Hidan no Aria:Volume8 Chapter3
3rd Ammo: Silver-white ICBM
"The accused, Kanzaki Kanae—is sentenced to 536 years of imprisonment."
That verdict echoed within the 800th courtroom of the Tokyo high court.
I, seated in the seats of the defense, couldn't believe my ears.
The text which declared the postponement of the death sentence or life sentence wasn't spoken by the judge, so I had had a bad feeling, but...I can't believe it. Aria's mother, Kanzaki Kanae-san...
And there wasn't even a delay before its execution. It's a heavy sentence. Too heavy.
Sitting next to me and dressed in a suit, Riko looked over to the prosecutors with sharp eyes.
Jeanne, who we had lost all communication with after Bandere, and Sayonaki Vlad, being held in a level 5 holding facility in Nagano, weren't present, but I had thought that we would definitely win this trial.
—We lost. Completely.
The sentence was reduced from the first trial, but still, this high court trial's a loss for the accused.
Because, Kanae-san's actual life sentence hasn't changed.
(That's not right...! Something like this is...!"
This trial is strange.
For some reason, there wasn't an audience, and there wasn't anybody from the mass media either—
I even feel that there's something that we don't understand lurking at the back of this.
"That's an unfair verdict!"
Aria stood up, her chair scraping on the floor, and she shouted in a high-pitched voice.
"This—Why!? I gathered so many testimonies, so much evidence—Why!? Mama is...Mama is innocent! Why!?"
Aria, also dressed in a suit, tried to sprint over to the prosecution, but—
The young female attorney, Renjou Kuroe, held on to her tight, keeping her back.
"Don't raise a racket, Aria! You're giving a bad impression for the next trial! We'll appeal directly, so calm down!"
—The next trial—
If she's sentenced to life imprisonment, we'll no longer be able to overturn it.
This trial has finally been driven into a corner.
"Let go! Let go of me! I'm not angry at you! You're talented, and you did all you could! The one's that're strange are those people!"
Aria wept as she pointed at the prosecutors and further, even the judge.
"Do it over! Do it over again! I'll replace all of you and do it again! This is a—mockery! You've all conspired together to frame Mama...My Mama! This is a conspiracy!"
"Stop it, Aria! There's still the supreme high court! This isn't definite!"
Unable to say anything other than that, I also went to restrain Aria, but—
Even when together with Renjou, who was a former Butei, we couldn't control her.
Looking around, the security had taken out their handcuffs and were coming to surround Aria.
This is bad. This is really bad. If Aria punches them and gets arrested here...!
"—Aria. Please calm down."
With that single quiet sentence, uttered from the seat of the accused—
I knew that Aria had regained control of herself.
Her gaze was turned towards her own mother—
Aria had been struggling violently just a moment ago, but her eyes changed from rage to sadness...she just...she just looked at Kanae-san.
—Please don't go. Please don't be apart from me—
Her eyes seemed to be clinging onto those words.
Wearing a grey suit and shaking her wavy hair, Kanae-san faced Aria...
"Thank you, Aria. Your hard work...really made me happy. I can't believe that you had made I-U your enemy, that you had accomplished this much. You've grown a lot. For a parent, that's a joy beyond all other."
...and she was calm.
More so than anybody else here.
"Tohyama Kinji-san. I thank you too from the bottom of my heart. You've given Aria an amazing partner. I'm happy that I'm able to see that with my own eyes. But—"
Kanae-san spoke up until that point—
Erasing the expression on her face completely, she closed her beautiful eyes with those thick eyelashes.
And her face formed the expression of...someone who had been made a scapegoat and was thinking about the person who had appointed her death...someone who wasn't here.
"—I knew that things would turn out this way."
Apparently trying to comfort Aria, who was clutching the guns with Kanae-san's picture on them and continuing to cry, Renjou bundled us into her own Audi, and after spending some time in the parking lot...
She started forward, as if chasing the vehicle carrying Kanae-san from the high court.
She was thinking along the lines of...'Even if just a little, I'll let Aria be by Kanae-san's side', right?
Aria, on a passenger's seat, was staring at the transport vehicle, which had gone through Roppongi Road, avoiding a traffic jam.
Flicking a glance to the front mirror in response to that voice, I saw that Aria was...still crying.
In this trial, the defense was fought to win.
For the sake of winning, Aria had literally risked her life, continuing to fight. For several years too.
Throwing away her youth as a normal girl, she ran around the world, fighting with Riko and Jeanne, capturing Vlad, driving away Sherlock and Patra and gathering evidence.
—In spite of that.
Only Riko, Jeanne and Vlad's share was deducted from Kanae-san's sentence.
The evidence of the defense concerning the other members' crimes wasn't enough. Their sentences were left behind.
Why? I don't know. The case of the prosecution regarding Kanae-san's crimes seemed...even for an amateur like me, illogical. It was clear that their reasoning didn't stand. Even their evidence was ambiguous.
—However, judgement was passed.
...What do we do now?
Would it be fine if we arrested all the scattered remnants of I-U, including Patra and Hilda? And then would it be fine if we took a rope to their necks and dragged them to court, making them say that they were in the wrong? That's just a dream.
Even if we could, something like that would take years.
Renjou had bought us time, but there's no way we would make it in time for the Supreme High Court.
The delay of a trial in Japan was improved through the enforcement of frequent new laws. No matter how hard we worked, within maybe three years...no, within two years, the supreme high court would judge, and Kanae-san's life sentence will be definite.
...While worrying about that, I looked at Riko, who was sitting next to me.
Riko had closed her eyes earlier, seeming to be thinking about something.
The car drove on, keeping up with the transport vehicle. It took a right at a reservoir intersection—entering Sotohori Road—and approached Kinnoushita.
At that moment, at a place quite far away from the stop line of the traffic light...
The transport vehicle stopped.
Renjou took off her sunglasses and looked up the road.
I had also noticed the irregularity.
The traffic lights in front of us—
Neither red, yellow, or green were shining. They were off.
The lights for pedestrians were also off, and people were milling around in front of zebra crossings, looking around at each other.
"...What is it...?"
Looking around, I saw that crowds of salarymen were pouring out of the buildings to the left and right, worry all over their faces.
I noticed late because it was noon, but it's dark inside the cafe's and convenience stores on the ground floor.
The lights on the billboards had also gone out.
Just as Renjou muttered those words, Riko opened her eyes wide, as if she was alerted of something.
The next instant, my eyes—
—took hold of something...irregular.
Something black was spreading out from below the transport vehicle in front of us, which was currently stopped...and it was coming this way.
It looked like it could have been a fuel leak, but that wasn't it.
That was...a shadow...!
The 'shadow' was stretching this way.
I looked to the sky from the car window, but it didn't seem as if there were any helicopters or airships passing by.
In the blink of an eye, the shadow enveloped the bottom of our car.
That too was strange. The space outside the car remained bright.
Though there's nothing above, there's still a shadow...!
The instant the memory of a scene like this flashed into my mind——
A flash of light erupted, and following it was an overwhelming screeching of sparks, piercing my ears.
Renjou's voice of surprise as well as Aria's shriek resonated in the car.
I had thought that it was an explosive, but that wasn't it. This is—electricity. A high voltage electric current had just torn through our car.
It gave rise to an impact which felt like we had been struck by lightning from below.
The current seemed to have passed through the metal portions of the car—in other words, the exterior, leaving the interior unharmed.
However, smoke as well as a choking sound was rising from the bonnet...not to mention the flames licking out from under the hood.
Tens of liters of gasoline are held inside a vehicle.
If it ignited, all of us—
"Everyone, get out of the car! We're in danger!"
Kicking the door open and getting outside, smoke was rising from the transport vehicle in front of us as well.
All its tires had gone flat too.
Just as Aria and I tried to sprint towards the transport vehicle—
Golden sparks burst from the rear of the vehicle.
"Aria, wait! It's a trap!"
Looking inside, the driver was hammering on the door.
It seemed like he was trying to get out from the car, which had come to a stop, but was unable to.
Could the door be broken? Or was something installed there and is keeping it closed?
Having gotten onto the asphalt, I noticed that the strange shadow by my feet had disappeared.
A series of unnatural movements from an unnatural 'shadow'—
The reason I shouted her name—
Was because I could see her.
At some point in time, she had stood up on the car and now, she was twirling her frilly parasol—
Giving off a decadent and, somehow, unlucky impression, a girl in gothic lolita.
Having put herself forth as 'Grenada' during the Bandire, the most battle hungry of them all—
And she was the vampire girl who bit Aria that night!
"...Hilda! I've seen you in photos—but this is our first meeting, isn't it...!"
Hilda sniffed at the sight of Aria, who had drawn her guns reflexively.
And shaking her twin-tails, curls of golden hair hanging downwards, she looked the other way.
"That's intolerable. How rude. I'm not really in the mood to fight, you know? I really hate the sunlight."
Hilda pressed the handle of the parasol against her cheek, as if embracing it—
"I say that, but I accidentally acted! Well, you just casually came out of Tamamo's barrier after all. And also..."
Tapping the roof of the car with a stiletto heel made of black enamel, she indicated inside it.
"This is your Mama, isn't it? I'll exterminate every one of Father's enemies, their families, their followers...I'll force them to extinction."
