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Chapter 2 – Grimveria and School, with SenpaiChapter 2 – Grimveria and School, with Senpai
After that day, flying to Grimveria along with Chihiro after school became a part of Kazaya's new daily routine.
"Ah! Look, Tsugami-kun, there's some sort of fruit growing there!"
On a particular day, when the two of them had traveled to Island #2, Chihiro looked up at a tree that resembled a palm tree from their world and said that.
There was certainly something that looked like a massive peach hanging amidst the dense overhead foliage.
"Oh, that's pretty rare. It's a banapeach."
"It looks like a peach, right? But it tastes like a banana. So it's called a banapeach."
"……That's such a straightforward way of naming something."
"Yeah, but trying too hard to give it a more unique name just makes it harder to understand. It sells for quite a high price. Let's pick it."
Kazaya approached the tree and pulled out his Insect Cage.
"Wait a minute! Tsugami-kun, I want to give it a try!"
"Eh? Really? Senpai, have you ever climbed a tree before?"
"No! But that's why I want to try it. Challenging the unknown is what adventures are all about, right!?"
Seeing Chihiro's eyes alight with curiosity, Kazaya decided to leave it to her.
She placed her hand on the tree and carefully made her way upward.
"Please be careful, even though you have the Protective Barrier."
"I know, I'll be careful!"
Chihiro answered energetically, and Kazaya felt that the expression on her face was one of childish delight.
This was probably the first time she had found the chance to do something like this.
Despite that, she climbed the tree quite skilfully and held up the Insect Cage with the hatch opened towards the banapeach.
After a short while, the banapeach turned into a sphere of light and was sucked into the Insect Cage. Chihiro nodded to herself in a satisfied manner and prepared to climb back down…… However, she froze in place after looking below.
"This is bad… Tsugami-kun, we have a problem."
Chihiro said that with an overly nervous expression, and Kazaya frowned while wondering what was wrong.
"It looks like I'm not good with heights. I can't climb down!"
Chihiro stated that so boldly that it seemed strangely dignified.
"……Do you need help?"
"Yes please, if you don't mind!"
Kazaya faced the tree, climbed up deftly like he had done this many times before, and extended his hand towards Chihiro. However, Chihiro just looked at him and didn't do anything else.
"Yeah… I feel like I'll fall if I move, so that's not happening!"
"Eeeeh…I mean, what other choice do we have?"
"Umm… I feel bad for asking, but can you carry me down?"
"Eh!? Wait, are you really okay with that!?"
Kazaya was flustered by this unexpected development, and Chihiro gave a small nod. She looked just like she always did on the surface, but her shoulders were trembling slightly. It looked like she really was quite scared.
After clearing his throat, Kazaya muttered a quick apology as he put his hand around her waist. As soon as he did that, Chihiro hugged him close and clung to him.
"T-Take it slow, okay? Climb down slowly. Umm, I mean really slowly! Nothing good ever happens in life when you rush things!"
"I don’t see what life choices have to do with tree climbing, but sure."
Kazaya slowly climbed back down to the surface. However, he felt uneasy as he could feel the warmth of her body all the way down. As soon as they reached solid ground, Chihiro moved away from him and placed her hand on her chest.
"So you have a fear of heights? Please leave things like this to me from next time."
"Eh? Ah, yes. That's right. Thank you."
Seeing her sigh, Kazaya thought that she must have been really scared. However, Chihiro placed her hands on her cheeks that were flushed red.
"…..A-Although it was a crisis, I can't believe I asked a man, and one younger than me to boot, to carry me. I feel so embarrassed."
"E-Ehh!? Isn't it a little late for that!?"
"W-What about it? I was really scared and desperate back then, you know!?"
"That's certainly true, but you have hugged me in the past as well…"
"I did that unconsciously, so it doesn't count! What happened earlier was a deliberate request from me! T-That makes it different!"
"I never expected that you would react that way, Senpai. It's making me feel strange as well……"
Remembering what happened earlier, Kazaya turned restless. As a result, the two of them became incapable of looking each other in the eye.
"Umm… I-It's not that I disliked it or anything, though. I didn’t mind doing that because it was you, Tsugami-kun…. Ah! I don’t mean it that way, though…. Umm, w-what kind of situation is this!?"
"I-I don't know! Anyways, how about he put this topic on hold for now?"
"T-That's right! That's a good idea let's do that that's what we should do let's do that right away!"
Chihiro spoke unnaturally quickly, said "Let's go!", and started walking.
"……Still, when I climbed up, I got a good view of this island from up high. That was a great sight."
Chihiro finally relaxed her expression and looked up at the sky. She was probably recalling the scenery that she had seen earlier.
"As I thought, this world really is the best."
As if to prove that those words that came from the depths of her heart were the truth—
It appeared that Chihiro really enjoyed going on adventures in Grimveria as she would rush out of school the moment the classes ended, take out her Teleportation Stone, and fly off to the other world.
Kazaya also took the initiative to spend time with her there as he enjoyed watching Chihiro's antics that were the complete opposite of the cold and intense personality she displayed at the school.
However, a slight problem started to occur after they started spending time together.
"Ah, I'm hungry. Let's eat."
"Yeah, I'm starving. My stomach is growling. In short, I have the tummyrumbles."
It was lunchtime. While listening to the usual banter between Maesaki and Ayukawa, Kazaya considered going to the school store to buy some bread, but…
The classroom door opened, and Chihiro appeared. She walked towards Kazaya while ignoring his classmates who were frozen in place, and placed a rectangular parcel wrapped in pink cloth in front of him.
"Tsugami-kun, I made a bento for you. Let's eat together."
"Eehh!? Mikoto-senpai made a bento for Kazaya!?"
Ayukawa raised a shocked cry after looking between him and Chihiro several times. His other classmates also started to raise a fuss.
"……Is there a problem?"
However, they instantly stopped talking when Chihiro turned an icy glare upon them.
"T-Thank you for the bento… Sorry to make you go to the trouble."
Kazaya thanked Chihiro while being intensely aware of the fact that all of his classmates were staring at him.
"That's alright. Where should we eat? Here?"
"Umm, eating here is a bit… How about the rooftop?"
Hearing Kazaya's reply, Chihiro glanced at Ayukawa. However, she immediately looked back at him.
"That's fine with me. I'll go on ahead."
She turned around and boldly walked out of the classroom.
"……Oi! Tsugami! What the heck just happened!?"
Maesaki grabbed Kazaya by the collar and shook him violently.
"Mikoto-senpai! The school beauty! Our Goddess! She made a bento for you!? I knew it, the two of you have some sort of special relationship after all, huh!?"
"N-No, I mean…. Umm…."
The two of them certainly had a special relationship, but it was probably different from the kind of relationship that his classmates had in mind. He thought about saying that, but he realized that it would just make the situation more complicated and hence elected to remain silent.
"I want a clear answer, Tsugami! You denied it last time, but the two of you are actually going out, right!?"
"No, we're not really…."
"It's fine! I'm almost dying from jealousy, but you're still my best friend! So I'll support you! I'll cheer you on with all my strength! Isn't that right, everyone!?"
When Maesaki shouted out that question to the class, all his classmates starting with Ayukawa raised voices of assent.
"That's right! Considering that it is that Mikoto-senpai, my feelings of admiration for your achievement are stronger than jealousy! You've achieved something that is even more impossible than causing the heavens to fall!"
The other female students nodded in response to Ayukawa's statement.
"That's right. I hope your relationship lasts for a long time. I'll be cheering you on as well."
"Still, I'm curious about how their relationship got started. How do you think it started?"
"Ah, that's right. Which one of you confessed your love first? You? Or Senpai?"
Kazaya faltered in the face of the undisguised curiosity from his classmates.
"L-Like I said, the two of us are not going out or anything…"
"Come on, there's no need to be shy. Did you confess to her directly? Or over the phone? Or did you send her a message?"
"This is Mikoto-senpai we're talking about, so maybe it was an old-fashioned handwritten love letter!?"
"Ah, that sounds likely. It fits her image perfectly."
"I so badly want to read that letter now!!"
Kazaya left the classroom after sneaking away from Maesaki and Ayukawa who were getting excited on their own. He felt that he would even spill the secret of Grimveria if he stayed there for any longer.
"Ah! Tsugami, where are you going? I'll support your love, so tell us everything!"
Kazaya ignored Maesaki's voice that came from behind him and started to run.
He ran up the stairs and opened the door that led to the rooftop.
There were a number of students eating lunch on the rooftop, but there was an unnaturally empty area on the far side. Chihiro was sitting on a bench over there. Everyone wondered what she was doing there, but no one dared to approach her.
However, Chihiro herself was sitting with her eyes down, as if lost in thought.
"Umm, Senpai. Is something wrong?"
Hearing Kazaya's question, Chihiro looked up at him and gently massaged her forehead with her fingers.
"Ah, Tsugami-kun… No, I was just thinking that I made a mess of things once again."
"Made a mess of things?"
Chihiro patted the spot on the bench beside her, so Kazaya nodded and sat down. A number of people stared in their direction with shocked expressions, but they looked away when Kazaya looked in their direction. Perhaps they just wanted to avoid inciting Chihiro's wrath. However, that was very convenient as it allowed the two of them to talk with a degree of privacy.
"I'm talking about what happened in your classroom earlier. I just wanted to ask an ordinary question, but it made everyone go silent. I'm sure I must have had a scary expression on my face once again. I can't believe I intimidated my juniors like that…."
"……No, I don’t think they were affected that much."
"Really? Are you sure?"
Kazaya nodded in response to Chihiro's desperate question that she whispered in a low voice. Everyone was more interested in the relationship between the two of them, after all. They probably didn't have the time to be scared.
"Thank goodness…. That's a relief."
Seeing Chihiro surreptitiously pat her chest in relief, Kazaya's expression relaxed a little. In his eyes, Chihiro, whose attitude was the exact opposite of what the people around her assumed, looked quite happy.
"What is it? I was actually worried, so that's only natural, right?"
Chihiro pouted a little while making sure that the people around them would not be able to see her expression. Seeing that, Kazaya apologized to her.
"……Still, I hope I didn’t interrupt anything earlier?"
"Interrupt? What do you mean?"
"I mean, there was a girl sitting beside you, right? I just thought that if you were going out with her, you might have wanted to eat lunch with her instead."
Chihiro's expression did not change as she said that, which was in line with her usual appearance at school. However, she did appear to be avoiding his gaze, although it wasn't apparent unless he paid close attention.
"If you are forcing yourself to spend time with me, you don’t need to worry about it. There's still some time left, so you can go back to your classroom."
"Ah, are you talking about Ayukawa? No, that's okay. We're not going out or anything. We're just friends."
"R-Really? ……But it looked like the two of you were quite close."
Chihiro looked at him with a narrow gaze. For some reason, Kazaya felt like a man who was being cross-examined after being caught red-handed while having an affair.
"The two of you looked so close that I actually hesitated quite a bit to enter the classroom."
"L-Like I said, we're friends. But we definitely don't have that kind of relationship! That's the truth, please believe me!"
Even Kazaya did not understand why he was saying something that sounded suspiciously like an excuse.
However, after staring at him silently for a while, Chihiro's expression finally relaxed slightly.
"I see. It wasn't like I was going to do anything even if the two of you were actually going out… So you're not going out with her, right?"
Chihiro let out a sigh after saying that. Was it just his imagination, or did she look a little relieved?
"That's right, here's your bento. I made it myself, though, so I can't guarantee that it will taste good."
"Thank you…. But putting Ayukawa aside for now, please don't do things like that in the future, Senpai. Every time you come to our class, I get bombarded with questions from my classmates."
"What kind of questions?"
"No, that's not… In any case. If you're okay with it, can you tell me your mail address? We can use messages to get in touch when we have something that we need to talk about in private."
"That's not possible. I'm not allowed to store any contacts on my phone apart from my father and mother."
Just how strict was her upbringing? Kazaya was understandably thrown for a loop.
"Eh, you're not even allowed to have the contact details of friends?"
"That's right. My phone is checked every day. I had to agree to that condition before I was allowed to attend this school."
"What do you mean?"
"To tell you the truth, I was originally slated to attend a private school that is run by one of my father's acquaintances, but I forced my parents to allow me to attend this school instead."
Seeing Kazaya's eyebrows furrowed in confusion, Chihiro began to explain in more detail.
"That place was one of those so-called 'Rich-girl schools'. All of the girls who went to that school were in the same situation as me. Although that's not really a bad thing… I felt suffocated for some reason. I put up with it until middle school, but I felt that I would never find a place where I could relax if I continued to stay under my father's thumb even in high school. That is why I rebelled against my parents a little for the first time in my life. I insisted that I wanted to attend this high school that was close to my home and had absolutely no connections to my father. It took some time to convince my father, but in the end, my mother said that being too strict was not a good thing and took my side."
"……So that's what happened."
"They started monitoring my private life more intensely in exchange, so from my father's perspective, perhaps this was exactly what he wanted….. Sorry, this must all seem tedious to you."
Chihiro muttered that as though she was mocking herself and closed her eyes.
"No, I'm glad I got to know more about you, Senpai."
When Kazaya replied with his honest opinion, Chihiro gave a wan smile.
"Thank you. I hope you like the bento."
"……I'm still shocked by how different you are in the other world, Senpai. Until recently I felt that the version of you over there was unnatural, but I've started to feel that the way you are right now is strange."
"Leave me alone. You're going to make me drop my mask if you keep commenting on that."
Chihiro whispered to him while blushing faintly.
"Apart from the time when it's just the two of us, this is how I need to be. I hope you can get used to it quickly."
"If that's how it is…. I understand."
"……? What are you smiling about?"
"Eh!? Ah, it's nothing!"
Kazaya hurriedly fixed his expression. The expression "just the two of us" had made him unexpectedly happy.
