A few minutes after that, Mashiro and I bought some cotton candy from a nearby stall, bought some candied apples, and enjoyed the festival. Apparently, the folks from the management had a desire to protect cute and adorable Mahiro, as they each gave her some special service, like making the cotton candy bigger, or the apples a bit cheaper. Every time this happened, they would give an energetic ‘What a great couple you are!’, which led Mashiro to blush, and I oddly enough didn’t hate it either.
Look at this, Oji-san. Or should I say, President Tsukinomori. We’re a great couple, aren’t we? Yeah. I don’t know from where he’s got his eyes on us, or his spy or whatever, but we should have perfected a couple’s acting.
The sky had turned black in the meantime as well, and an announcement told us that the fireworks would be starting in thirty minutes. An invisible heat started to fill the midst between the guests, as the temperature went up. It was the voltage running through the atmosphere right before the main event of the evening, the absolute climax of an otaku’s and normie’s summer all the same. I would have never imagined that I would ever stand in the middle of such an atmosphere.
It was the first time I stood on this side of things. I guess that the situation doesn’t matter for normies and mob characters, but rather the stance they have. No matter how much Mashiro and I might have acted like an average couple, going to a normie’s event, we still belong on the other side. Pretty sure that all the people who saw us today aren’t even aware of that.
After all, the most comfortable place of the evening, for us at least, was a bench beneath the trees, far away from the crowd of people.
“Mashiro is tired after all…Ahaha, getting used to too many people is too difficult it seems…”
“Drink this, it’ll pep you up.”
When I pushed a cold ramune bottle against Mashiro’s cheek, she showed a relieved reaction, and accepted it. Although it was night, we were still in the middle of summer. The temperature barely went down at night, and the mass of people we walked through didn’t help either. Mashiro looked like she had suffered from that, as I could see pearls of sweat on her face.
That’s why I bought her something cool to drink. Mashiro opened up the ramune bottle, and gulped it down. The baking soda had the tip of her nose twitch, as her eyebrows and mouth turned into an X. Watching this, I felt the urge to let out a giggle, but if I did that, I’d get accused of not knowing how a maiden’s heart works, so I swallowed it. I am a man who is capable of learning, see.
“Huh? Isn’t that Iroha-chan over there…?”
Having recovered thanks to the ramune, Mashiro muttered these words as she looked over at the crowd. Following her gaze, I saw a group of people the exact opposite of us, around seven girls walking around the festival as they chatted and laughed. The girl in the middle of this group was the same voice actress that had been with me today at Studio Otoi, my friend’s little sister, Kohinata Iroha.
The way she smiled now was the exact same she showed back in her class when I watched her. All that’s different now is the warm-colored yukata she was wearing instead of her uniform. She was a prim and proper, calm and kind honor student. She wasn’t acting too nonchalant and jesting, neither too strict and uptight, possessing the right amount of warmth and temperature to fit into the group.
“You’re right…So, why are you hiding?”
“B-Because…” Mashiro spoke up, as she hid her body behind the trees.
I didn’t even see her move there, jesus.
“It’d be awkward…if she saw us…”
“I told you that Iroha knows, right? About us being fake lovers.”
“That’s what makes it awkward…Like we’re doing something unfair…”
“That we’re the only ones enjoying the summer festival? I explained to the [5th Floor Alliance] that we’re going on a fake date because of the contract. Ozu doesn’t have any work so he’s focussed on clearing a new gal game, and Murasaki Shikibu-sensei is playing GranFan 7 Remake, so you don’t have to worry about them, they’re all enjoying their summer in their own way.”
“No, not because of that…Well, whatever. Mashiro has no reason to explain it to you.”
“A-Anyway, Mashiro doesn’t want her to see her, so just leave Mashiro here.”
…The heck is going on with her? I don’t think she had to hide like that, I wasn’t planning on just going over to talk to Iroha either way. She’s finally enjoying her time with her classmates after all. Also, I’m not that oblivious to just interrupt her fun while being merely her older brother’s friend, or a Senpai. But…I have to say, Iroha’s friends sure talk in a loud voice.
“—Yeah so, my boyfriend is literally the worst!”
Although we were quite a distance away, that high school girl’s voice reached my ears with no problem whatsoever. As if that acted as the trigger, the other girls started talking more loudly, as I could listen into their conversation easily.
“Staying at home for a date on a school-free date and all.”
“Ehhh, what’s the problem with that? That is something others would be so jelly about.”
“Not at all. Sitting at home just gets him all clingy.”
“Seriously? That sounds pretty great to me. I’d so brag about that.”
“How could I? That’ll just ruin my makeup in this heat.”
“Ah, makes sense.”
“I’d really be happy if he could just stop clinging to me all the time, you know. Do you never feel like your boyfriend’s so corny it’s annoying, Kohinata-san?”
The conversation of the two girls suddenly took a turn, thrown over at Iroha.
“Me? Well, his face is pretty annoying, but I guess I’m the clingy one in this case?”
What a solid way to respond. Even though she wasn’t part of the conversation at all until now, she gave a natural response.
“Oh, so you finally admit it then? You kept babbling on about not having a boyfriend until now~ Or was that a goal of this summer break?”
“That’s actually right…”
The girl poked her elbow at Iroha’s side, to which she cast her face down. Following that, she took out her smartphone.
“If you want to see him that badly, then I’ll show you—My boyfriend!”
“That’s, like, so funny! You’re still playing dumb, huh~”
“Ahaha. I can’t get a boyfriend that easy. I don’t even have someone I like~” She denied it even further.
