Hyouka:Volume 3 Chapter 3-3

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3-3 The "Juumoji" Incident

037 - ♠10

I opened my boxed lunch while listening to the Broadcast Club's live radio broadcast.

What kind of day is it today, you ask? I would say today was one of those days when my sis would decide to make my boxed lunch. I should really be giving my thanks for the food I'm receiving, but what's with this ethnic-looking dish comprised of spicy soybeans and fried chicken covered in yoghurt? The grains of rice in this Nasi Goreng[1] looked bigger than the rice I normally have. Where'd she get this from?

The door was closed during lunch time. This ethnic looking boxed lunch sure looked good. Guess I'll take my time enjoying this.

"Heya."

Opening the door, Satoshi walked in, followed by Chitanda and Ibara.

"Great work you did there, guys," I said, pointing upwards, or rather, towards the radio broadcast from the speakers.

A while ago, they were doing an interview with The Cooking Club.

"That sure was a high quality competition, wasn't it?"

"Yes, indeed. The results were that close. I thought the amberjack teriyaki, the main dish of Team Fata Morgana's second member would be most capable of winning. The same goes for his steamed clams, though as this is a school cultural festival, in place of steaming it with sake, he substituted rice wine, but still the taste was superb. Though he prepared them so early, that by the time the competition was over they became quite cool. This was where Team Classics Club made their comeback. The second member's giseyaki and imo-mochi were properly stored to be re-heated, while you could feel the heat from their third member's kakiage rice bowl so much that it looked as though that the prawn heads were crying. This heat was the difference that decided their victory."

"And what about Team Astronomy Club?"

"They were in a world of their own."

Putting down my chopsticks, I spoke.

"Congratulations on winning."

By the way, something seems to have happened. As representing the winners to receive the prize, Ibara did not promote the Classics Club's name as she was supposed to, and to think Satoshi went through all this trouble to participate. At any rate, Satoshi was basically enjoying this more than promoting the club.

Despite being complimented, the three members were surprisingly apathetic to the radio broadcast.

"Thank you. It was thanks to Oreki-san's help. By the way, we have something to show you."

Chitanda spoke first. I have a really bad feeling about this.

"A-anyway, let's have lunch."

I prompted them to take their seats, which they duly did and slowly took out their own food... They've all bought bread from the school store. How unambitious.

Opening her bag of green bean paste bread, Chitanda turned around without even taking a bite.

"We have something to show you."

"Hmm? What is it?"

"This," She said and handed something to me. It looked like a greeting card. On it was written "The Cooking Club has lost its ladle." Signed by "Juumoji."

"Hmm."

I took a bite of the spicy beans and said, "The ladles were stolen?"

"Yes... but just ours."

Ibara nodded. As Ibara had made the kakiage rice bowl, she was most affected by the theft. And to think she could have just made dumplings out of the flour I provided... Who would have thought she would fry something with it? She sure is a sensitive person.

"Probably a prank by someone with too much time on their hands."

I returned the greeting card, yet the conversation did not end there.

Munching on his red bean paste bread, Satoshi smiled and said, "It's not just The Cooking Club, the same happened to the Go Club as well. I hear the A Capella Club was also hit."

"The Fortune Telling Association, too. They both found this, um, declaration of crime with the same font."

I see.

"Looks like someone really has a lot of time on their hands."

I tried to downplay the incident, but Chitanda was not one to be fooled. Disregarding the green bean paste bread in her hands, she held her fists tightly. Chitanda's large black eyes, which betray her normally gentle image, were now widening. I could sense the atmosphere changing.

T-this is bad. Why now? Not even half a day had passed yet. And I was hoping to endure the Cultural Festival without incident. To think Chitanda had restrained herself well yesterday, how did it come to this? Where has it gone wrong? Once she makes her move, nobody could stop her. I knew very well when Chitanda Eru would start getting curious, a dark emotion that could kill cats.

Speaking one word at a time she said, "Just who would do such a thing during the Cultural Festival? Why would Juumoji-san commit such acts with such a name? Why would he steal these items one after another?"

She's about to say that line.

"I'm really curious about it."

Ah, she's said it. She has finally gone and said it.

...No wait, there's no reason to be scared. Ever since enrolling here, I have not been able to suppress her curiosity, but right now, I have a trump card.

Instead of wasting my time making excuses, I promptly showed my trump card.

"Now is not the time for that. What about our anthologies?"

Yet just as I had finished speaking, Satoshi spoke.

"What about those anthologies indeed. Even if we raise our name recognition by participating in these straightforward events, we're not gonna improve our sales anyway. I was prepared to accept that this was a futile exercise, so I just thought of something better."

"Something better?"

Satoshi's eyes were smiling, but that's his usual self. Though he seems to be serious about what he's about to say.

"This series of thefts, coupled with a signed declaration of crime — it's clear we're looking at a phantom thief incident. It's bound to get reported by the Wall Newspaper Club, and possibly broadcasted by the Broadcast Club tomorrow. If we go along this line of thinking, even if we don't sell out, we'll still be able to look forward to selling up to thirty to forty copies."

...I see. It's not so bad if that's the case. Indeed, this is certainly a newsworthy topic. Satoshi's mic appeal yesterday yielded some results, so if we could get the two media clubs to work for us, it's possible to sell up to thirty or forty copies. However,

"How are we going to improve our sales in the first place anyway? This incident has got nothing to do with the Classics Club."

"Oh, I know,"

Ibara interrupted, "We have Oreki."

"Yup. Just as with the 'Hyouka' incident or the 'Empress' incident, Houtarou certainly performed well in both."

Wait a sec, I know where this conversation is going, but wait a sec.

"Huh? What do you mean?"

Chitanda was a bit slow in getting their meaning. Satoshi explained with a mischievous smile.

"In other words, 'To find out how Oreki Houtaou, the Classic Club's super sleuth, manages to bring the harbinger of the Cultural Festival Juumonji to justice, read all about it in this "Hyouka," the Classics Club's anthology!' We could kill two birds with one stone by capturing Juumonji and promoting the Classic Club's name."

"I-I see! This is an excellent idea! I should hurry up and..."

Argh! I smacked my chopsticks onto the table.

"Don't be ridiculous! I'm not playing along with your games!"

I yelled. How can they toy around with people like that?

Yet, in contrast to my expectations, Satoshi surprisingly nodded in agreement that he was fooling around.

"You're right. I want to improve the sales, but it's probably not good to have Houtarou be our clown."

So you do get it... That I'll be nothing but a circus clown in such a charade.

"Besides, this 'Juumonji' guy is just stealing randomly. What do you want me to say to him if we do catch him?"

"I dunno, I was thinking you'd come up with something."

Don't be ridiculous.

"Why do you think I would be the one to do such a thing... First of all, how many people do you think have entered and left the school grounds during the Cultural Festival? And that's aside from our nearly one thousand students."

The room went silent. I munched another mouthful of ethnic boxed lunch.

Unwrapping the layers on her bacon roll, Ibara sighed.

"I don't think Fuku-chan's idea was bad. While I think it's a bit mean to have Oreki do something, if we could somehow catch that phantom thief, we could involve the Classics Club in this."

She unwrapped another layer.

"...If only the Classics Club were targeted."

"Yeah."

I nodded. If that were to happen, people would gradually turn their attention to the Classics Club while following the phantom thief incident. But in that case, there was no need to even catch this "Juumonji."

Satoshi muttered, "...We could stage it..."

"REJECTED."

Ibara replied sharply, "It's too risky."

"I was only kidding."

