Owari no Chronicle:Volume10 Chapter 14
Chapter 14: Forming Thoughts
They won’t overlook it anyway
Shino sat in a large room.
The western end of the room opened onto a yard with a pond.
The other three sides were covered by sliding screens and a table for about ten people sat in the light of the cloudy sky.
She sat perfectly still on a cushion with her shoulders stiffened.
Behind her, a white dog sat on the large stone step up from the yard.
A bone sat on a plate in front of the dog.
The white dog sniffed at the bone.
“Shiro! Not yet! Not until they say we can!”
Shino had sensed Shiro’s movements and he corrected his posture.
About twelve square meters in front of her, the screen slid open just a bit.
The slight gap closed again and she heard whispering voices from the other side.
“B-brother! Brother! Who is that girl? Who is she?”
“You don’t know? You really are stupid. Listen. The president said she was bringing in a newcomer, remember? We need to be nice to her. She’s been taken in just like us brothers.”
“Wow, brother! You sure are kind! I can see why you’re called Take the Prayer Killer!”
The girl lowered her head as she heard a few more whispering voices.
“What is going on?”
She had a blue stone and a red pendant hanging from her neck and she reached for the blue one.
Just as she prepared to say she was leaving, a young man’s footsteps and voice reached her from the hallway.
“Okay, okay. We have work tonight, everyone, so go get some rest. And this guest seems to be a friend from the young master and Setsu-kun’s school.”
Several voices answered and a variety of footsteps, dragging sounds, and metallic noises moved left down the hallway.
There had apparently been far more people than voices.
The girl raised her head and let go of the blue stone.
The sliding screen opened and a young man walked in with a tray of snacks. He wore a black shirt and a gray suit.
“These persimmons were grown in our yard, but I’m not sure if you’ll like them. Or do you not like persimmons in general?”
“No, I like them.”
He crouched next to her and placed a few plates in front of her. They contained persimmons, pears, youkan, and a few rice cakes.
“My name is Kouji and this is my family’s house. What is your name?”
He nodded and stood up with the empty tray in hand.
“I see. And what brings you here today?”
She hesitated and he sat across the table from her.
It had been his sister who had mistakenly thought she was a friend of Sayama’s, but she was unsure if she should say so.
She was basing her decision on whether she should do anything unnecessary during such an important time.
She had been seen in UCAT during the summer, so if the details of her visit reached Sayama, he would think a member of the Army had come to visit him.
…Should I say I don’t know him and that this man’s sister was wrong?
If so, it could all end as that sister’s mistake.
Then she could leave as quickly as possible and leave behind as little evidence of her visit as possible.
That was why she tried to say this was a mistake and she had simply not had a chance to say so.
Once she opened her mouth, she realized something.
…But in that case, how do I explain stopping in front of their house?
The answer to that question quickly came to her.
“Um, to be honest, I was just worried about the sibling argument I overheard.”
Kouji’s expression changed at that.
His eyebrows rose, he removed the lid of the teacup in front of him, and gestured for her to do the same.
“Then I apologize. Were you in the middle of a walk? And are you not a friend of our young master, but a simple passerby who my sister invited in?”
He gave her all the help she needed, so relief filled her.
If she expressed that relief, the man would likely assume he was right, so she breathed a sigh of relief and brought a hand to her chest.
“Y-yes, that’s right. I just so happened to end up here while going for a walk. I’m not a friend of your Sayama.”
Kouji took a sip of his tea, lowered his gaze a little, and made a sudden comment.
“How did you know that our young master was named Sayama?”
Oh, no, gasped Shino.
…He was testing me.
A tremor ran down her back and she turned her senses toward her surroundings.
A few of the sliding screens to the front and sides were cracked open. Shiro showed no sign of moving behind her because he had noticed a presence in the yard, not because she had told him to stay.
The whispering she had heard before and the obvious sounds of people leaving had been intentional.
…Did they want me to think everyone had left?
Kouji sat across the large and thick ebony table.
If she was going to move, she would have to head for the unseen sliding screen beyond him or rush out into the yard.
She felt scorching impatience race along her spine.
Oh, no, she thought again, but it was no use because she had already failed.
She could only struggle or surrender.
She could not choose the latter, so she had no choice but to choose the former.
There were two ways she could struggle: physically struggle or negotiate to keep the damage to a minimum.
She took a breath to calm herself and chose to continue negotiating.
Kouji had set up a single trap for her: why did she know who Sayama was despite not being from his school.
She tilted her head.
“Sayama of the Tamiya family is well known.”
