Horizon:Kimitoasamade 2A Chapter 9
Chapter 9: Those who Look Back from Above and Below
I haven’t forgotten
But I still hesitate
This is my compromise
Point Allocation (Teenager)
A silk-like color gradually began to fill the white sky.
The aerial city ship Musashi had three ships on the left and right and two ships in the center. The color came from the setting sun faintly showing through the stealth barrier surrounding the giant city ship.
That sky informed the residents that the afternoon was coming to an end. Girls’ voices came from the ship surrounded by that cream coloration.
First, it was just one. It came from the stairs leading down into the atrium park at the center of the second port ship.
“We’re still in people’s living space, but I like that we can keep the stealth lower when we’re over the ocean. It has to be so solid over land that it all looks pure white. …That may not matter to Kimi, but do you manage the barrier for the Asama Shrine, Tomo?”
The question was asked of a tall black-haired girl.
“Well,” she began while looking into the sky with her green left eye and light brown right eye. “For the barriers, I check over the technical side and manage the spare pool of power, so I don’t get much work on the weaker days like this. But as you said, Mito, the residents of Musashi like this sky and they sometimes request that we search out places that allow for the weaker stealth when we’re taking a coastal route.”
“Oh?” said a dancing girl with long brown hair. She held the black-haired girl’s left arm and looked into the sky with the other two. “Heh heh. This way reduces the stealth fuel cost and sometimes it can be removed altogether. The guests from outside probably like it too.”
Meanwhile, they descended the stairs and the sky grew narrower inside the atrium. The cut-out of cream-colored barrier flowed by and they instead saw the trees down below.
“Now, this is our next destination: Murayama’s central atrium park.”
A girl moved forward while pulling on the black-haired girl’s hand. She had silver hair and a three-headed wolf on her head.
“This is the main destination of today’s date. Right, Tomo?”
Asama came to a stop when she heard Mitotsudaira.
Her heart was filled with unease about the unknown and anxiety about not knowing what to do.
She knew she only had to ask Kimi and Mitotsudaira about anything she did not know, but if she did that…
…They might decide my date wasn’t up to snuff and refuse to form a band with me.
So I need to do my best, she thought. Forcing myself a little bit might show them how passionate I am about this.
She took a step forward while tugging on Mitotsudaira who held her left hand and on Kimi who embraced her right arm. She descended the stairs and entered the nature park that reached three floors down and covered two wide blocks.
A few sign frames appeared around her.
They were security related.
She saw Hanami erasing them all and Kimi smiled bitterly in response. She looked back and forth between Asama and the sign frames.
“You don’t visit places like this often, so your security went off, didn’t it?”
“After the Non-God Sword yesterday, I changed my security settings for densely populated areas. A lot of management privileges end up with me, so while it’s a pain, a lot more has to be checked back over by someone with the proper privileges. Just look.”
She grabbed one sign frame and showed it off.
<Your defense management you created is good for you and good for everyone. You can approve it with your own approach for how you will authorize your settings, you. What will you do from your heart when you see that? (You will authorize it in your own way) (You will not)>
“Is that a zen dialogue or something?”
“No, the IZUMO-made OS just isn’t compatible, but IZUMO tends to keep adding things on without fixing it… Oh, Mito and Kimi. After yesterday, I installed an additional defensive divine protection for you, so check on that when you have time, okay?”
After saying that with a smile, Asama realized something.
…I-I entered technician mode again!!
Her smile froze on her face, but the Cerberus on Mitotsudaira’s head barked once. She looked toward it and saw three torii-style sign frames above its small heads.
Mitotsudaira smiled bitterly toward the sign frames that opened overhead and besides her face.
“You gave my Cerberus divine protections too?”
“Eh? Oh, yes. It would have been caught by security here and there if I didn’t do anything, so I gave it some as a Mouse after the battle yesterday.”
The divine protection OS had little experience, but it must have been drawn out by Asama’s authorization check. She had made sure it could view Mitotsudaira’s authorization history, but it likely saw Asama as the higher authority.
So Asama quickly sent Mitotsudaira the transfer of authority.
After Mitotsudaira approved it, the sign frames around them and the Cerberus vanished.
“I know the situation, Mito, so you won’t have sign frames appearing all over the place everywhere you go. Even if you go to a Catholic or Protestant facility outside the Asama system, you can set a protection key on your own there, so you can take it wherever you want.”
Mitotsudaira nodded and the Cerberus barked.