"—Kinji, give support from the right side!"
Aria shouted in her anime-like voice—
Following her usual movement pattern, she sprinted straight towards Hilda.
She ran with abandon, a reckless charge which made it seem like she had a jet engine strapped onto her.
Without missing a beat, I drew my Beretta and ran towards Hilda's right...I see, it seems like her field of vision on this side is limited because of her parasol.
The instant my and Aria's shadow stepped into the shadow of the transport vehicle...
It seemed as if Hilda exerted herself slightly—
Aria and I fell to the ground simultaneously.
It was like I had taken the shock of a 600~900 thousand volt stun gun.
"As I was saying...don't show me yourselves like this...your blood running so high. I won't be able to hold myself back, will I? Ahh. I wonder if I should start feasting. Even Primo like you...it feels like I could."
I tried...I tried to stand, but I couldn't.
I'm staying conscious. That's another similarity with a stun-gun. Her ability—the current is impressive, but it doesn't seem as if she can raise the voltage.
In spite of that, pain is flashing through all my nerves, and I can't put any strength into my muscles.
Even so, Aria hadn't let go of her guns, and her knees were quivering...
Crawling inside the shadow, she clung to the license plate of the transport vehicle, which was still smoking.
Her teeth clenched tight, she strained, but—she couldn't. Aria couldn't stand either.
"...Ahh, I've had it. Aria, when I look at you...hunger just seems to well up. I remember your delicious flavour...I remember it well..."
Hilda stepped down towards the trunk as if going down a set of stairs—
Not even giving Aria's guns a thought, she crouched down.
"I wonder if I'll have some accompaniment to my drink. The blood of that dying cockroach over there tastes like soured wine left in a thrown away bottle. On the other hand, your blood is like century old wine."
By cockroach...does she mean me?
I may ask that, but if this continues...I'm really the same as a dying cockroach.
Only able to squirm on the ground...unable to do anything.
I can't even put strength into a single finger. I can't even fire.
A yell rang out—
It belonged to Riko, who had exited from the car.
Only able to turn my eyes in her direction, Riko was holding Walthers in her hands, and knives with the tails of her hair.
Even as she was holding two knives and two guns at the ready, Riko was trembling. Trembling so much that even I, looking from quite a ways away, could tell.
She was stifling her terror, trying to bluff. That's what it felt like.
Seeing her behaviour, I recalled the relationship between Riko and Vlad, who I had battled in June.
When she was young—Riko was imprisoned. Imprisoned by the father of the girl standing before us, Hilda. Dracula Vlad.
Seeing as they seemed to recognize each others faces, could it be that Riko and Hilda met during that period?
"Aaah, the fourth. What fierce eyes. How cute."
Hilda hugged herself, performing the gesture deliberately.
"That's why I love you, fourth. If I'm the most high class of purebred dogs, you're a stray afflicted with rabies. But...you know, don't you? That you and I are friends."
—As if Aria and I couldn't be seen, she spoke to Riko.
"Currently, while father is absent, I am the master of the Dracula family. I won't shut you in a cage like father did. My marble room, my canopied bed of silk, my bathtub of pure gold...I'll lend it all to you. I don't mind leaving Koumeikan in Yokohama to you."
Having said that, Hilda descended to the road.
"Don't get any closer! Don't look down on me. Do you think that I'll be tricked by such worthless lies!?"
At the sight of a screaming Riko, Hilda brought a finger to her mouth and grinned.
"Look at my eyes, Riko. They aren't the eyes of someone who's telling lies, are they?"
Riko reflexively stared at Hilda's eyes—crimson irises only slightly filled with sparkling gold.
Her breath seemed to leave her, as if she heard the words 'oh fuck' coming from her heart.
"Alright. Put down your guns and knives. For the sake of our friendship. Do it while looking into my eyes...yes, like that. Do it while looking closely...slowly, slooowly..."
Looking at her—Riko put her Walthers down, her hands trembling. She did the same for the knives in her hair...
"Yes. It's fine now, fourth. Good girl. Listening to what I have to say, you're a good girl."
Riko's body seemed to be moving contrary to her own will.
Hilda, her stiletto heels clicking, approached Riko until she was right before Riko's eyes.
Riko didn't fire. She just stared at Hilda in a daze.
—She's done. It seems like she's been affected by some sort of hypnosis.
This is getting ugly...none of us can fight anymore.
Isn't whether we live or die...entirely up to Hilda...!?
Hilda removed one of her bat earrings from her ear—
"As proof of our friendship, I'll give you this."
She attached it to Riko's ear.
Riko withered, trembling, but even then, her eyes continued to glare at Hilda.
Hilda faced her with a smile.
Using that opening, I spasmed, trying to get a grip on my Beretta, but—
High voltage current once again tore through my hand.
My body snapped backwards, leaving me facing upwards.
With that, my hand was numb, and it couldn't move. All it did was twitch.
"—If you're the most hideous litterbug to ever walk this earth, I'm the most beautiful Helena Morpho butterfly. Tohyama. You're forbidden from even turning your face this way."
Hilda frowned and averted her crimson eyes away from me.
This is impossible. I can't do anything. Faced with this witch, the me who isn't even in Hysteria Mode is really an existence comparable to that of an insect...!
No, even if I was in Hysteria Mode...could I fight her? With this human stun-gun?
Fuck, I don't want to d-die in a place like this...
Will we be finished here...? So soon...!?
Hilda tilted her parasol, her gold twin-tails waving about. Her slender, dainty eyebrows creased, and she looked to the skies.
It was hard for me to move even my eyeballs, but in my field of vision, restricted to the sky...
What is that...?
From beyond the skyscrapers, a silver light could be seen, high, high up in the sky.
It wasn't a star. No star exists that can be seen during the day.
It was coming closer.
I remember seeing that before...!
It was one of the ICBMs that the members of EU had escaped on at the same time Sherlock had escaped on one. Modified and constructed, it was a transport...!
The instant I realised this—
With enough force to shake the ground, the silver-white ICBM pierced the road.
It didn't explode. It stayed unmoving, like a slanted telephone booth. This really is a transport.
As if to prove it—I could see a hatch on the side begin to open, releasing white smoke.
Someone showed himself in the hatch—
Aria, still lying on the floor, seemed to have locked gazes with him.
"That was dangerous. You are...Aria, are you not? I knew when I first saw you."
The sunlight at his back, he showed himself, stepping from the silver-white ICBM, on which 'Polaris 05' was written.
A handsome boy wearing what seemed like the uniform of a foreign Butei High, a grey blazer.
He was shining, like a prince who had come galloping on a white horse to save the princess.
His glossy black hair was immaculate, and it gave off a slight shimmer. The boy stepped from the hatch to the floor.
And as if protecting Aria, he faced Hilda, blocking her way.
"Hilda. You have hurt the person whom, more than anyone else in this world, cannot be hurt."
With a tone similar to the one I use while in Hysteria Mode (though a little higher pitched,) he spoke. Using his right hand, he drew a slender saber from a silver scabbard engraved with an emblem.
At the sight of the saber, which sparkled like a gem in the sunlight, Hilda frowned, as if in discomfort.
"I have three pieces of bad news for you. One, this is a Crux Edge I borrowed from the grand cathedral in Canterbury. Its core is Swedish steel, but the pure silver foil on the blade was shaved from a cross over 400 years old. The second..."
Next, the gun the boy drew into his left hand was...a Sig Sauer P226R, nicknamed the SIG.
It's supplied to governments, an elite automatic sidearm that England's SAS and America's SWAT like to use. It's expensive, but it's a masterpiece with high reliability.
"Holy bullets. In addition, pure silver bullets that have been blessed by a Protestant church...something that you aren't used to."
Bullets of silver. Those insanely expensive bullets, nicknamed 'Silvers'. They're probably also magically coated—(It isn't an area that I'm familiar with, but it seems like famous temples and churches bless them against evil.)
"Third...I am angry. Hilda, I'm angry that you hurt Aria."
His face stormy, the boy spoke.
The sword and gun he was wielding was called 'Gun-Edge' in Assault.
Even for Aru=Kata, it's relatively difficult, so it's a style that's died out, but if you're able to master its usage, it's useful in battle.
I also use it occasionally; it's able to respond to both close distance and mid distance threats, leaving no openings.
Hilda opened a fan which used black ostrich feathers and hid her nose and mouth with it.
"What a distasteful stench. When I think that it's the stink of silver..."
Tch...That seemed to be the sound of her teeth grinding.
It looks like this boy's threats are working.
"I am well aware of the impoliteness of nobles not following the protocol of a proper battle and launching a surprise attack, but...Dracula Hilda. I will bury you here."
The boy faced Hilda with black eyes...eyes containing an earnest depth along with a tinge of blue.
Dropping his hip a little, he stood ready, arms crossed over each other.
"Aria, close your eyes. I don't want to show her blood to a lady."
Having been told that, Aria remained silent, her camellia eyes staring blankly.
Or rather, Gun-Edge boy, have you been ignoring me all along?
That's intentional, isn't it? He hasn't even looked over here.
...As the boy closed the distance between them, Hilda, who was clearly showing her distaste of the arms the boy was carrying, gestured towards the clear and sunny sky.
