Chapter 4: An Opened Door Can't Be Closed Again

Month: O

Day: X

Clear

Something’s off, something’s definitely wrong. The senpais all look off, they all look off… I say that, but whenever I try to think of exactly where they are off as a whole, I draw a complete blank.

What should I do?

I’d like to help if it’s something I can manage myself, and I hope that my senpais can return to how they were before.

So I’ve been trying to investigate the reason, and thinking hard while putting a lot of passion into it. This time I have to pluck up my courage and act.

But this time, like always, I couldn’t help with anything at all… Whatever, I’ve always known that I can’t do anything… No! Stop this sort of negative thinking! Next time, I’ll definitely, next time…

You know, I talk like that, but I’m really only just a bystander. Ahh, urgh.

Come to think of it, I feel like Chihiro-kun’s changed a bit lately… Should I say that he seems to have become really strong, or really amazing?... Or maybe he’s received something from someone?


+++


Uwa Chihiro’s household --- the Uwa household, was nothing to write home about.

They were a family of four comprised of his father, mother, and younger brother, living in a 3-LDK[1] condominium apartment purchased on a 25-year mortgage. His father was a salaryman, and his pay was acceptable. They couldn’t live too extravagantly, but as long as his father wasn’t laid off, they shouldn’t have to worry about the mortgage or child-raising expenses; an outstandingly average middle-class family.

In the morning, the table was stacked with simple salad and toast. Chihiro, his father, and his brother sat at the table, his mother in the kitchen preparing bento for him and his brother.

Chihiro spread butter onto his toast and bit into it.

The three of them didn’t talk.

His father sipped coffee and read the paper. His brother had slept very late last night after staying in a chatroom or playing games, so he was eating breakfast very slowly with his eyes half-closed.

The only sound was the empty echo of the television.

This was an everyday morning; it had repeated several times, several tens of times, several hundreds of times.

His father stood and left the table to tidy up his appearance. He had been working at his current company ever since graduating from school, and needed to go to work today as well.

Chihiro had always been under the impression that he would become like this one day as well. He, too, would walk the same road as his father, walk the same road as people who reached a certain level in this world.

Chihiro wasn’t really dissatisfied. This was very typical, and if he considered all types of personal gain in the whole of Japan, he could even say that he was living a winner’s life. What could he be dissatisfied with?

Chihiro knew that no matter how capable someone was, there would also be someone more capable, but he did not wish to become that person, so he wouldn’t admire or envy them. The ones who were able to climb to the top were predestined from birth. They possessed certain things from the very start --- like talent, status, or money.

This world was divided into those who had, and those who hadn’t. Decisive differences divided the two. That was the simple truth. Like when he saw the genius, Kiriyama Yui, at the dojo.

That girl was on a different level compared to everyone else, and after practice, she would always be all smiles, outgoing, and vivacious, looking as though every day went happily for her. Training wasn’t relaxed by any means, but that girl never worked to the point of total collapse or suffered at all, merely leaving behind a splendid score owed to her innate talent. Yet she was the same as other girls; she enjoyed things outside of karate all the same, and to top it off, she wasn’t lacking in the looks department either, and was very popular amongst boys. Simply flawless.

Chihiro hadn’t ever thought about wanting to win against her, or having a showdown; he merely acted as though that girl were in a different dimension than he was, and watched her from afar. Even if they seemed to be very close on the exterior and got along well with each other, this was far, far from the case.

Yet one day, all of a sudden, Yui never came to the dojo again. Since their schools were different, they were never able to meet each other again either.

Yet on another day, Yui came back to the dojo, and the two of them began attending the same school.

What fascinating fate.

Be that as it may, Yui hadn’t touched karate for several years by then, but he’d heard tell that, compared to before, Yui had become much more conservative. Because of that, Chihiro had thought that she’d probably gone down for the count.

However, Yui had instead become even more dazzling than before.

This had to be cheating. Even in karate, after a while, she rediscovered her sharp intuition.

What you had when you were born into this world decided a vast portion of your life.

Chihiro didn’t intend to blame a world like this, nor did he intend to change a world like this.

Because he knew that this was how the world was, and he clearly recognized his own role in it. Different from those idiotic guys who dreamed idiotic dreams and failed idiotically, he was walking the righteous path.

--- That was how Chihiro thought.

“I’m leaving, then.”

His father called towards the table and the kitchen, and left the room.

“Okay, take care.” His mother answered.

His younger brother got up without a word and headed for the bathroom. Like usual, he was probably about to spend time styling his hair.

His brother’s plate was still occupied by untouched tomatoes. This was nothing out of the ordinary. His mother should know by now; since his brother wasn’t going to touch them, wouldn’t she just have to not put tomatoes into his salad?

