Utsuro No Hako To Zero No Maria / Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria Vol 3 Chapter 1

 

I’m in a scene that I can only remember in my dreams.

I wonder how many times I have met him (or her) already. …I suppose it doesn’t matter.

As always, ‘O’ was saying something bizarre, so I pretty much just ignore him (or her).

However, a single remark reverberates in my ears.

“Daiya Oomine-kun is your enemy.”

 

 

 

The first time I saw his silver hair, I thought, “Aah, our paths will never cross.”

I’m sure most of my other classmates got the same impression. Daiya Oomine rejected the company of others with every fiber of his being. I thought that he only assumed that oppressive attitude and rock-n-roll style to distance himself from other people.

But we got along well. Sure, Haruaki helped serve as a bridge, but that alone would never have been enough.

«Umm, you’re… Kazuki Hoshino, right? I can’t say why, but you’re kinda weird!»

This was the first thing he ever said to me.

But I believed that we were friends; after all, he always seemed happy when talking to me.

Even so, he still went there:

It’s lunchtime, and midterms are about to start tomorrow; Daiya sits down casually next to Maria and says, “You’ve dealt with ‘O’, haven’t you?”

I’m too stunned to reply, so Maria answers on my behalf. “…..Oomine, did you obtain a ‘box’?”

“What kind of rhetorical question is that? Of course I did. In the first place, I am now talking to Kazu. Be quiet, you annoying guardian.”

Maria sighs forcefully, and then looks at me, as if to suggest that she’d leave it to me.

But what should I say…?

Ignoring my silence, Daiya starts speaking.

“It always seemed odd to me. Otonashi’s appearance, your confession to Kokone and several other cases as well.”

Daiya touches the piercing in his right ear.

“These doubts were resolved when I met ‘O’. When I met him—right at that moment, I realized that he, who cannot be described as anything other than bizarre, was the reason for all those strange incidents recently. And then he told me that he was interested in Kazuki Hoshino.”

Unable to fully comprehend, I listen to him silently.

“Which means that I was not the only one who felt something was strange about you. …You know what, Kazu? After observing you for more than a year, there’s one thing I understood.”

He focuses on me with a piercing glance and continued.

“You are floating.”

“…floating?”

I couldn’t grasp the meaning of this sudden word without any context.

“It’s as if you’re watching us from an elevated vantage point. You’re here, but you refrain from getting deeply involved and you always keep a certain distance. You’re neither inside, nor outside. You’re just… floating.”

I didn’t get his point, and raised an eyebrow.

“And yet you say you want to preserve this everyday life. It was always a mystery to me why you would wish for it. But when I spoke to ‘O’—he told me that you declined the ‘box’ that granted any ‘wish’—I finally understood.”

Daiya declares with an unyielding tone.

“Your goal is to trample on the ‘wishes’ of others.”

“That’s not true!”

I am surprised by the volume of my own voice, but I have to make this clear.

“The reason why I’m particular about this everyday life is… because I think that longing for something is the proof of being alive… so…”

“How laughable.”

In contrast to his words, he isn’t laughing at all. He only continues cruelly,

“So do you have something you long for? Name one!”

“Of course I have. It’s—”

I stop.

I have one. I’m supposed to have one. But I can’t articulate it.

—I’m sure it’s because it hasn’t taken shape, yet.

“Because you want to keep longing for something. Hmpf, even if I admitted that claim, another question remains. Why did you become like that?”

“…Eh?”

The reason why I started being particular about this everyday life?

Come to think of it, had I always been like this? …I don’t think so. So, since when—

“——”

It occurs to me.

—Someone, veiled by a haze, that I can’t recognize.

I can’t recognize this vague appearance. Can’t recognize? …no, in fact I know who this is, no matter how much haze there is.

She is—

“Got it?”

When Daiya interrupts me, the silhouette disappears into the haze.

“…What…?”

“The fact is that, in the end, you’re just trying to preserve your everyday life reflexively, like one of Pavlov’s dogs.”

I just want to preserve my everyday life? If so—

“This is the same as to trample others’ ‘wishes’ down. …Hey, Kazu.”

Daiya calls me with his usual leisureliness.

“I have a ‘box.’ I have become an existence that contradicts this everyday life. —So what will you do?”

I don’t know Daiya’s ‘wish.’ But if it’s one that menaces this everyday life, I will—

“You’ve already come to a conclusion, haven’t you?”

Daiya continues with an emotionless voice, while lightly touching his right piercing one more time:

“Thus, I am—your enemy.”

 

Our midterm exams have been returned, and we passed July in sloth, almost as if digesting the results.

“Guys, you absolutely cannot mention that we’re going to go to the mall after this!”

On our way to Mogi-san’s hospital room, Kokone, who has recently made a big bun of her hair, says this.

“Mainly you, Haruaki!”

“I know, I know!”

“I wonder? After all I’ve heard the modern term «Haruaki» also means «Unable to sense the mood».”

“I’ve never heard of such a term! But I know that the modern term «K.K.» means «annoying», though!”

“Hey! Why do my initials mean «annoying»!?”

“Kirino, if Mogi hears this loud voice of yours, your consideration will have been in vain.”

Having been cautioned by Maria—”Tehe!”—Kokone sticks out her tongue while closing an eye and scowls at Haruaki when he mentions, “You ‘thinking that’s cute’ or what?”

Sighing at this relatively normal scene, I enter the hospital room.

“……”

The first thing I see is a half-naked, masculine figure on a magazine cover.

“Kasumi…?”

“Eh…? —AH!”

She hid the magazine in her futon with quick movements.

“H-Hi everyone… W-What’s the matter? You are quite early today, huh…?”

Mogi-san flashes an awkward smile.

“……”

Did I, perhaps, just see something I shouldn’t have…? Kokone and I exchange glances, silently agreeing—”Let’s not touch that subject.”

“Whoa, what are ya hiding there, Kasumi!”

We fail. There is a guy here, whose name means «Unable to sense the mood».

“I-I’m not hiding anything…!”

“Don’t lie! …mh? Ah, it’s a porno magazine, isn’t it! Show me, show me! I want to know to what kind of porno magazines girls get ho— Ghgh!”

Kokone strikes him with her elbow. Yeah, I think she did the right thing.