“You sure got guts to say that while being so popular! Understand the feelings of the poor folk, you damned elite! You’ll regret waiting too long!”
“You’re the same age as me, so what do you have to say? Love isn’t everything nowadays!”
…A perfect job done by my Kouhai of all people. She played the invincible popular girl. Even though she could have earned herself endless amounts of hate with one small misstep, she used her own humour to not receive such jealous feelings. But, to think she’d just easily talk about what she normally does in my room like that, and even turn it into a joke. I wonder how these girls would react if they knew about Iroha’s real behaviour.
Ah. Iroha’s gaze just wandered over here, meeting mine. But, that exchange was brief, as she swiftly averted her eyes and continued talking with her friends.
I wonder why. For a second, I felt an odd sensation around my heart, like it was tightening up. Early stages of arrhythmia perhaps? I’ll have to look up these symptoms online once I’m back home. Health comes first after all.
And, just when I was thinking that…
I heard a voice filled with despair coming from Mashiro, still hiding behind the trees.
“What’s wrong, Mashiro?”
“Mashiro had no idea…Such a simple, obvious truth…Why did she never realize…”
“H-Hey, what are you talking about…?”
Her face was distorted in shock, her voice shaking. I didn’t even know how to properly call out to her in such a state. It’s like she got access to the hidden, dark world, as her expression was devoid of any color. From between her blue, quivering lips came the words that resembled the death magic of a ghost—
“Is it true…that if you wipe off your sweat, it ruins your makeup…?”
The words talked about an everyday topic. Why would she continue with these words after such a terrifying foreplay? If this was a story, a phrase like that would never appear, that’s how logical it is. And the only types of writers who’d use this are the ones who desperately need to fill some more pages.
…Sorry, when I helped Makigai-sensei, I did the exact same. I definitely can’t talk bad about others like this. Writing something when you’re not professional is terribly hard. But, leaving that side.
“I thought that was common sense, but you actually had no idea…?”
“H-How would Mashiro? Half of the year she just stays at home when she’s not at school…”
“You put on makeup every single day, so I thought you were used to that sort of thing…”
“Mashiro just studied this from those beauty Ytubers online. That’s why her knowledge is actually pretty limited…”
“You can make your makeup with such quality merely by looking up information online…? Today’s society is a scary place.”
“Huh…So when Mashiro wipes her face, she has to check her face in a mirror…No way, so then…even if she didn’t know, her makeup might have been ruined so many times before…?” The more she talked, the more sweat I could see build on her face. “E-Even now, Mashiro is sweating…N-Not good, she has to fix her makeup!”
“Ah, Mashiro! Where are you going?!”
“Don’t make Mashiro say it! You’re the worst!”
Ahh, the toilet. Knowing that, I couldn’t say any more, and just watched off Mashiro’s back as it grew more distant. Since we can just contact each other with our smartphones, she shouldn’t get lost, right. Thank you, technologic progress. But, that brings about the question as to what I should do while waiting for her.
“Ah, that’s right. Gotta report back.”
Of course, I was talking about the new character of the [5th Floor Alliance], Kokuryuuinkugetsu. Now that we finished the recording with no problems, and that we got everything done according to schedule, I gotta tell them. I booted up my LIME app, and first sent a message to Ozu, with a special request.
[AKI] Could you handle the announcement pop-up concerning Kokuryuuinkugetsu?
[OZ] Understood. I’ll make it so the time difference fits user ID
A response came in mere seconds. He would always respond immediately, no matter the time or day, making me question just when he’s actually sleeping. Well, he is an aspiring super engineer, so maybe he set up an AI that automatically responds…Though that might sound highly impossible, that’s just how clever yet fearful the [5th Floor Alliance]’s Ton* Stark, Kohinata Ozuma, is.
On a side note, to prepare for the time difference with the announcement, we have it set up on a rather weak borrowed server, but with the amount of users, we might as well get a stronger server soon. I was looking for a good cost-performance one, but I’m still struggling to find the right conditions…
As I was lost in thought, I looked down to the side of me. On top of the bench I was sitting, I spotted a familiar accessory case. It was the one Mashiro was holding onto just a while ago.
Don’t tell me…Getting a really bad vibe from this, I touched the accessory case from the outside. First thing I felt was a soft sensation, with round solid objects inside, making me guess that this was probably her wallet that had lost lots of its contents. Following that was a rectangle shaped hard sensation. That had to have been her smartphone.
“Are you serious? She left while leaving that behind? Now I can’t even contact her.”
And, since she never came up with the principle of fixing makeup after going out, she neither had a makeup porch with her, I bet.
“How much of an airhead can she be…!”
With the accessory case in hand, I stood up from the bench, and dove into the crowd in order to chase after Mashiro.
At the end of that…
“…I got lost.”
I guess I am just as much of an airhead. There’s the ironclad rule of what to do when losing each other. Once one person leaves a certain spot, the other party cannot do the same under any circumstances. Thinking about it, that should be logical thinking, but it completely slipped my mind in my confusion.
I looked left, I looked right, everywhere just people, people, people. Maybe because of the fireworks approaching, the amount of people only increased drastically. Even when I tried to go back the path I came, I drifted on a different path, not allowing me to return to that safe haven of a bench. How inefficient of an environment can this be, for crying out loud.
I kept grumbling to myself, directing my anger at myself and the world, when I surrendered my pride to ask someone for the directions of the toilets, and headed there. On my way there, someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey there Kiddo, did you find the missing person?”
“No, not at all…”
I heard the voice of an older man. Thinking it was the stall owner from before, I turned around with a smile. But…wait, I never told him about Mashiro going missing, right?