A completely normal scene played out in the Uwa household.

But in reality, great changes had taken place.

Thanks to <Heartseed>, the world as Chihiro saw it had changed, because he had changed.

Now, he couldn’t help but admit that, although he boasted that he understood the principles of this world and recognized his own role in it, he’d never given up after all.

Deep down, Chihiro had always been waiting for an opportunity to appear out of the blue, for a lucky chance to drop right into his lap.

He was different from most.

He had the right to become someone who had.

He had more value for existing than others.

Now, he had truly become his ideal self.


□■□■□


“Did you guys hear? I think some classes are practicing events for the athletics festival.”

Shimono said on his way back to homeroom after a class in a different room.

“You serious? It’s probably just the second or third years, right?”

This school is unusually passionate about certain matters, after all. --- Chihiro thought as he replied.

“No, I heard there are first years training as well! I heard they were influenced by the second and third years.”

“How ---”

“How could something stupid like that happen?!”

Tada spoke over Chihiro, interrupting from the side, and took the opportunity to snake his arm around Chihiro’s shoulders.

“They’re free to get all fired up for the athletics festival, but no one’s willing to practice specifically for it! We’re losing for sure~, and it’s been so hot and muggy these days~.”

“Get your hands off me if you’re hot, you’re making me hot too.”

Chihiro coolly tried to pull Tada’s hand away as Shimono pointed towards the field.

“Hey guys, look at that.”

There were seven or eight students in uniform, practicing baton passing for relay races.

“Please, there are what, three weeks left? Just how much do they want to win?” Shimono said.

“I mean, all you need to do is start practicing two or three days before.”

Chihiro muttered in assent, and Tada piped up:

“Our class wouldn’t even start practicing the day before, would we?”

“No, even our class… if there’s a miracle… the day before… Nah, it’s impossible.”

“It’s impossible either way!”

Shimono and Tada looked at each other and burst out laughing. Their laughter sounded forced, like it was meant to smooth things over.

Then, Chihiro realized that Enjouji Shino was staring blankly at the field from afar. She was clutching her textbooks and notebooks and her soft brown hair was ruffled by the wind, but she hadn’t adjusted it.

For some reason, for absolutely no special reason at all, Chihiro intentionally slowed his pace, widened the distance between Shimono and Tada walking alongside him, then headed to Enjouji and stopped beside her. Shimono and Tada seemed not to notice him leaving them, and kept moving away.

“What are you looking at, Enjouji?”

“Y-Yes! Ah, Chi, Chii… No! Um, Uwa-kun.”

“Hey, when you wanted to say ‘Chihiro-kun’ and tried to take a hard U-turn once you realized that something was wrong, you ended up saying what Nagase-senpai calls me.”

“S… Sorry. Um… Force of habit… by accident.”

Enjouji stuttered, hanging her head.

Chihiro sighed:

“Forget it, just call me ‘Chihiro-kun’ in class. Asking you to change names based on the situation seems a little too hard for you.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. In the future I’ll be careful not to address you wrongly: before opening my mouth I’ll first take a deep breath, and after I’m ready, I’ll call you ‘Uwa-kun’... Wait, I can just call you ‘Chihiro-kun’?”

“Did you do that on purpose?”

A conversation like this seemed to have happened before, was this her schtick or something?

“S… Sorry… I d-didn’t do it on purpose… Well, ummm… Umm. Ah, you’re asking what I’m looking at, right?”

“You still remember what I asked you?”

Enjouji seemed only to react slowly and have a slower processing speed, she really wasn’t wrong in the head.

“Um…”

Enjouji looked towards the field again.

“Iori-senpai and Taichi-sen --- Uhaah!

Enjouji tried to point with her finger, but ended up dropping her pencil case and notebook.

Correction: She was wrong in the head.

Chihiro looked towards the field. Nagase Iori and Yaegashi Taichi’s figures were visible amongst the group of four boys and four girls. Nagase was holding a relay baton.

They were gathered together and discussing something; someone seemed to say something funny and a couple of them arched backwards in laughter, while some others were doubled over, quaking. Chihiro was out of earshot at this distance, but he seemed to be able to clearly hear their laughter.

Deep down, his heart became restless.

“Those two are… is that Class 2-B?”

Chihiro muttered irrelevant things.

“They’re pretty amazing.”

Enjouji murmured.

“... How?”

Enjouji tilted her head, smiling warmly. She seemed to only want to conceal the expression on her face, but she also seemed to be saying: You should know... asking Chihiro to come up with the answer himself.

Chihiro felt irritated.

“Don’t you think they’re awesome?”

