Horizon:Kimitoasamade 2A Chapter 11
Chapter 11: Girl Being Peeped On in a First Place
A wave of self-discipline washes in
Motionless self-questioning cannot reach
What is it that rushes toward you?
Point Allocation (See-Through Play)
Adele was under pressure.
It was a heavy and dense pressure.
“Um, Nao-san? You’re pressing up against me.”
“Oh, sorry, sorry. I just can’t help but put my arm around your shoulder, Adele. My bad.”
Naomasa shifted to the right with her back against the edge of the tub. And her left breast (the source of the pressure on the right side of Adele’s face) was peeled away.
As Adele mentally groaned in frustration, Naomasa gently lifted her bath false arm and spun it around at the elbow. Then…
“I need to buy a new one before long.”
“How long has it been since you started keeping that one here?”
“Three years, wouldn’t it be?” suggested Naruze who was lying together with Naito a short distance away. The black wings had been on top earlier, but they were on the bottom now. “Naomasa, you’ve gotten taller, so you really should buy a new one. Your nervous system is thrown a bit off from the difference in length between that and the arm you should have, right? I read in a book that’s common for people who get their prosthetic later in life.”
“It’s true. And this doesn’t have a buffering system like my usual one does.”
Naomasa smiled bitterly and untied her hair. She let the longish black hair drop into a bucket in preparation to wash it and Naito turned her way.
“Huh? Don’t you have the night shift?”
“I’m going to the wide block dojo today.”
“Hah. You take a bath before you work up a sweat?” asked Naruze. “I just don’t get you.”
“I was working on the Suzaku’s maintenance before, so I smelled like oil. The kids don’t care, but the parents get worried.”
“Nao-san, you do like kids, don’t you?”
Naomasa looked over and Adele assumed she would deny it or smile bitterly, but…
“Yes, I suppose so.”
She agreed with a small smile.
“And then Adele felt a throb in her heart…”
“Ga-chan, you should probably stop reading it aloud when you draw out your storyboards.”
Adele wholeheartedly agreed, but Naito had more to say.
“Masa-yan, is it because you like kids that you enjoy having Adele and Bell-rin next to you or in your arms?”
“Wh-why are you so blatantly treating me like a child!?” complained Adele.
“Well, my false arm has a buffering spell and a balance control system, but I might still subconsciously want some support. And maybe it just feels cold since it doesn’t have body heat. Whatever the reason, I end up doing this.”
Naomasa moved closer without even looking Adele’s way.
It pressed against Adele’s right cheek. Or rather, its dampness and resilience seemed to suck onto her.
…And it’s pushing me!
I should have expected this from #3 in the second year boobs caste. If this hit me with some momentum behind it, it’d snap my neck, wouldn’t it?
“So does this help your balance and lack of heat, Nao-san?”
“Hmm, now that I’ve tried it, I’m not really sure.”
“Then this was entirely pointless! Entirely pointless!”
“Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it,” said Naomasa as the bath door opened with a dry rolling sound and Suzu walked in.
She was wearing her work swimsuit.
“Ga-chan, Go…-chan, I brought…these.”
Adele narrowed her eyes to try and see what Suzu held up. If her glasses did not fog up, she could have brought them into the bath with her, but her life as a working student did not allow for that. She had to squint to see what Suzu held.
“What are those, um, two rod-like things?”
“It’s for two people when they start getting a little excited in the bath.”
Adele thought for a bit on Naruze’s explanation, raised her left hand, and spoke past Naomasa’s 3D obstacle.
“To make sure I don’t screw up here, please give me a hint.”
“You use them with your mouth and end up making a lot of noise.”
Adele thought on Naito’s explanation.
“One more hint.”
“You can take turns with it or do it together.”
“Hm.” Adele thought even harder. “Is it something dirty?”
“You and Suzu can go first.”
She watched in confusion as Suzu turned her way and walked a few steps toward her. She kneeled on the floor at the edge of the tub and held one of them out to Adele.
“It’s a…waterproof…m-mic. For karaoke.”
“Oh! For bath karaoke!”
As soon as she said “Now I get it!”, Naomasa’s hand gave a powerful smack to the back of her head. To avoid the blow, she exaggeratedly collapsed down into the water and got back up.
“Wh-what was that for, Nao-san!?”
“I had a feeling that’s what it was.”
“Th-then tell me! I couldn’t see it!”
“I couldn’t be sure until she said so.”
“You really are the scientific type, aren’t you?”
Adele knew Naomasa was trying to be considerate. And as Adele hung her head, Naomasa took the mic and handed it to her. She checked the bottom of the mic to check for something as she did so.
“Here. …Suzu, won’t this bother the other guests?”
“Oh, we have a s-spell.”
Suzu placed a hand on her neck hard point, but the other people soaking in the water did not seem to mind. The ones that did notice only waved.