Hanami bowed and Uzy climbed onto Kimi’s head to raise a hand toward the Cerberus.
What an adorable scene, thought Asama, but…
…I-I just showed off my technical skills again!!
This was frightening. This was definitely the gift…no, the curse of working and advertising for the Asama Shrine for so many years.
As she wondered what to do, Kimi pulled on her arm.
Kimi used her chin to gesture ahead toward a food stand.
There was not a long line, but there were always a few people there.
“That’s the ice cream stand we were after. Now, what shall I get?”
Mitotsudaira pulled on Asama’s hand.
She took a breath in the short line.
Asama also took a breath, but she grew a little tense.
It was not visibly apparent, but Mitotsudaira noticed the change in the hand she held.
Part of it had to do with lining up for a shop like this, but…
“This is your first time eating ice cream, isn’t it?”
Asama lowered her eyebrows and smiled a little.
“Yes. I missed my chance to eat some a long time ago…and I’ve never had any since.”
“Is that so?” replied Mitotsudaira with a nod.
There was probably more to this. And Asama’s lifestyle had made it clear she was not used to lining up at shops like this. After all….
“Tomo, you don’t carry a wallet, do you?”
When Mitotsudaira brought that up to change the subject, Asama raised her eyebrows and smiled again.
“That’s right… Yes, losing my wallet would be a pain and the bartering stores are owned by Shinto musicians, so I can get by with intermediary substitutions.”
That meant she lived a life completely removed from physical money. Because a wallet was directly linked to status for a noble or merchant, not even the rich would live a wallet-less life. Visibly paying with a stack of cash or pile of coins helped show off their social status.
Asama had a reason for not doing that.
…As a shrine maiden, she wants to eliminate any obligation to others or anything that could become a source of impurity.
That was of course not the only reason.
After all, she was in a position where she did not have to worry about money.
…She’s part of a major Shinto shrine and she manages things on the Musashi.
Mitotsudaira used her friend to ponder one part of the world.
Shinto was the sole existence that managed the infrastructure of the entire Far East.
Shinto was an international corporation that supported both the history recreation and the provisional rule.
Mitotsudaira had not really thought about it at the beginning of middle school, but now that she was involved in the Knights League and the Chancellor’s Officers, she understood what that meant.
Shinto was very important to the various nations that resided in the Far East through the provisional rule.
“Mito, is something the matter?”
“No,” she replied while looking to Asama and seeing the usual smile on her face.
Some people who saw that girl might think she did not want for anything.
Even Mitotsudaira did not see any real inconvenience in Asama’s lifestyle.
She cooked for herself, but the lunchboxes she made for herself or others like Kimi used ingredients from Musashi and her clothing was not at all worn out.
As for money, she had the costs of her work and a monthly allowance from her father, but since that was “for others”, she would discuss it with her father and there was no real limit to it when it was necessary. Of course, the Asama Shrine was not a merchant, so they did not use money to solve all their problems.
That was how Asama had decided to manage her limitless self.
Mitotsudaira viewed her as refined rather than arrogant.
Also, Asama was not simply given those things.
She had been given a role and she did her work.
She managed the Musashi and she was responsible for Shinto.
She had performed Shinto rituals and managed the Musashi’s divine transmissions and ether pathways since elementary school. The latter often introduced issues without warning, so her everyday life was tied to the Musashi.
Her position as the #2 at the Asama Shrine made her an active worker on the Musashi.
A lot of that was reduced thanks to Hanami, her Mouse, but she sought restraints and rules far more than Mitotsudaira did.
Mitotsudaira was impressed she could waste time with her and Kimi, but…
…Her father is working hard too.
Mitotsudaira occasionally saw Asama’s father.
He would appear on the mail-order infomercials for the Asama Shrine and speak with an odd intonation.
“And now for today’s f-e-a-t-u-r-e-d i-t-e-m!”
The elementary school children often mimicked it as a joke.
Mitotsudaira wondered how Asama had the time, but since Kimi or the others often helped with the ad filming, her father probably reduced the burden to help his daughter get along with her friends.
Mitotsudaira remembered helping with that filming the other day. She had suddenly found herself reading off the benefits of the Asama Shrine’s spring, but she had felt a year-long free pass to the members-only spring was a bit much for payment.
That said, there was a clear burden on Asama too.
Her mother had already passed away.
Mitotsudaira had seen the woman just once back in elementary school. She had looked like Asama did now, and…
She did have giant breasts. No, maybe that’s true of any mother. Yes, take my mother for exam-…no, I have a feeling she was extraordinary from the beginning. Heh heh. Why am I stretching my back and looking up into the sky? Heh heh, heh heh heh…
“Mito! Mito! Why are you hanging your head!?”