“How?”

“How, indeed…?”

Chihiro knew that Enjouji was only glossing over her own remark this time; she seemed to look inexplicably embarrassed.

He looked towards the field again and saw Nagase with her arms outstretched, gesturing as though organizing everyone into a line. Taichi seemed to say something stupid, causing a tall girl to poke his shoulder.

“Chihiro-kun, you ---”

Enjouji seemed to be overly passionate, failing to breathe properly, and broke off in a strange place.

“What?”

“I was thinking, if it’s you, Chihiro-kun, maybe you’d be able to understand… Um… The…”

She looked up at him, and he stared slightly at her from above. If she had some sort of weird companionship idea about who he was to her, then that would really be a drag.

“N… Noth… ing.”

Enjouji pursed her lips gloomily, her brows drooping dispiritedly, and her eyes taking on a discouraged hue. For some reason, this made Chihiro furious.

Why was he talking to Enjouji in a place like this?

Was there any reason, value, or meaning whatsoever in talking to Enjouji? Watching Taichi and the others was equally meaningless.

The world that Taichi and the others were in, and the world that Enjouji and the others were in --- He would shake off even those borders.

Chihiro stepped away and crossed the courtyard, wanting to return to class early.

“Ah… W-Wait for me, Chihiro-kun!”

Chihiro said nothing and continued forward. Just then, he suddenly bumped into Kiriyama Yui and Aoki Yoshifumi alone together. They seemed not to notice him.

He slowed down and perked up his ears. He stood a bit of a distance away, watching both of their profiles. As long as they didn’t turn towards him, Chihiro wouldn’t be seen.

“You broke your promise yesterday.”

Yui was saying angrily. There was no one else around, so her voice carried over quite clearly.

“Huh? Promise?”

“Are you playing dumb? You… Forget it.”

With that, Yui was about to leave the scene.

“Wait! I don’t get what you mean!”

“What about you, Yui… Although it’s been temporarily paused… your order from back then just came out of nowhere.”

“Order? What do you mean?”

Yui sensed Chihiro looking at her and turned to him. The two of them met eyes; Chihiro nodded in acknowledgement, and then Aoki also realized that he was there.

Somewhat embarrassed, Yui softly raised her hand in greeting, then left. Aoki forced a smile and also raised his hand, then headed off in a different direction.

Something he had caused himself had created an even more intense conflict that he had nothing to do with.

A bizarre feeling, mixed with terror and excitement, filled Chihiro’s heart.

Chihiro was personally experiencing his own new world.

“--- Hey, Chihiro-kun.”

This voice seized his heart in an instant, sending chills throughout his body.

It was obviously Enjouji’s voice, but he felt that her clear, transparent tone might shine upon the entire truth.

Chihiro turned his stiff face towards her.

“Don’t you feel that our senpais… have been a bit weird lately?”

Enjouji peered into Chihiro’s eyes, as though trying to discover some sort of color concealed within.

“Weird, how?”

“I can’t explain it… Should I say that their relationship seems to be strained?...”

“Who knows? Now that you mention it, it does seem that way. Or is it because their emotions are running high due to the athletics festival getting close?”

“Really? It doesn’t seem that way, though… Um, I wonder, could it be…”

Enjouji looked down, showing Chihiro the top of her head.

Just as Chihiro couldn’t bear Enjouji’s vague attitude anymore and was about to leave her there, she looked up. The two of them met gazes, and within Enjouji’s eyes, Chihiro could see soft embers setting torches alight.

“I wonder, could it be ---”

Alarms went off in Chihiro’s head. Instinct told him that he couldn’t allow her to say it.

“I mean, what exactly do you want to do?”

Interrogating her before she could interrogate him, he momentarily evaded the danger before his eyes.

“Huh?... What do… I want to do?”

This question froze Enjouji to the spot.

He wasn’t very clear on what was happening, but this was his chance. If he seized the opportunity and pushed just a little harder, he could tide it over.

“Yeah, what exactly do you want to do?”

“I… Um… I’m…”

The strengthening flames in Enjouji’s eyes completely vanished, becoming a patch of pitch-darkness. She seemed to lose all vitality, and was suddenly in low spirits. Clearly, Chihiro didn’t need to mind these matters any more.

“I’m going back to class first.”

“... Mm.”

Enjouji didn’t follow him from behind again.


□■□■□


That night, Chihiro thought as he lay in bed.