Opening the lid of the bento box, he saw a variety of colorful ingredients. Tamagoyaki without a hint of charring, potato salad, gleaming sausages, miso-preserved fish, and spinach dressed with sesame seeds. The rice had a large pickled plum in it. It was the ideal bento.
"Thanks for the food…. It's delicious!"
The bento looked like it was cooked at home, but it tasted like it was made by a professional. The fact that his mother was not really good at cooking only served to heighten the difference. He was hooked from the very first bite and finished off the bento in record speed.
"……Haah. That was great."
"You didn't have to be in such a hurry to eat it."
Chihiro spoke in a tone that was equal parts amazed and pleased.
"Senpai, I had no idea that you were so good at cooking. I had the impression that people from families like yours would have servants to do all the housework and not do anything for themselves."
"That is usually how it is, but in my case, my mother comes from a family that owns a high-scale traditional Japanese restaurant, and she loves to cook. She usually cooks something on the rare occasions when my father had a day off, so I learned from her. I like delicious things as well, so I wanted to learn how to make them for myself."
"I see…. Still, I never expected that I would one day eat a bento prepared by you, Senpai. I won't be surprised if I die tomorrow."
He seriously thought that.
"Stop being so dramatic. You're always helping me out in Grimveria, after all. Like when we visited Island #3 the other day, I would have failed if not for your help."
"Ah, are you talking about the 『Invisible Lizard』?"
Invisible Lizard was a demonic beast that could hide by blending in with its surroundings, and Chihiro had been attacked by it from behind. It would attack relentlessly and avoid being attacked in turn by disappearing, making it a truly annoying opponent to deal with. Chihiro's Protective Barrier gauge had been whittled down steadily by it.
"I was impressed by how you were able to detect it from the sound of the plants rustling and the slight amount of dust raised by its footsteps, Tsugami-kun."
"It's just a matter of experience. I accepted jobs to fight against it several times in the past, after all."
"Jobs… that reminds me, the two people we met back then said the same thing as well. Don’t Visitors just travel to islands to collect supplies and kill demonic beasts?"
"That is what we do for the most part, but there are times when people in the town make a personal request to acquire a certain item or defeat a particular opponent. That's what I meant when I called it a job. Oh, and there are times when the goddess makes requests as well."
"Yes. I think it is better to experience that for yourself, so let's shelve that topic for now."
Chihiro nodded in agreement and changed the topic.
"By the way, Tsugami-kun. It's really helpful for me that you visit Grimveria along with me every day, but are you making sure to take care of the other things in your life as well?"
"I'm talking about studying. Exams start next week, right? Your grades will drop if you don't revise properly."
Kazaya let out a groan. The thing that he had almost forgotten, or rather, the thing that he had tried his best to forget, was once again brought to the surface.
"Haa… Then again, I don't really like to study. Although I don't get bored of games no matter how many times I play them."
"That's because you don't know the correct way to study. Studying is the same as defeating demonic beasts and traveling to islands. As long as you know the proper method, it is not so hard to do…. Hmm."
Chihiro nodded to herself as if she decided on something.
"Okay, how about this? I will teach you. I have already completed my revision for my exams, so helping out a first-year student like you with your studies shouldn't cause any problems."
"Eh, you're going to teach me, Senpai!? Where were you planning on doing that?"
"We can't use the library because talking will disturb the other people there. We can't use my house either because my father would throw a fit if he finds out… How about your house?"
"What!? Y-You want to come over to my house, Senpai!?"
"Would that be a problem?"
"Of course not!!"
He stood up without realizing it. Of course, it was not a problem. It was not a problem, but his heart rate had increased quite a bit.
"I see. In that case, I will be coming over to your house. I'll wait for you at the gate after school."
Kazaya fixed his posture and replied in a shrill voice, causing Chihiro to look at him strangely.
(To think I would get the chance to study with Mikoto-senpai!)
It was an unexpected stroke of good fortune. If his life were a romantic adventure game, this would be the so-called 『raised flag』 situation that would lead to unlocking the romance route for a particular character.
"Thank you very much!"
Kazaya bowed his head and thanked her from the bottom of his heart.
Chihiro said that she needed to prepare, so she went back to her own house after Kazaya gave her his home address. Kazaya's parents were both employed, and since he was an only child, he had the house to himself during the day on weekdays.
The silent and empty house usually gave him a slight sense of loneliness, but for today, the fact that the house was empty was actually a blessing.
Once Chihiro arrived, she took her shoes off and stepped inside, and then turned around, knelt on the floor, and arranged her shoes properly. That action showed that she was an extremely well brought up girl. Kazaya felt slightly ashamed that he had just kicked his shoes off and left them lying around carelessly, so he copied her actions and arranged his shoes properly as well.
Since Kazaya's room was on the second floor, they went upstairs.
(……Hang on, when did I last clean my room?)
He seemed to remember cleaning his room last week, but he might be mistaken. It would be bad if that was the case.
"Senpai, please wait here for a little while. I'm just going to tidy up a bit."
After Chihiro accepted, he opened the door to his room and quickly went inside.
As he had feared, the room was an absolute mess, with manga, his portable game console, the game media, and even the clothes he had taken off that morning scattered haphazardly around the room. No, it might have still been fine if that was all there was to it. However, there were also several risque gravure idol photo albums lying around open, with the scantily clad women clearly visible.
(There's no way I can let Senpai see something like this.)
Kazaya threw his schoolbag in a corner and started cleaning up.
After he hurriedly finished tidying up, the room was clean and completely different from how it had looked just a few minutes ago.
"You can come in now, Senpai."
After he called out to her, Chihiro opened the door. However, Kazaya's eyes widened in shock after seeing her appearance.
She was wearing a form-fitting suit and a pair of silver-rimmed glasses, with her hair tied back.
"W-What's with that look, Senpai? Actually, when did you change into that!?"
"Fufu…. when you were cleaning your room. For today, I am a female teacher. I'm going to be very strict! In return, if you are able to endure my lessons, I'll give you a present, okay?"
A present from a female teacher. Those words had such an alluring ring to them. Kazaya's mind started to fill up with sparkling delusions.
"By the way, what exactly is the present….?"
"Fufu, don't be hasty. If I'm not mistaken, it is something that you want the most."
"That means… Don't tell me…!"
The present was Chihiro herself? As Kazaya's heart continued to fill with anticipation, Chihiro replied to his question.
"A bag of assorted candy."
His excitement took a nosedive all of a sudden.
"Huh!? Why did you get depressed all of a sudden!? Boys like things like candy, right!?"
Chihiro put her hand into the bag that she had brought along and pulled out a large plastic bag filled with candy.
"Well, sure, I like candy but…. Actually, just forget it. Please come in…."
After Kazaya invited her inside, Chihiro stepped into his room with an expression indicating that she was still confused about the earlier conversation.
"Oh, your room is actually quite clean. I had imagined that boys' rooms would be more disordered."
Kazaya answered her while placing a couple of floor cushions near the table in front of the television.
"No, that's just a stereotype."
Kazaya decided to pretend that what took place earlier had never happened.
"I see. So—where are the dirty magazines!?"
However, Chihiro's next question was so unexpected that it threw Kazaya for a loop.
"I-I don’t have anything like that!!"
"Even though you are a teenage boy? It would be strange if you didn't have any! The boys in my class talk about things like that all the time! You don’t have to hide them, are they under the bed?"
"I d-definitely don't have anything like that! I'm not a pervert!"
"Or maybe—they're behind the dresser?"
Kazaya let out a strange sound. She had guessed it accurately. When he was cleaning up in a hurry earlier, he had stashed the gravure albums there.
"Looks like I hit the bull's eye! Let me see!"
"N-N-No, there's really nothing back there! Please stop, Senpai!"
As Chihiro dashed toward the dresser, Kazaya grabbed her out of desperation to hold her back. She looked at him silently for a little while.
"……Okay then, I'll just take your word for it."
Chihiro said that in a suggestive tone and smiled, and moved her line of sight to the bookcase.
"Wow, you really have a lot of manga! Would you mind if I took a look?"
"Not at all, go ahead."
Hearing Kazaya's reply, Chihiro pulled out a manga volume and started to read it.
Kazaya waited patiently in the beginning because he thought she was just taking a quick look, but she continued to stand there without moving even after ten minutes.
"……Senpai? Weren't you supposed to help me study today?"
"Hmm? Did we make any plans like that?"
"Yes, we did. Please don't forget things so quickly just because you're absorbed in reading manga!"
Chihiro reluctantly closed the book after hearing what Kazaya said. Her expression was filled with regret.
"Right then, let's start studying."
Seeing Chihiro sit down at the table, Kazaya also sat down at the opposite side.
"Ah, that won't do, Tsugami-kun. Why are you sitting so far away? It'll be hard to teach you if you don't sit next to me. It'll be hard for me to read your notebook and textbook as well. Come over here!"
Kazaya froze after hearing what Chihiro said.
"What, don't you want to sit next to me? I take a bath every day so I don't smell bad or anything."
"I wasn't thinking that at all…… Fine. Excuse me."
Kazaya steeled his resolve and moved to sit down next to Chihiro. While he was sitting down, his hand accidentally brushed against hers and he unconsciously let out a yelp.
"W-What's wrong? Did you see a cockroach or something?"
"N-No, it's nothing…."
Kazaya cleared his throat and took out his pencil case, textbook, and notebook from his bag.
"By the way, I'm pretty bad at Japanese, Math, English, Social Studies, and Science. Oh, and I hate P.E as well."
"You just went through the entire list of subjects."
"Well, that's one way to look at it."
"That's the only way to look at it!"
Chihiro sighed and pushed her hair back using her fingers. Seeing that mature gesture, Kazaya became even more nervous.
"Okay, so which of those subjects are you really bad at? Let's focus on those for today."
"In that case… I guess it would be Math and English."
Chihiro spoke after Kazaya nodded and opened his textbook and notebook.
"Math is easy enough if you remember the formulas. After that, you just need to plug in the numbers."
"Remembering them is the hard part, though."
"You don't remember them after seeing them once? Umm, why can't you remember them? I mean, it's only normal to remember something like that, isn't it? Why do you think you have trouble remembering them?"
"I-I'm sorry! My brain is a piece of junk! I can't remember them because my brain is worthless!"
Kazaya apologized because she kept interrogating him without pause, and Chihiro smiled.
"I'm just kidding. I'll teach you how to remember them."
After that, Chihiro started teaching him. She covered not only mathematical formulas, but even how to understand and solve word problems, and as for English, she taught him efficient ways to remember new words and how to read and answer comprehension questions.
Chihiro was surprisingly good at teaching. Compared to the lessons at school that entered his head through one ear and left through the other, Chihiro's lessons slowly built up a foundation in his mind. He even started to wonder why he had found it so difficult to understand those things before as he grasped the method to solve those problems one after the other.
"…And that's how you do it. Next, try translating this English paragraph into Japanese….. Okay, that's good. Ah, but… "
Kazaya looked up when Chihiro stopped speaking, only to see her leaning closer to him. The next instant, he felt something soft pressing against his arm.
"This word here is wrong. You need to use the present continuous tense."
"R-Right, my mistake. I'm s-sorry."
Even as he replied to her, his mind was filled with one word in particular.
(Her boobs are touching me, her boobs are touching me, her boobs are touching me, Senpai's boobs, Senpai's boobs, Senpai's boobs!)
That was a bad situation. His sense of reason was slowly but surely being whittled away.
(Senpai's oppai… even if you shorten it, it's still Senpai….)
He even started to come up with utterly useless discoveries like that.
(Still, Senpai's boobs are pretty big… I never noticed because she's pretty thin, but maybe she's an E cup? No, they're probably even bigger……)
"Tsugami-kun, what's wrong? Are you paying attention?"
"Eh? Ah, yes! It's 'F', right!?"
The moment Chihiro's words broke through his reverie, Kazaya said the first thing that came to his mind.
"No, it's a 'G'."
"'G'!? It's that big? That's incredible!"
"What do you mean, big? This letter over here should be a 'G' instead of an 'F'."
Chihiro was pointing at a particular English sentence.
"…..Ah, you're talking about the alphabet."
"We are studying English, after all. What else could it be?"
"No, you're absolutely right. Hahaha, it's a 'G' and not an 'F'. I have no idea what I was talking about."
At that instant—Chihiro appeared to realize something. She moved away from him and cleared her throat.
"I-I'm sorry. I was too close, wasn't I?"
"Eh!? Ah, no, please don't worry about it."
In fact, Kazaya felt regretful that he could not experience that feeling for a little longer.
"……Tsugami-kun, you're such a pervert."
Perhaps his regret had shown on his face. Chihiro was looking at him and blushing.
"W-What are you talking about!? I have no idea what gave you that impression! I wasn't thinking about chests or boobs at all, okay!?"
He panicked and tried to cover it up, but he only managed to make it even worse.
"S-Seriously…. Focus on studying!"
Chihiro stretched out her hand delivered a light blow to the top of his head with her fist. However, Kazaya felt that in some way, this was also something to be thankful for.
Despite feeling his cheeks grow warmer, Kazaya forcefully shouted to regain his concentration.
After that, Kazaya was tutored by Chihiro for another one and a half hours, and finally, their study session came to a close.
"Well, that should do it for today. Let's work on a different subject tomorrow."
"Understood. Thank you so much! It was really easy to understand!"
"That's great. Even so, you can't go to Grimveria until the tests are done."
Kazaya let out a cry of grief and Chihiro shook her head at him.
"I know that world is a lot of fun, but a student's main duty is to study. You need to first finish your work properly, and then you can spend the remaining time as you like. You know that you will be the one in trouble if your grades go down, right?"
"……Are you going to stop going there as well, Senpai?"
"Eh!? Ah, umm, of course!"
Not only did she avoid his gaze, but even her voice turned shrill.
"Ah, you were planning to go by yourself! That's not fair!"
"W-What's wrong with just going for a little while!? I've been keeping up with my studies, after all!"