"When Fuku-chan says it, it doesn't sound like you're kidding... But, really, what could we do?"

"Try not to think too much about it, your roll's about to become straight."

Despite my quip, Ibara didn't even glare back at me and unwrapped yet another layer on her roll. She twitched her brows hard. Though she had the strongest sense of responsibility amongst us, she was also the one who's contributed the least to the Classics Club during this time. She must have realized this as well.

"Is there a chance the Classics Club would be targeted?"

Holding the green bean paste bread in her hand, Chitanda asked.

"Satoshi, how many participating clubs are there?"

"Fifty-one. Not a small number if you're wishing to be targeted."

"Would the thief calling himself Juumonji-san choose his targets randomly?"

"You think he'd target the Classics Club if he were to choose in such a fashion?"

The possibility would be zero. If it's completely random, the odds of being targeted would be...

"...Which clubs have been targeted again?"

Satoshi replied instantly, "The Go Club, A Capella Club, The Cooking Club, and what was it? Ah, the Fortune Telling Association."

Our odds of being targeted would be forty-seven out of fifty-one. Even if it were completely random, the possibility percentage would be insanely low. As I'm the only person watching the stall for the club, if I were to go out to take a walk or go to the bathroom, it would make it easier for us to be targeted.

...Hmm?

Wait a moment, this sounds strange.

I stopped Chitanda, who looked as though she was about to say something to me, and asked Satoshi, "Sorry, can you repeat which clubs were targeted again?"

"Sure, the Go Club, A Capella Club, Fortune Telling Association and The Cooking Club."

Hmm, could it be?

"In other words,"

I spoke cautiously, "The A Capella Club, the Go Club, the Fortune Telling Association, and The Cooking Club.

...Who else was targeted?"

Looking puzzled, Satoshi shook his head.

"Dunno, I've not heard of any."

Watching our conversation, Ibara began looking through the "Kanya Festival Guide" in her hands. It seems like she too had realized what I had. Searching via the gojuuon [2] directory for the club names at the front of the guide, she began listing some names.

"Film Club, Gardening Club, Drama Club, Sci-Fi Club."

"Yes, which of those four were hit?"

"Film Club, Gardening Club..."

Taking a deep breath, Satoshi yelled, "A.B.C.!"

"Eh? Eh? What do you mean?"

Chitanda was the only one who didn't get it.

Watching her squeeze her green bean paste bread to smithereens, I explained to her, "It is as you have wondered, he wouldn't have targeted the clubs randomly. It's all following a pattern, and a very simple one at that. The only reason we didn't realize it earlier was because the order in which we were told which clubs were targeted was mixed up. So, assuming the Film Club was targeted, we have: The A Capella Club, Go Club, Fortune Telling Association, Film Club, and The Cooking Club."

"Ah!"

Chitanda covered her mouth.

"The gojuuon sequence!"

Meanwhile, Satoshi was doing the rounds, calling someone on his cell phone.

"...Yes, just want to know if you've got something stolen... No, it's not me! Honest! ...Hmm? A water gun? I see, thanks."

He hung up the call as the three of us looked on.

Then he said, "It was the Gardening Club. One of their water guns was stolen while they were away from the room."

"Water gun? Why would the Gardening Club have water guns?"

A sensible question from Ibara, which I answered at once.

"They were making sweet potatoes, so they needed to prepare water to put out the fire, and they decided to use water guns because it looked cool that way."

"O-Oreki! How on earth did you know that!?"

Well, I'm sorry that I have amazing levels of perception. But actually, it was thanks to the Glock 17 that I had obtained earlier on. Ibara continued to mutter.

"But wait a minute. In 'A.B.C.,' it started with a person whose name starts with the letter A murdered in a place also starting with the letter A."

The only person here most likely to have read Agatha Christie's "The A.B.C. Murders" was probably Ibara.

"The Cooking Club had their ladle stolen, right?"

"Just wait a moment."

Stopping Ibara from going frantic, Satoshi took out a notebook and pen from the drawstring bag he always carries with him.

"Chitanda-san, what was it that was stolen from the Fortune Telling Association?"

"It's the 'Wheel of Fortune.'"

"OK!"

He began scribbling with his pen.


* A Capella Club ([A]KAPERA BU アカペラ部) - (Drink)
* Go Club ([I]GO BU 囲碁部) - (Go Stones)
* Fortune Telling Association ([U]RANAI KEN 占い研) - Wheel of Fortune ([U]NMEI NO WA 運命の輪)
* Gardening Club ([E]NGEI BU 園芸部) - (Water Gun)
* The Cooking Club ([O] RYOURI KEN お料理研) - Ladle ([O]TAMA おたま)


I see.

"Hmm. I've not seen their declaration of crime cards, but isn't this stretching it a bit?"

Satoshi tilted his head.

Feeling skeptical myself, I said, "Maybe the Gardening Club had their AK ([E]-KEI エーケイ) stolen?"

"AK? What's that?"

"Their water gun, it's shaped like a Kalashnikov rifle."

"Really? I'll have to call the Gardening Club to confirm this."

"In that case, for the Go Club, they would have had their 'stones' ([I]SHI 石) stolen."

Indeed, no one objected to such a hypothesis.

As for the A Capella Club, "The A Capella Club would be..."

"Hmm...... Awamori ([A]WAMORI 泡盛)? [3] Hot sake ([A]TSUKAN 熱燗)?"

"It wouldn't matter as long as we could confirm the item starts with an [A]. We shouldn't think too much on that."

This... Wouldn't this be the excellent chance that the Classics Club would wish for? This was not me forsaking my energy-saving lifestyle. As usual, if there's something that I don't have to do, I won't do it. But if I let this pass, wouldn't it be too much of a pity? Even I was feeling a bit excited by the dawn of such luck.

"But, how far will this 'Juumonji-san' go with his crimes?"

How can you be so carefree, Chitanda!?

"Yeah, that's a problem."

"It won't be a problem as long as he stops by the Classics Club."

...Do even Satoshi and Ibara not get it as well?

I raised my voice.

"What are you guys talking about? What does the culprit call himself again?"

"Eh? Isn't it Juumonji?"

"I don't know why you guys pronounce it as 'Juumonji', when normally you would pronounce it as 'Juumoji.'"

"...Well, that's because I have a friend called Juumonji Kaho..."

"Oh!" Ibara exclaimed.

"That's it! Juumoji (Ten Characters 十文字)! Since Chi-chan and Fuku-chan kept pronouncing it as 'Juumonji,' I didn't see the association! If it's 'Juumoji' (Ten Characters), then that would make The Cooking Club the fifth character."

Exactly.

"And the sixth target would start with [KA], in other words, the tenth and final target would start with [KO]... That's more than enough reason to get people to come visit the Classics Club ([KO]TENBU 古典部), isn't it?"



[148 COPIES REMAINING]



038 - ♥09

While I believe Fukube-san and Mayaka-san are both wonderful people, there's one thing I don't agree with them about.

They make too much fun of Oreki-san.

He gets called dullish, a slacker, oversleeper, lazy, good-for-nothing, loiterer, too lazy to even loiter, a lion that sleeps all day, not a even a lion even if he sleeps all day, the antithesis of Labour Thanksgiving Day, sluggish, and all other sorts of bad names.

For me, if I see something I don't understand, I would seek out its answer. If I see something that looks out of place, I would spot it. But while I often get praised for being able to answer any problem being asked, I do not find myself matching that description. For some of the incredible things that I have come across, I was not able to find the answer to half of them. This would be like how rice cannot be grown by just merely preparing soil, water and seeds alone, part of being a rice farmer is to oversee how they're grown properly. Oreki-san was able to find the key to the questions that I did not understand, and obtain the answers which I had never thought about. He helped massively in the "Hyouka" incident, as named by Fukube-san, as well as come up with an amazing theory in the "Empress" incident.