The price that came with earning the power of “Fantasy Projection” was to make those five people more interesting --- <Heartseed> had said that, but Chihiro only felt that it was vague and confusing. According to the information he had received by asking <Heartseed>, if the emotions of those five people were drastically altered, that guy would probably think that it was “quite fascinating”. But this was only a guess, and lacked precise evidence. That guy had said: About that stuff… I hope you can think about it on your own…

The simplest and most effective way to disturb those five people’s emotions should be to destroy their seemingly flawless relationships. Before, when <Heartseed> had appeared to inquire about his progress, he had expressed: Hmm… This shouldn’t be a bad idea…, and Chihiro had taken it as the correct answer.

Destroy the pentagon of the Cultural Research Club, and wreck the bonds between the five people. Crumble, disappear.

Chihiro would sometimes become scared suddenly, asking himself honestly: was committing such a crime really okay?

However, he always arrived at the same answer.

--- It can’t be helped.

<Heartseed> had promised Chihiro that if Chihiro could brilliantly make those five people more interesting, he would let him use the power of “Fantasy Projection” upon other people outside of those five.

If he could use “Fantasy Projection” on everyone, what sort of glorious achievements could he establish?

Desire murmured, and evil anticipated. He really wasn’t being led along on a leash; he was leading everything himself. That was it. Because he was different from normal humans.

He had to climb higher, he could climb higher, he must climb higher.

They were footstools for him to climb upwards upon. Their friendship wasn’t an eternal existence anyway, and ultimately they were limited to high school memories. Even if the time of their collapse was shifted slightly earlier, through that, they would be able to recognize the truth. This wasn’t anything bad.

The next day at school, Chihiro waited until Inaba was alone, and acted.


[The person whom Inaba Himeko would never disobey.]


“Oh, Taichi.”

Even under those conditions, Inaba still mistook Chihiro for Yaegashi Taichi. Although this was within his expectations, it was still blandly unoriginal.

Inaba rushed over, smiling, but within her smile was a slightly visible shadow. It ought to be the influence of Chihiro’s recent misdeeds.

“Inaba-san, can we find somewhere we can be alone together?”

Chihiro [Taichi] said.

“A-Alone together… Y-You mean now?”

Inaba’s face went red and she looked away. Whenever others were present, Inaba would definitely act as though she were flaunting the love between them, but when she was alone with Taichi… she would instead transform into a bashful girl filled with ladylike feelings.

If one observed this with a detached eye, they would think that Inaba was quite an artificial young lady, but if they too were intoxicated within it, perhaps they might think that she was the cutest girlfriend one could have.

“Yes, right now.”

After hesitating for a bit, Inaba nodded.

And so, Chihiro [Taichi] led Inaba to a room in the club building. It was only half as big as their own clubroom, and its interior was stacked with old desks and bookshelves. Chihiro had already confirmed beforehand that this room was usually unoccupied and could be locked from the inside.

“There’s actually a room like this..”

Inaba murmured admiringly. Her figure, dressed in a white long-sleeved top, a skirt, and black knee-highs, looked quite slender and oddly sexy.

Chihiro [Taichi] entered the room after Inaba, and quietly locked the door.

“Well, to what do I owe the pleasure of you specially bringing me here ---”

“Inaba-san, would you please take off your clothes?”

Chihiro [Taichi] asked.

Inaba froze to the spot, as though she could barely fathom the meaning behind those words, and then she flushed red.

“You’re n-n-n-n-not thinking of having our first time here, are you…?!”

She looked around in a panic, waving her hands.

“Um, wait, what, are you suddenly unable to resist or something? E-Erotic manga does have a lot of similar developments…”

Looks like Taichi and Inaba really did have a very pure relationship. Additionally, he hadn’t expected to find out in this fashion that Inaba was a reader of erotic manga.

“I want to see all of you.”

Chihiro tried to inject a tiny bit of passion into it, but his tone accidentally changed along with it; there was clearly no need for that.

“You’re saying that so suddenly… That’s…”

Or rather, in this sort of situation…

“Ah… Y-You only want to see? Y-You only want to see, right?! It would be better for us to choose a more appropriate place for the first time!”

If he wanted to, he should be able to make it to home base, right?

“But… A special setting like this does make me very interested…”

What in the world was she saying?

“Just taking your clothes off will be okay.”

“E-Even if you say that, where do I even begin…”

“For now, please undress to your underwear.”

Chihiro [Taichi] said, thinking that Inaba would never suddenly undress stark naked.

“U-Underwear? A-Are you asking me to undress to my bra and panties?”

“Um… Yes, exactly.”

Inaba had said bra and panties with such sincerity that Chihiro [Taichi] nearly burst out laughing.

“I-If I’m still wearing my underwear… in many ways, that shouldn’t count… Okay, w-well… Could you turn around first...?”

“Y-Yeah.”

