"What is it, Tohno? A question?"
"Yes. Is it true that a student in our class has run away from home?"
Instantly, the air in the classroom solidifies.
He frowns, then, with a difficult expression, bows his head in assent.
"Yes, that is what we've heard from Yumizuka Satsuki's parents. Yumizuka didn't come home last night, but they've been searching, and I'm sure they've already found her."
Saying so, he departs.
The classroom becomes noisy again.
I have a bad feeling about this.
...... It's really heavy. A terrible feeling as if my body is tied down to this chair.
Music: play track 1
"Tohno, let's go get lunch."
"That's okay. I don't really feel like it."
"Huh... I guess it can't be helped. Don't be troubled with other people's problems too much."
Other people's problems, huh.
Arihiko's words are too close to the truth.
"Nah, I just don't seem to have any appetite today."
"Ahh... Are you not feeling well?"
"...... Something like that. Don't worry about me, you go on to the dining hall. Arihiko's probably already there."
"Oh, you're not energetic at all! I don't know what happened, but if you don't eat lunch, you'll just feel even worse."
"That's... true. But..."
But since I'm not hungry, there's not a lot I can do.
"Alright, I'll take you somewhere special. It's really a secret, but you're special, Tohno-kun."
With that, she grabs my arm and pulls me out of the chair.
Music: play track 3
Ciel-senpai takes me to an unused classroom in the very corner of the school building.
"Huh...? This is a Japanese-style room, isn't it?"
"That's right. It's very relaxing since no one else is here."
"Well, that's true, but... isn't this place locked, Senpai?"
"Yes. It's usually only open to members of the tea ceremony club, so normal students can't get in."
Saying so, she takes a key out of her pocket.
...... The inside of the room feels special, as if it isn't part of the school.
The sensation of the tatami and the sunlight through the windows feel very relaxing.
"As I said earlier, I'm the only member of the tea club. Thanks to that, I can use this place freely during lunchtime and after class. Here."
Laughing, Senpai lays out cushions.
"I'll make some tea now, so please wait right there, Tohno-kun."
...... Senpai heads towards the sink to prepare the tea.
There's no point in standing up, so I do as I am told and sit down on the cushion.
Perhaps it was the magic of the Japanese-style room.
That chaotic maelstrom that had been raging ( ) in my chest calms down, and now I can finally begin to think calmly about what has happened with Yumizuka.
"Thanks for waiting. Here you are. Now, let's have some lunch. Actually, I have some things to ask you, so it's just as well we're having lunch here."
"You have something to talk to me about?"
"I've been meaning to ask if you're a vampire. So... are you?"
Puzzled, I drink the tea I'm offered.
As I'm in the Japanese-style room, my posture reflexively straightened and my mind has become tranquil.
"What's wrong, Senpai? You look a bit worried."
"Eh? Ah, um, I was just a little surprised at how calm you were about all of this, Tohno-kun."
"Really? Well, my family is a strict one, so I'm used to these kinds of things. More importantly, Senpai, didn't you have something you wanted to talk to me about?"
"I do. The continuation of what we were talking about earlier."
"...... What we were talking about earlier... you mean about my family?"
Senpai nods to indicate a yes.
"If you don't mind, I would like to hear more about it. I was curious about it since we stopped halfway."
"...... It's not that I mind, but hearing about my family isn't very interesting. It'd be a waste of time."
"I don't mind if it's not interesting, I just want to hear about it."
"...... Hmm, you sure are eccentric, Senpai."
"Maybe I am," Senpai laughs.
"Alright, then. Let's continue from before. You said you moved to your home. What do you mean by that?"
Senpai asks, full of curiosity.
...... Well, the conversation back then must've been pretty fragmented for Senpai, since she didn't know any of the circumstances.
"---Let's see. Basically, I'm a guy who's been disinherited.
I was seriously injured after getting caught up in a traffic accident when I was nine years old.
The injuries themselves somehow healed, but after that, I easily collapsed from anemia and threw up my food. That's why I was entrusted to my relatives, the Arimas, while I recuperated."
"Uh, so in other words, the Arimas have been your parents who raised you since you were nine, right?"
"That's right. I knew my old man hated me for some reason and that once I had been entrusted to the Arimas, I would never go back home...... Go back to the Tohno mansion, that is. That's why, well, I thought I'd just continue to live as a son of the Arimas forever.