Adele gave Suzu a questioning look and the girl confirmed she had already activated the surrounding acoustic spell. Kimi had made the spell and it only allowed the sound into the area around those registered with it.
On the other side, Naruze spoke as she brought her pen to a crop mark frame Magie Figur.
“Can the two of you sing something or other?”
“Wh-what would b-be good? I don’t…know many songs.”
“It can be the Lamb and Veggies Legend, Jumping from that Derrick Sounds Great, A Godly Burst of Full Bladders Across the Land, or anything really.”
“Ga-chan, aren’t you asking for some pretty hard ones?”
“Yeah, you can just go with something you like.”
In that case, Adele wanted to start with something safe that everyone knew.
“Then let’s do the Musashi Song.”
Naomasa listened to Adele and Suzu as she soaked in the bath.
…What a pain.
Adele was to her left and Suzu was behind her. No, she heard some water dripping to the right.
Suzu sat on the edge of the bath to Naomasa’s right and soaked her lower legs in the water. Naomasa noted that the line from Suzu’s thighs to hips was well formed, perhaps due to getting down on her knees a lot for work.
…Focusing on the details is a bad habit of everyone from the engine division…and everyone with a god of war.
But Naomasa was trapped between those two.
She had considered ending her bath early and getting a quick bite to eat before heading to the dojo, but she would have to put that off. She listened to the singing voices on the right and left.
She had to stop herself from singing along, but that may have been because they often sang this song where she worked. She had heard the song thousands if not tens of thousands of times since arriving on the Musashi. But…
…This ain’t good.
She found herself recalling the past, before she had come to the Musashi.
When she had finished what work she could do in that rustic farming village, she had felt it would be crass to ask her little sister and the others not to play around and make noise, so she had gone to the field where her family worked to watch them all work.
The song she had heard and hummed along with there had been different. The people and what they had held had been different. And comparing the present to the past was rude to her current neighbors who knew nothing of that past. So…
Naomasa placed an arm around Adele’s shoulder and the other around Suzu’s waist.
She was not sure if she could say they were all friends. There were still things they did not know about each other and the distance between them changed on a daily basis, but these two showed no resistance. Adele’s expression seemed to tense and her head seemed to tilt weirdly, but it was within the acceptable range for the human anatomy. Conversely, Suzu leaned up against her.
…Oh, she smells nice.
Is it soap? she wondered before realizing it resembled something else.
…Oil? No, this is…
It was a composite. When working in the engine division, not all of the machines used the same oil. The areas with a lot of weight on them or that would be used for long periods of time would receive a heavy grease. The areas with little weight or that would only be used for a short time would receive a light oil or resin. After working with all of those, a combined smell of “oil” would soak one’s body and hair.
In Suzu’s case, it was all the soaps and scented scrubbing bags. The ones customers left behind or the provided ones would melt in the water and steam and then soak into her skin and hair.
Her fine skin may have been due to working up a sweat so often as she worked.
…Has Naruze noticed this?
Suzu herself would not have noticed and would not be aware. In that case, Naomasa figured Naruze would not draw it. There was a more appropriate person to clue her in. For example…
“Oh, Masa’s here too.”
As if providing an interlude once the song was over, a cold air arrived. Naomasa’s heat left her back and shoulders as it was sent to someone else.
“What? You’re here too, Asama-chi?”
Asama saw Naomasa and saw Adele’s head tilting.
It was the usual arrangement. That happened because Adele tried to receive the weight. If she pressed up against it herself, Naomasa’s breast would change shape. Suzu was doing just that.
…Everyone’s different, I guess.
I summed that up well, thought Asama with a mental clenched fist. Then Naomasa took something from Adele and passed it to Naito and Naruze.
It was a mic.
At the same time, torii-style sign frames appeared next to Adele and Suzu’s faces. It was the score for the song they had just sung. Back in the changing room, Kimi had said “Oh, someone’s using it” and opened a sign frame. They had listened to the Musashi Song from that, but due to how standard a song it was, it was hard to score many points with it.
A few counters spun randomly before displaying the numbers.
Naito, who often heard people singing it in the transportation district, sounded impressed, so that must have been a decent score.
After checking on that, Mitotsudaira used the waterfall shower on one end to both wash herself and perform a pre-bath purification. She held the Cerberus in her hands and looked at the two who had taken the mic.
“Are you having a bath karaoke tournament?”
“Heh heh. For Naito and Naruze, it’s probably practice for the Gagaku Festival. With the acoustics here, I bet their voices will sound nice.”
“That’s pretty much it,” answered Naruze without even glancing in Mitotsudaira and Kimi’s direction. She may have thought they still had a ways to go before they would sound nice. As she lay atop Naruze, Naito hugged her with a troubled yet happy look, so that may have been the cute side of Naruze.
