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The Strand of Youth is Only a Traffic Roundabout for Us
“Alright, only 4 minutes and 23 seconds left until our departure. You maggots don’t have any time to rest.”
It was the final day of July. A clear blue sky hung above our heads, and the sun mercilessly cast its rays downward. As Ozu swung the teacher’s cane, barking orders at me, Iroha, and Sumire, we all worked to lift our luggage and beach trip necessities into the car. A swim ring, boat, various beach balls, parasols, sunglasses all fit into the trunk along with swimsuits and some secret boots-type of sandals.
Though I don’t believe that the last part is necessary, Sumire, being the beauty that she is, says she might get hit on by some surfer dudes, and so that she doesn’t get hammered in the shadows off somewhere, she has to emit some sort of aura so they don’t think she’s easy to get. What an idiot.
While she was toiling in the humid air like a slave, Sumire called out to me, as I was hiding in the shadows of the car.
“Hey, isn’t Ozuma-kun’s character different than usual?!”
“Wasn’t he the kind and helpful prince type?! Why is he acting like an instructor for new recruits?!”
“His expression and tone are still like a one-of-a-kind handsome man, right?”
“That makes it even scarier, you know?! He just called us ‘maggots’ without breaking a sweat!”
“Ahh, right, you don’t know, Sumire-sensei. Normally, I request Ozu to take care of the specifics for the schedule. And he’s even more annoying about it than me. You’re lucky that you manage to deliver illustrations to me before him.”
“W-What if I happen to actually miss the deadline and don’t give it to you in time…?”
“Then Ozu would use whatever methods necessary to make you finish them as quickly as possible. He’d make me look like some kindergarten teacher.”
“I-I had no idea…So even if I defeated Aki, the last boss would await me…”
“Now now, keep that shit in your mouth.”
Whip!!! The sound of the teacher’s cane rang out.
“Eeeeeeeek?! He just said ‘shit’ with a smile on his face! Scary!”
“Really, you can’t just talk down on people like this. Working so late that even my mother got home, I was busy thinking of ideas in case the beach was crowded, the best ways to enjoy the beach itself, and took many other preparations in order to guarantee the best possible outcomes. All. Night. Am I wrong in assuming that you want this trip to be a success?”
“Sir, yes sir! You are not wrong in the slightest!!!”
“Ozu’s simulations are always at a perfect standard. He’s even taken potential traffic jams into consideration when driving, so I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more efficient than this… Anyway, I’m done with my luggage.”
While Sumire stood straight to give a salute, I used the towel around my neck to wipe off my sweat. Watching that, Ozu crossed his arms and nodded.
“Alright, I like you. Come to my house, you can fu*k my little sister.”
“I don’t need that kind of special treatment.”
“I agree, Onii-chan~ This incompetent Senpai doesn’t have the guts.”
Speaking of the annoying devil, Kohinata Iroha suddenly appeared from behind my back, giving off the usual summer sporty JK look with a short-sleeved shirt and miniskirt in addition to those headphones she always wears. Since she doesn’t have to worry about her mother during this trip, she can act out all the annoying things she loves to do.
“It’s the other way around! I would be the one to f*ck Senpai!”
“Good on you that you can blurt out such vocabulary so easily… The guys at school would cry if they heard that.”
Cry at the fact that the honor student they admired, who gave a speech at the end-of-term ceremony, was casually throwing the word f*ck around. Reality truly is cruel.
“Who cares about that? We’re not at school right now. At least, let me be myself when it’s just us three.”
“Well, I guess that’s fine. But don’t go overboard. Your job and studies are equally important.”
“I’m totes fine~ My grades are super good, after all. Even on a higher level than Senpai~”
“Yeah, you’re right… Though it pains me to admit…”
Kohinata Iroha is the head of the first year class. On top of that, she’s the one giving the speech as the grade’s representative. Having gotten the highest grades at the end-term exams in her year, she’s the symbol of envy for those around her.
“And since when did you get so smart?”
“I’m what they call a natural genius!”
“Stop lying. In middle school, your grades were in the middle caste at best. You were really surprised when you got accepted to our school, weren’t you?”
The school we’re attending is actually quite competitive. Although our classmates might just look like brainless zombies most of the time, their grades are still pretty good. With that in mind, it’s pretty impressive seeing Midori and Iroha being top scorers. They’d stand out nationally, even.
“Well, Senpai was the one who helped me with my studies after all~ Thanks to you, I feel like I got some isekai cheat, you know? Pfft, hahaha, what a convenient—reliable Senpai you are!~”
“Hey, Iroha. Were you just about to call me convenient?”
