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Part 1: The company president’s regular
“I expected nothing less from you, Akiteru-kun. Bring out results of this level in such a short amount of time.” Tsukinomori Makoto clinked my glass of juice with his as he gave a toast. He took a sip of his sparkling wine.
“She’s enjoying her new school, and she’s even made friends. It even looks like she’ll be able to forget those memories and experiences from her previous school pretty soon. It was right of me to leave it to you.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“The ‘5th Floor Alliance’ really has a wonderful community. Fufu~” The president winked with one eye, seeming pleased.
By the way, that wink wasn’t directed towards me, but rather towards the waitress who kept taking furtive glances at our table. When she saw him wink at her, her cheeks turned a rosy pink and she fled into the kitchen.
“You’re still closing in on her?”
“Just one more time.”
“…Just don’t get arrested.”
“Ha ha ha.”
No, that isn’t the part where you should laugh.
“Don’t worry. I’m an ally of the female race.”
“A true enemy would always pretend to be an ally…”
“That reminds me, that girl who became friends with Mashiro belonged to the ‘5th Floor Alliance,’ right? Kohinata Iroha?”
“Eh, you heard about that already? Well, she’s really not a member,” I hurriedly corrected him.
But with a smirk on his face, President Tsukinomori continued.
“She’s the voice actress who did all of the voices for your game, right?”
“…Why would you think that?”
“I heard that your voice actress has an immense talent for acting. And there is only one person around you who would fit that description.”
“Since we didn’t give credit to them, there might even be multiple actors—”
“What are you saying? I knew from the very start that there was just one voice actress.”
“You know, I had to work my way up here. No matter how good she is at changing her voice, I can still pick up the similarities between them.”
Just how perceptive can you be? Well, it’s not like I expected anything less from this one-of-a-kind company president.
“…Ahh, that reminds me.”
I remembered what President Tsukinomori had said before.
“The programmer OZ, the illustrator Murasaki Shikibu-sensei, the scenario writer Makigai Namako, an unknown voice actress, and the producer and director Aki… that is, you.”
He didn’t say “voice actresses” plural, he just said “voice actress.” That means that he had known back then that it was just one voice actress responsible for all of the voices.
“Umm… about Iroha working as the voice actress—”
“I know. You want me to keep it a secret, right? Since you tried to lie to me about it, I have no intention of leaking it.”
“…That really helps.”
“Now then, back to the main topic. This Kohinata Iroha-kun—”
He stopped for a moment. Changing his expression into a serious one, President Tsukinomori finally continued.
“—She’s not your actual girlfriend, is she?”
“I would bet my internal organs that that’s not the case,” I immediately replied.
His face looked so serious, but what he said was still as much of a joke as ever. Seriously? As always, I can’t read him at all.
“Mhm, that’s good to hear. Please, continue to enjoy your student life with Mashiro and the others.”
“Of course. I’ll do that.”
“By the way, I really am happy that you’re so friendly towards Mashiro, but I won’t forgive you if you really take her as your real lover, okay?”
“I told you, it’s fine. You’re such a worrywart, President.”
Though my feelings towards her had changed, they were still far from romantic ones.
“Mashiro doesn’t feel anything towards me either. I’m sure of that. Worrying about it is a waste of energy,” I tried to assure him.
After rinsing his throat with another sip of wine, President Tsukinomori muttered something under his breath. His voice though was lost in the din of the customers and employees around us.
‘…He’s a good man, but his stubbornness is the fly in the ointment…’
Part 2: Mashiro’s decision.
How many years has it been since Mashiro was able to wrap herself in her bedsheets and feel this happy? Mashiro couldn’t stop grinning as she gazed at the phone screen, which showed Iroha-chan’s LINE account. She really is glad that she was unreasonable with her father enough to transfer to Aki’s school.
Indeed, Mashiro was worried that even if her surroundings changed, she herself wouldn’t be able to. But that worry had been washed away. Fiddling with the smartphone, Mashiro opened up a certain app.
As if those people could hear her, she let out her honest feelings.
“Really, thank you so much. AKI, OZ and Murasaki Shikibu-sensei.”
Those were the names of the people who had always supported Mashiro while she was a shut-in.
They were Mashiro’s important comrades, who had never once complained that she wouldn’t show them her face. She was invited countless times to their offline parties, but she was too scared to show herself, and was always unable to take that final step. But now, while hiding her identity and her name, Mashiro was finally able to stand next to them.
“Voice-changing technology has gotten way too advanced recently.”
The voice that came out of the other end of the connection was always that of a husky, grown-up male.
Mashiro is sorry for deceiving you. She’s still not strong enough to show her true identity.
“Aki didn’t figure out that Mashiro is ‘Makigai Namako,’ right?”
After being shown so much love for her novel—right to her face—she was so embarrassed that her face started burning up. But at the same time, she was incredibly happy.
That day still lingers in Mashiro’s memories.
That simple, postcard-like fan letter, which was left on top of her bedside table. After seeing the name written on there, Mashiro thought she felt her heart stop.
‘Ooboshi Akiteru… Don’t tell me, that Aki found out that Mashiro is an author and is making fun of her…?’
