Cloudy After Rain
The team wanted to discuss the Cheer Competition today, and our class’s rep went too. Since the reps were all people who lost at jankenpon, they all looked pretty surly about it.
Is this really okay?... I thought that and, unsurprisingly, Inaba-senpai told them off really sternly: “You first years are showing no spirit whatsoever!” She usually looks really cute when she’s all bashful in front of Taichi-senpai, but other than that, Inaba-senpai is a little… scary.
Maybe I could’ve mediated the situation, so I tried my best, but if they mistook it as showing off I might have gotten yelled at, so all I did was attempt to make a few suggestions. I’m brave now! I’m pretty amazing, if I do say so myself… I can, right? I do say so myself. Even if it’s a tiny one, it’s still a step forward.
But my “attempts” didn’t seem noticeable at all, so they were skimped over.
I attempted to do my best, but it looks like I’ve failed again, and I feel like I’m going to lose my confidence soon. But this also shows that there are better mediators than me. I hope I can become like them someday, if possible.
Ah, my senpais seem to be a bit out of it, am I worrying too much?
Uwa Chihiro organized what he remembered of the discussion topics into a text document, saved it, and closed his laptop. He then stood from his chair and left his room.
He crossed the living room and headed for the kitchen. The television was displaying some entertainer engaging in some boring punishment game and roaring with laughter, while his little brother was giggling like an idiot along with him, watching the scene.
He retrieved a PET bottle of water from the refrigerator, and poured some into a glass.
“Chihiro, are you still able to keep up with the high school workload? Can you keep up with the teachers’ paces?” His mother asked.
“No big deal, it’s pretty easy.”
“I see. You should have no problem, but…”
His mother spoke and broke off, hesitating over whether to continue. If you have something to say, spit it out.
“Are you… happy at school? You got into this current school because you didn’t get into your first choice school, right? So I’m very worried…”
You didn’t need to nag at the end there. If this were a normal situation, he’d undoubtedly be vexed by this, but he just couldn’t care less right now since he hadn’t the time to nitpick like that.
“Yeah, I guess I’m pretty happy.”
He had been very content recently, indeed.
Could he really pull off something like that? When Chihiro had first begun to use that power, he’d felt intensely uneasy, and moreover, he’d been dubious from the outset.
But after that power had brought about dramatic results, Chihiro, who had originally suspected it to be some sort of grand prank, was now thoroughly convinced that it was real. If this were a prank, it was much too elaborate.
Chihiro had met that guy, who had asked him: Do you want to try and make this utterly boring world into something more interesting? At first he thought it was a joke in poor taste, but judging from that guy’s rather unusual manner, Chihiro could tell that he was serious.
That guy had told him that he was only borrowing someone else’s body, and was not the same guy as he appeared to be; moreover, he had proved it by exchanging souls with Chihiro.
Never in his wildest dreams had Chihiro ever expected the opportunity to experience such an unrealistic phenomenon as a personality exchange.
After that, he had met that guy a few more times.
That guy told Chihiro about what he had previously done to his current targets, and conversely, he wanted Chihiro to answer some rather personal questions. When he asked the guy afterwards, he learned that those questions seemed to be an interview of sorts. Luckily enough, those questions seemed to clarify his own thoughts quite a bit.
Then, the guy had declared Chihiro eligible, and Chihiro had received power.
The conditions were simple: make those guys more interesting.
It felt amazing to use that power.
His decision to make Yaegashi Taichi his first target should be correct. Just as expected, that stupid goody-two-shoes was easily fooled.
The upperclassmen of the Cultural Research Club saw him as a partner within the club, shared their experiences over the year with him, and their interpersonal relationships among the members. Thinking back on it now, he was incredibly lucky to have this sort of experience. It was thanks to their explanations that he was able to establish a plan to shake them up.
Stage One was more or less a success… He should be able to say that.
The lines he had prepared for himself after an initial investigation contained not a single deviation; he was delighted when the other person’s actions exceeded his own expected development of events; it was also a great bonus to know that he could even turn into a complete stranger.
He was on the right path; he should continue this plan of action.
If he had the will, he could of course bring about something even more shocking, but that would be unwise. If this were something anyone could do, why was he chosen?
This was merely a process in his ascension.