"But… I was looking forward to going there together with you…."
When Kazaya said that and hung his head, Chihiro stared at him intently.
"……Y-You were really looking forward to going together with me that much? I'm still not as strong as you, though, so I thought I was just holding you back…."
"That doesn't matter to me at all."
Kazaya said that while frowning.
"Ever since I heard about your situation with your family, I started to have a lot of fun watching you enjoy that world to the fullest. The way you looked when you were frolicking around after being freed from your restraints was so cute… oops."
Kazaya unconsciously said more than he had intended. He hurriedly stopped talking.
"O-Oh…. I see."
Chihiro looked downwards and scratched her cheek. Even her ears were bright red like the color of ripe apples.
"Since you feel so strongly on the subject, I suppose I'll resist the temptation of going as well. Umm, I feel the same way… I like going on adventures with you, Tsugami-kun. I would rather wait until the tests are over so that we can have a celebration in Grimveria."
Kazaya straightened his body in surprise, and Chihiro gave a small nod.
"I initially planned on going there even though the tests were right around the corner because I wanted to catch up to you quickly and fight by your side… But it's fine now."
"Thank you so much, Senpai!"
Seeing Kazaya smiling, Chihiro's expression relaxed into a smile as well. After that, she looked up at the clock on the wall.
"Ah, it's already this late. I should leave soon."
She started to stand up, but suddenly stopped before rising all the way.
"……Oh, my. Is that a video game?"
She was probably talking about the game console that had been tucked away under the television stand.
"Yes. I was finally able to buy it recently with the money I earned from working part time at a relative's store. It's the latest model. You can even connect to the internet and play with other people online. Do you want to give it a try?"
"……I'm quite interested in trying, but I don’t have much time left until my curfew."
Chihiro stood up fully while showing a regretful expression.
"Looks like you have it rough as well, Senpai. You can't read manga or play games, after all…. How about going to a place that has a lot of shops that sell things like those and secretly buying something? I could show you around when you have a day off."
"But even if I buy those things, I have nowhere to keep them."
"I'd be happy to keep them here for you."
"……No, I can't do that! It would just cause trouble for you, Tsugami-kun!"
Even though Kazaya told her that it wouldn't be a problem, Chihiro stubbornly refused.
"It would be good if I could rent a storehouse or something, but I'm sure my father would find out if I did something like that. It would be so convenient to have a secret hideout."
"A secret hideout, huh…."
"Of course, there's no chance that something so convenient would exist. Please forget about it. Well then, goodbye for now."
Kazaya spoke after Chihiro gave a short bow and was just about to leave the room.
"……No, such a place does exist, Senpai. I can prepare a spot like that. A secret hideout for just the two of us."
Chihiro's eyes reflected her confusion. She silently urged him to explain what he meant.
"I was actually looking forward to it because I'm close to completing it."
Kazaya looked at Chihiro and smiled.
"Please look forward to completing the tests, Senpai. After that, we can go to Grimveria."
Thanks to Chihiro's help, Kazaya's midterm exams ended up going extremely well.
Although it would still take a while for the results to be announced, Kazaya felt that he had performed better than he had ever done before.
After filling in the answer sheet for the last exam and turning it in, Kazaya felt like he had been freed at last and cheerfully traveled to Grimveria for the first time in several days. Of course, Chihiro also went along with him.
"Senpai, look out! Above you!"
Chihiro looked up when Kazaya warned her, let out a yell, and raised her arm to protect herself. At the same time, an intense sound rang out a few centimeters above her head.
A bat-like creature with its wings spread wide was using its drill-shaped beak to continuously attack Chihiro's Protective Barrier. It was a type of demonic beast called a 『Hole Bat』.
Chihiro raised her bow and fired an arrow at it, but the Hole Bat just flapped its wings and elegantly evaded her attack. However, Kazaya had anticipated that.
"Creature of darkness, prepare thyself! Ye who restrains for all of eternity, appear in my hand—Snakebite King!"
Kazaya grabbed the sword that appeared in mid air. The blade was long and narrow, and the sword had no guard; instead, the hilt transitioned directly into the blade.
When Kazaya shook the sword vigorously, the blade warped as if it was made of rubber and suddenly started to stretch out. The blade wrapped itself around the Hole Bat in the blink of an eye and brought it crashing to the ground.
The Hole Bat let out a single cry, but soon slumped down and stopped moving.
"That weapon is amazing!"
As Kazaya was sucking the demonic beast into his Insect Cage, Chihiro said that in an interested tone.
"It's a demonic sword that can extend and contract at will, and it can be used like a whip. Although there are other ways to use it as well."
Kazaya put away his Insect Cage while replying to Chihiro and started walking.
"For example, maybe you could put the tip of the sword in the mouth of a sleeping enemy, walk far away while stretching the sword, and then suddenly let go of the handle. The handle will snap back and smack the enemy in the face, and it'll be like, "Guaah!", right, Tsugami-kun?"
"Why would I do that, it sounds like something out of an old variety show….."
"Well, maybe you could stretch it out like a goal tape in a running race, and when the runners think that they are just about to beat the record, you can shoot them back to the start line!"
"No, that idea goes beyond the level of a practical joke!"
Kazaya and Chihiro were currently at a place that was known as Island #5.
After arriving at Grimveria, the two of them had visited the Spring Bell Inn, only to learn from the owner that someone had left a job for Kazaya. The job was to bring back a certain flower that could only be obtained on Island #5.
Island #5 had very little vegetation, and most of it was wastelands. Due to that, even the demonic beast from earlier primarily ate the soil to survive, despite looking like a bat. The environment was just that harsh.
"Do flowers really grow in a place like this?"
Kazaya found their objective before he could answer Chihiro's question.
A structure built from blocks of stone appeared before them.
It was not very big, but it was quite old and clearly man-made.
"Yeah, this looks like a good spot."
Saying that, Kazaya ducked through the entrance. At the end of a long hallway, he found a large room. On the far side, there was an altar that was in ruins just like the walls and pillars surrounding it. There was a window above the altar, but it did not admit much light into the room.
"So these are… ruins of some sort? Still, it's quite strange. The people of Grimveria don't travel to the islands, right? So where did this building come from?"
"According to the stories I've heard from people here, in ancient times, the people of Grimveria used to be aggressive and had a strong appetite for adventure, so they used to live in places apart from the Central Continent as well. These must be the remains from that time."
"Oh, I see. So how did they end up the way they are now?"
"No idea… That was a very long time ago, so apparently there aren't many records of that time remaining. In my opinion, something big must have taken place. Something so big that the goddess herself had to intervene."
At that moment, Kazaya fixed his sight at a certain location. He saw a box decorated with delicate ornamentsthat was lying on the ground.
"Oh my, that's quite strange. It looks like the treasure chest in a picture book that a girl from my class used to read in elementary school. I wonder what's inside!"
Her curiosity piqued, Chihiro approached the box.
"Ah, hang on! Stop, Senpai! You can't just approach things so casually!"
Kazaya panicked and tried to stop her, but Chihiro had already crouched in front of the chest.
"There's usually something grand in boxes like this, like gold coins or a treasure map, right? Let's see…."
As she stretched her hand out towards the box, Kazaya hurriedly shouted from behind her.
"Senpai, get away from there!"
It happened the instant after Chihiro turned back towards him and made an inquiring sound.
The treasure box opened by itself—Or rather, it bared its 『fangs』, and tried to bite Chihiro's arm off with the irregularly spaced teeth that lined its rim.
However, Chihiro's Protective Barrier prevented that from happening, and the treasure box retreated while letting out a strange wail.
Looking closely, Chihiro could see that there were tentacle-like protuberances beneath the box, and it seemed to be using those as legs.
Chihiro panicked and ran back towards Kazaya.
"W-What is that disgusting thing!? If not for my Protective Barrier, I would have lost an arm!!"
"It's a demonic beast, called a 『Fake Treasure』. They live in ruins like these and attack people who try to touch them. This is what I was looking for."
"I see. I was careless."
Chihiro clenched her fist tightly. It looked like she was really upset. Looking at her, the Fake Treasure once again opened its lid. It opened and slammed the lid shut several times, making a loud banging sound each time.
"What is it doing?"
"It looks like it is laughing, Senpai. At you."
Chihiro suddenly fell silent and stared at the enemy through narrowed eyes.
Kazaya unconsciously gulped after sensing that cold gaze that rivalled the frost of mid-winter.
"……Tsugami-kun. Prevent that box from moving. This instant."
"Eh? It's okay, I can take care of it without doing that—"
"Hurry up! Do as you're told!"
Taking that shockwave-like voice head on, Kazaya immediately acquiesced and summoned the demonic sword 『Cavern King』.
Kazaya gripped the hilt of the sword and stuck the blade into the ground. The next instant, a large hole appeared in the ground directly below the Fake Treasure, causing it to fall down into the hole where it started to shake frantically.
"That's good. Here I go—Uryaaaaaaaaaa!"
Chihiro charged the energy of her Celestial Bow and fired it out all at once.
The gigantic arrow hit the immobilized Fake Treasure head on. It was blown away by the impact, and eventually fell back to the ground without moving.
"Y-You did it, Senpai!"
"Not yet! Something of this level is not enough to satisfy me! Die!"
Chihiro once again charged an arrow with energy and fired it.
The Fake Treasure was once again sent flying, and it crashed into a wall.
"It's still not enough! Not yet! Not yet! Not yet! Not yet! Not yet!"
"Eh, hang on—"
Three, four, five, six, seven.
"Not yet! Not yet! Not yet—Take thiiiiiiis!"
Eight, nine, ten.
"W-Wait, Senpai! That's enough! I'm starting to pity it a little!"
Kazaya pinned Chihiro's arms behind her back. The Fake Treasure had already stopped moving a long time ago.
"What are you talking about, Tsugami-kun!? There is no need to show mercy towards a demonic beast. I will eliminate every single one of them. That is the mission that has been given to us Visitors, and it is our duty to see that through….!"
"Scary! You're scaring me, okay!? Your personality is changing again! Senpai! That's enough, please stop!"
After Kazaya pleaded with all his might, Chihiro finally lowered her bow.
"……Senpai, by any chance, were you actually pissed off for real?"
Despite saying that, her face was red and her eyebrows were slanted. It was obvious that she was angry.
"If you shoot it any more, the box will disintegrate. You defeated the demonic beast, so let's just leave it at that."
Kazaya walked up to the battered Fake Treasure, lifted it up, inverted it, and shook it a number of times until something fell out from inside. Kazaya picked it up and showed it to Chihiro.
It was a strange plant with a flower that had red, green, and blue petals.
"Commonly known as a 『Treasure Flower』. It's a rare flower that can only be found inside this type of demonic beast."
"How did that flower bloom inside the demonic beast?"
Kazaya let out a breath of relief after seeing that Chihiro had once again regained her calm, and answered her.
"Accurately speaking, the flower doesn't bloom inside the demonic beast. The flower is actually a part of its body. It uses the flower to attract things like insects so that it can eat them."
"Oh? So it's like an insectivorous plant. Is it edible?"
Chihiro asked that while staring at the colorful flower.
"Then it's worthless."
"What's with that extreme way of judging the worth of something!? I've heard that it is used to make high-quality dyes, so cloth merchants and artists are always looking for it. In any case, with this, the job is complete."
After putting the flower inside his clothes, Kazaya stored Fake Treasure's body in his Insect Cage.
"Demonic beasts are really mysterious, aren't they? They have other sources of food, and yet they still attack people."
"Now that you mention it, it is quite strange. I wonder if there is some reason for that."
Kazaya tilted his head in confusion, and then left the ruins along with Chihiro.
"In any case—With the reward from this job, I think I might have finally reached my goal."
Kazaya grinned at Chihiro who was looking at him with a confused expression.
"I told you, didn't I? That I would prepare a 『secret hideout』. Let's go buy it—Our very own home."
After the two of them returned to Reancos, they handed the flower over to the person who had requested the job and received the payment. After that, they headed out into the town once again.
"Buying a house… Can you really do that? We're not even from this world."
Chihiro spoke while furrowing her eyebrows.
"There's a special rule in place for Visitors. Of course, it costs a fair bit of money."
"Is that okay? You're still a high school student."
"It's true that I have no real savings to speak of in our world, but over here, I have received quite a lot of compensation for working on jobs."
The shop Kazaya was walking towards had a picture of a house of the signboard. It was a real-estate agency.
As soon as they entered, they were greeted by a man with a large, protruding stomach. His name was Bran, and he was the owner of the shop.
"Hello there, Kazaya-san. Is something the matter?"
"No, I'm here regarding the property you told me about. I was thinking about buying it."
"Really!? That's wonderful. Still, why the sudden change of heart? You said that you don't need a house here because you don't stay here for very long, didn't you?"
"Well, the circumstances have changed a little."
Hearing Kazaya say that, Bran looked at Chihiro who was standing behind him and nodded as if he understood.
"So you're getting married to this lady and establishing a household? She is certainly very pretty. I'm jealous."
It looked like there had been a colossal misunderstanding of some sort. Kazaya waved his hand and denied it. However…
"Thank you for always looking out for my darling!"
He panicked upon seeing Chihiro getting carried away and smiling at the shop owner.
"S-Senpai! Please stop adding fuel to the fire!"
"Fufu, what a sudden rank up from being seen as your lover….!"
Chihiro said that without a trace of hesitation. The scary part was that he had no idea how serious she was.
"I don't really understand, but I'll take out the carriage so please get in."
Bran left the shop while staring at them curiously.
Stepping outside, they found a large carriage waiting for them. Kazaya and Chihiro entered the carriage on the driver's prompting. Before long, the carriage started to move while swaying slightly.
"Wow, this is the first time I've ridden in a carriage since coming to this world! It's like something out of a movie!"
"Although the ride isn't nearly as comfortable as the movies would lead you to believe."