Although he wasn’t planning to care about this too much, Chihiro couldn’t help but get nervous. He felt that the chance was near zero, but if someone were to try and open the door from outside, things would be far from good.

He could hear Inaba emitting a rustling noise, how much had she taken off?

“Ah… Should I keep my socks on?”

Pff!

That attack was much too unexpected, and Chihiro [Taichi] stifled a laugh.

“Huh? Ah, yes, please.”

Chihiro couldn’t help but request, but this was definitely not his preference.

“Although, your tough attitude in suddenly ordering someone to take their clothes off, and your level of perverseness in making them keep their socks on while only having their underwear left, and your exhibitionist tendencies… Only I’m qualified enough to be your girlfriend, good grief.”

Honestly, what the hell was she saying? It was thanks to her overly stupid remark that he was able to calm his mind.

“Ahh, yeah, yeah, we’re really a well-matched couple.”

Chihiro [Taichi] said somewhat dismissively, but as Inaba heard it, it ought to sound like flattery.

Then, the rustling noise of clothing stopped.

“All… All right.”

Inaba murmured in a trembling voice; she had to be extremely nervous.

Chihiro swallowed anxiously; he felt that his body was slowly growing hot… What was he nervous about? This was merely work. He’d never sink to such low-level desires and turn into a dolt. He was different from those vulgar idiots.

Chihiro [Taichi] turned his head --- and inhaled sharply.

The space was drifting with a dusty smell characteristic of old rooms. Stifling heat encircled his body in the private room, where even the window was tightly shut. A slender, black-haired girl was standing in a room like this, as he had demanded, existing only for him. On the girl’s body were a black bra, black panties, black knee-highs and loafers, and that was it. Almost her entire body was exposed, with pure-white skin laid bare, stark naked. An unusual figure wearing usual clothes, inside a school, within a sealed space. Sunlight fell in through the window, illuminating the girl’s skin, creating a shadow. There was no one else here, only him and the girl. How immoral this was, the sealed room, the secret figure. But it was due to this immorality that she was beautiful, and adorable.

Inaba crossed her hands behind her back, red-faced and looking down.

Chihiro almost thought that he was going to lose track of rationality.

But he would restrain himself.

“What… What do you think?”

“You’re beautiful.”

Chihiro [Taichi] said, half-truthfully.

A man meeting a woman in underwear face-to-face, what an abnormal space.

This also gave a sense of Taichi and Inaba’s abnormal relationship.

In other words, they were a simple, idiotic couple.

“Can… Can I put my clothes back on now?”

Inaba asked, hugging and blocking her chest from view.

“No, not yet.”

“You… You want to go even further…?! Do you want me to take my socks off…!?”

Just shut up for a bit --- Chihiro [Taichi] thought, and moved to the next phase.

“Please let me take a few pictures.”

Chihiro took out his phone and raised it.

“P-Pictures...?”

The color of fear appeared within Inaba’s eyes. Chihiro had made her deeply believe that he was [Taichi] and had performed many absurd actions recently, but this was the first time she was showing such an emotion.

After so much, has it finally been drawn out?

Despair?

Great despair brought upon her by the person she loved.

“D-Don’t you think pictures… are a little overboard?”

Inaba took a step backwards, her right hand grasping the shirt she had laid on the desk.

She had to be extremely unwilling. Chihiro knew that she would be unwilling, and that was why he was doing it.

“Do you not want me to take pictures, Inaba-san? Do you want to refuse me? Do you not love me? If you’re not willing to love me, Inaba-san, then I have no way of loving you.”

Chihiro made Inaba hear the worst words possible using [Taichi’s] attitude and voice.

Inaba’s eyes gradually filled with the tint of despair. Fear spread throughout her entire body, making her tremble nonstop as gooseflesh erupted across her skin, but Chihiro [Taichi] merely watched it happen.

After a short while, Inaba relaxed her right hand that had been clenched over her shirt.

“... I got it.”

She said, dropping her hands and lowering her head.

“Thanks.”

He now had total control over Inaba.

Chihiro [Taichi] pressed the shutter button. The camera’s flash made Inaba squint irresistibly.

Her naked body was now devoid of that flirtatious feeling prior, and now, in contrast, was charged with a forbidden flavor, enticing one to commit a crime.

Chihiro pressed the shutter button.

Was the phone’s camera function able to capture the murky atmosphere Inaba was emitting as well? Right now he could only see the preview before the photo was saved, and was unable to judge that.

Chihiro pressed the shutter button.

Click.

Click.

Click.

Click.

“Please… Please stop!”

Inaba cried loudly. She snatched up the clothing that she had just taken off and hugged it to her chest, then knelt down.

“Um… Next time, take them more slowly… Okay? Let’s just stop here… and the pictures you just took… please delete them. … Please.”