Asama wanted to wash her body before getting in the bath. While the bath smelled of soap, her hair and skin were soaked with incense.
…My uniform was pretty bad too.
She guessed it would take some time for the algae creatures to clean it and she saw Suzu pass her mic to Naito who did not have one yet. Once Asama reached the washing area, she found Kimi already there and the girl pushed a chair out to her side. She was already letting the shampoo soak into her hair.
“By the wall, it’s more like hearing it live, but that’s closer to hearing their real voices. They’ve been doing this for a while, so it’s probably worth listening to.”
“I don’t like how it feels like I’m using them as a model without telling them…”
“Heh heh. How can you say that when you’re the one that’s keeping it a secret?”
It would have pained her to ask how Kimi knew she was keeping it a secret, so she did not ask. Kimi simply looked at her and spoke in a way that created an earnest atmosphere.
“I wouldn’t have thought your idea of a first date includes taking a bath together and creating a soap kingdom. If we spend the night together after this, are we going to get into censored territory? What are we going to do next? Are you going to entertain Mitotsudaira and me with some soap bubble attacks?”
“What. Are. You. Talking. About?”
Asama squeezed her scrubbing bag until the rice bran came out and she saw Mitotsudaira shivering as she made her way to the bath.
The werewolf race had its own divine protections for grooming, so they did not really need to wash their body When Mitotsudaira did it, it was just for show and it only provided the purification effect applied to all of Musashi’s water.
Asama felt it would be rude to her friend if she was jealous of that convenience.
…And things like makeup come off on their own if she doesn’t add in a buffering divine protection.
Mitotsudaira owned her own perfume workshop because she wanted to make ones she liked and because perfume was relatively unaffected by her divine protection when compared to powders and creams.
She circled behind Naito and Naruze and entered the bath. She looked Asama in the eye and then indicated the white and black duo with her eyes.
She too was telling Asama to listen. The girl’s immense amount of hair did not collapse even in the water, so it almost seemed to have no weight. Asama had heard those rolls also had some divine protections applied, but was that true?
Then she heard a voice.
It was Naruze’s.
“She who shows no resistance. A child who turns her back and falls to earth.”
The song’s different from last night, thought Asama. Then Kimi spoke from behind her ear.
“They have more than one face.”
Asama considered looking back, but decided against it. She felt it would be wrong to the two singers. Also…
The song from the night before had included a folk melody, but it had been a somewhat cheerful song sung with awkward happiness. But this…
“Abandon the holy and outlast the gallows. Without a sound, look ahead to the future.”
It was dark. No, it sounded like a requiem. And yet…
“The racing flame, the quaking iron, the gouging steel, the piercing spine of wind.”
…Is it more powerful?
“I understand. This is my home. Even as we turn our backs, we are white and black.”
She was not sure, but she sensed something from the words and the song.
…It’s different from last night.
She had learned from Mitotsudaira’s knight song that a song was an expression of the person who made it, but this was unlike the song those two had sung the night before.
…What is this?
Asama realized that everyone had more than one side to themselves.
This song and that song were different.
The same two people had made it, yet everything seemed different to Asama. After all…
“I let down my hair below the sky. Nema. This is my home. I am a resident of the piercing wind.”
The song from the night before had been a drama during the night and the morning. But…
“I borrow a home and I will eventually head out into the blue sky. But for now, I simply sink into the forest.”
This song was different. It mentioned the blue sky and a forest, but the air was tense and dark.
What time did it represent? Probably a long time ago. It was probably when Naito and Naruze had come to the Musashi as Technohexen. So Asama listened to the lyrics in that light.
“Every day, I wish for a revival. The child looks up to the sky.”
The song spoke of the oppression and revival of the Technohexen. And if the child in the song was them, then it was indeed set in the past. Either that, or it was them recalling the past. But…
“I will not forget. This is my home. I carry on the memories of those who were lost.”
“I raise my hand to block the sun. Nema. This is my home. I am a resident below the sun.
“I will one day be free and hold the sky in my arms. Filled with life, I look up to the sky.”
They had been oppressed as Technohexen and, now that they had come to Musashi, could they head out below the sun without forgetting the past? But…
“I turn my back and look forward. Nema. This is my home. I am a resident of the trees.
“I am lonely and I seek that feeling.”
What is it that this song seeks? wondered Asama.
But then the voice reached her.
“White and black. Rise into the sky.”
It was the Technohexen’s sky.
But Musashi was of the Far East and in the Far East, white and black were symbols of tuning and death.
In that case, they were looking up from below the sky, freely and without fear, but finally…
…They will be residents of the blue sky!
Asama shrunk down a she realized the meaning contained in the lyrics.
It was similar to yet different from Mitotsudaira’s song.
Mitotsudaira’s song had told what had made her who she was now and stated her current beliefs.
…But Naito and Naruze’s song is different!