He wasn't just a bright person. In contrast to what he himself normally claims, that he couldn't be bothered to help other people if it is too troubling for him, I believe he is actually a passionate and warm person deep inside.

Then again, I realize I've been relying too much on that warmth of his. That's why I tell myself I shouldn't rely too much on him...



With the new vision and possibilities shown to me by Oreki-san, I now head once again to the Wall Newspaper Club room. Based on the "pattern" that Oreki-san had spoke of, it would certainly attract the attention of the Wall Newspaper Club. Yet, whether I could convey this message to them to get them moving would depend on how I negotiate with them. I am no longer overwhelmed by the colourful decorations of the Cultural Festival, the incessant chattering of the students and the various posters pasted everywhere. Instead, courtesy of Irisu-san's advice, my heart was filled with the confidence that this time I will not fail.

According to Fukube-san, it seems the "Juumoji" incident has yet to receive much attention, which means this story would be extremely newsworthy for the Wall Newspaper Club. This would be the sort of request where, based on Irisu-san's advice, I do not need to repay any favour.

I recalled what was being taught, as my sense of memory is one of the few things that I'm confident of. Important requests, give them expectations, make them think our problem is trivial, and make the request alone to a person of the opposite gender.

As to why these methods would be effective, I'm still at a loss in understanding them... It feels bad for me to use systems which I do not fully understand as mere tools, but I can't afford to be picky.

Making good use of that advice, I rehearsed my lines. To make sure I don't say anything wrong, I repeated them again and again on my own.

I arrived before the Wall Newspaper Club room, the Biology Lecture Room, and knocked on the closed door,

"Comin~!"

A hoarse voice replied as the door opened startlingly.

There were six people inside, which was more than yesterday. But that was not the only thing that was different. While Toogaito-san was amongst them, the other five people were all speaking on their cell phones. One of them finished speaking and spoke to another male student who was on the phone.

"Cooking Club. Confirm it with their president."

The student who heard the instruction made a circle with his finger. Was it money? ...Oh, he was making an OK sign. The student who just finished speaking on the phone wrote some sort of list before heading out of the room, seemingly not noticing my presence.

It was then that a voice spoke.

"Sorry about that, Chitanda-san. We're a bit busy at the moment."

Before noticing, Toogaito-san had started walking towards me. After being mesmerized by the passion of the Wall Newspaper Club, I quickly returned to my senses.

"Try coming back some other time."

"Yes, sorry to be troubling you..."

No! I mustn't! I quickly stopped what I was saying. We haven't got much time ourselves. If I give up so soon, I wouldn't be able to face Oreki-san. I should at least convey my message,

"...Sorry to be troubling you, but, could you please take a moment? I have something to tell you."

While it's an unreasonable request, Toogaito said with a troubled expression, "All right, make it quick."

He seems to have accepted the request. I should be bowing to him in gratitude, but as he's in a hurry, I have decided to omit that.

It was then that I remembered. Toogaito-san is a member of the opposite gender. As there were other members present, I gradually took a few steps back away from the Biology Room. Perhaps unconsciously, Toogaito-san stepped forward in tandem towards the corridor. I then inadvertently closed the door. During the Cultural Festival, there was virtually no one around the Biology Room on the third floor of the Special Block besides us.

I've managed to adhere to one point of Irisu-san's advice now. To ensure I didn't fail, I suppressed my nervousness and spoke,

"It's about the Classics Club."

"Like I said, we'll only consider it if it's newsworthy."

"Well, umm, it is newsworthy."

Now, to make an expectation out of him. I think I should say it like this:

"It's something that we can only tell the Wall Newspaper Club."

"Hmm?"

Toogaito-san, who had originally wanted the conversation to end quickly, suddenly had a change in his attitude.

"What do you mean?"

"It's like this,"

I took a quick breath.

"We've discovered that during the Cultural Festival, many clubs have had various items stolen."

I had wanted to go on, but Toogaito-san's reaction was vigorous.

"'Juumoji!'"

"Eh?"

"What do you know about 'Juumoji?!'"

I was at a loss in how to deal with this sudden, unexpected turn of events. Umm, how should I respond? It's a bad habit of mine to suddenly stop speaking in times like these, even Oreki-san had told me about it. I must calm down, in other words, I must try and figure out what's going on so far...

Toogaito-san, or rather the Wall Newspaper Club, has already figured out something about the "Juumoji" incident, and they're extremely interested in it... Rather than a favour that's not expected to be repaid, this has now become a request where the favour is expected to be repaid.

W-what should I do?

No, this shouldn't change what I should be telling him. I nodded and tried my best to calm down, before compiling my thoughts into words.

I explained everything.

From beginning to end.

Toogaito-san looked very intrigued in what I had said and was extremely pleased.

"I see... The gojuuon sequence, huh? Now it makes sense, The Cooking Club's official name starts with [O]. And the Fortune Telling Association was hit as well... So that's why."

I was a bit curious on what he meant by the end.

"Umm, did you figure something out?"

"Oh."

Toogaito-san had a bitter look on his face.

"This is the Wall Newspaper Club after all,"

"Yes."

I nodded.

Toogaito then repeated again in a different tone, "The Wall Newspaper Club ([KA]BESHINBUN BU 壁新聞部), starts with a [KA]."

"Oh! So that means,"

"We lost out cutter knife ([KA]TTA-NAIFU カッターナイフ), it happened when we were all out."

"And that's why you're all so busy now?"

Toogaito-san nodded.

"While it's vexing that we had something stolen from us, it's this sort of accidental incident that we most look forward to. This is way more interesting than the usual stuff that we have to report on, isn't it? You've really saved us a lot of trouble. Who would have thought this 'Juumoji' would work in such a way?"

He then added a compliment.

"Good work for figuring that out."

"Oh, yes, that was mainly Oreki-san."

Yet, upon mentioning Oreki-san's name, for some reason Toogaito-san's smile was a mix between delight and vexation.

"...Ah, of course. Anyway, give him my thanks."

"Okay."

"Well, thanks for the information."

With a cheerful expression, I watched as Toogaito-san returned to the Biology Room.

It was when he was about to shut the door that I remembered Irisu-san's advice - "For situations where you're dealing with strangers which you would not deal with again after you receive the favour, in nine out of ten cases, they would consider your request a rip-off."

Wait! Please write something about the Classics Club in return!

I should have shouted that to Toogaito-san... but I couldn't do it. I couldn't make myself say something that sounds like I do not trust Toogaito-san.

"......"

I looked at the hand which I stretched out to call Toogaito-san. For a moment, I felt depressed at failing once again.

However.

After thinking again calmly, this could turn out for be best. Irisu-san's advice on that was mainly for strangers whom I won't deal with again. But that's not the case for Toogaito-san. So if I were to build on a trust with Toogaito-san, then what I did wasn't wrong.

Yes, that's got to be the case.

...For a bit, I felt more resolute in my determination.



039 - ♣13

I first knew of Houtarou's amazing sense of perception in the "Hyouka" incident. Despite spending all that time with him in junior high, I never knew he was capable of such feats.

Knowing Houtarou's special abilities, I was full of expectations during the "Empress" affair, as I could not think of anyone else besides him who could pull it off. The very least I could do was give him my support. Though he was also active in other incidents, these were the two main ones that came to mind.


However, this time, I do not expect anything from Houtarou.