Inaba buried her face into the shirt in her hands, her voice slowly turning to sobs.

“I don’t… not trust you… but… I’m scared that the photos might get out, and more importantly… this is really weird!”

Inaba stared at Chihiro [Taichi] with reddened eyes, as though pleading with him.

Yes, or no? He had the right to choose.

A line of tears streamed down Inaba’s face.

“... I get it, I’ll delete the pictures.”

Chihiro [Taichi] said. Of course… this was all as planned.

“R-Really? Yeah, makes sense… as long as we talk it out properly, you’ll definitely understand, Taichi.”

“Of course.”

Inaba looked as though she had exhaled a long breath, and put on her shirt and skirt.

“Deleted. I got rid of all the photos I just took.”

Chihiro [Taichi] let Inaba confirm for herself on his phone screen.

“Ahh… Thank you.”

Chihiro thought it was quite strange to thank him for something like that.


□■□■□


After school, Chihiro’s target changed to Nagase, who was on the road back home. Nagase was walking along a narrow road, with no one nearby. This was a good opportunity. Chihiro rushed up in front of Nagase. He had recently learned that, if he immediately used “Fantasy Projection”, the other person wouldn’t remember it even if they saw him directly. If he had guessed correctly, things would become very interesting --- Chihiro anticipated, believing that the seed he had buried beforehand would have bloomed by now, and chose to declare thusly:


[Nagase Iori’s most headache-inducing pursuer of the opposite sex.]


“... Ah.”

Iori’s mouth fell open in astonishment.

She stopped walking, her mouth changing shape nonstop, as though she were trying to say something.

Then…

“If it isn’t Taichi. What’re you doing?”

Nagase Iori thought that Yaegashi Taichi was her most headache-inducing pursuer of the opposite sex.

Interesting. Things seem to be getting interesting, <Heartseed>.

The triangular relationship that had once been concluded was now appearing again.

Of course, things wouldn’t make a comeback that easily, but the triangular relationship that had now clearly appeared wouldn’t immediately vanish; it would leave traces. These three people could only try to maintain balance in dangerous waters.

As long as one of the angles collapsed, a chain reaction would immediately occur, causing the entire thing to buckle --- Chihiro would sink them into that state.

The triangular relationship that had always been pent up in their hearts needed only a bit of wind to be set alight.

One of them would definitely be unable to bear it, and take action.

He was probably only a step away; he only needed one last push to start an avalanche.

Victory was within reach, and they hadn’t even realized that they were under attack by an enemy. This was the absolute difference that formed between those who had and those who hadn’t.

“Why aren’t you saying anything? This isn’t a chance meeting, is it?”

Nagase looked alert as Chihiro [Taichi] spoke to her.

Since things had already progressed this far, he would try to say something definitive.

That would be rather interesting.

“I love you. I only understood after dating Inaba-san that the person whom I really love is you.”

This was [Taichi’s] confession to Nagase.

A disturbed look crept onto Nagase’s face, wavering as though she might break.

Had he succeeded?

Just as Chihiro [Taichi] thought victory was within his grasp --- both of their positions were overturned.

Nagase’s eyebrows arched. Her eyes narrowed. Her lips contorted. It was an intimidating, demonic expression.

She closed in on Chihiro [Taichi] in an instant and seized his shirt collar.

“You wanna pick a fight with me? Huh?”

Chihiro could see murderous intent. He even thought that he might actually be killed.

“You trying to betray Inaba Himeko?”

Her voice was very deep.

Hey, what the hell is this? Isn’t this a little excessive? Who the hell is she? This is fucking scary. Seriously. She’s gonna beat me up. Hell, can’t I just shake off her hold? It’s not like I’m weaker than she is. But the pressure coming from her is crushing all resistance. How terrifying.

However, he was currently the pursuer who was giving her the biggest headache. This wasn’t wrong, and Nagase wasn’t fond of refusing others; he was very much aware of this. Don’t back down, don’t run away, and get through this hurdle.

“What can I do, I love you! I can’t do anything to… suppress these feelings!”

Although Nagase had wrapped her hands tightly around his neck mid-sentence, Chihiro still managed to shout the words out.

Her glare, which seemed to pierce right through him, did not ease up.

To break out, Chihiro went all out and put forth his last resort.

“I love you, Nagase-san! I really, really do!”

Had his desperate attitude worked? Nagase released her fist from his collar.

Her eyebrows arched, then deflated, and tears sprang from her eyes.

Before they fell, Nagase looked down, and shoved Chihiro [Taichi] away from her, hard.

“As things are… Don’t you… bring that up again!”