What greeted me was an awfully familiar annoying face, with a stuck-out tongue.
“Great reaction! A hundred points for that! As for the prize, take some cotton candy!”
“I don’t need any of that, I just ate some.”
“My, what a shame. I guess you spent enough of a sweet time with your girlfriend, right? I get it, I’ll gladly take your calories as well…Senpai~”
The person stuffing their cheek with cotton candy was my friend’s little sister, Kohinata Iroha. I see, so that voice just now was her faking it. That’s the voice actress of the [5th Floor Alliance] for you, who can voice every character from young or old, man or female.
“…What happened to your friends?”
“You mean the girls from my class?”
“Why are you rephrasing it?”
“Well, before I realized it, I got separated from them.” Iroha spoke nonchalantly as she ignored my comment.
Does she have no sense of danger? I can’t see any of the girls she’s been with around, but neither did she seem any lonely.
“Did you have a fight with Mashiro-senpai? You’ve been walking around alone for a while now.”
“…You were watching me?”
“For quite some time! I spotted you here and there, wondering what you were doing.”
“Then talk to me earlier!”
“Well, the girls from my class were around, hehe!” Iroha scratched the back of her head, and showed a wry smile.
Hm? So that means…
“You got separated from your friends when you were following me with your eyes?”
“Ohh! So sharp! Does that mean you’re prepared to take responsibility then?”
“As if I would. Why would I have to take the blame for you not paying attention.”
“No way…You had me go crazy over you, without intending to take responsibility? How cruel! Even my stomach has gotten big now!”
“Don’t blurt out nonsense that will have others get the wrong idea! The reason your stomach got bigger is because of all the food you’ve been eating at the stalls I bet!”
“By the way, even if I keep eating, I won’t get fat, so everything fits perfectly still!”
“Then you’re just straight-up lying. Stop spreading fake news.”
“Ouch! Hey! I got my hair bound up, so would you stop it!”
I gave Iroha a chop on the head, to which she held her head from the pain, and protested. Seeing that reaction, I regretted doing that.
“Sorry. I shouldn’t be so indifferent towards a girl’s appearance they worked so hard for, right.”
“That’s right! …Wait, what? Why did you just get so honest?”
“Well, I found out something important just a moment ago…”
I told her about what happened for Mashiro and me to get separated. That I was following her because she wanted to fix her makeup, but didn’t even have the tools for it. And how I ended up getting lost myself in the process. Having heard me out to the end, Iroha nodded to herself with crossed arms.
“There are times when Senpai really can be stupid as well, huh.”
“What’d you say? …No wait, Sumire-sensei told me something similar a while ago, I think…So am I actually an idiot?”
One person is one thing, but two people hold a certain credibility. And, they even hold the objective view as well. To be perfectly honest, during this fake date with Mashiro, all sorts of new emotions affected me, that my thought process grew weaker as a result. I guess this is what happens when I relax myself to gather desperately-needed experience.
That takes me back to when Iroha and I were at the beach, where she complained that I value myself far too low. Thanks to that, I started to have more confidence in my position inside the [5th Floor Alliance], and in myself as well. But, if I don’t want to stay clumsy forever when it comes to love, youth, and male-female relationships, I have to put in even more effort. The second I forget, it feels like an invisible God in the sky is reminding me.
Let’s focus on raising my skills there from now on…So that it doesn’t badly influence my other statuses of course, as well as the work of the [5th Floor Alliance].
“Well~ This blockheaded you is pretty cute, so I’ll take it~”
“The way you talk down on me really pisses me off.”
“Ahahaha! Even your annoyed face is so cute! Poke poke! Poke poke po~ke!” Iroha went overboard again, like she always would, and poked her slender finger at my cheek.
Though it was as annoying as always, it also reminded me of a clingy puppy, and that was pretty cute. And, it really isn’t satisfying for me to know that only I am aware of this cuteness. That is a major loss of profits for society as a whole, a highly inefficient situation. Well, leaving aside society as a whole, I want Iroha to get friends that allow her to smile like she is now.
“Hmm…But, being lost without her phone is a bit troublesome. Though, if things really went down the drain, you should probably just meet up again at the flat.”
“Right…But, as her boyfriend, I’d feel horrible to just leave her alone and lonely.”
“Ohhhh? Senpai, you’re treating this seriously, I see~”
“I’m trying hard to convince President Tsukinomori after all…I don’t know who might be watching.”
“And it would be bad if they saw us together, right~? Hehe.”
“I think it should be fine if we both searched for Mashiro together.”
I felt like that weird intonation of hers symbolized a joyful mood that she only barely managed to hide. Two friends (and herself) ended up lost, but it is on a summer festival. Since we’re in a relatively safe and organized town, just as Iroha said, it really isn’t that much of a problem. That would make sense why Iroha was getting a bit excited, seeing that she was used to me, and this is always how things ended up.
When I declined Iroha’s invitation, I had a lot of regrets to be honest. It felt like I had to push away a small puppy, who was joyfully wagging its tail at the thought of playing with me. But now, that guilt has vanished a bit.
…That being said, I wasn’t planning on leaving Mashiro of course, but just at least enjoy the time with Iroha as we were searching for her.
Even a few minutes after we started to run around looking for Mashiro and Iroha’s classmates, we were left with no progress whatsoever. We went to check the toilets around, and even returned to the previous bench, but Mashiro was nowhere to be found. Was she angry and went home, by chance? I hope not, the guilt would kill me.
“I wonder where Mashiro-senpai went. Maybe she got mad and went home?”