Mashiro was really disgusted with herself for having such thoughts and feelings. Luckily, though, that hadn’t turned out to be the case. It was a genuine love letter, written in a pitch-black colour, and with a man’s handwriting. And, in the corner of it, there was a contact address written, and the official homepage address of an indie app developer called ‘5th Floor Alliance.’
That very fact felt like a miracle to Mashiro. It was good news that would forever change the harsh and dull daily life that Mashiro faced. Mashiro would once more have the chance to reunite with her beloved Aki. Her heartbeat wouldn’t calm down, and it took her about a week to finally make up her mind. Alas, Aki didn’t realize any of it. And even so, he was still the same Aki whom she had fallen in love with.
She realized that this was how Aki was, and she was disappointed that him being kind to her wasn’t anything special. Even so, she felt happy to be in the same community as him.
But, Mashiro was unable to hold herself back, and she closed in on him… What does he think of the current Mashiro? Mashiro asked herself.
After being able to directly meet him after all this time, after spending time together, and on top of all of that, her feelings—
Mashiro realized just how much she loves Aki.
“Yeah… It’s fine. Mashiro’s feelings are real. And Iroha-chan said that she wasn’t going out with Aki…”
Trying to suppress her pounding heart, she took a deep breath. Opening up LINE, she selected Aki’s contact card. After that welcoming party, he had wanted her ID, so she had hurriedly created a new account. It felt pretty weird to using Mashiro’s real name on an account to talk with Aki, and not the username “Makigai Namako.” Even so, Mashiro felt really great when they exchanged their contact information face-to-face.
But, right now, the one feeling that filled her chest while she had the screen open—was fear.
Will he accept Mashiro? Will he reject her?
Such questions were floating around within Mashiro’s chest. She hated the idea that he might not reciprocate her feelings. She wanted to be closer to him. She wanted to be special. She wasn’t satisfied with just being his business partner “Makigai Namako.” That was why she had closed in on him this much.
…Here goes nothing!
All those bottled up feelings, she put them all into one message, and—
She tapped the ‘Send’ button.
Part 3: And, towards ups and downs—
[ ♪ Hanamichi’s rebellion, our anuses, the one kicking you is the friend’s little sister ♪ ]
When I came home from school and entered my bedroom, what immediately entered my line of sight were thighs. A girl with whom I was very familiar was lying atop of my bed, casually tapping her legs to the rhythm. She had selfishly borrowed the newest release of a shounen manga from my bookshelf, and she looked like she was in a good mood.
Her name is Kohinata Iroha. She’s a first-year student at the school I attend. My Kouhai by one year. Bright golden yellow hair, bulky headphones around her neck, and a fluffy, expanding hairstyle that makes you think of an emperor penguin. As protection from the heat and humidity, she was wearing a short-sleeved, in-season uniform with a short, refreshing skirt. She had taken off her socks, and her pure white legs were so, so shiny. Though she was a bit more dolled up than the average high school student, she wasn’t wearing any excessive piercings or such, so you couldn’t exactly call her a gal either. One thing is for certain, though: She’s a high school girl through and through.
[ ♪ The ass in a burst while prostrating, charmed by the visible panties! Grandiose? ♪ ]
Surely, if she showed a cheerful smile in the classroom, every single boy would probably think something like—
—Ahh, this girl is surely in love with me… Something like that.
And this girl, who was capable of leading unfortunate boys to such terrible misunderstandings, was currently occupying my bed for some reason.
[ ♪ Though the respectable virgin woman he wouldn’t mind, but only with the little sister he wouldn’t find—— ]
Without saying anything, I unplugged her headphone cable from her smartphone and connected it to one of my speakers’ outlets.
“Shut up! With what kind of volume are you rapping here?!”
With the scream of a mackerel pike being fished out of the water, Iroha grandiously threw off her trademark headphones. Apparently, that volume was a bit too loud for her, and she held both of her ears in pain as she rolled around on the bed.
—I’m glad that my feelings are finally getting through to her.
“I-Isn’t this a bit too cruel, Senpai?! What are you going to do if you permanently damage my eardrums?!”
“If that happens, I’ll marry you or whatever you want.”
“I’m joking, of course. Don’t worry. Even if it’s set to the highest volume, this thing has a limiter, so it can’t damage your eardrums whatsoever. And your headphones look fancy enough to automatically reduce any dangerously loud sounds.”
“Ah, now that you say it. Now that you say it, I was panicking a bit, but it really isn’t that big of a deal…”
“If you’re going to buy something expensive, then you might as well go for the one with the most benefits.”
“Seriously… I just put them on without thinking…”
“…Well, it’s your freedom to use them however you want.”
After cutting the connection to the speakers, I picked up the headphones Iroha had thrown off and gave them back to her. It had been around a year since we had ordered them online and opened the package, I guess. Comparing them to how they look now, the colour of the leather has faded quite a bit, which is proof that she’s been using them on a regular basis.
“At the very least, it doesn’t look like you leave them in the box.”
“Of course I don’t. It’s the most important tool I use while studying.”
