Once I stuffed my textbook into my bag and turned to leave, a shadow was cast on my route of advance.
The shadow suddenly clasped its throat as it cried out in pain. Aaaargh, raising a beastlike voice, it fell to its knees and threw its body onto the floor. Regardless of the dirt getting on her uniform, she continued squirming left and right. That wasn't the Usual sort of writhing. Pale legs peeked out from her skirt as she continued with an intensity that would eventually lay bare her undergarments.
'Are you okay!? Pull yourself together! I'll get you to the infirmary right away! There's no way I'll ever abandon one of my precious classmates!'
… Is something I would never say.
If I responded here, I would be falling for the trap.
With the movements of a cockroach using the last of its life after being hit with pesticide, she cried out with kehees and gyaaas. If she shut her mouth and sat still, she might come off as a well-raised young woman, but those eccentricities completely reversed any good impression she might give off.
"… Believer… you continue to burn me still… anti-cross… if only I had…"
Hino over here was the girl Dorisen had carted off to the infirmary not too long ago.
Up to now, I'd witness a number of classmates caught up in her stalling tactic. But everyone had opted to ignore it. Strangely, Hino would never do this to another dream soldier. Her targets were strictly restricted to bystanders.
So the day finally came when I was subject to this shady ritual.
"The relic of the dark saint…!"
I straddled over her to pass. It was the best option.
Next it was Suzuki Osamu who stood before me.
"A message came from Zeusheim. It looks like things have been blown sky high."
I pushed past him.
"Let me through. I'm going home. I've got no friends, so I'm going alone."
"Fuhahahah! Write it as ally, read it as friend. Satou, you are never alone. As two who weep for the world, let us link hands and intervene in the world’s decision."
I pushed past Kinoshita.
"I don't really know about that. Sorry, I've got to get going."
"Satou, there's something you have to hear. Do you know of the Death Time-Space in the empire of Gaizonic? In that space, the spacers are able to exhibit their powers to their very limit."
"Home. I've got to get home. I'm going home. To that warm lost land of so long ago…"
Feeling like I was in a disaster movie, I pushed past Andou.
I crossed the valley of the weirdos; I returned alive to win first prize at Cannes.
"Oy, stop right there, you impudent wretch."
It came in a clear, dignified voice. Even I had to stop at that one. I should have ignored it. Insolent wretch wasn't a term any normal person would use.
"You, you said your name was Satou."
She had her body (intentionally) covered by the curtain. Answering the call, she flamboyantly brushed the cloth aside to reveal her stunning form. What a flashy entrance. If it all happened naturally, it might be somewhat cool, but the fact it was set up made it painful to watch. I'm pretty sure only people this cringe doesn't reach would have to be dream soldiers and the elderly.
The female student I'd never spoken to before was named Oda, if I recalled correctly.
Her style could be explained in two compound words.
She wore a black eyepatch like a pirate. A Japanese katana… was impossible, so she carried around a wooden sword overly prettied up like a gal's cellular phone. Incomprehensible. She kept her long hair bound at a high point in a ponytail. From time to time, she clad herself in a Nobunaga mantle (or at least that's what I called it).
Among the female dream soldiers, excluding Ryouko, she ranked in the top three, and I glared at her. Oda returned a harsh look
"To think you would abandon a suffering maiden. You must be a wretched good for nothing."
"I'll be right there, home."
I could tell my own voice was growing mechanical.
"You can't see that Hino is seeking help? Is that the attitude a man should take?"
"Then why don't you do something?" Unable to take it, I finally whipped back.
Oda furrowed her brow. I must have struck somewhere painful.
"… What's important is that you lack that spirit of a man, of a samurai."
"That sorta thing hasn't existed for a hundred years!"
"It lives on within me." She held up her wooden sword. "And in my Kokarasumaru."
A chipped scream almost spilled out from my throat. Kokarasumaru? I mean, c'mon.
The wandering vampire setting (presumably) Hino unsteadily stood to her feet to join them.
Suzuki, Kinoshita, Andou, Oda, Hino. I was encircled by the five star constellation of nightmares.
Dorisen's words flashed across my mind.
"You've got a talent for it," "You have a good vibe around you," "He's got a nice rump."
Wait, wait, wait, wait, don't screw with me.
"Is it because I fell out? Because I made a mistake? Is that why?"
"Zeusheim" "Akasha Fragment" "Underquake" "Kokarasumaru" "Anti-cross"
"Wah" I screamed and ran off. Creepy, creepy, creepy.
I leapt into the hall in a trance, my feet set on a straight course for the front door.
The front door was where the blue witch lay in wait.
I couldn't run this time. I tripped, fell, and lost my strength.