“Of course not. Anyway, do your best in your future studies, okay? So I can take it easy in the future!” Iroha tapped me on the shoulder like an old man at a family reunion.
Every single action of hers is executed to annoy me.
“What are you talking about, Iroha? After Aki went to this school, you were studying like crazy in order to—”
“Wahhh!!! Stop, stop, stoooooop!!!”
As Ozu was speaking, Iroha hurriedly pushed a piece of luggage onto him.
“That’s your little sister’s privacy you’re intruding on! What are you talking about that for?!”
“Iroha-chan, that’s my bag—!!!”
“…Ugh. Who cares? In my opinion, you should use this summer to go on an all-out attack. This is your chance to win against Tsukinomori-san, you know?”
“…! Mind your own business! I’m fine doing it at my own pace!” It was a rare chance seeing Iroha angry, as she averted her face in a pout.
Seeing these two siblings fight like this is quite a rare sight. Though I don’t really get what they’re fighting about to begin with.
“Ah…” And, still looking away, Iroha suddenly looked very lonely.
“Speaking of Mashiro-senpai… Was it really fine? Not taking her with us.”
“Well… I invited her countless times, you know?”
“Even though she was looking forward to it so much.”
There were only four people present: Iroha, Sumire, Ozu, and me. Makigai Namako couldn’t join us, as he’d explained previously. As for Mashiro, even though she’d originally agreed to join us, said she couldn’t come yesterday.
Mashiro is sorry. She was really looking forward to the sea. She tried her best, but…
Mashiro’s saddened and lifeless voice still lingers in my ears.
Now…she can’t come with you…probably…will be busy…throughout summer break…
Of course, I asked her countless times for the reason as to why. But she wouldn’t tell me, only declining the invitation. Even when I knocked on the door at Apartment No. 501, she never answered. Did she just hole herself up? Was she even in her room? I wouldn’t know, since I could only reach her by phone.
“Was it really fine to just leave her alone? Normally, Senpai would use whatever aggressive method possible to drag her along.”
“What kind of image do you have of me?”
“Well, to be precise, it’d probably be something like a burglar or kidnapper? Like bandits kidnapping the local chief’s daughter.”
That sure is cruel…Even I’m not that aggressive, am I? Though I’d started to doubt myself for a second, I spoke up.
“If the person in question is forced to ignore their own wishes, yes. But this time, it felt more like Mashiro was prioritizing something else important to her, more important than the trip. That’s what I think.”
The word ‘deadline’ that Mashiro brought up back then in the classroom. If my assumptions are correct, that probably relates to some deadline for a novel contest at a publisher; she must be working hard to achieve her dream. And going out to play with us instead of writing would be more inefficient than anything.
“Well, I don’t know the reason for that though.”
“Is this really fine then… Wah?!”
Lifting up her head to gaze at the 5th floor, Iroha narrowed her eyes. That very second, someone suddenly jumped at her from behind, tightly hugging her, which forced her to let out a shriek.
“Ahhh, really ! Iroha-chan is such a good girl! Worrying about the people who can’t join us!! Even though we could enjoy ourselves just fine without her~!!!”
“She’s the one at fault for not participating! Only the ones participating get to have fun!”
“You’re not wrong, but… Mashiro-senpai is a friend after all. I can’t help it if I’m a bit worried.”
“Ahhh, so diligent! Iroha-chan, you really are a good girl!” Sumire started energetically rubbing Iroha’s head.
And then, she put up her index finger to announce.
“I’ve taken a liking to you. How about you come to my house and f*ck my little sister?”
“Is that phrase getting popular for some reason?!”
I guess that even Iroha couldn’t let it slip.
“Iroha… and Sumire-sensei’s little sister…”
Having been listening to them from the side, I couldn’t help but imagine. Sumire’s little sister, Midori, right? And Iroha is the one f*cking Midori. No, wait. In this case, I should probably refer to it as the blooming of yuri. In yuri, rough and dirty words like f*cking and so on really don’t belong, but I can’t stop these fantasies. Iroha assertively pushing Midori down in bed, slowly unbuttoning her uniform, as she slowly goes in for the and wait a second me let’s just calm down right there, stop stop stop!!!
I forcefully stopped those fantasies from flowing by bumping my head against a nearby street lantern.
“W-What are you doing, Senpai?”
“I just had to cool myself down a bit by putting my head against this cool street lantern.”
“???” Iroha just tilted her head in confusion.
Yeah, please stay clueless. For all eternity.
“Alright, preparations are complete! It’s time for our departure! With this, even Ozuma-kun won’t be able to complain!”
