Owari no Chronicle:Volume6 Chapter 17
Chapter 17: Afternoon Space
Where is that which you seek?
Where is the one who you seek?
Three mountain ranges existed to the west of Tokyo.
The Okutama mountain range was the farthest north, the Akigawa valley travelled south from the Okutama hills to Akigawa, and the Hachioji and Takao mountain range was south of the Akigawa valley.
A highway travelled east to west deep in the mountains of Hachioji. A major road ran through the southern part of Hachioji to allow passage to Kanagawa, so it was a convenient area for transportation despite being mountainous.
Long ago, Hachioji had been well known for its many spinning factories. Afterwards, other industries had prospered, but the remains of the obsolete factories still existed in the mountains.
One such factory was hidden in the mountains yet was built on a large plot of land.
Despite being abandoned, both the land and the road leading to it were maintained.
At the time of day when the afternoon sun permeated the mountain with heat and the cries of cicadas filled the air, a small figure stepped onto the old factory’s land.
She was a girl wearing a short-sleeved safari dress and a straw hat.
She held a large wicker basket in her right hand as she entered the empty land in front of the factory.
As she did, she raised her left hand with a chain around the middle finger. The end of the chain fell down toward her palm and contained a blue stone.
She looked around to make sure no one else was around and stepped forward.
—Minerals are alive.
An instant later, her surroundings had completely changed.
The crying of the cicadas was gone and the air smelled faintly of oil.
Most noticeable of all, the factory before her was no longer abandoned.
It was just as well-used, but it was clearly still in use. Heat-resistant boards were laid out around the building and a large number of people in work uniforms were sitting around in the building’s shadow.
The tape in an old cassette player was playing a radio recording from the previous night.
The DJ giving his recollection of the Showa era provided background noise as the elderly work supervisor gave his own commentary to the younger workers.
The girl jogged toward the factory’s large main entrance that stood open, but she turned toward the building’s shade before entering.
“I made some snacks.”
The workers raised their hands in joy, but the elderly supervisor stood up.
“Shino-san, hot tea is best when it’s hot. Do you have any? These guys need it most. I can’t have them getting too exhausted.”
“Yes. I had a feeling you would say that.”
The younger workers gave groans of protest, but the old supervisor quieted them down with a glare.
Shino smiled at all of them.
“I also have some cold drinks.”
“Shino-san, don’t spoil them. They’re already too slow as it is.”
“Sometimes you need to relax.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” agreed the young workers with smiles.
Shino set down the basket, pulled out what she had made, and placed it on a sheet she spread out.
She set down some honey-preserved lemons and bottles of frozen sports drinks. The candy was homemade. She also had peanut butter sandwiches that were a tad small but would feel like plenty to someone with an empty stomach.
But the main attraction was the tea and the youkan. Shino sliced up the latter, but the young workers began reaching in before she was done and the old supervisor raised his voice.
“Don’t be greedy, you brats! And the bottom edge belongs to Shiho-san. Don’t you dare touch it.”
She smiled bitterly and used her daily experience to neatly divide it even for an odd number of people.
With the eagerly waiting workers behind her, she stuck a toothpick into each piece of youkan.
Something arrived on four running legs.
It was a dog.
The large white dog was as tall as her waist and it ran over impatiently.
The dog playfully rubbed up against her head. It happily pushed her around and pressed against her, but the surrounding workers all stopped moving.
She followed their gazes and looked at her feet. A shadow stretched out at her crouched feet, but only her shadow.
A closer look at Shiro showed the dog was slightly transparent.
Shino then looked toward her own chest.
The chain hanging from her neck spilled from her collar and to her chest. A blue stone was attached to the chain and it was currently giving off a blue light.
“That’s a troubling light, Shino-san,” said the old supervisor. “But he likes you, so don’t be cruel.”
Shino smiled with the ends of her eyebrows lowered.
“I can communicate with and give form to minds of various types. This is the power I inherited, so it doesn’t bother me. And Shiro will come for me even if I don’t call for him. Like he did that one time.”
Shino turned toward the entrance to the factory grounds.
Beyond the border of the concept space was a gate in the real world. The gate was opened, but a stone lay next to the road and to one side of the gate.
The oblong stone was about the size of a weight stone used for pickling and covered in moss, but a water dish and flowers were placed in front of it.
“When we first let him out of here, I was so excited to be his owner that I ran right out into the road. And then…”
“Don’t worry too much, Shino-san. Shiro is still alive. This is his home and your surroundings are his territory.”