The road they were currently traveling on was paved, but the path would turn rough once they reached the outskirts of the town and the carriage would start to lurch as if it was affected by a series of small earthquakes. At worst, it could even cause motion sickness.
"Eeh. But it's a carriage, you know? A real carriage! Something like that is a minor inconvenience!"
"Senpai, you're going to feel sick later on if you move around so much."
Kazaya warned Chihiro who was bouncing around on her seat, but it appeared that she was in full-throttle excitement mode and his words did not reach her.
"What are you talking about? A chance like this doesn't come around very often, so I have to enjoy it to the fullest!"
Saying that, Chihiro proceeded to cavort about inside the carriage like a child—but once the carriage started to lurch about less than ten minutes later, she suddenly turned meek.
"Umm, Senpai? What's wrong?"
Looking at Chihiro, Kazaya saw that she had one hand over her mouth and she was edging closer to the window.
"I feel sick…."
As predicted, she had been hit with motion sickness. Kazaya rubbed her back.
"See, this is why I warned you to sit still. You're older than me, so please be more prudent."
"S-Sorry…. I was just having so much fun…"
Chihiro asked for the carriage to be stopped for a little while and quickly got better. After she recovered, they started moving again.
"Phew. I was in trouble for a second there. Even though it's just a carriage, I can't let my guard down."
"That's right, Senpai. You need fix your frivolous attitude a little."
"W-Why are acting all calm and mature all of a sudden!"
"At the very least, I believe that I was being more mature than you were a short while ago, Senpai…."
Hearing him respond calmly, Chihiro's cheeks turned red and she cleared her throat,
"A-Anyway, about this idea of yours to buy a house… Do many Visitors do that?"
"Not really. It depends on the person, but there are a few who feel that life is easier here and so they buy a house and turn it into a holiday villa of sorts."
"That's right. And that's why I take the time to meet famous Visitors and make them an offer."
Bran, who was sitting next to the driver, said that.
The carriage eventually left the town behind and they continued on a path that headed into a hilly area.
After enduring an uncomfortable ride on the bad road that made the two of them feel like they were going to bite their own tongues if they weren't careful, they finally arrived at their destination.
After Kazaya and Chihiro alighted from the carriage, they started walking behind Bran who took the lead.
They walked through the woods for about five minutes. A short while later, a wooden house came into view. It looked like the sort of building that would be called a bungalow back on Earth.
"What do you think? It's a little far from the town, but that makes it peaceful. It's on a fairly big plot of land, so there's plenty of room."
At Bran's urging, Kazaya and Chihiro walked into the house.
Just as Bran had said, there was a lot of floor space inside.
There were wooden chairs and a table finished to a glossy shine placed in the living room, and there was a kitchen on the other side of the room. To their right was a fireplace with a rug spread out in front of it. According to Bran, it was a great spot to sit and talk.
There were lamps placed all around the house, and they illuminated the rooms with a soft light.
"This is wonderful. It's like a house from northern Europe."
Chihiro stated her impression while looking around the house.
"Bran-san, what about the thing you mentioned last time?"
"Ah, it's this way."
After Kazaya asked, Bran showed him to a different room. After heading deeper into the house, they saw a bedroom with a bed inside, and another door next to the bedroom. Upon opening that door, a thick cloud of steam leaked out.
They saw a dressing room inside, and a bath made from stone that was filled with hot water.
"There are hot springs nearby, you see. I heard that Japanese people like Kazaya-san like their baths, so I arranged for hot water to be piped here."
"Amazing! We can actually enjoy hot springs in this other world!?"
Chihiro was gazing at the bath area with a great deal of interest.
"What do you think, Kazaya-san? The price includes the furniture, bedding, and the bath. You won't find such a good deal anywhere else."
The price stated by Bran was certainly quite cheap, considering the quality of the house, but it was still a price that would have overwhelmed any ordinary high school student. Despite that…
"I'll take it. I'll inform the bank about the payment, so please collect the money there."
Kazaya made the decision without any hesitation. Bran's face lit up with delight.
"Thank you for the purchase! Really, this is very good news. Once word gets out that the Lightning-quick wielder of the Demonic Sword bought a house from me, my shop will become a lot more famous!
Bran slapped his large belly and laughed heartily.
"Thank you for taking the time to show us around. Well then, shall we go back, Senpai?"
After Kazaya called out to her, Chihiro nodded while looking a little hesitant for some reason, and followed him out.
They once again got into the carriage and returned to Reancos using the same road they had used to get there.
"Well then, I'll take my leave here. If you have any questions about the house, don't hesitate to ask!"
Bran waved his hand and walked away.
"Isn't it great Senpai? The house looked a lot better than I had expected."
Kazaya thought that Chihiro would be happy, but her reply was unexpectedly lacklustre.
"What's wrong? Was there a problem with the house?"
"No, there wasn't any problem, but… Tsugami-kun, was that really okay? You bought that house for my sake, didn't you? Just because I said that I didn't have a place to keep manga or games even I decided to buy them…."
"Well, yes, that's true. I thought that you could just store them in that house."
"I feel really guilty. I forced you to do something so unreasonable because of my selfishness."
"No, it wasn't really unreasonable or anything. It's not like I blew my entire savings to buy it."
In this world, there was limited use for the wealth attained by exploring islands or completing quests. Most Visitors used the money to buy delicious food or rare curiosities, but Kazaya didn't have much interest in such things. He just purely enjoyed the experience of going on adventures in Grimveria.
For that reason, he had stored nearly all of his money at a bank in Reancos that was exclusive to Visitors.
As for the purchase he had just made, it was just a case of finally finding a use for that wealth. He had nearly depleted his bank account to do so, but since that money was just sitting there and collecting dust, he was of the opinion that it was better for it to be back in circulation.
"Besides, if this lets you enjoy all those things that you never had the chance to enjoy until now, that would make me a lot happier, Senpai."
Chihiro blinked in surprise, but her expression quickly changed into one of happiness and she gave him a large smile.
"Tsugami-kun… Thank you. I really appreciate it!"
She took his hand held it between her own hands.
"N-No, it's not a big deal. This is about the only thing I could do to help, after all."
"That's not true. Still, I'm very grateful."
"O-Okay. Umm… Since we bought the house, how about we go out somewhere this weekend?"
"Sure, that sounds great. This Saturday should be fine. I get one day of complete freedom every month. My father is going abroad on a business trip tomorrow, and my mother supports my freedom to a certain extent."
"Sounds good. So, where should we meet up? In front of the train station?"
Chihiro agreed and clapped his shoulder.
"I'm really looking forward to it, Tsugami-kun!"
"Y-yes. Me too, Senpai."
After he replied, Kazaya suddenly realized something.
(Hang on… Did I just make plans to go on a date with Senpai!?)
The next instant, his heart started to beat wildly.
That Saturday. Kazaya's exam results turned out to be excellent, and with his parents' praise still fresh in his mind, he was able to go out to have fun with his head held high.
The plaza in front of the train station where the water fountain was located was packed with people and very lively, probably because it was a holiday. He also saw a lot of couples. He would have burned with jealousy at that sight in the past, but he was a different man today.
(I mean, I've got a date with that Mikoto-senpai….!)
The way he was now, he felt that he could earnestly pray for the good fortune of all lovers.
Before long, Kazaya heard the low sound of a running engine. When he turned to look for the source, a black car stopped in front of him. It was a luxury car from a brand that even he knew about, despite the fact that he didn't have much interest in such things.
The car door opened, and someone appeared from inside. It was a lady wearing an obviously high-quality kimono. Her features were so perfect that she could be mistaken for an actress.
"……Eh? Ah, yes, that's me."
Seeing as she knew his name, she was probably a friend of his mother's or something. Still, even if that was the case, what business could she possibly have with her friend's son?
"It's nice to meet you. I am Chihiro's mother."
For a few seconds, Kazaya was unable to process the phrase "Chihiro's mother". However, the moment he understood what it meant, he received an impact like getting struck by lightning.
"Yes. My name is Mikoto Satomi. Thank you for always looking after my daughter."
As the lady bowed her head in a dignified manner, Chihiro appeared from behind her. She was wearing a dress with a floral pattern. However, the expression on her face puzzled Kazaya. She seemed vaguely uneasy.
"I've heard about you from my daughter. I came here today to meet you."
"Ah. I see. Eh, umm, it's a pleasure to meet you! Senpai has been looking out for me in many ways!"
After hearing the lady say that, Kazaya replied in a hurry and bowed so forcefully that it wouldn't be surprising if he broke his back.
"Not at all. My daughter is quite inexperienced in the ways of the world, so I hope you can look out for her from here on as well."
"Y-Yes! Really, Senpai has been an absolute blast! Really!"
Kazaya was so confused that he didn’t even know what he was saying anymore.
"Ah, Mom, isn't this good enough? Look, Tsugami-kun looks like he's troubled as well."
Unable to just keep watching in silence, Chihiro spoke to her mother. However, Satomi shook her head.
"Wait for a little while longer. I need to discuss something with Tsugami-san. Would you mind walking with me over there?"
Satomi pointed in a certain direction, and Kazaya hurriedly nodded and followed her. His style of walking was very unnatural, perhaps due to his muscles becoming stiff from nervousness.
"Thank you, and sorry for asking this of you so suddenly. It's not a pleasant feeling to have me, her mother, show up all of a sudden like this, right?"
"Oh, not at all."
Kazaya replied that he didn't have a problem with it, while wondering just what on earth she wanted to talk to him about. In addition, they had even walked some distance away so that Chihiro would not hear them.
(M-Maybe she's here to tell me not to approach her daughter anymore…!?)
Perhaps her strict father had flown into a rage after finding out about him. There was no telling what might happen to Kazaya if he defied him.
(But Senpai is enjoying the carefree time spent in the other world. She is still lacking experience in some areas, so I need to stay by her side and support her. I can't let anyone get in the way of that, even if it is her father……!)
However, would he really be able to keep protecting Chihiro? If her rich father used some sort of private forces funded by his wealth to threaten Kazaya, would he really be able to keep fighting back? Even he was aware that his thoughts were shallow, but as a high school student, that was pretty much all he could think of.
(No. I will do my best! This is for Senpai's sake!)
Kazaya clenched his fist and started to talk.
"Excuse me! I'm not sure what you wanted to talk about, but Senpai just wants to enjoy her free time a little! She's keeping up with her studies as well! So I think that she deserves at least that much!"
"E-Even if her father is against it, I feel that it is not okay to restrict your own daughter to such an extent! S-Senpai is not a lifeless object….!"
He said it. He somehow managed to say it. His voice turned a little stiff towards the end, but he actually managed to say it aloud. Kazaya managed to comfort himself with that fact.
Satomi's mouth was half-open as she stared at him like she was looking at some strange creature.
"……Pfft. Hahahaha! Ahahahaha!"
She held her stomach and started laughing, completely at odds with her dignified attire.
"Eeh!? W-What is it?"
"Aah, that was funny. I'm sorry, Tsugami-san. It's not what you think. That person—Chihiro's father—has nothing to do with it. My husband is still in the dark about all this, and I'm making sure that he stays that way. You can rest easy. I am on your side, as well as Chihiro's."
"Yes. That person is stubborn, so even I can't oppose him directly. Even so, I have been working to secure Chihiro's freedom as much as possible. Even days like today when she has complete freedom are because of me."
Kazaya felt like he was going to collapse from relief.
"If not for that, there's no way Chihiro would tell me about you, right? I don’t know the details, but a while ago, she started talking to me about how she was having fun with a junior from school and that it has been a good change of pace for her."
"I-I see. I'm sorry for speaking so rudely earlier."
"It's fine. My husband is certainly keeping Chihiro restrained, after all. I've been wanting to do something about it myself, but he very rarely listens to me…. Still, I will definitely do something about it. He has become a little better recently, thanks to all my hard work."
Kazaya glanced at Chihiro who was still waiting at some distance behind them and thought that it certainly didn't seem that way. Just how strict had her father been in the past, if this was considered being better?
"The reason why I came along today was to thank you, Tsugami-san."
"Yes. I'm sure you already know, but because of her father's instructions, Chihiro rarely shows her feelings. Maybe because of that, she has always had trouble making friends. I couldn't bear to see her going to school like she had already given up on something. She never said anything to me about it, but I knew that she was living her life all alone."
Satomi glanced at her daughter, and her eyes showed the extent of her sadness.
"But ever since she met you, she looks like she has been having a lot of fun everyday."
"Yes. That's why I wanted to meet the person who made her feel that way. I feel relieved. I was surprised to find out that it was a boy, but I'm glad that she met a kind person like you, Tsugami-san. I'm sure that your honest personality got through to her."
"No, I'm nothing special. I didn’t really do anything for her."
Kazaya waved his hand, thinking that she overestimating him.
"Not at all. I am convinced after seeing how you acted earlier. You are a wonderful person. Once again, I hope you can continue to look out for Chihiro in the future as well."
"Ah, yes. I would be happy to!"
Kazaya responded energetically. All of a sudden, Satomi leaned close to him and whispered in his ear.
"Even so, the two of you are still in high school, so don't get too carried away. I ask that you maintain a healthy and pure relationship with her, at least until you are both of age."
"Huh!? No, Senpai and I are not really—"
"It's fine, you don't need to hide it. Well then, I don’t want to get in your way any longer, so I'll be leaving now."
Satomi turned around with a smile on her face and went back to sit in the car that was waiting for her.
Before long, the car once again disappeared leaving behind only the echoes of the sound of the engine.
"……She's totally has the wrong idea."
Kazaya felt that having Chihiro's mother approve of a relationship was not a bad thing, but he just hoped that things did not develop in a strange direction because of that.
"I-I'm sorry, Tsugami-kun. I accidentally let slip that I was going to meet a junior from school whom I was familiar with, and my mother insisted on coming along to meet you."
Chihiro came closer to him and bowed her head.
"N-No, it's fine. She's a great mother. Besides, she's a beauty just like you, Senpai."