Asama felt that song had nothing to do with Naito and Naruze’s current life, with their current relationship, or with Musashi’s current state.
It was a set of “rules” that they could not escape and that there was no point in escaping as long as they were Technohexen.
Unlike Mitotsudaira, they were not directly stating their beliefs or way of life.
As they sang of happiness, they had to always maintain the opposite side of that as well.
“That’s their…law of Technohexen.”
They had made a song of something that others could not easily touch. It was only possible because they lived in Musashi and they ignored time and everything else as they verbalized a combination of their realistic opportunities and the eternal things within them.
It was extraordinary.
Just like with Mitotsudaira, they could not change their past, but that was exactly why they would never forget when they had become Technohexen and why they had decided to do so.
If Mitotsudaira’s knight song was about standing on the starting line, then Naito and Naruze’s was about passing the starting line and looking back.
…So that’s why they weren’t satisfied with the song last night.
Asama realized why.
She blankly took a breath and bent backwards.
Her foot slipped and her seat toppled over with her.
…Life as a Technohexen isn’t easy.
Streiken Schreck was a Technohexen requiem and a demonstration of their pride.
“Nema. I accept that everything was in reverse. …Herrlich.”
After singing it, Naruze realized something.
…This is our first time singing this in front of people.
The particular location may have helped put her at ease. The torii-style sign frame in front of her could not score the song, so it showed a timeline graph of their volume and intonation while singing. Oh, Margot’s voice has such clean diagonal lines, she noticed.
She looked up.
She knew Asama had listened to their song up ahead with her back turned.
That was fine.
They had put a fair bit of work into the lyrics and the flow of the sound and she had seen Asama’s body tense up at the parts she was supposed to take note of.
…So maybe I should ask her what she thought.
Asama would probably answer. And even if she did not know what it had meant, she would do her best to find something to say.
“What are you two doing?”
When she looked up, she found Asama and Kimi lying on top of each other. Asama had fallen back from her seat and Kimi had fallen on top of her as Asama tried to get up. The two of them were covered in soap bubbles, so…
“Hold that pose for a second. I need to at least get a line drawing done.”
Asama lay on her back and saw Naruze moving in her upside-down vision.
Naruze was still looking her way, but her right hand was making a sketch on a Magie Figur. Naito waved over with a smile while lying on top of Naruze, and Asama nearly nodded back, but…
“Eh!? Hold on! Why are you drawing us without permission!? I’ll sue you over my Shinto likeness rights!”
“Do you really think a normal trial is enough to scare a Technohexen?”
That’s actually a good point, she thought, but then Kimi spoke up with her hips in between Asama’s legs.
“Naruze, what kind of pose would you like? Should I get everything all soapy and lift her up toward you?”
“No! Natural is best! Natural! I don’t want to draw you looking like whores.”
“How are we supposed to make this look natural?” complained Asama.
“Then I’ll wash her like normal,” said Kimi. “By hand.”
A moment later, Kimi’s hands slipped up to her armpits.
She almost flinched back in surprise, but Kimi’s hands were unexpectedly warm. They were also slimy with body wash and Asama could feel every movement of her fingers.
She was unsure if she should be laughing like this, but the laughter still escaped her throat as she bent backwards.
A single thought filled her mind.
A ticklish tremor ran through her body as Kimi almost but not quite scratched with her fingernails from the armpit to the chest and along the indentations and bulges of the ribs. Yet she never felt like this when touching and washing herself.
“Ah, wait, Kimi, stop.”
That was what she meant to say, but it came out differently:
“Ahee, hyait, Kihi, ahah.”
“Heh heh. I’m not even using any kind of spell, so you must be quite sensitive. And thanks to your divine protection spells, not many people can really ‘touch’ you, so this is a rare experience that only we or my foolish brother can enjoy.”
Kimi’s left hand moved down Asama’s right side and her right hand moved down the line from the center of her chest to her navel, but…
Asama could only tearfully laugh at the soapy sensation.
“What is this?” asked Naito. “Have all the defenses of her divine protections left her weak to people directly touching her?”
“…I’m going to have to rewrite my storyboard again.”
Asama bent back and moved to the side in order to escape Kimi’s hands.
She heard Kimi say “oh, dear”, but she just sighed and found even the bath steam felt cool on her heated body.
Not even she knew what she meant by “honestly”, but she got up, took another breath, let the tears in her eyes wash down her steam-dampened cheeks, and found Kimi in front of her.
Kimi gave a narrowed smile.
“Heh heh. I found your weak point again.”
“Wh-what do you mean again!?”
“Oh? Back in elementary school, we would wash each other at your spring when we were modifying our contracts or spells.”
That was true. And then Kimi narrowed her eyes further, placed a hand on her cheek, and gave an exaggerated shake of the head.
“I’ll need to tell my foolish brother that you haven’t changed!”