As he is in charge of watching the stall, he is unable to leave the Geology Room. Knowing Houtarou's motto, he would surely enjoy not needing to move around, but it also means he would be unable to solve anything, as much footwork is required for this case. In other words, Houtarou is unsuited for the "Juumoji" incident.

And what happens when I don't have any expectations from Houtarou?

...That leaves me with no choice but to do the investigation myself.



Using Houtarou's deductions as a basis, and padding it up with information I gleamed from various connections, I've managed to compile the following data.


Day 1
* ~11:30am - A Capella Club ([A]KAPERA BU アカペラ部) - "Aquarius" ([A]KUARIASU アクエリアス) soft drink stolen
* ~12:30pm? - Go Club ([I]GO BU 囲碁部) - Stones ([I]SHI 石)(?) stolen
* Just after 2:00pm - Fortune Telling Association ([U]RANAI KENKYUU KAI 占い研究会) - Wheel of Fortune ([U]NMEI NO WA 運命の輪) stolen

Day 2
* ~9:00am - Gardening Club ([E]NGEI BU 園芸部) - AK ([E]-KEI エーケイ) (Kalashnikov water gun) stolen
* Just before 11:30am - The Cooking Club ([O]RYOURI KENKYUU KAI お料理研究会) - Ladle ([O]TAMA おたま) stolen


And from Chitanda-san, who just returned dashing down the corridor, just a moment ago (currently it's 1:58pm), the Wall Newspaper Club ([KA]BESHINBUN BU 壁新聞部) has had their cutter knife ([KA]TTA- NAIFU カッターナイフ) stolen. The actual time when they were hit should be sometime earlier than this.

Roughly speaking, it would seem "Juumoji" seems to make his move every one and a half hour to two and a half hours. Considering the Cultural Festival takes place from 8:00am to 5:00pm, it makes sense.

As the Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival spans three days, if he were to steal from ten clubs, he would have divided them evenly, stealing from three the first day, three the second day, and four on the final day. However, while he has indeed targeted three clubs in the first day, as people would be preparing to take down their stuff on the final day from around three, it's possible that he could choose to target four clubs today.

Taking out my copy of the "Kanya Festival Guide," I started looking up the clubs whose names begin with [KI]... Heh, looks like the phantom thief is bound by the strange rules he has set for himself, as the only club that starts with [KI] is the Magic Club ([KI]JUTSU BU 奇術部).

Arriving at the Magic Club, there was a poster that read "The next show will begin at 2pm." This is most ideal. If he were to commit the crime, he would have to do so right before everyone's gazes. And even if "Juumoji" manages to pull this off and steal something that starts with [KI], there should still be some clues left behind.

If I stay vigilant, I have a fair chance of victory. "Juumoji"'s defeat lies with his pattern being too easy to read. The only problem with catching "Juumoji" now would mean he's denied the chance to go all the way to [KO], which would be bad for our attempt to promote the Classics Club. Anyway, if we catch him, we still might be able to achieve something out of it.

I'm not like Houtarou. I am unable to untie the knots of a rope, neither am I able to just cut them loose quickly. If I could, even I would be amazed at myself.

However, I am at least able to move my body around, just by walking on my two feet and seeing with my two eyes, I should be able to figure something out.


The Magic Club public performance takes place in Class 2D's classroom. As a regular classroom, it has two entrances. The front door was covered by a curtain, with a cardboard box placed outside that read "Magic Club Backstage. No Trespassers Allowed." Visitors are to enter via the back door. Beside the back door was a table with a white box placed on it. Taking a closer look, it turns out it contains the programme booklets for the show.

As there was nothing else to do while waiting thirty minutes for the show to start, I bought one booklet.


  1. Introduction
  2. Living Dead - Takamura Youichi (1st Year)
  3. The Rainbow Ring - Nagai Kaori (1st Year)
  4. Vanishing Act - Tayama Kazuya (2nd Year)
  5. Closeup Card Magic - Takamura Youichi and Nagai Kaori (1st Year)
  6. Bowls and Balls - Tayama Kazuya (2nd Year)
  7. Closing


I see.

The first thing I understood was that the Magic Club only has three members. The Classics Club has four while the Sewing Club has five. Hey, we have more.

"Living Dead" would be referring to zombies. As this is the Magic Club, they're no doubt referring to the zombie ball. "Rainbow Ring" would be linking rings, where they'd be playing with the illusion of the rings linking and separating. "Vanishing Act" probably involves something disappearing and being replaced with something else. "Closeup Card Magic" is like its name suggests, a straightforward performance. Should be interesting as there are two performers. "Bowls and Balls" is probably a variation of the cups and balls trick, where the audience is tricked into thinking the ball entered one cup when it instead ended up in another, this time they seem to be using bowls instead.

There doesn't seem to be anything within sight that starts with [KI]. Though there are the Kings ([KI]NGU キング) from the deck of cards, if they're going to use coins, then gold coins ([KI]NKA 金貨). If diacritics[4] are allowed for the [KI] spelling, then silver coins ([GI]NKA 銀貨) would do as well... But wait, that's technically impossible. (A 1 yen coin is made of aluminum, 5 yen is brass, 10 yen is bronze, and the rest are nickel coins. Oh, there's also the 500 yen coin, which is a mixture of brass and nickel, I guess?)

I wondered if I should take a peek inside, as I placed my hand on the door handle. I'd better not, while it might help in catching the phantom thief Juumoji, it's too unrefined of me to peek into the Magic Club's backstage. Besides, as long as I just stand here, I would easily see if anyone went in or out.

As I looked at my own notes, I immersed myself in enjoying this unexpected turn of events. While seeking out knowledge at my own pace is also fun in itself, I relish in these kinds of unforeseen incidents. Then again, based on my own experiences, sadly speaking, it would seem my wits, which are required in such a case, are by no means superior to the rest. In essence, I am unable to deal with such sudden situations with a calm head, but this time I have prepared sufficiently in terms of intel, so I should be able to do something about it.

I killed time while going along such thoughts.

"Hmm? Why, if it isn't Fukube," said a surprised sounding voice. It was Tani-kun, with his firm jaw and round nose.

"You did rather well in the Wild Fire tournament."

That reminds me, we did beat his team during the cooking tournament. Upon discovering the declaration of crime, we'd totally forgotten about our duel.

I smiled and said, "Well, it's thanks to my pork miso soup, after all. My teammates also worked their best as a result, making my work look rather incomplete though."

"Team competitions sure are tough. I should have stuck with individual tournaments. Those two girls were incredible, even Suhara was amazed."

"Though I don't feel like I've won, as there weren't many participants. We were just lucky."

"By the way..."

Tani-kun turned his gaze towards my hand, which held the list of targeted clubs and items stolen. I subtly hid it away from sight.

"So have you heard?"

"Heard what?"

Tani-kun then turned his sights towards the Magic Club's billboard. I pondered on the possibiliies of why I would bump into him here.

Just as I wondered if I should confirm that possibility with him, he began to puff his chest and said, "The guy known as 'Juumoji.'"

Bingo. I nodded and shrugged my shoulders.

"As expected of Tani-kun, no rumour ever escapes your attention."

I had meant that as a compliment, yet Tani-kun didn't look too pleased.

"Oh, so you do know."

"That's why I'm here."

"Well, it is you guys that discovered the crime note at the Cooking Club, so it's not surprising that you already knew... But how did you end up figuring out it's the Magic Club?"

"It was easy of course, we followed the gojuuon pattern."

With an intrigued smile, Tani-kun said, "...Interesting. I was right to expect something of you."