"What are you talking about?"
Chihiro let out a long sigh and continued to speak.
"I'm glad that she is worried about me, but her curiosity is so strong that it is troubling. She's already past forty and yet she's like a little kid in that regard."
Kazaya unconsciously fixated in the word "forty". She certainly didn’t look that old, but considering that she was Chihiro's mother, it was not at all strange that she had already crossed that age.
"……It looks like you inherited your mother's features, Senpai."
In terms of peerless beauty and a certain ageless quality, they were identical.
"Really? I don’t think the two of us are very similar at all…. More importantly, what did my mother have to say to you?"
"Eh? Ah, it wasn't really anything important."
"Really? She winked at me before getting back into the car, you know? My mother only makes that expression when she has found something interesting."
"Eh…. No, really, it wasn't anything important."
"Senpai, please stop glaring at me silently. It's scary."
Seeing Kazaya looking scared, Chihiro eventually relented and shook her head.
"We lost some time due to an unexpected event, but let's get going…. But before that…."
Chihiro turned her back to him and started to rummage around inside a bag that she had brought along.
When she finally turned around, Kazaya saw that she had put on a hat after tying her hair back, and she was wearing sunglasses and a mask to hide her eyes and face.
"Now it's perfect!"
"Yes, you're a perfect example of a shady character!"
It was like her whole body was giving off a suspicious aura.
"Why are you wearing all those things?"
"I mean, this is not the other world. There's not telling who might be watching, right? But you're taking the time to show me around, so I thought that you might not like me acting like my usual self. So I prepared a disguise."
"It just looks really strange, so please take them off. How about you at least take off the mask and the sunglasses?"
"……Really? Won't people recognize me? They won't recognize me and upload pictures to the internet or anything, right? I saw it on TV. Your body will catch fire if someone uploads pictures of you to the internet, right?"
"That's wrong in so many ways! I don’t even know where to start correcting you!"
For the time being, Kazaya assured her that people do not just spontaneously catch fire in real life.
"Even if you are in danger of being recognized, I will do my best to prevent that from happening. Please trust me, Senpai."
"R-Really? Okay, then. I'll leave it to you."
Chihiro took off her sunglasses and mask, and put them away inside her bag.
"By the way, where would you like to go? I'll accompany you where ever you want to go, Senpai."
"……Let's see. For starters, I want to look at some manga!"
"In that case, there's a place we can go. It's not too far away by train."
Saying that, Kazaya led Chihiro into the train station.
(……By the way, this is the first time I've seen Senpai wearing casual clothes.)
As the he two of them were walking side by side, Kazaya thought that while looking at Chihiro. Since he had only seen her wearing her school uniform or her equipment in Grimveria until now, he felt somewhat strange.
"What's wrong? Are…. these clothes strange? I've never spent time outside with a boy before, so I really didn’t know what else to wear."
Chihiro spoke with a red face while clutching the hem of her clothes.
"N-No! I t-think you look stupendous!"
"……Do I really look that fat?"
Chihiro looked a little shocked.
"No! I meant that you look great! You look like a high-class young lady…. Ah! You don’t really like to hear stuff like that that, right!? Umm, let's see, you look really nice, like a princess or something… you have a refined air but still look like you get along well with commoners…. I can imagine you sitting with a farmer's daughter on a prairie and eating cookies while chatting… wait, what the hell am I even saying!?"
Kazaya tried to correct himself but only managed to increase the level of confusion. Chihiro stared at him blankly for a for a while and then burst into laughter.
"I've noticed it before, but you act strangely every once in a while, Tsugami-kun."
"I-I'm sorry. But I wasn't lying when I said that you look really nice in those clothes."
While Kazaya hung his head thinking that he had made a fool of himself, Chihiro continued speaking.
"Even so…. Thank you. You always try your best when you do something, and I love that part about you."
Kazaya's body heated up instantly. Chihiro gave him a strange look, but after she finally realized the meaning of what she had just said, her face turned red.
"I-It's not like that!! I didn’t mean it that way… I mean, I do love that side of you, but not in that way… ah, seriously! What are you making me say!?"
Chihiro smacked him on the back with all her strength. It certainly hurt, but for some reason Kazaya felt really happy.
They eventually reached the ticketing gates. Kazaya took out his card to pay for the trip.
However, he suddenly heard a loud sound. It was the sound caused by the ticket barrier gate closing to prevent someone from passing through without paying.
"Hmm? But I didn’t try to go through the gate yet…"
As he was saying that, he immediately realized who had caused that to happen. Chihiro was standing still, with the gate blocking her from moving forward.
"Senpai? Did you put the ticket into the machine?"
Or perhaps the machine had failed to read her card. Kazaya asked her that question while considering such alternatives, but Chihiro turned to look at him with a serious expression.
"Ticket? What's that?"
Kazaya thought she was joking, but apparently Chihiro was completely serious.
"…..I mean, you need a ticket in order to ride the train. You can buy one over there."
Kazaya pointed at an automatic ticket vending machine that was right next to the ticketing gates.
Chihiro stared at the machine Kazaya was pointing to for a little while, and then pushed her hair back.
"Of course, I already knew that!"
"Please don’t lie."
"I-It's not a lie! Umm… That's right, I was just testing you. I'm glad to see you properly know about such things."
"Of course I know it. I'm a high school student, after all."
"……I see. So this is something people learn when they enter high school."
Chihiro hung her head. It looked like her pride had been injured for some reason.
Kazaya scratched his cheek for a second, purchased a ticket from the ticket vending machine, and gave it to Chihiro.
"Here you go. Please put this into the slot on the gate."
When Chihiro did as he said, the ticket was pulled from between Chihiro's fingers and disappeared into the machine.
"Tsugami-kun, you're trying to trick me! The machine stole my ticket!"
"No, it did not. Look, it came out on the other side."
Kazaya pointed to the other side of the gate. Chihiro looked to where he pointed, and was shocked to see the ticket sticking out of the machine on the other side.
"You'll need it to exit the station once we reach our destination, so please don't lose it."
After passing through the ticketing gate, Chihiro collected the ticket and carefully put it inside her purse.
"Senpai, have you never been on a train before?"
Kazaya asked her that once they reached the platform, and Chihiro nodded.
"I've always used a car when I had to travel some distance, like I did today."
"Ah… So what happened before was an important experience for you. You should learn it properly before going home today."
"Yes! I'll save this ticket forever as a memento!"
"The machine won't return the ticket when you exit the ticketing gates at the destination, though."
Chihiro looked at him. She looked really shocked by what he had just said.
The train arrived at the platform shortly after, and Kazaya boarded it along with Chihiro.
"The interior is surprisingly small and cramped."
Chihiro was looking around inside the train compartment with a curious expression.
At that moment, Kazaya turned around after feeling someone's gaze on him. However, he was not entirely sure about that. Most of the men inside the compartment were looking at Chihiro. Considering her beauty, it was only natural.
However, those people did not know the truth. They had no way of knowing that this young lady who looked intellectual and composed actually had an extremely innocent side to her.
"Tsugami-kun, what is this meaning of the symbol on the sticker over there near the corner seat? It looks like a mobile phone. There's a diagonal bar running through it, does that mean we're not allowed to use mobile phones in here?"
"It means that using mobile phones here is dangerous and doing that will cause the train to come to an emergency stop."
"Eh, the train will stop for such a trivial reason…!?"
She was so innocent that she would even instantly believe such a suspicious-sounding lie.
"No, that was a lie."
He felt his nose get pinched strongly.
"Geez! I'm never going to believe another word you say, Tsugami-kun!"
The train arrived at their destination while Kazaya was scratching his head.
"Why did we come all the way here?"
"There are a number of large bookstores here that sell manga that is difficult to find anywhere else. There are also a bunch of shops that sell games and anime-related merchandise. This place is the so-called otaku district."
"Ah, I've heard of this place before. This is Akihabara, isn't it?"
"That's right. Although, technically speaking, Akihabara is not the official name for this otaku district, it is actually the name of one of the stations in Tokyo."
After passing through the ticketing gates at their destination, they saw the main street in front of them, and there were rows of shops on either side of the street with pictures of beautiful girls or game characters on the billboards.
"Is there any particular manga that you're looking for?"
"Let's see, I don't really know much on the subject, so I'm not sure what to reply…."
"In that case, what genres do you like?"
"Hmm. I don't really mind it in novel format, but… anything apart from horror should be okay."
In other words, she did not like horror. Kazaya found that to be a little unexpected.
"Well, I can recommend a number of titles that I like. If you find them interesting, then you can buy them."
Saying that, Kazaya entered a nearby shop.
"This shop is pretty small, but they have a good selection of titles. They even have titles that you would usually only find at urban centers."
The small shop interior had a number of large bookshelves crammed inside, and they were all packed with volumes of manga.
"Amazing….! These all all manga!?"
Kazaya slipped in between the customers and stood in front of a bookshelf.
"Ahem. Since you're not used to reading manga, Senpai, it's probably a good idea to avoid the ones with complicated layouts for now. These should be a good place to start."
Kazaya selected a number of titles that he liked and collected at home, and handed them to Chihiro.
"This isn't scary, right? Right?"
Chihiro seemed a little too obsessed with making sure of that. However, it was difficult for him to answer her question.
"Umm… That depends on what you find scary, Senpai. There are standard things like ghosts and monsters, but depending on the person, blood splatter and brutal scenes can be classified as being scary as well, right? For example, action manga tend to have a lot of gore, so you need to tell me what kinds of things you find scary, Senpai."
"Let's see…. Centipedes, I guess?"
"Centipedes? You mean those bugs with long bodies?"
Chihiro grimaced as though she could not bear to even hear the name of those creatures, and nodded.
"When I was little, I found a centipede in my bed while I was visiting my grandparents from my mother's side. It was right in front of my face and looked like it was about to bite me, so I was very afraid. I'm still traumatized by that!"
"What's wrong, Tsugami-kun?"
"Aah… No, it's nothing."
Kazaya had just been taken aback because Chihiro said something that he would have never expected, considering how boldly she usually carried herself.
"So are centipedes the only things you're afraid of?"
"Yes. Oh, and I'm not fond of things like ghosts either. I'm fine with blood splatter and the like."
"I see. In that case, there shouldn't be any problems with the titles I just picked out."
"If anything, I'm a fan of things like heads getting lopped off, limbs being torn off, and wails and screams of despair!"
"I don’t even know what to say to that, I feel like problem is in a different place now."
Kazaya said that, although he didn’t think it was particularly strange as everyone had their own likes and dislikes.
"So you like things like these, Tsugami-kun? What standards do you go by when choosing something new?"
"Let's see. There are some that I read in a magazine and found to be interesting, and I also buy the titles that are popular on the internet. Beyond that, it's just intuition. For example… when I'm walking around bookstores like this, if I look at a book cover and feel something like 『Ah! This is the one!』 then I'll pick it up. I guess it's based on the art style or and the overall impression I get when I look at the book."
"Hmm. In that case, have there been times when you bought a book, only to be disappointed in the contents?"
"Well, sure, but I also enjoy gambling on a book like that with no advance information. It makes me even happier if I happen to find something I like."
"I see… That's great. I feel like I'm gazing into the depths of the mysteries surrounding the human psyche."
It was hardly anything that exaggerated, but since Chihiro seemed to be interested, Kazaya decided not to say anything about it.
"If you'd like, why don’t you give it a try, Senpai? Just pick out something that looks interesting without trying to search for a particular reason."
"Sure, I'll try doing that! Give me a minute."
Chihiro nodded and started walking around inside the store. Kazaya felt glad that she was having fun, and he started looking for some books for himself as well. After about ten minutes, she called out to him.
"Tsugami-kun, I've decided."
"That's great…. Eeh!?"
Kazaya turned around and was shocked speechless. He couldn't see Chihiro anywhere. Instead, what he saw was a tower of books. He belatedly realized that he couldn't see her because she was hidden behind the large number of books.
"You're going to buy so many, Senpai!?"
"Yes, I carefully chose them!"
Chihiro peeked around the books with a dignified look on her face. Kazaya felt that this was no time for such an expression.
"That quantity doesn't look like you selected them carefully at all! Can you even carry all of them back after buying them?"
"……Oh. I forgot to consider that part."
Chihiro looked regretful as she went to put the books back on the shelves, except for a few.
"This number should be okay, right!?"
Eventually, she came back and showed him a set of around ten books.
"Ah, this should be fine. We can always come back when you feel like buying more."
"……That's right. We can just come back later."
Chihiro seemed to dwell on those words as she carried the books to the billing counter. After completing the purchase, they left the shop.
"I get a certain amount of money as allowance every month, but I've just been saving it since I had no real use for it. I never expected that I would be able to splurge in a place like this."
Chihiro spoke while holding on to the paper bag with the manga. Her voice felt somewhat lively.
"That's great. Oh, let me carry that for you."
"That's fine. It's quite heavy."
"Then I should definitely be the one carrying them. Don’t worry about it."
Seeing Kazaya hold out his hand, Chihiro initially hesitated. However, when Kazaya stopped walking and just kept waiting for her, she eventually relented and handed him the bag.
"……It's not just the other world. You're reliable in this world as well, Tsugami-kun."
When Kazaya was about to carry the bag, Chihiro suddenly grabbed one of the handles. Their fingertips touched, startling Kazaya.
"Let's carry it together. I can't let you bear the weight all by yourself."
Kazaya nodded and started walking down the road, holding on to the bag along with Chihiro. Kazaya thought that the people who saw them walking like that must think that they were a happy couple, and couldn't resist smiling.
"Did you see something funny, Tsugami-kun? You're smiling."
"Eh!? Ah, no, it's nothing. More importantly, is there anywhere else you want to go?"
Kazaya hurriedly changed the subject before Chihiro could realize what was on his mind.
"Let's see… Ah, are there any video game arcades around here?"
"Yes, there are. There's one nearby that I visit often."