Kouji nodded as if he had accepted that.
But Shino decided he had not truly accepted it and it was just for show. She used that decision as an excuse to herself and clenched the hand held to her chest. It wrapped around the blue stone hanging from her neck.
“Please believe me.”
She lowered her head as she spoke and blue light escaped from between her fingers.
The philosopher’s stone answered her request by releasing its power. Its concept could control people’s wills.
This would affect the thoughts of the people around her without them even noticing.
Its use could permanently affect their string vibrations, so its influence would sometimes remain for a long time.
She knew this was wrong and that it was a terrible thing.
…But I can’t afford to fail now.
She had to use this power because of her own mistake. Reminded of her own inexperience, she swore to never have to do this again.
She then looked up.
A moment later, she heard sounds from around her.
A slight movement of wind brought the sounds from beyond the sliding screens, above the ceiling, and below the floor.
“See, brother! I told you a beauty would never betray us!”
“You really are stupid. I knew that from the beginning. I was just testing you.”
“Wow, you’re amazing, brother! You’re like a prophet!”
The same voices that had previously moved away in the hallway were now moving away below the floor. Shino’s back trembled again.
She faced forward and looked at Kouji.
She had assumed he was suspecting her and only pretending to have accepted her explanation.
But that accepting expression remained intact.
Ah, she silently gasped.
After all, if his expression had not changed…
…The idea that he was pretending to trust me was only my imagination.
He had not doubted her.
The truth before her eyes made her gulp.
Her own suspicion had led her to control his unsuspecting mind.
Had he left the suspicion to everyone else and simply tried to hear what she had to say?
And yet she had used her philosopher’s stone on a normal person just because he had asked one little question.
She felt the heat of her impatience grow icily cold.
…How could this happen?
They lived in the same world, they were both human, they were from the same generation, they wore the same sort of clothes, they ate the same kinds of food, they breathed the same air, and they experienced the same time, but something was different on a fundamental level.
But this time…
…I went out of my way to do something different.
Hadn’t she wanted to be the same as them?
Unease filled her mind because she had suspected someone else for no good reason.
…When did I turn into someone who would do that?
I can’t do that, she told herself while lowering her head.
“Are you okay?” asked Kouji.
She tried to answer, but she ended up biting her lip and holding in the words.
After all, his mind was under the influence of her philosopher’s stone.
…It isn’t really him that’s concerned for me.
She forced strength into her shaking legs and stood up.
Without raising her head, she started toward the passageway along the outside of the house.
While making sure he could not see her lowered face, she turned her back so he would not feel any more insincere worry for her.
“Excuse me. I will be leaving.”
“Oh, if you leave that way, the path through the center is a little-…”
“I know. I turn at the corner to head inside, turn left because the right is a dead end, and open the third sliding screen to reach the entrance, right?”
She heard Kouji stand.
“Why do you know our house’s layout?”
She turned toward him and forced a smile with the yard and cloudy sky behind her.
“You should know tomorrow… Or at least, I should be able to accept it.”
That was all she said before waving a hand upwards.
“Shiro, we’re leaving.”
She heard Shiro running in the yard. She also heard the guard dogs begin to move, but an information entity like him could hide and move quite quickly.
It will be okay, she told herself while touching the philosopher’s stone on her chest.
Apologizing is all I ever do, she thought while deciding to never return.
If she was gone, the contamination of their minds would mean nothing.
…I just have to never come back. I hope they can forget me.
She could not erase their memories, so she did not go that far.
“Please do not worry about me.”
She spoke to the stone and turned her back on Kouji.
She began to walk along the path to leave the Tamiya house and enter the cloudy sunlight.
She moved quickly and spoke quietly while looking up into the white sky.
A certain space was filled with white steam.
The thirty square meter space was surrounded by walls and white smoke rose within it.
The words “Healing Bath – Green (Pseudonym)” were written on one wall.
The other three walls contained mosaics depicting the final chapter of Tomorrow’s Realtor, a hot-blooded shoujo manga. Below those were the washing areas and mirrors.
True to the name on the wall, below the steam and surrounded by the washing areas and mirrors was a ten square meter area of hot water that had been turned green.
The water was divided between four large tubs lined up in two row of two.
The people in the back left tub were looking at the mosaics on the three walls.
There were three people in all.
A girl with long blonde hair sat in the center of the tub that included a green healing concept. A girl with short blonde hair and a woman with long gray hair sat on the stepped portion by the edge, soaking up to their waists.
The short-haired girl and the small animal on her head looked up at the final panel of the mosaics. A man in a suit was letting out an emotional breath despite having turned pure white.