She raised her head and looked to her friend, but the girl was the same as always.
The usual smile came from the usual height.
It was the same girl who still did not want for anything.
She had a number of burdens and she diligently followed her own rules, but…
She had suddenly said she wanted to start a band and now she was here to eat ice cream.
However, Mitotsudaira could not yet say the girl had changed a lot.
Was she trying to change? Or was she just trying this out?
…Surely she isn’t just trying to deal with some stress.
Mitotsudaira hung her head in her heart, but she still opened her mouth.
She felt certain that Asama wanted to continue her days like normal, but…
…She wants to perceive it as something else.
So she spoke.
“Do you know how to order ice cream? I can tell you how if necessary.”
…How to order it!?
There’s a special way of doing that? thought Asama with a gulp.
She hesitated for a second, but she used not lying as a substitution and there was no point in using this to test what qualified as a violation. The girls on her left and right were used to this sort of place, so she asked them.
“How do you order it? Do you have to recite a prayer of receiving!?”
“Heh heh heh. That isn’t necessary, Asama. Listen. I’ll start with the very basics. The thing about ice cream is, it comes as a stick or in a cup. The stick is made nice and hard so it’s perfect for sucking on and the cup is filled with plenty of milky stuff so you can lick it all over. You have to choose one or the other.”
“I get the feeling you’re trying to trick me, Kimi.”
“Oh, c’mon. I’m doing nothing of the sort. Oh, but…”
“Judge.” The idiot sister gave her a serious look. “There are also the cones filled with thick white stuff! The round balls are at one end and you grab the cone in your hand, but you have to work quick before the white stuff leaks out of the tip! Well? Interested!? You are, aren’t you!? Yes, Asama, you’re already a slave to ice cream. Feel free to lick it and suck on it as much as you want! Now, imagine this finger is one of the sticks and suck it! Nn, it’s so tasty even doing it to myself! The juices from the lunch you made me are still under the fingernail, so it tastes like roast pork! Like pork! Well!?”
“Mito, my hands are full, so you can punch her for me.”
“Yes! Do it! Punch me kindly like a pig!! Roast!!”
Mitotsudaira answered that carnivorous cry with a refreshing smile and then she nodded.
“My dominant hand is full.”
You’re going with that? thought Asama as the crazy person to her right smiled at her.
“Okay, Asama, are you listening?”
“Yes. After all, I only told you the basics. Do you want to hear the real lesson now!?”
“You do!? Then I’ll have to tell you greatest secret right away!”
Kimi sighed and brought her lips to Asama’s ear.
“You know what?”
Mitotsudaira watched Kimi whisper something to Asama.
…What is this?
The half-werewolf could not make out what Kimi was saying, but she did pick up a very familiar name.
Their turn for ice cream arrived as she wondered what that was about.
And then Asama suddenly spoke up.
“Eh? Wh-what is it?”
She looked back and Asama nodded while smiling with the ends of her eyebrows lowered.
“I think I’ll pass on the ice cream…”
Mitotsudaira knew what that meant. Since she would not be getting any ice cream, she was leaving things here to Mitotsudaira.
…What is this?
It was likely related to what Kimi had said, but what had that been?
She looked over and saw Kimi apologetically holding out a hand, but she quickly formed a smile with lowered eyebrows.
“A-are you trying to sponge off of me!?”
Nevertheless, it was their turn, so Mitotsudaira hesitated, but…
…She must have a reason.
Mitotsudaira had a lot of things like that herself and she had only made it this far from the support, protection, and provocation of Asama and the others.
No matter how small a thing it had been, she would never forget it.
So she faced forward and spoke to the shop owner past the counter.
“Can you put it all in a bucket? We’ll have the chocolate mint, the soy sauce, the caramel, and…what do you recommend?”
“Judge! I recommend the ‘little girl’s handmade honey’ flavor, Mitotsudaira-kun!”
“Why are you here, Ohiroshiki!?”
Mitotsudaira looked forward without stopping the Cerberus from barking atop her head.
…What is Ohiroshiki doing here?
Ohiroshiki responded while adjusting his eboshi-style chef’s hat, placing his wrists on his hips, and puffing his chest out proudly.
“Of course I’m here. This is a store I am financing! I have complete control over how it is run! After all, ice cream lets me come up with any flavors that come to mind, so it’s just so much fun! And there are lots of little girls! As you can see, there is nothing to complain about.”