"I'd like to go there and try my hand at a few games!"
Kazaya agreed and guided her to a store that he was familiar with.
It was a four-storey building, and every one of those floors was packed with a variety of games.
The first floor had a number of crane game machines lined up with a variety of prizes inside. Chihiro stopped in front of one of those and peeked inside through the glass.
"Is there something that caught your interest?"
Hearing Kazaya speak from behind her, Chihiro pointed at a particular spot. There were a number of cute teddy bears and super deformed manga character plushies inside the machine, among which one particular doll was very eye-catching.
It was a gorilla.
It was a tough-looking gorilla with thick, black fur.
As expected of a game that mostly offered plushies that women would like, this particular doll was also designed to be fairly cute. Despite that, it looked really out of place amongst all the other dolls.
Kazaya thought it might be a character from some anime and tried to look for a name on the doll, but he wasn't able to find anything. The tag that hung from it's neck just said 『King of the Forest』. It was a gorilla. Without a doubt, it was just an ordinary gorilla.
"Why is something like that in such a place…."
Kazaya thought that the staff might have put it in there by mistake, but he didn’t think that there would be any other crane games that were better suited for that doll. Basically, it was strange that this doll was even available in a place like this.
"That's amazing. I wonder if the staff put it in there as a joke."
In recent times, it had become fairly easy to quickly upload pictures to the internet using social networking sites. Due to that, there were cases where shops would sometimes arrange for something strange on purpose to allow the customers to do their advertising for them. This gorilla might also be something like that.
"But seriously, putting a gorilla in there is a bit too much. It feels like looking at a middle-aged man who snuck into a girls-only party. Even that gorilla itself must feel like it is in the wrong place."
Kazaya assumed that Chihiro was pointing at the gorilla to call his attention to it and make him laugh. However…
Chihiro let slip a word that he had not expected at all.
"Don't you think it's really cute!? It's wonderful! The person who made this gorilla must be a genius! There's no doubt about it, such a genius is born only once every ten—no, every hundred years!"
"Eh, S-Senpai!? You like it that much? Senpai, do you like gorillas!?"
Kazaya unconsciously asked her that, and Chihiro looked at him and replied with an expressionless face.
"No, but weren't you really interested in that gorilla?"
"This is not a gorilla, it's a gorilla plushie. Tsugami-kun, even I would not want a real gorilla if they happened to have one at a video game arcade. Although I would find it really curious!"
"Rather than curious, that would be outright strange."
He could only think of something like that happening if a gorilla happened to run away from the zoo and settled down in a video game arcade.
"But this gorilla is a nice gorilla! It gets cuter the more I look at it. It makes good use of the features of a real gorilla, while exuding a sense of softness and fluffiness that a real gorilla could never achieve! It's amazing how the manufacturer turned something that is so obviously a gorilla into something that is completely different from a gorilla!"
"Senpai, do you realize how many times you just said the word 'gorilla'!?"
Kazaya was shocked by the continuous repetition of a word that he had never expected to hear from a beautiful girl like Chihiro.
"……It's a good gorilla."
Chihiro continued to stare at the gorilla plushie. Kazaya found it hard to accept, given the target of her attention, but the enraptured expression that she directed at something she found to be cute was not all that different from that of other girls her age.
"Senpai. If you want it, I can get it for you. This crane can be moved freely, so it'll be easy to get it."
Kazaya exchanged places with her and stepped in front of the machine, took a hundred yen coin out of his wallet, and inserted it into the machine. He started to move the crane in small increments while paying attention to the angle.
"But it's such a large gorilla."
"There's a trick to it. As long as you pay attention to the item's center of mass, it's actually pretty easy to get what you want… there we go."
When he pressed the button, the crane descended and grabbed the gorilla around the neck and slowly lifted it up. However, this was the important bit. There was always a chance that the item would fall down again before it reached the outlet hatch.
As Kazaya and Chihiro watched with bated breath, the claw slowly traveled to the edge of the housing where the hole was located and dropped the gorilla. With a dull sound, the gorilla dropped into the opening perfectly and they managed to obtain it.
"Alright, I managed to get it. Here you go."
Kazaya picked it up and handed it to Chihiro, who stared at it intently.
After a while, she slowly embraced it and closed her eyes. It was as though she was experiencing the joy with every fiber of her being.
"I'm glad you like it. You can treat that as a present from me."
"Eh, no, I can't do that!"
"It's fine. I got it for just a hundred yen, after all. Just treat it as a memento for the time we spent today."
"R-Really? In that case… Thank you."
Chihiro smiled at him while hugging the gorilla.
After they left the game center and walked for some distance, Chihiro stopped by a general store.
"Is there something you want to buy?"
"Yes. How about buying some things to put in your house in Grimveria? That house doesn't really have anything apart from furniture, after all."
"Ah, that sounds good. Let's do that."
Kazaya joined Chihiro in selecting and buying a number of accessories and wall decorations. Thinking that it might be nice to have some flowers, they visited a florist and purchased a potted plant as well.
"……By the way, can we really take the manga and other things we bought today to Grimveria?"
Chihiro asked him that while they were taking a break from shopping.
"I can see why you would be concerned about that, but it's fine."
If that was not the case, then everything they did today would be pointless.
"Items that you can carry by yourself and the clothes you are wearing will be transported along with you when you go to the other world. Things that are too big—like cars, for example—cannot be transported."
"It looks like the system is quite flexible in that regard. How about bringing things from the other world over to this world?"
"Yes, the same holds true for that as well. It is possible, but you shouldn't bring back anything that is really important."
"I see. That's great…. Tsugami-kun, is there any place you would like to go next? It can be anything. You go to places like maid cafes all the time, don't you?"
Chihiro adopted a pose filled with confidence for some reason.
"No, I don't! Why are you stating that so confidently!?"
"Eh? Don't all high school boys visit a maid cafe at least once a week!?"
"Where did you hear that!? I've suspected it for a while now, but are you sure you're not being fed false information by some trickster, Senpai!?"
"Hmm… I wonder where I heard it from…"
Kazaya started to worry about her, but Chihiro just said that and lapsed into thought.
"Well, in any case, I don't really have any place that I want to visit. I decided that I would accompany you where ever you wanted to go today, after all, Senpai."
"Really? Thank you! In that case, stay with me for just a little while longer."
Kazaya thought about saying that he would not mind staying by her side forever, but he felt that it would be embarrassing and so he opted to stay silent.
At that instant—a person he did not expect to meet called out to him all of a sudden.
"Oh? It's Kazaya! Hey there!"
Ayukawa suddenly appeared in front of them, and Kazaya cowered in shock.
"H-Hey. What's up?"
"Nothing much. I just remembered that a new volume of a manga that I wanted to read was released, so I rushed here to buy it. How about you, Kazaya? Shopping? If you're free, how about going to get a bite to eat… Huh?"
Ayukawa noticed Chihiro who was standing next to Kazaya before she could complete her sentence.
"Hmmmmmmmm? By any chance, is that you, Mikoto-senpai?"
Kazaya turned to look at Chihiro and saw that she had a serious look on her face.
"N-No, this person is my older sister."
"Kazaya, you don't have any siblings."
His lie was shot down on the spot. Childhood friends could be such a handful to deal with for exactly this reason.
"S-She's a cousin. She's new in town, so I was showing her around…."
"What are you talking about? I wasn't sure at first because she's wearing a hat, but she's definitely Mikoto-senpai….. Oh? Could it be? Are the two of you on a date?"
Ayukawa grinned at him after she arrived at that conclusion.
"T-That is…. Umm…"
"That's right. We are on a date."
Kazaya was trying to cover up the issue, but Chihiro declared that before he had a chance to speak.
"Oh!? So the two of you were going out after all!"
Ayukawa looked at Kazaya and Chihiro in turn as though she had discovered something interesting.
"Still, you're really something else, Kazaya. Even though you already have me."
Ayukawa came closer and gave him a light dig in the ribs with her elbow.
"Seriously, don’t make jokes like that."
"Sorry, my bad."
Ayukawa apologized and bowed her head after seeing Kazaya let out a sigh.
"You are Ayukawa-san, right? It looks like you've known Tsugami-kun for a long time."
Chihiro suddenly spoke up while looking closely at Ayukawa.
Ayukawa initially had a cheerful expression, but she slowly started to break out into a cold sweat when she noticed Chihiro staring at her intently.
"Umm, Kazaya? Senpai is glaring at me with the intensity of a Nioh statue for some reason."
"R-Really? I think it's just your imagination."
Kazaya secretly agreed with Ayukawa, but he decided to deny it for now.
"It hasn't been very long since I met Tsugami… No, Kazaya-kun. However, I plan on getting to know him better from now on. It's nice to meet you."
Chihiro made sure to call him by his first name and slightly bowed her head.
"I-I see. Sure, I understand. It's nice to meet you too…. Umm, Kazaya, I should get going."
Perhaps she felt something that was hard to put into words. Ayakawa said that and quickly walked away.
"Umm, Senpai, what's wrong? You were acting a little strangely just now."
Kazaya spoke to her after some time had passed, and Chihiro let out a sigh.
"It's nothing…. I wonder if that was a little childish of me."
Chihiro muttered that in low voice while blushing slightly.
"I-It's not like I felt something after seeing you talk to Ayukawa-san, okay!?"
"Felt something? Like what?"
Kazaya tilted his head in confusion because he had no idea what she was talking about.
"It's nothing! Come on, let's go!"
Chihiro grabbed his hand and practically dragged him along.
After that, Kazaya accompanied Chihiro to many shops where she purchased the things that she wanted.
As evening approached, both of them were weighed down by massive bags.
"Alright! We managed to splendidly complete our shopping! Tsugami-kun, do you still have some time? I'd like to take these over to Grimveria as soon as possible."
"Sure, I don’t mind. That was the main goal for today, after all."
The two of them walked into a back alley and held their Teleportation Stones while still carrying the shopping bags.
Their surroundings went dark for a short while, and before long, they appeared in the plaza at Reancos. The items that they had purchased had also safely appeared along with them. The two of them started walking after Kazaya suggested that they find a carriage to take them to the house, when a familiar voice called out to him.
When Kazaya turned around, he saw Nina running towards him.
Chihiro called out to her, and Nina shouted in surprise after seeing her..
"Chi-Chihiro-san! Don't you think you have been spending a little too much time with Kazaya-san these days!?"
"Yes! Kazaya-san used to travel alone to the islands until recently, but now he always goes together with you!"
"Oh, now that you mention it, I suppose that's true. Is that a problem?"
"Well, not exactly, but…"
Nina glanced surreptitiously at Kazaya.
"Umm, I get that both of you are Visitors, and it's good that the two of you get along, but how do I put this… Clinging to him all the time is also a problem! That's right! These are not just my personal feelings on the matter, it's more like an issue of public decency!"
"I don't think I've been clinging to him or anything. Right, Tsugami-kun?"
"Yeah, I don't think… we've been doing anything like that."
Kazaya was perplexed when Chihiro suddenly threw the question to him.
"But the two of you are together today as well! Are you going to an island again?"
"No, not today. We were just planning on going over to the house."
Seeing Nina just parrot that word back at him with a questioning look on her face, Kazaya explained what he meant.
"Ah, that's right. I was planning on telling you when we next met. I bought a house some distance away from the town, and plan on spending some time there."
"……Together with Chihiro-san?"
"That's right. So we bought some books, flowers, and other accessories to decorate the house."
Nina let out a shout and froze in a strange position, standing on the tips of her toes with her hands raised up.
"—Such a thing! That's not allowed!"
Eventually, Nina recovered as though someone had pressed a reset button and started waving her arms frantically.
"You were planning on spending time there with just the two of you!? And it's in a secluded place!? What's more, you were planning to decorate the house with accessories and flowers!? That's… That's… I don't even know what to say!"
Nina ended her tirade without clearly saying what she was thinking about as if she was afraid that saying it aloud would cause it to become official.
"Ah, now that you mention it, it does seem like something n-newlyweds would do."
However, Chihiro went ahead and said it with a red face.
"Waaaah! You actually said it! Did you do that on purpose!? Are you trying to show off!?"
"I-It's not like that! I just thought that some people might see us that way, that's all!"
"Aaaaargh! That's the confidence of a winner!"
Nina hugged herself and hid behind Kazaya.
"N-Newlyweds? Come on, you're exaggerating. Hahaha."
Despite saying that, Kazaya felt that it would actually not be all that bad. It looked like buying a house turned out to be the correct decision, even though he had not done it with that reason in mind.
"A-Anyway! That's how it is. Sorry, Nina-chan, but the two of us need to go now."
Nina started to groan after hearing what Chihiro said.
"This is bad. I did think that she was a formidable opponent, but she actually has the ability to surpass me…. Is it okay to leave it like this? No, that's a bad idea. That's definitely a bad idea, Nina!"
Nina had been muttering something to herself while looking down, but she suddenly raised her face.
"Okay! Nina will go over to Kazaya-san's house as well!"
"Eh? What about the shop!?"
"It's fine! My father has to attend a neighborhood council meeting today, so he was planning to close the shop early! Besides, we don’t have that many customers right now! Please, Kazaya-san! Let Nina come along as well!"
"….I'm fine with that. What about you, Senpai?"
"Eh? Umm… Let's see, I guess it's fine? That is, if Nina-chan actually has the courage to come over!"
Chihiro brushed her long hair back and put on a challenging smile for some reason.
"……What is this feeling? It's like she is saying 'bring it on if you dare'. Well, Nina won't lose to her either!"
Nina said that to encourage herself, and looked at Kazaya.
"In that case, please wait here for a little while. Nina will return to the shop and get permission!"
Kazaya agreed and nodded.
"It won't take long. Please wait here, don't leave without Nina!"
After emphasising that point, Nina quickly ran off.
"Senpai, why did you get Nina all fired up like that?"