"—If you would like to play with a lady, then think of the time and circumstance. Mannerless cur. Wanting to play on a day with such bad weather, at such a late time...did you think that the noble Lady Dracula would accept?"
Hilda refused with some strange complaint, and...her feet in high heels, her shin, her knee...
Like a melting amber statue, she sunk into the car's shadow.
This too was something that I had seen on Empty Island. Starting from her feet, she disappeared, just like a magician.
"Farewell, then. I'll hold myself back for today."
Finally left with just her head and parasol, Hilda spoke to Aria, leaving those words behind her...
And with that, she disappeared.
A thud sounded, and I turned my head, finally able to move, towards it...
Riko had sunk to the asphalt road.
It felt like the threads of stress that had been stretched out had, along with the hypnosis, dissolved.
"Are you alright, Aria?"
The handsome boy spoke as he took Aria's shoulder, helping her to stand up...
A little bit late, I also somehow managed to stand and stumble towards Aria.
"...I can move. Let go of my shoulder."
Aria, being prideful, turned towards the boy though her knees were still slightly trembling.
The boy examined Aria from head to toe, as if checking on her condition. Realizing that she seemed to be fine, he brushed the dust off his shoulders and straightened his collar.
"What about Mama...?"
Because Aria looked towards the car, I looked as well...
Apparently, Kanzaki Kanae-san had finally able to exit from the car. Supported on either side by bodyguards, she was looking this way with eyes that seemed to be filled with relief.
By law, we aren't able to speak with her, but...she seems to be unhurt. Thank God.
I looked between the ICBM that the boy had been riding and the boy himself.
It doesn't seem as if he's an enemy, but who the hell is he?
"Saying this after being saved is a little rude, but...are you a remnant of IU? What did you come here for?"
I pointed towards the ICBM and spoke before the boy finally looked towards me.
His eyes, black as obsidian, rested on me in a sharp gaze.
I felt...something like hostility in that gaze.
"Before asking others for their identity, give your own name first."
"...I'm Tohyama Kinji."
"I know. I saw a photo of you during my advance investigation."
Don't ask me for my name then.
"—I am L. L Watson."
Hearing that name, Aria started, letting out a voice of surprise, and turned towards the boy.
That name was...written in the Inquesta textbook.
Yeah, he was the famous partner of Sherlock Holmes, Aria's great-grandfather and the leader of IU. It's the surname of the famous man, a former military doctor, who was Sherlock's lifelong partner.
"Eh...!? Eh, the-then, you're, could you be...?"
Aria's voice shook a little, but differently from before, when she was numb from the electric current...
And whilst she spoke, she looked up at Watson.
Watson, facing Aria with a small smile, nodded once—
"That's right. I am Sir J.H. Watson's great-grandchild."
This time, he turned to me, frowning.
"Tohyama. You asked me what I came here for, but...do I need to give a reason?"
Watson, who looked up at me with his tidy double-edged eyes, seemed displeased for some reason.
"It's fine for you to say something like that, right? I don't know who you are."
Becoming slightly irritated myself, I responded—
Watson looked at Aria, and then at Kanae-san, standing further beyond.
"I came to save my fiancé and mother-in-law. That's all."
Not understanding him, I looked at Aria, and her eyes were wide and staring at Watson...She looked at me, and the expression of shock still on her face, she averted her eyes, like she was panicked.
Because of the atmosphere, which I couldn't really fathom, I asked Watson again.
"I'm talking about Aria."
Isn't it obvious?
As if saying those words, Watson spoke without hesitation.
And looking up at me, who was taller than him, he straightened, repeating what he said.
"—Aria is my fiancé."
Afterward, we explained the situation to the policemen that came running, and we saw off Kanae-san, who was once again put back onto the transport vehicle and sent to the detainment facility...and also, Hilda didn't seem to pursue us, so...
We parted ways with Watson, who seemed to have something to talk about with the lawyer and therefore accompanied her to her home in Toranomon. Riko suddenly said that there was something she had to do, and she headed off to Nogizaka district.
Left without a choice, Aria and I rode the train back home, just the two of us.
During the train ride, Aria...didn't say a thing.
I teased Aria a little bit, as she couldn't reach the handholds, but when I had just spoke one sentence to her, she started acting strangely, turning her face away from me, so she remained taciturn.
This atmosphere...I can't ask any questions.
Aria is his fiancé.
If you look at historical manga...there are things like that among the nobility. Ever since the people in question were very young, their parents arbitrarily decided their spouses.
Aria had someone like that too, or so it seems.
Hmm...That's how it is.
...So, yeah. Those are pretty much my thoughts on the matter.
I've heard about this during an Inquesta class; the Holmes and Watson family were initially, (stemming from their first generation) an intimate, single household. Both were granted the title of nobility, so in terms of family status, it's fitting as well.
Isn't that alright? It's really fitting. A handsome boy and a beautiful girl.
...The air seems charged with these thoughts...
Had I been unconsciously releasing this tension into the air?
The moment we descended onto the Butei High station from the monorail, Aria grabbed my sleeve.
"...Why're you so quiet?"
I turned towards Aria, whose voice was subtly trembling.
"Because you're quiet? When we got onto the Ginza-line, I tried talking to you once. You ignored it, so—"
"Don't get angry. Listen to what I'm saying calmly."
"Why is it that I have to be angry?"
"Um, that person just now—"
"I don't really care about Watson. He has nothing to do with me."
In the end, I was forced to use the name 'Watson'.
Leaving Aria at the platform, I descended the stairs ahead of her.
Last month, at this landing...Aria had seen Reki and I and came looking for a fight...And now, Aria caught up to me here.
"...You're doing this even though you were e-engaged to Reki?"
She spoke to herself in a small voice.
Aria misunderstanding things is something that happens all the time, it wasn't especially something to get angry about, but—
No matter how much I tried to resist, I found myself growing annoyed. I turned, intending to give her what she had been looking for.
"That thing with Reki was—"
"Today was the first time I met him."
Had she read my thoughts? Aria reined in her words, which came out a little strong.
"Watson is...the fiancé that my grandmother decided on her own. That was something that I had only been told of once—and my grandmother was getting on in years, so there were often times where she would talk to me of reality mixed with her own fantasy. I didn't take her seriously, and to be honest, I had forgotten. About what she had said."
"It's true. I swear to God. I first met Watson today."
Looking up at me and speaking sincerely, Aria seemed...somewhat desperate.
"To expand a little, I didn't even know if he existed. I had heard a rumour of there being a heir to the Watson family, but...right now, that family is taking care of the organization Liberty Mason's high-level work. As long as Her Majesty the Queen doesn't give express permission, they can't show their real identity. Every one of them lives with a fake name, doing their work undercover—"
Eyes like that of an abandoned dog, Aria spoke. I...
(Why is she getting so desperate?)
I felt myself getting angry for no reason I could think of.
Isn't she making it feel like I've been shouting at her for having a fiancé?
I've understood all along.
I've understood that you will eventually disappear. I've understood that you live in the world of nobility.
Which is why there's nothing that you need to give any excuses for.
As Butei, you and I are just teamed up temporarily. In the end, you and I are different. In ability, in status, and in the world that we live in.
Staying silent, I turned my back on Aria and walked down the stairs.
The sound of footsteps following me—didn't appear.
Watson wrote his own name on the board in flowing cursive script—
Just by him doing that, the girls in class screamed in a high pitch voice.
At the enthusiastic praise, the nervous homeroom teacher, Takamagahara Yutori, stepped away from the teaching platform.
Smiling, Takamagahara-sensei said: "Alright then everyone! I'll be introducing a very special guest, a transfer student! Coming from Manchester Butei High, he's a reaaally cool exchange student!"
So...there's no way, or so I thought, but it was true.
(Watson...He transferred here...)
I frowned, and beside me, Aria was trembling in shock...
Once again, she stole a look at me.
What is it with you? You've been like this since yesterday.
Don't take that kind of attitude, where it feels like you're afraid to touch a sore point.
Unlike you, it's not like I have any business with your private matters.
It's not something that I should intrude in.
"My name is L Watson. I'll be in your care."
Watson spoke with a voice that was a little high for a guy, and he took a seat at one of the tables farthest to the back.
Just as he took his seat, the bell that signaled the end to homeroom rang.
Simultaneously, the girls crowded around Watson's seat, accompanied by cries of 'Waah!' or 'Kyaa!'
They look like paparazzi crowding around a Johnny's-type idol.
"What was your specialty class back at your old school!? Which one will you be in here!?"
"I was in Assault at New York, Inquesta at Manchester, and Medica at Tokyo—I've come to give a final polish to my Butei skillset."
The girls started getting excited again. It felt like all their eyes had become heart shaped.
"You're like a prince!"
"I'm not part of the royal family. I'm a viscount."
They became even more excited. Looking at the girls, quite a few of their eyes had now become $ marks.
"Your skin is so pretty! It's even more beautiful than a girl's!"
He smiled. The girls screamed with their high-pitched voices when they saw Watson smile, showing off his white teeth. In its aftermath, a few of them seemed to have become lightheaded, and they staggered around...they were supported by the girls from Medica and Ambulace.
Thank God that Riko's taking a break.
She loves these kinds of disturbances, so she has the habit of exacerbating the situation.