“That’s amazing, teacher. At the end, the yakuza boss shouts ‘Get it up! Get that apartment building up!’ and he decides to buy up all the land.”
“Yes, Heo, I was moved too. And next week, they’re beginning the period drama manga 24 Hours in the Life of the Forty-Seven Ronin. It’s full of classic scenes like the one where Ooishi Kuranosuke thinks about quitting, comes back to his senses because he doesn’t want his comrades to die, and has to be held back by the others.”
Heo thought to herself while listening.
…She really knows a lot about this.
She looked at the long-haired girl whose head was sticking out of the water in the center of the tub.
“Mikage, you’ll make yourself pass out if you stay there.”
“Right. But I found one.”
Before Heo could ask what she meant, Mikage pulled something up from the bottom of the tub.
It brought a lot of water with it.
“A plant creature?”
It was a 4th-Gear resident.
Its body was fairly long, its legs were fin-shaped, and it shook its head as Mikage lifted it up in her arms.
“Cold,” it said.
Mikage sank back into the water so only her head stuck out, but the plant creature was with her this time. It wiggled its long body to swim and bring Mikage toward Heo and Diana.
More interested in the approaching creature than Mikage, Heo reached out her hand.
Just as she was about to reach it, the water swelled up below her hand.
Mikage held onto the one creature as she sat next to Heo, but another one poked its head up below Heo’s hand.
It poked at her palm with its nose and Baku hopped from her head to the plant creature’s nose.
Heo wondered what they were going to do and the creature swam along while tossing Baku into the air with its nose.
Baku did not resist and instead enjoyed pretending to swim through the air.
The two creatures seemed like a good match.
Heo spotted a few more plant creatures playing by tossing a bucket back and forth with their noses.
They began passing Baku as well and he flew about along with the sprays of water the plant creatures created.
Heo began to applaud and she realized Diana was looking at her with a smile. Having such a familiar person watching her made her blush a little.
“U-um, what is it?”
“Heo, are you having fun?”
Heo then remembered why she was here.
That morning, they had fought Yonkichi, lost, and been caught in a landslide.
Thunder Fellow had cancelled their combination, so she had not been damaged by the landslide. However, the earlier tumbling that had knocked over the trees had been a different story.
The armor had displaced and buffered against the impact, so she had not been badly injured. Still, she had gained some bruises and scrapes. UCAT had quickly retrieved them and the morning had been spent healing them and examining them. She had taken healing medication in place of lunch and Diana had brought her and Mikage here.
Hiba had broken some ribs, but he had not been otherwise injured because the house had ridden atop the landslide. He had been given charms to set the ribs in place and heal them and then he had left for school.
Mikage was almost entirely unharmed because Hiba had protected her, but…
“Is Harakawa okay?”
He had apparently been bruised and whiplashed like her, but it seemed he had skipped out on his treatment early.
To her left, Diana laughed quietly and swept her damp hair backwards.
“How about we talk, Heo?”
She nodded and lined up next to Diana who was smiling with a towel wrapped around her.
“You saw Harakawa leave, didn’t you, teacher? Was he mad?”
“Why do you think he was?”
“Because I didn’t take the battle seriously enough. And that’s why-…”
“If he was angry with anyone, it was with himself.”
Heo tilted her head.
“There’s something else you’re even more interested in, isn’t there?” asked Diana.
“Wh-what is that?”
“Well.” Diana nodded. “You have Baku with you and he showed you the past, didn’t he? …Do you have anything to ask me?”
Indirectly connected via the bathwater, the teacher asked her student a question.
“Don’t you want to ask about the Great Kansai Earthquake?”
Heo lowered her head and gave a small nod.
…I want to know about my past and what led up to it.
What had happened to her parents?
What had happened in the city of Osaka?
What had happened in this world?
She wanted to ask all those things, but…
“Will you answer me, teacher?”
“To be honest, I can’t. We all decided to keep the events there a secret. But…”
Still facing forward, the witch crossed her legs in the water and rested her head on her hand.
“I can’t stop you from investigating it. And if you do find the truth, then I can only say that the past wanted to be known. But what about the past do you want to investigate?”
“I want to know what my parents were fighting in Osaka and why they were fighting.”
She pulled up her right knee and wrapped her arms around it.
“I’m thinking about why Sayama said Team Leviathan should disband. After all, I don’t know what that reason is. It hasn’t been long since I joined Team Leviathan…no, since I started fighting. But if I learned why my parents fought…”
“You think you could accept why you belong on Team Leviathan?”