“Someone else! I demand someone else serves me! Are you saying this store is affiliated with the Ohiroshiki name!?”
“Heh heh heh.” With practiced motions, Ohiroshiki scooped ice cream into a bucket of waterproof Far Eastern paper. “How do you like those perfect ice cream scooping motions I’ve developed to live up to the little girls’ expectant gazes!? It was worth practicing late into the night with a bucket of iron sand and hurting my wrist, wasn’t it?”
“If all you did was hurt it, you didn’t train anything, did you?”
“Now, now,” he said before Kimi’s voice reached them.
She did not even bother hiding the disinterest in her tone.
“Is anyone else working there?”
“Judge. I generally don’t answer the questions of anyone older than ten because it will make my heart rot, but Suga-san won’t be here until later today.”
“The Vice Chancellor?”
“Judge. The Vice Chancellor must like cute things too because whenever he sees a girl or a couple, he suddenly starts muttering a poem, so he seems to like working here. But his faith is different from mine, so we sometimes end up giving each other looks of scorn.”
While Mitotsudaira felt dumbfounded by this unknown side of the Vice Chancellor, Asama gave a nod of understanding.
…She must know something.
But Mitotsudaira had her own questions. The Vice Chancellor would be paid a fair amount for his daily expenses and training, but if he was working on top of that…
“Why does the Vice Chancellor work? Is it to fulfill some kind of hobby?”
“Well…” Ohiroshiki seemed to hesitate but then he nodded. “It’s for the future.”
“For the future?”
“Judge.” Ohiroshiki nodded again. “Suga-san’s teacher is wandering around down below, so he’s saving up the funds needed to train as an apprentice down there.”
Asama sensed something special in the term “down below”. After all…
…That refers to the Far Eastern mainland…
She rarely left the Musashi because of her management of the Musashi and everyone’s contracts. That unmoving earth held a special feeling as the place they were originally meant to live.
Mitotsudaira and Kimi were likely the same.
“But it isn’t easy for a Musashi resident to live down there, is it?”
All the different nations were crammed into the limited space there, moving between nations required undergoing an inspection, there were wars, and there were external enemies such as wild beasts and mysterious phenomena.
…If you’re training, it makes sense to go somewhere dangerous like that.
Of course, even on the surface, the major roads and water sources were maintained by Shinto shrines and people would be just as safe as on the Musashi if they travelled on the major roads and stayed in the cities along those roads. There were Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples set up as refuges, so a Far Easterner could travel around the Far East in relative peace.
Every nation used the Shinto network and roads for their international trade and divine transmissions, so stable travel was generally possible along those major roads.
…There are wars based on the history recreation, there are mysterious phenomena, and there are all sorts of restrictions.
The surface was under the provisional rule of the other nations. There were tolls only Far Easterners had to pay and they were often restricted or banned from using certain facilities.
Asama’s position in Shinto allowed her to overcome those restrictions, but…
“The Vice Chancellor has trouble with divine spells, doesn’t he? Having general upper-level authority as a Shinto worker would make him a Shinto technician and make it easier to move to and from the surface.”
“He’s entirely the athletic type,” said Mitotsudaira.
What they had heard here and the fact that he wrote song lyrics suggested he was actually more the literary type, but Asama decided not to look into it. But…
“Our upperclassmen are already thinking about after graduation.”
“Judge,” said Ohiroshiki. “From what I’ve heard, 1st Special Duty Officer Watanabe was taught by the same person as Suga-san, so she’s apparently going down below too.”
This was all new information.
I see, thought Asama as Ohiroshiki handed the Far Eastern paper bucket to Mitotsudaira.
“Anyway, here you go. I’ll throw in some drinks on the house, so make sure you tell all the little girls about this place. Got that? I’m counting on you. Make sure you do it.”
“We’ll search out some anti-elders. A-also, I’ll take one more thing.”
Mitotudaira sighed and took the bucket.
Then she smiled toward Asama.
“There’s a table over there, so let’s go there. Let’s take a break until twilight.”
Asama nodded back and felt bad for backing out of the ice cream when she had been the one to plan it for their date. So…
“Um, I’ll go make some adjustments to this park and the surroundings using the information torii over there, so go eat the ice cream without me.”
“Heh heh. You can’t eat it, but are you afraid you’ll reach for it when it looks so good as we eat it in front of you?”
“Th-that is not it.”