However, this was a rare opportunity that had come by, and since he was asking those guys to become his stepping stones he should at least return the favor.
So he wanted to tell them.
--- How utterly fragile they are, these bonds that you all believe in so much.
--- How utterly fleeting it is, the feeling of being convinced that you have only a single thing to truly love.
It was their prerogative if they wished to revel in youth, and Chihiro thought that was good.
However, even so, they needed to recognize reality.
This world would not let people place their utmost trust in some stupid words and live on, keeping perfect fantasies. He knew this, and so he wanted to tell them the truth of this world.
He very much wished that he could sincerely thank the one who had bestowed upon him this wonderful power: <Heartseed>.
Chihiro arrived at school very early, with plenty of time before class began. This was slowly becoming a habit of his.
He feigned the intent to head off somewhere, hanging out all throughout the building, especially in areas where the Cultural Research Club upperclassmen seemed to come and go. The ideal location would seem to be the floor where the second year classrooms were, but if he went there too often it would attract attention, and it felt a bit embarrassing.
Should he actively devise a more meticulous tactic? Chihiro gave it some thought, but recalling his past experiences, even as something suddenly came up, he was surprisingly still able to successfully wing it. After all, there were limits to the screenplay he could write on his own, and it might not be a bad thing to go with the flow and play it by ear.
He discovered a familiar figure from behind, near the faculty office. An existence with black hair that drifted with the wind, whose mere gait could create something like a scene from a movie --- Nagase Iori.
There was a girl in the school who was pretty enough to shock the heavens --- Chihiro didn’t find it difficult to comprehend the existence of this rumor. To those guys who were only interested in matters of a lower dimension, she ought to be an ideal object of gossip.
Regarding the power that <Heartseed> had conferred him, that guy had said: … A name? It doesn’t have any special name… So Chihiro had given it a name of his own: “Fantasy Projection”.
“Fantasy Projection” was a power that could make others mistake him for someone else.
Its activation conditions were very simple, one only needed to make a declaration in front of the other person.
Chihiro pressed towards Iori from behind; there was no one whom he recognized in sight. Deciding that a short moment would be fine, he opened his mouth:
"[Yaegashi Taichi as Nagase Iori views him.]”
No one else heard Chihiro’s voice; it was transmitted assuredly into Nagase’s ears.
However, Nagase should have been unable to interpret Chihiro's voice as it was, because it was like a hypnotizing password.
Chihiro [Taichi] spoke to Nagase.
"Huh? Ah, morning, Taichi."
Nagase turned her head and replied.
Right now, Nagase Iori would undoubtedly, assuredly see Uwa Chihiro as Yaegashi Taichi. Whether it was his demeanor, voice, or actions, to Nagase, he was Taichi. This was "Fantasy Projection".
Even so, as it was, Chihiro's body of course had no way of physically transforming into Yaegashi Taichi. This was merely applying a suggestion of sorts to the other person, in order to have them believe so.
This sort of power resembled a signal that could interfere with someone's mind. When Chihiro thought <Heartseed> was going to explain it, he instead went: "Ahh... Why do I need to explain the logic behind this... there's no need at all... Anyway, that's how it'll be, please understand it as that..." The discussion was then concluded, therefore Chihiro was not familiar with the specifics.
The short of it was, "Fantasy Projection" directly interfered with another person's mind, but Uwa Chihiro was still Uwa Chihiro to other people nearby, so he must remain vigilant of his surroundings.
"Could I have a word?"
Despite speaking as he usually would, when Nagase Iori heard it, it would automatically be converted into Yaegashi Taichi's tone of voice. It would be slowed by half a beat, but Chihiro was also able to hear his automatically converted voice once he finished speaking.
Putting aside their differences in clothing, even the person's belongings - like their phone, even if it were a different model, would be mentally compensated for by the target's mind. If the situation were one-on-one, it would be utterly impossible for him to be outed as an imposter.
However, "Fantasy Projection" could only be used upon Taichi and the others: the five second-years of the Cultural Research Club.
This was the current restriction that <Heartseed> had placed upon him.
"... Yeah, sure."
Nagase nodded, a little hesitantly. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the atmosphere between her and Taichi had been slightly awkward as of late.
This was completely the effect of Chihiro's attacks.
"Are you fancying anyone lately?"
"You're talking about that stuff again..."