“Seriously? Even though she made that date plan herself…”
“But, you’re the lost child that ran away from the place you were supposed to wait at. She has all the right to be pissed.”
“Ugh…You’re not wrong about that.”
I couldn’t say anything back to that…But, her not even missing out to be annoying at a time like this, this has to be some skill.
“Well, knowing that this is about Mashiro-senpai, she wouldn’t just abandon you.”
“You have any proof for that?”
“Hmm…A woman’s intuition, I guess!”
“So just a shot in the dark, huh.”
“Aaaaanyway! All we can do is continue looking for her. It’s your precious girlfriend, so let’s hurry up and find her YO!”
“Yeah, gotta work a bit harder than this, I guess.”
With her usual annoying intonation, Iroha pulled my arm along as she started walking…But, right after that, I realized too late that what we’re doing right now…if an outsider were to see this…
“Ahhh!!! Kohinata is on a date with her boyfriend!”
Yeah, exactly that. The second I heard those words, the situation was already beyond any help. In shock, I turned around to find brown hair with twirled tips, a stylish girl with the looks of a normie. She wore a flashy yukata, as her mouth opened and closed in shock, her index finger pointing at us. Wasn’t she also watching over Iroha at the library room…?
Correction, she’s an actual stalker. I think her name was Tomosaka Sasara, right. From the looks of it, she came here with her boyfriend, as she had a man standing next to her. He had a tall build, brown-hair as well, was pretty handsome, with a pierced ear, a silver skull accessory hanging down from his neck, and rings on his fingers, albeit cheap-looking ones. He was wearing his own private clothes instead of a yukata, but his shirt had a skull design on it.
Though I haven’t spotted any like this ever since I started attending highschool, this is probably the perfect example of a SUPER delinquent you’d often see in middle school. With his stature, his face, he should be a university student, or a third-year in high school. I really don’t think he could be younger than me.
In all honesty, they looked like a perfect fit.
“Ugh…” The second Iroha spotted Sasara, a truly unpleasant grunt came out of her mouth.
It was barely loud enough that I could hear it, but the other person didn’t. Looking over at Iroha, I witnessed the moment where her prim expression broke for a second, as she had trouble keeping a straight face.
“T-Tomosaka…san. W-What a coincidence.”
“Well yeah, it’s a big festival, so of course there’s a good chance we’d run into each other. More importantly though…I saw it! I totally saw it! That you got a man with you! It’s just as I thought!”
“A man? Senpai is just my Senpai though.”
“Hmmmm? Can you really say that in a situation like this?”
Sasara grinned, taking a peek at Iroha’s face. In response to that, Iroha cast her face down. Evidently, Iroha was acting different from usual. Normally, she would try her hardest to annoy me by being clingy, actively acting to make people think I had a girlfriend.
But, right now, Iroha has denied this sort of relationship. If anything, the one troubled the most is Iroha herself. That reminds me, when she was preparing for the culture festival with her class, she also denied having a boyfriend there. Even though there was a time when she came to my classroom before, loudly declaring that ‘We are dating!’, always trying to trouble me with that. So are the second-year classrooms safe, but not the first-year classrooms? Would it be bad if some rumour went around between the first-years or something? Or, is there a reason why she had to stop herself from openly announcing it any further?
Either way, it seems like she doesn’t want Sasara to think that I’m her boyfriend. I guess I should give her a helping hand.
“It’s just as Iroha says. I’m not her boyfriend, and she isn’t my girlfriend.”
“Again with that~ Even though you looked…so…close…” Sasara laughed, only for her voice to disappear, and her expression to freeze up. “Ah…Ahhh! You’re that Nomad-senpai stalker man?!”
“What kind of horrible way to remember me is that…”
“Ohhh, so you were Kohinata’s boyfriend, huh. That’s why you were in the library.”
“How annoying. The conclusion is fairly close, but your calculations reaching there are way off.”
“D-Don’t remind me of that careless miss…With one only more step, I could have reached Kohinata…”
Apparently that invoked quite the trauma. But, this emotional instability she has…she seems like quite the interesting specimen.
“…Huh! Who cares about the grades of a test right now!” Sasara had stopped agonizing over the past, and instead directed her gaze over at Iroha.
“The level of the man with them defines the ‘status’ of a woman, right? How could that nomad plain Senpai hope to win against my CHARO~?” Sasara jerked the chin of the man.
CHARO? …Ah, that guy’s name? It sounds like a member’s name of some boy group. I guess he really is one of those big normies. Comparing myself objectively to that party-goer with his well-built body, I really can’t hope to win alright. But, to my surprise, Iroha was the one who immediately argued against Sasara’s words.
“Hmpf…You don’t even know Senpai, isn’t it a bit rude to say that?”
She managed to regain her honor student smile, but her mouth and cheeks were twitching with anger, looking like she was about to explode.
“Ahh, soz, soz! I guess you don’t like it when I talk badly about your boyfriend~ But, you know, the man with you really doesn’t fit you at all~ I’m just giving you a well-meant warning so that your status won’t drop~”
“Nobody asked you to do that. Whoever I’m walking around with is none of your business, right?”
“Huuuuh? I’m just worr…Not that! Although it might just be because of the grades you have, you’re standing above me, so be a bit more careful about the man you choose! Better not be a dull man like him!”
…Now I’m certain of it. She really is an interesting specimen, and a bit crazy as well. I guess that you could refer to her as a tsundere, seeing that she immediately goes to hide any sort of kindness or sweetness that accidentally leaks out of her mouth. She’s got that tsundere attribute, a bit of a hot-temper, and annoying attitude…A hot-tempered annoying tsundere!