"Umm, there's no particular reason… She gets influenced easily, so I just found it interesting. In any case, I would be kind of nervous with just the two of us over there… I accidentally went and said that we were like newlyweds, after all."
Chihiro spoke that last part in a low voice so that Kazaya would not hear it. Kazaya was looking at Chihiro with a puzzled expression, when someone suddenly called out to him.
"Ah, Kazaya! So you're here as well!"
Tohru appeared before them all of a sudden and greeted Kazaya in a friendly tone.
"You seem to be carrying a lot of luggage. Are you not planning to go to the islands today?"
Tohru opened his eyes wide in surprise after Kazaya told him about buying a house as well.
"Seriously!? That's amazing! I've been wanting a house of my own as well, but it's so hard to save up the money! No matter how much money I make, I seem to always spend it on something good! Say, would you mind if I tagged along as well? I'm curious to see what the house looks like!"
"Eh? You want to come over to the house…? Umm… "
When Kazaya turned to look at Chihiro, she let out a small laugh.
"I don't mind. Having a lot of people over might be fun as well."
"Ohh! As expected from Kazaya's girlfriend, you've got a generous personality as well!"
"She's not my girlfriend or anything—"
"Oh, I saw Izumi at a tavern earlier. How about asking her to come along? What do you say!?"
Tohru asked without letting Kazaya finish his sentence.
"Sure, why not? You don’t mind, right, Tsugami-kun?"
Kazaya nodded in answer to Chiro's question.
"Alright! In that case, just wait there for a bit!"
Tohru ran off while shouting that.
"As always, he's such an energetic person."
Chihiro said that, partly in praise. Even Kazaya thought that Tohru would not lose to anyone when it came to being vigorous.
Nina returned while they were waiting for Tohru.
"H-Hello. Shall we get going, then?"
She must have been in a real hurry as she ran back. She was completely out of breath.
"Are you okay? Did Bado-san give his permission?"
Nina nodded enthusiastically when Kazaya asked her that to confirm.
He was worried if she was really alright, but since she said it herself, he decided to believe her.
"Thanks for waiting! I brought Izumi along!"
At that time, Tohru returned with impeccable timing. He was carrying Izumi.
"Hey! I told you that I didn’t want to go, right!?"
"Come on, it’ll be fun! Don't be so shy!"
"That is something Kazaya should say, not you!"
Izumi struggled to break free, but she eventually gave up and sighed.
"Well, I'm curious about Kazaya's house as well, so I guess I'm willing to go."
"It's nothing. Are even your eardrums made out of muscle!?"
"Hahaha. She said my eardrums are made from muscle!"
Izumi smacked Tohru, and he let out a hearty laugh even though he probably didn't understand what she had just said.
"Ah, Tohru-san and Izumi-san! Are the two of you coming along as well?"
"Hell yeah! Let's go together, Nina!"
Nina looked surprised to see them there, and Tohru lightly patted her shoulder.
"For starters, let go of me already, you idiot!"
"Ah, sorry, my bad!"
After being scolded by Izumi, Tohru apologized and let go of her. Since he did that without any warning, Izumi was unable to react in time and fell to the ground.
"Ouch! Why youuuuuu….! What were you planning to do if I injure this hand of mine that will someday generate an income worth millions!?"
"Oh? Sorry about that. Just let that slide, yeah? Hahaha!"
"You don’t sound apologetic at all!"
Even though Izumi snapped at him and started kicking him, Tohru was not fazed one bit.
"……It looks like things have gotten pretty noisy."
Kazaya could only nod once again when Chihiro said that.
After that, they hailed a stagecoach (which had the same function as a taxi from their world) and traveled to the house together.
"Wow! So this is the house that you purchased, Kazaya-san!? It's beautiful!"
Nina's eyes started to sparkle once they arrived at their destination and got down from their carriage.
"Oh? This is a pretty nice place. Wouldn't expect anything less from you, Kazaya!"
"It pisses me off that I am forced to agree with Tohru, but yeah, I feel the same way."
Tohru and Izumi gave comments of praise as well, and Kazaya started to feel strangely embarrassed.
They sent the coachman away after asking him to come back in a few hours.
After they entered the house, Chihiro and Kazaya placed the items that they had purchased on the table.
They took out the manga, accessories, and decorations, and started arranging them.
"What is this? A book? It has a really nice drawing on the cover."
Nina picked up one of the manga volumes and stared at it closely.
"It's a manga volume. I told you about manga some time ago, didn't I? It's a book from my world that has pictures."
"Ah! So this is what you were talking about!"
Nina started to flip through the pages, but she eventually frowned and let out a groan.
"…..Kazaya-san. I can't read this."
"Well, it is written in a language from my world, after all."
Visitors had the ability to understand the spoken and written language in Grimveria.
However, the people who lived in this world could not understand written Japanese. That was probably because there was no real need for it.
"Uuuugh. This is so frustrating. Maybe I should just try and read it while inferring the details from the pictures…. "
Nina alternated between pushing the manga volume away and picking it back up again.
"It's fine, Nina. Even I couldn't read katakana until I was in third grade of elementary school. I'm sure you'll be able to read Japanese in no time!"
"Coming from a person like you who is an exception among exceptions, that's not comforting at all."
Tohru tried to cheer Nina up using a strange method, and Izumi glared at him through narrow eyes.
"Tsugami-kun, can I put this here?"
Chihiro called out to Kazaya from the other side of the room. Looking over, he saw that Chihiro wanted to put the gorilla plushie above the fireplace.
"Are you sure you want to put it in such a conspicuous place?"
"If we do that, it'll be like he is watching over the house. Instead of a guard dog, we'll have a guard gorilla."
"Sure, I don’t mind, but calling it that really leaves a powerful impression……"
Even burglars might lose their nerve and run away after seeing it.
Chihiro looked at the gorilla that was sitting above the fireplace and patted its head while smiling.
"We're counting on you, Gorilord Banks Giran III."
"Gorilord Banks Giran III!?"
"Yeah. Gorilord Banks Giran III. That's his name."
"You have a pretty good sense for naming things, Chihiro-san."
"Eh!? You call that good!?"
Izumi looked like she was impressed, which surprised Kazaya.
"…Well, sure, why not? Although I do think that it is a pretty exaggerated name."
"If it's too long, we can shorten it to Gori-san."
"It became a lovable character all of a sudden!"
Seeing that Kazaya found that name to be more acceptable, Chihiro smiled as though she was satisfied and said something to the gorilla plushie.
"Oi, Kazaya. Where do you want to put this ornament?"
"This painting is pretty big, so I'm putting it up over here, okay?"
Tohru and Izumi, who were helping out with setting up the decorations, called out to Kazaya who responded to them appropriately.
"Tsugami-kun, how about placing these flowers in the kitchen?"
Kazaya nodded to Chihiro who asked that question.
"Ah, sure. The flowers will make the place look more elegant."
After discussing it, the two of them decided to move the flowerpot to the kitchen. However….
"Please wait! Don’t you think the flowers would look better on top of the desk?"
Nina came running and slid to a stop in front of them.
"Take a look at that desk. It's big, but there's nothing on top of it. Doesn't it look barren?"
"Ah, that's certainly true."
"But don’t you think it would be nice to have something pretty to look at in the kitchen while doing the dishes?"
"……That's true as well."
"No way! Just imagine this! You look at the desk while eating, and you see flowers! There's no better way to bring color to your life! Harmony! Tranquility! Therapy!"
Nina stood with her hands on her hips while opposing Chihiro.
"Hoho… How interesting. Are you looking to compete with me, Nina-chan?"
Chihiro smiled fearlessly, and Nina put herself on guard.
"O-Of course. I'll take you on anytime!"
"That's good. In that case, how about we do it like this? We can take turns keeping the flowerpot on the desk and in the kitchen for a day each and judge the effect it imparts to the scenery of the room! After that, we can decide which one looks better!"
"I-I see, that sounds fair! Alright, Nina is getting fired up!"
"Or at least, that is what I planned on doing, but I feel like doing that would be a pain, so let's just put the flowerpot on the desk as Nina-chan suggested!"
Nina, who had been all fired up with her hands in the air, fell flat on her face.
"Senpai, it's not nice to get someone fired up and then suddenly pull the rug out from underneath them. Look, Nina has no idea to do with all her motivation now."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Are you alright?"
Chihiro asked Nina if she was okay, and Nina replied while still lying flat on the ground. Kazaya accurately guessed that Chihiro had done that on purpose because she wanted to see Nina show such a reaction.
"Chihiro-san is quite the strategist. I've learned something useful to put Tohru in a tight spot."
Izumi grinned and looked at Tohru who was patting Nina's head while laughing.
"I wonder… Since it's him, he probably won't understand it even if you do something like that."
Izumi became silent after Kazaya stated his conjecture.
"Y-You're right. Ah, seriously, that guy has gone past being dimwitted and is approaching the level of not caring about anything, so it's such a pain to deal with him! Geez, why does an intellectual person like me have to be with a guy like that!?"
"You know how people say that opposites attract, right? It's like making up for the things that your partner lacks."
"There is no area in which I am lacking."
Izumi declared that to Chihiro.
"……Your self-confidence is something else."
Kazaya smiled wryly while thinking to himself that her level of self-confidence was pretty hard to achieve.
"Oh? Oi, Kazaya. What is this?"
At that time, Tohru, who was going through the shopping bags, found a square box that was wrapped with paper and looked over at Kazaya.
"Oh, those are playing cards. I brought along a handheld game console as well for killing the time, but it can't be used once the battery dies. I thought having a game that doesn't require electricity might be a good idea."
Kazaya walked up to Tohru, took the playing cards, and ripped off the wrapping paper.
"That sounds nice. Should we give it a try? There are five of us, so what game can we play?"
"Let's see. I'm pretty sure Nina has never played card games before, so how about going with something simple like Old Maid?"
Kazaya opened the box and started shuffling the cards while replying to Chihiro.
"Playing cards? Old Maid?"
Nina, who had finally recovered, asked that question with a blank look.
"It's a game from my world. It's played with a deck of cards with suits numbered from one to thirteen, and a single card with a picture of a joker on it. The players take turns picking a single card, and if they have a match, they discard the pair. However, since there is only one joker card, the person who ultimately ends up with that card is the loser."
"Ah, So it's like the Renant game, Brunkas."
Nina said that while looking at the cards.
"That's right. You can think of it like that."
Once Chihiro and the others sat down at the table, Kazaya started to deal the cards.
"That's what card games are called in Grimveria. They are a common sight at taverns and the like."
Izumi answered Chihiro's question, and Kazaya picked up the explanation in more detail.
"The type and number of cards are different, but the games are more or less the same. Brunkas is pretty similar to Old Maid, except for the rule that you have to shout 『Brunkas!』 before you discard your last pair. If you don’t, not only do you have to take back the cards that you discarded, you also miss a turn, meaning that the game has to go through a full circuit before you get a turn again."
Apparently the game had been invented by a person called Brunkas, but since it happened so long ago, even the people of Grimveria were not really sure about that. Speaking of which, the name 'Renant' came from 'Renantus', the name of a demonic beast that had existed since ancient times. However, the beast that was depicted on the cards was imaginary, as no one had actually seen it for themselves.
"Oh? Even though we are from different worlds, it looks like there are parts of our cultures that evolved in the same way."
Chihiro spoke while looking very interested.
"In that case, how about we play using Grimveria's rules instead?"
"Are you sure? If you do that, Nina will have an overwhelming advantage."
"Oh, that sounds like fun."
Nina sounded like she was full of confidence, and Chihiro replied with a faint smile.
"Hey, I'm good at it too! I'm always the last man standing when I play it with my friends, after all!"
"……Doesn't that mean you lose horribly every time?"
Kazaya could not help but retort when Tohru said that in a proud voice with his fist raised high, but Tohru just looked back at him blankly.
"Wait, the person who keeps the joker until the end is not the winner?"
"Hey, Kazaya just explained the rules a minute ago, didn't you hear him!?"
Izumi held her head and said that.
"I mean, I wouldn't expect anything less from Souya."
"He's a man with great freedom of thought, isn't he!?"
For some reason, Chihiro took Kazaya's words in a positive manner.
"No, he's just a regular idiot. He's the biggest idiot born on this side of the century."
Seeing Izumi's exasperated expression, Tohru scratched his head.
"Aw shucks! You're making me blush with all that praise!"
"I'm not praising you! How many times do I have to tell you that!?"
"Oh that's right, you're always telling me that! Since you want to be an author, you should lose the habit of repeating the same thing over and over, Izumi!"
"Why the heck do I need to receive criticism from someone like youuuuuuu!"
Izumi leaped at Tohru, but he just laughed and fended her off with a single hand.
"Alright, you two. We know that you guys get along well, so can we please get this game started?"
"We don’t get along!"
Kazaya called out to the two of them, and Izumi responded while baring her teeth.
Although it took a while, they finally managed to start the game. They each picked a single card from the deck, and the person with the highest number would start. That person turned out to be Chihiro.
After collecting the cards, splitting the deck into five parts, and giving one to each player, they started the game of Old Maid.
……However, Kazaya was immediately convinced that the game would not last very long.
"Alright then, I'll start."
Chihiro said that, turned towards Nina who was sitting on her left, and pinched one of the cards in Nina's hand between her thumb and forefinger.
Immediately, Nina made a shocked expression.
"……How about this one?"
Nina once again made the same expression.
"In that case… I'll pick this one."
This time, Nina let out a fearless laugh.
"Just kidding! I'll pick this one instead."
Chihiro picked a different card and added it to her own hand. Nina slumped her shoulders with an obviously crestfallen expression.
"In that case, now it's Nina's turn to take a card from Izumi-san…"
"Hang on for a second. Nina, do you know what the term 'poker face' means?"
When Kazaya asked her that, Nina just stared back at him with a blank expression.
"When you're playing these kinds of games, you're supposed to prevent yourself from making any expressions that might give the other players a hint about what cards you're holding."