Why thank you.

Predicting what his next line would be, I decided to move pre-emptively.

"So, what will our next duel be?"

"Oh, so you're up to it?" Tani-kun said and smiled.

Then he lowered his voice.

"Anyway, to show my fairness... I can tell you that the Wall Newspaper Club has been hit."

I knew that already, you didn't really need to tell me. Though I shouldn't ridicule him for it, less it complicates things.

However.

"It seems the Wall Newspaper Club's now fired up. Their next edition headline will feature the Juumoji story. Seems like they're doing a manhunt for 'Juumoji' with rewards."

Now I didn't know that, so I said with genuine concern, "Oh? Rewards, eh?"

"Details for the rewards will be included in their Special Edition No. 1... Once this becomes public, it'll attract a great deal of attention."

"You bet."

"Everyone is hungry for something unexpected. At any rate, this will become the main talking point for tomorrow."

For me personally, who prefers to enjoy stuff alone, this was rather bad news. Having Tani-kun involved was already a kill-joy, but main talking point? Give me a break. Yet for the Classics Club, in need of some PR to promote themselves, this was good news. If the "Juumoji" incident were to get more and more exciting, attention would eventually be turned towards the Classics Club. As to which aspect I should place more importance on... Guess I should prioritize making Mayaka smile once again.

Placing his hand on my shoulder, Tani-kun smiled.

"Well, it's impressive that you were able to get wind of this so quickly. Sorry, but I'll be the one to catch this guy. I may not look it, but I'm quite the mystery fan, you know?"

Oh, really? While that was what I thought, I maintained my smiling expression.

"Do go easy on us,"

I gave him a polite response, to which he nodded.

"Good luck to us both then, Fukube!"



040 - ♦08

While I would prefer to slowly enjoy my lunch as an excuse to stay with the Classics Club as long as possible, I know this can't last. No matter how unpleasant it is, I need to return to the Manga Club soon.

Without noticing, I had already unwrapped and torn my bacon roll into bits, and I now slowly picked them up one by one and fed them to my mouth. I'll go once I'm finished with them all. Just when I'd decided to do that, Oreki, who was in charge of watching the stall, opened his mouth.

"Ibara, you said you've read Agatha Christie's novels before, right?"

I was just about to wonder how he knew that when I remembered that I had told him near the end of the summer holidays, during what Fuku-chan called the "Empress" affair.

I stopped picking up the bacon roll pieces and said, "I did, but only her most famous works. It's not like I've read all of her works."

"And The A.B.C. Murders is one of them?"

"Of course."

Crossing his arms, Oreki sat back deeply into his chair while brazenly staring at the ceiling and said, "This 'Juumonji' incident, Satoshi said it's similar to A.B.C...."

It was only just a while ago that Oreki was telling us off for mispronouncing "Juumoji," and now he's pronouncing it as "Juumonji." Though as a person's name, it is indeed easier to pronounce it as "Juumonji," so I didn't say anything.

"Somehow, it's easy to make the association. Since The A.B.C. Murders involve victims being left with an 'A.B.C. list,' then it's natural that he would make the association with the 'Kanya Festival Guides' that were left at the crime scenes."

"Well, of course. Or there wouldn't be much meaning to it."

"By the way,"

Moving his gaze down from the ceiling, Oreki looked as though he was about to say something bad.

"Just asking, but what's the reason the killer in A.B.C. kills his victims in alphabetical order?"

...What a strange question.

"Oreki, have you even read The A.B.C. Murders?"

"Nope, just the premise."

"Premise, huh? So, do you intend to read it in the future?"

"...Dunno."

"Are you sure you still want to know even then? It'll spoil the story for you, are you okay with that?"

Thinking for a bit, Oreki met my gaze.

"Sure, go ahead."

Fine then.

Just to be safe, I had a look around. Because if someone were to hear all the plot details of A.B.C. before reading it, it would definitely ruin the story for them.



After making sure no one was around, I sighed.

"Well, it's actually quite straightforward. Wouldn't you already be thinking the killer simply wants to kill in alphabetical order?"

Oreki gave a bitter smile.

"Yeah, I guess."

Jeez. That's the problem with him, he would often change his mind just when he's about to say something. I began to speak harshly.

"In other words, you were thinking 'Juumoji' had simply wanted to steal according to the gojuuon sequence, weren't you?"

"...Yeah."

Oreki answered and sat upright with an unpleasant looking face.

"I don't know if 'Juumonji' was aware of Christie when he committed his crimes, but what has he stolen? Go stones and ladles, they're nothing but trinkets. Surely he wouldn't really want to steal those.

"But does that mean he's simply a prankster stealing in the gojuuon sequence just for fun?"

"So you're saying there's another meaning to all this?"

I took another piece of bread roll and stuffed it into my mouth.

"When Satoshi and Chitanda both heard that 'Juumonji' works according to the gojuuon sequence, they both ran out looking excited. To be blunt, just by observing the clues, anyone would have figured that out."

"It's true that you were the first to realize, but it's not like it's some big discovery in itself."

"In other words, this was no big deal to 'Juumonji' himself. If instead of the gojuuon sequence, he were to base his sequence on something more cryptic, for example taking the letters from the slogan 'Glory To Kami High,' then he would need to put more effort into it."

"I see. The gojuuon sequence just seems too easy to figure out."

I get what Oreki's trying to say. If 'Juumoji's' objective was merely to steal stuff following the gojuuon sequence, then this prankster is a bit weird in the head. But if that's not the case, then the gojuuon sequence is merely a process for him to achieve something else.

I did not realize this until I'd personally participated in the Cultural Festival, but it really is a unique moment. That uniqueness involves a sense of floating around in a carefree way, and it's not strange to see people getting moved along by strange pranks. But is that all?

...I think I'm becoming strange myself.

"Oreki, do you ever think of catching 'Juumoji' yourself?"

"Me?"

He looked surprised.

"Why would you think I'd do such a thing?"

"You look enthused."

Oreki snorted and went back to leaning on the back of his chair.

"It doesn't matter to me either way. Be it Juumoji (Ten Characters) or The Man with a Thousand Faces. If he wants to steal something from the Classics Club, I'll gladly give it to him as long as it's not my wallet. Though afterwards Chitanda would probably be very curious and would badger me about who 'Juumonji' was."

"Well, you could always just ignore her."

"She's not the sort of person you can just ignore."

Oreki frowned.

Hee hee.

How silly.

Tossing the last bits of bread roll into my mouth, I stood up. As I proceeded to move, I thought I should give my thanks.

"That reminds me. Oreki, thanks for the bag of flour. I was really at a loss back there."

"Oh. Don't mention it."

As though remembering something, Oreki gave an enigmatic smile.

"I got that bag of flour via the straw millionaire protocol."

Straw millionaire protocol?

"What're you talking about?"

"The story of the straw millionaire, you know?"

Oh, I see.

"So you want something in exchange for the bag of flour, is that right?"

"You got something? If you don't, then I don't mind ending my protocol here."

Oh, well.

After thinking for a bit, I took off the brooch on my chest.

"You can have this."

Oreki looked on in surprise.

"...Are you sure? Don't you need it for your cospl—"

"It's not a cosplay, you idiot!"

I threw the brooch at Oreki's face as hard as I could and quickly turned and left the Geology Room.



041 - ♣14

I had intended to keep monitoring any movement near the backstage entrance, but I cannot resist the call of nature. As the show was about to start, I quickly went for the bathroom. When I came back, I asked Tani-kun whether he saw anyone suspicious. Though he admonished me for having the audacity to ask a rival, it helped stroked his ego a bit as he answered kindly.