“Yes. I still remember what Mikoku promised me back then.” She smiled toward the ground. “She promised to one day…one day create a world that can conquer death.”
She reached a hand over Shiro’s shoulder and the dog licked it.
She could feel the lick, but she knew it was nothing more than the power of her stone. The dog’s form was created by the concept power that the stone produced through her.
“Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m using this power on all of you as well.”
“Don’t worry, Shino-san. Sometimes you make food that isn’t very good, but you can tell when you see these guy’s faces, can’t you? If you were controlling us with your concept, we’d always be happy with the food.”
She and Shiro looked back and saw awkward looks on a few of the workers’ faces.
Not knowing how to react, she smiled bitterly and they did the same.
“Um… When that happens, please scold me. I’ll feel better that way.”
“But…uh… We couldn’t possibly… Oh, supervisor! You eat the food too, so you can do it!”
“Don’t be stupid. I was born during the war. It’d take a lot for me to complain about the food. Also…”
He looked to the east. The city of Takao was visible through the trees and the city of Hachioji was wrapped in a bit of heat haze even further along.
“She’s the adoptive daughter of the people who took me and this factory in after it looked like there was no hope left. If she served me poison, I’d eat it.”
“Supervisor! You say that, but you always make sure you’re first in line after Shino-san for the youkan!”
“Pay attention, you fools. My diabetes test came back positive. I’m risking my life here.”
“U-um, supervisor? That’s actually really serious.”
Shino began wondering if she could make a low-sugar youkan.
While he continued looking toward Hachioji, a smile appeared on the corner of the supervisor’s mouth.
“Well, however it happened, this is funny. This factory is almost entirely filled with people from other worlds and I’m the only one from this world. My family thinks I just like messing around with old junk,” he said. “Anyway, Shino-san, did you know that Hachioji, this city west of Tokyo, was bombed during World War Two?”
“Strange, isn’t it? With all the spinning factories, it was pouring smoke into the air as it made cloth during the war. But that must’ve made them look like military factories. In the early morning of August 2, 1945, 170 B-29s dropped 67,000 napalm bombs and killed more than 400 people. Over eighty percent of the city was burned away.”
The old supervisor reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette.
He lit a match despite the fuel and oil tanks around him.
“And that’s not all. On August 5 when the evacuation train was restarted after the bombing, it was hit by a Grumman air raid on the Takao tunnel. They sprayed machinegun fire on the crowded train and killed about 900.”
As he spoke calmly, he breathed in the cigarette smoke and exhaled.
“But even after all that, no real help came. Not even from that special unit in Okutama.”
“After hearing about them from Hajji, I realized they might have been able to do something with the concept powers they had. I know I’m just complaining and I have a family now, but I still think there needs to be some kind of protest.” He smiled and grabbed the cigarette. “Don’t tell Mikoku. She might not look it, but that girl can be too considerate.”
“You don’t have to worry about that as long as you don’t say anything.”
Shino stood up and stroked Shiro’s back.
“I’d like you to show me around Hachioji sometime.”
“These youngsters could introduce you to some better places. Unless you want people to think you’re looking after your grandfather or something.” The supervisor pointed toward the back of the building. “More importantly, Mikoku is over there. She’s training with Tatsumi before heading to Kurashiki tonight. Such nonsense.”
“What about Alex?”
“His weapons haven’t been attached yet, but he should be ready. He’ll make it in time to get what you’re after. If all these youngsters actually do their job, that is.”
The younger workers groaned in protest, but he spoke over them.
“At any rate, we’ve waited ten years for this. The Army is finally beginning to move.”
The green of the trees was almost blue.
The sun could be seen descending beyond the trees, but the brightness of that summer sunlight had not waned.
Two figures stood in the forest’s harsh contrast of light and shadow.
A young man in white led the way.
His long blond hair waved behind him as he walked through the forest without breaking a sweat.
A woman with semi-long black hair followed him. She frowned and had the bottom of her white clothes tied to the side.
“Hey, rich boy,” she called out to the man. “Where are you taking me?”
“Well, you see.” He stopped and did not turn toward her. “Miyako, I am letting you escape.”
Miyako stopped behind him, but he checked to either side regardless.
“This isn’t easy. The maids might be watching from somewhere.”
“And if they are?”
“They’ll scold me.”
He turned toward her and smiled, but Miyako could tell he was lying. The smile did not reach his eyes.
There had to be more to this. They had automatons who could erase memories, supply memories, and control gravity. That had to be kept a secret and that applied to their master as well.
…If I’m spotted escaping, I’d be the only one punished.
Then why was he checking their surroundings?