Nagase's brows knit together somewhat crossly.
"... Well, it's not like we can't discuss that stuff. We can if you want to, but don't you think that it's been a little awkward between us lately? It makes me think, is this really the moment to ask? You shouldn't be that dense, Taichi..."
"I want to know for sure."
Chihiro [Taichi] pressed. As long as he hardened his tone, his voice would change according to its strength. To Nagase, it ought to sound like [Taichi] saying it in a strong manner.
Additionally, Chihiro had learned something recently. Nagase Iori had a habit of not saying no, to an unexpected degree.
Normally carefree, Nagase looked to be a headstrong person who fit the words "arbitrary action" and "blind progression" very well. However, although she was strong when taking the initiative, if the other person put on an equally strong attitude, she actually wouldn't know how to respond.
This was something that not many people had discovered, but Chihiro knew.
Nagase sank into silence.
In a place where people would frequently pass by, the risks that came with using "Fantasy Projection" increased tenfold.
"Forget it, forget I asked. Well, I’ve got stuff to do, so I'll catch you later."
Chihiro [Taichi] said, and left the scene.
Nagase looked as though she intended to say something, but Chihiro decided to ignore her.
The release condition of “Fantasy Projection” was to have the “suggested” person realize that the one who had instigated the power (Chihiro, in this case) had left them. In this situation, for example, if Chihiro rounded the corridor corner and completely vanished from Nagase’s sight, the “Fantasy Projection” being used on Nagase would end, and if Uwa Chihiro were to appear before her once more, she would be able to tell with certainty that it was him. Chihiro rounded the corner. Now, this instance had ended.
Although, romance, friendship, romance, friendship… These guys really are playing that game.
During break after second period, the Cheer Competition rep from Class 2-D, part of the green team during the upcoming athletics festival, paid a visit to Chihiro’s Class 1-B. He had come to remind Chihiro to attend lunch practice.
“What a drag.”
Shimono, who sat in front, twisted his body around and flopped down on Chihiro’s desk.
“You’re in my way.”
Chihiro gently poked Shimono’s head, and Shimono pushed himself up. He wore a pair of black, plastic-framed glasses and sported a casual hairstyle. Whether it was studying or exercise, nothing was particularly difficult for him, but he never really tried his best because of his languid approach to everything, so he always remained at a so-so level.
“This athletics festival or whatever is so exhausting. Of course, it’s real nice that we don’t have to go to class during the festival itself, but for several weeks beforehand we gotta start practicing for the Cheer Competition. It’s so annoying. Or should I say, it’s sooooo annoying.”
“You’re more annoying to me right now.”
Laughter came from behind.
Chihiro turned to look and saw Enjouji Shino standing frozen to the spot with an “Oh no” expression on her face, hands pressed over her mouth.
“What do you want?”
“It can’t be nothing.”
“What d’you mean by ‘Uhhm’?”
Enjouji looked visibly terrified. She was petite; she looked as though a sudden gust of strong wind might blow her away.
Enjouji looked down embarrassedly and sputtered:
“Chi-Chihiro-kun… No! Uwa-kun!”
Didn’t she agree not to call him by his first name in class? That was much too slow!
Enjouji coughed two times to clear her throat, and restarted:
“Um… Uwa-kun, the things you guys were just talking about… were very interesting.”
“Were you eavesdropping on us? What about our conversation was interesting?”
“I-I just happened to hear it. I don’t know why, but I thought it was interesting.”
Her perceptiveness was incomprehensible.
“Enjouji-san, do you think I’m very interesting too?” Shimono asked.
You? Forget it. --- Chihiro thought, but kept silent.
“Uh… Um, I thought Shimono-kun’s ‘soooo annoying’ was really interesting.”
“See, Uwa? You turn a blind eye to it, but Enjouji-san understands my charm.”
“Listen more closely, Shimono. She’s just telling you that you’re really annoying.”
“Wha… I’m not soooo annoying!”
Shimono said comically, letting loose all of his talent.
“Ha… Ha ha…”
But Enjouji merely laughed dryly a few times out of courtesy.
Awkward silence. Dragging it any further wouldn’t fire things up either.
Shimono looked embarrassed, as though intending to cut this topic short as quickly as possible.
“By the way, Enjouji, don’t you have other things to do?”