“Don’t worry Kasumi, we didn’t see anything… No, it’s okay, really! After all, if you’re staying for a long time in a hospital, well… You bottle up a lot, don’t you!”

“I-I-I-I haven’t bottled up anything!”

Mogi-san shakes her hands wildly in front of her crimson face.

“T-That’s not it! This is… well…”

She purses her lips and, hesitating slightly, takes the magazine out of her futon. There is indeed a half-naked man on its cover, but things like “Yoga” and “Proper Training Methods” is written on it.

“It’s a fitness magazine for exercising! So, umm… it’s not an erotic one.”

“Eh? Ah, you’re right. Haha, sorry. …But why were you hiding it then?”

For some reason she doesn’t look at Kokone, but at me when she whispers:

“…that’s because such magazines don’t suit me…”

Now that she mentions it—I reflexively looked at Mogi-san’s arms. Her white arms, which had seemed fragile once, now seems a little more robust. …They’re still plenty slender, though.

Mogi-san notices my gaze and hides her arms bashfully behind her. Then she says,

“…I hoped it might be useful as a reference for my rehabilitation.”

Four months have already passed since those days of recurrences. Her broken bones had mended and her rehabilitation had started by now. Her eventual return to school, which once seemed like a distant dream, is slowly coming to fruition. Her wheel-chaired presence in the classroom might soon become a part of this everyday life.

Mogi-san will return to this everyday life.

—Like the time before Maria.

 

“Say, say, Maria, do you feel uneasy around Kasumi?”

Haruaki asks right as we enter the shopping mall, whereas Kokone and I have intentionally kept quiet about it…

“Haru… You know, sometimes you are just dreadful…”

“Why so?”

He didn’t even understand what Kokone meant. Dreadful!

“…why do you think so?”

Maria asks Haruaki plainly with an emotionless voice.

“That’s because I have never seen you two talk to each other properly! Well, maybe that’s just because I rarely catch sight of you two being together.”

“…Haru, listen,” Kokone pulls Haruaki to her and whispers into his ear. “…they are rivals in love… that’s why they get awkward. You should know this much, right…?”

Umm, Kokone…? I know that you’re trying to be considerate, but I can hear you.

“Ooh, I see, I see!”

Haruaki grins broadly at me. …This is quite unnerving.

Maria let out a sigh at their attitude.

“Well, interpret it however you want, but it’s true that I can’t talk to her easily.”

“Hoho! In the sense of being rivals?”

“Usui. Could you speak without reservations to someone who made a fool of you and stabbed your gut with a knife?”

“Hah?”

“It’s a joke.”

When Maria expressionlessly says so, Kokone and Haruaki exchange glances.

…I was the only one whose heart jumped because of this borderline comment.

“…err, so let’s leave this topic… Now onto our main objective!! ‘Let’s search for clothes that suit Mari-mari!’ Well, almost anything would suit her, though… tch, this damn model body of yours!”

You shouldn’t be the one to complain, having your snapshot in a fashion magazine recently.

“Come to think of it, why did this matter come up anyway?”

“Well, just listen! I’ve often met Mari-mari in regular clothes on holidays recently, but you know, she’s obviously neglecting fashion! Her clothes aren’t exactly bad, though, they just lack individuality… and when I asked for the brand she said it’s UNIQLO.”

“Leaving aside how it was in the past, the present UNIQLO has a high fashion value. They offer many high-quality products at low prices made possible by the great endeavor of their company. UNIQLO is the best choice.”

“I wear UNIQLO, too, you know! But that’s not what I mean! I was just thinking, like… you should strive to become your ideal self, or… Aah, damn it! Just because you can win with your body alone…!”

“Kiri, be at ease! You can at least beat her with your bust!”

“Only with my bust?! Don’t kid around, Haru! …I can also beat her in—”

Kokone stops talking, gazing at Maria from head to toe, and was in terror.

“—No way… I have no chance?! Gwaah, that can’t be! You’d better become something like the world’s top idol so I’ll be able to admit that you’re «pretty» without being hurt!”

“…Ko-Kokone, looks are a subjective matter anyway, you know…”

“So who do you find more beautiful, Kazu?”

“……”

“Why do you keep quiet there! Say it’s me, even if it’s a lie!”

“Well, isn’t that an impossible request?”

“Shut up, you visually impaired person.”

“What!? I’m humbly said to be at least above average!”

Because of the ruckus they were causing, the glances of the shoppers in the vicinity start to focus on us. …It’s always the same when Kokone’s with us.

“H-Hey, Kokone, can we slowly…”

When I address her, she looks at me with a harsh glance. Uwa, I feel danger…

“In the first place, Kazu-kun, do you know what I cannot permit the most about Mari-mari’s clothes? It’s the fact that you, just because you’re of the same height, share several pieces of clothing!”

“…eh? Should we not?”

Kokone’s eyes went wide.

“……Hah? What’s with that surprised expression? «…eh? Should we not» my ass! Your common sense is off! I, at least, was shocked when I happened to see you wearing the same T-shirt that Mari-mari had worn on another day!”

I still didn’t get her and shifted my gaze to Haruaki.

“No, she’s right, you know?”

…I was clearly denied.

“You’re that type of person, right? The type that finishes the half-drunk PET bottle, that was given to you by the girl you like, without any problems.”

“Isn’t that normal…?”

“My, my,” Haruaki shook his hands exaggeratedly as if to show me and let out a sigh. …What’s with that reaction.

“Haru, do you understand why I want to make her buy new clothes?”

“More than enough!”

After those two allied, our search for clothes for Maria began as Kokone planned. However, Maria herself didn’t fancy shopping at all and hence just gave Kokone half-hearted opinions of the clothes she was shown. And from time to time, Kokone forced her to try on some of the clothes.

At first, I had thought Kokone would be displeased because Maria doesn’t buy the clothes she suggests, but in fact Kokone was grinning joyfully. According to her, «It’s already fun just having an outstanding beauty as a dress-up doll!». …As a man I can’t understand her feelings.

Speaking of the other man here, Haruaki, he seemed happy just watching other female clients and shop assistants. I’m jealous of his mode of thought—well, not really. Not at all.

I asked Kokone, who was so full of vigor that I wondered where she got all this energy from, for a break. She did not grant this request until three hours later.

Hah… finally I’m temporarily released.