Realizing why he was doing it, she clicked her tongue.
“Thanks, rich boy.”
“Pease call me Apollo, Miyako. You gave the automatons names, yet you are still referring to me by a title for nobles.”
“Rich boy isn’t a title for nobles.”
“Really?” He placed a hand on his forehead. “But the common language concept is telling me it refers to the son of a wealthy family.”
“There’s sometimes a hidden nuance to words. But if you don’t get it, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.”
“If you say so.”
His eyes bent in a smile.
What a nonthreatening idiot, she thought. Well, I guess it’s better than an idiot who’s always looking around suspiciously like me.
She had a feeling Moira 1st and the others did not refer to him as “lord” simply out of obligation.
…At the very least, I don’t feel like deceiving him.
She sighed inwardly.
“So what made you feel so sorry for me that you’re letting me escape?”
“To put it simply, you’re too much trouble.”
He gave his mouth-only smile once more.
That’s a lie, she thought, but she made sure not to let her thoughts show.
“That’s not a surprise.” She shrugged. “I ignored your intentions and gave names to your maids. I can’t complain if you kick me out.”
“I’m glad you understand.”
Apollo’s face looked somehow pale.
It may have simply been the shadows of the trees. After all, they had only walked around a small mountain. It had not been enough for her to be out of breath and he was a man.
…I’m worrying too much.
“So how do I get out of here?”
“This concept space has a weakened boundary. The farther out you go, the weaker the concept gets. The life of machines should be fairly weak here. The final line is a few meters ahead.”
Apollo pulled a metal rod from his cloak. He swung it and it extended into a staff.
“To break through that line, hold this and walk straight through.”
“Oh? But, um, I left all my stuff here.”
“Don’t worry. I have your…is this a change purse?”
“Don’t be stupid. That’s every last yen I own.”
“My apologies. This world uses paper money, doesn’t it? It must not have many resources.”
“You must not have many brain cells. Watch carefully. If you take this bill and fold the part with the face like this and then like this… Look, from below he’s smiling and from above he’s crying.”
She held it out and Apollo stared intently at it.
After a while, he turned around and his shoulders shook.
That was a complete failure, she thought to herself.
“If you want to laugh at my stupidity, don’t hold back, you idiot.”
“Th-that isn’t it. I was just realizing how soft Low-Gear’s culture is.”
“If you’re trying to be tactful, try harder. And I had more possessions than just this.”
“Yes, I have the rest too. Here is your underwea- gfh!!”
Miyako stepped forward, elbowed him in the side, and swiped the two pieces of white cloth. She clenched her back teeth and spat words at the curled-up and cloaked back.
“I see Sun God Apollo is just as perverted as the myths say.”
“Is that what you say about me in this world?”
“Yeah, and that you got along a little too well with your sister. Have you never heard of morals?”
“3rd-Gear had no other choice. I was the only one left with the ability to have children, so I attempted to do so with many different women, extracted their concepts and wills into the Concept Core, and turned them into gods of war. …It was all on my father’s instructions.”
“You just do what your superiors tell you to do?” she spat back.
Miyako sighed inwardly.
…We’re a lot alike, so I’m not one to talk. In fact, I didn’t even get to the point of having superiors telling me what to do. I was rejected at the interview.
But Apollo did not protest. He only lowered the ends of his eyebrows and stood up.
“Family was not off limits, so Artemis was indeed tested at the very end.”
The phrase “at the very end” caught Miyako’s attention. She wondered why he would save his sister for last.
…Normally, wouldn’t you test someone that important before anyone else so they would not be taken from you?
…Was he afraid of finding out it wouldn’t work?
She felt bad for speculating about this.
Moira 1st had not told her what had become of Artemis.
Zeus and the others had taken back Rhea’s daughter, split the Concept Core in two, given one half to Typhon, and given one half to Typhon’s weapon named Keravnos. But Keravnos had been stolen in an attack by Low-Gear. With half the Concept Core gone, 3rd-Gear had been destroyed.
She did not know what had happened to Artemis, but she did not seem to be around anymore.
“I don’t really understand everything, but do your best for your sister’s sake too.”
A weak smile formed on only Apollo’s lips.
He’s lying, she realized again.
She did not know why he was lying, but she knew that smile indicated a lie.
She considered asking further, but he was trying to have her leave. She decided not to pursue the truth because she might be nothing more than a brief visitor here.
“But what will you do from now on?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Hold up. How can this place last with a master like that? You can use that giant white god of war, right?”
“I’m not the one piloting it.”
“Then who is? Aren’t you the only human in that base?”