"Yes! Nina is very good at that!"
"No you're not!"
Hearing the immediate denial, Nina frowned suspiciously.
"Eh? But Nina always wins when playing Brunkas at the tavern! Doesn't that mean Nina's poker face is working well?"
"……I think you're mistaken."
Kazaya was once again convinced that this world was filled with kind people.
"Hey, Nina. You have the joker, don’t you?"
Hearing Izumi say that, Nina jumped out of her chair.
"Eeh!? How did you figure it out!? Is that one of the powers given to Visitors!?"
"No, that would have been obvious to anyone."
Kazaya said that with a wry smile.
"Nina-chan, your expression changes a lot depending on which card is picked. If you keep doing that, it will be easy for everyone to guess what card you have and you will end up losing."
"R-Really!? In that case, Nina will try and keep a poker face from next time!"
After getting advice from Chihiro, Nina nodded and took a card from Izumi. After taking the card, she immediately grinned. She probably picked a card that matched one in her hand.
"Nina. Your expression is changing again."
"…Wah! Nina understands. Nina will keep a poker face."
Nina pressed her lips together and showed a tense expression. She probably thought that she was making a poker face. However, to everyone else, it looked like she was trying to endure the pain of sitting on a pincushion.
"Ah, what's wrong, Nina? Did your rear get pricked by a pin or something?"
Tohru had apparently been thinking the same thing, and when he asked Nina that question, her face turned bright red.
"N-No! Ugh, it looks like this poker face thing is pretty difficult…."
Nina put her hands on her cheeks and moved them up and down, but she didn’t have much success.
"Well, I guess it's a start. Kotobuki, it's your turn next."
Izumi picked a card from Tohru's hand and discarded a pair.
After that, Tohru picked a card from Kazaya's hand, and in the next instant—
"Aah! Goddammit, it's not the joker!"
"Seriously, learn the damn rules already!!"
Izumi kicked Tohru, but he just looked at her like he had no idea what she was talking about.
"Besides, didn't we already determine that Nina has the joker!? There's no way that you would get it!"
"Eh!? Ah, that makes sense! Hahaha! Izumi, you're pretty smart!"
Seeing Tohru let out a hearty laugh, Izumi pressed her hand against her forehead as though she had a headache.
"Tsugami-kun, it looks like we have a player who doesn't even know the rules!"
"I have a bad premonition about this…."
Kazaya was perplexed, wondering if Old Maid was actually such a difficult game.
After that, it's was Kazaya's turn to pick a card from Chihiro. He glanced surreptitiously at her expression as he did so. However, her expression didn't change at all. No matter what card he touched, her expression stayed the same.
"A-Amazing…So this is a poker face…. What does Nina have to do to make such an uninterested expression?"
"Well, the fact that I don’t have the joker right now is part of it, but perhaps my daily training is the reason."
Chihiro looked proud of herself.
"What do you mean, 'daily training'? Are you taking some sort of special lessons?"
Izumi, who didn’t know about Chihiro's situation, asked that in a puzzled tone. Well, it was true that Chihiro had been mastering that expression at school everyday. Her poker face might actually be the best in the world.
After Kazaya took one of the cards from Chihiro, he saw that he had a matching card. He discarded the pair.
"A-Alright, I'll give it a try, Pick a card, Chihiro-san!"
"Hmm… alright then. I'll pick this one."
When Chihiro pinched a card between the tips of her fingers, Nina made a strange expression. She twisted her lips, looked diagonally upward, and puffed up her cheeks.
"What the heck? What kind of expression is that?"
When Kazaya asked Nina that, she proudly rubbed her finger below her nose.
"Fufufu. As long as Nina keeps doing that, you won't be able to guess what Nina is thinking. Incredible, right?"
It was certainly incredible. It was an incredibly stupid expression. Although Kazaya thought that, he decided not to say that aloud.
"It certainly does look incredibly stupid!"
Despite that, Tohru said it anyways with his customary lack of tact, and Izumi yelled at him again.
Beside Kazaya, Chihiro had turned away from the table and her shoulders were shaking. She was probably trying her best to control her laughter.
"……Well, if you're okay with that, Nina, I guess it's fine."
Kazaya muttered that, despite having mixed feelings about it.
However, it looked like Nina's 『Make a strange face』 plan had paid off, and Chihiro had drawn the joker. That was apparent from the fact that Nina was smiling happily.
"Alright—Nina picks this one!"
Nina picked a card from Izumi and her eyes immediately began to sparkle.
"Yaaaay! A-All the cards have a match! Nina wins!"
Nina raised both her hands and put her cards down on the table.
"Nina wins! Yaaaaay!"
Nina stood up on her chair and started spinning around. She seemed to be really excited.
"Wait, Nina-chan. You've forgotten something important!"
Chihiro called out to Nina in a calm voice.
"Eh? Where is the mistake? Nina won the game so brilliantly!"
"You forgot to say 'Brunkas'! Take those cards back!"
Chihiro picked up the cards that Nina had just put down and heartlessly pushed them back into Nina's hands.
"Wha….. Wait….. Nooooooooooooooooo!"
Nina jumped down from the chair and started rolling around on the ground.
"But Nina won! This can't be happening!!"
"Fuhahahaha! You're too naive, Nina-chan! You need to stay focused until the very last instant of the game! Judging by how you got so excited when you were about to win, you've still got a lot to learn! You are far from becoming the Old Maid Emperor!"
Chihiro stood on her own chair and declared that in a haughty tone.
"….This is the first time I've seen people go through such a range of emotions over a game of Old Maid."
Kazaya also considered asking what an Old Maid Emperor was, but he had a premonition that the explanation would take a while and hence decided not to ask.
"Well, Nina is always trying very hard. I think that's a good thing."
"Really? You agree, right!? So that means that Nina wins this round!"
Nina happily stood up after hearing what Izumi said.
"Nope, rules are rules! You need to take those cards back and lose a turn, Nina!"
"Fufufu, fall into the depths of despair, Nina-chaaaan!"
Noooooo! Izumi-san and Chihiro-san are being mean!
Nina continued rolling around on the ground all the way upto the kitchen.
"Come back here, Nina."
Kazaya called out to her, and after some time, Nina came back to the table while sniffling.
"What's with the rule that you absolutely have to say 'Brunkas'… It makes no sense!"
"It's a rule that the people from your world came up with, though."
After Kazaya pointed that out, Nina puffed up her cheeks and once again returned to her seat.
"It's fine, Nina will show that she can still recover! Nina is a strong girl!"
Nina clenched her fists like she was fired up… However, in the end, Chihiro was the winner. Kazaya took second place. Izumi came third, and Tohru took fourth place. Nina ended up in the last position.
Nina fell flat on the table and started babbling unintelligibly. On the other hand, Chihiro wore a big smile on her face. She actually went all out against a younger child.
"Still, despite the penalty, I can’t believe she actually fell from first place to last place…."
Kazaya had a complicated expression on his face as he considered how bad her luck had been.
"More importantly, I can't believe that someone actually lost to Tohru."
Izumi felt more moved than astounded as she said that.
"Still, it was a heated battle, wasn't it!? I've never drawn the joker that many times in single game before! I was so close to victory, but it got taken away from me again at the last minute."
"And on the other hand, Souya didn’t manage to learn the rules at all throughout the game!"
Kazaya was amazed that Tohru had managed to come in at fourth place despite that. At the same time, Kazaya felt a little sorry for Nina who had lost to someone like him.
"Bad luck, Nina-chan. Do you want to play another round?"
When Chihiro asked Nina that, she raised her head and replied.
—After that, they played ten games, and Nina came in at last place in every single one of those games.
"I-Impossible…. For the undefeated Nina to end up like this…. Aaahhhhh!"
Nina stood up from her chair, retreated unsteadily until her back hit the wall, and slid down to the ground.
"……Maybe we should have gone a little easy on her."
Kazaya felt sorry for Nina who was making an expression like a boxer who got beaten one-sidedly.
"You're right. I think we went too far. I had no idea that she would be this weak."
Chihiro, who had maintained her win streak, said that.
"You're right. Maybe I should lose to her on purpose next time…."
As Kazaya muttered that to himself, he heard a soft sound. It was coming from Nina. After moving closer to her, he realized that it was the sound of her breathing in her sleep.
"Huh? She's asleep."
"I've heard of people crying from frustration, but this is the first time I've seen someone go to sleep due to frustration. She looks so cute when she's asleep."
After looking at her Nina curiously, Chihiro supported her shoulders.
"Let's move her to the bedroom. Tsugami-kun, give me a hand."
"Ah, right. Let's do that."
The two of them moved Nina to the bed while taking care not to wake her up.
Once they covered her with a blanket, she mumbled something in her sleep and snuggled in peacefully. Kazaya and Chihiro looked at each other and smiled.
Leaving behind Chihiro, who said that she wanted to look at Nina's sleeping face for a little while longer, Kazaya returned to the living room.
"Nina fell asleep? Well, the carriage is here, so I guess we should get coming now."
"You mean 'get going'. That's right, we shouldn't overstay our visit."
Kazaya reached the living room just as Tohru and Izumi stood up from their chairs.
"Oh, you're leaving? Sorry, I couldn't do much to welcome you."
"Don't worry about it…. By the way, Kazaya, mind if I ask you something? Aren't you going to try and conquer the uncharted islands?"
Kazaya looked puzzled when Izumi asked him that question all of a sudden.
"Hmm? Yeah, I have no plans to do that as of now. Why?"
"I see. Actually, I was planning on giving it a shot sometime soon. I was thinking about what time would be the best to go, so I just wondered what your plans were."
"Oh, I was planning on doing that as well! What a coincidence, Izumi!"
Tohru said that while looking happy, and Izumi deliberately showed an annoyed expression.
"Hey, you're not hanging around me on purpose, are you? I'll have to make a police complaint."
"Oi, you're the one who always ends up at the places where I want to go, Izumi! We must share a bond!"
"I wish I could cut that bond right now!"
Chihiro returned to the living room while the two of them were arguing, and with Chihiro and Kazaya seeing them off, the two of them pulled out their Teleportation Stones and vanished.
With just Kazaya and Chihiro left in the room, the house became silent all of a sudden.
"Ah. After all that, I'm definitely a little tired."
Chihiro sat down in a chair and let out a sigh.
"We walked around a lot today, after all. Good work keeping up."
"Yeah. Thank you for keeping me company, Tsugami-kun…. I'm tired, but I had a lot of fun."
Chihiro put her hand on her chest and smiled faintly.
"This is probably the first time I've played around so much. I feel refreshed."
"Really? That's great."
"Yeah… Still, I can't help but feel like I forced you to accompany me for my own sake. Are you sure that was okay, Tsugami-kun?"
Seeing Chihiro say that in an apologetic tone, Kazaya immediately shook his head.
"I don’t mind at all, as long as you had fun, Senpai."
"But I feel like I've done nothing but cause trouble for you…"
"It's fine, really. I had fun as well. And besides…"
After hesitating a little, Kazaya said what was really on his mind.
"As I said earlier… I really like seeing you being true to yourself, Senpai. I got to see you engrossed in selecting manga, happily choosing accessories to buy for the house, and having fun with everyone today, so if anything, I feel like I should be the one thanking you instead."
After he said that, Chihiro stared dazedly at him with her mouth half open.
"……Hmm? What's wrong?"
Kazaya looked confused by her reaction, and Chihiro just looked downwards without saying anything.
By the time she timidly glanced up at him, even her ears had gone bright red.
"I thought the same thing last time as well, but how can you say things like that without any trace of hesitation!?"
"Eh? Ah, did I say something bad!?"
As Kazaya started to panic, Chihiro looked away and avoided his gaze.
"Not really…. Not really, but…. Seriously, you're such an idiot."
The words that she uttered towards the end in a low voice made Kazaya's chest hurt. This must be what was meant by feeling like your heart was placed in a wrestler's hold.
"……Ah, t-that's right! This house has a bath, right?"
Chihiro suddenly stood up and turned around. It felt like she was trying to change the subject because she didn't want him to notice something.
"Eh? Ah, that's right. This place does have a bath. I'm pretty sure that the people from the real estate agency prepared things like bath towels as well, although it would be too much to ask for shampoo and the like. I wonder if there is any soap…"
"In that case, I'll just take a quick dip. See you later."
Chihiro set off towards the bathroom at a half run.
Left behind by himself, Kazaya looked at her leave with a slightly dazed expression.
(The way she reacted… I wonder if that was just her being shy?)
However, he felt that she also seemed shaken for some reason. She had shown a similar reaction back when she was helping him with his studies as well.
(Don't tell me, does Senpai actually have feelings for me…. No way. There's no way that could happen. Don't get too carried away.)
There was no way that things would go so conveniently for him. The other person was Chihiro, after all.
(T-That's right. I was just imagining things. I spoke too frankly and made her feel embarrassed, it must be something like that. Senpai probably just sees me as a junior from school and a friend….)
Kazaya took several deep breaths and tried his best to calm himself.
However, he got a fright when he suddenly heard that voice calling out to him.
When he hurriedly looked in the direction that the voice came from, he saw that Chihiro was peeking out through the bathroom door.
"There aren't any bath towels in here…."
"A-Ah. I guess they are in the cabinet over here."
Kazaya went into the kitchen, opened the cabinet, and found a pile of towels there. Kazaya returned with a towel and handed it to Chihiro, who received it. In that instant, Kazaya caught a glimpse of her bewitching white skin and the fragrance of soap made its way into his nose.
"……What are you looking at?"
Chihiro looked at him through narrowed eyes, and Kazaya hurriedly apologized and turned around.
After the door closed behind him, Kazaya muttered to himself.
"No, but still, you can't blame a guy for getting the wrong idea….."
As a teenage boy going through puberty, it was not unreasonable for him to wish for a dreamy development in his relationship with the Senpai that he looked up to.
Translation Notes:Translation Notes:
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