I’d love to create a new character based on her, but I’m a bit worried that the users wouldn’t even be able to follow this barrage of attributes. I feel like I wouldn’t even come up with any good lines for her. Just like with Kanaria, there’s a lot of odd folk running around on this world, even though we’re living in a normal reality, and not some fantasy world.
“Who is dull? Senpai is really kind, clever, and the best kind of man you could have, you know?”
The Iroha VS Sasara verbal battle continued. For some reason, Iroha sounded like she was slowly but steadily getting pissed at Sasara. Though, rather than being happy about her protecting me in front of others, I just felt embarrassed, so I hoped she’d stop anytime soon. Iroha never said stuff like that straight to my face after all…
“How?! He’s totally a loner! Probably the type to play games all day and watch anime!”
“Correct!” I snapped my fingers and jumped into the conversation.
“Don’t just agree!”
“Senpai, be quiet for a bit.”
That being said, the two girls immediately forced me to shut up…You’re talking about me, so I think I deserve a bit more freedom of speech…No? Okay…If I had to guess, Sasara was probably fully intent on badmouthing me, but since most of the stuff she said was absolutely true, I didn’t even feel hurt from that. If anything, Iroha’s reaction is more surprising to me.
But, just when I might have gotten the wrong idea, the person that had been the personification of ‘Air’, Tomosaka Sasara’s boyfriend, opened his mouth for the first time.
“Hey, would you leave it at that already. You’re being way too rude, Nee-chan.”
“Zip it. You have no right to…Eh, ahhhhhhhh?!” A shriek resembling a Mandrake1 came out of Sasara’s mouth.
But, before caring about this scream, Iroha and I picked up a word even more interesting.
The two of us muttered at the same time, as Sasara’s (fake) boyfriend—CHARO—showed a warm smile and reached out with one hand.
“I kinda missed the timing to introduce myself before, sorry about that. I’m Nee-chan’s younger brother, Tomosaka Chatarou. Nee-chan’s constantly giving me some weird nicknames, but I’m a fully-fledged Japanese person.”
“Oh, how polite. Nice to meet you.” I responded to his greeting, and shook his hand.
Also, his hand is gigantic. What is he, a baseball player?
“Younger brother…means that you’re in middle school?”
“Yup, middle school second-year.”
“Woah…I don’t see that at all.” I couldn’t help but be baffled.
“I often hear that. A lot of people seem jealous about this, but to me it’s more of a complex…When I try to act cool, they just call me a blockhead, which is why I put on stuff like this.” Chatarou said, as he played with the silver accessory hanging down his neck.
Now that he mentioned it, with all these skulls on his appearance, it really feels like a typical middle-schooler fashion.
“CHARO! I told you not to call me ‘Nee-chan’ outside! Why are you just revealing that?!”
“Shut it, GRAMMA. I told you I didn’t want to come here, but you baited me by paying me!”
“Gra…Who’s a GRAMMA, you shitty brat! You’re getting some of my allowance, so at least act along!”
“That’s what I was planning on doing, but you just started talking smack about manga, games, anime and whatever. So that got me pissed. I have some high respect for otaku stuff like that.”
“Then give me back my allowance, my thousand yen!”
A sibling’s quarrel started in front of us. At the same time, Iroha and I were left alone. Most likely, we were thinking about the exact same thing.
“Eh, you paid your younger brother to act as your fake boyfriend?”
Iroha looked at Sasara in disgust, as she took a few steps back.
“Even though you declined the offer of our classmates?”
“I-I-I-I wasn’t lying, okay! I am walking around the festival with a handsome guy!”
“But, paying your younger brother to forcefully come with you…Aren’t you embarrassed…?”
Sasara tried to talk her way out of this situation, but Iroha showed no remorse. With that, Sasara had to grit her teeth, finding no words to retaliate with.
“Nee-chan is such a show-off, you now. She didn’t want her class to know that she doesn’t have a boyfriend.”
“Ghuraaaah! Why do you keep revealing everythiiiing?!”
“Shut up. You should know that I’m bad at lying GRAMMA! …Oh?” Chatarou shook off his little sister as she desperately clung to him, when he crammed his hand in his pocket.
He took out his smartphone, and let out a happy noise.
“Ohhh! An update for [Black Goat]!! A new character?! Heck yeah!”
A shock like lightning hit both Iroha and me. We exchanged swift eye-contact, and talked to each other with our mouths shut.
(He’s talking about the Kokuryuuinkugetsu update, right?)
(Yeah, I’m sure. I just told Ozu to send out the notice. He must have gotten out just now.)
(So this is…an encounter with a genuine fan!)
(To think we’d run into a user here…Shit, I’m starting to sweat…)
Even after [The Night The Black Goat Screamed] had crossed the one million downloads, it didn’t stop. As of right now, around two million people have downloaded the app. Of course, on social networks and on the web, we could see the feedback of players, but besides those involved, we’ve never met someone in person who actually plays the game.
…An average user…is right in front of us…If you’re wondering why this is such a big thing, then let me explain. Even if people online praise it on various boards and forums, this feeling of reality doesn’t really set in. The numbers might be one thing, but there’s a chance they could be bots, or people that didn’t actually play it, making it feel unreal, and fake…Or maybe that’s just me, who knows.
“Ahhh! You’re playing that game again! It makes you reek of otaku, so stop it already!”
“Huh?! Are you making fun of my beloved masterpiece? Better watch your mouth, or you’re done for.”
At the same time, the two siblings continued their banter. But, I wasn’t even listening to them anymore.