“Even so, I’m not the one piloting it.”
“I see,” she said with a nod.
All of them were tightlipped about Typhon. She was not going to receive an answer by asking about it here, so she sighed.
“Well, you’ll be fighting people from my world, won’t you? And you won’t stop if I ask you to.”
“No. We have our reasons. As I’m sure you are aware.”
Hearing that, Miyako asked about something she was curious about.
“Is your opponent Rhea’s child?”
After a short pause, Apollo nodded.
There was no smile on his lips, so Miyako believed him.
That quiet gave her an urge to run away. She sensed that, unlike him, she belonged to a world that knew nothing of fighting.
She opened her mouth and made a joke.
“So if you win, will you marry her?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Miyako frowned because it sounded like he had only just realized that fact.
“You’ve never thought about it before? How can you continue on if you don’t think about things like that?”
“I’m not the one fighting. I suppose it was due to relying on someone else that I had not thought about it much. …But this is a bit of a problem. I had been thinking about moving somewhere else once we won this fight.” He looked out toward the city of Kurashiki. “There are even more cities, mountains, and oceans beyond this city, aren’t there?”
“Of course there are.”
“I see.” He looked relieved. “My grandfather told me this was a large world. I’d like to see those things first. I want to see the world with the morning sun washing over me. Having a wife by my side would make it even better.”
“Stop getting lost in fantasy. Isn’t that only if you win?”
“Yes. And our opponent is strong.”
He went on to ask a question.
“Did you see Typhon and that black god of war fight?”
A certain scene appeared from Miyako’s memories. Typhon passed by the black god of war in the sky. Typhon suddenly changed its location and launched an attack on the other machine.
In the end, the black god of war had attacked with lightning, but Typhon had endured it.
“Is that black one really that dangerous an opponent?”
“It is just as powerful as Typhon. Although from a purely mechanical perspective, Typhon is stronger.”
“Then the black one can’t win,” she said while scratching at her head.
Try to sound more disappointed, she thought to herself.
But Apollo narrowed his eyes.
“It might be able to win.”
“That’s a good question. I don’t actually know. But my grandfather told me to leave everything to Low-Gear if Typhon is ever defeated by that black god of war.”
“The old man liked riddles, didn’t he? I don’t like it. So what are you supposed to do? If that black god of war defeats Typhon and kills you, is 3rd-Gear just gonna sell itself to Low-Gear?”
…Don’t be ridiculous.
“There won’t be any 3rd-Gear people left.”
“There is still Rhea’s daughter,” he pointed out.
“Rhea defected to Low-Gear! She joined this world. To us, that black god of war is the giant hero that faces the giant mechs of an evil organization.”
“I’m not sure what that means, but it is true that she is officially known as a resident of your world. But…”
She purposefully let her displeasure show and Apollo continued slowly.
“At the moment, that black god of war cannot possibly defeat Typhon and this will all be settled before long. I want to win if I can and we are currently in a position to win. Is there a problem with that?”
“No, you idiot. And if that’s your conclusion, why’d you even have to say the black one might win and start this whole argument in the first place? Stop confusing the issue and keep things simple. Say the other side’s strong, but it isn’t a problem.”
…Ahh, why am I lecturing this idiot?
She frowned and looked Apollo in the eye.
He looked back with a serious expression.
His eyes were the same yellow as Typhon’s eyes the other night, but the emotion there was different now.
What had that emotion been? She had a feeling Apollo knew the answer.
“Well, whatever. If I stay here arguing against your rich boy thought process, I’ll be here all day. …You want me to leave, right?”
“Yes.” The seriousness left his face and a smile formed on his lips. “I won’t force you, though. You were enjoying yourself while escaping reality with the maids, weren’t you?”
Those words triggered her rebellious side and her hand moved reflexively.
She snatched the metal staff from him and turned her back.
If she walked forward with this staff, it would all be over. Her clothes were ridiculous and she wore sandals instead of shoes, but she had underwear and her wallet. If she bought a T-shirt or something, she would look fine enough. If anyone looked at her oddly, she was used to getting people to back away with a glare.
…It’s time to leave.
She let out a snort toward the man behind her and began walking.
After the first step, her body naturally started forward.
There was no excess strength or guilt in her gait, so she gave a sigh of relief and continued forward.
She hesitated a bit when she thought about Moira 1st.
When giving the maids their names, she had been trying to make a nice change to their environment.
…But that was an unneeded bother for their master.
She decided to leave.
A strange conflict involved the master of this place and he did not seem to want her getting involved.