“Ah… Y-Yeah! I need to get my notebook back from Tomomi-san… I’ll see you later, then.”
Enjouji bowed her head quickly at Shimono in farewell, then headed for the front of the classroom.
Shimono watched Enjouji’s figure from behind as she departed, murmuring as he grinned dully:
“Hey, Enjouji-san just called you ‘Chihiro-kun’. You guys dating?”
What an utterly boring question to ask, but a common one nonetheless. Asking such a question was basically an unwritten rule after such a situation occured, so Shimono was merely abiding by an utterly boring rule.
“Not at all. Enjouji only calls me that because the other people in my club do the same thing to each other.”
Shimono looked suspicious, but didn’t pursue the matter. Although Shimono would act according to rules, he also knew how to read the situation, so Chihiro didn’t hate him at all.
“Enjouji-san, though~. Her introverted personality and childlike manner seem to give her a lot of trouble~. But it’s pretty cute all the same. How should I say it? She makes other people feel that rather than being a girlfriend, she’s better off being a pet.”
“Is that your fetish?”
“Hey, it’s rare for you to play dumb, Uwa!”
Actually, it was Chihiro who was taking Shimono for an idiot.
“Ah~, but how do I put it…”
Shimono surveyed the classroom, and Chihiro followed his gaze. A guy by himself, two to three people sitting together chatting; everyone had circumscribed their own little group to pass the break time.
“There really is an ocean between the guys and the girls.”
Hearing Shimono mutter like that, Chihiro assented with a grunt.
The students had divided themselves up into the boy group and the girl group; not a single mixed circle was visible.
“Isn’t that how it always is during break?”
“I just think that things could livelier… Ah, I was just talking to Enjouji-san, too. If I can turn this into a fuse, and slowly expand the battlefront…”
“What’s your willingness to go to the front line?”
“Then you’re done for.”
“Can’t I just leave the vanguard stuff to you, Uwa? Besides, Enjouji seems to like you more. You lead the charge and destroy the enemy’s fortifications, and if you succeed, I’ll be right behind you!”
“What if I perish gloriously in battle?”
“I’ll prepare the recreational facilities and do my best to await your return.”
“So you’re planning to abandon and forget me, right? You really are done for.”
“Aw~, fight hard, Uwa~. The day I see you successfully carve out a niche, I will enter the fight as well.”
Irresponsible as he was, his frank attitude was actually rather likeable, and Chihiro was in no position to talk anyway.
Out of the corner of his eye, Chihiro noticed the door at the front of the classroom opening and a tall boy walking in.
“Oh, hey, Tada.”
Shimono greeted the boy, then told him in a staccato voice:
“Today, after, school, there, will, be, practice.”
“Huh?! I didn’t know that!”
Tada lamented exaggeratedly. His slightly long brown hair and hand jewelry gave a sloppy impression, but if you talked with him, you would find that he was pretty easy to get along with. It felt suitable for him to be everyone’s leader, standing at the front, but he personally did not enjoy that, always emphasizing: “I couldn’t do that! I’m more suited to idle around in the back.”
“I really didn’t know that…”
“Well, now you do.”
“Hey, thanks for the roast, Uwa… You kidding me? Practice again?... All we need to do is prepare a little before the competition! That’s why I don’t wanna be the rep, or whatever!”
At Tada’s bemoaning, Shimono spoke like an old man getting drunk:
“Let’s get along from now on, Jan Loser Brother Three!”
“Don’t call me that! You’re gonna give me negative energy that I won’t be able to shake off!”
Shimono and Tada put on an insipid mini-performance, roaring with laughter.
This was boring beyond belief. Even Chihiro laughed.
“Oh, right, what did you guys watch on TV last night at ten? Of course, it was---”
Tada opened Pandora’s box. Chihiro didn’t pay him any specific attention, letting the words go in one ear and out the other. That way, Tada’s voice sounded like nothing more than meaningless drivel. Shimono’s voice conversing with Tada’s became equally meaningless.
Noise without meaning, creating absolutely nothing at all, leaving no traces anywhere in the world, slowly elapsing away.
Chihiro thought that, but Tada and Shimono were oblivious. They continued chatting away.
This place where he existed was a world that was exactly this boring, boring beyond belief.
