who wrote this! Why would you write something like that?"

"What, what's wrong with that? What I write is my decision!"

Having thus responded, Watson's legs shifted into what appeared to be a boxing stance.

If she were to hit me, I don't know that I could let it go, although, in this situation, it was probably best to just lower my head and go along with the flow.

"...And then? What's the plan for today?"

"Well, let's start just like we've done before, with small steps."

The term "small steps" referred to a technique from psychology designed for overcoming one's phobias. It involved increasing exposure to one's fear step by step, little by little.

In Watson's case, she'd set as her goal the ability to have others see her as a girl without feeling nervous or anxious.

The first step was for us to converse normally from within a distance of a meter, afterwards narrowing the distance to 75cm, 50cm, 30cm, and so forth.

"Our previous record saw our shoes separated by five centimeters. Today, I'd like to close that gap entirely. If we can achieve that, then that'd be extraordinary."

And just what part of that is extraordinary?

You know, forget it, whatever makes her happy. Whatever it takes to end this even a second earlier.

"Alright, then come on over."

"Nn. Don't run, ok? Er, wait, that's not it- Then, please just stay where you are, Tohyama...kun."

Just one sentence spoken like a girl was enough to make her blush...

Saying that, she proceeded to walk towards me as if amidst a minefield, careful step following careful step.

Her pink skirt lightly swayed...

Upon closer inspection, she seemed to have even swapped out her shoes for the brown ones designated for female students.

"...Here, here I come, Tohyama-kun."

I waited quietly as she slowly closed the gap between us, stopping just in front of me.

And then, as if steeling her resolve, she took one final step forward.

Finally, her shoes made contact with mines, or rather, could even be said to be slightly atop of mine.

"..."

"..."

Watson was shorter than me, so her head only came up to my chin. Together with the slight warmth of body heat, a slight fragrance of cinnamon floated gently from her short hair.

(...)

This is what makes Watson dangerous.

Because she normally feels like a guy, the second she displays her feminine side like this...

The feeling of disparity makes you particularly aware of how cute she is.

As an example, take Riko in comparison. Because Riko is the kind of girl who gives off a heightened sense of femininity, the second she appears before me, I'm on guard. Having thus prepared myself, even when she closes in on me, I'm able to handle it. In this way, my body will naturally protect itself in a way that makes it non-trivial to fall into Hysteria Mode. Although, I have to say, this approach is pretty sad.

When it comes to Watson, however, my body makes no such instinctive preparations.

Since the way she normally acts is, for all intents and purposes, just like a guy, I can't help but let down my guard around here.

And the second she does something truly girl-like-

I find myself in my current situation, my blood pressure having jumped to the brink of danger in a flash.

"...Tohyama, kun. How are you? The horses are looking quite good today, too."

As I wordlessly waited, Watson coyly greeted me.

The demure aura she produced once again reminded me she was a girl. Ugh.

Unlike the coquettish and unreserved Riko, the feeling Watson gave off seemed much more appropriate for a girl her age.

Calm down, keep it cool Kinji.

I'd already fallen into Hysteria Mode here once before, no need to make that mistake again.

"Er, you alright there Watson? This 'is' pretty close."

"I'm alright. I even think it's quite, quite comfortable! Oh, and uh, I've told you before. When I'm dressed like this, you're to call me 'Elle'."[11]

"Uh, yeah. Sorry about that, Elle."

"I sure hope everything will go well today. I'll do my best."

"As will I."

Do my best not to enter Hysteria Mode that is.

I thought to myself that I'd better take a deep breath, calm myself down a little, when just as I inhaled-

Crap. I'd achieved the opposite effect. Inhaling deeply had only served to fill my lungs and nostrils with the sweet aroma emanating from Watson. What the heck was I thinking?

Thanks to having self-destructed, I found myself 'just' on the edge of falling into Hysteria Mode.

"Alright then. Today, I'll do it, Tohyama."

"Do what?"

"Rest easy."

"Huh?"

"It's only on the cheek. Not, not, not the lips! Let's leave that for next time!"

"That's why I'm asking you-"

Right as I was about to repeat my question, Watson's face, flush to the tips of her ears, suddenly raised her head-

And lightly placed her lips on my cheek.

-...!

This must be what they mean when they say that things come in threes.[12]

First Kaname, then Aria, and now, the real curveball, Watson, had kissed me.

That makes it three on the month already. When did I become such a celebrity?

"...!"

"I, I did it!"

Watson seemed wholeheartedly ecstatic as she bounded towards me.

Her soft arms, chest, waist- her entire body stuck to me like glue. She really is a girl.

"I did it, Tohyama! Counting on you for rehabilitation was the right decision after all. Only after actually doing it do I now understand. How, hmm, how do I describe this...It's really something that fills you with joy. Without a doubt, this is a necessary step on my path to becoming a girl. Ok, let's give it another go, or rather, several."

Saying that, she again pecked me on the cheek...and not just a few times.

"Stop, stop! Once is more than enough!"