Suddenly, Sumire appeared before us, apparently having finished putting away all the luggage, as she slammed the door close with her chest held high. In response, Ozu checked his watch.
“Yeah, with this, we should be right on schedule.”
“Alrighty! Then let’s blast!”
Having received the seal of approval from Ozu, Sumire jumped into the driver’s seat with great enthusiasm, and flashed a short thumbs up like you’d see in the USA when passing people on the street.
“You guys, time to ride on. I’ll take you to heaven with my insane driving skill!!!”
Watching the highly energetic Sumire, Iroha let out a fed-up sigh. She whispered to me with a voice only I could hear.
“I knew that this was a lost cause as soon as she entered Murasaki Shikibu-sensei mode, but now I’m actually scared. Also, does she really not care about Mashiro-senpai not participating?”
“She prioritizes her own fun over that of her students, a clear failure of a teacher.”
“Although she might be a good-for-nothing adult, she’s not a bad teacher. I think she’s acting that way for our sake.”
“For our sake…?”
“It’d be such a waste of time if we weren’t able to enjoy this trip because we were thinking too much about Mashiro. It’s a shame that Mashiro can’t join us, yeah, but we don’t gain anything by being sad about it. With this acting, Sensei is making it so that we don’t have to feel bad about leaving Mashiro behind. Well, I’m sure that a big part of it is just her looking forward to this trip in general.”
“I see…Yeah, that’s just the kind of person Sumire-chansensei is.” A smile returned to Iroha’s face.
Only for that to change into an awkward grin.
“I’ve been feeling a bit inferior towards Mashiro-senpai recently, so that might have been pulling me down. Ahh, seems like I was the good-for-nothing here—Time to reflect!”
“Feel inferior? Did you have a fight or something?”
“This harem bastard doesn’t need to know!”
“What’s up with that? And don’t turn that insult into some inside joke.”
“Ahahah! You can’t stop me!” Iroha started laughing and hopped into the back of the car, as if she was trying to run away.
Really, she can never decide on playing nice or not. While grumbling about her usual behaviour internally, I followed suit and sat in the back, in the same row as her. Though I feel bad about Mashiro, I can’t let Sumire’s efforts go to waste, so we have to enjoy this trip to our fullest.
“Ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora!!! Murasaki Shikibu-sensei’s passing, so make room—!!!”
Sumire let out a rough laugh as she gripped the steering wheel—with the four-wheeled car dashing along the highway at a perfectly legal speed. Watching us constantly getting passed from cars to our left, I spoke up with a blank expression.
“Your voice and your driving doesn’t match up.”
“Oh, shut up! Don’t push me like that, when I have people in the back!”
“Ah, you just got passed by a senior.”
It’s true that we have speed limits established on this highway, but there’s a lot of cars that push through it. Sumire was sounding more like that kind of driver, but she’s the exact opposite with her driving. Of course, I don’t have any problem with that, and abiding the law isn’t something I’d complain about. However, the problem is—
“Why do you sound like you’re speeding off?”
“I wanted to say that phrase at least once.”
“Then just step on the gas?”
“I don’t want to! That’d be scary, right?!”
“You sure are a pain to deal with!”
“Driving a car is scary. You have an insane amount of responsibility, you could run someone over, and you put everyone in the car at risk. Just imagining me ruining the future of my students makes my hands shake…”
“That’s even more scary! Pull yourself together, will you?!”
I know what she’s probably going through, and it’s said that your conscience weighs more when holding the steering wheel, but Sumire is really taking the cake here. The mental attitude towards safely driving typically reflects on the driver, so I really wish she’d keep the tension to a normal level.
“I shouldn’t complain since you offered to drive us, but… Haaaaa…” Letting out a sigh, I rested my back against the seat.
Yes, I actually don’t have any right to complain. We don’t have to do anything while Sumire is driving us. Next to her was Ozu in the passenger seat, working on the navi. In contrast to the two of them working hard, Iroha and I were sitting in the back, just like ordinary luggage. Looking to my side, Iroha had her headphones on, probably listening to some music. She’s softly swaying to some rhythm, probably played from her smartphone.
—Well, might as well listen to something myself. I put my earphones in my ears, took out my smartphone, and scrolled through my uTunes songs, playing one. It’s an edited cut and paste from the voice actress Otoha Machia, and the anime character she was playing. I asked Otoi-san for this, in return for 50 chupadrops.
She is the existence that foretold Iroha’s future. Knowing about Otoha Machia, if I can trace her steps, I might be able to find hints to help Iroha in the near future. The more I listen to it, the more I realize just how similar their two voices are. Especially the way their ‘calm and proper’ voice is the exact same. The more I listen to it, the more it makes me think that I’m actually listening to Iroha speak. It might not be as crazy as with the other characters, but I still can’t believe the similarities. While I was busy thinking to myself, I suddenly felt someone pinch my sides.