She remembered the thought she had on the night when she had seen Black Sun vanish in the sky.
…I want to be like them.
“That is why I think I will investigate it. I will investigate and find the truth. I believe doing that will lead me to the reason I want.”
“Do you know how to do that?”
“You won’t answer even if I ask and I doubt Team Leviathan’s supervisor would either.”
“No, Itaru is probably the last one who would tell you. In which case-…”
Heo cut off Diana with words of her own.
“There are some people who look like they will tell us.”
She raised her right hand from the green water and that hand’s fingers had bandages attached.
The scrapes on her arm were vanishing, but some traces of the pain remained in her. She spoke as if to ensure she did not forget that pain.
“Those four brothers.”
Those four wished for a fight. In all honesty, she did not like the idea of fighting someone who, even for a short time, had been an ally, but…
“We have to fight them.”
“No, you don’t.”
Heo turned toward that opposite invitation and found Diana’s smile.
“At the very least, I doubt your parents would want you to say that you have to fight.”
She thought about what that meant, but she shook her head with the ends of her eyebrows lowered in a smile.
“Thank you, but I have another thought. If Team Leviathan had not disbanded and the others were with us, we might have been able to sort out the reason for that fight.”
To help her gather her thoughts, she reached out her hands as if grasping at the air.
“Um… This morning, I hesitated and got hurt, but our opponents are fighting to eliminate their grudge. That’s why these injuries were caused by my hesitation, not by their grudge. Now that I know that, I want to test myself.”
She took a breath.
“I’ve never really fought someone, so I want to fight these people who wish to fight and I want to see if we can both find the answer we want.”
“And if you find an answer you don’t want?”
Heo smiled a little.
“If I am not prepared for that once we face each other, I think I will apologize to them and run away. I will apologize for being so inexperienced. Harakawa and the others might get mad at me, but it’s better than finding an answer I don’t want. And both Thunder Fellow and I are quite fast.”
“You are,” agreed Diana while rubbing her head.
The steam between her hair turned to water and weighed down that hair.
“In that case, you should focus on healing your wounds.”
“I will. While they heal, I plan to make dinner for tonight. Once I finish with that, Harakawa and the others should be finished at school. And if we leave then…”
“The brothers will attack, right?”
“Yes. To look at it positively, the past we want will be coming to us. That’s the opposite of Sayama and Shinjou who have to go search out their past. So if there is something we need to search out…”
She hesitated and felt she was going too far in saying this.
“It would be a battlefield and a way of defeating the past.”
Heo looked up at Diana’s word of praise.
She turned to her left and saw the same smile as when the woman had taught her long ago.
A moment later, she was embraced and had her head rubbed just as back then.
“An excellent answer, Heo. Heo Thunderson, daughter of Maria Thunderson and James Thunderson, and my student. An excellent destiny comes to those who can give an excellent answer. And the time for investigation is nigh. Rest, heal your wounds, and calm yourself until then.”
“Heo, it is crucial that you do not rush this. Rushing and wasting time is no match for a single excellent answer. You already gave an excellent answer, so now you only need to prepare for it. …I know. How about you take a walk through UCAT until you go to meet him? It is filled with strange animals, so it is quite an amusing place.”
“Hm? What is it, Heo? Are you still trying to rush this?”
“I can’t breathe.”
Diana let go of Heo who had been buried in her breasts. Heo frantically breathed in and felt her cheeks flush. She then thought about what Diana had said.
“But…is this really okay? We may have to fight, but I already made Harakawa mad by being so inexperienced this morning.”
Diana turned toward her with a smile.
“You’ll be fine, Heo.”
She looked past Heo to Mikage who sat to Heo’s right.
“Isn’t that right, Mikage?”
“Right. You will be fine.”
Heo turned around and saw Mikage stretching the plant creature’s cheeks outwards.
The girl turned her clear blue eyes toward her and opened her lips.
“You will be fine. You and Harakawa just don’t understand each other yet. You don’t understand your pasts, what it means to fight, or some other things. …But that just means that you have to learn those things, so you’ll be fine.”
“The one that isn’t fine is me.”
“R-really? B-but Hiba has fallen for you so hard he’s practically melted into a puddle on the floor. To me, it looks like he’s a pathetic monkey.”
“Yes, but…lately we haven’t been taking baths together. What about you, Heo?”
Heo frantically shook her head and tensed her shoulders.
“I’ve…never even thought about doing that.”
“Then you have a lot to look forward to.”
Mikage released the green creature into the water and waved as it looked reluctantly back at her.
“Lately, I’ve evolved.”
