Part 33: Following The TrailPart 33 - Following The Trail
Some type of half-hearted greeting?
But I normally didn't greet anyone in the first place. If I suddenly started saying hello here, it would be conversely unnatural.
What about raising the subject of the transfer student?
But I normally didn't chat with Rimi in the first place.
If I suddenly started chatting to her here, it would be conversely unnatural.
What about thanking her for the day before yesterday?
No, before that, should I apologize for being mean to her after she went out of her way to help me?
Or I could ask her why she had been there at that time....
Or I could ask her if she'd hugged me because she's into me....
Or else, or else.... Or I could ask about why she'd been at the "staking" crime scene....
Nononono, none of them were the kind of topic you could easily start a conversation with!
The silence put more and more pressure on me.
I thought to myself that it'd be better to talk, that it'd be awkward to let the silence continue like this, but I couldn't get any words out.
Uuhh, I can't stand the third dimension, after all....
I couldn't take how my breath became this stifled when all I was trying to do was talk. I wanna rush home and comfort myself with Seira-tan....
Rimi finally let out her voice.
I jerked a little in surprise, trembling. I still couldn't raise my head.
She had lowered her voice.
Sensing something like her breath catching faintly near my ear, I lifted my eyes in startlement, and found that Rimi had brought her face close to mine, so as to whisper to me.
Rimi's body was close to mine.
Her soft, warm body that had embraced me in the middle of the street....
Only the sensation of her came back to me, and the inside of my head went pure white.
"I was pretty worried.... about whether you'd gotten home safely."
I nodded desperately, over and over.
"I see. Good to know."
"You mustn't do something that dangerous ever again."
I suddenly wanted to ask her. Rimi had said "something that dangerous."
How had that situation looked through her eyes?
Considering that she didn't make any reference to them, I had to think she didn't know anything about everyone having temporarily vanished from Shibuya, or about the wheelchair-riding "Shogun."
Which, in other words, suggested that it had all been a delusion of mine, as I might have expected....
I wanted to ask Rimi about it.
But I really didn't feel up to lifting my face and questioning her. In any case, I couldn't do it today. I wasn't mentally prepared enough.
The transfer student....?
Why would she come here, I wondered. Did she mean to blame me for not helping her when we were on the stairs?
But she didn't seem like the type to do that....
Maybe she had some business with Rimi rather than me.
The transfer student stopped once she had come up to Rimi's side.
She didn't say a thing. What did she want?
As long as Rimi was here, I couldn't raise my head.
The transfer student's toes were fidgeting in her shoes, but she still didn't attempt to say anything.
"Orihara-san, what's wrong?"
It was a fancy bandage, one with an absurd-looking character, a "Gero-froggy" depicted on it.
Was she.... trying to give this to me?
Uuhh, I was at a loss for how to react. This Orihara Kozue girl was kind of weird.
Haa? W, was she crying....?
Why would she cry? Because I was not replying to her?
But she wasn't saying anything, either....
"I don't think Taku's mad at you."
Rimi followed up for me. Somehow, it gave me an indescribable feeling.
"He doesn't often look people in the eye. He's an introvert."
"So you don't have to get so shaky and nervous.... see? Tahaha."
"Errrr, I don't really get it, but.... Taku, I think you oughta go ahead and take that bandage."
Why had she given it to me?
I sensed Misumi-kun's return.
"I gave her a tour of the school on the day she transferred in."
"Uwah, you were fast to get your hands on her...."
"I'm tellin' ya, I haven't touched her yet!"
"Plus, she cries easily."
"True, true. Just now, she started crying all of a sudden, so I got pretty flurried wondering if something had happened to her."
"That's just how pure she is."
"Hey, Taku. You understand, don't you. This cuteness, every single bit of Kozue-chan's gestures are superb!"
"If I were to put it your way, she's moe~~"
I shook my head with all my strength.
"Taku hasn't been talking at all for a while."
That's because you're here....