Asama knew she was trying to help, so she raised her eyebrows toward Kimi.
“I can eat anything if it’s purified first. …I make a point of eating what I want by finding loopholes in my restrictions.”
“So what do you plan to do from now on, Masazumi? We ran into each other by chance, so how about we get something to eat?”
“No, I have an interview for a part-time job and I need to pick up some paperwork for my dad’s job, Augesvarer. Don’t worry about me. Besides, I don’t like feeling indebted to others.”
Masazumi, a black-haired girl in a boy’s uniform, held a paper bag on a terrace. She occasionally twisted her shoulders as if checking how the uniform fit.
“There isn’t any real reason to stay with me.”
“Don’t lie. That interview will be with one of the Provisional Councilors, won’t it?”
“No, it’s with the Musashino elementary school.”
“What?” replied Heidi. “Don’t you want to be a politician? Your dad’s one of the Provisional Councilors, so go make some connections! And then introduce your merchant friends to those happy connections! We can support each other’s futures.”
“Is not even trying to hide your ulterior motive the Musashi way?”
“Maybe,” she said with a smile.
Masazumi did not hesitate to glare at her as she continued on. She was crossing a bridge over an atrium park. To move from the port side of the port ship of Murayama to the central ship of Musashino, the bridge was faster than going around Murayama’s central atrium park.
She walked along the terrace railing and turned back toward Heidi who was following her.
“Don’t you two have work to do?”
“Eh? We are doing work. This is the time for Erimaki’s patrol, so I’m outside and Shiro-kun’s in the office.”
“What do you mean?”
“Um, I’m a mobile relay station. I send-…”
As she explained, a white fox appeared from Heidi’s neck hard point part. It moved up onto her head and raised its front right paw toward Masazumi.
Confused, Masazumi raised her right hand back and a sign frame appeared in that hand.
It was a vermilion sign frame that displayed the name Marube-ya and an address. Erimaki’s face and the text “Next Year’s Treasurer Candidate” danced around inside it. But…
The sign frame shattered in her hand.
“Eh?” Heidi spread her mouth horizontally and then added an “Oh.”
She left Erimaki to tilt its head on top of her head.
“Masazumi, you aren’t entirely registered with Musashi’s shrine, are you?”
“Asama recommended it, but it requires periodic payments and I’d run out of money.”
“Is your dad strict?”
“He’ll pay for the bare minimum of clothing, food, and housing, but he tells me to pay for my own tuition and such.”
“That’s pretty normal then.”
“Right?” Masazumi lowered her head. “The people of Musashi are just too good at supporting themselves.”
“Do you have a handheld shrine?”
“I borrow my dad’s when I need one.”
“When is that?”
“Judge.” Masazumi nodded. “When he’s having a meeting at home in the evening, he’ll have me leave for about two hours to eat out and do whatever else. He always asks me to call him before heading back home. And when I do get home, everyone’s about to leave, so I only get a quick glimpse of them.”
“He sounds pretty conservative.”
As Heidi said that, Erimaki looked around atop her head. Sign frames started appearing around the Mouse and Heidi shrunk them down.
“Is Asama-chi assisting you?”
“She’s put together a variable protection that gives me what I need plus what my budget can afford.”
“Yeah, she’ll worry, but she won’t give out any more than absolutely necessary. But next time she calls for you, it’ll really be necessary, so you should probably listen.”
“The heir to the Asama Shrine, huh?”
Masazumi looked up into the sky.
Not even a month had passed since Masazumi had moved from Mikawa to Musashi.
She had originally been in Mikawa.
…But my mother fell victim to the spiriting away known as the Princess Disappearances.
Her only relative had been her father who had moved to Musashi on his own about ten years before.
Thanks to Lord Motonobu sending everyone away, Mikawa’s central roles had been filled by automatons. That had also prevented her from receiving her name of Honda Masazumi as an inherited name. And that failure had led to her sex change operations being stopped partway through.
…There wasn’t any more reason to stay in Mikawa.
It had been a month since she had decided to change homes.
She had finally gotten used to her strict father’s personality and way of saying things and she had come to understand that came from the harsh world of the Provisional Council he belonged to. And before that…
“Asama was a lot of help.”
When she had boarded the Musashi, Asama had performed the quarantine, divine transmission, and temporary shrine registration for her.
She had not been able to use the automatic processing and no one else had come to manage her contract because she already had a class to transfer into and one of the Provisional Councilors was her father.