She recalled her continuing attempts to find a job. Right up until the last moment, she would think about the things to do if she joined that company, but she always left before it really started.
This is the same thing, she complained in her heart.
Apollo did not follow behind her. That irritated her, so she quickened her pace.
She suddenly stopped.
…What am I doing?
That thought began with her right hand holding the staff.
She felt heat in that hand.
During the day, she had repeatedly swung down the hoe. The heat in her grip was similar to pain.
She had used the hoe to dig up some dirt, placed the dirt in the pots, and planted the seeds the automatons had taken their names from.
Their pots were now lined up along the southern edge of the white building.
She had been a part of all that.
…Can I really just leave?
“Naïve”, “child’s play”, and other terms people had constantly said to her floated up in her mind.
But her focus shifted to the pain in her hand.
…I managed to accomplish something, didn’t I?
The automatons had taken their names and wanted her to use them. To record them perfectly, it was apparently best to have a trustworthy person use the name.
The approximately sixty faces she had memorized the night before had been matched to as many names.
The first automaton to be given its name, Violet, had then asked for her name.
She had once more answered “Miyako”.
Her father had given her that name so that a great many people would gather around her.
She thought about her own name and the name the automatons had started calling her.
…Was I trying to escape my name?
It took her a moment to answer. Many different thoughts appeared in her mind, but she discarded them in an instant.
She was good at cutting through to a clear answer. She was also good at regretting and forgetting.
She turned her stopped feet backwards. She frowned, clenched her teeth, and likely had a terribly grim expression, but she knew that was to hide her true thoughts.
And even if she tried to hide it, she did have true thoughts behind it.
So she made a certain decision.
…I’ll stay here.
“There has to be something I’ve left undone.”
She turned around to say something to Apollo. He was trying to have her leave, so she wanted to somehow gain his permission to stay.
But she saw something unexpected.
He was sitting on the ground where he had been standing a moment before.
It looked like he had sunk down into the grass and he did not seem to be breathing.
“What are you doing, you idiot?”
She walked, ran, and hurried over while tossing aside the metal staff.
…What’s going on?
Weren’t only machines supposed to grow weak by the concept space’s boundary?
She ran over and hurriedly sat next to him. He was sweating profusely, his breathing was shallow, and his face was almost completely white.
She had not been seeing things when he had looked pale earlier.
As soon as she spoke, she felt as if all strength left her legs.
She looked down and the grassy ground was shaking.
In that instant, she noticed that she and Apollo were near the edge of a cliff in the forest.
And the ground was crumbling out from under them and toward the slope.
A certain wooden room was about six square meters, had shelves of baskets on the wall, and had a scale and refrigerator.
The refrigerator said “Tamiya Family Property – No Modifications” on the side.
This was the changing room for the Tamiya house’s men’s bath. The clock on top of the shelves said 5:50 PM.
A figure entered through the sliding door to the right of the clock.
It was Shinjou.
She held a blue yukata and wore her school uniform.
She looked around to make sure the room was empty and then opened the frosted glass door to the bath.
She saw a tiled bath beyond the warm and humid air. The washing area was about six square meters and the fairly deep tub was just as large. The washing area had four faucets and showers, so she assumed the bath was usually used in shifts of four.
“Does your average house have a bath like this?”
She was only familiar with the large bath for UCAT employees and the even larger public bath named Eternal Sunflower, so she did not know how to judge the Tamiya family’s bathing space.
…I never expected to spend the night here.
It was due to the destruction of Hiba’s house.
Izumo and Hiba were staying in Sayama and Shinjou’s dorm room while Mikage and Kazami stayed in Izumo and Kazami’s dorm room. Someone had suggested letting Hiba and Mikage share a room, but the first term had only just ended and a lot of students had yet to return home. Izumo and Sayama had discussed it and reached the following conclusion.
“It’d start rumors if a first year and a blonde were seen entering the room of someone as well-known for his idiocy as Sayama.”
“You fool. If they were seen entering the room of a certain violent couple, people would think it was some new kind of bedroom play.”
From there, they had all settled on the current arrangement.
Mikage had looked discouraged which bothered Shinjou, but she had seemed to calm down a bit once Izumo had given her a diary from the things collected beneath the destroyed house.
When Shinjou imagined the diary as being like her binder, she felt a sense of relief.
…Everyone has something like that, don’t they?
“Yeah,” she said before closing the glass door to the deserted bath.
She went around to all the clothes baskets just in case, but they were all empty. There was truly no one in the bath.
Kouji and the others were in the kitchen preparing dinner for the night shift.