I wasn't fully prepared yet. I'd never had an intimate conversation with a female friend before.
For that matter, I'd never made a single female friend even once in my entire life.
"But you know, when I tried to talk to Orihara-san, it sort of got me thinking...."
"When I talk to her, it sort of made me tired...."
"Girls really don't show any mercy toward their own gender. But I'll protect Kozue-chan, so whatever."
"A few moments ago, weren't you saying that 'it's tiring to spend time with her'?"
"Ah, I can kind of understand that."
"I'm glad we're in the same class."
The subtle, uncertain sense of distance between me and Rimi made me anxious not to stay and I wanted to disappear from the classroom as soon as possible.
Besides, I needed to stop by Mangadarake today.
In the end, I hadn't been able to say a single word to Rimi.
I had many chances to speak, but just like earlier, I had done nothing but hold my tongue.
Perhaps it had been bad to act like that. At this rate, it'd be even harder to talk the next time we meet.
When it came to making contact with Rimi, It's as if I was sinking into quicksand.
When I was about to leave the school building, a most unpleasant person called to me.
She'd spotted me in the blink of an eye. I tried to ignore her and get out of there fast, but as expected, Nanami wouldn't let me run away.
OST: Virtual reality
"How many times do I have to tell you to stop running away when you see your little sister!?"
"Don't 'what' me!"
"I ended up chasing after you just because you're running away!"
Don't chase me if you don't have any real business with me....
You understand quite well, don't you. You aren't my little sister for nothing. Not that I had any need whatsoever for a 3-D sister.
"Which is why I'm gonna keep coming to your room periodically, to see how things are doing."
"You'd best be grateful."
Dammit, it had turned out like this in the end. Regardless. I longed to somehow escape from the curse of this depression-inducing sister of mine.
No, even knowing it was impossible, I'd at least like a little repayment for putting up with her.
I thought that all the time.
I took a look at our surroundings, then beckoned Nanami and began walking toward the courtyard.
"Hm? What is it?"
"C, come with me.... for a sec...."
"Why? Is something up?"
She was the type to get obnoxious over every little detail.
Stupid sis, incapable of coming along after me in a nice, straightforward way.
"I, I have.... a, an important favor to ask of you."
"Eh, a favor? You do? For me?"
Nanami's eyes went round.
"It's so rare for you to ask me to do something."
"A, anyway, shut up and come with me...."
It became boisterous with students eating their lunches during the noon break, but the only people who came out here after school were those in the gardening club.
Nanami put the waste basket she was holding down on the ground, then puffed out her chest, grinning.
"Ah, my condition is that you've gotta treat me to McD's. Accept it, and I'll listen to whatever you want from me, even though I'd really rather not."
Kuh, she was constantly finding ways to piss me off.... To think that she'd demand some kind of payback.
On top of that, I'd treated her the last time we were at McD's. ....Meh, whatever.
"G, got it. I'll pay."
"Eh, seriously!? You're way different from usual today!"
Yeah, but I'm lying! Hehehe, soooo sorry for being a liar. lol
I asked her to dial up "03-X733-X991", the number recorded in my received calls history that had sent me that prank call.
"Some, someone I know from online...."
Seeing Nanami cock her head dubiously to one side, I swiftly told an appropriate-sounding lie.
"Why should I call him?"
"You'll know once you call...."
"You aren't plotting anything, are you....?"
Ahh, jeez, so obnoxious!
All you've gotta do is shut up and do as I say!
If you can't, go home! I've got no need for you!
"Th, then, I.... won't ask you to do, do it...."
I made as if to swipe back my cell phone. But Nanami yanked her hand away, dodging me.
"G, gotcha. I'll call, all I have to do is make the call, right?"
"Really, you're so selfish, Bro."
I forced down my anger,held my breath and watched as Nanami dialed the aforementioned number.
The clueless Nanami put my phone to her ear with a carefree look on her face, waiting for the person at the other end to pick up.
I could see a yellow bangle on her wrist as she held the phone up.