(But...Watson's a pretty big deal.)
If I was surrounded by that many girls...Just thinking about it makes me want to run away. I'd prefer being surrounded by armed criminals.
Even so—Watson was perfectly calm.
It feels like he doesn't care at all, confronted with a herd of girls. He's completely used to them. With the relaxed attitude that comes with being surrounded by friends, he's handling them well.
Taking into account the fact that he's such a beautiful guy, he's in a completely different league.
"What club are you joining, Watson-kun!?"
"I don't have any plans."
Hearing that answer, the colour of all the girls' eyes changed in an instant. "Join the soccer club! I'm starting as the manager soon!" 'Eh, how do you feel about the drama club...?" "Please come to the swimming club!" They started fighting over him with invites.
"I'm sorry. I don't join club activities in any of the Butei Highs. Swimming is especially bad for me—"
Watson smiled wryly, but the girls didn't back down so easily.
They really want to become the transfer student's friend, don't they. He just happens to be handsome and a viscount as well.
"You can't just be in the go-home club!"
"That's right. Are you planning on napping on the roof together with Kinji?"
Hey, swimming club people. I'm planning to eventually transfer out, so it's true that I'm not joining any club activities, but...don't mention my name. Or rather, were you watching me napping? Well, when Aria or Shirayuki are in a bad mood, I don't want to head back to my room, so I just sleep away the time.
"But, if Watson-kun hangs around with Tohyama-kun...he'd get tainted...ah, won't I have a chance if that happens...?"
The drama club girl whispered to herself.
Tainted? What's that supposed to mean?
Apparently, Watson had felt something strange about the same phrase. He asked the girl about it.
The girl glanced in my direction. Holding her hand up to her mouth in order to prevent her lips being read...she whispered something to Watson.
Having listened to her, Watson looked in my direction, his face reddening—
"...Wha...! Tohyama did tha...? H-How lewd...!"
His thin eyebrows raised in anger, Watson glared this way.
His face is pretty, so it doesn't really carry a lot of weight, but in any case..."Looking like that, Kinji's a womanizer. Kanzaki-san, Hotogi-san...there's many other victims too." That's what's been spreading around, right?
That would be because, my involvement in those scandals is often talked about by the girls.
But...to rebuttal her argument...
- In the beginning, Aria stayed in my house to investigate Hysteria Mode's trigger.
- Shirayuki got a key from Aria, and then she stayed in my house for reasons unknown to me.
- Riko wanted to get close to Aria and I, intentionally approaching me and setting an example for Aria.
- Reki proposed to me because of Wind-sama's orders.
I don't even feel like defending myself one by one like this.
Rather, I can't. There's too much confidential information, not to mention things that aren't clear to me either.
Apparently, Watson had been told more tales of my legendary exploits, as unfounded and without proof though they were.
"...Tohyama truly is a lady killer, huh. To have tempted so many...!"
His face reddening even more, he was getting extremely flustered; it almost look liked he was about to blow his top.
Men who've reached that kind of age shouldn't change their expressions so much just from hearing gossip.
Or rather...normally, when boys hear from someone about my fictional female history, they normally admire me, saying: "What an awesome guy. I want to learn from him." I'm not sure why, but I speak from experience.
I'll just forget about Watson.
He can think what he likes of me.
Those stories aren't the truth. There's no point in talking about it; they're just rumours founded on misunderstandings.
If Watson is a guy who takes stock in rumour without confirming its truth, I'd be devaluing myself as a man just by going up against him.
Afterward, during the normal classes—
Watson kept pace with us.
No, that isn't quite it. It wasn't just that he was keeping pace with us.
When he was pointed out by the teacher, he answered every question correctly. Of course he'd get all the English questions correct, being a native speaker like Aria, but he answered all questions correctly. Questions about math, biology...even Japanese history, which came after.
Even ignoring the fact that Butei High's standard score is quite low, this was something that sparked the admiration of the entire class.
In any case, Watson had just transferred today from a foreign Butei High school.
"I studied a little in advance."
Every time break came, he would say those words to the girls who would come praising him, a wry smile on his face...However, to be honest, he was more capable than me in all of the classes, where I was just about average.
It isn't completely correct to say that someone is smart because they're good at calculation and memorization, but if he's able to remember so much from just a little studying, I have to admit how intelligent he is.
His appearance is beautiful...in reality, he's a noble...now he's a genius too?
That's why girls won't leave him alone.
Afterward, I was waiting for the bus that would bring me from the normal section of the school to the section for the specializations...it didn't come.
Normally, I'd ride on Aria's bike together with her and walk to Inquesta from Assault, but...
When things are awkward, just like they are now, we don't move around together. It's nice not being around Aria all the time, but not having her bike is unexpectedly making things even more difficult for me.
—Yesterday, Aria didn't come home to my room.
I was a little worried, so I had Fuuma from Lezzad look for her. It turned out that, as a form of stress release, she was playing Daruma dropping (with peach buns) with her junior in the girl's dormitory.
For some reason, Aria was in a really bad mood, so her Amica, Mamiya, was terrified.
Really. Venting her feelings on those younger than her, treating her food as toys...
(...She's a brat, just as ever...)
I sighed softly.
Just as I sighed, a black vehicle pulled up in front of the bus stop.
It wasn't a bus. Its hazard lights were flashing, and...Wait, isn't this a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet? It's a super high-class car; it can't be worth less than 1,000,000,000 yen.
As I stood there shocked, the hood of the car automatically opened, storing itself in the back of the car.
The 911 opened up completely, and I saw the person in the driver's seat.
"So, it really is you, Tohyama."
The boy who took off his sunglasses was...Watson.
"The bus isn't coming. At the last intersection, the Assault students started brawling inside the bus. Ranbyou sprinted there and flew into a rage. She flipped the bus with her bare hands, so traffic's stopped for a while."
...Those bastards from the Die-Die Squad...
I don't care how many of you are injured, but please stop causing trouble for the general public.
Rather than that, Ranbyou...just being Ranbyou. Flipping buses with her bare hands...
"Get in, Tohyama. You'd probably make it in time if you walked, but—I'll send you to Inquesta. There's some things that I want to speak to you about."
—Saying that, Watson opened the door. I could feel that he was slightly uncertain.
What could it be?
Somehow, I feel uneasy being alone with him.
It's not just that I can't stand him—Intuitively, instinctively, I feel danger.
Nevertheless, the bus isn't coming. I guess I'll hold him to his word and get in.
When I got in the car, the hood closed automatically, and Watson started the car, but...
What could it be? I could smell a faint, cinnamon-like fragrance coming from Watson. Why would he have that kind of scent as a guy? Weird...
"There was a Carrera that was modified into a two-seater, so I bought it yesterday. In Japan, it's too much to handle if you don't have a small chassis."
That's amazing. He changes the car he drives based on the country?
If Mutou heard about this, he'd go crazy with envy.
But really, this pitch-black Carrera suits Watson. It looks perfect when a beautiful guy with black hair rides in it.
Our conversation didn't continue after that, and we sat in silence.
As we were waiting at a traffic light, Watson glanced at me out of the corner of his eyes before he started hostilities.
"—Looking like this, you're a womanizer, aren't you."
So, you're really going to talk about that?
"You were told that by the girls, huh."
"I hate boys like you the most. Let alone your helplessness before Hilda, you...you treat g-girls...so loosely."
Watson gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.
Since he takes things so seriously, it seems that he's the type of guy who lets the blood rush to his head.
Just the type of person I'm bad with.
"So I told Aria to stop living in your room."
"Thank God for that. It was causing a lot of trouble."
I humphed, turning the other way.
Watson did the same.
"It looks like I just don't really get along with you."
"It's not just that you don't really get along with me, you don't. I feel the same way."
Afterward, as he stopped in front of Inquesta, Watson had an angry look on his face.
"It's planned for Aria and I to formally marry when we both reach maturity, but...before that, I'm distancing Aria from you. It seems that she holds you with unusual regard."
"Do whatever you want...Thanks for sending me here."
I opened the door, getting out of the car...
"Remember this. The partner most suited to Aria is me, not you."
Watson spoke those words in the same manner as a declaration of war.
Accompanying that sound, my butt hit the sport's halls court.
The day after Watson had sent me to Inquesta, period 4...
It was time for PE, and we were told to play volleyball, but—
I was hit by an attack directly to my face. In other words, I had just taken one to the face.
"Sorry Tohyama. Are you alright?"
Kneeling on one knee further down the court, Watson, dressed in shorts, apologized.
I—didn't answer, and made a rough gesture that meant "don't worry about it" before I stood up again.
Rather than that, that attack just now...
Weren't you looking at me, aiming for my face...?
For a while afterward, we continued to score points and they continued to take points from us...after enough times to make people think it was an accident, it finally happened again.
Watson's attack scored a hit right on the side of my head.
Furthermore, the ball landed outside the court, making it our loss.
Judging from the last one, I knew. The others didn't know, but this indeed was hostility.
Watson had scored half of their team's points in that game. He's an agile guy.
His body's flexible, and he's skillful even in using little tricks. Including the one he used to smash me in the face.
At a corner of the sports hall, the first year girls whose fourth period appeared to have been cancelled (and had been cheering for Watson ever since the beginning of the game) surrounded him.
