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Epilogue: Towano Chikai and the Second Coming of the Rival
“…Hm? What’s wrong, Suzuka? You seem a bit restless.”
Late afternoon on a certain school-free day, around a month after Suzuka and I started attending the same school.
When I came down to the living room on the first floor, Suzuka was walking around in circles. Wearing an apron, I could guess that she was probably on her way to clean, but her attitude stood out to me as unordinary. She was clearly spacing out, her head above the clouds so to speak, only moving the feather duster above one spot, and that reaction first and foremost. When she turned around with “Since when have you been standing there!?”, I was certain that something was fishy.
“N-Nothing is wrong, okay? I just felt like cleaning a bit…”
“Why? Is someone coming over?”
“Ehhh?! Why would you think that?!”
“It’s weird for you to clean at this time of the day, of course. And, you always say that we have to keep it sparkling clean when guests come over… Am I wrong?”
When I rebutted with that, Suzuka gave me a slight giggle, saying “I-I see, so you’re properly looking, Onii-chan…,” only to quickly avert her face.
And now she even started groaning… What’s wrong with her now?
But, this attitude of hers didn’t take too long, and she soon hung her head, with an exasperated sigh. And, as if she had made up her mind on something, she once more looked at me.
…Why do I get this tragic, yet brave feeling from her…
“…M-Madenokouji-san is coming over,” she muttered, almost forcing herself.
“Eh? Madenokouji-san…you mean Nene-san?”
“…Yes, there is only the Madenokouji-san from Hakuou that I’m talking about. Do you remember her…?”
“Of course I do? With all that data gathering and light novel lecturing, there’s no way I could forget about her. In the first place, why is she coming over?”
“T-That’s… I received an email from her yesterday, saying that she wanted to meet us for old time’s sake.”
“I see. Yeah, it’s been a while, alright…I hope she’s been doing good all this time,” I said, and started reminiscing about her.
She admired Towano Chikai’s novel, and started dreaming of becoming a light novel author herself. For that, she sought our help, and we ended up going along with her request, assisting her in collecting data, explaining various important aspects, and so on.
…Yeah, we really did a lot…Well, I’d rather not start recalling the details, but it does feel a bit nostalgic.
And, the novel that sprung forth from our hard work barely failed to achieve first place in the light novel contest, but she still seemed satisfied in the end.
…I wonder if she has another request?
“…Mm? W-What is it?”
The time I was lost in my thoughts, Suzuka had walked over towards me, gazing up at me with a super unhappy expression.
“You seem pretty happy that you can meet Madenokouji-san again, huh…?”
“Eh? Well, of course. It’s been a long time after all, so of course I’d look forward to it.”
“I-Is that really everything?”
“…What else could there be?”
“N-No, nothing at all. That’s fine then. If it’s just that.”
…Mmm, today’s Suzuka is clearly off the rails.
“You too, you haven’t been able to see her ever since you graduated from Hakuou, right? Aren’t you looking forward to seeing her again?”
“Yes, I do look forward to it, but… U-Uhm, how do I say it, there’s also a certain fear that I hold…like a growing worry…”
Weirdly enough, Suzuka couldn’t manage to bring out her words. Not to mention that she was constantly glancing over at me.
…Listen, if you don’t say it clearly, I won’t know what you mean by ‘fear’ or ‘worry’, you know?
And with that perfect timing, the door chime rang as I tilted my head. In response, Suzuka twitched greatly, and said in a wavering voice.
“S-Seems like she’s here…”
Putting away the feather duster and taking off the apron, Suzuka headed to the entrance.
“…A-And Onii-chan is coming with me, of course…”
Of course, I immediately followed her, but by doing that I just earned myself a sideways-glare.
“Of course I do? Is it bad if I met Nene-san?”
“That’s—————certainly not the case.”
“Your expression is totally telling me otherwise though?!”
“D-Don’t mind me. I’m just thinking in the one in a million chance…! A-Anyways, now that it’s come to this, we have to get through this, Onii-chan…!”
Still blurting out incomprehensible things, Suzuka slowly opened the door.
Really, you can just tell me if something’s wrong—was what I thought, but when the door opened fully, showing me the scenery behind it, my train of thought completely disappeared.
Both mine and Suzuka’s voices overlapped, surprised. The reason for this—
“It’s been a while, Suzuka-sama, Onii-sama!”
The person who greeted us was indeed the Nene-san we knew, but her smile that she threw at us was as radiant as the sun, almost blinding us. Before, she was always timid, always shy about everything, a girl with no confidence in herself, but today it was like she was a different person. Her expression and her body language were open, ready to get in contact with other people, and you’d almost get happy just by being with her.
