Part 7Music: play track 3
"Ah... well, there's no TV in this house, is there? I've been living in a normal house up until now, so it's become a daily routine for me to watch TV after dinner. I guess I can't calm down without watching it or something like that, so..."
...... The more I say it, the more I realize I'm doing something stupid.
There is something not right about barging into a lady's room demanding to watch her TV.
Look, even Kohaku-san is just standing there, looking bewilder---wait, no she's not.
"Ahaha, I guess you're right. You've been living at the Arima household up until yesterday, after all. You must think this mansion to be kind of depressing after moving here all of a sudden."
Kohaku-san gives a cheerful laugh.
"Eh, let's see... Have you talked to Akiha-sama and Hisui-chan about this yet?"
"You mean about coming to your room, Kohaku-san?"
"No, I haven't talked to anyone about it yet. What about it?"
"No, no, it's nothing. It's just that I would have to turn you away if you had already talked to them about it."
Smiling while she speaks, Kohaku-san looks up and down the hallway.
"Luckily for us, there isn't anyone else around. Please hurry up and come in. It'll be troublesome if we're caught."
There are all sorts of little things in Kohaku-san's room.
It might be thought of as a bit messy for a girl's room. There aren't really many things you could call cute, and what she does have is a lot of things that don't look very useful.
...... Rather, it has an atmosphere of a room belonging to an orderly, scholarly person.
Buried in the miscellaneous objects, I find the TV.
On top of the table is the remote... maybe Kohaku-san has been watching the TV until just now.
"So, the TV. What do you watch at around this time, Shiki-sama?"
"I don't have any set programs in particular, but the news is a pretty basic one. I like to hear new trends, and I like snob stories."
I'm really confused... 'snob' stories? Is that a typo, I hope? I honestly can't tell.
"Is that so? You seem like a very laid-back person, so I thought you'd be reading after dinner or something."
"Ahaha, no, I don't have such refined interests. I don't consider myself laid-back either, but maybe that's the impression I give with my glasses."
"---Ah! You wear glasses, Shiki-sama. Akiha-sama didn't say anything about that at all, so I was quite surprised when I saw you at the door."
...... I see. I haven't met Akiha since I started wearing these glasses.
"These glasses are just for show. I guess you could say my eyes are bad, but I think my vision is better than that of most people. It's not because I studied too much and went near-sighted or anything... Ah, crap. I had an intellectual image, but did I disappoint you?"
"Ah, I'm sorry. You came to watch the news, didn't you?"
Kohaku-san switches the TV on.
It's already nine o'clock.
The news, as it usually does, reports the day's events with a little exaggeration.
"Oh dear. Looks like there's been another one of those serial murders."
Kohaku-san says to herself while sitting next to me, sounding not the least bit concerned.
The news is running a special feature on the serial killings.
The serial murders, which began in the neighboring town, are now beginning to be concentrated within this town.
It's a pretty simple story.
Late at night, he attacks young girls indiscriminately, and in the end, he drains their blood.
It seems like last night's victim is the ninth one so far.
"I wonder what the police are doing about it?"
"Who knows? It would seem pretty easy to catch a murderer who comes out at night, but maybe he's really careful so they can't trace him."
"You could be right. The clues about murderers build up as they kill more people, so if they haven't caught him even after nine murders, he must be really carefully prepared for the killings."
"A careful killer, huh? But aren't these killings spontaneous crimes? It's quite strange to think of them as being carefully prepared."
Look at that face. THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT THE MURDERS OF NINE YOUNG GIRLS.
"Hmm... probably not. If there were connections like that, then I think the police would have realized it by now. In the end, I suppose it's an incomprehensible case without motive or connections."
...... Kohaku-san says all of this disturbing stuff with a smile.
It seems like she's not really worried about this case.
"These murders are happening right here in this town, Kohaku-san. You're a young girl and all, so aren't you even a little scared?"
"I'll be fine, since the killer only appears late at night. If I don't go out at night, I won't run into him."
Kohaku-san really is a clear thinker.
...... It is perhaps a bit of a raw explanation, but I suppose that's how a mere news story should be treated.
"I'd like to escort you back to your room, but Hisui-chan is waiting there, so I'll have to say goodbye here."
Yeah, if she escorted Shiki back, then Hisui might stare at her.
"Okay. Good night."
...... I had no idea bedtime at the mansion was at ten.
Apparently, there's some kind of unwritten rule here that one is not to be out of their room after ten.
"It's still so formal here, even with the old man gone."
Well, I guess it's only natural.
I'm also getting tired from my unfamiliarity with this mansion, so I obediently return to my room.
If you insist on leaving me with a deadlocked vote...
Then I guess I'm just going to have to do this...
I hope you're all happy.
Music: play track 2
"Oh? Do you drink tea after meals, too, Nii-san?"