Nagase cried, then tore past Chihiro [Taichi]’s shoulder and ran off as though she were fleeing.

Ahh, did it work?


Nagase had fallen.

Using [Taichi’s] figure, Chihiro had performed several actions on Inaba that made her suspicious, even taking pictures of her in nothing but her underwear. Judging by her despaired expression, her suspicions were probably at their limit.

Taichi was bewildered by Nagase’s temptations, but that seemed to not be enough, so he’d probably just use [Inaba’s] figure to tell Taichi “I hate you”, and then use [Nagase’s] figure to confess to him. That way, his preparations would be complete.

The triangle was on its final leg before being set in motion. But once it began to roll, the pentagon would also be endangered.

The beginning of the end --- was having those three people confront each other.


□■□■□


Sunday came, and today, the story he had created would be entering its final chapter.

Chihiro had utilized “Fantasy Projection” to spin some excuses and promised Taichi, Iori, and Inaba each to meet at the nature park.

At the end of April, the day before he had to pick a club, Chihiro had, for some reason, represented the Cultural Research Club in a marathon organized by the Track and Field club at the nature park; it was there that he had encountered <Heartseed>, in Gotou Ryuuzen’s body.

Chihiro set the meeting place for the three people as the rest area that had been used for the marathon, then ducked into the shadows of a boulder behind the rest area and held his breath. Not only would he not be discovered here, he could also watch them closely.

<Heartseed>, who always seemed to be watching the Cultural Research Club from somewhere, should also be aware that the end was near. As such, that guy was probably here already.

The first one to arrive at the meeting place was Inaba.

Being the first, Inaba surveyed her surroundings somewhat uneasily. The rest area had a simple roof with a long bench resting underneath, but she didn’t sit down, instead standing and waiting.

Then Taichi and Iori arrived at the meeting place.

They were holding hands.

Are you serious? --- Chihiro thought, trying not to laugh. He’d only spoken without thinking, half-jokingly, and he didn’t expect them to actually do as he had said. Those two acting according to his plans proved that everything had worked.

Frankly, Chihiro had always been under the impression that a number of factors would be impossible in regards to the direct conflict between those three people today. However, the bonds between Taichi and the others were strong to the point that it made him sick, and this was simultaneously somewhat fortunate for Chihiro, and fatal for Taichi and his friends.

They had to trust each other, so each of them had to trust the other person.

Their words and actions would become truth. To an imposter, there was no situation other than this in which it was easier to trick someone.

Distortions created like this would begin to converge, right here, right now.

And then, what would happen? Opposition? Conflict? Fervor? Separation? Revolt? Or collapse?

If the three of them were to confirm amongst themselves what they had said to each other, they should be able to realize that something was off, but the incidents that had occurred with “Fantasy Projection” wouldn’t just vanish without a trace. If they confirmed with each other which ones of them had been lies, they would still be unable to draw a line between lies and truth.

What would they do? Determine everything that had happened in this time as “lies”? This appeared to be a good idea, but it was actually the worst idea possible. If they saw everything as “lies”, then they would have to suspect whether whoever was in front of them at that very moment was also a “lie”.

Yes. This was the genuinely most terrifying part about “Fantasy Projection”. Even if you noticed that things were off, hell wouldn’t end just there; in fact, it would sink deeper and deeper.

It was as though you were imprisoned within fantasies, not knowing what was true and what was false, everything becoming ambiguous as you lost all traces of the truth. It would be impossible to stay normal forever in that kind of world; no matter how strong your willpower was, sooner or later, you would find it unbearable.

He had heard that they had crossed over many crises, and as such, he wanted to see their skill for himself.

Taichi and Nagase came to Inaba’s side, then dropped their hands.

The three of them became a triangle.

And then…


“““Something is wrong!”””


The three of them pointed at each other.

They had said it in unison, in a manner full of tacit understanding.

And as though they were synchronized…

“Because you looked exactly the same.” Nagase said.

“So I thought you ought to be real.” Inaba said.

“It actually affected me, too.” Taichi said.


“““--- But there’s you way you guys would say something like that!”””


After this declaration, Taichi, Iori, and Inaba stared each other in the face, and burst out laughing: Ah ha ha ha ha.

“By the way, why were you guys holding hands?” Inaba asked.

“Because Nagase told me to do it no matter what…”

“Because Taichi told me to do it no matter what…”

““Huh?””

Taichi and Nagase realized that they had spoken over each other, and the two of them laughed again.

“What’s up with you guys? I’m… No, let’s sort out the situation first.”

Inaba suggested, and the other two replied:

“Okay.”

“All~ right!”

Much too peaceful.

Much too friendly.

As though it were no different from normal.