Asama had met her in her shrine maiden uniform, so Masazumi had thought the girl was older than her. She had never expected the girl to be waving at her when she entered the classroom that first time.
It had been more than just a surprise.
The Asama Shrine was the Musashi’s contact point with IZUMO, head of Shinto, so it could be seen as a necessary part of the ship’s functionality.
Asama herself managed all that, so she was on the level of a cabinet minister in politician terms.
As the daughter of a Provisional Councilor, she had been nervous enough knowing in advance someone like that would be in her class, but it was all the worse discovering it was the shrine maiden who had handled her arrival on the ship.
She could tell it had shaken her because no one had laughed at the light gag she had prepared in advance.
…I eventually need to wipe away that cold silence and scattered applause.
During that initial period, the ones who had acted as intermediaries by showing her around the classroom and introducing her to the class had been Asama, Augesvarer, the Aoi Siblings, Naito…
…No, maybe I should say it was all of them.
Thanks to that, she was now in a position where either one of them felt comfortable asking for help if something happened. That tended to be whether to go along with the Aoi idiot’s ideas and she always declined, but they would all smile when she brought up rules and laws to explain her decision.
They would just say “How refreshing…” and she was not quite sure how to deal with it.
But now that she thought about it, Asama was on the Public Morals Committee and she was the #2 of the Asama Shrine, so she tended to join Masazumi on the supervision side of things.
It was a strange place.
If it just had some stupid people, then it would just be a stupid place, but when there were people with actual authority and responsibilities there too, she could only describe it as chaotic.
She was still bewildered by the Musashi’s atmosphere.
“Augesvarer,” she said while crossing the bridge over the atrium park. “I think the class’s sense of distance is very strange.”
As she spoke, she faced the atrium park rather than the merchant.
Down below, there were three people walking in the nature park dyed in the colors of evening.
“Huh? That’s Asama-chi, Mito, and Kimi-chan. This smells lucrative. Oh, but what’s this?”
“Judge.” Augesvarer continued watching the three down below while following Masazumi. “I thought Asama-chi couldn’t eat ice cream? Did she find some kind of excuse or interpretation?”
“Because of a substitution?”
“No, not that.”
Augesvarer held up her right palm while walking alongside Masazumi.
Masazumi knew what that meant, so…
“I don’t have any money.”
“Don’t you want some information? It’s related to an important part of Asama-chi’s past.”
“Then I’ll choose not to ask as a sign of trust I can use in some future negotiations.”
“You are the worst.”
The merchant spread her mouth horizontally, but Masazumi sped up her pace toward the interview. Down below, Asama stood in front of a park information torii and opened a sign frame. She may have been adjusting something.
The Aoi Sister and Mitotsudaira stood a little away. They were eating ice cream from a bucket using wafer spoons, but Asama showed no sign of eating any. And it seemed to be more than just being too busy with whatever she was working on.
“There’s a reason for that, isn’t there? I don’t know much about Asama, but she must have promised someone she wouldn’t eat ice cream.”
“Who do you think it was with?”
“One of the Aoi Siblings, if not both. A month was enough time to figure out who she’s closest with.”
Even if this was Asama, the #2 of the Asama Shrine…
“It’s strange that she would be keeping a promise not to eat ice cream.”
“I…see. So that’s what happened.”
Mitotsudaira looked at Asama’s somewhat distant back while Kimi nodded.
Asama was going through all the privileged settings on the information torii and she did not seem able to hear what the other two were saying. That was not exactly why, but Kimi smiled a little and spoke.
“Whenever I think she’s forgotten something so she can be more carefree, she always gets so serious in the very end. Even if I hadn’t said anything, I bet she would have backed out of eating it when it came down to it.”
“That’s just who Tomo is. But I had no idea she promised that.”
“It was less of a promise and more of a unilateral announcement,” said Kimi. “That’s probably why it hasn’t turned out like her substitution restrictions.”
She looked up into the evening colors of the stealth barrier sky.
“Long ago, a stupid boy invited a serious girl to a festival. But the serious girl rejected the invitation because she had to help with the festival. Even so, the boy found the girl at the end of the festival and wandered around the festival with her. But…”
“Most of the stands had already closed?”
“Judge.” Kimi smiled bitterly. “But luckily, an ice cream stand was still open and they took a break there. However, the girl was rich, but she had no change with her. And since it was something she had never eaten before, she decided not to get any. So the boy bought some for her as well and more or less forced her to take it, but…”
“The girl wasn’t used to it and the ice cream fell right out of the cone.”