That's what I thought, but my old man kicked the bucket recently. That's when they told me to return to the mansion, now that my old man is no longer there, and I finally agreed to them."
"...... May I just ask one thing?"
"Mm? Sure, if I can answer it. Go ahead."
"...... Alright, then I'll ask. Did you dislike your previous family?"
My previous family---the Arimas who had raised me as my parents?
My mother and father who weren't my real parents,
and the unfamiliar building which without a doubt was home to strangers.
But completely regardless of that---
---I was loved by these people.
That's why soon, even one day sooner,
I have to truly become family to them---
I had been telling myself those words since I was young.
...... Since a very, very long time ago.
Over and over, I swore, till I would practically pass out.
"...... Um, just like Arihiko said, I didn't have a single complaint about the Arima family.
They treated me well, and I think I responded to their affection, too.
Between us, even though I knew we were just playing at being family, even if it was all just an act, I didn't feel any pain."
No, I was happy instead.
In a way, I had considered the Arima parents and me to be the ideal nuclear family.
"---But it was no good, was it?"
"...... Yeah. Despite everything, there was a line I couldn't cross. 'This isn't your real family......' No matter what I did, I couldn't get those words out of my head.
I knew I should have been ignoring it, but I just couldn't do it.
I don't know if you'd call it a childhood experience, but it had already become like a curse to me. Somehow, no matter where I was, I felt like a stranger to my family."
Senpai is silent.
Avoiding my gaze, she huddles her shoulders apologetically.
"In that it means you probably aren't a vampire... yet. I think."
I follow her example and start nibbling off the bread I had bought.
...... Thanks to my conversation with Senpai, my appetite has returned.
Despite that, I still couldn't even finish half of it.
"So. Tohno-kun, is anything troubling you right now?"
"Eh--why that, all of a sudden? I don't have any worries in particular."
"Hmmm. Then I suppose the reason you aren't eating much must be because of your health."
Senpai stares at me.
...... Somehow, her gaze feels very penetrating.
It feels difficult to remain silent under a gaze like that.
"Killings? Oh, you mean that business about the vampires?"
"--Yes. There's already been eight victims, right? I haven't caught the news lately, so I'm not too sure about this subject. Do you know anything, Senpai?"
"Well, I know as much as anyone else does, but no, not the details.
It's just that... The word 'vampire' sends chills down my spine."
"Ah, you mean how it seems the victims have had their blood drained? Strange, isn't it? I wonder what it could mean?"
"Who knows? It's impossible to know how such people think. But I wonder why they've nicknamed him the 'vampire'?"
What an odd question.
Music: play track 4
"Do you know anything about vampires? BECAUSE I SURE DO!"
"...... Vampire folklore? ...... You mean how people who have their blood sucked by vampires become vampires themselves?"
"Yes. If that was true, there shouldn't be any bodies left, right? Supposing some vampire was the killer, there'd be no bodies, Tohno-kun."
"---I see. That's true, but... it's just a nickname, isn't it? Do you really believe in vampires, Senpai?"
"Not at all. After all, the fact that the bodies are there show that it's not a vampire, right?"
Smiling, Senpai gives a reply that seems slightly off the point.
"But couldn't you also think of it this way?
Maybe the victims whose bodies have been found died because they couldn't become vampires.
Perhaps there are those who can be turned, and those who can't. The people who can become vampires won't have their corpses found even if they were attacked by vampires. Because even now, they're still alive--out there somewhere.
But those who can't become vampires just die, and so their bodies wind up being found."
Music: play track 3
"Haha, just kidding!" ...
"Oh, I'm just joking. It'd be like some kind of horror story if that were really true. I don't like scary stories, so please don't ask me things like that."
"...... What? It looked to me like you were really getting into it, Senpai."
"Yes, I don't like scary stories, but I do like scaring you, Tohno-kun."
...... Did I do something to make her bear a grudge against me?
---Bye-bye. See you at school tomorrow.
That's what Yumizuka said.
She wouldn't say that and then run away from home.
I have a bad feeling about this.
The killer who wanders the town at night.
It's dangerous to go out at night, the words Senpai said.
Perhaps it was because of that red imagery surrounding us when we parted.
a vision of Yumizuka Satsuki soaked in red blood appears before my eyes.