Watson brushed his hair up, a refreshing smile on his face as he talked to the girls.
...Like I thought, he's avoiding looking this way on purpose. What a transparent bastard.
Afterward, during the lunch break, as I felt my irritation building at the fact that my nose was still aching and ear still throbbing, I noticed something extremely troubling.
I didn't have any money.
I was shockingly devoid of money.
This was due to the fact that recently, all I had been doing was work that I wasn't compensated for...and because despite that, I had been involved in a lot of battles, so I had been buying a lot of equipment.
If all I'm doing is spending and I'm not getting any income, I'll run out of money.
Borrowing that motorboat from Mutou's sister the night of Bandere was a serious hit to my wallet. When I asked her to put it on my tab...she flew into a rage, screamed "I'll run you over!" and came to collect my debt on her motorbike.
(Once again, Shirayuki's taking part in her shrine's rituals, so she isn't here.)
Guess I can't help it. I'll get my hands on a portion of the payment I gave to Hiraga-san when I ordered 'Orochi'. The portion that paid for the left hand glove.
But I can't spend it frivolously.
Even if I get a request from any civilian, I'll only be compensated next month.
I'll have to make do with the cheapest thing, this bread roll.
(Even though I'm hungry from just having had PE, all I have is this...?)
I settled the bill, took some water from the self-service section and went to table. I opened the vinyl bag containing the bread...now I slightly understand how Fuuma, the girl in poverty, must feel.
I set to eating my bread, completely alone...
Ugh. Watson was walking towards me, carrying the tray for his meal.
And when he saw my poor excuse of a meal, he smirked in a hateful manner.
"...What is it."
"Shall we eat together?"
Despite the fact that he said that he didn't get along with me, Watson placed his tray on the table, smiling all the while.
Rather...that's the steak plate isn't it, the most expensive dish in the cafeteria.
It's a steak of Kobe beef. What's more, blanched Kobe beef.
"Um, payment is made directly after purchase..."
Lifting my head to face the direction that voice was coming from, the lady who manned the cash register was standing next to Watson.
Looking at Watson, his eyes below long eyelashes were staring blankly up at the lady as she stood there holding her apron and fidgeting...it seemed that he thought that you were supposed to pay after.
"I see, you pay immediately in Japan. Maybe because it isn't customary to leave a tip here?"
Saying that, Watson opened the wallet he had taken out of his breast pocket.
The lady and I startled simultaneously.
10000 yen notes were stuffed into the Louis Vuitton wallet to the point where it seemed like it was about to burst.
"Just a moment. I'm still not used to the yen's currency conversion. Is this enough?"
"Y-Yes. I'll bring the change immediately!"
Having been handed a 10000 note, the lady left, extremely flustered. Watson looked at her go, a wry smile on his face...and with that, he turned towards me.
And with elegant movements, so beautiful that my eyes stared in fascination, he crossed himself, giving thanks for the meal. Afterward, he cut into the steak, which was so soft it almost seemed that his knife sunk into it.
"What is it."
"Do you want some?"
I stayed silent.
"I'm not giving you any."
Then don't ask.
Faced with Watson, who was taking his meal with graceful movements like those belonging to an actor...I silently stuffed my face with my bread.
Watson watched me do that with lighthearted eyes that glittered triumphantly.
This bastard. He really doesn't like me.
"As far as I can see, it seems like you're having trouble with money."
"Sorry about that."
"For Butei, money is the lifeline which ties us to ammunition and equipment. If it's interrupted, any Butei would be weakened."
What Watson was saying...was the truth. Even the first years at Butei High learn this.
As opposed to the police or the Jieitai, who take care of their equipment using public funds, Butei have to think about their finances, which are always spent on equipment.
"You even had some transactions with the Mutou siblings as well as Hiraga Aya."
"...You looked into it, huh."
Fundamentally, Butei run on money.
Putting aside the 'work that I'm not getting any rewards from' that I've been spontaneously doing recently, when it comes to normal requests, Butei are told by Masters to take on requests in order to counterbalance the completion of a request instead of the payment or distribution of money that normally makes up the compensation, even within the student community.
Furthermore, in this case, it isn't forbidden to 'save' money. Conversely, it isn't against the rules to suspend work when payments are delayed.
In the world of Butei, such a severe and realistic side does exist. Even if one is a student.
"I've found one of your weak points so soon."
Watson's handsome face broke into a smile.
I don't really know what—but something about him is dangerous for me. That's all I know.
But, what is it...? That, I cannot see.
At Butei High, even during the second semester, we have PE at the indoor pool once a month, but—the next day, if Watson sets something up for me again, I intend to counterattack.
But unexpectedly, Watson was just watching the class.
(Could it be that just like Aria, he can't swim?)
Watson warmed up with the rest of boys of year 2 class A before he, dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt and pants, put on a pair of Chanel sunglasses...taking a pipe chair, he placed it next to a table after carefully dusting it off.
He likes things to be neat.
He sat down, knees spread in front of him, and afterward, with a manner that indicated that he had just noticed something...he folded his legs in panic.
Just as I tilted my head to the side due to his strange movements—
"Aalllright, you brats! Do 20 lengths of the pool! I'll shoot the people that slack off to death!"
In exchange of a starting pistol, Ranbyou, who was next to Watson, fired an M600 'Elephant Killer' before disappearing.
Ranbyou...really, it's impossible to take away her teaching qualifications because of that.
Well, I was thankful at least that that violent teacher had disappeared, so we took the fact that she hadn't said whether we should be doing vertical or horizontal lengths as our argument, and quickly completed 20 horizontal lengths of the pool.
After that, there was time left over, so it was time to relax while the devil was away.
Everyone just swam as they liked, and it became a free time where we just chatted by the poolside.
I...took a film magazine from the bundle of magazines that Mutou, foreseeing Ranbyou's abandonment of class, had taken out of his locker, and headed to borrow one of the pipe chairs sitting next to Watson.
Looking at him...Watson's face was red as he stared at the boys fooling around in their swimsuits.
(Has he caught a cold?)
If so, then of course he'd abstain from going into the pool.
When the earnest Shiranui, who had completed 34 horizontal lengths, equivalent to 20 vertical lengths, got out of the pool, Watson went 'Ah!' apparently surprised, and slid his chair back a little bit.
"...Hey Watson. If you aren't feeling alright, you should go to Ambulace."
Watson, having been spoken to by me, turned this way, looking at my chest and shoulders—
His mouth trembled, going 'Wa, wa'...before he turned away.
He didn't say anything, and he was red to the tips of his ears. Doesn't he have quite a serious fever?
"Hey Kinji! All of AKB's in this one! Shiranui, you get over here too! Let's have a vote!"
At the poolside, Mutou had without hesitation spread open a gravure magazine was gesturing at it.
"It won't be much of a vote with just three people, will it?"
Shiranui, who was handsome to the point where he was able to stand up to Watson, was a great guy to hang around with...so it seemed like he was pretty excited.
"You guys...What do you gain by doing stuff like that?"
I thought about refusing because of the sheer pointlessness of it, but I feared that I wouldn't be able to borrow magazines from Mutou if I acted indifferently.
As one might expect, I won't go into Hysteria Mode from swimsuit gravure, so I guess I'll tag along.
"Then between all of us, there're 5 votes. Hey Watson, you choose too."
Mutou opened a can of coke and took a sip before spreading the magazine out on a plastic table...
Watson, who had been purposely not looking in this direction to begin with, looked directly away.
"I refuse. Don't spread that kind of book wide open in a public place."
That kind of book, he said. These gravure photos?
Even I'm fine with them.
"C'mon, don't say that. If there's so many here, there's definitely at least one girl who you'll like. You'll think I'm tricking you, just take a look at all of 'em."
Saying things that sounded like they were meant to draw customers to an indecent shop—Mutou, the upper half of his body naked, forcefully slipped his arm around Watson's shoulders, hugging him towards his body and showing him the photos.
Watson, whose cheek was pressed against Mutou's chest, let out a short scream.
His sunglasses slid off, and his eyes, having become visible, had even become wet.
It looks like blood has rushed to his head. It seems that as he was watching the pool, he was getting feverish.
"Wha...what is it? That voice was like a girl's. Alright then, it's fine if you don't do it. Rather than that...doesn't it seem like you've gotten feverish? Look, have some coke. It's cold, so it feels good when you're hot."
Mutou let go of Watson and stuck out the cola he had been drinking earlier, as if in some sort of apology.
Watson took the can of cola that was pressed towards him in both hands.
"B-But you—before, you..."
"I only took a sip."
"But, yo-your mouth touched it—"
"What're you saying? We're both guys."
Mutou said. Water from Mutou had gotten on Watson's sportswear earlier, so...
"If you have a fever, it'll be bad if you get wet. You have to wipe it off."
Shiranui grabbed a towel and was on the verge of wiping off the droplets of water from Watson's body, when—
Watson sprang up, as if even the thought of it was horrible.
He rammed into Shiranui, and for some reason, me as well.
"I-I'm going back! I can't take any more!"
Saying that with a voice so high-pitched that it seemed like it had changed, Watson ran in a strange zig-zag pattern (maybe because he was panicking?), getting out of the pool area.
Like always...there's something strange in all of his movements.