The sound of these words reverberated inside my chest…Ah, not good. I am happy, really happy, but I can’t just rest on this praise. Just take it in, and live on…
“Oh, are you Senpais interested as well?”
“Eh? A-Ah, yeah…”
I wasn’t lying. I was indeed interested in it (namely the voice of a fan).
“Just for reference, what is so good about that game?”
“I’m glad you asked! It would take some time to get into detail, but…”
Ah, I’ve heard about this before. Gotta focus up, there’s going to be an essay following. Murasaki Shikibu-sensei often does that.
“First, there’s the atmosphere and world view of the game! I heard that the super famous author Makigai Namako-sensei wrote the scenario for it, and tried it out for that, but it really is thick and dense with lots of detail everywhere! It has that Namako character, where one strand of story splits up into various small areas and stages, diverging into unexpected directions—”
The first runner is the scenario, huh. He gave impressions on the world view, the most prominent review we get for [Black Goat] from what you call the light users.
“Then, there’s Murasaki Shikibu-sensei’s illustrations! I never heard of them before, but now I’m a total fan of theirs! The characters looked crazy cute, and have this odd realistic charm to them. Aesthetics, you call it? Just watching them gives me the shivers, I’ve never seen anything better than that—”
The second athlete turned out to be the illustrations, and the impressions about the character design and the CG. He probably fell for Murasaki Shikibu-sensei’s drawings’ charm not because of reason, but intuition.
“The programmer OZ-san is putting out some insane technically-advanced stuff as well! The real-time changing exploration events in the mansion on an entirely different level. The build-up of character’s affection towards gameplay and the tightly connected events are always implemented perfectly. The variations of events and events themselves are easy to reach, and with regular updates, it never gets boring—”
The middle-field is taken by the program, and his impressions towards the game system. The main reason to create a game like this was to let the world know of Ozu’s incredible programming skill, and unexpectedly, that turned into a big topic over on social networks.
“There’s also the characters’ voices, with the acting skill being some of the best I’ve ever witnessed. Every voice fits the characters perfectly, and just listening to them is the best! Especially the scene where the heroine talks about her feelings of despair and depression hit me right in the heart…That can’t be any ordinary person. Even the professionals stated their opinions on social networks, and the voice actor otaku police is constantly looking for these voice actors. I wish I’d be able to meet one of them at least once in my life—”
The fourth athlete is the voice acting, impressions on the character’s voices. Without any definite reason, you just can’t help but get sucked into the world…
“…But, the person who organizes all of that is the most amazing in my opinion. Their producer AKI really is holding together this team of geniuses. He has my respect!”
The final runner arrived. Even though normally, he’s merely supposed to finish the job, using the hard work of the previous four runners, with him praising me like this, I couldn’t help but take it as a huge compliment, which left me staggering behind in surprise.
“O-Okay…? I see…”
“AKI managed to get a super skilled illustrator like Murasaki Shikibu-sensei that has never appeared in any publisher or games before, had OZ-san work alone on the system even though nobody knew about him, and managed to win over Makigai Namako-sensei so that he would write the script for them. Not to mention these voice actors that never officially appeared elsewhere. He gathered all of them to create such an amazing game. Any normal person wouldn’t have been able to do that! There’s the rumours going around that a super ace of a producer belonging to the anime industry is just doing this one side, but I have no way of knowing what he really looks like.”
I’m right in front of you though.
“But, that doesn’t change that fact that I’m crazy thankful to them for making such an insanely fun game though!”
“Ahhhhhhh…how do I say this…yeah. Chatarou-kun, you’re a good guy.”
“Wha, what happened, Senpai?!”
Summer festival, filling my burning chest strong, the voice of the fan—I was so moved, I happened to think with a 5-7-5 haiku meter in my head. I always thought that hearing out the users should only be done in a modest amount, as it could lead to me changing my attitude, thinking that I don’t have to improve anymore. That’s why I never tried to directly contact any users, but…
Seeing a fan burn up with passion right in front of me makes me happy nonetheless.
Next to me, showered in joy, was Iroha, grinning to herself. She must have had trouble holding back her happiness as well. Whilst barely managing to keep her honor student mode, Iroha spoke up.
“You really are a good kid, aren’t you~ …Unlike Tomosaka-san.”
“Huh?! All he did was talk about otaku stuff, right?”
“Don’t you know? Praising something makes your own likability go up…Way more than always trying to find fault with someone…you know?”
“Ugh…!” Sasara shook in rage.
At the same time, Iroha watched this with a satisfied smile…I see, so Iroha can even talk back to girls her age like this. Seeing this for the first time, I was filled with an unexpected comfortable sensation.
“Tch, CHARO you moron! Because of you, Kohinata treated me like I’m some idiot!”
“Like I care, you dug your own grave, right?!”
“Enough already! You better remember this, Kohinata!”
“Nee-chan, look ahead of you when you’re walking—”
“Kyaaaun?! Ah, I-I’m sorry! It was my fault that I bumped into you, I’m terribly sorry!”
Sasara tried to escape from this place after apparently losing against Iroha, when she bumped into another customer, and Chatarou hiding his face in shame. He must have it rough, having an older sister like her. My condolences, brother in arms.
“Alright, I’ll have to go with Nee-chan or she might end up lost. Um…Ah, Senpasi, what were your names again? I think I know you, because Nee-chan always talks about you. Kohinata-senpai, was it?”
“Yup, I’m Kohinata Iroha~ And, this right here is my Senpai…”
“Ooboshi-senpai! I’m attending Kouzai Middle School nearby, so if we meet again, let’s talk some more! And tell me about your impressions with [Black Goat] in case you ever get around to playing it!”
