Part 29: New ClassmatePart 29 - New Classmate
SFX: Computer Noises
Today, too, I'd spent ages hunting in ESO, but no monsters had dropped the rare item I'd been looking for.
No success, even after pulling an eight-hour marathon.... Well, but this kind of thing happened a lot.
I glanced quickly at the side of my desk.
On a side note, this sword didn't radiate any light whatsoever. I was hoping that, sooner or later, it would metamorphose into one with as cool a shape as Sena's, but....
Inside my monitor, Grim's avatar happened to be right in the middle of leveling up. My Neidhardt had reached the maximum level, so he wouldn't be going any higher.
Rubbing my sleepy eyes, I thought to myself that maybe it was getting to be time for me to create my next character, the third after Liselotte.
It was a familiar enough concept in RPGs, but I thought experience points also existed in real life.
When I first started ESO, even I was a baby who didn't know right from left, but now I could boast of being the strongest in Baselard, with my name of "Neidhardt der Blitzschnelle" known all throughout the land.
It wasn't unthinkable that the person behind me might, by some chance, happen to lose some of the experience points he'd build up.
Then maybe it would be all too natural for me to forget things I'd known. Maybe the fuzziness in my memories could be traced back to the same source.
And then there was "Shogun" and the demon girl.
Before my experience points got cleared, perhaps it had been perfectly normal for me--the person behind me--to post under the handle of "Shogun" in chats, and to spend time IRL with the demon girl--with Rimi.
No, that was certainly improbable.
But in the past, I might've possessed a power capable of letting me square off with that demon girl.
Was I the only person who had thoughts like this? Although I also felt like it wasn't a particularly strange or mysterious way of thinking.
Because the only thing human beings have to go by are the fundamental standards they've come up with all on their own, maybe even now I--not just me, but everyone in the whole world--was judging everything wrong while living out my day-to-day life.
At the time, it had made me think I was kind of amazing for enduring the pain all the way through, and I simply became proud of myself.
Thinking back on it now, however, that comment had probably been based on judging the degree of pain by the relative progression of the cavity. But even with the exact same level of pain, there might be people who could bear it and people who couldn't.
In other words, I suspected that people might be utterly different in how they recognized and experienced such sensations.
Take giving birth, for instance. Online, I'd often seen people saying that though women are able to hold out through the pain of labor, it would be inherently impossible for men.
Take marathon runners, for instance. Maybe they excel not because of the power of their bodies, but instead because of their ability to endure pain.
Take sadists and masochists, for instance. If there are people who enjoy hurting others, then there are also those who feel pleasure when others hurt them.
In short, I figured that the way people felt things, and the strength of their inner nature, their ability to put up with it, varied from person to person.
Perhaps the level of pain in the toothaches and headaches I endured from time to time in truth far surpassed the range of pain an ordinary person could take, and if I passed the same level of pain on to someone else in the same manner as a relay runner passing on his baton, the agony of it would make them go into shock and die....
The conclusion this led to was the selfish delusion that maybe I was a very special type of human being.
Though I'd rejected that idea, surely everyone had these kinds of delusions.
Every man longs to be the strongest in the world. Everyone wants to think they're special, that they've been chosen.
They want to think a dramatic, stormy life, like in TV shows and movies, is awaiting them in their future.
It was the so-called yearning to be a hero. To put it more crudely, being self-centered. Of course I, too, had those kinds of desires.
Indeed, it might be my destiny to defeat the demon girl.
But then, if I were told to carry that out in real life--I'd require that a number of conditions be met first.
At the least, the one thing I really needed was the ability to use cheat codes. For stuff like secret attacks, or perhaps "invincible mode." I didn't want to undergo any pain or fear.
If I couldn't do that--if, in other words, I was supposed to do it with my own power, I definitely wouldn't.
SFX: Westminster Chime
When I reached the front of my classroom, I breathed deeply to collect myself. I mustn't do anything to draw my classmates' attention. For me, coming late would be a fatal mistake. My life would implode as soon as some juvie set his eyes on me.
Of course, I didn't give them any kind of thoughtless greeting like "G'morning."
I turned myself into air, so as to make the others pick up on my existence as little as possible, and headed for my seat.
I always did things this same way.
"Yo--, Taku! You're coming to school three times this week, huh? How hardworking of ya."
Misumi-kun again.... Though I was kind of sick of him, I'd feel bad ignoring him, so I started to raise my head--and hesitated.
The day before yesterday, I'd done as the demon girl told me and called him. At the time, he'd acted undeniably strange.
To begin with, he'd answered by saying that the demon girl was our classmate, as if this were perfectly normal. Even though I knew it wasn't so.