"...... This is bad..."
I know this feeling.
Sudden dizziness prior to an anemic attack.
The blood accumulated in the brain's blood vessels become a black lump, making my head sway, and my vision will go pitch black.
It feels as if the blackness is pushing its way out of my brain into my eyeballs.
As I do, I remember her words.
"Tohno-kun, help me when I'm in a pinch, okay?"
--I told you that's impossible.
Whatever you may think of me, I'm not Superman----
Music: play track 1
"---Sorry for dragging you along with me, Arihiko."
"What would I ever do without you?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm used to you collapsing without warning like that. Honestly, sleeping in the infirmary up to the very last minute? Just who do you think you are?"
"You should've woken me up. There's nothing conscientious about letting me sleep until they lock us in the building."
"Shaddup. You think I'm going to wake up a sick person? You'd just collapse again. C'mon, we need to get back. It's already seven, y'know."
Awww. Arihiko cares!
Arihiko walks down the corridor.
...... After that.
I collapsed from anemia and was left to sleep in the infirmary.
Time passed until school lock-up time at six-thirty, when I was awoken by Arihiko's punch. And so, we came to be walking along this deserted corridor.
"Hey. C'mon Tohno. What are you doing?"
"--Sorry. I'm coming."
I shake my still-woozy head, and follow Arihiko.
Must... resist... more gay jokes...
I reach the intersection.
It's still seven in the evening, but there's no one around.
I guess because of the killer, fewer people go out at night.
The only figure I can see now is the back of a woman, far away.
Suddenly my heart pounds loudly.
My throat becomes inexplicably dry and parched.
I break out in a cold sweat.
My head aches.
It's not like the anemia earlier. Rather than fading, my consciousness becomes sharper.
...... My thoughts feel like they're melting into a haze.
I will... follow behind her, and then---
What am I going to do after that?
The woman disappears into a group of apartments in the shopping district.
"...... I have... to... fo... llow..."
I don't know why, but I think that.
My legs move on towards the apartments.
But, before that.
Only for an instant.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the figure of Yumizuka Satsuki.
My head becomes clear.
I still love that twist.
Yumizuka... it was only for an instant, but without a doubt, that was Yumizuka.
Was she going towards town?
"What's she doing out, at a time like this...!?"
I was so mad, I didn't care if she disappeared or if she ran away from home.
It's too dangerous for a girl to walk around town at night alone.
That face... there's no confusing it.
The girl walking ahead of me is unmistakably Yumizuka Satsuki, and the expression on her face wasn't frightening.
But I felt a chill run through my spine.
My heart beats quickly.
The back of my head becomes heavy, and my throat burns.
An ache assaults my head, just as it did with the blond woman earlier.
"What is this... It's weird..."
The inside of my body is burning.
I feel dizzy as if I'm in the grip of a terrible fever.
In that moment, Yumizuka begins to walk again.
Something is... strange.
I know that, but I can't tell what it is.
Right now, all I can do is to follow Yumizuka Satsuki.
I lose sight of her.
Yumizuka Satsuki, whom I had been chasing without success, is nowhere to be seen.
"...... Shit... What the hell is going on...!"
I stop, catching my breath,
My chest heaves deeply.
...... Though I hadn't realized until now, I must have been running for a long time.
"What... time is it...?"
Resting my hands on my knee, I glance up at a nearby store window.
He ran as hard as he could for 5 hours straight and didn't notice?!
"----Can't be. I couldn't have been running for that long."
...... It's hard to believe, but the clock is correct.
Looking around, most of the shopping district is closed.
"---I should... go back."
Even though I'm worried about Yumizuka, I feel like I won't be able to find her anymore.
...... I chased her for almost four hours, calling her name all this time, but she did not even respond. What was she thinking?
Goddammit, you got woken up by Arihiko at 6:30 and left school at 7:00. Get your timing right, game!
With a big sigh, I decide to head back to the mansion.
Somewhere behind a building, there is a sound.
I think it is the sound of someone falling?
"...... The back alley......?"
The noise came only once.
An eerie silence surrounds me.
...... I have a bad feeling about this.
Did someone collapse in the back alley?
Did the wind just knock something over?
...... Whatever it was, I probably shouldn't get involved.
Is it because I was looking for Yumizuka a while ago? I feel like she's there for some reason.