"Ah, no... nothing like that. I just thought I'd come and talk to you."
My expression tells her, "I'll go away if I'm bothering you."
"Then, please, sit down. Is tea alright for you?"
"Ah, sure; I'll have anything that's nice."
I actually prefer Japanese tea, but I'll keep that bit of selfishness to myself.
Akiha takes the teapot and pours transparent red tea into another teacup.
I sit on the sofa, and raise the teacup to my mouth.
...... Before my eyes is the cool and collected Akiha, and it makes me a bit uneasy.
I came to talk to her, but to be honest, I really don't know what to say now that she's in front of me.
I tried to capture as many hateful glares as I could.
"Well, don't worry about the letters. Even if you had answered, I'm sure father would never have allowed the replies into the house.
More importantly, how do you feel, returning to the mansion for the first time in eight years? It has changed very little... though there was some restoration work done."
In spite of Akiha's words, the mansion still feels completely unknown to me.
Eight years ago, I was just a child.
Even if I remember the mansion a little, I feel like I'm in someone else's house and it's very unsettling.
"Ah, no, I was just lost in thought for a moment.
Um, you say this mansion's changed very little, but it's pretty unsettling for me. Though this sitting room and the lobby are kind of familiar, I can't really remember the corridor, nor my room."
"Really... I guess eight years is a long time."
I guess that's it.
It's like half my life so far. I can't really expect to have clear memories.
Ugh...... That was close. I almost sprayed the tea I was drinking.
At supper, Akiha's look sent me into a cold sweat after all I did was use the wrong knife.
That's because you're an Hgame protagonist, Shiki. Think nothing of your complete lack of a spine.
"...... I see. You were being lenient back then..."
"Yes. I am making concessions appropriate to your abilities. Nii-san has been brought up by the Arimas, after all.
As Aunt Keiko comes from a branch family, a certain amount of laissez-faire was permitted, and you were spoiled, Nii-san. The result is the supper we had a while ago."
"Well, it can't be helped, can it? We never really thought I'd be returning here."
"...... Is that so? You almost sound like you didn't want to return, Nii-san."
"Don't be stupid, it's not like that. I may have had my doubts, but I couldn't just leave you alone here, could I? What kind of brother would I be then?"
Yes. That's the reason I returned.
If it weren't for Akiha, I would never have returned----
"Since I heard nothing for almost eight years, I always wondered whether you were alright on your own.
I came back to the mansion because I was worried about you."
Looking a little off to the side, I put my honest feelings into words.
"---Really? I'm sorry I didn't meet Nii-san's expectations."
Akiha's eyes are scary.
Not as scary as pretty much any character's eyes in the Crescendo thread.
...... Crap, I think I may have said too much again.
"Nii-san? Did you hear what I said?"
"I heard. Life at the Arimas, right? It was normal, there were no real problems. It seems it was more suited for me living there, too."
"That's not what I meant. How was your health? I have heard you collapsed a lot from your chronic anemia."
"Ah, yeah, I did for about a year after I left the hospital, but I'm okay now.
I only have problems occasionally, about once a month. I'm certainly not frail enough to be worried about."
Bluffing, I strike my chest with its scar.
So he picked up the scar and then struck his... ohhh wait, his chest has a scar on it!
Akiha nods in serious assent.
"But Nii-san, you've also started wearing glasses. After going to the hospital, did your eyesight fail, also?"
...... I see. Akiha doesn't know I wear glasses or why I wear them.
I can't just explain the lines along which things break, or that they don't appear when I wear these glasses.
"Well, it's nothing. My eyes became a little strange after the accident. But it's not like my eyesight's gone bad, so it's not really a serious problem."
"Really... I was... well, I was surprised when I saw you a while ago. I didn't know you had started wearing glasses, Nii-san."
"Really? You seemed pretty calm back then."
"Of course. I was meeting you for the first time in eight years; I couldn't let you see me acting strange."
Akiha's brow creases sullenly.
You're damn right Shiki-sama might run away! Look at the way Akiha stares at him!
"It's fine. We weren't talking about anything important anyways."
Akiha stands, and walks past Kohaku-san into the lobby.
Kohaku-san follows Akiha.
Left alone in the sitting room, I finish the tea.
Akiha and Kohaku-san seem to be heading to the bath, so I guess I'll go back to my room.
"...... Hang on. Akiha and Kohaku-san aren't going to take a bath together, are they...?"
No, I bet they are.
Then maybe Kohaku-san would be washing her back...?
Of course, with another girl, that's no problem, but...
I would never even think of forcing Hisui to do any such thing.
"...... Wait, what are you doing back here? Weren't you taking a bath with Kohaku-san?"
"I forgot to tell you something about the bath. Nii-san, the large bathroom we used a long time ago isn't used anymore. It would be too much for Hisui and Kohaku to take care of, so it has been closed up."