Maybe the demon girl had brainwashed the current Misumi-kun. On the contrary, there was also the possibility that she'd switched him with someone else.
"Hey, what's wrong? In "deep sleep mode" already?"
It was my cell phone....!
Shit, now of all times!
What kind of idiot would call at a time like this!
On top of that, even though I was sure I'd set it to vibrate, the ringtone was ringing at the same time! I might've messed up the settings.
"Oh, Taku, dude, it's ringing."
I know that much! Should I hurry up and answer it?
But if I did, Misumi-kun would know I'd only been pretending to sleep. Besides, I don't like talking on the phone....
Except, if I didn't pick up, it would bother the rest of the class. Judging by how my ringtone was reverberating through the classroom right now, things were pretty damn bad. I wasn't supposed to stand out; this was incredibly bad....
"O--i. Not gonna get it? Are you really sleeping?"
Shit, while I wavered over what to do, I'd completely lost my chance. I couldn't move....
I let out a relieved breath in such a way as to keep Misumi-kun from catching me at it.
I'd been right to learn how to use voicemail.
"Hey, Taku. Who was calling~? That four-eyes from before, the one you went home together with? It's her, isn't it?"
Dammit, you're so noisy....
Please don't do anything more to interfere with me, because that phone call already made me stand out much more than I should have.
Had Misumi-kun always been this persistent?
"Dunno why, but he seems tired."
She was in this classroom as though it were natural for her to be here.
"Whatever, he probably spent too much time gaming."
"You're too soft on Taku."
"Yeah, cause you're the enemy of all women. No need to be nice to a guy like you."
She was chatting away as though it were natural for her to do so. She was blending in as though it were natural for her to belong with us.
I was too horrified to raise my head. I didn't want to acknowledge the fact that she was here.
"Well, even if you aren't nice to me, I've got plenty of other girls to take care of that. Fu-fu-fu."
"That's why I keep telling you, it's not a good idea to say that kinda thing. Your girlfriend's gonna cry if she hears you."
"Not that I know who your girlfriend of the moment is."
SFX: Westminster Chime
"See, the bell rang. The teacher's coming."
Two days ago, she hadn't been here. At least, the only person who'd come to talk to me that day was Misumi-kun. Yesterday, I hadn't come to school.
And today, she was here.
How had she wormed her way in--?
I surveyed my surroundings with my eyes alone.
I wanted the voice from earlier to have been an illusion. To prove that to myself, I had to make sure that girl wasn't anywhere in this classroom....
I didn't see her. I didn't see that girl's form anywhere. Had she been a hallucination after all?
But I couldn't turn around. I couldn't do something so likely to catch others' attention.
Shit, I felt incredibly fidgety. Was she really in here, or not?
My neck muscles weren't prickling. No one was looking at me. I didn't feel a gaze.
Staring steadily down at the top of my desk, I attempted to search out that girl's existence by her presence alone.
I'd forgotten his name. I had the feeling that it'd been something like Tsukaji or Tsukada.
He was a PE teacher who'd graduated from a PE college, a total musclehead. But he wasn't hotblooded and didn't use corporal punishment. If I had to put it one way or the other, I'd say he was the type to get a joke.
For some reason, the class started going into a commotion. But at the moment, my attention was completely occupied by seeking out the demon girl.
Like I could possibly detect her through her presence alone! This wasn't a manga! Was I a fool or what!?
The teacher muttered. I see, that was the reason there'd been a fuss.
Mr. Tsukachin: "Come on, Orihara. Say hello to everyone."
I haven't heard the transfer student speak. Was there really someone there? I cast a look at the teacher's podium.
She was remarkably small. Maybe even more of a runt than Nanami.
She was the moe type who looked a little timid and gave off an aura of having been bullied. I'd say she reached the so-so level, for a 3-D girl. For some reason, she was facing down, and the corners of her eyes were full of tears.
My classmates' commotion increased in response to the fact that she wasn't trying to say anything. Our teacher patted her on the shoulder considerately.
Mr. Tsukachin: "Ah, well, seems like Orihara's a little nervous. Okay, no need for a greeting."
Mr. Tsukachin: "Everyone, this is Orihara Kozue. Get along with her, okay?"
Mr. Tsukachin: "Orihara, your seat's the furthest back. It's okay to sit down now."
Without saying a single word, the transfer student bowed her head and began walking my way.
But that itself would be fairly attention-grabbing behavior.
There was also the dread that the delinquents might pick a meaningless fight with me, saying, "Don't start drooling over the transfer student just cause you think she's cute."
What should I do? Should I turn around, or would it be better to wait until homeroom ended....
I hung my head and clenched my fists.
It was no good, I didn't have the guts to do it....
What if I turned around, and my eyes met that girl's.... The thought of it made me shudder.