“…Haruaki, you seem cheerful.”

“Yeah! I spent all this time with the goal of scoring good-looking girls, you know. Ah, that was great! My personal favorite was the shop assistant at the previous shop.”

Kokone’s high spirits got spoiled.

“She resembled our school’s student council president a little. Didn’t you think so, too, Hoshii?”

“Eeeh~~… you think so~?” Kokone objected. “Our student council president is a lot cooler… ah, now that you mention it, do you guys know about the «Three Supermen»?”

“I know of them.” “…Well, there’s no way it wouldn’t enter my ears.”

I am the only one who didn’t know, as it seems.

“…What are those «Three Supermen»?”

“Look, isn’t there one student in each year with outstanding grades? Because all of those three have some special characteristics besides their grades, someone treated them as «supermen». Well, and this term was so fitting that it spread out.”

“…Is Maria perhaps one of them?”

“Yeah. I don’t care about how they call me, but I don’t like to stand out too much.”

No… what are you saying after the scene you made at the entrance ceremony?

“Well, Mari-mari is the one in the first year, the student council president is the one in the third year. And the one in the second year is—”

Kokone stops mid-sentence. One could clearly see how her mood fell.

…so the last one is Daiya.

Daiya disappeared right after he had announced to us his status as an “owner” in the school cafeteria. He didn’t come to school anymore and wasn’t at home either.

Without leaving any words for Kokone and Haruaki.

Kokone is extremely angry about this. She couldn’t understand why he disappeared suddenly without telling her anything. Of course, in truth, she’s only worried about him.

I suppose Kokone considers his disappearance as a temporary matter. That’s why she can be angry. But I… I don’t think this is a temporary state.

After all, Daiya—obtained a “box.”

He became disconnected from our everyday life.

After emptying her caramel macchiato in one gulp with a frown, Kokone let out a sigh and began to speak.

“Anyway, leaving that jerk aside, the point is that those «Three Supermen» are not normal.”

“I can understand this for Maria and Daiya… but is the student council president also this amazing?”

“She is amazing! Apparently her grades would easily be enough to enter Tokyo University; as a member of the track-and-field club she took part in national short distance races and long jump events; and in the student council, she’s putting the lid on those anachronistic school rules. But it seems these superficial facts aren’t even needed to realize how amazing she is.”

“…what do you mean?”

“According to a little story that reached my ears, the president doesn’t seem to be that fast during practice. She even loses to other members sometimes. But at the real thing she almost certainly sets best times and wins.”

“So she’s holding back during practice?”

“Apparently not. «The purpose of practice is to improve your power. The purpose of the real race is to win. It’s only natural that I’m the fastest at the real race when I have to concentrate fully on manifesting my power.» is what she says. …What do you think? She may seem a little strange, but isn’t she somehow amazing?”

“…Yeah. She feels like a human from another dimension.”

“Exactly~”—while saying so, she confirmed that our cups had become empty and smiled complacently.

“Well then! Let’s return to our Mari-mari-dress-up-time!”

Honestly, more of this boredom is tiring…

“Ko-Kokone, it’s soon dinnertime at home, so I should slowly…”

“Eeh~…”

Kokone purses her lips.

“Then just one more! There is something I absolutely want Mari-mari to wear!”

Kokone eventually brought us to a shop that was obviously emitting an atmosphere different from the other ones. Most of the clothes are black and oddly frilled.

“This will definitely suit you! Gothloli-Mari-mari-tan, haah haah”

The clothing the all-too-excited Kokone holds out is a black dress with lots of frills. Understandably, Maria contorts her face slightly while accepting the dress.

“……you want me to wear that?”

“‘Course! …by the way, what do you think about Gothlolis?”

“They seem like they live in their own little worlds.”

“Suits you perfectly then, doesn’t it!”

Eeeeh! W-What’s with this sudden outrageous statement!

I look reluctantly at Maria. Fortunately, she was so fixated on the dress that Kokone had given her that she didn’t seem to mind the statement just now.

Kokone murmurs something like, “Then we need a headdress… or a mini hat might be good as well!” and browses through the accessories.

Maria sighs.

“…If you really don’t want to, you’d better decline properly.”

Maria looks back and forth between my face and the Gothloli dress and says with a hushed voice,

“Do you want to see it, too?”

“Eh?”

“I am asking whether you want to see me wearing this Gothloli dress, too.”

I can’t grasp the intention of this question, but I decide to answer honestly.

“…umm, if I had to say then I’d rather like to see it.”

“I see. If you want to see it so badly, I shall wear it.”

“…no, I didn’t say—”

“I’m only wearing this because you told me to, just so you know. Geez, you really can’t be helped.”

…….umm.

Could it be that Maria wanted to wear it?

And so, Maria turned into a Gothloli.

“Ooh my god, oh my god, oh my god! Mari-mari, st-step on me! With those feet of yours, step on me!!”

Uwa, what should we do? Kokone just broke….

“My selection was just too correct. Don’t you think so, too, Kazu-kun?!”

“Y-Yeah.”

It suits her without doubt. Haruaki is also nodding contentedly and some of the shop assistants are peeking into the dressing room. It suits her that much.

As for Maria, she seems at a loss what kind of face she should make and just crosses her arms without looking anywhere in particular.

“Oi Kazu-kun, that’s all?”

“…What do you mean?”

“You should show more… like, excitement. I want to see something like a sweet third-rate drama from you that starts with you opening your mouth in astonishment and murmuring «So pretty…», upon which Mari-mari tries to hide her bashfulness by saying something like «Hmpf, so you like me all of a sudden just because I look like this?» that makes Kazu-kun object with «N-No, you’re always pretty! You really are pretty, Maria!» and eventually both end up with bright red faces! Because I’ll beat you up then.”

“……I can’t.”

“What a pathetic guy. At a karaoke bar, you’re the type that only sings ballads nobody knows, aren’t you? And I’m sure you’re the kind of guy that sings neither well nor poorly, so nobody can insert a Tsukkomi. …Aah, let’s not mind Kazu-kun. Say, say, Mari-mari, can I take a photo?”

“Out of the question.”

Maria says with a still-averted gaze and crossed arms.

…Oh? Is she actually embarrassed to be wearing this dress?

“Quit it with the broad grin, Kazuki.”