That was the bangle I'd given her, or rather, the one Nanami had started wanting all on her own.
Did she wear it even when going to school? I wondered if she'd taken that much of a liking to it.
To such a cheap-looking, free-extra bangle.
Wait, none of that mattered now.
Now then, who was going to answer the phone.... Will it be some scary, juvie-type asshole?
I hoped it was a mere prank and had absolutely nothing to do with either "Shogun" or Yua.
It seemed that the call had gone through. Nanami cupped her hand around the receiver as she spoke into it.
"Wh, wh, wha, what....?"
"Forget your 'what.' It said the number isn't in use!"
She was right.... Which might mean that it had been a plain old prank, after all.
Get a prepaid phone meant to last a couple of days, randomly call bunch of numbers, then toss the phone when the prank was over.... that was how it might've worked.
Even so, it was an awfully large-scale prank.
Well, not that I cared much either way.
It wasn't a problem, now that I knew the mysterious call really had been a prank.
"I, I'm done with you...."
I walked off, leaving Nanami behind. But she soon caught up with me.
"Explain it to me."
You're such a bother.
"Y, you're in the middle of cleaning, aren't you...."
"You left your waste basket back there."
"Bu, but I haven't heard your explanation."
"I'm go, going home."
"More or less...."
Infuriated, Nanami stopped in place.
She yelled in a voice loud enough to resound through the whole area.
Shit. Thanks to her shouting, the people around us were starting to focus on me, too. Even though it was my policy to stand out as little as possible while at school.
At times like this, running away was the best alternative.
I became exhausted, hearing Nanami's voice even after I'd passed through the gates.
Azuma Matasema was a really famous artist, and long, snaking lines invariably formed at all the events his doujin circle participated in.
The Burachu doujin he'd released this summer had sold out in the blink of an eye.
I'd wanted to go myself, but market events were all alike in being packed with people, making it impossible for me. It made me cry inside, but I had to give up.
I'd been naive to think that it'd be okay, since stores like Mangadarake would sell some on consignment. Sure enough, they'd had it for sale, but it had all but disappeared instantaneously.
In online auctions, it came at a premier price, around tens of thousands of yen. Fucking scalpers.
In any case, with things looking like this, I figured it was probably impossible for me to get my hands on it, but yesterday I'd happened to see it mentioned on @chan that Mangadarake had recently restocked his new publication.
Which led to my heading over there immediately.
"Lord, grant me a miracle."
I kept my eyes peeled and searched the doujinshi corner.
I made countless round trips and looked again and again, just in case.
Uuh, maybe it had already sold out....
I mindlessly surveyed the register.
The cashier was a girl. She wasn't that cute, but she seemed friendly enough.
I had never used a super high-level technique like asking a clerk if a product was in stock, not even once.
The reason, of course, was because I didn't have the guts to.
--Excuse me, do you have "Seira-tan Goes Wild With Cosplay!" by Azuma Matasema?
If I asked a female clerk something like that....
No matter how I look at it, you're a perv. Thank you very much for coming.
Or maybe I'd go to @Cafe.
With a unique shape and a forked blade, it was the one Girl B, Sena, she'd called herself, had been walking around with before.
In the midst of the crowded shopping district, I saw the tip of that sword stick out above the heads of the people going along the street.
When I hid away in the shadows and peeped out to see what was happening, Sena herself soon appeared, with her sword resting on her shoulder.
Whatever the case, she didn't seem to have noticed I was there.
Even so, I had to admire how unapologetically she walked along, because I'd also undergone the humiliation of going around with a Di-Sword in hand.
Wasn't she mortified to be carrying such a huge sword?
Rather, the police must've taken her in for questioning at least once. No doubt about it.
...Where did they sell badass Di-Swords like the one she had?
Personally, I wasn't that satisfied with the one I'd acquired, which didn't have a cool shape or radiate light.
Sena's sword, in comparison, demonstrated fascinatingly good design sense.