"Nobody came or went."

As he answered, someone emerged from the Class 2-D classroom. It was a male student, and the badge on his collar indicated he was a second year. That would be the Magic Club president Tayama. (It's not like I knew who he was, I just happened to read it in the programme booklet.) He raised his voice across the corridor filled with flags and lanterns and all sorts of decorations.

"The fifth Magic Club show will commence shortly."

Without saying anything, both Tani-kun and I entered the dark classroom. It seemed like even the windows were draped in black curtains. The classroom itself was partitioned into two parts, with a curtain separating the two sides. The tables were all stacked along the windows while the chairs were lined up in rows. Behind the curtain would be the backstage. Right before the curtain was the podium and teacher's table. That would be the stage. The spacing between the spectators' seating and the stage was quite narrow, which could be a bit tough for the performer but would provide a great view for the spectator. But now's not the time for me to enjoy myself.

I next looked at the people entering the spectators' seating.

As this was the fifth performance, most people with an interest in conjuring tricks would have already seen it, so there weren't many people coming in. The first person I saw coming in was someone I didn't expect. When silent, she would exude a cool aura, and when she spoke, it was as regally as an "Empress." I stood up without thinking.

"Oh, hello there, Irisu-sempai."

Irisu Fuyumi-sempai squinted her eyes in the dark to see who was speaking to her.

"...Oh, you're from the Classics Club."

She nodded and greeted me back before sitting on one of the chairs in the last row. It feels a bit strange seeing the extremely rational Irisu-sempai coming to watch a magic show.

The next person to come in was also a girl, who brought another girl with her. At first I thought they were a couple, as one of them was dressed like a man. I remember seeing that tuxedo before... That's right, she's with the Manga Club. She was with Mayaka when they were drawing the posters. In that case, the girl besides her would be the Manga Club president, whom I've seen a few times. Both chatted and pointed to their programme booklets while taking the seats in front.

Next came various people whom I did not know. Though we may study in the same school, I'm familiar with their faces, but it's not like I'm acquainted with them. As for visitors from outside the school, there was a middle-aged couple, even though today was a working day. Wondering what was going on, a grade-school-looking little girl entered as well looking curious.

The girl who entered next was a classmate of mine, though as I don't know her really well, I didn't call out to her. She must've noticed my presence, though she decided not to call out to me either. Come to think of it, her surname happens to be "Juumonji," Juumonji Kaho-san. As a member of the "Four Exponential Clans," I would most like to get to know her, but I find it quite hard to deal with her. (As for what I meant by "getting to know her," it simply means I'd like to ask her about stuff that I've not heard before, that's all. Though I'd get myself in a lot of trouble if Mayaka were to hear me say that.)

While there weren't many people in the beginning, in time the room was now quite packed. The Magic Club should be quite pleased with this attendance. The president from before could be seen taking a peek through the curtain.

Next came a group of guys. Whoa, if it isn't the president of the Executive Committee Tanabe Jirou? And beside him was... Oh my god, it's the Nth President of the Kamiyama High School Student Council, His Excellency Kugayama Munetaka. ("Nth" means I have no idea how many presidents there were before him.) A charismatic figure with a sporty-looking figure and carefree smile, his moving speech still left an impression in my mind, though I have no idea what the president normally does. Besides those two, I'm not quite acquainted with the others. Noticing me, Tanabe-sempai raised his hand to greet me.

While the spectator seating that took up half of the classroom was not quite completely filled, it was still 70% full. A girl, presumably a Magic Club member, closed the door. The partition curtain opened, and a male student walked onto the stage carrying a candle stand in each hand, placing them on the teaching desk. Taking a match from his pocket, he began lighting the candles, which began to illuminate the dark classroom with a gentle light. I see, in order to deal with the confined spacing of the room, they resorted to using dim candle lighting to make the room look bigger. I began to be absorbed by the mood created.

After the guy who lit the candles withdrew, the president emerged. The president, with his hair combed back and wearing a pair of framed spectacles, was a slim figure with skillful-looking hands. He waited till the audience gradually went silent before smiling and bowed courteously like a stage actor.

"Let the show commence. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Magic Club performance. Now feast your eyes upon the wonders that we have worked hard in order to show you."

Applause.

I looked around during the applause. There doesn't seem to be anything out of order so far...

"First, the Magic Club proudly presents Takamura Youichi of Class 1-B, who will be gracing us with his performance of 'The Living Dead.'"

He then withdrew from the stage amidst the applause. The male student that next emerged from the curtains was carrying a ball, as expected, as the El Bimbo[5] began to be played in the background... As a French whisper pop, this kind of music suits the mood well. Takamura-kun seems totally relaxed. Now I know why they were proudly presenting him. Or perhaps it's because this is the fifth time he's performing this?



The zombie ball and linking rings performances went smoothly as expected.

The Magic Club people sure have some skill. While I've seen my fair share of conjuring tricks, this was nothing to be amazed at, but still, it was quite intense seeing the ball float in mid air or the rings linked together from such a close distance. And while the first guy and the girl that followed had a few awkward moments with their movements, it wasn't so bad as to jeopardize their performance. I applauded their mastery from the bottom of my heart.

The third act, "Vanishing Act," was just as impressive. Tayama-san, the Magic Club president and their sole second year, was certainly more skilled than his two members. He was just as composed during his performance as he was while greeting the audience, making cards and handkerchiefs appear seemingly out of nowhere as the background music played (this time it's some piano sonata, the name of which I've forgotten).

His card and handkerchief apparition acts, while skillful, were nothing to be astonished at, but, I was still a bit surprised when he suddenly made that black handkerchief appear out of his right hand near the end. It caused quite a stir with the audience, and even I was grappling at the edge of my seat.

Whether he was relieved at the success of his performance or pleased with the applause, the previously emotionless president Tayama gave a gentle smile. He then took out a pink candle, which was already alight. I'm not making this up, normally you wouldn't put a lit candle in your pocket, would you? Raising the candle for all to see, we all applauded in unison.

Seated some distance from me, Tani-kun whispered to me while applauding.

"Looks like he's got the torch."

I don't know why he's calling it a torch. Sure, it has other names like a flambeau, torchlight or rushlight, but wouldn't one normally call those candles? I had an urge to explain to him that torches were different from candles, but I decided not to.

No, wait, I've been so immersed in the show, I'd nearly forgotten I wasn't here to watch the performance. Yet, nothing out of the ordinary had happened with the magic show so far, and there were no strange movements amongst the audience either. Occasionally the door would open and one or two more visitors would enter or leave mid way, but there was nothing "Juumoji" could have stolen from the outside, as there's nothing but curtains, the billboard, and posters. Hmm, what was it that Juumoji was after again? Something that begins with [KI].

...CANDLE ([KI]YANDORU キャンドル)!

I gave out a gasp, and turned to look at president Tayama, who was sincerely thanking the audience. The candle in his hand was no longer lit. As it was probably dangerous, upon showing the lit candle to everyone, he had promptly blown it out. But that wasn't the only candle in the room. I turned to look at the candle stands used for illuminating the room.

"...AH!"

"Now, rather than the usual poker cards, this time we'll be playing with Japanese playing cards[6]... Huh?"

Oh crap, I gasped too loudly. As the following card magic involved interacting with the audience, there was no background music, and so Takamura-kun and Nagai-san, who were now performing, turned to look at me. I quickly waved my hands apologetically for interrupting them.

There were originally five candles on each candle stand. While the stand on the right still had five candles, the one on the left only had four!

They've been hit!