…Y-Yeah, that change really is surprising, but…!
…The differences are so great, that it took me a second to even understand who’s standing in front of me right now!
“…? What’s wrong, you two?”
The biggest change, however, was her shoulder-length hair.
“M-Madenokouji-san, what about your hair?!”
With a shaky voice, Suzuka finally managed to bring out what I wanted to ask myself.
…Yes, before, she had long, black hair that almost reached down to her waist, but she had given it an extreme cut!
Even Suzuka, who had known her for much longer than I, could only stare at her in puzzlement.
“Ahh, I thought of cutting it to get a change of pace, so to speak.”
However, the person in question commented on it like it was a daily occurence, and continued to smile at us.
…N-No no no, a woman’s hair is the same as her life, right? Is this really something you’d do to get a change of pace…?
“U-Uhm, did something happen?”
That’s why, being a bit perplexed, asked that question without thinking. Only to immediately regret it.
…S-She’ll totally think that I have no delicacy at all…!
“No, I just felt like cutting it a bit shorter.”
Contrary to my fears, Nene-san said so as gleefully as ever.
…S-Seriously? Does that actually happen?
“U-Uhm, Madenokouji-san, are you really…?”
“Yes, Suzuka-sama…I’m fine. It’s not what you think.”
When Suzuka asked in a worrying manner, Nene-san brought her face a bit closer, as if she wanted to whisper to us, and said so.
…Is that so?
Nene-san just gently smiled at the perplexed Suzuka.
W-Well, whatever the circumstances, we should let her inside now. It’s been a while, so she must have a lot to talk about.
“Suzuka, let’s go to the living room for now.”
“Y-Yes… Madenkouji-san, if you would.”
“Yes! I’m happy that I can meet the two of you again!”
Everyone moved inside towards the living room, and Suzuka swiftly prepared some tea. In the meantime, I once again closely inspected Nene-san’s new atmosphere, and especially her hair. She’d really changed a lot. In a good way, of course.
“Uhm… Nene-san really changed a lot… Like you’ve become more lively than before,” I said, and received a giggle in return.
“Thank you very much, Onii-sama. It’s all thanks to you two.”
“Thanks to Suzuka and me?”
“Because the two of you have lent me your strength, I was able to write that novel. Although it sadly missed the last step… But, back then, I realized. To live a fun and enjoyable life, I have to enjoy being myself first and foremost. Like Suzuka-sama and Onii-sama… Like that, I just happened to change into what I am now.”
I-I see…? I don’t have any concrete memories of what we supposedly did for such a great change to occur, but if she’s happy now, that doesn’t matter all that much I guess.
“Suzuka-sama, I actually joined the student council this year.”
“Yes. Although it might be a bit late now that I’ve become a third-year, I just felt like I had to follow in Suzuka-sama’s footsteps, and it was now or never…”
“Is that so… I had no idea… Uhm, Hiiragi-san is indeed a kind person, but she can be a bit difficult at times…how is that working out?”
“I am very well acquainted with the student president Hiiragi-sama. Of course, there are some scary aspects about her, but she is a very serious and honest person. The me from before might not have been able to stand her and would have just frozen up in fear.”
Again, Nene-san’s gleeful smile looked very positive and encouraging.
“And I managed to make a lot of friends with similar interests. It might sound a bit surprising, but there are more and more people who enjoy otaku culture. It’s all thanks to Onii-sama’s lecture back then,” said Nene-san, sticking out her tongue at me.
…She’s really changed a lot…
“But, in the end, it’s all thanks to Onii-sama—No, Towano-sensei. Thank you very much.”
“N-No, it’s not like I…Right, Suzuka?”
“O-Onii-chan, don’t just pull me into the conversation at a weird timing like that!”
I-I can’t help it though! I’m not good with this straightforward thankfulness. And I’m just your stand-in, so that thank-you shouldn’t even be directed towards me in the first place.
“It’s all thanks to you for pushing me towards this dream of mine.”
“Dream of yours…so you still—”
“Yes, I still am writing novels for the light novel contest.”
Having expected that, I gave a deep nod. The last time we spoke, I was really worried if she might actually stop writing novels all-together. But, she’s still writing them, huh…
“A while ago, I was back in the final selection again. Though I sadly didn’t make it through, I was happy that I managed to get this far without anybody else’s help! Next time, I’ll definitely win!”
…F-Final selection…is the same level as me, right? N-No wait, since this is the second time she managed to do that, isn’t she at a higher level than me…?