I had gotten my hands on a Di-Sword in hopes of using it as a kind of protective charm. At the time, trembling in fear, I had sought a means of support for my heart.
I still had many enemies, like "Shogun" and Yua.
It was precisely because of this that I possessed the desire to obtain a much stronger-looking Di-Sword.
Of course, it was also due in part to my collector's mentality as an otaku, but....
Crap, I thought, biting my lip. I hadn't wanted to come to the plaza.
I reluctantly went to the shopping district and school because I had things to accomplish there, but so far as it was possible, I wanted to avoid going near them.
When I realized that there were tons of people standing around me like this, it gave me the illusion that all my escape routes had been stolen, and it became hard for me to keep breathing.
As expected, the station plaza was full of people today as well.
It looked as though she had walked in the direction of the Hachiko statue, but....
Huge numbers of people rushed into the crossing in all directions. It became a little chaotic.
I thought it was kind of amazing that all these people could go in whichever direction they wanted, without bumping into each other.
It might be the case that over the course of a whole year, there wasn't one second of time when this place became vacant.
Besides, what had I intended to accomplish by chasing after Sena?
I couldn't do so much as ask a Mangadarake clerk about whether a product was in stock, much less start up a conversation with that unsociable and scary-looking Sena.
Besides, she might be my enemy.
I had no idea what could end up happening to me if I merrily trailed after someone like her, defenseless.
What was wrong with me? I'd better go back.
Plus, though people's legs concealed the place it led to, it seemed to extend from almost exactly where I was standing to the opposite side of the pedestrian scramble.
What could it be....?
It was a remarkably long chain. Was it being used in some sort of construction?
But I couldn't detect any other traces of construction work.
I didn't think they'd leave just this one chain lying around.
A prop from a location shoot for a movie or a TV drama? No, they couldn't use it for that at a time when there were so many people here.
If so had someone thrown it away? A chain that is so long?
It'd be hard enough simply to bring it here.
I craned my neck to see how those around me were reacting.
I thought it'd be dangerous if someone happened to trip over it, but I didn't see a single person paying the slightest attention to it.
Also it was too eerie for me to work up the courage to touch it.
Rather than being cheapish-looking and made from plastic, it was a very sturdy-looking metal type.
I wondered how long it had been left alone here.
If things were the same as usual, I would have thought of this as being some form of trap.
I would have fled in fear at the thought maybe, at the end of the chain, something horrifying was lying in wait for me.
My heart was controlled by the mysterious illusion that I needed to trace my way along it.
The chain continued toward an old, deep green streetcar that had been set a little to the side of the Hachiko statue.
I called it a streetcar, but because its wheels had been removed, it was actually closer to a kind of monument or exhibition. It should be possible to freely enter it.
As I'd guessed, the white chain went up to the streetcar's open door and extended inside its compartment.
There were many people waiting around by Hachiko, but not one of them paid any heed to the chain. They didn't show the faintest indication of noticing it.
Besides, I didn't sense anyone's presence inside the streetcar.
That instant, I came to the understanding that this had been a trap.
I couldn't believe myself for not having felt the least bit of doubt up until now.
There was a single figure within the empty-seeming compartment.
Her sharp gaze captured me firmly.
In her hand, she was holding a popsicle. That blue popsicle was.... "Crunchy-kun," wasn't it....
No, Crunchy-kun didn't matter in the slightest right now.
More importantly, I found it strange that I couldn't spot her giant Di-Sword anywhere. Where had she managed to stow away something so big?
Come to think of it, when I last met her in the shopping district, she'd said "I'll be in the streetcar near the station." So this was where she'd meant.
She was the one who'd left the chain there....
Had she really walked about holding such an incredibly long chain?
It looked like it could weigh well over 10 kilograms. Length-wise, it must have surpassed 50 meters.
This girl was pretty hard to get a handle on.
She wasn't normal. Could she possibly be "Shogun"?
Frightened, I attempted to make a silent escape.
A sharp voice came flying after me.
Positive, Negative or Neutral?