Nevertheless, his own world, right now, was everything but that.
To confirm his power, Chihiro experimented for a few days. Every one of the five second-years in the Cultural Research Club experienced “Fantasy Projection” at least once.
During lunch break, after he ate, Chihiro paid a visit behind the school building.
He ducked into the shade of the trees, verifying whether Aoki, whom he had spent some effort to summon, was indeed present at the agreed location.
He saw someone: Aoki Yoshifumi.
You didn’t know something until you tried it. Chihiro wanted to see whether the stuff Aoki went around wantonly shouting had any truth to it.
There was a slight distance between them.
Chihiro raised his voice, enough for Aoki to hear.
“[The one whom Aoki Yoshifumi views as his object of romantic interest.]”
Aoki suddenly looked towards him, a dumb grin on his face.
It appeared that “Fantasy Projection” had definitely worked.
“Fantasy Projection” was a power that utilized the impressions inside another person’s head and induced an illusion, and could be activated even without indicating a name. On the other hand, since this power relied on the other person’s memories, it was impossible to become someone whom that person did not know, or someone whom that person very strongly believed would not be here --- putting it a bit extremely, it was impossible to become a dead person. Moreover, if a totally, utterly, completely irresolvable paradox occurred, apparently something very troublesome would happen.
The person whom Aoki liked was, as expected, Kiriyama Yui.
If Aoki had called out someone else’s name, then things would have been interesting.
“What’s the matter, Yui? Why’re you calling me aside like this all of a sudden?”
Aoki asked, all relaxed. He’d been summoned somewhere without many people, yet didn’t show a sliver of anxiety. Wouldn’t a normal person think this to be some sort of major confession? Aoki would never put on a “just like normal” attitude to help the other person relax, would he?
“Ah, um, uh… Well, that is…”
Chihiro couldn’t help but stutter a bit.
“Fantasy Projection” was equipped with perfect compensation: Chihiro needed only to speak normally, and Aoki would automatically hear it as Yui’s voice and tone. He understood this much, but he was still worried; if he spoke entirely in a boy’s tone, would he be found out? Even so, having to mimic a girl’s tone would really be too gross.
Aoki was gazing at Chihiro [Yui] with a tender expression.
… This is disgusting. Judging by the scene, they would be two boys gazing at each other.
Chihiro pulled himself together:
“Could you do something for me?”
He accidentally spoke in a girl’s tone. Maybe he was overthinking it.
“Sure! If it’s a request from you, Yui, no matter when, no matter what, I’m very willing to serve!”
Aoki genuinely had an attitude of wanting to help realize any wish, whatever it was.
It was clearly baseless, yet he was willing to talk big like it was nothing --- people like him were very frightening.
Chihiro wanted to test exactly how frightening he could be.
“I can’t really explain the details, but for a certain reason, there’s something I really, really need to ask of you, Aoki-senpai, no matter what. Are you all right with that?”
Chihiro [Yui] spoke in a normal tone of voice.
“Leave it to me!” “Well, starting from now until I tell you to stop, no matter when, could you not talk to me? I can’t reveal the details, but it’s really because of a certain reason. Even if I talk to you of my own accord, could I ask you to not be too unsubtle, skimp over it naturally, and just ignore my existence?”
“... You want me… to ignore you… Yui?”
Aoki looked blank.
Chihiro could understand how he felt. If he had heard this sort of request, he would also be confused and think it unintelligible.
It really was meaningless, in actuality.
“Of course, it’s not like I never want to talk to you again, but for certain reasons, I have to do this no matter what. When I want to stop this request, I’ll call you here again, and when I tell you, it’s okay now… That’s how it’ll work, is that okay?”
Aoki kept silent, looking downwards as he sank into thought. “Uh… my health won’t be able to take it that way…” He murmured back and forth, muttering unintelligibly.
This request was too reckless, after all? Chihiro [Yui] thought, and just as he was able to retract what he said---
“Okay, I got it!”
Hey, hey, what did you get… Chihiro [Yui] silently retorted.
“I will ignore you, Yui! I only have to pretend like I’m ignoring you, right?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.”
“To be honest, I can’t think of a single reason or explanation why you would do this, but as I’ve said before, as long as you request it, Yui, I will put forth my full effort into helping you realize it, no matter what it is! Just relax and leave it to me!”