In her confusion, Asama suddenly realized the area had gone silent.
She hesitantly looked back and found it was not entirely silent.
Someone was still moving.
Namely, Naruze was drawing up a storyboard with both hands.
“W-wait, Naruze! What are you doing!? Are you making two of them!? Is that it!?”
“More importantly, Tomo! What was with that information that sounded like a hidden status!?”
Beyond the double layer of six wings, a silver wolf with tons of hair stood up. That will probably be used for her docking techniques, concluded Asama surprisingly calmly.
“Um, uh, well, when we were kids, um, we were neighborhood friends.”
Adele raised her right forearm.
“How far did that go?”
Eh? Like how long we were friends? Or how close of friends we were? wondered Asama, but Suzu turned toward Adele.
“It’s rude to A-Asama-san if you don’t…trust her.”
…Th-this just got a lot heavier!
Kimi kept placing a hand on her shoulder from behind, so she had to brush it off a few times. Whose fault do you think this is? she thought.
“It used to be that Kimi’s parents would work late into the night, so those two would often eat at my place.”
“When was this? It affects my storyboard.”
“Um, when we were in the third year, I think? Let’s see…”
Th-this isn’t weird, is it? she wondered.
“It was just before we entered the fourth year…”
Asama heard everyone gasping.
After a few seconds, Mitotsudaira stepped forward and held her palms out toward Asama. Then everyone in the bath formed a light scrum.
“Why didn’t she tell me that earlier? My storyboard’s useless now…”
“So that’s why he groped her without a bra on in the fourth year…”
“She promised…no bands…yeah.”
“Anyway, it looks like my king wasn’t just taking advantage of her…”
Asama began sweating with intermittent comments of “Um?”, “Uh?”, or “Hello?” and then she felt heat on her shoulders. It was bathwater. Then Kimi spoke from behind her.
“Go wash yourself until their suspicions reach the level of acceptance. I already finished the upper half, so you have fun with the rest, okay?”
Kimi glanced over at the other group.
“Besides, while it may not have been until the third year, some of them have also been in your spring with my foolish brother, right?”
Adele spoke up on reflex.
“I’m Catholic! I’ve never used the spring at Asama-san’s place!”
“Heh heh. You can still use it without a contract, you know? Although that’s only for people she knows.”
“Um, Ga-chan and I weren’t part of your group back then…”
“And to be honest, I wouldn’t remember even if we had.”
“Maybe it was me?” suggested Naomasa.
“No, I think you would have been the last one to do that kind of thing,” replied Mitotsudaira.
As they all started tilting their heads, Kimi pressed her index finger against Asama’s back and wrote out, “It’s actually all of them.”
I suppose so, thought Asama.
In elementary school, Musashi had a tradition of holding a “spend the night party” over summer break to deepen the bonds between the families of the first and second years. As a shrine, Asama’s home counted as a field trip, but it was also an important location that took care of Mitotsudaira and other important people.
…So we all spent the night there.
At the time, only the Asama shrine maidens had used the spring, so there had been no division between a men’s and women’s side and they had all played together in swimsuits like it was a pool. So…
…It is technically true that they’ve been in the spring with Toori-kun.
But, thought Asama as she sat back on her seat and placed her finger on Kimi’s back.
She wrote, “She was there too, wasn’t she?”
The original version of a certain person had been there.
“There was someone else too, wasn’t there?”
Who that was went without saying and the person themselves might not remember. So…
She nodded and exchanged a glance with Kimi to bring the conversation to an end.
Naito threw something toward her from behind.
She caught it and found it was a waterproof mic.
When she looked back and tilted her head, Naito poked her head out from the scrum and placed a hand next to her mouth.
“We’re holding a meeting, so you decide what to sing next, Asama-chi.”
Asama looked at the mic in her hand.
She thought to herself.
…I’ve never done real karaoke before, you know!?”
Asama quickly placed the mic down on a raised platform on the washing area’s wall. She did so like she was lining it up alongside the scrubbing bags, but also like she was afraid to touch it.
“What am I supposed to do?”
She did have some experience with karaoke. She had even sung karaoke. But that had only been with others and she had only sung one thing.
…It was always Shinto Gagaku, wasn’t it?
Shinto Gagaku was too specialized in recent times, so it was reworked for normal people before it was released to the world at large. Some of the well known examples were the pop-style Dinnertime Prayer or the metal-style Ode to Destruction: A Prayer for Civil Works and Construction. Their lyrics were prayers, but it was the sound more than the meaning that was offered up to their god.
In other words…
…For those songs, it’s important to use your voice as an instrument and produce the proper sounds.
So at first listen, they did not sound like prayers and even sounded like a song in a foreign language. And she could sing that kind of Gagaku without worrying about appearances.