She brought her hands to her chest.
“The black lines are disappearing and color has filled in a lot of places. …I’m getting closer to being complete.”
A blue stone was embedded in Mikage’s chest, just below her neck. That must be the philosopher’s stone that brings about her evolution, thought Heo.
…She’s becoming human.
But the girl who was halfway between automaton and human smiled with the ends of her eyebrows lowered.
“But you know what? I’m a little scared.”
“Of what? If you evolve and become human, you can be with Hiba, right?”
“But I won’t change anymore.”
The answer to her question made Heo gasp.
Once she was human, she could no longer “become human”.
“What if Ryuuji-kun gets bored of me because I won’t change anymore? And what if my body isn’t what he was expecting? …That’s why I don’t want to let him see me. I used to let him see how different I was, but now…the thought of being different scares me.”
“D-don’t be. You have an excellent body and I don’t think Hiba will complain.”
“I don’t know what Ryuuji-kun likes and he might not tell me even if he had a complaint.”
“That’s-…” began Heo, but she swallowed the words.
This was not something for her to decide. It was Mikage’s issue.
However, Mikage smiled and narrowed her eyes.
“I doubt I am exactly what he wants. But that’s why I plan to have him to tell me if he’ll accept me and to praise the parts of me he likes. If he does, I think some of my fear of being seen will go away.”
Oh, thought Heo as she thought about the mixture of hope and anxiety filling Mikage’s heart.
“Mikage, do you know what that mixture of hope and anxiety is called?”
“You mean this desire to show off what I really am and yet also to hide what I really am?”
Heo thought and tried to express the idea as accurately as possible.
“It is called shame… Ow! T-teacher, why did you just grab my chest from behind!?”
“Heo? You are an excellent student, but you sometimes overthink things.”
However, Diana’s hands did not leave her chest and they moved as if to tickle her.
“Hm? Heo, did you just say ‘ow’?”
“Y-yes. What about it?”
Heo looked over her shoulder and saw Diana’s smiling face.
“Pain is a sign that you are growing and the skin is tight. You are going to get bigger.”
Mikage looked at her from the right and applauded.
“You have room to evolve too, Heo. That’s good. You still have a chance to gain what you lack.”
“Why doesn’t that make me happy?”
“Heo, answer me. Does the Harakawa boy like girls with large breasts?”
“Eh? P-probably. He always treats me like a child. …A-and I found some American dirty magazines in the back of his closet! He tried to claim Hiba asked for them, though! All of the girls in them were as big as you, teacher!”
“Heo? Mine are natural, so don’t put me in the same category.”
Heo obeyed. She did not entirely understand, but apparently people were proud of that after getting older. So I need to do my best, she told herself.
Meanwhile, Diana was still holding her chest while embracing her from behind.
“Now, you need to massage them a lot. That loosens up the skin and flesh, so it can more efficiently grow underneath. In other words, it helps your breasts to get bigger.”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“Maybe not lied, but you do have a habit of making oddly persuasive arguments like this.”
Diana responded by resting her smiling chin on Heo’s left shoulder and nodding.
She removed her left hand from Heo’s chest and held something in front of the girl.
“Is this a UCAT cellphone?”
“Yes. I thought this might happen, so I had it waterproofed. Now, Heo, this is necessary for you to recover your energy and that is necessary for UCAT as a whole. We are the only ones here, so listen to what I have to say.”
Diana’s voice reverberated through the bath.
“Confess to the Harakawa boy (Point Allocation: Your Life Plan).”
Harakawa was cutting wood for a festival stand on the school roof.
He was operating the jigsaw while holding the lumber on the block with a foot.
Sawdust scattered like spraying water, but he did not care since he wore sunglasses and used his bandanna in place of a mask.
After cutting the fourth piece, he looked around.
He stopped the jigsaw and heard hammering.
The rooftop was the closest work area for anything they could not bring into the classroom.
He also saw people from several other classes crouching or standing as they worked.
To make sure they did not have to use Ooki’s idea of a rest area for people to sleep in, his class had come up with a mobile ethnic café called the Angry Locals. They had managed to reuse the frame from their spring festival stand, so they had not needed to use Sayama’s place.
…It’s still a pain either way.
If he stayed at UCAT, everyone would annoy him about what had happened in the morning, but he would have nothing to do at home. His mother would complain if he visited her in the hospital without bringing Heo and his job at Yokota did not start until the evening.
Feeling he had no choice, he had gone to school.
He wondered what Heo was doing back at UCAT.
…I doubt the others will leave her alone.