Aoki declared with head raised and chest out, as though without a shred of confusion.
Chihiro was stunned, or rather, maintained a respectful distance.
Was he really willing to straightforwardly accept even unfathomable requests? Why? That kind of world was really quite disgusting and incomprehensible.
Maybe he had once thought that sort of world impressive, but he didn’t want to go there. There was an insurmountable abyss between that world and this world.
Besides, since he’d received such crushing power, there was already no need to run to that world any more.
Then, when it was time to go to the club, Chihiro unexpectedly became the first member to arrive.
After a while, Kiriyama Yui and Taichi arrived too.
“Ah, Chihiro-kun, you came first, that’s unusual.” Yui beamed.
“... Why do you look so happy, senpai?”
“Because~, if you can start liking the Cultural Research Club a lot, Chihiro-kun, won’t that make me really happy~?”
“I’ve never said anything of the sort, have I?”
“I know that just from your attitude! Just from your attitude!”
Yui said, exasperated, pointing at Chihiro unabashedly. Her arched eyebrows stood even higher, and her slightly raised eyes raised even more, but she didn’t give one a stern impression, probably due to her petite figure, looking cute instead.
“Is that what you think?”
“That’s exactly what I think!”
Kiriyama’s so firm, what a headstrong Miss High-and-Mighty.
“Kiriyama and Chihiro look so happy when they’re together.”
The two of them fired back at Taichi.
Since they had said nearly the same thing, Chihiro’s expression contorted awkwardly, but Yui seemed not to care as much. This made his chest feel stuffy for some reason.
“Ah~, today feels like it’ll be a good day, though~.”
At this, Taichi replied to Yui:
“But more than half of today has already passed.”
“I know that even if you don’t point it out!”
A good day?
Today might be a good day indeed, Yui-senpai--- Chihiro murmured silently.
“Did something funny happen? Chihiro-kun?”
“No, not really, it’s nothing.”
Yui peeked at Chihiro’s face. Chihiro turned away, fleeing those clear eyes.
Afterwards, the club members assembled one after another, and Aoki finally arrived as well.
“Yo~, hey everyone! And Yu… Urmgufshll!”
Aoki let loose a queer noise as he slapped both hands over his mouth.
“Hey, you’re gross.” Inaba said coldly.
“At least be a little more emotional when you talk, Inaba! Don’t say it so matter-of-factly!”
Hearing Aoki complain like that, Nagase spoke to Enjouji:
“But it can’t be helped anyway! Right, Shino-chan?”
“Yup, because he really is very gross.”
“I get it! I’m really sorry!”
“What the heck are you up to?” Yui sighed.
Yui hadn’t been looking at Aoki, but now she turned towards him, astonished.
A strange atmosphere settled within the room, and everyone turned to look at Aoki.
“Hey, Aoki… What in the world just happened?”
Taichi broke the strange atmosphere, and Aoki looked as though he’d been rescued.
“That was… I wanted to keep my promise like I said, but I almost botched it from force of habit… I decided to ignore that! Habits are scary.”
“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.” Taichi replied.
The club returned to its original atmosphere, and finally, he couldn’t bear it anymore --- and began to snigger quietly.
Damn, he’ll be found out… He thought, but he was unable to suppress the rising corners of his mouth.
This was hilarious. He was only speaking his mind at random about something he’d thought of half-jokingly, but Aoki was actually, desperately trying to do it. This was so stupid it was hysterical. Chihiro was enchanted with his own might, that he was able to mess with someone to this degree. He’d never feel incomparable to anyone ever again.
He was violently jolted back to reality, and looked towards where the voice had come from --- Enjouji.
“Uh… Um, I saw that you had your head down and you were trembling, so I wanted to ask what’s wrong…”
Nagase and Inaba were shouting loudly at each other to his side, and Taichi was just about to help arbitrate them.
“Ahh, it’s nothing.”
Enjouji nodded, but she looked very mindful of him all the same, and kept stealing glances at Chihiro from time to time.
A cold shiver ran through him. She hadn’t discovered his secret, had she?
Then, Yui turned towards Aoki.
Chihiro perked up his ears. Taichi and the other girls were still arguing, and somehow Nagase had sucked Enjouji in as well. Currently, only he was listening closely to Yui and Aoki’s conversation.