Could that really compete with Mitotsudaira, Naito, and Naruze’s songs she had heard today? No, not compete…
…Can I respond to their songs…?
Of course, she did not even have a song. Mitotsudaira understood that and Naito and Naruze would not even know she was preparing one. So…
…I guess I can go with the usual Gagaku since I’m good at that.
But then she gave a mental shake of the head.
Hadn’t she wanted to know if she could change her usual self and her usual way of experiencing things? Then wouldn’t it be a good idea to sing the kind of normal song she did not usually sing? But…
This would be her first time.
She had hummed normal songs in her room when she was studying, creating accessories for fun, or putting together a spell. She preferred the divine radio to the divine TV, so she had a lot of contact with music. She even owned a few Silver Disks. But…
…What do I do?
This would be her first time singing a non-Gagaku song in front of people.
No, I technically have sung the assigned songs during music class, she thought while marking off that safe zone. Yes, and we sang a lot during our field trips.
So she considered singing a song she was already familiar with from class.
…But wouldn’t that be way too formal?
And I can’t just start singing a field trip song here. What am I, a teacher?
But, she thought. What song would be good to offer up this mental “first time” to? And…
Would everyone here realize she was doing something beyond her usual self? No, she was being self-centered about all this, so it would not be their fault if they did not.
But in that case, she also wanted a more established situation to do this.
What should I do? she wondered as her mood rapidly sank.
Mitotsudaira raised her head from the scrum and called out to her.
“As thanks for before, check under ‘A’ on the list of songwriters.”
Asama was confused, but a sign frame appeared next to her face. It was Kimi’s, but the girl only looked at the mirror on the wall and said nothing.
Asama recalled what Kimi had said on the way here.
…She said she would protect me even from myself.
Kimi and Mitotsudaira were more experienced than her in this and they were both making sure her first time would remain pure. So…
She averted her gaze from Kimi as she said that and she looked to the sign frame. Bath Selection 46, the karaoke place that worked with Suzu’s bathhouse, was affiliated with the Asama Shrine and with the Ootsubaki corporations that also fell under the shrine’s control. The ether pathways and the song impurity check were both handled by program spells, but…
She realized why Mitotsudaira had given her that hint and why Kimi had sent her the list of songs.
The list was scrolled down a bit in the “A” section and she saw a familiar name there.
Mitotsudaira opened the same song selection menu that Asama had open.
The index of songwriters did indeed display the Aoi Siblings’ names. The song had been submitted by the Musashi Asama Shrine. The Aoi Siblings had written the music and lyrics and it had been made an official product with the Asama Shrine’s approval.
It was not a strange thing for worshipers of an entertainer god.
Entertainer god worshipers were classified from General to Limited. And when advancing to the Middle or High rank of the Limited class, there was a test that required offering up some kind of “performance” such as a song or dance.
That could of course be a substitution, but this was their first year and they had apparently taken it seriously.
But all of the Shinto contracts on the Musashi were managed by the Asama Shrine and Asama managed those siblings’ contracts personally, so she would have supervised their offering.
That meant she would have heard the Aoi Siblings’ song in March, so why had she not immediately thought about using it for her karaoke song?
Mitotsudaira realized something.
In March when Asama had supervised the Aoi Siblings’ Limited Middle rank test, she must not have been thinking about starting a band yet.
That had led to a disconnect between her current self and what she had seen and heard in the past.
In that case, thought Mitotsudaira.
When did she start thinking about starting a band?
What had happened between March and now?
…Could it be…?
That had included the Music Festival that was seen as the opening round of May’s Gagaku Festival. It was meant to send off the graduates, but it was mainly performed by those who would be second and third years in the coming year.
…So Kimi and my king performed after rising to Middle rank.
Asama had of course managed all the ether pathways and spells, so…
Mitotsudaira was now certain of her speculation.
“He” must have unintentionally shown Asama a decent path for her.
It may have been a coincidence that Asama had invited Mitotsudaira and Kimi, but…
Even if it was indirectly, this had to be a path that her king had seen as “a good idea”. And Mitotsudaira herself had been invited along.
Then, she thought as she looked down at the song selection sign frame.
…Our paths coincide, don’t they?
The silver wolf decided to do everything she could to support what Asama was trying to do. She did not know if it would work out, but if she looked back while walking along this path, she was certain she would see her king nodding.
Then, she thought again.
She may have been mistaken.
She was in the second year now, but she was nominally a member of the Chancellor’s Officers as an Extra Special Duty Officer, she was always given defensive roles, she had her doubts about her effectiveness as a Rank 1 Knight, and most of all, she had no way of confirming her relationship as a knight with her king.
When Suzu glanced back, the wolf gave a meaningless nod and spoke in her heart.
…If I send her down this path, my king is sure to smile.