“Seeeenpai! What are you listening to?”
“Hm? Ahh, just some things.” I gave a sloppy response.
But, it seemed like Iroha got only more interested, and she brought her face closer to mine.
“Ehhh, tell meeeee! I want to listen as well!”
“Stop, idiot. Don’t pull on the cord.”
“It’s fine, isn’t it? Doing ‘Earphone halfsies’ with a cute girl like me, that’s a dream shared by 60 million boys in this country!”
“You’re annoying, not cute, so don’t get the wrong idea. Also, you’re listening to music as well, so just focus on that.”
“I can always listen to my music, though. But, I can only listen to Senpai’s right this instant!”
“Did you forget that I both gave you those headphones and that smartphone? You can’t listen to them forever, okay?”
What Iroha is using to listen to music is actually my old phone, without the SIM card in it. You might think that Iroha should just use her own device to listen to music. However, we always have to be aware of the danger that Iroha’s mother might find something. She can never allow herself to listen to music at home, nor on her own smartphone.
You might just call this being too cautious of a single woman, but having seen that women Kohinata Otoha, aka President Amachi Otoha, I just can’t help but feel that way. Those eyes see through everything. If we just relax for just a second, she’ll definitely find out.
“I have a yearly free pass to Senpai’s home.”
“Don’t treat other people’s homes as theme parks… Really, have some respect for the landlord.”
“I do respect you, Senpai~ That’s why I want to spend as much time with you as I can.”
“That’s just mobbing at this point.”
“Anyway, that doesn’t matter right now. Don’t be embarrassed, let’s share earbuds! Please, come on!”
“So persistent… I got it already. It’s not anything fun though.”
Iroha looked like a dog waiting to be pet, with a tail swaying back and forth behind her. I was about to place my right earbud into her hand, when my movements came to a quick halt. Hold on a second, what would happen now? Getting a really bad premonition, I quickly went through a simulation in my head.
“Ahhh? Is this my voice in a ‘clean and proper’ mode?”
“N-No. It might be similar, but this is someone else’s voice entirely—”
“You went out of your way to search for a voice from an anime 20 years ago just because it sounds similar to mine? You like my voice that much? Maybe so much that you can’t even fall asleep at night without listening to it?!”
“Listen to me! You’re wrong! You have the wrong idea!”
“Really~ Getting so desperate, Senpai. You’re so cute~”
What humiliation! I’d be so embarrassed I’d want to kill myself! Just imagining it, I started feeling like punching her in the gut! …No, I can’t have her listen to this. Never.
“Yaaay—Wait, hold on! Why are you pulling your hand back?!”
“…I decided against it. I cannot have you listen to this.”
“Ehhhhhhh? You were about to hand it over, weren’t you?!”
“Shut up. It’s decided on, so stop arguing.”
“Hmmmmmpf! I’m not satisfied by this!” Iroha puffed out her cheeks in a pout.
Even that face won’t help you, okay? I know it’s my fault for getting your hopes up, but I’m not stepping down.
“Grrrrr…Getting this defensive, would it really be that bad if I were to listen to it?”
“…?! T-That’s not the case!”
As I was a little surprised, Iroha raised one brow in suspicion. Her expression morphed from displeasure into a grin.
“Ahhh, hehe~ I see, so that’s what this is about.”
“Senpai~ You’re listening to something that you can’t show other people, right?”
My heart almost leaped out of my chest. Iroha put one index finger on her lips, and gazed at me like she had seen through everything.
“Senpai, I know what you’re listening to. It’s—”
“W-Wait, you’re wrong, I just—”
“A lecher ASMR, right?!”
“Eh, ah, no. You’re wrong.”
Even though she had the atmosphere of a private detective just now, she’s way off the charts. Also, you’re an active JK, so don’t say stuff like ‘Lecher’. And where did you learn the word ASMR? It’s slang often used for people with a sound fetish, mostly aimed at the male audience…Well, there might be girls out there who also use it, I guess. Either way, the confident grin on Iroha didn’t disappear.
“Now now, no need to embarrassed~ It’s fine. Even if you were to listen to indecent tunes like that in your beautiful teacher’s car, with the beauty Iroha-chan next to you, I will be the little sister for pervert Senpai. A fresh new little sister!”
“You’re not my little sister, and don’t just announce yourself as one.”
“Sumire-chansensei, Onii-chan, listen to this. Senpai is actually—Mghugh?!”
“Don’t say anything unnecessary, idiot. Just sit back and shut up.”