She and Sayama had eaten early and Sayama had gone to the living room to read the newspaper, but he had disappeared at some point.
If she wanted to safely take a bath, this was her chance. After all, this house was always under the influence of Sayama space. She needed to quickly finish her bath and get to sleep early in preparation for the training camp the next day.
She reached to the other side of the sliding door and placed a sign saying “in use by guest” on the outside column.
After that, she silently removed her clothes. She removed her shirt, pants, underwear, and socks to reveal her skin.
Setsu’s body appeared from below the clothing.
She reached for a towel, loosely embraced her chest, and continued on. She opened the door to the steamy space.
The steam was much thicker than in the large baths she was used to and she quickly started sweating.
The sun was still setting outside the window. She could not see that light in the usual larger baths. She checked that the window was locked to ensure no one could peep and even checked the corners of the bath for hidden cameras.
She had the place to herself.
She crouched down as if covering her body with the steam and pulled over a nearby bath bucket.
It was quite heavy because it was already filled with water.
She had not seen anyone in the bath, yet the water was warm. Wondering why, she observed more closely.
Something familiar was floating in the bucket: Baku.
The small animal was practicing its flutter kick with its front paws on the edge of the bucket.
Shinjou frowned at the quiet splashing sounds. She looked around and even up at the ceiling, but…
“His owner isn’t here.”
Is Baku playing here on his own? she wondered.
Whatever the case, Sayama was definitely not here and she did not have time to hesitate.
“I need to finish my bath.”
She spoke aloud to herself, grabbed a different bath bucket, and leaned out over the tub.
She looked down and her eyes met with Sayama’s as he lay face up at the bottom of the tub.
Noticing her from the light blue tiles below the water, he raised a hand.
She even saw his mouth move as if giving a casual greeting.
Sayama responded to her shout by swiftly rising up and out of the water. Steam and water shot into the air and he brushed up his hair with his left hand.
“Phew. Why did you shout, Shinjou-kun? Did you see something strange?”
“Look in a mirror before asking that!”
Sayama turned toward the mirror on the bath’s side wall and then frowned.
“I see. So that is the problem.”
After his nonsensical comment, he fixed his wet bangs. He posed in front of the mirror, fixed his hair further, and then checked the shape of his face from an angle.
“That should be back to normal. You are surprisingly picky about appearances, Shinjou-kun.”
“Sure.” She nodded and smiled. “Um, Sayama-kun? I’ve discovered a fascinating new fact: you are insane!”
“This certainly is sudden. Calm down, Shinjou-kun. We can work out this misunderstanding. Do you have a question about something?”
“I’d rather not mention it for my sanity’s sake, but…why were you submerged at the bottom of the bath?”
“Oh, that.” He raised his right arm to show off the UCAT watch on his wrist. “I have been training my lung capacity since I was quite young. I am still a long ways off from my best time.”
“Since you were quite young?”
“Yes. I used to compete with my grandfather. He would say I could not come out until I had counted to one hundred and then that horrible old man would hold my head under the water until I almost died. Later when he was submerged, I dumped in a bunch of detergent to sterilize him. The scene of him rampaging around in the bubbles was straight out of a monster movie. …Old people these days are all so horrible. Fortunately, their numbers were recently reduced by one.”
“I think someone is quickly growing into a decent replacement for him.”
“Ha ha ha. Do not worry. I am from a much higher caste than him.”
Shinjou felt that was reason enough to worry, but then he asked another question.
“Is there anything else you wish me to explain?”
“Um… Well, your clothes weren’t in the changing room.
“How very strange. I put them in the refrigerator like always.”
“What do you mean ‘like always’!?”
“It says ‘Tamiya Family Property’, doesn’t it? It actually functions as a safe. It used to be in the kitchen, but the key was lost for half a year. The contents were a sight to behold after that, let me tell you.”
“Okay, I think I understand the situation. …I was wrong to expect common sense from you inside the Sayama space.”
She turned her back, realizing it was all over. She could not take a bath now. She also decided to be cautious around the refrigerators in the house. With that decided, her smile began to look forced.
But then a figure appeared through the glass door leading into the bath. Shinjou only saw the color of flesh with a pink towel wrapped around it.
“Yahoo, Setsu-chan? I’m here to wash your back.”
As Shinjou spoke up in confusion, a small wind suddenly wrapped around her.
In no time, her body changed into Sadame.
She gasped just as the door began to open.
She frantically grabbed the frosted glass door to prevent Ryouko from opening it.
“Huh? Does this door not fit the frame right?”