"...... Large bathroom?"
Was there such a place?
I splutter a bit.
Unable to remember, I make a doubtful face.
Akiha's brows knit terribly.
"The bath in the courtyard. You don't even remember that?"
...... Well, now that she mentions it, I guess there was such a thing.
"...... But, this is a European-style mansion. Isn't such a thing a little out of place?"
"Father half-liked the Japanese-style of architecture. That is why the detached building is Japanese-style as well.
"Anyway, if you want to have a bath, please use your own; the second bathroom behind the lobby is yours, Nii-san."
With that, Akiha leaves.
With Akiha gone, there's no point in staying in the sitting room.
I'll have a bath, too, and return to my room.
Hmm, this looks familiar...
"Are you there, Shiki-sama?"
I can hear Hisui's voice along with a knock at the door.
"Yeah, I'm here. Come in."
Music: play track 1
"Good evening. Thanks for making my bed, Hisui."
Hisui quietly nods in acceptance.
Just as I thought, I'm not used to this.
"...... Uh... is there anything else you want to tell me?"
"No, nothing from me, but Akiha-sama has instructed me to answer any questions you may have."
"...... I see. There are many things I want to ask, but I'll probably get to know them as I continue to live here......"
Yeah. What I want to know right now before I sleep is---
"Is it true that the curfew here is seven?"
"Yes. The main gate is locked at seven, and all the entrances to the mansion are to be locked at eight.
It is also a rule that one must try not to go walking around in the mansion after ten."
"Not even walking around in the mansion? ...... Well, I've got no complaint with that, but isn't that kind of harsh? Akiha and I aren't children, so I don't think you have to go that far."
"...... Indeed. It is a rule, however, so please abide by it. You are aware of the recent disturbances at night, are you not, Shiki-sama?"
...... Yeah, that vampire thing Arihiko was talking about.
Well, as long as something like that is happening, I guess it's better to be safe than sorry.
My shoulders suddenly feel heavier.
It seemed completely natural to Akiha when she said it, but I'm nothing more than a normal high school student.
I have no interest in having a girl close to my age serving me, at least for now.
If that's really the case, I don't think you're a 'normal' high school student at all, Shiki.
"...... By serving me, you mean you're a personal servant?"
"Yes. Please do not hesitate to give me any instructions."
"...... Well, I get it. Going by how Akiha was talking about you, it doesn't seem like I can dismiss you, so I'll just obediently let you serve me..."
"Is there anything in particular you would like?"
"Nothing in particular, but could you stop calling me 'Shiki-sama'? To be honest, I get chills down my back when I hear it."
That's it. If that's all Shiki wants to ask, he is DEFINITELY not a normal high school student. He could at least THINK perverted thoughts, jeez.
"But Shiki-sama, you are my master."
"That's what I'm saying I hate. I've been living a normal life up until yesterday. I have no desire to start living a life where a girl my age addresses me with '-sama'."
"I see." Hisui's response was less than enthusiastic.
"---Anyhow, that's how it is. Don't be so formal towards me. I'll be grateful if you'd tell that to your sister Kohaku-san, too."
"Very well, as you say, Shiki-sama."
Expressionless, Hisui bows her head.
She completely failed to understand.
"I will be leaving now. Please rest now for tonight."
Bowing, Hisui puts her hand on the doorknob.
---Oh, I forgot to ask something.
"Ah, hold on for a second."
Running towards the door, I put my hand on Hisui's shoulder before she leaves.
In an instant---Hisui's arm pushes away my arm with incredible momentum.
That was the longest stretch of non- yet!
"Oh, I wanted to ask about Akiha. Doesn't she go to a boarding school?"
"That was only during middle school, Shiki-sama. From this year onwards, Akiha-sama has special permission to attend school from home."
"Eh... You mean she goes to school from here?"
"Yes, but it is uncommon for her to come home before dusk like today. Akiha-sama has practice up until dinner, so she is always home before seven.
"Today is Thursday, so she would have had violin practice."
"Usually, she is able to return before dinner on weekdays, so if you have anything to say to Akiha-sama, please let Nee-san know after dinner."
Hisui bows to say goodbye, and leaves the room.
What on earth is that?
She's not some upper-class lady or anything, so why should she have to do something as bothersome as---
"...... Oh wait, she is an upper-class lady."
Yes. Come to think of it, my sister, Tohno Akiha, is a natural born upper-class lady.
In my memories, she was always the obedient, ever-uneasy sister constantly following me around.
As a child, she was always quiet, never having even the courage to express her own desires. She was a frail girl who would always live in fear of a scolding from our father.
"---Yeah, people really do change after eight years."
After eight years, I've become the me I am now.
Akiha has become the person she is right now, too.