I quickly put my hand on Iroha’s mouth as she leaned towards the front row and pulled her back.
“Mmmm! Mghuuuu! (Let – me – go – you – pervert – Senpai)!”
“Don’t go rampant now. Just calm down, calm down… Calm down! Your chest is hitting me in weird places!”
“Mguh? Mufufufufu~ (Oh? Are you getting flustered now? Are you enjoying this, by any chance~?)”
“I can’t even tell what you’re saying, but your eyes are pissing me off, so stop it.”
In the end—
I somehow managed to keep secret what I was listening to, but I was teased because of something else. No matter what I try, my fate will always be the same…is that what you’re trying to tell me, you rotten world?
“This flirty atmosphere in the back is unbearable.”
“It wouldn’t be weird if they started going at it the second you turn around, right? Would you want to try?”
“If I were to witness that, I feel like I’d step on the gas even harder!”
“You’ll never know it if you don’t turn around, after all. Being lovey-dovey or not. It’s like Schrödinger’s flirting, if you wanted a technical term for it.”
“I was fine without knowing!”
“Oh, we’re getting close to the parking area. Let’s get there quickly so these two can cool down, before it’s too late to hold back.”
—You might be trying to keep it down, but we can clearly hear you back here. I was just keeping quiet back here because even if I tried to deny it, it would make me seem more desperate and get Iroha even more fired up, okay? Luckily, Iroha seemed content with her teasing, and quickly went to put on her headphones again, getting back into her rhythm. At the same time, we arrived at a parking area and took a quick break.
Iroha excused herself and disappeared like a cat, going to the toilet. Sumire commented that she was really tired, so we had her take a nap in the driver’s seat, with a book above her face. Ozu and I made our way to a shop, getting some drinks and sweets for the rest of the ride. Now, I had to live through the hour we had left.
Thinking that to myself, we returned to the car, only to find the driver’s seat completely empty. As we looked for Sumire, we found her crouching down in the shadow of the car, holding a phone to her ears, apparently on a phone call with someone.
“…Is, too impetuous…the preparations…and the sea…”
She kept her voice down, so I couldn’t completely pick up on what she said. Well, listening in like this is bad virtue, so let’s just act like I didn’t hear that.
“What happened with her?”
“She seems to be on a phone call. I don’t know if it was because of her job, but she seemed rather serious.”
Answering Ozu’s question, I stood up straight and went back to the front of the car. Opening the lid of the bottle I just bought, I took a deep gulp, and the carbonated soda ran down my throat. Because of that fierce back-and-forth with Iroha just now, I’d worked up quite a sweat, about to spread down even to my feet.
After finishing my sip, Ozu spoke up, being aware of Sumire at the back of the car.
“We’re in the middle of summer break, and she even gets called at a time like this. Must be tough being a full-fledged member of society.”
“Makes you really want things to stay like this.”
“I probably wouldn’t be able to become one anyway. There seems to be many things I wouldn’t be able to get in my head, anyway.”
Ozu isn’t any normal high schooler. He’s a genius programmer, but that probably doesn’t explain everything. It’s like he sees the world differently than other people. Like someone from a different world. Like how seawater fish can only live in the sea. Put them into a river, and they die. You can’t put Ozu into a normal work environment, where common sense rules. But enough of that, time to reset my thoughts. We’re on a trip to the sea, so nothing negative. At least for today, it should be fine.
“A-Ah, you two, w-w-wh-when did you get back?!”
“Just a second ago… What are you panicking for?”
“I-I’m…I’m not panicking at all. Y-You didn’t hear anything, right?”
“I-It’s fine if you didn’t hear anything.”
When I narrowed my eyes in confusion, Sumire just walked to the car with stiff, robotic movements and sat in the driver’s seat.
“Something is off. This suspicious behaviour, it’s the same smell I get when she’s about to miss a deadline.”
“Isn’t that sense of smell a bit too restricted? …Fuwaaah~”
As Ozu finished his retort, he put one hand in front of his mouth and let out a long yawn.
“You seem sleepy.”
“Well, recently, I’ve had to pull too many all-nighters…”
Now that he says it, he did talk about having worked on figuring out traffic routes, and customizing the navigation system.
“Just take a nap. On the highway, we won’t need the navi just yet.”
“Hmmm… I’ll do that, then…Though it’s a shame that I won’t get to see you and Iroha be flirty like before…”
“You won’t see that even if you’re awake, so just sleep.”
“Okay then… Fuwaaah…”
Ozu was about to collapse, so I guided him to the passenger’s seat.
“We’re barely there, and you’re already asleep. How tired are you?”