“Though you can practice your acting that way, if you really want to overcome your predecessors, you should also take into consideration how they gain good reputation. After all, you’re still not allowed to perform in that field as of yet, so—”
“That’s right. I’ve been improving rapidly from listening to music like this, and listening to the voices of actors. Really, it’s all thanks to Senpai’s present~”
“If you want to show how thankful you are, then stop being so annoying.”
“I’m annoying exactly because I want to show you my gratitude~ You really don’t understand this pure young maiden’s heart!”
“I really don’t. Shouldn’t you be showing your gratitude a bit more… I don’t know… normally?”
“And I’m telling you that Senpai’s normal isn’t normal at all~!”
“Hee, hee,” Iroha let out a soft giggle.
When she’s at school and in her honor-student mode, she always takes her headphones off and keeps them in my room. Not her room, but my room. After all, she wouldn’t be able to practice in her own home. Leaving anything related to showbiz in the slightest at home would make her parents mad, and earn her more than an earful.
That’s why the only place where she can earnestly and wholeheartedly do whatever she wants is this place right here.
Except for the headphones, her usual set was finished. In one smooth motion, she planted her butt on my bed, moving her legs up and down like a brocon girl talking with her Onii-chan.
“I really think that Mashiro-senpai likes Senpai, after seeing how jealous she was~”
“I won’t fall for that. You’re only teasing me again, aren’t you?”
“I’m serious, you know? When we were at the mall, I had to keep motivating myself with things like ‘I won’t lose against Mashiro-senpai!’ and ‘I will be the one at Senpai’s side!’, you know?”
“You say that, but you two were pretty close, right? In the end, you looked more like good friends than rivals.”
“That’s exactly it. I wanted to wage a full-fledged war against her, but Mashiro-senpai is so cute, and I felt so disgusted seeing those girls bullying her, that I couldn’t control myself! Ahhh, what a blunder that was!” Iroha said, puffing out her cheeks.
But I knew very well. Behind that pouting face there was absolutely no regret or anger. No matter how annoying you are, it isn’t evil at all. That is the true nature of the girl called Kohinata Iroha. That was why I had predicted from the very beginning that they would be able to become friends. And Mashiro’s attitude was the polar opposite, so they were an unexpectedly good match.
“So in order to make up for everything that I lost that day, I will be staying in Senpai’s home all day long!”
“I don’t get it…”
I could only let out a sigh. I didn’t understand a single thing that Iroha was saying. I turned my back to her, put away my school bag, and sat down at my work desk.
My distance with Mashiro had decreased. If we could continue our relationship as fake lovers, President Tsukinomori’s mission would be smooth sailing from here.
My smartphone suddenly vibrated inside my pocket. Since it was only one buzz, it was probably a LINE message. Thinking that it was probably something trivial going on in the ‘5th Floor Alliance’ group chat, I took my time taking my smartphone out.
“Ah, I want to see it too!”
“Hey, idiot. Don’t just cling to me like that.”
“I can’t help it~ the screen of your smartphone is too small, after all~”
Growing sensitive to my movements, Iroha suddenly clung to my back like a baby koala clinging to its parent.
Though she was being annoying as usual, I permitted it. Since she had to hide her identity as the voice actress of the ‘5th Floor Alliance,’ she couldn’t be a part of our LINE group. Thinking that she must be interested in our conversations outside of our meetings, I usually allowed her to look.
“Maybe it’s Murasaki Shikibu-sensei fangirling about another Onee X Shota doujin, or another shitty movie recommendation from Makigai Namako-sensei… Onii-chan isn’t the type of person who writes stuff out of nowhere, after all. Let’s see…” Iroha said, peeking at the screen.
With her face right beside me, I found myself becoming conscious of the girl’s scent. And with that, we focused on the screen in front of us.
Both the name of the sender and the contents had left me and Iroha completely speechless. The message hadn’t came from the ‘5th Floor Alliance’ group chat.
A contact whom I had just recently added, who had a completely new account. The message at the very bottom of our chat history was unbelievable, and unreasonably unrealistic.
“Uhm… What… is this?”
This might have been the first time that I’d ever heard Iroha’s voice as shaky as that.
—Thinking back on it, we were probably walking right on top of a minefield. Gathering up people with different circumstances, ignoring the cruel reality right before our eyes, and enjoying what we had right then, walking towards the future we wanted. You might even call it isolation, since we lost all communication with the outside. That is how we, the ‘5th Floor Alliance,’ arrived at this realm of reality.
But history states that every country will crumble sooner or later. Being shown the overwhelming power of black ships, being forced to open the country, a whole new culture flooding in, a sudden exchange of technology and knowledge.
(TLC: Again the reference to the isolation of Japan until the 19th Century, and the rapid change after the so-called ‘black ships’ arrived at the coast.)
What kind of emotions were welling up inside Iroha, who was blankly staring at the screen? Without a doubt, she was reading the same message that I was.
After reading it through a second time, I finally comprehended it. I hadn’t misread. It wasn’t English. And neither was it German, nor French. It was written in 100% grammatically correct and easy-to-understand Japanese, in one simple line—
‘Mashiro loves you. More than anything in the world.’