After school that day...
I had to save on my spending on food, so I bought some canned field rations at a 50% discount—my wallet had become light enough that it felt like I could fly it like a kite, and with it in hand, I gave Hiraga-san a call.
"Hello hello, what can Aya do for you?"
"Hiraga-san, this is Tohyama. Um, this is about Orochi's left hand..."
"Ah, that isn't finished yet. This week is a little..."
"It's a little hard for me to say this, but...the payment for the bill will be a little late. I'll definitely pay next month, so could you finish it up according to the normal schedule? As always, I'm sorry, but I'd like to put it on my tab."
Hiraga-san made a noise that seemed to express that she was thinking, the sound of her flipping through schedules next to the mouth of the telephone came through.
"Since Tohyama-kun is a regular, it would be OK under normal circumstances, but...this time...I'd like to postpone it."
"Postpone it...is making it difficult?"
"That's one reason, but the main reason is, I received an urgent request from Masters. Money was donated to the school, so they want me to fix all kinds of broken fixtures around the school."
"It seems that Watson-kun gave a whole lot of money!"
"It seems that the person who asked for Aya was Watson-kun too. So, this month, Ayaya is super busy! That's how it is!"
Hiraga-san said, followed by a tired sigh.
...That bastard Watson. What does he mean to do by keeping Hiraga-san's hands full?
Could it be that...this is also more of him harassing me?
"I understand that the left hand portion of Orochi will be postponed. However...be careful of Watson."
"Something about him is strange. He's..."
I thought about saying that he was harassing me in strange ways...but I have no proof.
I'll just keep that particular aspect to myself.
"??? What about him is strange?"
"About that...um...just something."
"I don't see anything strange about him. Watson's a nice person. Before, he came to Aya's place and ordered some other equipment. Teehee."
That's...Hiraga-san's version of a delighted laugh.
It's the way of laughing she uses when she makes massive profits because the other side of the transaction doesn't bargain even though she's overcharging them.
"No, he moves strangely. When we were at the pool..."
Having had Hiraga-san taken from me, I spoke unhappily—
"Ahhh, could it be that? Tohyama-kun is jealous? How cute—♪"
With a cute voice, like that of a kindergartener, Hiraga-san started to say incomprehensible things.
"There's a rumour going around that before, Watson-kun was all alone with Aria-san in a cafe. There's also information concerning the fact that Tohyama-kun is living apart from Aria-san."
"Y-You're well informed...I didn't know about that thing with Watson and Aria."
"Aya isn't popular, because she's so tiny. So one of Aya's interests is listening to the love stories of the popular people, so Aya feels like she's taking part of them."
W-What a dark hobby. I, who's nicknamed the Introvert, can't really say anything though.
"If I put those two pieces of information together...Tohyama-kun had Aria-san taken from him by Watson-kun and is jealous. Wahaa, it's like something from a manga!"
"N-No. I'm just...Watson's just strange, so..."
"Watson is a good person. He gave me a big piece of candy. Tohyama-kun, jealousy between men is disgraceful!"
When I tried to repeat myself and say something against Watson, she hung up on me.
It seems that at some point, Hiraga-san was won over to Watson's side.
I've started to somewhat understand, but...it seems that Watson's laying the foundations necessary to seal my movements in places that I can't see.
What's his aim?
Rather than that...candy? He really knows what each of the girls like. One more thing on the list of things I don't like about him.
—I figured out that Watson also has weaknesses.
His luck in drawing lots.
Transfer students decide their costumes for Ristorante Masque afterward, but the time frame is too short, so they aren't asked to make it themselves.
In exchange, they only have one chance to draw. It seems that there's a rule that states that changes will not be recognized.
Only things that could just be worn without any modifications were inside the box that a first year had brought during recess, but...
Written on the lot that Watson opened up under the gaze of several classmates was—
"Girl's Uniform (Butei High)"
The worst one possible. Why? Because it's a girl's uniform. He's definitely going to be up for some corporal punishment.
Other than me, who was thinking 'about time, you bastard' in my heart, tension was running high throughout the students of Class A.
Watson's manner gave off the feeling that he was thinking.
"Deception is a part of strategy...If you don't want to be suspected...you should in turn, show your cards eagerly and willingly."
He said something like a proverb in English.
"...No way. I don't really want to do this, but...well, it seems like I'll be throttled by the teachers if I don't. Since I drew it myself, I'll do it. Should I change now?"
So he said. And because of that, the class broke into an uproar.
The girls were rushing into the toilet, jerseys in hand, saying things like: "You're welcome to use my uniform!" or "Please use mine!" "No, mine!" One section of the boys were preparing digital cameras while saying inexplicable things like: "We finally get to see the third boy-girl of our lives!"
There was no need to change immediately, but nobody said that.
Afterward, Watson, having borrowed a uniform from the girls, disappeared somewhere from the corridor, the uniform in hand.
Everyone was waiting impatiently...when a panel was suddenly taken out from the ceiling, and Watson's voice rang out.
"It's the costume that we've all been waiting for, so I'll be making my entrance a little bit of a surprise."
From the hole in the ceiling, a girl dropped down to land standing on the podium.
His SIG SAUER locked and loaded, Watson winked, his face smug.
'Waoah!' A strange cheer came from the boys.
It seemed to be a voice that instantaneously mixed 'Woah!' with 'Wha...!?'
It's not that I can't understand how they feel. If I actually got along with Watson, I might've even let my voice loose as well.
—Watson was that cute.
Not like Kana, who was so beautiful, too beautiful, to the point where it didn't feel real, but she was the epitome of the boyish girl, the girl who has a sense of closeness. Well, when comparing him to girls, he isn't the type to make mouths drop open like Riko or Aria, who turn heads just by walking into the room.
After this had happened—
Even the group of boys who had been resenting Watson, who had snatched all popularity amongst the girls, started to treat him nicely.
Watson became the class favourite, and the number of his friends continued to increase.
Not only did I not get along with Watson, I also didn't have many friends in the first place, so...
Gradually, I found that there was nowhere for me inside the class.
A few days later, Mutou was invited to a party at Watson's (of course, I wasn't invited.) He got to eat a lot of delicious food at Watson's massive room, located inside the dormitory...or so he was saying so happily, so—when I warned him, saying: 'Be careful of Watson,' he answered: 'Watson's a good guy, you know? I only understood it when he changed back then, but he's easy to like,' getting angry at me instead.
(Even Mutou's been charmed by Watson...)
Because I was bothered by it, I did a little searching and found out that the bulletproofed trike that I borrowed from time to time, Road Fox, had been loaned for an indefinite period by Watson. He has a goddamned car. He's clearly doing this to drag me down.
What a dirty bastard. Trying to undermine me from the outside in like this...
Nighttime came, and I sat alone on my room's sofa—
I don't have any hobbies that I can really call hobbies, so I had completely disassembled my gun, maintaining it to pass the time.
Right now, I'm broke. If my guns malfunction, I won't be able to have them repaired.
(Aria's at the girl's dormitory and Shirayuki's at her shrine...I'm alone, huh...)
Guns are normally made out of around 30~100 parts, but my Beretta and DE are modified, so they have more.
So, when completely disassembled, it's as difficult as putting together plastic models. After checking the state of each part, the part has to be cleaned, and in that way, I could spend the time.
I used a flannel cloth to apply oil to the inner parts of the gun, which I had almost finished maintaining.
And as I did that, what I thought of without meaning to, was Watson.
(I know that he doesn't like me because he declared it while in the car, but...)
For some reason, Watson is trying to set up my fall.
He pinpointed my weakness, targeting my lack of sociability and isolating me.
Simultaneously, he used the attribute of Butei High students' mercantilism, their willingness only to work with money involved, depriving me of Hiraga-san and Mutou's help. However, I'm unable to save money and reclaim their aid.
I was unable to resist his actions.
Because of his strategy, little by little, I'm becoming alone.
Well...ever since the Uraga Bay accident, I've been trying to put distance between myself and Butei High, and because of my level of success in doing so, I was nicknamed the Introvert...I'm used to loneliness.
But, I can't take his method of doing things. That's what irks me.
(I don't like using this way of talking about it, since it's sexist, but...that bastard Watson. He's using the dirty ways that women use despite being a man.)
If he hates me, he should just come for a fight like a man. That's the path of all male high school students of Butei High...No, of all male high school students of Japan.
And when that time comes, I'll take him on his offer.
I understand that he'd want to monopolize Aria, who's an amazing Butei, but ostracizing me like this?
Right now, as we're prepared for the battle with 'Grenada', this isn't a time where we should have divides like this.
"That's a scary face, Ki-kun."
Those words were whispered into my ear, and at that voice, which sounded like a bell had pealed ever so softly, I startled, turning around.
And right next to me was Riko.
"Riko...? You're always appearing like a ghost."
"I tiptoed in~. I was thinking like, when'll I be noticed, though."
Teehee. Laughing, Riko raised her head and plopped herself down on the revolving chair by the computer.
She then rolled over here in her chair, coming to a stop beside me.
In her modified uniform that she always wore, on one of her ears was a single earring that I knew I had seen before.
"Oh, oh, Ki-kun. Are you maintaining your guns all lonely by yourself?"