At that moment, the Nene-san in front of me looked really big…And I’m not talking about her chest size. She grew both as a human, and as an author in this short amount of time. This whole time, I had been seeing her as a sort-of pupil, but aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be taught?!
“By the way, how are you feeling as of recently, Suzuka-sama? Are you happy that you get to attend the same school as Onii-sama after all?”
However, Nene-san knew nothing of my shock, and now switched the topic over towards Suzuka.
“I-It’s a completely normal student life. But, we ended up going to the same school, so of course the time we spend together went up ten-fold…meaning that we’re even more close than before, you know?! Right, Onii-cha—Hello, Onii-chan? What are you spacing out for?”
“…Eh? Ah, w-what is it, Suzuka?”
“Why aren’t you listening when we’re talking about you… I keep telling you to pull yourself together a bit more, don’t I! I was saying that we were spending more time together ever since I started attending your school…!”
“Ahh, you’re right. But, it feels like the times you get mad at me went up equally… Like when my necktie is crooked, or when I’m talking with another girl…”
“Wha—?! T-That’s true, but that just shows how close we are…! Really, Onii-chan is just…!”
“Ouch?! Why are you pinching me?! …Is it that? Are you still mad at me for eating that pudding that I didn’t know was yours?”
“N-No! It’s not that, but…! Now
that you mention it, why did you just eat it without asking
“So you are mad at me! I was working on my manuscript, so I didn’t give it any thought that time!”
Our exchange continued until we heard Nene-san’s soft giggle.
“…You two are as close as ever. The same as before—No, even more so, you’ve gotten even closer… That slightly awkward atmosphere from before is now completely gone… Really, you only make it more difficult for me.”
“Eh? What?” “Madenokouji-san?”
Though we couldn’t quite catch the rest because she started muttering, she showed a rather disheartened expression, which made Suzuka and me stop our fighting and concentrate on her. However, her smile returned shortly after, and she put one hand into her bag.
“Actually, I didn’t come here just to meet you. The truth is, there is something that I would like Onii-sama to have a look at.”
“Something you want me to have a look at?”
“Yes. The manuscript that I’m going to submit in the next light novel contest.”
For some reason, Suzuka was the one who let out a shocked groan. What are you panicking about?
“Your new manuscript? Of course, if you’ll let me.”
Of course I wouldn’t say no if I could read another light novel, and not to mention if it’s from a former pupil of ours…However,
“No, I still can’t have you read it.”
“Because I still feel like there’s something missing. It has to be even more interesting…That’s why, I’ll rewrite it. When I finish, would you be so kind as to read it?”
W-What’s up with that… Well, can’t help it if she’s aiming for even better quality.
Suzuka seemed to be in shock. In response, Nene-san gave a smug look at Suzuka and whispered something in her ear. Shortly after that, Suzuka’s eyes opened wide with a “I-I thought so…!”, and her whole body started shaking.
…W-What? What did she tell her? It feels really awkward to be left out like this, you know…
But, before I was given a chance to ask, Nene-san turned around to look at me, and gave me the brightest smile I had seen yet.
“It’s nothing. Just, I haven’t given up on my dream just yet.”
Seeing that and her confident words made my heart skip a beat.
“I-Is that so? Well, I’m happy that you haven’t given up yet.”
“Thank you very much! Hearing that from Onii-chan really gives me courage!”
“O-Onii-chan?! What kind of careless encouragements are you blurting out?!”
…W-What’s your problem? I didn’t say anything weird…
While Suzuka was gritting her teeth and glaring at me, I suddenly felt a soft sensation on my left arm. Turning around, I found Nene-san clinging to me—
“Ah?! What are you doing?!”
“Well, I wanted to ask something of you. To make an even better novel, I was hoping that Onii-sama would help me collect some more data.
C-Collect data?! I know what she’s talking about, sure, but why now…!
“N-No, Onii-chan will be collecting data with me after this. I’m sorry, but we have to take priority in that.”
And now Suzuka also jumped into the chaos, grabbing my right arm?! And I didn’t hear anything about that?!
“I see… Then, let’s make this a competition, Suzuka-sama!”
“Exactly what I was hoping for! I’m the only one who’s allowed to collect data with Onii-chan!”
Of course, the two of them were gradually heating up more and more, and I lost my chance to speak for myself.
…I have no idea what’s going on anymore, but…
“Ahahaha, I definitely won’t lose, okay!”
The smile that Nene-san displayed then and there looked like she was enjoying herself from the bottom of her heart, shining as brightly as ever.