So will Tomo and Kimi. Not to mention Suzu, Adele, Naito, Naruze, Naomasa, Masazumi…actually, I’m not sure if she’ll smile or not. And Heidi will probably start looking for a business opportunity.
…But clearing away my past self here will make a nice dividing line.
She doubted she could wipe away everything about her past self, but it was sure to at least help.
Looking back and asking if she had done the right thing would help point her compass in the right direction.
She looked up and saw Asama from behind as the girl began listening to the song. It was adorable how she would occasionally nod as if to say “Oh, I see.” And while Asama was so focused on listening to the song, Kimi snuck up behind her with body soap rice bran in both hands, but that was to be expected.
Someday, when Asama could register a song just by looking at the name and starting number, they could have an even more exciting time at the karaoke box. And to help with that…
Mitotsudaira had to answer Asama’s request to form a band together.
She already had a justification for her answer.
“Hyah! Ah, wait, Kimi! Ah, hya ha ha! Wait, wait, I’m gonna slip!”
“Hey, you two! I’m trying to sketch this, so face this way when you do that!!”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Naomasa as she raised her false arm from the bottom of the scrum. “Asama-chi, have you chosen a song?”
Asama looked back with Kimi embracing her from behind and she glanced over at the sign frame while half in tears from laughter.
“Y-yes. I think I can maybe do this one. I know the start at least.”
Suzu listened to Asama while sitting on the edge of the bath with her legs soaking up to the knees.
“Okay, I’ll go with this Early Morning Concerto.”
Everyone understood what she was doing. It was partially thanks to Mitotsudaira’s guidance, but Suzu instantly caught on.
That was her first thought, but then she and everyone else opened their mouths at once.
There was either warning or surprise in their voices. Suzu turned back toward them and they were already exchanging a glance.
“What should we do?”
“But Asama-chi said she’s fine with it…”
“I-it’ll be fine… It’ll be fine…”
“Suzu-san, it’s okay to admit it when things are bad…”
“W-wait! I don’t like the look of that scrum you guys are forming!”
“Calm down.” Naomasa waved a hand and got up from the bathwater. “I’ve been in there too long. I’ll leave after listening to Asama-chi’s song.”
Suzu considered leaving when Naomasa did. That way she could see Naomasa off and take drink orders for the others. But…
Asama faced her while seated on the floor.
Suzu knew Asama would sing while seated for Shinto rituals. Everyone gulped when they saw her taking the same pose now.
Naruze was the one who broke that silence.
“Asama, it’s completely fine by me if you want to self-destruct in a truly spectacular fashion. My first time doing karaoke, I went with the OP of Masako-san because I thought I could do it.”
“Yeah, that repeats the line ‘Sanetomo, become Minister of the Right’ way too many times.”
“Right, right. Well, I only knew the OP, but it actually has a second and third verse. …That kind of self-destruction is pretty common, so don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, yes, but… So you’d noticed this was my first time singing a pop song for karaoke?”
Asama smiled a little.
“Please don’t judge me too harshly if I’m bad.”
Mitotsudaira thought about Asama’s words.
…Judge you too harshly? This isn’t the place for judgment, so just sing however you like. Or is that exactly why you want us not to judge you too harshly?
She was unsure how to respond to her friend here, but…
No one here would make this a bad experience for her. And with that in mind…
“It’ll be fine. …Just have fun with it.”
Asama nodded and opened her mouth. Naruze was muttering something about “If I draw the mic out longer, I could use this...”, so Mitotsudaira reported it to Asama.
Then came the voice.
It carried into the distance, but it was not too loud.
Asama’s voice arrived directly and horizontally as if to pierce through everything in its path.
It reached her.
Asama let her voice ring while looking at the lyrics on the sign frame.
“The sun isn’t out yet, but it’s time to get up. Its dark outside the window, but my heart is bright with excitement.”
Her voice carried quite well. It was possible she did not need the mic. But…
“I have something I can only do now. I can’t wake sis, so I’d better move in secret.”
She had no intention of letting her throat grow shy. After all, this was her first time. There was no point in focusing on her fear and thinking she had failed.
“I head to the kitchen, grab some bread, and check my hair in the window reflection.
“Gotta show my manliness as I head alone to take this on fair and square.”
She briefly considered singing with all her might, but she mentally shook her head.
“How long have I been doing this? I’m always doing this on my own.”
“Just like always and the same as usual, today I head out on my own.”
She felt that songs were emotions, expressions, and points in common.
So the singer should not use all their might.
“My destination is beyond the dark night, in the chilly air of four in the morning.”
She decided her job as singer was to give it her all.
“I can’t follow the wind outside. I walk quickly, with no support.”
…I wonder what Toori-kun was thinking about when he wrote this song.
“I tie my shoes, face forward, and use the sky as a clock.
“Gotta get this day started as I head out alone for a serious challenge.”