The night before, she had said quite a lot after seeing that photograph of her great-grandfather. It had been like she thought talking was actively bringing her closer to the past.
But that isn’t how it works, thought Harakawa.
He had not told Heo about his father. When they had visited his grave a month before, he had simply said the man died during the Great Kansai Earthquake.
Thinking back, his grandfather had belonged to the American military, so he may have been part of UCAT too.
Sayama had said to search for their pasts if they wanted to know why Team Leviathan was disbanding, but Harakawa did not understand why that was necessary. Heo seemed to think it was worth looking into, but Harakawa did not like taking action without knowing why.
That was why he did not want to actively pursue the past.
…But what is this about?
A thought had occurred to him before the battle with Yonkichi.
He muttered to himself with the jigsaw hiding his voice.
“If we can still fight, disbanding or not makes no difference. …So why are we so hung up over the name ‘Team Leviathan’? And why did the treasurer protest?”
Even as he cut the lumber, he could not find the answer to his question.
…If I look into the past, will I find the answer?
“Will I find why we are Team Leviathan?”
He finished cutting the lumber. It fell in two pieces and he stopped the jigsaw.
…What does it all mean?
He muttered in his heart as he picked up the wood and his eyes met those of a girl painting a panel red.
“Harakawa-kun. You look like a hero in a battle between schools.”
He was holding pieces of lumber while wearing sunglasses and a bandanna mask.
“Then I’ll use this as my costume for the year-end festival in winter.”
“This school sure has a lot of festivals. Doesn’t the year-end festival begin on the twenty-first immediately after the closing ceremony?”
“Those in the dorms – especially the third years – tend not to be around during the third term. The year-end festival was supposedly started for the third years to have some fun for the last time, but at some point the first and second years joined in.”
“Well, we can prepare for it while the exams are being returned, so the timing works out. Speaking of the third years, what are that famous president and aggressive treasurer planning to do? You’re on the student council along with Sayama-kun, right?”
That reminded Harakawa of something. First, he had become the vice-president’s aide at some point. And second…
…That really depends on the president’s injuries and whether the treasurer can recover or not.
He activated the jigsaw and pressed it against a piece of lumber sitting on a chair.
“I haven’t heard anything. That’s a problem those two will settle on their own.”
“Oh? Quite the cool hero, aren’t you? …Now for a hotter topic of discussion. Since you’re living with your girlfriend, are you going to bring her to the school festival or the year-end festival?”
He pushed the jigsaw too hard and sliced straight through the chair along with the lumber.
The seat split in two, the metal legs clattered to the ground, and everyone’s focus turned to him.
“Wow,” said the classmate in surprise. “That sure got a reaction. I need to tell everyone the rumors are true.”
“Wait. Don’t go around spreading crazy rumors.”
“But you make food for her every day and she’s sleeping over at your place, right?”
He lifted the stopped jigsaw, removed his mask, and brushed up his disheveled hair.
“Listen. Heo is still a kid. She’s a long way off from my tastes.”
“Wow. Just Heo? No honorifics or anything? And you’re underestimating girls, Harakawa-kun. We change day by day.”
“Is that so? I’ll remember that. Thank you very much, classmate who is more mature than me.”
He reached for a new piece of lumber, but the cellphone in his pocket rang. Everyone looked at him and the classmate girl spoke.
“Go ahead. Your girlfriend is calling.”
“It is not-…”
He checked the number, but it was not from Heo. Relieved, he answered.
“This is Harakawa.”
“Oh, H-Harakawa? I-it’s Heo.”
What is going on? he wondered while clicking his tongue and running to the landing of the emergency staircase. He ignored his classmate’s call of “good luck” behind him.
“What is this? Why are you calling from someone else’s phone?”
“Eh? Oh, I’m in UCAT and…um…I borrowed my teacher’s phone.”
“I see. So what is it? Tell me what you want, Heo Thunderson. I am very busy.”
He reached the emergency staircase, but he continued down because people were working there too.
Once he reached the second story landing where the student council often gathered, the working students vanished, so he leaned against the railing.
“What is it?”
“Oh, right. Um. You see? This is hard to say and I’ve been keeping it to myself before, but…uh…”
“Again, what is it?”
He heard her gulp and it was obvious she was trying to say something.
With Diana to her left, Mikage to her right, and the plant creatures all around, Heo sat motionless in the bath.
She could blame the heat of the bath for her racing pulse.
She could blame the heat of the bath for the warmth in her face.
She could blame the heat of the bath for the excitement in her heart.
…I-I am not nervous.
She gathered her resolve and began by saying “um”.