“Th-that isn’t the problem! U-um, Sayama-kun!! Sayama-kun, um…!”
“What is it, Shinjou-kun. It is only Ryouko. There is no need to put up such a struggle.”
“No need? B-but we can’t let her see us!”
Ryouko reacted to that shout.
“Setsu-chan? What do you mean you can’t let me see you? Are the two of you doing something amazing?”
…A misunderstanding! How am I supposed to explain this? No, I have to avoid explaining it.
She had difficulty determining her priorities for various things and grew indecisive.
“Eh? Um, that isn’t it. You see… Why are you just watching, Sayama-kun!?”
“Lately, I have been wondering if I am being unintentionally rude to you, Shinjou-kun.”
“Th-this is no time to suddenly become considerate. Stop watching and get over here!”
“Ooh! I want to see, too! Let me in!!”
Ryouko began shaking the door like a monkey, but Shinjou endured.
“Ahh, Sayama-kun! Please grab on! Grab on and help me!”
“If you wish,” she heard him say.
A moment later, his hands firmly grabbed on…to her butt.
He firmly gripped her with fingers warmed from soaking in the bath and he spoke calmly.
“Shinjou-kun, I have grabbed on, but what should I do now? You asked me to help, but there is not much I can do from this position.”
“Sayama-kun, this is one of those unintentional things you were just mentioning. …Ahh! Stop it, Ryouko-san!”
As she shouted, new footsteps approached the changing room and the door leading into it slid open.
“Sister! What are you doing in the men’s bath!?”
“Hm? You have to ask, Kouji? I want to wash Setsu-chan’s back.”
“You do know Setsu-kun is a boy, right? And he is not a part of our family.”
“Don’t be silly, Kouji you little scamp. If he’s in our house, he’s part of our family.”
“Listen carefully. Different families have their own rules, so please try to abide by them when they are here. You can’t suddenly throw our way of doing things at them. Setsu-kun might never come back again.”
“Don’t worry. I have a waterproof camera to help convince him to come back. …Ahh! Why would you take it away!?”
“To keep you from committing a crime!!”
Ryouko could be heard groaning in thought, but she quickly spoke up cheerfully.
“Listen, Kouji, listen. Um, I think Setsu-chan is actually a lot like us.”
…She’s surprisingly perceptive.
But Shinjou’s thoughts did not reach Kouji. She heard him sigh.
“Sister, have you ever heard of common sense?”
“Of course. I got a 5 in Japanese language class.”
“As a percentage score I assume? Also, this is the men’s bath. As your aide, I cannot allow the president to corrupt the company’s morals.”
“Eh? You sure are strict, Kouji. I’m not doing work now, so I’m an individual instead of a president.”
“Fine, fine. Then I say the same thing as your brother. Leave, sister.”
“No fair!! Are you saying you’ll let the young master and Setsu-chan in the men’s bath but not me?”
“Yes, because those two are boys! Even if Setsu-kun would probably become a victim of something or other before making it five meters in the Bronx!”
Oh, so that’s how they see me, thought Shinjou with an odd sense of understanding. And Kouji is relatively normal, so it’s pretty convincing.
The strength on the other side of the door vanished and she could hear receding sounds of the elder sister struggling.
“Ah! Wait, Kouji! Are you really going to throw me out in nothing but a towel!? You can’t do this just because mom and dad are away bear-hunting in Karuizawa. Oh, c’mon!! I’m gonna give you tons of curses!!”
…I can’t believe she would say that.
Shinjou’s shoulders relaxed, she swept aside the hands admiring her butt from behind, and she grabbed a bath bucket.
“Um, Sayama-kun? Is it always like this?”
“Lively, isn’t it?”
She felt no reason to say otherwise, so she sighed and nodded.
After pouring water over herself and entering the tub, her entire body relaxed.
She took a breath and Sayama sat next to her. She felt the hot water soaking into her body, but she shrank back a bit once he sat there.
She wondered why and quickly found the answer.
…Come to think of it…
“U-um, this is the first time we’ve bathed together with Sadame’s body, isn’t it?”
Shinjou used her hands to hide her body in the water and Sayama smiled bitterly next to her.
“Relax. I will not do anything you do not want.”
She felt like expressing her doubt, but decided against it.
There were times when that was true.
“Yeah, I know. I always resist and almost cry, but you stop.”
“About two months have passed while doing that, but has anything changed with your body?”
She shook her head.
She had made a promise on that night two months before when she had first revealed her identity.
She had him occasionally check on her body, but she still did not have her period.
“There hasn’t been a change in my male body either.”