She hoped she could pick up on what he had been thinking. If she could reproduce those thoughts as the singer, the song would come alive. So…
“How long have I been doing this? I’m always doing this on my own.
“Unlike always and as a change from the usual, today I act on my own.”
Yes, just like always. She did not usually do this, but the way she gave it her all was the same. So…
“My destination is beyond the dark night, in the chilly air of four in the morning.
“No one can follow my trail. I walk quickly, with no protection.”
It did not matter that she was a beginner. She would give it her all and approach the song as much as she could. That stance was easy for her to understand.
“How long have I been doing this? I’m always doing this on my own.
“I’m always starting from here. I slip across the borderline on my own.”
When helping someone as a shrine maiden, it was not enough to just present them with a choice.
She had to understand what that person wanted and help them accomplish that.
“So let’s go. So let’s go. I can throw out my honor to lighten the load.
“Staying true to my desires gives me a free pass to my destination.”
A shrine maiden helped by purifying.
“How long have I been doing this? I’m always doing this on my own.
“Just like always and for a change from the usual, I arrive just on time on my own.”
Their songs purified away what was unnecessary to life.
“So let’s go. So let’s go. Just like always, I gather my courage, open the door, and raise my voice.”
Yes, thought Asama as she sang the final line from the bottom of her heart.
“I’m here to peep, Asama Shrine.”
The song ended.
After she finished singing, Asama realized something.
“Judge,” confirmed the others.
That answer led her to check the lyrics on the sign frame.
It was only displaying the final line, so she had it display the entire song and checked through it. And…
“W-wait a second! This song is about peeping on me, isn’t it!?”
“Tomo, you didn’t know that when you chose to sing it?”
“No! I! Did! Not! And aren’t these lyrics a little different from when I supervised those two back in March?”
“Well, yeah,” said Naito. “This is the Bath Selection version.”
“Oh, I see.”
Asama nodded and looked to the left. Kimi was there, but she was trying to sneak away on all fours.
Asama grabbed and tugged on the idiot sister’s ankles, and the girl skillfully slid back into a seated position. She then placed a hand on her mouth and averted her gaze while pretending to cry.
“H-help me! Asama is about to do all sorts of unspeakable things to me!”
“What are you talking about? All I’m going to do is severely scold you.”
“Oh, I get it! You’re going to scold me with your ‘arrow’, aren’t you!? Aren’t you!?”
“Oh, you don’t need to put any quotes around the word arrow.”
“What are you talking about!? Do that and I’ll die! It’ll be on the news tomorrow: ‘Wise Sister Stabbed by Asama’s Arrow, Dies of Shock’! But…”
Kimi looked back at Asama and smiled a little, so Asama glared at her.
“What is that smirk for?”
“Judge. Well, Asama. If you think about it, this means you used my foolish brother peeping on you to have your first time. It’s just like the Yobai culture of the Heian period.”
“D-don’t put it like that! Not like that! Ah! Naruze! Why are you getting a nosebleed all of a sudden!?”
“Sorry, I’ll give you some warning next time.”
“Judge, judge,” said Naomasa as she got up.
After glancing over to make sure Suzu was using a first-aid spell on Naruze, she placed a towel over her shoulder and started to leave. But first, she looked to Asama.
“I feel like I got a taste of your skill there, Asama-chi.”
“Calm down.” Naomasa smiled bitterly. “You’ll have a hard time of it if you don’t keep your perfectionism in check.”
She was aware that side of her existed.
It was true there was an analog aspect to singing. Her voice was not the same every day. It changed with the weather and with her age. Her interpretations of things would change too. So it would be hard to hope for perfection. But…
…I feel like Masa isn’t quite right there.
As she wondered why, Naomasa softened the look in her eyes.
“Don’t worry about it. If you do this the way you do everything, the people around you will approach and put everything in order. We help each other out like that.”
Asama nodded without knowing why and then she heard Suzu laughing.
“Naomasa…-san is doing her best…to compliment you.”
“The problem with you, Suzu, is that you think everyone is a good person.”
With that, the classmate with a false arm turned around with a laugh and Asama saw a hint of what Suzu had mentioned in that action.
She had voiced her concerns first, but Naomasa had probably meant it as a compliment in her own way. It was up to Asama how to interpret what she had meant by her “skill”, but…
That girl was a friend. She would not mock someone’s “skill” and she would not have even mentioned it if it were lacking. It was the same as Asama feeling like she had seen Naomasa’s “skill”. So…
Naomasa looked over her shoulder as she placed a hand on the door to the changing area and Asama spoke to her gaze.
“You aren’t just being polite, are you?”
“I’m expressing my happiness.”
“That’s fine then.”
Naomasa opened the door with a bitter smile and Suzu started to follow her.
But the girl frantically grabbed and pulled on Naomasa’s arm and looked back toward Asama and the others.
“Do-do you have any…d-drink orders?”
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