“If you don’t need anything, I’m going to hang up. You’re trying to heal, right? Focus on that, Heo Thunderson.”
“No, um, this is part of my rehabilitation.”
“Talking with me is? Or are you trying to make some kind of decision?”
“Y-yes.” She nodded and made up her mind. “Um, Harakawa. I, uh…”
She had something she needed to say. As soon as she opened her mouth to say it, Diana leaned in excitedly and her breasts pressed against Heo’s left back and shoulder. The sensation brought a new idea to Heo’s mind and it escaped her mouth.
“Do you like breasts!?”
Harakawa frowned at what Heo asked over the cellphone.
Alone on the emergency exit landing, he removed the phone from his ear and tilted his head while staring at it.
…Did her injuries from the battle this morning make her go insane?
No, wait, he thought. Not even Heo would ask that so openly if she meant it sexually. She’s shy about things like that. For some reason, she’s been blessed with the luck to end up naked quite a lot, but she doesn’t want that kind of thing herself.
There was a reason he had so readily suspected her of asking something like that.
…I’ve been surrounded by so many openly stupid people of late.
Heo was not like Izumo, Sayama, Hiba, or the others. She had a habit of jumping to the wrong conclusion or overthinking things, but Harakawa knew she was generally a smart girl.
He had also been rejecting her a little lately. That day in particular, he had left for school without waiting for her to wake from her treatment. He decided it would be wrong to simply doubt her.
“Okay, let’s settle this problem, Heo Thunderson. Think carefully. …What exactly do you mean?”
“I-I mean exactly what I said. Um… Do you like…breasts?”
…Exactly what she said? So I’m supposed to take it literally?
Has she gone insane or been infected by the Team Leviathan disease? he wondered while holding the phone up in the sky for fear of being infected himself.
He frowned and groaned a little as a certain memory came back to him.
…I asked her to make fried chicken for dinner.
This was Heo, so she was probably taking Sayama seriously and using UCAT’s facilities to investigate her past. She needed to adapt to her surroundings, so she may have decided to make dinner for the others as well.
That dinner would be fried chicken.
In that context, breasts would indeed be my preference, he thought while nodding and bringing the phone back to his ear.
“Heo, Heo Thunderson. Listen carefully.”
“What is it?”
“Well.” He nodded. “You’re talking about tonight, right?”
“Eh? Th-the night? …Yes, I suppose it would happen at night. You could say that. It’s definitely too soon to start during the daytime.”
He nodded again. Some of what she was saying sounded strange, but that was likely an after effect of her injuries. At any rate, it seemed she really was talking about the fried chicken for dinner.
Also, he often heard about people having to cook as part of their rehabilitation. Experiencing a familiar flavor could bring back one’s memories or senses.
“Um, Harakawa?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m fine, Heo Thunderson. Sorry, I was lost in thought for a bit there. …And yes, breasts are the way to go. Thighs are a close second,” he said. “But breasts are definitely the best.”
The three girls leaned forward in the bath for no real reason and they exchanged a glance.
“The Harakawa boy is surprisingly open with his sexuality.”
“Ryuuji-kun likes them too, so do all guys like big breasts?”
“Heh heh. Mikage, that is normal from a biological standpoint. A preference for small breasts goes against one’s biology.”
“T-teacher, I have a feeling it isn’t that cut-and-dried an issue.”
“…? Heo, is someone there with you?” asked Harakawa.
“Eh? No, there isn’t.”
She pressed the phone against her ear.
“A-anyway, Harakawa. About breasts… How much do you think is enough?”
“Good question. …Two is usually good for me.”
“Y-yes, two would be good. That is the standard number. B-but what about size?”
“Most anyone would be happy if they’re big enough to grab in both hands and take a big bite.”
Diana tilted her head.
“Take a big bite? The Harakwa boy certainly is crude. …And he doesn’t seem to understand this isn’t an issue of ‘most anyone’! We’re talking about Heo’s breasts, so his opinion is what-…”
“T-teacher, calm down and please don’t get so excited about my breasts. Also, I think he’s only being so crude because the battle this morning messed with his brain.”
“Right. Ryuuji-kun is sometimes like that every morning.”
“I see. Heo, then you say something to make up for what he lacks.”
“Okay.” Heo motivated herself. “U-um, Harakawa. When you ‘take a bite’, uh…”
“But even if I say ‘big’, more than three hundred grams is probably too much,” he said.
“That’s awfully specific.”
“Now, Heo, do you know how to prepare them?”