“Eh?”

“You just made a lewd face. So you wanted to humiliate me by making me wear such a dress, didn’t you?”

“T-That’s not it.”

“Come here for a moment.”

I prepare myself to get rebuked and stand in front of Maria with my head ducked down. Gothloli Maria appears overbearing with her arms crossed.

“Does this suit me?”

Why is she asking? While wondering, I nodded.

“I see.”

Maria removes the frilled headdress from her head. Looking at this headdress, the corners of her mouth raises and,

“…Huh?”

For some reason she put it on my head.

“Yeah, it suits you, too!”

“……Hah?”

Maria seems most amused.

“I wore this because you badly wanted me to do so. That’s how it is, right?”

“…umm.”

“That’s how it is, right?”

“……Yes.”

“Which means: since I listened to one of your selfish requests, I think it would be only be fair if you listened to one of my requests this time. Don’t you agree?”

“…I… suppose so.”

“This dress suits me nicely. We are the same size. In other words, you can wear it as well.”

“……”

Maria continues with a strong voice that did not permit any refusal,

“Wear it.”

And that’s how I became a Gothloli.

“Uuh…”

I moan while looking at myself in the dressing room.

So wearing it first was part of Maria’s scheme to get me into this appearance. To that end, she wanted to create a situation in which I could not refuse.

Come to think of it, she had looked back and forth between the dress and me back then.

“Oi, aren’t you done getting changed, Kazuki? Open the door already.”

“…Maria. Why do I have to wear this…?”

“Of course because I want to see you as a Gothloli so badly it’s not even funny. Naturally, that includes you being embarrassed.”

This is Maria’s bullying again after a long time…!

I can’t stay in here forever. I prepare myself and open the door.

“Gyahahahahahahaha—”

Kokone instantly points at me and starts laughing. Only Maria, Kokone and Haruaki are supposed to be there in front of the dressing room, but for some reason there are also shop assistants and several unrelated customers. What kind of public execution is this…

“Kyahahaha, Kazuko-chan, you’re so cute!”

While saying so, Kokone takes her mobile phone out and turns it towards me. ……Please don’t…

“S-Stop! Don’t take a photo!”

“Impossible. I have to.”

Not only Kokone, but also Haruaki and even Maria start photographing me. Even though she didn’t let anyone take a photo of her!

“Don’t worry, Kazuki. It’s cute.”

Maria attempts an ambiguous encouragement.

“Alright, and sent!”

“W-Wait a sec Kokone! W-Where did you just send this to?!”

“Ha? To Kasumi, of course!”

“W-What’re you doing?! I-In the first place, didn’t you say we shouldn’t mention to her that we’re going to the mall?!”

“Are you an idiot, Kazu-kun? There is something called ‘priorities’!”

You’re the idiot of the group, Kokone! This is too cruel!

…my mobile phone vibrates right away. I open it hesitatingly. There is one new e-mail. The sender’s name was «Kasumi Mogi».

The text consists of one word.

«Cute ♡»

I don’t care anymore! ☆

 

I awake to an intense stench that is almost giving me a headache.

“Eh…?”

Confused by this sudden development, I let my voice leak out. The last thing I can remember is that I had slipped into my bed to forget about this event that almost caused me to suffer trauma for the rest of life. After that, I probably fell asleep—

—So, where am I?

It’s pitch-black in here and the air feels as if someone had boiled all desire in a single hot pot. This air clings tenaciously to my body. Tenaciously, to my whole body.

I reluctantly stand up.

The world that enfolds in front of me. Black, black, pure blackness that almost invades my eyeballs. I manage to stop myself from collapsing and hold my ground.

Inside the darkness, I notice a faint light. It flickers with bluish-white light. It resembles the light of those bug-zappers that burn insects with a high-output current that’s often put in front of stores. Although I have the feeling that I shouldn’t approach this light, my feet begin to move as if I am drawn to it.

My distance to the light is about five meters. And yet, it seems to move away each time I take a step; my perception is ignoring reality and enlarging this distance.

Guni—

My foot hit against something.

I drop my gaze.

“—HII”

It is a body of a girl.

“Uh, ah, hya! Ha, ha, haa—”

Calming my wild breath, I look at her. It’s an unfamiliar young girl with long hair dressed in pajamas—No, I think that I’ve seen her somewhere before. Could she be an acquaintance on a level where I can faintly remember her…?

She isn’t breathing.

But she isn’t dead. She has probably “stopped.”

I confirm my own clothing. The same clothes I wore when falling asleep—a t-shirt instead of pajamas and trunks.

I see. The two of us were probably brought here while sleeping.

Like this—we were put into this “box”.

I finally arrive in front of the bluish-white light. Upon further inspection, it looks like one of those old arcade game machine that secluded Onsen-inns would have. «Kingdom Royale» is written on its screen, which seems to be something like its title.

Next to this machine I see him.

“……Daiya.”

He’s standing there, unchanged from prior to his disappearance, with piercings in both ears.

“It has been a while, Kazu. Almost two months?”

He says as if to start a small-talk. There are lots of things I want to ask him, but I ask the obvious question first.

“…Is this your ‘box’?”

“Do I even need to answer?”

Exactly. He has obviously used his ‘box’ at last.

“Boredom—there are people that blast their own brain away just to escape from this beast.”

When he sees that I frowned upon his cryptic words, the corners of his mouth raises.

“It’s a quote from the ‘Etudes of my 20th Year'”[1]

“…What are you talking about, Daiya?”

“This is the ‘wish’ that was put into this ‘Game of Idleness’.”

I’m unable to grasp his intention.

“Of course you can’t understand me, can you? There’s no way you would know boredom when you are able to enjoy your everyday life. You can’t imagine how terribly agonizing it is!”

Does Daiya want to say that he invoked this ‘Game of Idleness’ and involved us because he was «bored»?

That would be just too selfish and foolish.

“Judging from your face, you don’t even want to try understanding me, huh. People with no imagination are always so conceited.”

“…you can’t deceive me. To use a ‘box’ just to ward off your boredom would be too absurd!”

“I don’t care if you don’t understand. But at least remember that this feeling exists as well.”

“…You just have to cure this feeling, no?”

“That’s impossible. It’s a problem that has to do with the respective person’s nature. You can’t change your nature.”