Since Ozu fell asleep the second he sat down, I went ahead and put the seat belt on for him. While doing so, I caught a glimpse of Sumire’s profile, which was riddled with sweat.
“You’re sweating like crazy, are you okay?”
“Eh? W-What do you mean?!”
“You’ve been acting weird for a while now…did something happen? Please, use this.”
I was about to hand her a handkerchief, but Sumire just bent her body backwards in shock. She gazed at my handkerchief like it was some sort of torture device, asking me with her voice quivering.
“Is that…to preserve my little finger once you cut it off…?”
“It’s so that you can wipe off your sweat. How did you arrive at that conclusion?”
I was just being considerate of her, having been forced to drive this car beneath the sizzling sun for such a long period of time. Having her get heatstroke would be bad for everyone, so I was planning on having her wipe off the sweat and drink a lot, but she seems to be awfully wary.
“…Oh, I forgot to be formal.”
“I-It’s fine. We’re not at school, after all.”
“Rather than our relationship of student and teacher, it’s more like the difference of age I’m referring to. It’s my own rule, so don’t mind it too much.”
“Ugh… Seeing Aki being the good guy makes me feel terrible…”
“Why are you holding your head?”
“D-Don’t mind me. It seems like Ozuma-kun is sleeping. Of course, you and Iroha don’t have to mind me me either. Just don’t forget the condom, okay?”
“Don’t mix up the two meanings of sleeping in the same sentence. And don’t just condone indecent relationships like that, you shitty teacher.”
“Ouch! Ahh, but so cool…”
As I slapped her on the head with the cold soda, Sumire let out a groan.
“Take a deep sip, and make sure that you get us safely to the destination.”
“Aki…thank you, you really are kind.”
“I still am thankful, you know? We can only go on this trip because you’re driving us.”
“And also…although it might just be a fake engagement, I still have to be considerate of you.”
Since my words even made me want to vomit, I averted my face.
“Fufu, being kind like this makes Aki seem as cute as a shouta. My heart will skip a beat~”
“Shut it. I’m not happy about that in the slightest.”
Throwing insults at Sumire, whose pupils had turned into hearts as she pressed her hands to her chest, I leaned my body backwards to escape. The second I fixed my posture, I could feel a chill run up my entire body, giving me goosebumps all over. Turning over towards the source of that chilly aura—
“Don’t go flirting like that.”
A fabricated voice that sounded like it came from some evil spirit entered my ears, making me let out a shriek as I jumped up. Next to me was a black-haired corpse about to take me down to hell—or not. Rather, it was my annoying Kouhai, flashing a shit-eating grin at me.
“Ahaha~ That really scared you, huh?”
“…You again! I keep telling you to stop with that damned voice!”
“Ohh my oh myyyy Senpai? What’s wrong? Scared of ghosts much? Hehe, another cute weakness spotted!”
“I’m not weak against horror and such, but your voice is just too freaking scary. Something wrong with that, idiot?”
It’s the same if some old man tells you ‘I’m just using a transformation software’. You’d still think they’re if he looks like a cute girl. That’s the same. It doesn’t have anything to do with reality, and with me being aware of it, the fear and terror of the voice alone are enough to scare the ever living shit out of me.
“Of course nothing is wrong with that. It’s really c-u-t-e~”
“Stop it alreadyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!”
“Ahahah, this is way too fun! I have to enjoy myself a bit more with this!!!”
My patience finally cut, being forced to watch Iroha hold her stomach with her laughter. Unable and unwilling to survive through this until arrival, I took drastic measures.
“Disperse, evil spirit!”
I slapped a bill-like paper onto her forehead.
“W-What is that? I can’t see anything?!”
“I bought this paper from a (nearby) shrine. Supposed to have a miraculous effect.”
“Why would you buy something like that?!”
As Iroha frantically threw her hands around, I gave a calm explanation.
“Every year when it turns to beach season, a lot of accidents traverse the news. Taken away by the waves and stranded, done in by poisonous shellfish, eaten by sharks.”
“I never saw the last one happen, though!”
“It often happens overseas. Anyway, it has an excessively low chance of happening, but I would do anything to not get wrapped up in one of those accidents. Hurting yourself, losing your life, you’re dead. You won’t be able keep doing what you want, productivity zero. Thinking about it from an efficiency’s standpoint, you definitely want to avoid that.”
“If you die, it’s game over! No need to think about efficiency anymore! Why did you give it so much thought?!”
“Of course, there are several ways to avoid such accidents. But in the end, all it boils down to is luck. Hence, I’ve prepared various kinds of methods to boost said luck,” I said, as I spread out the divine goods like a fan in front of me.