"I want, I want more. Tohyama, I like...I like you- that's how the setting goes. That's the only reason."

What the hell kind of club is this? Whatever happened to the horses!?

Unlike the sexy, mature ambiance of Riko and Shirayuki, Watson felt more like a young girl...which for some reason, only served to make her seem all the cuter. Consequently,

I embraced Watson, having entered into Mezza Hysteria-

Which, though mild, was yet indisputably Hysteria Mode.

-At that moment.

My slightly enhanced senses picked up a sound-

~scritch~ ~scritch~ ~scritch~

I once again the sound of gritted teeth, gnashing in anger, drifted over from the other side of the door.

Looking through the keyhole, I met someone's gaze!

"-Wait, WAIT! Elle!"

"Tohyama, Tohyama."

"Not that! I know you're excited by the results of your rehabilitation, but I need you to calm down."

"...?"

Picking up Watson in a bridal carry, I let her down behind the statue of Venus.

Stealthily placing myself at her side, I stole a glance at the pair of eyes on the other side of the door, which continued to peek through the keyhole.

Furthermore, the "scritching" sound had continued without ceasing, which I could only hear as the sound of teeth gritted in extreme irritation.

Though I desperately hoped that the other person had not been able to grasp the situation through the small keyhole, I had no expectation that what they had seen would lead to them to think that they'd witnessed anything but a lover's tryst.

Turning to Watson, a blank look on her face, I quietly whispered in her ear-

"There's someone watching! Let's end our rehabilitation for today, hurry up and change back."

"-What, what are you saying?"

Watson had abruptly turned so red I wouldn't have been surprised to see steam expelled from atop her head.

She proceeded to frantically extract her male clothes from within the paper bag.

"Hurry! I need to confirm the situation in the hallway."

"Toh, Tohyama! Help me! I'm shaking so hard I can't change on my own!"

In response to her voice, trying its hardest not to cry, without allowing myself the slightest glance of her flesh-

I pulled her shirt from the bag.

As Watson slowly removed her top in a panic, arms and legs trembling, I turned my head, and again assessed the situation on the other side of the door.

Whoever it was had seemed to realize we'd noticed their presence, as their prying glance had disappeared from the keyhole.

My ears also picked up the sound of someone sprinting down the hallway. They seemed to have made a precipitous retreat.

(That rat...)

No matter how you look at it, normally when you'd run into a guy-girl pair in a place where no one ought to be...

You'd mind your own business, and pretending you hadn't seen a thing, quietly leave.

Though I didn't have the opportunity to explain our situation more fully, the two of us were, indisputably, both afflicted individuals, and that we might transcend our impairments, were undergoing rehabilitation. And yet someone had had the nerve to snoop!

"We'd better get out of here, Watson. Whoever it was is now gone, but if they went to grab someone else, this could be trouble."

"Ah, mm."

As Watson seemed to have finished changing-

I stuffed her skirt into the bag, and taking her hand, charged towards the door, which I opened without delay.

At which point, Watson refused to move a step further.

"What's the matter? We need to leave now."

"Wait, wait a moment, Tohyama. My lapels need to be fixed."

Watson fixed the lapels of her coat with her left hand. Looking further, it seemed only part of her shirt was tucked into her pants, quite the sloppy look. Whatever, I had no time to look after her.

Thinking thusly, I roughly pulled Watson out of the art equipment room with me.

"Eh? Tohyama-kun and...Watson-kun?"

When who did we chance upon, but our classmate whom had just ascended the stairway-

Assault's pretty-boy, Shiranui.

Shiranui's eyes nearly popped out of his head in shock.

In his hands were copper plates used for etching; it seemed he'd been asked by the art teacher to help carry things?

Having caught sight of Shiranui, Watson instinctively covered her chest, which, unlike Aria, was only flat by reason of having been bound by a sarashi. [13]

With the way she was dressed, a glance was all it would take for anyone to realize that she'd only just put on her clothes, and in a hurry at that.

Seeing me struck absolutely speechless, and the nearly-frightened-to-tears Watson hiding behind my back, Shiranui-

"Um..."

His face showed he dearly wanted to ask, "What in God's name happened here?" but didn't know how.

"..."

My face frozen like a plaster bust, I frantically tapped my Hysteria Mode-enhanced mind for assistance.

The voyeur from before had fled the scene, so it probably wasn't Shiranui.

(But this current situation is no less dangerous!)

Within my brain-

An image of Shiranui-meijin facing off against Tohyama-ryuou in a shogi match floated to the surface.[14]

On the board, Shiranui's ferocious offensive has begun. Against the attack of Shiranui, Tohyama must defend.

I turned to Watson for aid, but her forehead was glued to my back, her head buried against me. It looks like this girl, upon falling into a panic, has the tendency to shut down like the power's been cut, leaving everything to others to fix. How cunning.

(Looking at this objectively, our situation's not good. SO NOT GOOD!)

What Shiranui has seen is as follows:

In the supposedly empty optional-class building, from within the confines of the art equipment room...