“That’s just… a bad excuse!”

“Then fix this abnormal attachment to that daily life of yours!”

I close my mouth.

“No matter what you do, no matter where you go, you can’t get away from your nature. A seedy-looking guy cannot change his seedy looks, no matter how expensive the clothes he wore, no matter if he spent an hour just for applying make-up. You can’t change the unchangeable.”

“…even if boredom’s so agonizing, how does it come up anyway? Aren’t there lots of enjoyable things?”

“‘Natures’ are like this. Every event changes its shape according to your nature. Things that you find enjoyable are pure boredom for people that have ‘boredom’ as nature.”

“…although your high abilities are the envy of the school.”

“I’m ordinary. I know that because I can see the limit of my abilities. I realized that I can neither achieve nor attain anything.”

This humble statement surprises me.

I would have never dreamed that Daiya was thinking like this although he seems to have great confidence in himself.

“The ‘box’ is no more than a way to kill time for people who are engulfed by boredom. Thus, this is only a game. A pointless game.”

He explains and starts to grin.

“But it’s very valuable to me nonetheless.”

I’m still unable to understand his logic; but I understand that it’s impossible to persuade him with words.

“…tell me, Daiya. What does this ‘box’ specifically do?”

Daiya laughs faintly, grasps my shoulders, and makes me sit down in front of the game machine.

“It’s just a game for the sake of killing time. It has no other purpose than staving off boredom. So—”

“—Let’s have a meaningless death match.”

“…Eh?”

Daiya is pressing his thumbs against my collarbone so I can’t escape. The screen starts to sway. I feel almost intoxicated.

—*grab*

Something grabbed my head in my trance.

Something comes out of the game machine’s screen. It’s a transparent hand. I’m grabbed by this transparent hand.

“Ugh…”

Noise reverberates in my head. The number of transparent hands are steadily increasing. Increasing. More and more of those hands grab my head, my arms, my legs, my abdomen, and cover my whole body.

“Da-Daiya—!!”

Daiya coldly ignores my grimace and says,

“Go.”

And then I am—drawn in by those hands.

 

Jump up↑ A book by Touzou Haraguchi, published after he committed suicide during his 20th year. http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000740/card49078.html

 

 

 

▶First Day [Kazuki Hoshino]’s room

The first thing I see is a naked light bulb dangling from a blank concrete ceiling. I have no idea where I am, and I leap up in surprise.

“…What room am I in?”

Even as I try to stem my increasing confusion, I try to remember how I got here.

I went to sleep in the lower bunk like I normally do. I don’t remember going anywhere after that. Neither do I remember having changed the place, nor having met anyone.

I look around the six tatami-size room. I see a toilet and a washbowl. There’s a table in the center of the room, and a jute bag is sitting on top of the table.

But what stands out most is the modern 20-inch screen embedded in the wall. It seems totally out-of-place in this prison-like room.

I focus my attention on myself. I’m wearing my school uniform, and all my pockets are empty.

I reach into the jute bag and take out one item after another.

A ball-point pen.

A memo book.

A blue digital watch.

Seven portions of solid food.

There’s also a portable terminal that looks exactly like an «iPod touch».

Finally—

“——“

A heavy-duty knife.

I carefully remove its sheath. It’s a solid blade with a serrated edge. It’s like a combat knife that could appear in the hands of a soldier in a movie.

“…What the heck…? Why do I need…”

This is obviously a weapon. A tool made to kill.

Someone is trying to make me fight? Is fighting my only choice?

I shake my head and throw the knife back into the bag. I’m trembling, so I take a deep breath and try to calm down.

I look around the room one more time. There’s no window, and I don’t see any vents. There’s only one door, and it seems really heavy. I consider opening it, but then I realize there’s no doorknob. Just in case, I push lightly against it, but it doesn’t move an inch.

I totter over to my bed and plunk myself down.

“What’s going on here…?”

I don’t get it. I don’t get it… but this is an abnormal situation.

—Abnormal – totally outside the bounds of my everyday life.

Aah, is this perhaps—

«Good – morning»

Hearing a totally unexpected voice makes my heart skip a beat.

I turn my head. —What’s going on?— An odd-looking creature has appeared on the previously blank screen.

«HaHaHa – Good – morning – Kazuki-kun»

In contrast to the intimate way I’m being addressed, the voice sounds awfully machine-like and utterly lacking in intonation. The garishly green thing on the screen is supposed to represent a bear… I guess. Probably. Because of its squinty eyes and ill-formed body, it doesn’t look cute at all. Put bluntly, it looks gross.

«YaaYaaYaa – Do – you – feel – well? I am – Noitan – the mascot! PleaseD to – meet you»

The bear’s —Noitan’s?— mouth moves up and down. It’s animated terribly, with just the chin moving up and down, reinforcing thes same vibe: totally gross.

“…What a horrible mascot. It would make kids cry…”

«Who is horrible, you fucking pig! Shall I maim you by crushing your balls? That would serve you right!»

“……Whoa!”

I-It just responded to what I said! On top of that, it’s got an extremely foul mouth! And why is it suddenly speaking so naturally!? Also, the graphics depicting those bloodshot eyes is just too scary!

“…U-umm… are you able to talk to me?”

«Yes – I am – able to!»

The original tone has returned.

It seems it’s set to speak naturally only when he’s angry.

“Noitan,”

«You over-familiar piece of shit, why won’t you add a “san” to my name!? Also, speak with greater respect!»

“……Noitan-san. I don’t know how I got here, so I’m wondering where I am?”

«You are inSide – the game – called – [Kingdom Royale]! I will – eXplain it later – at the place – where eVeryone has gone, but —»

“Everyone…? So I’m not the only one here?!”

«Shut the fuck up when I’m speaking or do you want me to tear your tongue out?!»

“……I am sorry.”

«The door – will now open! You wilL go to – the place – where all participants – of this game are gaThered! I will – eXplain it to you – there so please – wait a moment»

After Noitan finishes speaking, the heavy door starts to swing open, slowly but steadily.

“…May I leave?”

«Please do – if you have – prepareD yourself!»

“Prepared myself…?”

«Beyond thiS door – is the big room – Are you prepared – to mEet the humans – that aRe in the same – position as you?»

“What are we going to do?”

Noitan contorts his eerie-looking face and says,

«Mortal combat!»