She almost asked what he meant by “prepare”, but she recalled what Diana had said about her breasts growing and how to prepare them for that.
“By massaging them?”
“I can help you if you want, but it would best if you did it yourself. Do you know what to put on them?”
“U-um… I’m not really sure about that.”
“It doesn’t have to be too specific, but remember this. …Start by drizzling some lemon juice on them.”
“A-a liquid!? Does that give vitamins for the skin!? Does it help the collagen!?”
“It’s necessary, so don’t make fun. …Now, for the next step, you’ll need salt, pepper, and a little bit of sugar.”
“Y-you need salt and pepper to massage them!? And sugar too!?”
“Yes, if you rub that into them at the start, they’ll be a lot more flavorful when you bite into them.”
Heo pictured it in her head and started to feel dizzy.
…So this is the world of adults.
Mother, father, great-grandfather, I just took three steps at once up the stairway of adulthood.
She almost collapsed, but Diana and Mikage supported her.
“Heo, Heo. Stick with it. Just a little further.”
“That’s right. If you put in the effort here, I’m sure it will make Harakawa happy.”
“O-okay. I’ll do my best.”
The plant creatures sticking their heads out from the water absorbed her excess heat and expelled oxygen. The bath turned into a jacuzzi, but the creatures seemed unable to keep up because they appeared troubled as they looked back and forth.
“Lots and lots! But…too much?”
Confident that everyone was supporting her, Heo took a breath, adjusted her grip on the phone, pressed it to her ear, and spoke as if it was a challenge to be overcome.
“H-Harakawa? In other words, I massage the flesh with the salt and pepper?”
“Right. And once you’ve rubbed that in, you add a beaten egg and massage it in as well.”
She felt something below her nose.
The towel Diana had been wearing pressed against her nose.
“Don’t worry, Heo. Not far now.”
“Anyway,” said Harakawa. “The rest is the same as normal. My mother actually uses some herbs as well, but you have to get the details just right with those and I don’t really remember the specifics. Maybe I’ll ask her sometime.”
“O-okay. I-if this massage technique comes directly from your mother, I’m sure it will be enough to satisfy you. I’ll do my best.”
“I’m not sure why you’re putting so much effort into this, Heo Thunderson, but don’t get too worked up, okay?”
He suddenly asked about something else entirely.
“Heo… Are you planning to investigate the past?”
She looked up, exchanged a glance with a plant creature that raised its head, and tilted her head along with it.
“Why are you asking? Last night, it seemed like you didn’t want to be a part of that.”
“I would rather not if I don’t have to. I’d probably end up saying something that threw cold water on your fun.”
“No! P-please be a part of it!”
The words seemed to flow out of her gut.
“I don’t want anyone but you to help! I’d be happy with whatever you might say, so you can say whatever you want. I might cry if it’s too harsh, but…but I know you’ll support me, so…”
“Sometimes I have to translate what you say to make it understandable, Heo Thunderson. Anyway…”
She heard him sigh before continuing.
“I’ll be there at around five. Have dinner ready and your wounds healed by then, Heo Thunderson. There’s something that’s been bothering me.”
“What is that?”
“It’s a ridiculous question about what exactly Team Leviathan is.”
He hung up there.
She thought about his last words as she listened to the dial tone.
…He’s been thinking about the same thing.
She nodded in her heart, but another question came to her.
…Wh-when should I massage my chest?
Should she do it on her own or ask for his help once he arrived?
Those two options quickly sank deep within her.
“Ah, Heo!? Are you okay, Heo?”
She did not have the energy or wherewithal to answer, so she simply passed out and sank into the bubbling water.
After hanging up, Harakawa sighed and leaned back against the landing’s railing.
“Well, at least you have plenty of energy, Heo Thunderson.”
She had said no one else was with her, but that was a blatant lie since she had borrowed the German inspector’s phone.
He was having a lively day as well, so he had no complaint about that.
He glanced over at the wall covered in the sand that blew up from the schoolyard.
Suddenly, the light hit the wall just right and he thought he saw writing.
This would be the work of the people who came here often, so it had to have been Sayama’s group. However, he had eaten lunch with them here a few times, but he did not remember anyone mentioning the wall.
In that case, who had written in the sand on the wall and then hidden it?
…Was it Sayama?
With that thought, he tried to see if there really was writing there at all, but…
The emergency exit opened and two people stepped out. One was Hiba with a bandage on his cheek and the other was…
“The art club president?”
The usual cat was missing, but she had the bird on her head and she gestured him over.
“Come with me. I have something to discuss. We need to come up with a way of defeating those four brothers.”
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