Those who are definitely not participating in any art classes, or alternatively, those who have no valid reason to be here at this time - Watson and I - were seen.

Furthermore, it looks like within that same room, Watson had removed his clothes.[15]

To continue the shogi analogy, my rook's already been captured by his bishop.

No, in reality, with the situation being that I'd been seen hiding in the art equipment room with a "girl who'd taken off her clothes, engaged in some unknown activity", I should actually say that I was behind a hundred, no, a thousand moves.

Though I couldn't reject this situation strongly enough, if this incident were taken as a guy-girl rendezvous, then that'd be one thing.

The by-far larger problem was-

Shiranui doesn't know Watson's a girl.

Instead, he thinks she's a guy.

In other words, from Shiranui's perspective-

Watson (a guy) and I had just exited the art equipment room where "he'd taken off his clothes as part of some unknown activity".

(Doesn't that make check?!)

In my shogi-filled mind, both my gold and silver generals had already been captured.

Watson's good looks were well known throughout the school. During the Ristorante Mask activity, many male students had lost their minds over her sailor uniform-clad appearance. That is to say, she was a guy well beloved by other male students (although she was actually a girl).

And who was the first to raise his hand against her, but the notorious playboy - me. In other words, Tohyama Kinji, this second year high school student, had already grown tired of toying with women, and had decided to give pretty boys a taste.

-That's probably pretty much what Shiranui's thinking right now?

In my mind, both my knight and lance had just disappeared.

Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that Watson and I were holding hands, and could thus be seen to have quite the mutual affection. Because Watson's clothes were also disheveled, one might surmise that our relationship had gone quite far.

At last, the entirety of my pawn force vanished from atop the game board.

(I, I need to defend myself-)

Even if all that remained was my king, with his forces scattered in disarray, the ever disgraceful Tohyama-ryuou's slightly Hysteria Mode-enhanced mind made one final play: "Because I was considering taking up art next year, I thought I'd try my hand at a sketch. Watson here agreed to be my model."

This is too forced, isn't it? Regrettably, because I was only partially in Hysteria Mode, this was the best I could come up with.

Even though I'd come up with a similar excuse that time with Fuuma, she'd only fallen for it because she was an idiot. Shiranui, on the other hand, was quite bright. There was no way this was going to cut it.

Nonetheless, if I didn't do something, I'd lose by simply running out of time.

Hurry- hurry my mouth! Say something! Real men need guts; who cares what it is, just try!

"Shi, Shiranui! Listen to me! The reason why I'm here with another guy-"

As I opened my mouth at last,

Shiranui extended a hand as if to say, "You don't need to say another word."

Then, speaking in that gentlemanly manner only possible for such a rare Butei specimen as he,

"Don't worry about it. This isn't the kind of thing the public ever needs to know. My lips are sealed, I promise."

He then gave a stiff, awkward smile.

From that warm and gentle smile, belying the terrible misunderstanding that lay behind it, shone the kindness of that heart as wide as the ocean, openly accepting the two who had tasted of the forbidden fruit.

Not that he was able to completely hide his shock, his fingers trembling.

Within my mind, I saw Tohyama-ryuou's complete and utter destruction, whom, with nowhere left to retreat, could only bow his head and accept defeat.

"Toh, Tohyama, let's go."

Having spoken not a word until this moment, Watson pushed me from behind.

Taking me, whose mind had flooded completely with white, out of the optional-classes building.


Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. Red string of fate
  2. Did that make not an ounce of sense to you? Good, me neither.
  3. Kamome = seagull
  4. I could have phrased this better, but since Kinji seems to be having a hard time understanding it himself, I intentionally made it more ambiguous. Riko uses "人間離れ人間". 人間 means human/humanity. 離 refers to separating from or leaving. The idea seems to be that Riko is saying that through his relationship with Kaname, he's abased himself to the point he ought no longer be counted as part of humanity.
  5. Similarity
  6. For those interested, the original was in katakana, and spelled out "ウラギリモノ" - traitor.
  7. Office lady
  8. According to Wikipedia, a company consists of anywhere from 80-250 soldiers, whereas a battalion can range from 300-1200.
  9. GIII is CAPTAIN AMERICA. [TN: I know this isn't a real TN note, but I couldn't help myself.]
  10. I probably don't need to explain this, but in case you didn't catch the subtext: They're engaged in role plays, etc. and so Kinji feels there's a sexual connotation to Watson's usage of the term "play".
  11. It's written "L" on the letter she sent Kinji, so I left it as-is above. She uses "エル", i.e. L/Elle in katakana here, though, so I opted for the female name which was likely intended.
  12. This isn't a terribly common English saying, though it does get used. See this for more detail. The original saying in Japanese/Chinese is one that seems common outside of English: if it happens twice, it'll surely happen thrice.
  13. Sarashi
  14. Meijin and Ryu-ou are the two most prestigious designations in professional shogi.
  15. This is not a mistake. I know Watson is a girl, and thus this ought to be a "she". However, this is Kinji's portrayal of Shiranui's thought process, and Shiranui doesn't know she's a girl.