“Hey, Aoki, during P.E. today!”
Yui spoke to Aoki.
One, two, three seconds later, Aoki did not display any reaction whatsoever.
“Ah, I need to go to the bathroom!”
Aoki stood up in a rush while saying this, then frantically exited the clubroom.
Yui reached out after him like a child abandoned by her parents, then dropped her hand quickly.
Beneath her long, shining chestnut hair, Yui’s expression was visible.
She looked extremely hurt.
She looked extremely lonely.
Why did she look like she was about to cry?
She was always complaining about a guy called Aoki at the dojo, about what a drag Aoki was, how much she wanted to teach this Aoki guy a lesson, complaining so many times that one wanted to ask her whether she was tired of saying it.
And yet, it turned out that Kiriyama Yui…
--- Whatever, it doesn’t matter.
Chihiro’s next target was Inaba Himeko, who had left everyone at the train station after school and headed home alone. Chihiro had recently been leaving the club early when it was about to end, under the pretense of “something happening at home, I need to leave early for a while”.
He lay low outside the station’s ticket stile, waiting, watching for a moment during which there would be no people near them.
"[The person whom Inaba Himeko likes the most.]”
Without any surprise or amazement whatsoever, Inaba mistook Chihiro for Yaegashi Taichi, deeply believing without a doubt that it was him.
“What’s wrong? Didn’t you go home?... Y-You’re not here to see me, are you?...”
Inaba explained according to her own initiative; her face even reddened.
Although Yui praised Inaba as icily clever and unstoppable once she pulled out her big guns, Chihiro found that quite difficult to believe.
He was suddenly curious: how far had these two progressed?
“Hey, Taichi, why don’t you just come to my place---”
“Let’s break up.”
Chihiro [Taichi] said.
Actually, Chihiro was originally planning to introduce it in a more meandering fashion, but as soon as he saw Inaba’s unusually happy expression, he couldn’t help but want to strike her down in one blow, to deeply, deeply harm her.
Time froze for Inaba; a lopsided smile still clung to her face.
Yui’s hurt expression floated into his mind.
Why would it appear now? This had nothing to do with that.
Today he had carried out a plan he’d designed with “Fantasy Projection” and successfully achieved his goal.
There had been no hitches whatsoever; everything had gone perfectly, and he should be happy, but for some unfathomable reason, Chihiro somehow felt jittery.
“You’re so annoying, you talk too much. Honestly, I’m fed up with you.”
Chihiro stepped into Taichi’s shoes; it felt like he was singly, murkily extracting the cruelest portion of his heart and mercilessly skewering Inaba, piercing her soul.
Inaba’s expression looked as though she had learned of the day that this world would end.
Chihiro genuinely felt that he, alone, could bring about the end of someone’s world.
In a certain sense, he was a god.
For what reason would someone as extraordinary as he feel jittery towards other matters? How could he remain mired in such insignificant affairs? He wouldn’t be satisfied with merely this; he wanted to ascend to higher ground.
“Nah, I was just kidding.”
Chihiro [Taichi] said, returning to his usual tone when facing Inaba.
“Huh… Ah… Kidding?”
“Yeah, just kidding. Why would Tai… I say something like that? Please forget what I just said, and don’t mention it tomorrow.”
“Ah… Yeah, that’s… Yeah.”
Inaba murmured as though consoling herself, revealing a complicated expression, like she had breathed a huge sigh a relief yet was about to cry at the same time.
“Bye. Please keep your end of the promise.”
Huh? Ah, yeah… S-See you tomorrow!”
Without looking back, Chihiro [Taichi] left and disappeared from Inaba’s view.
Absolutely inseparable, the bond between those two was invulnerable --- Yet with just a single sentence, he could easily disturb that relationship of theirs.
The relationships between people were as weak as that, unable to withstand a single blow. If one knew this and still desperately wanted to maintain those relationships, wasn’t that really quite stupid? Whether it was everyone, or her.
Chihiro had always believed that this world was boring beyond belief, filled with people imprisoned by absurdly ignorant fixed ideas, an absurdly ignorant world. He had once given up, thinking that he could only be buried within.
But he had been chosen. He had been chosen, and he had received power.
If it were now, Chihiro could say it.
--- This world really is quite fascinating.