Fate's little pranks, or rather fate's bullying was in perfect form today.
"The teachers' surveillance is harsh, the conclusion has been reached that searching inside the school will prove difficult."
"Say what? So you finally understand that?"
The thought came with a small hope.
"Therefore, today, we will conduct a search in town."
An even greater hell came upon me.
Ryouko walked down the congested road in front of the station paying no mind to the laughs or disdain. At this point, the looks and pain were difficult to even describe, and as one accompanying her, I was also subject to ill-natured inquiries.
When Ryouko visited the classroom, I felt like dying.
In the cafeteria today, I felt like dying several times over.
And now, with the stage even larger, the audience had immediately expanded to several hundred fold. The term shame was lacking. Disgrace wasn't able to express it in its entirety. humiliation, chagrin, remorse, a living disgrace, indignity, torture, contempt; all of them put together, they had come to torment me.
"Somewhere! S-somewhere where no one's looking! A blind alley, a dead end, please!"
"Investigation will begin at the station and department store."
They were both places with enough passersby to make an industry out of them.
I tried angling an ear to the voices of town.
"Pfff, what's that?"
"Ain't it just cosplay?"
"Hey, those two are a riot."
"You young folk these days… *mumble*, *mumble*."
"Wow, that's embarrassing!"
"Hey, looky what we 'ave here, 'er's somethin' interestin' 'n fron' a da station."
"High level otaku right there."
"You think we're on TV?"
"Are they in high school?"
"Someone try talking to them! Let's go have some fun!"
The harsh voices of society grew near. I wanted to run in a dash.
Ryouko was indifferent whether someone was there or not. Even now, she was casually surveying the area.
All of a sudden, she got on all fours and peered under a car parked at the bend. The passersby looked down at her with shock on their faces.
"Quit it! Stand up!"
So invested in her search, it appeared my voice was a long shot from reaching.
Next, her attention shifted to the street light.
"Don't tell me," I pulled at the hem of her robe. "Please stop, anything but that."
Ryouko began nimbly climbing her way up the street light.
"It's not there, you won't find anything up there!"
I was already at my limit so I forcefully dragged her to some unpopulated side street. While a few people passed, it wasn't as much as the main road.
"Not only does Ichirou have no intent to help with the search, he is actively impeding it."
"You can't go out in public looking like that!"
"No one is able to see the Researcher."
That setting truly was a pain! The public eyes weren't functional as a tool of persuasion.
"You'll be in trouble if the police get here. Hey, I won't tell you to read the mood, but you should at least listen when I'm seriously at my wit's end. You may find it nosy, but I'm offering you information that will prove exceedingly beneficial for your future."
I ended up talking like some salesman trying to lead someone into a scam.
Her emotionless eyes wide open like the full moon, she stared at me. Could it be this girl really was a robot human? She had enough intensity to make me reconsider.
"So police are bad."
"If the police get wind of this,"
There was no doubt I grew louder when I brought up the police.
"Hey, you two, what's this about the police? Mn, what's with your getup? Could you show some identification?"
A real police officer peeked in from down the street.
My confusion at the time couldn't be expressed in words. With my mind in a panic, I lost the aptitude for normal decision making. I have to act, that instant's impulse alone swirled within me. The result: I grabbed Ryouko's hand and ran off.
"Ah, hey! Why are you running!?"
Psychologically, once you start running, it's impossible to stop. That's why, once you're in motion, even if only ruin awaits you, you must keep running on. If I had to bring up any good fortune, we managed to shake off the police officer that time. Turning randomly down several streets, keeping low in shadows, illegally crossing properties in the residential district, by the time I noticed it, we were in a dark alley.
"… My memory along the way… is pretty hazy."
To run so far, to feel so afraid, it was the first in my life for both of them. My feeble heard raised a complaint. "Boss, when'll ya ever learn, we heart folks, we don't get no rest. If you exploit us like that… we might just have ta walk out on ya someday," why don't you just stop right here, right now. Kill me and give me peace.
"Are you okay, Ryouko?"
For a while now, even Ryouko had her hands full catching her breath.
"How about that? If a policeman finds you, that's what happens. Painful, right?"
"… Then what do I do?"
"You wear a uniform!" I emphasized.
"Rejected. Defense will be lowered."
"Defense, you know… and all that sort of stuff, see…"
It seems she had no intent to wear one no matter what.
… Rather than wandering around town, wasn't restricting it to school the easier choice? Being seen by my peers scared me enough to make mincemeat of my heart, but it was better than the police… no, but still… my anguish wouldn't stop.
"It has become evident that searching the town during day hours is horribly inefficient."
"… That so."
The pain in my head was acting up again.