“……..Eh? What does this—“

The screen shuts down before I can finish my sentence. At the same time, the door had swung completely open.

—What on earth is this?

Darkness blankets whatever is on the other side of the doorway.

Is there really a room out there? …I can’t believe it.

But I’m sure I can’t refuse to go.

I put on the blue watch that was on the table and stand in front of the doorway. Despite the doubts that assail my mind, I try to reassure myself that I’m making the right choice:

…It’s alright. It should be alright.

Nothing good awaits me out there. But, I am inside a ‘box’, so she must be here.

—Maria is here.

So it’s alright.

This is what I’m thinking as I leap into the dark.

▶First Day Big room

Immediately, everything around me changes.

All I can see is white., an unnatural white that makes me feel like a visitor to a freshly built, empty hospital without any doctors, nurses or patients.

When I finally manage to realize this much—

“Ueh…?”

—I am knocked over.

Without having time to wonder or to feel the pain of the hard ground striking against my back, the point of a knife thrusts before my very eyes.

“Your name?”

Seeing the girl with shoulder length hair that is holding a knife in front of me, I finally realize what is happening to me.

“H-HII…!!”

“You’re called «HII»? That’s not true, is it? Didn’t I ask you for your name?”

W-Who is this?

“K-Kazuki Hoshino.”

I notice that she is wearing our school’s uniform and, on her left hand, an orange digital watch. Naturally, the color is different from mine.

So is she a participant of this game? …eh? Perhaps, the life and death fight has already begun and am I just checkmated? W-Wait a moment! Isn’t that too cruel?!

Though my situation seems so hopeless—

“Kazuki!”

—Aah, just by hearing this voice I am able to calm down.

“Mh, Otonashi-san, is this an acquaintance of yours?”

“Yeah, he is.”

Returning her gaze, the girl with shoulder-length hair looks at me with observing eyes.

“…Huuh.”

Having said so, she stands up without changing her expression and steps back. I don’t really get it, but it seems I was released.

“Are you alright, Kazuki?”

“Y-Yeah…”

I answer while taking Maria’s hand after she rushes to me.

“B-But why on earth did she—“

“—Whoa!”

I stop my words when another voice resounds, and turn around in wonder. The girl from before is holding her knife against an upright guy with brown hair.

“…umm, what, all of a sudden?”

He asks, while looking around using only his eyes. He’s startled, but seems to have enough composure to examine us.

“…You’re pretty composed, aren’t you?”

Having noticed this, she says so to the brown-haired guy.

“Not at all, actually… well, but I noticed that ‘Aah, you’re not serious’, so I could stay cool somehow.”

She answers with a meaningful “Ohoo” to his words, then she removes her knife and releases him.

“…Ah, do you let me go already?”

“Do what you want.”

…She releases the brown-haired guy readily as well, huh. I really wonder why she’s doing this?

The released brown-haired guy already flashes a smile as if he forgot what just happened to him and said,

“Oh, there are a whole three hotties! Lucky me!”

Three…? Umm, Maria, the girl that assaulted me with a knife, and—

I discover a girl with long hair that is curled up into a ball next to the big monitor in this room. With her white skin and the contrastive deep black hair, the girl made a trim impression on me.

Also, she is wearing a beige digital watch on her left wrist.

“Don’t worry, Yuuri!”

The knife-wielding girl pats the head of the black-haired girl and smiles at her, showing a kindness she did not display to us. The face of the black-haired girl that is being contorted in fear relaxes slightly, but this lasts only for a short moment.

“…What will become of us…?”

“We’ll be fine!”

…It seems those two are acquainted.

“You’re Hoshino-Upperclassmansenpai, right?”

Being addressed, I remove my glance from those two. It’s the brown-haired guy from before.

“Do you know me?”

“Of course! Senpai, aren’t you famous, together with this Maricchi over there? You can’t tell me that you forgot about that legendary entrance ceremony!”

He is wearing a crinkled uniform, a silver necklace and on his wrist a green digital watch. …come to think of it, everyone here wears our school’s uniform.

“Umm, what’s your name?”

“I am — ah! Kaichou, it seems we’re all here now, so how about an introduction?”

He says to the knife-girl.

«Council ChairmanKaichou»? Does this mean that she’s the student council chairman? One of the three supermen Kokone told me about?

“Mh, right. That might not be bad.”

Now that he mentions it, I have often heard this crisp voice in announcements over mic. This self-confidently smiling girl is… right, without doubt the student council chairman.

So—

I’ll have to fight against those supermen in this life and death fight?

“Do you think this is everyone?”

The student council chairman asks him.

“There are six chairs, so I guess so.”

“Well, yeah.”

…eh? Six?

“Wait a sec! Aren’t we only five—“

“Kazu, are your eyes made of glass?”

I hold my breath when I hear these words.

In the center of the room is an oblong table with six chairs arranged evenly around it. On the furthest one from me is, he.

“…Daiya.”

The uniformed Daiya contorts his mouth slightly, and raises the hand on which he is wearing a black digital watch, as if to send me a light greeting.

Despite this being the first time we meet in almost two months, despite this being at such a place, his greeting was light as if we had just met.

“What? Do you know each other? ……I see.”

“Kaichou. Can I take this as your assessment of the risk that we may ally against you?”

The chairman loses her composure for an instant, but then she snorts. She continues,

“I leave that to your own judgement.”

This time it is Daiya who smirks at her words.

What kind of exchange are those two having…? Almost as if they are already preparing for war.

…No, or has it already begun? Is this the reason why she held a knife against me?

“I’m the only one without acquaintances then? I feel so lonely~”

The brown-haired one embraces his head exaggeratedly as if he hasn’t noticed the tension between the two of them at all. …I wonder if that guy even knows what situation he is in…?

“Right, we were going to introduce ourselves. Shall we do it then? For now, let’s sit down since there are seats after all.”

I sit down in front of Daiya and Maria takes the spot next to me. Maria is wearing a watch on her wrist as well. The color is red.

“Okay, many of you should already know me, but I’ll start with my introduction. I am—“

“Before that, can I ask one question?”

Maria scowls at the chairman in front of her and asks so.

“What?”

“I didn’t intervene because I did not sense the will to harm anyone in you… but what was this threat with your knife supposed to be?”