But when?! All this time no one had approached the stage, until now.

"And now, would the lady sitting at the back please come forward to the stage?"

Irisu-san, being called upon, walked towards the stage. But before that, only the performers had appeared. Which means the missing candle was never there to begin with.

And all this time I was thinking that "Juumoji" would carry out his act under the gaze of this many people. Yet the act had already been carried out before the show even began.

Dammit, I've been wasting my time all along!

He must have left his declaration of crime somewhere. Come to think of it, the ladle wasn't stolen from The Cooking Club during the Wild Fire tournament itself. It was already gone before the tournament even began. The phantom thief "Juumoji" did not seem to carry out his thefts in a flashy way like most phantom thieves do.

Anyway, if it had come to this, there was no reason for me to stay anymore. If it had already been stolen beforehand, then it rules out the people here as suspects. All that's left is to...

"The card you've chosen is the Maple Deer, right?"

"...That's it!"

I clapped my hands.

I straightened myself up and watched on carefully.



042 - ♦09

Returning to the Manga Club, one of the first years with whom I'm friendly greeted me.

"You're late."

I smiled kindly in response and returned to my seat at the booth.

The posters drawn during the morning had some effect in drawing visitors, as they seem to have increased from yesterday.

I asked the girl sitting beside me in a low voice, "How is it? Compared to yesterday."

She took a look across the room, and it was then that I noticed Kouchi-sempai was here.

Making sure Kouchi-sempai was engaged with her followers and not looking over here, the girl replied in an even lower voice, "Well, there are more visitors."

"Is it because of the posters?"

"I'm not sure, but..."

Well, it's good if it helps sales. It's not like I was against Kouchi-sempai's proposal to draw posters to attract customers in the first place, but on the other hand, it's not like I'm pleased that my drawings had helped as well. Don't get the wrong idea.

However, while realizing I could be wrong, I still felt something was not right. As we giggled, someone from across the room began speaking to indicate that they heard us.

"See? We should have listened to sempai to begin with."

"Yeah, if it weren't for someone being against it, we would have sold more yesterday."

It's not like these people who've not even contributed to the anthologies have any right to complain, but I kept quiet.

"Oh, don't be so mean to her. To think she worked so hard to draw the posters."

"I guess. Well, good luck."

Though they said one thing, the tones of their voices revealed another meaning. To be more precise, they were saying "Oh, don't be so mean to her. To think she worked so hard to draw the posters," while throwing a glance at me, as though accusing me of having a victim's complex and saying "Serves you right."

I love manga, and if I had to choose, I would say I like the Manga Club as well. Though I did not wish for this to happen... but it can't be helped. There's three of them, and it's not in my nature to say anything unnecessary. Not to mention I was unable to present my evidence. So I need to hold back. But with such an atmosphere, there's no way I could ask the club to help sell Hyouka.

They continued their persistent whispering. They're really such pesky gossips. Speaking of gossips, this reminds me of a strange conversation I once had with Fuku-chan, when I once said he was like a gossip and he gave me an unbelievable response.

"You mean I'm brave?"

"Eh?"

"As well as being patriotic?"

"What're you talking about?"

"You said I'm like Kossuth[7]."

"...What the hell's that?"

"A Hungarian hero."

Seriously, what the hell's that??

Being reminded of how seriously silly Fuku-chan was then, I giggled. I know I shouldn't be laughing, but I still ended up doing it. As expected, the gossiping group suddenly stopped.

"What's with her?"

"Isn't she being a bit cocky?"

"Weird girl."

Well I'm sorry about that!

This group normally acts in unison, with each member being basically like the others, though this time one of them led the way by speaking louder than before.

"She was bluffing, wasn't she? To say she couldn't find it, as if anyone would believe that. And she was going on about how there are masterpiece mangas out there and was bragging about showing us one of them. Instead, she gives the name of some doujin no one's ever heard of, as though she's some expert on it. Besides, she..."

For them to go so far, even my patience was incredibly stretched to the point of bursting.

"Enough. You should keep your mouth shut about things you have no knowledge of."

A voice called out from across the room. The gossiping group turned their heads in a direction they never expected the voice would come from. They had no choice but to keep quiet, as the one who spoke was none other than their leader, Kouchi-sempai. Dressed in her tuxedo, Kouchi-sempai began yawning as though she hadn't even said those words.

I was quite surprised. But not at Kouchi-sempai reprimanding her followers. For Kouchi-sempai, as long as it was funny, it didn't matter whether a manga was fiction or non-fiction, parody or homage, so I thought she would be the sort who wouldn't fuss whether things were fair or not. So I was really astonished when she of all people would tell people to shut up about things they are ignorant about.

The group of followers all cowered like a bunch of dogs who had just been scolded by their master. Though I could still feel their resentful gazes directed towards me.

This feels suffocating.

...Though I had only just arrived, I already felt like I needed a breath of fresh air. So I told the girl sitting next to me I needed to leave for a bit and stood up. I wish I could just flutter away like the wind.



The autumn sun was sinking quickly.

Though it wasn't yet evening, the sunlight was getting weaker and the wind was getting cooler. I stood along the roof of the connecting corridor, looking down towards the central garden, wondering if this place had been forgotten while the rest of Kamiyama High School has been decorated fully.

Till now, while I still think I wasn't wrong, I wondered if I should have kept silent.

But I didn't regret it, I think. I just couldn't stand by and watch Kouchi-sempai say that whether one think a manga is interesting or not was purely subjective. If what she said was true, then anyone can be an expert. While my art wasn't something I was ashamed of showing people, as I did draw the posters a while ago, the manga that I drew were just dull. I wanted to draw something more interesting, much, much more interesting. If I had not encountered Ashes at Dusk, I would have still believed myself to be capable of that. For Kouchi-sempai to say it was pointless to strive to improve one's work, it was as though she was describing the effort as walking in the dark. She said without a clear objective or target, no matter how much you've progressed, it still wouldn't make much of a difference. No matter how you brush up your skills, it still wouldn't change anything. If I had accepted those words, then why would I still be thinking my art isn't good enough?

...Yet I didn't give her those counter-arguments yesterday, as I thought showing her a copy of Ashes at Dusk would be good enough. But I didn't consider whether she would be convinced by it, or whatever her followers might say afterwards.

Heh, I'm such an idiot.

...I feel like seeing Fuku-chan. He's probably engaged in some event like a fool somewhere. I too wanted to go investigate the "Juumoji" incident with him. I wonder if he would invite me. As a result of these thoughts, I still had not returned to the Manga Club.

"Ibara,"

A voice suddenly called out to me, so I turned to see who it was.

"I'm sorry that you had to go through all that."

It was President Yuasa, giving a concerned but gentle smile with her fluffy cheeks and double eyelids.

I quickly shook my head.

"Why are you apologizing? You've done nothing wrong, President."

"Well, that's because I've been quiet all this time. I wanted to stand by your side."

...To come all the way to the roof of the connecting corridor to tell me that, I wonder what my mind was going through then?

But, that's fine. It's not like I had wanted anybody on my side. And had she actually stood up for me, it would only worsen my conflict with Kouchi-sempai and cause turmoil within the Manga Club. That wouldn't be good. So it's fine.

"...Ayako doesn't really mean what she said," President Yuasa said as she stood alone.

As I was wondering who Ayako was, I realized she meant Kouchi-sempai, whose full name was Kouchi Ayako.

"What do you mean by her not meaning what she said? You mean her saying we should keep quiet about things we have no knowledge of?"

"No, not that. I meant her argument with you yesterday."

It was a topic I did not want to go further into.