Mitotsudaira fell silent and Kimi smiled over at her.
“It could easily have looked like she tried to refuse, had it forced onto her, and threw it away, so the girl desperately apologized. But the boy saw things a little differently.”
The “boy” she knew would never allow something like that. So…
“Just what awful thing did he do?”
“It’s simple. He forced the girl to take his ice cream…and he tried to eat the ice cream that had fallen to the ground. He said it would be fine, since it would have been purified if it fell from her hands.”
He really hasn’t changed, thought Mitotsudaira, but if she accepted Kimi’s story at face value, there was a contradiction. After all…
“Tomo has never eaten ice cream, right? Then what happened to the new ice cream he made her take? Who ate that?”
“A clever girl ate it. After all, the girl stopped the boy from eating the ice cream off the ground and she refused to eat the ice cream she had when he didn’t have any. …So a clever girl saw through all that and settled the issue by eating the ice cream no one could eat. Oh, I forgot to mention it, but because that girl had decided not to buy her own ice cream, the boy had treated everyone there to ice cream.”
She hasn’t changed either, thought Mitotsudaira, but Kimi sighed and continued.
“The boy asked the girl to treat him to ice cream next time and to buy some for herself at the same time. The girl replied by saying she would refrain from eating ice cream until then.”
Kimi gave Asama’s distant back an exasperated look.
“It isn’t something she would normally eat, so she never had a good chance, everyone grew up, and the promise was never resolved. And the girl is probably hesitant to bring it up after all this time because he might have forgotten.”
“I doubt he’s forgotten.”
“Heh heh. True. That’s why you keep glancing over at your king from your path to knighthood and get so angry when you wonder if he’s forgotten. …And that anger comes from the fact that you really don’t think he’s forgotten.”
“Any guess I make about what’s going on in that girl’s mind is no better than fortune-telling. But just as I thought she might have changed recently, it turns out she hasn’t at all and that’s just lovely. After all…”
“I also doubt that boy has forgotten.”
“I see.” Mitotsudaira nodded as the Cerberus lowered its heads a little on her head. “Inviting her here was a mistake.”
“Heh heh. If I thought that, I would have stopped it. This was a good thing. We’re all changing, so it’s good to figure out what’s holding us back and what we should protect. It’s far better than realizing much later that you haven’t changed at all.”
“Those are the words of someone who believes change is a good thing, you know?”
Change was not necessarily “good”. Mitotsudaira knew that after her wild past.
“You can change in a bad way too.”
“Oh, dear. Are you trying to keep that excellent ending all to yourself, Miss Knight?”
Kimi glanced over at her and placed a hand on her mouth.
“Transforming a bad change into good fortune is one form of purification in Shinto. If you purify a corpse or impure blood, they can be reborn as a new god. And if you store a corpse or impure objects as your god tells you, they can change into gold bars and other treasures before you know it. …Are you not going to tell anyone else how a wild wolf became a knight?”
“Not – a – chance.”
That was the relationship between a king and a knight. Others had nothing to do with it and it would only be a story to anyone but a knight.
…And in my case…
It had not remained bad.
As if to say they would not let that happen, someone had dragged her back and everyone had supported her.
In that case…
“This here must be a case of give-and-take as well.”
“Heh heh heh. You need to at least let your eyes sparkle like a dog as you shout ‘and this time, it’s our turn to support her!’ ”
“I have not returned that far. …After all, I have yet to fulfill my duty as a knight.”
“Judge. That’s right. You still haven’t rolled onto our back so he can rub your belly, let him brush your hair, or sat down so he can feed you.”
“I am not a dog.”
The Cerberus on her head barked as she said that and then Asama came back.
Her step was light and the weights Mitotsudaira had groped that morning were bouncing.
…Oh, they move left and right more than I would have thought.
Mitotsudaira felt like she had seen a lot of vertical bouncing among the Far Eastern students, but now that she was focusing on it thanks to that morning…
…Not many people can pull off that horizontal bouncing as well.
She wondered if Asama was using the movable range of the hard points on the sides of her chest. Mitotsudaira herself did not perform much maintenance on that, but…
“Tomo, how often do you perform maintenance on your chest hard points?”
“Eh? Mito, do you want to join the hard point leasing service the shrine offers? You get to exchange them for the latest Shirasago model every three months.”
“Exchange them? Every three months?”
“Yes. They get worn out so quickly even with maintenance. And since I have work to do, I’m extra careful and get new ones every two months. You swap yours out for the top model every half year, right? Do you put them through a lot of wear and tear in your knight training?”