I feel he could talk about it for another 72 hours, but I have no plans about joining that, so I’ll give a blank response. If I have about two hours free time, I wouldn’t mind though.
“Why are you spacing out like that, shitty brat! Let’s go already!”
“Huh? Shut up, GRAMMA! I’m coming over right now.”
The siblings walked off with her usual banter. After watching them with a gently waving hand, Iroha had a bright grin on her face, sticking out her tongue.
“Don’t. You. Ever. Come. Here. Again!”
“It’s pretty convenient that you can say something like that with an expression the exact opposite.”
“I’m an aspiring voice actress after all. Grin!”
“Stop getting on a high horse every single time.” I gave Iroha an immediate warning, seeing that she already started to get cheeky just by being praised by Chatarou.
I know how she’s feeling, but too much self-conceit is the quintessence of arrogance. From here on out, and the months to come, we have to keep working hard so that our users can continue to enjoy our game. I’ll gladly take this opinion as a reference, but any more than that Yeah say it one more time please! …Wait a second, I feel like my consciousness is being split here.
I took a deep breath, and returned to the main subject. These two really are a special kind of siblings alright. To think that Sasara would decline the invitation in her LIME class group, only to pay her little brother to act as a fake boyfriend. How did she even come up with that? I guess people with no common sense really exist in this world.
Well, acting as fake lovers with someone else, Mashiro and I are doing the same thing, I guess. I wonder if the two of us look just as odd from an outsider’s perspective? …Yeah, I don’t want to think about that. I’ll save that thought for later, yup.
“Are you on bad terms with that Tomosaka girl?”
“Mm, I guess so?”
“So even you don’t get along with classmates of yours, huh.”
“Well, I have my position at school, so I don’t want to act like that there, I guess. Apparently I’m her enemy or whatever.” Iroha showed a complicated expression. “Even if I try to act on normal terms with everyone from my class, she is just constantly pushing me around and approaching me…It’s just really hard to deal with her, I guess?”
“I see, I totally understand how you feel.”
“Is it just my imagination or am I hearing some underlying implication here?”
“Implication or not, I was just thinking that you were doing the exact same thing.”
“Ehhh?! Don’t lump me together with her! Tomosaka-san is just annoying, and I am your cute adorable little sister.”
“You’re my friend’s little sister, get it right.” I corrected her right away.
Just by taking away one part of the phrase, the meaning can change completely, so please keep that in mind, people.
“Well, that’s how it is. I just don’t want to be involved with her, that’s all.”
“I see…” I gave a blank response as I looked at Iroha’s profile.
She seemed to be angry, but there’s no force behind it. Even though she normally has no problems acting like an honor student, as soon as it comes to dealing with Tomosaka Sasara, she has troubles in doing so. There might be a hint on how to help Iroha make some friends if I keep a closer look on that, so that it isn’t just a relationship with purely positive affection.
There might be a chance to find a candidate as Iroha’s friend in those that she has trouble dealing with, or even hates. The opposite of liking someone is being indifferent, but the opposite of ‘Like’ never is ‘Hate’.
“Ah, there’s Kohinata-san! We’ve been going Kōnosuke2 everywhere because of you~”
After we split up with the Tomosaka siblings, a bit of time had passed. Even in this immense crowd, we could hear that voice loud and clear. As we turned around, we saw a few of Iroha’s classmates waving their hands at us. Also, this ‘Kōnosuke’ is one of the most famous Japanese inventors of all time, so I guess this has to be some nonsensical joke. Probably some weird JK language again.
“Everyone~ Sorry that I got separated~” Iroha gave a bright response, showing that she was back in honor student mode.
Clapping their hands together, giggling, it was like I saw a picture book example of JK culture. To me, who lived in the world of mobs, it was too bright of a sight.
“Ah, who’s that?”
“He’s a Senpai of mine from my club in middle school. I happened to run into him, so we just talked about the past~”
“Cool~ Heyho, Senpai-san~”
“Y-Yeah, hey.” I happened to stutter in my response.
Something bad with that? I don’t have much experience with a girl suddenly talking to me like that. Also, how can she just frankly talk to me like that? JKs are friggin scary.
“Don’t tell me, is that Senpai-san your boyfriend~?”
“Stop teasing me~ It’s not like that. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“—Yeah, guess that makes sense!”
Oi, don’t just accept it like that……I mean, it’s not like I want them to mistakenly assume that I am Iroha’s boyfriend or anything? It’s just that her accepting it without any doubts can be quite hurtful for someone.
‘Dear customers, we’ve made you wait. The fireworks are about to begin.’
I heard a voice above my head. It came from the various speakers set up around us. Like small hatchlings responding to their mother, the JKs started talking with their high-pitched voices.
“Ohhh, fireworks time?”
“I’m totally looking forward to the fireworks! I’m lacking the vocabulary to say it though.”
“Senpai-san, is there a one-time chance you’ll be sipping up the fireworks tapioca as wells?”
Is she talking to me? It was so far away from standard English, I thought she was using some foreign language. Iroha apparently couldn’t see me suffer any more like that, as she whispered the solution to that formula to me.
“She’s asking if you’d like to watch the fireworks with us, Senpai.”
“That’s what she was asking? I had no idea…”
A girl invited me, just like that. She invited a man she had never seen before with no hesitation whatsoever. I don’t really know many normie girls, but I guess not all of them are bad people? Or is this just the proof of her being a bitch who’s used to inviting boys? Either way, it doesn’t matter. Because I can’t accept that invitation.