Papers, charms, hamaya1—a wide array of objects that help fend off evil spirits and bad luck.
“Senpai. Are you…an idiot?”
“How rude! I brought these all here to guarantee everyone’s safety. All with the expenses of the [5th Floor Alliance].”
“How does this count for expenses…”
“It’s fine. I went on my knees with Makigai Namako, and begged him to use these in ‘Black Goat’, so they all found a worth.”
“Is that so… Well, you’re putting a lot of reasons forth, but in the end, you’re still just scared, right…?”
“Disperse, evil spirit!”
“Gyaaaah! You slapped me a second time?! I can’t see!”
Really, accusing other people of being scared. I’m just trying my best to avoid any danger coming my way, and it’s not because I’m scared or bad with this sort of stuff… Really!
After that, we left the parking area and drove on in silence. Ozu was sleeping just like before, not showing any signs of waking up. Iroha seemed to have gotten tired after being annoying all this time, and when I checked on her she was sound asleep and silent. Since the surroundings had gotten quiet and pleasant, my consciousness was slowly pulled towards the world of dreams.
When I wake up, will I be greeted with the wide, blue sea? What kind of swimsuit will Iroha be wearing? Is Mashiro working hard because she decided against the sea? These questions were drifting around in my mind, when I got more tired and tired, until my consciousness completely faded. And then—
When I woke up, what was visible before my eyes was the wide sea and the beautiful beach! …Sadly not, and instead, we were surrounded by a thick forest and a shabby village. The wind was blowing strong. It blew past us, making the grass rustle with the distant howling of dogs. Even though the sun was shining down as strong as back in the city, rather than feeling unnecessarily warm, I even felt a chill on my skin. There were buildings built up here and there, but they had been worn down through the decades, looking about to collapse at any second. It looked like we’d leaped through time into the Edo2 period. No, can I finally retort?
No matter how you look at it, we’re clearly in the mountains.
We were heading to the beach, the sea, our summer, so why does the scenery look so much like a mountain range? Hey, this is definitely weird. The tires of the car were dirty with leaves, and the main body equally so. It seems like we’d intentionally drove through the dirt and mud.
“Sumire-sensei. No, Murasaki Shikibu.”
“I hope you have a proper explanation for this. What is this scenery that I’m seeing. Where did the sea disappear off to?”
“I couldn’t help it okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay?!”
Without any care to her tights, she just kneeled down before me, pushing her head on the ground. It’s the Murasaki Shikibu-sensei’s speciality, serious prostration.
“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! But just pull along for one day! After that, we can go on our way to the sea just planned!”
“Rather than apologizing, give me a proper explanation. Where are we?”
“The village Kageishi.”
“The village with the mansion belonging to the main Kageishi Family. The people living in this village are mostly our relatives.”
“I mean, I get there might be families that inhabit an entire region like this. But naming the entire village after your family is way too absurd. What’s wrong with you people?”
“Well, there’s not many people living here.”
“I can see that.”
Just making use of this panoramic view from our position, I could see that the village gave off a gloomy, lonely atmosphere. Though I couldn’t tell with the buildings, I barely saw any people walking on the streets.
“And, why did you just suddenly take us to this godforsaken place?”
“The thing is… I did send these lovey-dovey pictures in my family’s LIME group…”
“Ugh… And that’s now a problem?”
I remembered the incident that happened with Midori in the classroom. Depending on how you saw it, it could very well be misinterpreted as some indecent act. If the people from her family saw that, and gave their harsh opinion on it…
“No, that isn’t the problem.”
“I really don’t get the tolerance level of your family sometimes.”
“Just, I was told ‘If you really have someone you’re so close to, why did you never introduce us to him? We want to get to know him as well. If I can’t judge him for myself, I won’t attest to the engagement if you won’t show him to me’, so I just had to…”
I see. If you’re that honest, then bring him with you, is basically what they’re saying. It really seems like they hold up their traditional values.
“You could have just declined it with how sudden it was, right?”
“I couldn’t! My grandfather is way too scary, you know?! He’ll kill me with some super long-range curse or whatever!”
“You’re telling me he’s a necromancer? Also, please don’t just change your view of the world.”
The world as I know it is the normal, modern-day Japan. Don’t just throw in some supernatural phenomena.
“Also, your family is a clan of educators, bringing forth teachers for many generations. That’s why you had to become a teacher yourself, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“With that, I can’t see any reason your family would just move into a small village like this.”
“Ahh, there are some complicated circumstances for that. Our roots as a family of teachers dates back to the Edo period, and—”
“…How about we have this talk later, okay?”