“Aah, that?”

Seeming not to care about Maria’s scowl, the chairman starts to explain.

“If you’ve got the same explanation as I have from that silly bear, you should know that a «death-feud» game is going to be carried out here, right? Therefore, I considered that there might be someone who would want to take the initiative while everyone is still confused. So I thought by doing so I could prevent this. In short; crisis management.”

“Ha!”

Daiya snorts at this explanation. The chairman seems obviously offended.

“Uumm… Daiya Oomine-kun, was it, right? I’ve heard of you in rumors. So, what was that sardonic laugh supposed to mean?”

“I just thought that this was a painful lie. Crisis management? Do you seriously believe there is a militant that would cause a massacre just by this explanation of that bear? You merely tried to make the first move in order to be in a psychologically superior position, or am I wrong? Be at ease, the only one who could do this is you, who can arrive at such a thought!”

“A strategy to be in a psychologically superior position, huh. You’re getting me wrong, totally wrong. I would not use such means in which the downside outweighs the benefit. If I acted clumsily and incurred someone’s enmity, I would be the one at risk, right?”

“Then was it a check for the wirepuller? Did you try to find suspicious people by their reaction?”

“I didn’t think that far. How rude.”

Her replies are light. However, the anxiety in the air cannot be hidden by that.

“Whoa, chill out Senpais! You’re really scary!”

The brown-haired guy interrupts them.

“…Okay. But you sure are calmed down, aren’t you? You’re quite a strange fellow.”

“Cut it out please! I’m like this just because I can’t keep cool. Usually, I act more maturely, but how should I say it, a strange tension’s in the air now… Well, but I think I’m not as tense as your friend there, Kaichou.”

When the conversation goes towards her, the docile-looking girl cringes her shoulders.

“I-I’m sorry…”

“No, Yuuri. You have no reason to apologize.”

“I-I’m sorry, Iroha.”

The chairman laughs and shrugs her shoulders when seeing how she apologizes right again.

“Aah~… somehow I lost my tension.”

“Yuuri-chan, nice!”

He sends her a thumbs up.

“Eh? Eh? Did I do anything…?”

She blinks puzzledly, which makes the chairman giggle again.

“Shall we return to our main subject and start the introduction? I am the third year Iroha Shindou and, as you may know, the chairman of the student council. My special skill is that I can sleep anywhere. My hobby is track and field.”

“While being able to participate in events all over the land, Track and field athletics is just your hobby, huh? I bet you’re quite unpopular, aren’t you?”

Daiya butts in.

“You have a sharp tongue, huh? But it’s a simple fact that it’s my hobby. After all I’m not suited for track-and-field. In those events you have no other choice but to rely on your physical nature. And I’m not so gifted in that. Hence, I’m not suited. It’s just a hobby.”

“It’s called ‘sarcasm’!”

“‘-The youngster said sarcastically.'”

The chairman counters nonchalantly. To be able to keep up with Daiya, she really is superhuman.

She pokes the girl next to her with her elbow, urging her to continue.

“Ah, I-I am, um, a third-year and, err, was on good terms with Iroha in the first year when we were in the same class… umm, special skills and such as well, Iroha? Uuumm… I don’t know of any special skill… but my hobby is to read. My name is Yuuri — Yuuri Yanagi.”

“Eh?”

I mutter unknowingly.

Did she just say «Yanagi»?

“……Eh? Umm, d-did I say something weird?”

The girl that named herself «Yuuri Yanagi» becomes confused by my behavior.

“Ah”

I come to my senses again and shake my hands desperately.

“N-Nevermind! It’s just that I know someone with the same surname.”

“I-I see…”

Yanagi-san—would be confusing, so I’ll use Yuuri-san—is still looking in wonder at me, but then,

“Yuuri, are you done?”

“Ah, err…”

She is told so by the chairman and removes her gaze from me.

“Pl-Pleased to meet you.”

…Oh no, maybe she received a strange impression from me.

The brown-haired guy that is grinning at me opens his mouth.

“Yuuri-chan’s really cute. She’s my type.”

“Fhue!”

“Hey, first year, don’t hit on Yuuri! Also, you’re overfamiliar adding a ‘chan’.”

“By the way, you’re too strong-willed, hence not my type, Kaichou.”

“I don’t care. Now get on with your introduction.”

“Oka~y. I’m the first year Koudai Kamiuchi, nice to meet you. Ah, it’s especially nice to meet you, Yuuri-chan. Then, my hobby is to play on the slot machine. …ah, just to get things straight, the ones at game centers.”

Surprisingly, Daiya interrupts the introduction of the brown-haired guy, Koudai Kamiuchi.

“Aah, you’re that Kamiuchi, huh. I often hear rumors about you. Seems you have never lost on a Pachinko machine?”

“That’s not true, though. Well, but on the whole I definitely win. I have good eyes, basically.”

“The guy called Haruaki Usui scouted you once to get you to enter the baseball club, right? Because you were famous as the one that stormed through the sport tournaments in middle school.”

“Scout? Can’t really remember… but no, no, high school baseball is seriously impossible for me! And anyway, there’s no way someone as delicate as me could keep up with that draconic practice, right? The go-home club suits me best.”

Could it be that Kamiuchi-kun is, while not at the level of the «Three Supermen», an amazing person…?

“…umm, Yuuri-san.”

“Y-Yes?”

“Are you, by any chance, also extremely smart?”

“Eh? I-I am, um… not really.”

“Yuuri is always at the top in class 1.”

The chairman said plainly.

Third year, class one? That’s an elite class in liberal arts that’s aiming for the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto. She’s number one there…?

“T-That’s because you’re in the science class, Iroha. If you were in the liberal arts class, I’d lose to you without doubt…”

“Ah, by the way, it seems my results in the entrance exams were the second best. Yuuri-chan, we’re both second placers that can’t rival over-talented first placers, aren’t we?”

“H-Haah…”

So Kamiuchi-kun isn’t an ordinary person either.

“Hmm. I think I grasped the commonality of us. Top students… well, since science and liberal arts are quite different, so I can’t say for sure, but it seems we’re a gathering of each year’s first and second place students. The number of people would just fit.”

“Ah, but my results are just barely above-average? My results in the last exams were relatively good, but I was still just at the lower to—“

I swallow my started word.