Riko placed her feet, covered with socks that were decorated with things like cherries, on the floor and spun left, then right, turning little by little.
Because of that movement, her frilly skirt and soft, wavy hair floated through the air...
And a sweet scent like that of vanilla drifted towards me.
I was still feeling rather dark, so I returned to checking my guns—
"Ki-kun is all alone."
"Don't say it twice. I don't need your sympathy."
"Don't be hurt~. Riko doesn't mean to do anything like that."
"Don't puff your cheek up like that. You look like a kid."
Completely uncaring about the aura about me which screamed 'Go away', Riko took two PSPs out of her pocket.
And the 2 PSPs in her hands like two guns, she turned to the kitchen.
Exactly at that moment, the microwave went 'ding'.
"Here, Ki-kun. You were so into it that you didn't even hear the sound of the microwave spinning, huh."
She was right.
"...I've lost. It looks like I've been too on edge lately."
"You seem to have finished with your maintenance, so play some games with Riko while we eat! Um, you know, Riko bought an autumn-limited set of chestnut rice. There was this special offer for couples where Riko could get a scratch card, so Riko bought two. Ki-kun, my boyfriend, can have one~."
Saying this, Riko walked to the microwave, the big ribbon attached to her back of her modified uniform fluttering...Muttering 'owowowow', she took two convenience store lunchboxes from the microwave.
"Boyfriend...? Well, I'll take it. I'm tired of eating rations."
"Ki-kun, let's duel in Ace Combat! We can do it while eating! The loser gets a slap on the wrist~!"
Riko brought the lunchboxes to the table in front of the sofa and sat herself down next to me with a thud while pushing a PSP towards me.
Ah. Isn't this my PSP? When did she get it out?
Rather than that...are you planning on eating at the sofa table? While gaming?
(She's carefree as usual...)
When Shirayuki, who's always going, "Your manners are horrible!' is gone, she immediately starts to do whatever she likes.
It had been a long time, but I laughed. I laughed at Riko's disihibition. It may've been a little wry though.
Lying on the sofa all the while, we ate the chestnut rice, fired missiles at each other, ate warm pickled vegetables that were a little weird, fought a dogfight with a rule limiting us to machine guns only, and slapped each other on the wrist.
I had some experience with this game, where we use modern fighters and have dogfights, but—
Whenever Riko turned, she had a habit of leaning in the same direction, just like a kid.
Furthermore, she was sitting directly to the right of me...
"Gnnnnnngh! Alright, I've gotten behind you! Don't run away, Ki-kun! Kyahaha!"
Ah, hey, don't turn to the left...!
With enough momentum to knock me flat, Riko pressed her leaning body against me.
Her smooth arms stuck closely to me, and her elastic thighs pressed into me through her skirt—Her sweet smelling chestnut brown hair w-was pressing against my face. My neck was being tickled by her ribbon and twintails, and it was really ticklish. It was like the right side of my body was melding into Riko.
"H-Hey! Don't get in my way, I can't see my screen because of your hair!"
"Take this! And that! Crash!"
Riko was just innocently playing the game, so it wasn't really erotic at all. Because of that, I seemed to be alright when it came to Hysteria, but I couldn't fly like I wanted to. I couldn't shake off Riko's plane's pursuit.
Aah...I'm out of respawns...I lost again.
Drove into the ground, my F14 was crashed—
"Alright! This is Riko's twelfth win! Ki-kun's won two and lost twelve~!"
Out of energy, I slumped to my left...
As I was lying there, Riko got all over me like I was a futon or hugging pillow.
"Teeheehee! Ki-kun's weak~!"
Several soft area's on Riko's body clung to mine, so—
"H-Hey. Get off me..."
As one might expect, this is bad. So I thought, trying to push Riko off me.
Riko lifted her uppper body up like she was doing a push up.
"Ah, Ki-kun. There's a piece of rice stuck to you~!"
Looking at my face from point blank range, she really took a grain of rice from my mouth.
And she ate it.
I was starting to get embarrassed when Riko's expression changed into one that showed: 'I've thought of something good~!' A smile on her face, she took a grain of rice from the lunchbox on the table...
"Aaahhh, there's one stuck to Riko too~~"
Sticking a grain of rice to her cheek, she looked up at me with teary eyes.
...In any case, she's going to say: "Take it and eat it. Use your mouth directly." right?
"Ki-kun, take it and eat it♪ Maybe directly with your mouth?"
Riko took a cute pose and said what I imagined she would've.
I flicked the grain of rice off her cheek with my finger.
Riko squeezed her eyes into X shapes and rocked upwards—
I caught the sight of her chest, holding a sense of weight that didn't match her diminutive body, bouncing up.
Because of that movement, my face was, for an instant, obscured by two independent shadows.
L-Like always...She has an outrageous body. That's the only part of her that really experienced a growth spurt.
It's like a figure that takes the cuteness of Aria's miniatureness and the goodness' of Shirayuki's well-sized proportions. That's what I thought when I see Riko from up close again.
"Mmm? Geez, where are you looking~? You pervert~~!"
Riko thudded on my face happily, as I stared up at her in a daze.
"H-Hey! The punishment was supposed to be a slap to the wrist, right? Don't hit my face!"
Somehow able to crawl out from under Riko, I complained.
"The rules have changed~! From now on, it doesn't matter how you hit!"
She said something which was just an arbitrary decision of The Riko, so—
Having gotten annoyed, I gave my all and at the end of a furious battle that made up the next game, I brought Riko down.
And when she lost, she said, "I'm changing the rule change from just now again! Now it's back to what it used to be~!" running away. My full annoyance at Riko experienced a limit break and transformed into super annoyance...so I caught her, clutching her to my side and spanking her butt through her frilly skirt. Well, just slapping.
...When we had finished doing those kinds of stupid things, it had become really late.
Looking at my watch, it was already midnight.
We have school tomorrow, so we have to go to sleep soon.
I took a shower, changed into my pajamas and returned to the living room...
Still rolling around on the sofa, Riko rested her cheek on her hand and grinned up at me.
"...What is it?"
"Mmm. I'm tired."
"I can't do anything even if you tell me."
Riko kicked her feet around.
"Doooon't waaaant toooo sleeeeeep~!"
"What're you telling me to do...?"
With a spoiled voice like she had returned to being a baby, Riko rolled around.
At the sight of her, I sighed deeply.
"I want to talk."
"Anything's fine~. I want to talk. Forever."
"I refuse. I'm going to sleep."
I opened the door to my bedroom...
The bedroom was cold, so I thought of having some of warm air in the living room flow in and left it open.
"But well...thanks for today."
Sitting on my bed, the bottom right one of the two bunk beds in the room, I said to Riko that which I had been too embarrassed to say earlier.
"You came because I've been depressed lately, right? I feel a little bit better now."
Riko stayed silent for a moment.
"...That's not all."
She responded with a small voice...Feet hitting the floor, she exited the living room, apparently having entered the bathroom.
I could hear the sound of the shower running.
It seems that she wants to sleep here.
I don't want her to, but...Riko came here because she was worried about me, so well, I guess I'll let her do as she wants.
Rather, at some point in the time, the two bunk beds have been occupied as the following: Upper left = Aria, Bottom left = Riko, Upper right = Shirayuki, Bottom right = Me. Therefore, it's split between the four people that can come in and out of this place freely (3 of them are entering illegally.) Riko sleeps here whenever she wants, and it happens quite a lot. As for chasing her out, I can't refuse her right now.
Thinking this, I turned on my side, falling asleep...
I heard the sound of the electricity going off in the living room—and the room darkened.
...Footsteps sounding, Riko entered the bedroom and turned on the footlight...
I heard the sound of her hand reaching my bed, so—
I suddenly awoke.
Looking back, Riko, in pajamas, was trying to sneak into the bottom right bed...in other words, my bed.
"H-Hey! What is it? You're the bottom left one, right?"
"Ah, I mixed it up♪ And now, the mix-up will continue!"
Sticking her tongue out, she thumped her own head...
Just like that, she got her knees on my bed.
What on Earth is this.
Even if I try to run, I can only enter and exit on the side that Riko's on.
Gone into panic, I squeezed my body against the wall, trying to run away, but—conversely, that didn't go well.
Rather, I had now given Riko enough space to get on the bed.
And of course...Riko got on.
What am I doing? That was a pretty good self-destruct.
Wasn't that a movement which is just like saying: 'Get in'?
"I-It's tight, so don't get in."
..."Nobody's here today."
Riko spoke, her voice coming out husky and erotic...
She wasn't wearing the loose smile she usually did, but her eyes were so very sad.
—I-I'm suddenly caught in a massive disaster. I've been cornered in an instant.
To get out of this bed, I have to get out from Riko's side. However, even if I try to get out with all I've got, I might be kept in with all she has...I'll be pushed down by the monstrous strength of her hair, which can move like a snake.
What should I do? My head's completely blank. Terrifyingly, I couldn't even lift my body.
But if we continue to stay silent like this, I don't know what'll happen to me. Just like Riko said, my wingmen that impede Riko from approaching me (Aria and Shirayuki) are gone.
I can't just stay silent. She'll have her way with me. S-Say something, me!
This is really bad, if I really don't say something, then—
"R-Riko. Your pajama's inside out."