Before Sumire could start her explanation, someone suddenly tapped her on the shoulder. The identity of that person, who was emitting a dark, fiendish aura, was actually my trusted friend Kohinata Ozuma, or Ozu for short…It is Ozu, right? Yeah, probably. Though his killing intent is on a different level than usual.
“I stayed up all night to come up with the system, this schedule. You don’t dare to ruin it all with some unnecessarily long explanation, right?”
That sure is a cold voice, Ozu. And cold, dead eyes on top of that. Even a predator targeting prey more kind eyes than him.
“I-I do feel bad, okay? But, if I were to go against my grandfather, things would end up even worse—”
“Murasaki Shikibu-sensei. It seems as though you have a death wish.”
As Sumire was about to start making excuses, Ozu lifted up his hand high up.
“H-Hey, Ozu, I know that you’re angry, but are you planning to shed blood here? You’re going too far—”
I quickly stood in front of Sumire to intercept his hand. However, it never came down. Instead…
“I will proceed to hack your PC right now, Murasaki Shikibu-sensei, and send all the OneeShota data that you have saved to the Board of Education.”
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!! I’ll die in the eyes of societyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!”
T-That’s way too cruel, Ozu. Even for you. Unparalleled cruelty, that’s what this is. Even I started shaking in fear at his fiendish execution measures. If he’s going that far, then he must really be boiling with anger right now. Well, all his hard effort and sleepless nights would be wasted at this rate. Alright, gotta remember to never, ever piss this guy off.
“Akiteru-samaaaaaa, save meeeee! At this rate, I will be ravished by Ozuma-kun! Everyone will see my most important places!”
As Sumire clung to me with tears in her eyes, I looked down with a saddened and pained expression.
“Thank you very much for all this time.”
“Don’t just give up on meeeeeeee?!”
“To be honest, I thought that you’d end up like this eventually.”
“You’re saying I’ll end up in prison?! I didn’t do anything that would rectify an arrest from the police, you know?!”
“Could you swear to god?”
“I can, and I will!”
“Can you swear that in front of Arashima-kun?”
“I’m a bad womaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!” Sumire started bursting out in tears.
Maybe I did tease her a bit too much. I guess I should stop and get a bit more serious. Or so I thought, actually, but before I could say anything, Iroha poked into the conversation.
“Ummm, Senpai, everyone. Do you have a minute?”
“Wah! So dirty! Don’t wipe your nose on my clothes, ew!”
The 25-year old teacher saw her only rescue and hope to be Iroha, as both Ozu and I mercilessly hammered down on her. Patting down on her head with a sympathetic expression, Iroha said with a refreshed expression.
“I don’t really get the complicated things, but doesn’t this place look similar to the stage of your game, Senpai, Onii-chan?”
“And what about it? That doesn’t erase the sin of obstructing the success of my job and calculations, you know?”
“Now now, calm down. Isn’t going to the mountains standard fare, even? Like, it could turn out to be data for ‘Black Goat’. Isn’t this ‘killing two birds with one stone’?”
Finishing her sentence, Iroha threw me a wink which Ozu and Sumire couldn’t see.
“I do think that for the efficiency-loving Senpai, this is a golden opportunity, isn’t it?”
—I see. Going along with this, we could maybe soothe Ozu. Really, this damned honor student that she’s acting. Observing other people, grasping others, and digging up their weaknesses.
“It’s just as Iroha said. Though we missed the trip to the sea, we can still gain something for our activities with the [5th Floor Alliance], and turn this unfortunate event into something positive. Since we’re here already, we might as well do our job while enjoying ourselves.”
“…That’s true, I guess. If Aki says that it’s not a waste of time, then I’ll let this slip.”
“Yeah. This time, we have to look at the bigger picture.”
“Okay, I got it. Really, you sure are kind, Aki.”
Life finally returned to Ozu’s eyes. This is Ozu’s weakness, the one that Iroha saw through perfectly. In order to achieve the best result, the best future for me and the [5th Floor Alliance], I act all according to efficiency, and do what I believe is best from the bottom of my heart. And Ozu won’t go against my decisions because he knows that very well. Well, I doubt that he actually had any intentions of truly killing Sumire as a member of society.
“—Ah, but, Murasaki Shikibu-sensei.”
“There won’t be a next time, okay?”
I take that back. He’s dead serious.
「I’m glad that you’re in a better mood now, Ozu」
「Yeah, but one out stays as one out」
「I’ve backed up all the contents of Murasaki Shikibu-sensei’s hard drive… You know what I’m playing at, right?」
「Yeah, I’ll make sure to train her a bit more thoroughly」
1 (ceremonial) arrow used to fend off evil