Because the chairman, Yuuri-san and Kamiuchi are staring at me.

…Why? Did I just say something strange?

“Just confirming: Otonashi-san and Oomine-kun are top students, right?”

The chairman says with her gaze fixed on me. I nod silently.

“I see.”

She then asks with a smile in which only the eyes are not smiling:

“So why are you the only exception, I wonder?”

I wince at the coercion she didn’t even bother to conceal.

What is this? Why do they look at me like that?

“There is a limit to rashness.”

Hearing these words, the chairman removes her gaze from me. From me — to Maria.

“Why are you so strained when we don’t even know what kind of game this is? Does this mean that you endorse this «death-feud» and are eager to participate in it? If so, then you are the one we should be cautious of.”

“I-I agree. After all it’s not like anything has started yet…”

Upon hearing Maria out, Yuuri-san says so while peeking at the chairman.

As for the chairman, she purses her lips for a while. It’s not like she’s pouting – this merely seemed to be her habit when thinking.

She tightens her mouth and says with a sigh,

“That’s also true. Since it’s only a hypothesis that we’re a gathering of top students, it would be weird to be cautious of someone only because he doesn’t fit in, huh. Also, I guess I’d be tripped up by someone if I continued doubting everyone without basis.”

“Well, and the way I see it, you’re the most suspicious of us, Kaichou, with your actions being too quick.”

“Hahaha, I am suspicious? Take a look in the mirror sometime.”

Daiya flashes a satisfied grin upon hearing her words.

“…Umm, what are you doing? Are you already searching for the culprit?”

The corners of the chairman’s mouth raises slightly to this question I ask because I couldn’t follow their conversation.

“Rather than searching for the culprit, I’m just looking for people I have to be careful about. The wirepuller that schemed this game could be among us or a supporter of him could be here to try to spur this «death-feud» on. I want to disclose this as soon as possible if I discover something – before it’s too late.”

The wirepuller, huh.

Wirepuller, my ass — I know who the cause of this is.

—Daiya Oomine. Only he can possibly be the culprit.

…But I realize that I can’t just tell them of this fact.

Careless statements are not allowed here. I’m getting doubted just because I’m no top student. Actions that go against the flow of the others lead to doubt immediately.

What would happen if I said «this is the deed of a ‘box’ which was used by Daiya»?

It would seem more absurd to them than it is already. At most, they would think that I’d be trying to make Daiya the bad guy.

Therefore, no matter how true it is, I can’t tell them about the ‘box’.

This is probably also the reason why Maria has fallen into silence with a stern expression.

«WeLl, well, well – IT – seeMs you have – alreAdy started – tHe fuN of douBting – each oTher – as hoPed for – Very nicE»

We look all at once at the big monitor in the center of the room.

On display is the absolutely not cute green bear from before. His repulsiveness is even more conspicuous on the bigger screen.

The chairman flashes a wry smile while looking at the monitor.

“Uglypooh appeared again.”

«Watch your mouth and call me “Noitan-san”! Don’t be proud of yourself just because you’re a stinky council prez’ of some school!»

The chairman herself smiles full of ease, but Yuuri-san is startled by this foul mouth and graphic and cringes with a small scream.

…It’s not like her body’s small, but she sure looks like a little animal… though I’m not one to speak, since people often say the same to me.

“Give us an explanation already, Uglypooh.”

«Are you too dumb to comprehend words!? I hope you die first, bitch!»

“Oi, Kaichou-sama! Could you please be quiet? We won’t get anywhere like this.”

“Aye, aye.”

The chairman just shrugs her shoulders at Daiya’s sarcasm and closes her mouth obediently. After some silence Noitan cheers up again, his graphic returned to the normal one and he starts to speak with his awkward voice.

«I wiLl now – eXplain what – [Kingdom Royale] – is aBout!»

I gaze silently at the monitor.

«This is bAsically – a kiLLer-game – but to be – a liTtle more prEcise – it’s a gAme – in which eVEryone tries – to stEal – the kinG’s thronE!»

We exchange glances when hearing Noitan’s explanation.

«A [class] was – aSsigned to eaCh one – of you partiCipants – [Classes] can bE [King], [Prince], [The Double], [Sorcerer], [Knight] and [Revolutionary]! ThEy all hAve – their speCial – characTeristics»

“How can we find out our own [class]?”

«You cAn check – yoUr [class] on – the mOnitor in – yOur room! By the wAy – they are – tOUch-sensitive and cAn be – contrOlled acCording – to yOur [class]»

The chairman frowns and waits for the continuation.

«Okay, beFore I – explain to you – the [classes] – I will gIve you – sOme informaTion – about the stAge – of this [Kingdom Royale]! You knOw – this cOuntry – is a dicTatorship – that has invAded – many otHer countriEs – and—»

“Noitan.”

Maria interrupts Noitan who is about to start an explanation that would most likely be skipped by the players if it was a game.

«What – iS it – Maria-chan – ?»

“We don’t need that. Just tell us what we need to know about this game already.”

«You’ve got some nerve to take up such an attitude when I’m about to explain it all kindly to you! You’re conceited, you stinky brat!»

The graphic changes once again to the usual blood-shot eyes.

“Didn’t you use ‘stinky’ already for Shindou just now? What a poor vocabulary.”

«If you have the time for fault-finding you’d better find a fucking way to survive, you poor caged bird!»

Satisfied, his graphic returns to normal.

«It can – nOt be – hElped – I wIll – tell yOu – only the iMportant – pArts! FiRstly – you hAve to – abIde by the – timetable striCtly – or else yOu will – automaticAlly [lose] – So be – carefuL»

“…what happens when we [lose]?”

«Execution»

The air freezes.

«BeheAding to – bE exact! FAir enough – is it nOt? – Someone wHo can – not eVen abIde – by the tiMe – should beTter – just diE – aftEr all»

Yuuri-san doesn’t even blink. And as soon as she realizes that «execution» is to be taken literally, her face loses even more of its color.

Noitan ignores her reaction completely and proceeds.

«Also, – thEre is a – univErsal time liMit! Your fOod supply – consists of – sEven portions – of sOlid food – This is jUst enough – for oNe week – You wIll – not be hUngry – if you eAt one – of these mAgical – portions of sOlid food – eaCh da

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