And so, I said something that I noticed then and there.
No. Nonono. Kinji. That's not it. That's not what I should be berating her about!
"Ah, you're right."
Her large, double-folded eyes stared down at her own pajamas. Riko put her hands on the hem of her dress, and suddenly—
She flipped it up!
I just barely managed to roll over and turn my back to Riko.
What I had been able to see for just an instant was Riko's bare boobs—about the bottom fourth of them.
(D-Do girls...not wear underwear when they sleep!?)
C-C-Ca-Ca...Not that, calm down, Kinji!
This isn't the time to become terrified at having discovered this habit that girls have!
Apparently, Riko had fixed her pajamas. I have to drive her away somehow.
"Riko, you...um, get off. Normally, at this point...you'd be beaten up by Aria or Shirayuki, right? I'd most likely be beaten up as well, for some reason."
Riko spoke to my back, a little bit of a laugh mixed into her words.
"Riko is fine. It doesn't matter who Ki-kun likes. All the girls that like Ki-kun don't really feel like posers, so I'm a little annoyed, but...liking that, that means that Riko has a good eye for guys, right?"
"Wh-What're you talking about?"
"Riko is fine with it. When together with Riko...just like today, Ki-kun's always been gentle with me. Mmm...because of that, just like Yuki-chan said, Riko's probably suited to being someone's mistress."
Once again, I could hear the sound of bed's springs squeaking behind my back. S-She turned on her side.
Rather, what kind of conversations do you have with Shirayuki?
"H-Hey. Don't spread the blanket out."
"Eh? Isn't this fine? It's cold."
Saying that, Riko took the back of the blanket that was draped onto my body and crawled inside it.
"My hands have become cold."
Her nose touched the back of my head...around my neck. Riko continued to whisper in a flirtatious voice—
And she stuck her hands in the pockets stitched to the left and right of the stomach area of my pajamas.
My body stiffened and Riko giggled.
I've been driven into a corner. I've finally been embraced.
"Riko, you know about—my condition, right?"
As my final card to play, I somehow managed to act calm, warning her.
"You're talking about HSS? Ki-kun calls it Hysteria Mode, right?"
"That's right. Different from Kana, once I go into it, I can't control myself. Originally, it's something that we possess in order to protect women, to act cool, and — I'm only saying this considering the circumstances — to leave children behind."
Bringing her face close to my head, Riko whispered, the scent of shampoo accompanying her words.
"Then—go back to your own bed."
Really...in a situation like this, when I'm trying desperately to control my transformation into Hysteria, I can't even soften my tone.
However, Riko didn't draw back.
It's fine if I warn her of the worst that may come, right? Even if it's a little harsh?
"What will you do if I go into Hysteria Mode...and attack you?"
I told her as if it was a last warning.
"When it happens, it will happen."
Riko responded, completely calm.
What a...You should think of yourself more preciously.
Furthermore, I'm also involved in this. I'm begging you, so please accept my warning and back off.
"But if you go into Hysteria Mode, it'll be a little bit troubling~. It feels like Riko's thoughts will all be seen through...every last one of them~. So—flirt with Riko until you're just about to, alright?"
"That's why I'm saying that I don't have that kind of control..."
"It's fiiiine~. I won't do anything weird."
"You're already doing it!"
I put my hands in my pockets, trying to take Riko's out.
And at that moment.
Riko grabbed my hands.
And just like that, suddenly—
Riko gripped my hands tightly.
"Please...stay by my side..."
A serious voice.
I opened my eyes, which had been closed so tightly before.
I tried to turn back in reflex, but Riko pushed her face against my back, not allowing me to do so.
"...Make Riko forget. Make Riko forget everything...Riko wants to forget...Everything from before...after seeing her, I remember it every night...Nightmares...Riko can't take it anymore..."
'H-Hil...Even saying her name is horrible. At Romania...she...I..."
Riko continued to cry into my back.
For a while, as I lay there, listening to her sobs...
I began to be able to read Riko's behaviour.
The day before, she attacked us with a high voltage current...Riko was the only one she didn't attack. The batgirl of Grenada.
She's the daughter of the person who confined Riko in Romania before.
That girl probably also...tormented Riko, right?
And probably with the most extreme methods, having inherited her father's sadism.
That trauma was probably relived when Riko saw Hilda.
...Having nightmares of painful memories...I can understand her feelings of wanting to...rely on someone.
Before, when I had lost my family...I was in that stage of grief where all I wanted to do was cry against someone.
So...having gone through the same thing together and being able to sympathise...well, it's not that I can do that.
Doing something like this is fine...right?
In response to Riko's crying, the Hysteria bloodflow died down.
And turning around forcefully...
I took Riko's head, which she kept down, not wanting to show her tearful face.
And I hugged her to my chest.
Having done that....
As if the emotions that she had been holding back up till that point had broken through...
Riko cried, her voice muffled by my chest.
Normally, Riko is...lighthearted, and she puts on a strong front, but...from way before, she's had an emotionally unstable part of her.
That's probably the manifestation of the wound she's received to her heart.
There's plenty of personal scores that I have to settle with you, but I really can't forgive you. After knowing this.
The next time I meet you—I'll do something to break you. Just like I did to your father.
"...When are you going to sleep until? You're going to be late."
An anime voice, filled with astonishment.
In the midst of the daylight, I lazily woke.
Noticing that there was nobody in my arms, I muttered with a drowsy voice.
"Like I thought, you were with Riko. No wonder your sleeping face was so happy."
I woke up at the sound of Aria's voice.
Aria, dressed in her sailor uniform and carrying her schoolbag, was staring down at me, her hands at her hips.
Just in case...it's impolite, but I flashed a glance at her chest...just confirming that it wasn't Riko in disguise.
It was as small as they could go. It's the real Aria.
Her eyes, which were already angry, grew angrier, and she slid her slender feet further apart, about 15% wider than the width of her shoulders, standing like a king.
This is...a sign that she's angry.
If I tell her that I was with Riko, I'll probably be subjected to hole dancing.
"That's not it. I was alone..."
"Please say that after wiping the lipstick away from your cheek."
I rubbed my cheek, but—nothing was there.
"That was a lie. You're really not suited to Inquesta."
Damn it. She got me.
You managed to pull that on me despite being weak against Inquesta's tricks yourself. Why're you getting so desperate for?
"I passed by Riko below. And in the living room, there's two empty trays of the same meal, both eaten."
As if showing me more evidence, Aria picked up a strand of long, wavy, chestnut brown hair from next to my pillow before discarding it.
"Kinji. Why did you try to hide this from me?"
The blood vessels on her temple standing out to form a 'D', Aria looked down on me.
(G-God, that's terrifying...!)
I'm completely at a loss here.
"T-That's because you were asking with a face like a demon. Rather than that, is it fine for you to be here? You were told by Watson not to go to my room, right?"
For the first time in a long while, I activated the super secret technique handed down through the Tohyama family: 'Reverse Blame'.
"I-I...don't need to follow Watson's instructions."
"You certainly followed them very well, seeing as you haven't come here recently."
"That's—because after Watson came, you suddenly became seriously unhappy..."
"Yeah, yeah. Everything's all my fault."
Taking advantage of the fact that Aria had faltered a bit, I left my bed.
Preparing to be fired on, I changed into my bulletproof uniform.
"Rather than that...Kinji, why're you talking about Watson? It's still too early for me to talk about—he arbitrarily said that he'd even become my partner. That's why I'm saying, there's no need for you to stop caring and go running to Riko..."
Her voice getting more and more soft and fragmented, Aria seemed to be making some kind of excuse.
"What are you talking about? Watson's a nice guy. Isn't it fine for you to get along well with him?"
"Are you listening? Why are you getting so angry? It's true that Watson's a nice person, but..."
"It's fine. I'm not angry. Don't care about me."
As I spoke those words, letting them pierce the air—
Inside me, I felt the hazy thoughts that I had about Aria and Watson settle into place.
Until now...As Aria's partner, I've been fighting against the criminals affiliated with I-U.
But those battles were all very, very close.
If I had taken even one step incorrectly, Aria and I would have died a long, long time ago. Our days were spent walking on a tightrope.
And now, this time we're enfolded into the struggle between 'Deen' and 'Grenada'.
However, I don't have much anti-ability battle experience. If I directly confront those monsters, I'd be completely helpless. Just like what had happened at Sotohori Way.
On the other hand, Watson beat Hilda off with just a threat. He prepared expensive equipment to fight against a formidable foe, and he has the technical knowledge.
In regards to the battles from now onward—
Aria should team up with Watson.
That's why, for the sake of Aria's safety...I probably started to treat Aria badly on purpose, even if I wasn't conscious of it, trying to distance myself from Aria.
Also, in the first place—the two of them are 'Holmes and Watson'.
They fit each other well. No matter what anybody thinks, they'd come to the same conclusion.
As if obeying what I had told her, 'don't care about me', Aria left the room, her footsteps sluggish.
—I'll be going to school alone again.
And though I'm going to class, I'll be alone.
That would be the fault of my conflict with Watson.
I've been completely undermined, from the outside in.
But, if he's undermined me...
That means that the bastard's moving.
In the battles of times long past, once the fortress has been undermined...
The next step is to attack the heart of the citadel.
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