She felt like that wording was blaming him, so she wanted to say something more. She looked toward him in preparation and he tilted his head.
“What is it?”
She did not like these direct questions, but there were some things she could only say at times like this.
“U-um, I am happy with what you’re doing for me, so don’t worry. Even if I don’t act like it.”
She had wanted to say this for a while, but putting it in words made her blush.
She could not stand his gaze on her, so she looked away. While trying to convince herself she was flushed due to the heat of the bath, Sayama nodded and gave a small smile.
She looked away from that smile by lowering her head.
She reached forward, grabbed her knees, and pulled them toward her. While embracing her knees below the water, the tops of the knees rose above the surface. She placed her cheek on them and changed the subject.
“U-um, I think it might be hopeless.”
That response seemed to cool off the heat in her body.
She took in a breath and spoke the thoughts she had had when the night of nothing but a stomachache had arrived as always at the end of the previous month.
“My body might never develop properly. I might always have nothing but pain.”
She looked down at the bottom of the tub that wavered through the water.
But then something warm touched her right cheek. The damp and solid object was Sayama’s finger.
She looked up in surprise and heard a voice from the right.
“Do you remember when Kazami slapped you?”
“I do not want that to happen again. And to make sure it does not, I will help you with a different method. After all, this is what I want as well.” A smile filled his voice. “And if having nothing but pain means you cannot develop into an adult, I am the same.”
She quickly looked over her soaking shoulder.
She saw him looking at her with his expressionless face, but there was strength and harshness in that face.
Seeing that, she leaned up against him. She grabbed his left arm with her hands, bent her elbow to pull herself toward him, and placed her lowered forehead on his shoulder. When she opened her mouth to speak, it was no longer an apology that came out.
She nodded. As she lowered her head further, her mouth sank into the water and then rose once more. She decided to think more positively from now on and she spoke.
“U-um, we were switched out today, weren’t we?”
“Yes. In that concept space, you were me and I was you.”
They had not discussed it yet, but she felt relieved hearing that. That meant their thoughts were reaching each other and it meant she was human.
“Um, Sayama-kun? …How was my body?”
Sayama nodded with a serious expression and looked her in the eye.
“It was very, very delewdcate.”
“Yes. I know what I want to say, but I’m having trouble expressing it. It’s really irritating.”
“I see. Truly good words are hard to come by.”
Sayama leaned against the inner wall of the tub and folded his arms in thought.
Shinjou wondered what was on his mind, but then she remembered that morning.
Sayama’s body had been different from hers. She had initially been surprised by how much higher his vision was. And she had realized something else while looking down on her own body.
…He’s always looking at me properly.
Instead of looking down at her with his gaze, he would turn his face toward her, so she had done the same.
She belatedly wondered if she had been giving him upturned looks all this time.
When she had been handed Ex-St, her surprise had changed to complete astonishment. Ex-St had been so much lighter than when she moved it around. She had been able to run without losing her balance and without needing to catch her breath.
…And he’s always matching his pace to mine.
When she had run at her usual pace in the concept space, she had noticed her own body falling behind.
I’m no match for him, she thought while lowering her head even further.
“Borrowing your body today got me thinking.”
“Did you want to use my body to experience various things with a male body?”
“Y-yes. How did you know?”
“Ha ha ha. I had wanted to try that out as well. I thought it might help learn what is troubling you. If you are being held back by a mental issue, then what would happen with my mind?”
“Would it be wrong of me to borrow your body?”
“If it would help give you a sense of relief about your body changing, I see no problem with it.”
She anxiously held her own body, clenched her teeth, and gulped.
But she soon opened her mouth again.
“It’s too late to try it out now, though. Too bad.”
“A normal person would not have the chance in the first place. Even if we could not make use of that opportunity, we still have the same possibilities as anyone else.”
“You’re a persuasive talker…”
She smiled bitterly while feeling thankful for him. She made up her mind and steadied her breathing.
“Do you remember what I said before?”
“It was a while back, but I said I would…return the favor. I know you’ll tell me not to force myself, but I managed to feel your body up close today. I’d like to use it as a reference point for my own. And if it makes you happy, it would make me happy. So…um…well…”
“I see. Then let us both do our very best.”
“Sure. …No, wait! Your idea of ‘our very best’ is on a completely different level than mine!”
“Ha ha ha. In other words, yours is on a much higher level?”
Before she could deny it, he embraced her with a smile.
That smile caused her to relax and she spoke quietly as they pressed their bodies together.
“Let’s work together to do our very best in everything we do from now on.”
- ↑ Miyako means “capital city”.
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