This doesn't come across in the screenshot, but there's a echo-like sound effect in Kozue's voice. Her mouth didn't move either.
Her voice undoubtedly had reached my ears. The transfer student passed close by my desk.
Before I knew it, I'd unconsciously raised my face.
The transfer student paused beside my desk for the barest of seconds. But she didn't turn toward me.
Had she been speaking to me?
Why had she started talking to me, all of a sudden?
I resembled her? She was glad we were in the same class?
Had we met once before? No, I had absolutely no recollection of her face.
Unlike in certain eroge, I didn't have a childhood friend I'd played together with in the distant past.
Was I becoming popular with girls, after all?
SFX: Westminster Chime
There were about five minutes until the first period class started.
Misumi-kun was charging toward the transfer student's seat. It looked like he meant to start hitting on her out of left field.
My other classmates also seemed deeply interested in her, and the classroom had grown more wild and boisterous than usual.
At a glance, it appeared to be a nonchalant, peaceful tableau.
My impulse to turn around warred with my reason, which told me I mustn't.
She really was here. She existed in this place....!
"You don't look well."
Run-- You've gotta run--
No matter how I thought it, my legs were trembling, and it didn't seem like I'd be able to stand up well.
In the same way as two days ago, she spoke to me as though she were worried for me. In the same way as two days ago, she held out a handkerchief with a soft floral scent to it.
Instead of accepting it, I hastily wiped my sweat with my hand.
"Hm? What is it?"
"Hey, hey. What did she say to you?"
Rimi crouched in place, so her eyes were on the same level as mine, and propped her chin up on her hands. She took a peek at my face.
"I'm super curious--"
What was she talking about? Who had said what to me?
"The transfer student."
Rimi was still smiling. But was it my imagination that her voice had started shifting into more of a demanding tone, like she was interrogating me?
"I thought you weren't interested in real girls?"
"Could it be that you are interested?"
What do you plan to do after asking that....
Did she mean to pump me for personal information, and then abuse it?
To begin by stating the conclusion, I'm not interested in 3-D girls. I always said that sourly.
"Are you interested.... in me? Tahaha...."
A chill ran down my back.
Though I'd just wiped it, fresh sweat sprang up on my forehead.
The danger signals rang on and on in my head. Don't talk with the demon any longer. Otherwise, she'll destroy me!
I ran up the stairs without looking to either side and came out on the empty roof.
It looked as though she hadn't chased me.
Even so, I couldn't let myself feel relieved yet, and so I hugged my knees and hid for some time in the shadows.
My knees were trembling. I couldn't believe I'd succeeded in running in this condition. It showed how desperate I'd been.
The Di-Sword I'd gone out of my way to buy hadn't been useful in any capacity. I certainly couldn't bring it to school, not with how much it'd stand out here.
She'd caught me off-guard.
Two days ago, when I heard from Misumi-kun that Rimi was our classmate, I'd figured that he'd either been making it up on the spot or had merely been imagining things.
But she had really "become" my classmate....
It would almost definitely prove useless to ponder how she had managed to slip in.
Because she was a demon. She could easily do things of which humans were incapable.
Maybe she had brainwashed my whole class--no, maybe even all the teachers at school.
I couldn't go to the hospital anymore, and now I couldn't go to school. Yua was at @Cafe, and "Shogun" appeared online.
She and her underlings were clearly venturing closer and closer to me. And they were constantly launching psychological attacks at me.
They stirred me up and threatened my peaceful lifestyle, when all I wanted to do was live quietly.
Here, I had at last been freed from my strain.
The problem was what came after this.
During break, students would without doubt come up here to eat their lunches. That was why making a break for it in the middle of fourth period and returning to my base at top speed was the best option.
I decided not to worry about the fact that I'd left my bag in the classroom.
Whatever the case, all I had in there were textbooks. My wallet, my key and anything else important would be in my uniform's pockets.... probably.
Growing uneasy, I searched through my pockets. Wallet, key, cell phone.... they were all where they should be.
"Who on earth....?"
I couldn't think of anyone who would call me besides my family.
Nanami seemed like the most probable. She didn't think about whether she might end up causing me trouble.
And anyway, all that talk about sending officers to my base had ended up going unsettled.
It appeared not to be Nanami. When I looked more closely, I saw that I had a new voicemail.
I had the vague feeling that I might or might not have seen this number before. Just in case, I checked the history of calls.
In other words, since the time when I first bought this cell phone, only these five calls had reached it. Plus, three of them were from Nanami.
The one from a little earlier and the one from five days before were displayed as numbers instead of names, since they hadn't been recorded in my address book.
It was the same number. "03-X733-X991"
It's time to make the call. Positive, Negative or Neutral?