“I know, you’re worried about Mashiro-senpai after all. If you want, I can—”
“No, I’m fine in that regard. You just enjoy the fireworks with your friends, Iroha.”
“…Alright, understood~” She gave a secret annoying grin back at me, when she returned to being a normal JK. “No can do, you guys. Senpai already has a date with his girlfriend, so we can’t bother him.”
“It is a date, right? Senpai.” Iroha put a bit more emphasis into her words, as she gave me a strong gaze.
…Yeah, that’s right. This time, I really am the lowest kind of bastard, my own job to properly finish this fake date with Mashiro. If I don’t give an immediate response here, I’m not fit to be her fake boyfriend.
“—Yeah, that’s it. We got separated a while ago, but I came here with my girlfriend. I’m looking for her so that we can watch the fireworks together.”
“Is that so~ Soz for not catching on, I’m a bit of a KY3 at times, seeyas!”
“…I’ve been wondering for a while, but is that actual JK language?”
“Actual, lol! It changes with my mood, you know!”
Is that what it is? Well, seeing her choice of words, that would make sense. It’s vague, aloof, sloppy. To a level where mobs and background characters like Mashiro and I can’t even understand it. I’m sure that living that way is much more comfortable than what we are doing. Then again, I can’t just change my way of living this late into the game.
“Then, see you. You all get along with Iroha—Kohinata, okay?”
“Of coursies shortsies!”
“Take care of Mashiro-senpai, Senpai~”
The JK smiled as she said words she probably came up with just a second ago, and Iroha waved her hand at me, as she sent me off.
The fireworks were about to begin, but Mashiro still wasn’t with me. I looked up at the starry sky all alone, wondering just what exactly I was doing. Until this day arrived, I was fully engrossed in work. I mean, it was only small and miniscule work like scheduling the recording, making the announcement banner, or creating the schedule for the release, but still. There was also me working for school and studying, so in the general understanding, I was indeed ‘busy’.
At the same time, it feels like I’ve turned a blind eye to efficiency as well. Ozu was playing that gal game all day, and Murasaki Shikibu-sensei did the same with GranFan 7 Remake. That’s essentially the proof of that. The biggest reason for that was, of course, that week at the Kanaria Residence. There, we finished the groundwork for our new character Kokuryuuinkugetsu. Normally, that would take us more than two weeks, but now that we finished it in barely one, that would obviously create some free time.
It was like a large white space appeared on the canvas of my life, covering up all sorts of other colors. Being reminded that I had no idea what to do with this situation, I just walked against the stream of people.
Mashiro was nowhere to be found. I went back to the bench we previously rested at, but nobody came there either. The same happened for the toilets. Me walking around alone must have been an odd sight, as the folks from the stalls gave me glances all the time. In the midst of those was the goldfish scooping stall old man from before. I guess that, to them, who had seen our date scenes before, it must seem as if I got rejected. Even though I was the one who did the rejecting.
“Yeah…I rejected her…”
I thought about Mashiro. I only saw this as a fake date for the future of the [5th Floor Alliance], but to Mashiro, this was a date with the man that had rejected her. What did I feel when seeing Tomosaka Sasara pay her young brother for a fake date, solely for her pride? Didn’t I think of it as ridiculous, and pathetic?
At the same time, I thought about today’s Mashiro, her every action. About the date scenes, the details to it, they all came spinning back inside my head. But, this time, I didn’t look at it from my own POV. Rather, I gazed at it from an outsider’s perspective, a general view. It was…ridiculous, right…And yet, Mashiro should have been aware of that, more sensitive to that than anybody else.
‘Even Mashiro has pride, you know. She knows that she doesn’t have any value, and that she can’t compete against these outgoing, always-happy girls. But, being ganged up on like that still hurts.’
This is a story of around two to three months ago. Mashiro told me these words inside that pitch-black movie theatre, as she remembered the days before she transferred to our school. Because Iroha fought back for her, fought against these girls, she couldn’t move forward. She couldn’t resolve anything with her own strength. Wasn’t she now trying to overcome everything she couldn’t back when she was little?
The first patch of fireworks went up into the air, as astonished voices followed. It was a rain of lights, split up in seven colors. Before, we could only admire this flower on a high peak, up from a tree, but now there was no need for that anymore. Though, the sky was still too far away to directly grasp it.
—Ah, that’s right, there was one more time. An event where Mashiro did not try to reach out with her hand. What if today’s theme of the date is to clear all these events, no matter how pathetic and laughable it may be?
“A dark, high-up place, huh…”
Back when Mashiro had barely transferred to our school, I found her in the cinema on the highest seats, using this information. I’m sure she’ll be there. But, before going, I have to come up with my own answer. For Mashiro, who is trying her hardest to move forward, to accomplish something, what can I, her fake boyfriend, do for her? And, that can’t just be for the sake of the [5th Floor Alliance]. It has to be for a single girl, Tsukinomori Mashiro, as she is giving it her all for me.
I kept thinking and thinking, using my brain cells in the most efficient way, as the memories of today flashed before my eyes. And, the result that arrived in front of me had me satisfied. I realized this ridiculous truth.
—What, that’s what this was. How idiotic.
There’s only one present I can give to Mashiro. I took out my smartphone, called a certain individual, and started running towards Mashiro’s location—the best possible location to watch the fireworks.
「Guess the fireworks started now. But, will our protagonist make it in time?」
「I’ll make it in time. It’s my duty has her boyfriend after all」
1 That screaming plant from Harry Potter.
2 I have no idea. Maybe because his name is written with the kanji for ‘Lucky’ and ‘Save’, but beyond that, no clue
3 A person who can’t read the mood
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