I can’t tell her, thought Mitotsudaira.
…I can’t tell her I only get new ones for a tax credit, not because they get worn out.
She recalled that her mother got new ones quite frequently. As a child, she had once asked how to get breasts as big as her mother’s:
“Heh heh. If you put motors in the hard points so they can do a ‘press together and lift’ exercise, you can make someone very happy.”
“How does that make them happy?”
“Testament. It nearly brings your father to tears. Yes, and I just added in that exercise to make your father happy, so I think I’ll go test it out.”
For a while afterwards, she had heard her father screaming from the farm-management shed.
…What in the world was my mother doing in the middle of the day? And father, please put up more of a fight…no, I guess that wouldn’t be possible…
However, lamenting the reality of their uneven society would get her nowhere. Change. Yes, I need to believe change is for the best and continue with those “press together and lift” exercises.
She knew about the ice cream now, so she thought about telling Asama. But…
“Asama, Mitotsudaira wants to know why you won’t eat ice cream.”
Kimi had already told her most of it, so why would Kimi ask to have her told again?
A look of confusion came to Asama as she arrived in front of them.
She seemed to hesitate a bit, but then she smiled with the ends of her eyebrows lowered.
It was not good for a Shinto shrine maiden to not know what to say. Asama would know that, so after her initial hesitation, she spoke clearly.
“It wasn’t really a promise, but something happened a long time ago.”
“My clumsiness kept me from eating ice cream and that was something someone had bought for me…”
Asama looked Mitotsudaira in the eye.
She took a breath and seemed to entrust her words to the other girl.
“So I thought I could buy some for him next time…but I don’t eat ice cream at the shrine and it just never really happened.”
The words were different, but it was the same story Kimi had told.
But Asama made it sound so impersonal.
“You’re just like me,” said Mitotsudaira.
Asama responded with confusion, but that gave Mitotsudaira a thought.
…That settles it.
Asama tended to look after others. She was a shrine maiden, she came from a well-off family, she was tall, and everyone had always relied on her like she was the oldest.
She was aware of all that and she tried to make sure she did not worry anyone else.
That made her blunt and impersonal when it came to herself, so…
…This isn’t normal.
Normally, she would not have mentioned something from the past that worried her. She would have avoided the issue by saying everything was fine and Mitotsudaira did not need to worry.
Especially when it was a memory from the past that Mitotsudaira did not share.
That was different.
She was different from normal.
She had talked about it.
And Mitotsudaira had noticed this was not the usual Asama.
Asama had been confused when Mitotsudaira had pointed out she was different from normal.
It was a strange series of events.
Asama had likely expected Mitotsudaira would respond with an impersonal “Is that so?” and treat it like it was unimportant, but…
She understood why Kimi had told her about it ahead of time.
That had allowed her to see her own past in that story.
And that had allowed her to not respond with an impersonal “Is that so?”
Those siblings are so difficult to deal with. You think they’ve set up some kind of roundabout trap, but then they catch you by surprise and you realize it all had a meaning. I should really thank Kimi right now, but…
The idiot sister was giving her a serious look while shaking her breasts horizontally and Uzy held up a sign frame that said “new ones every two months.”
… Do I want to punch her because I’m lacking in humanity? Is that it?
But the one she needed to speak to now was Asama.
“Then the two of us can eat this ice cream to help you keep that very, very important promise from your past?”
“Eh? Oh, um, no…but, well, uh, I guess so.”
Seeing Asama blush and grow flustered was a rare sight. What in the world ever happened to being impersonal?
“Tomo, this is an artifact that will protect your past.”
Mitotsudaira handed Asama a wrapped item she held next to the bucket.
“That ice cream stand sold crepes too. It has cream and fruit inside and you’ve never had anything like it before, have you?”
Asama’s eyes briefly widened as she took it.
“Ah,” she said again. “It’s warm.”
“It was only just made.”
“That’s right.” Kimi moved next to Asama and grabbed her arm. “We couldn’t take your ice cream virginity, but we’ll be taking your crepe virginity.”
“Eh? But, um, ‘take’?”
“Ohiroshiki added it on as an extra, so there’s just the one.” Mitotsudaira narrowed her eyes to urge the shrine maiden on. “Now, how about we go to Suzu’s bathhouse? And how about you take the first bite on the way? We can feed it to you since your hands are full. Hesitate too much and this opportunity might never come again, so go ahead and take that tastiest bite.”
|Back to Glossary||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 10|