I took a deep sigh and said, "You mean her saying whether a manga is interesting or not depends on one's acceptance antenna?"

The president nodded softly.

Was she trying to console me? If she was, she wasn't doing quite a good job at it.

I gave a weak smile and asked, "How could you tell she didn't mean it?"

"Well... it's because Ayako and I are good friends."

"Is that all?"

"Ayako and Haruna are good friends as well."

President Yuasa smiled kindly, as though I would understand by now. I was probably looking dumbfounded like an idiot right now. Who's Haruna? She sure wasn't referring to Kouchi-sempai, and that wasn't President Yuasa's name either. I could not recall anyone I knew with that name. After an awkward pause, I decided to ask.

"Who's that?"

"Who's who?"

"This Haruna."

This time it was President Yuasa's turn to look perplexed. The way she tilted her head reminded me a bit of Chi-chan.

"Eh? But, Ibara, I thought you've read her work."

What work? Seeing I still haven't got a clue, she continued.

"You know, Ashes at Dusk?"

Hearing the name of the title I never thought would get mentioned during this conversation, I replied with a stiffened back.

"...Yeah."

"Haruna was its author. Anjou Haruna. Didn't she put her name on it?"

Eh?

I would have most certainly remembered who the author of Ashes at Dusk was. But, how should I say this, it was definitely not "Anjou Haruna." The author name for that doujinshi was a quite obscure sounding name, that I certainly remembered.

"I thought the author was someone called Anshinin?"

"Anshinin?"

"'Anshin' as in 'peace of mind,' 'In' as in 'hall.'"

President Yuasa looked a bit surprised, but then slowly shook her head.

"She must have used a pen-name then. But I know the story was penned by Haruna. I have no idea who drew the art, though Haruna should know."

I managed to learn more about the author of a manga I admire in the strangest of occasions.

While I knew that the script and artist were different people, for a moment, I had forgotten the depression that I was having and asked, "Which class is this person in?"

"Oh, Haruna is no longer here. She transferred to another school."

"...I-I see."

I tried to organize what the president had just told me... I didn't really get it, so I sighed softly.

"President, what did you mean when you said this Anjou Haruna was friends with Kouchi-sempai? And how did you realize Kouchi-sempai didn't mean what she said?"

The president looked downwards and went silent.

Could it be that she was quite cautious with her words? As I pondered such a question, she slowly raised her head.

"If you had spoken to Haruna, you might understand as well. I know this is not a good enough answer for you, but, I'm sorry Ibara, while I do know the answer, I'm not able to tell you."

"..."

"Because Ayako is my friend."

Her large eyes with her double eyelids looked lonely as she explained. I can't tell you, because she's my friend. If she had told me, she might feel that she was speaking ill of Kouchi-sempai... as well as revealing Kouchi-sempai's secrets.

In any case, as she couldn't tell me, I wouldn't understand. And right now, I realized I was going nowhere thinking about something I do not understand. I slowly shook my head.

I feel like being alone. Regardless of whether Kouchi-sempai really meant what she said, I just wanted to indulge in the breeze.

"Let me just enjoy the breeze for a bit before returning."

"Ibara..."

Once again, I said insistently, "I'll be back in just a bit."

So please leave me alone.



043 - ♠11

It was soon five o'clock.

Though everyone had returned just before the final chime, for some reason the mood seemed strange. Satoshi was unusually frowning for once. In contrast, Chitanda looked pleased. Ibara just looked downright depressed. As she probably doesn't wish for anyone to speak to her, I decided to ignore her for now.

"We've been outfoxed, Houtarou."

As Satoshi spoke, he suddenly stared at my face and asked puzzledly, "What happened to your eye?"

Is it still red?

"Oh, my eye got hit by a heart."

"Huh?"

"Like I said, my eye got hit by a heart."

Satoshi looked dumbfounded, but quickly regained his composure.

"Anyway, we were completely outfoxed. A candle was taken from the Magic Club."

"Isn't that good news?"

I said truthfully, "It wouldn't be good if 'Juumonji' was caught before he reached the Classics Club, would it?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Satoshi nodded grudgingly. Hearing his story, it seemed he had hoped to catch "Juumoji" red handed. Firstly, none of the items from [A] to [KA] had been stolen during events. Secondly, "Juumoji" wouldn't be so stupid as to pick an inconvenient time like during a performance to carry out his thefts. He would simply do so at a time of his convenience, regardless of whether an event was ongoing or not.

"You could've told me that earlier..."

Satoshi grumbled. Hey, it's not like I knew what you were trying to do before.

"So? Did you find a declaration of crime?"

"Yeah, after looking around, we found it bundled along with a notice for tomorrow's first show at 10am, and sure enough, a copy of the Kanya Festival Guide was there as well."

"And you found that in the corridor?"

"Yeah."

This means the culprit could be anyone.

Meanwhile, Chitanda's cheek was twitching. Though she wanted to smile, upon seeing Ibara looking depressed, she obviously couldn't do so. I decided to break the tension.

"Seems like you found something good?"

Chitanda gave a big nod.

"Yes I did!"

"Really?"

"The twenty copies of Hyouka that I've given to Irisu-san are selling well."

I guess, since it is that Irisu. While it's something to rejoice about, I couldn't smile for some reason. I just hope she doesn't find use for me this time.

"So they're all sold out?"

"No, there are still a few copies left, but they'll most likely be sold out by tomorrow."

If they're all sold out, should we send another twenty copies over? That was the question.

"And there's more. The Kami High Monthly Special Edition that was released at 4pm mentioned the 'Juumoji' incident. It included the gojuuon rule that Oreki-san figured out."

I feel a bit embarrassed at being credited for such a deduction. As I've mentioned to Ibara, anyone could have figured that out.

Chitanda continued while placing her hand before her chest as though in prayer, "Besides, they've mentioned the Classics Club's name! Right here: And so, our dear readers, it is speculated that 'Juumoji' will carry out his final crime sometime between noon and 2pm at either the Classics Club or the Miniature Club ([KO]USAKU BU 工作部)."

"The Miniature Club? I didn't know we had such a club."

Satoshi nodded deeply as he replied, "We do, now that you mention it."

"If he went to that club, then all our plans will be wasted."

"Yes, I'm worried about that as well,"

Chitanda gradually withdrew her delighted expression as she said that. I was wondering why she was so happy just now when I realized it was she who had brought that newspaper from the Wall Newspaper Club over here. So she was happy that she gets to inform us of the news... No, that's not right. This wasn't something that would get her this happy, there must be something else to it. But I shouldn't be prying into the minds of others, especially not that of Chitanda Eru.

"...So, Houtarou, how many copies have we sold?"

Ah, that.

"Excluding the copies we've given Irisu-sempai, that would be sixteen copies."

"Hey, we're actually selling more than yesterday."

Yeah, but only marginally. Though we seem to have done better in our promotion today via the Wild Fire tournament than the Quiz Trial tournament yesterday. So there were more students who had decided to come over to this forsaken corner during their free time. We'll need all the word-of-mouth advertisement we can get.

At the end of the second day, our hope for selling out the remaining three quarters rests with how the "Juumoji" incident plays out...

Well, we'll worry about it then. I took out a bag of biscuits from the table drawer.

"Houtarou, what's that?"

"I bought them from the Confectionery Club. I've not eaten them yet, you can have some if you like."

As I called out, even Ibara had walked over.

The four of us divided up the bag of biscuits. As we munched on the biscuits, the chime signaling the end of the second day began ringing.



[141 COPIES REMAINING]


Translator's Notes and References[edit]

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