And this made it much too supernatural.

Chihiro was dumbfounded, doubtful of whether the developments happening before his eyes were real. Was this actually an illusion? At the very least, they had to have overly suspicious attitudes, or show some apprehension while talking, right?

He kept watching them closely; clearly they had been disturbed.

Why? Because they thought that, since all of the situations had occurred when two of them were alone together, they would be okay as long as they stuck together as three? Or was this the power of those three, of the Cultural Research Club uniting together?

The three of them confirmed whether the recent events were real.

“--- and that’s what happened.”

Taichi finished, and Nagase yelled in surprise:

“How could I say something like that?! There’s no way I’d get involved between Inaban and Taichi!”

Then it was Inaba’s turn to inquire:

“Then, Taichi, after school the other day… about you telling me that you hated me…”

“Huh? How could I say that I hate you?! I’m… to Inaba… um…”

“How can you hesitate now, Taichi-kun?!”

“I-I get it, don’t hit me, Nagase! Um… That is… I love you.”

“T-Taichi~. ♡”

“Hey, d-d-don’t hug me here!”

“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”

“Nagase, don’t fan the fire like an elementary school student!”

Chihiro was livid. He was violently wrenching weeds out of the ground, aggrieved.

What the fuck were these people doing? They had no sense of danger whatsoever.

“Does this mean that our imposter can appear at any time? Or can we be spontaneously controlled?”

Inaba responded to Nagase:

“An imposter… if that were true, then could one of us be an imposter right now?...”

Yes, that’s it! Have you finally figured out just how dangerous a situation you’re trapped in?

“But all of us here, right now, are the real things.”

Taichi said unhesitatingly.

“Yeah.”

“Yup!”

Inaba and Nagase nodded in agreement, smiling.

They didn’t collapse. They looked so weak when they were by themselves, and had fallen for it so easily, creating a disturbance.

But there were still many opportunities to set them up, and he could repeat this endlessly. Even if he were discovered to be the imposter, as long as he could add lie upon lie to the pile of lies, and force them into an impasse…

But even Inaba, who had shed tears over this, was now saying impressively:

“Even if there’s an imposter, it doesn’t mean that our real selves will disappear. We just need to thoroughly understand that. No matter how many imposters appear, we only need to trust that the real things will come back, and keep enduring until it’s over.”

Nagase added:

“Because the versions of everyone in our hearts are absolute! But I, with my harshest mood swings and knack for making everyone feel chaotic, don’t seem to have the right to say that!”

“You’re right.”

Inaba’s roast cracked everyone up.

Chihiro furiously pulled up grass, pulling it up nonstop, roots and all, his body drenched in sweat.

What the shit, man. They aren’t disturbed at all.

Chihiro thought he had won, but… had he really suffered crushing defeat instead?

Even if he himself had superhuman power, were they really the ones who --- had?


□■□■□


After those three had returned home, Chihiro remained in the same spot, against the boulder, unable to move.

What should he do… If this wasn’t enough to disturb them, things wouldn’t be come more interesting. What should he do?

Chihiro had absolutely no one to turn to for help.

Then, suddenly ---


<Heartseed>, in the body of Yamaboshi High School physics teacher Gotou Ryuuzen, appeared.


Chihiro thought that his heart would come falling out of his mouth.

“What the… Where the hell did you come from?”

“Where the hell did I come from… I just walked here like normal… It was just that you were staring blankly, Uwa-san, and didn’t notice me... Ahh… but that is irrelevant.”

His rubbish-filled way of speaking hadn’t changed at all; his habit of only picking Gotou to appear as was also the same.

The root of the cause that had twisted him into an abnormal world was standing before his eyes.

Chihiro was very thankful that he had been given power, but he was unable to resist his instinctive, disgusted feeling.

“So… ahh… right.”

>Heartseed's< manner of speaking made it sound like he had forgotten his purpose for appearing.

“Things don’t seem to be going too well.”

Within his viscous tone, traces of a highly overpowering atmosphere could be detected.

Chihiro swallowed nervously, then spoke:

“That's because ---”

“Shouldn’t you have been able to make it more interesting?”

Blame.

The blood inside Chihiro’s body froze.

“... I hope that, once you join my side, you drop the idea that you can safely return to the original world if you only show me boring things… Just kidding.”

Threat.

Terror slowly engulfed his entire body.

He was going to be eaten. He couldn’t stand still without support.

“... You seem to have some misgivings. Are you acting in earnest? Hey… Uwa-san?”


He might have opened a door that couldn’t be closed again.


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Translator's Notes:

[1] 3 individual rooms along with a room for Dining, Living, and Kitchen. Japanese housing term.