Chapter 6: With complete bias, Hikigaya Komachi would win every single time
Time had rampaged onwards, regardless of how stressed we all began to feel, as it crept closer and closer to the deadline. Because of that, I had gotten into the state of flow and pretty much ignored everything as I worked tirelessly doing...well, if I were to describe all of it, it would fill another chapter. For better or for worse (and it's most likely for the better), Iroha thrust open the Komachi helper floodgates and let loose the tasks that she had been holding back from me. And boy, was there a lot.
Today was the day as indicated by the calendar in the student council room with many red circles.
Of course, handling the preparations at, uh, freaking four in the morning still took a heavy toll on us all. It was only at nine, when we got things in the rhythm, when I could finally step back and appreciate it all. Thus, after I stretch, I literally did take a step back and observed the bustling event I helped make.
Even though I had been part of the preparations, things sure ballooned up to a scale that made my jaws drop. It had just sunk in.
The crowd was dense and packed. People almost certainly bumped shoulders with each other as they navigated between stands and attractions. The ruckus of conversation, cheers and screaming almost entirely drowned out any songs and music that the attractions played.
It was no simple block event. It was a festival.
The festivities stretched from the school's courtyard to the streets left and right. You couldn't see every part of the event with just a single glance. If you wanted to do so, you would have to get your feet moving.
"Umm... Onee-san, can you please tell me where the dango stand is?"
A teeny tiny boy came up to me and asked that with slightly nervous eyes.
"Right in the courtyard, little guy. It's near the takoyaki stand," I replied.
The boy looked around with a puzzled expression. It seemed like I wasn't clear enough.
I walked up to him, grabbed his shoulders, and gently twirled him around so that he was facing the right direction.
"Do you see it now?" I asked.
"Huh... Ah! I see it! Dango!" the boy said excitedly, "Thank you very much Onee-san! Let's go, Hiro!"
The boy's friend, Hiro, came out of nowhere. With noodles hanging out from his mouth, Hiro met up with his friend, and off they went to fill their stomachs. Ah, being called "Onee-san" always hits me right in the soft part of my heart (you don't want to know what the hard part is like)!
Looks like everything was in tip-top shape. There was nothing pressing left to do except to entertain the guests. We had achieved our fairytale ending. This concludes the story.
"Oh goddess, SHOCK! Where art thou, SHOCK-sama!?"
A great flabbergasted fattening voice bellowed out in the auditorium. The glutton in question, Zaimokuza Yoshiteru, paced back and forth with his cheeks glistening from sweat.
I had retreated here to eat my lunch after a hard morning's work guiding guests around and overall being a good girl. Believe me, it takes a lot of effort to be a perfect 10/10 Komachi.
By coming here, I had also hoped to refill my love meter as well by feasting my eyes on the adorable little kids as they rehearsed for the play. Unfortunately, there seems to be a less-than-minor problem, and the rehearsal wasn't working out so well. The kids were, more or less, sitting around and taking an extended break. Maybe it had something to do with whatever Zaimokuza just said.
I asked him, "What seems to be the problem?"
"You! Hachiman's little sister!" bellowed Zaimokuza as he pointed at me with his flabby arm, "The performance cannot proceed like this! Because there is an unwanted abseeeeeeeeeeeeence! C-Could it be!? Has the organization caught up to me!? My right arm! It's trying to tell me something!"
Why was Zaimokuza over here again? Who put him in charge of the kids? I swear, if my life was like a book and you were to flip back a few pages, I doubt the word "Zaimokuza" would have showed up even once. Is this some special skill of his, to show up out of nowhere?
More importantly, he said something about an unwanted absence. Did he just mean that one of the actors was missing?
"Um, did one of them get lost or something?" I asked with a strained smile.
"Umu! Indeed, you are a sharp one. As expected of my apprentice's little sister," said Zaimokuza as he nodded repeatedly in awe.
It wasn't really that awe-inspiring since he was the one who said it first.
"Which one of them is missing?"
"Uh, the one who is playing the goddess SHOCK-sama. Her name is Ogura. She has a light brown short bob-cut and is really quiet and I'm really worried about her..." said Zaimokuza in a really docile voice all of a sudden.
It seemed like that nonsense he was spouting earlier was, in fact, not actually nonsense.
One of the kids bounced over here. It was Kawasaki Keika.
"Ah, Ogura-chan! She is at the food!"
Keika gave me the sweetest smile as she said that. Oh, you.
"Hmm... 'the food' probably means the food vendors," I murmured.
Keika stared at me with big eyes for a few seconds, then nodded.
"Then, that means the courtyard."
It was the same place that the little guy and his friend Hiro had went to earlier. Wow, the path to finding Ogura-chan was already coming together!
"Ah! As caretaker, guardian, daycare nanny, sentinel, babysitter and paladin, I shall take this responsibility unto myself and partake in this fetch quest!" bellowed Zaimokuza.
Two of those words were not like the other. Although, because of his role, he shouldn't be wandering around and leaving these kids alone.
"Relax, Chuuni, I can take care of it," I said, "My break's pretty much done anyway."
"Eh? Ah, what a conundrum..." said Zaimokuza disheartenedly, "To reduce this from a party quest to a solo quest, no good, no good."
He seemed oddly fixated on Ogura-chan's wellbeing. I mean, it's good to be concerned, but I'm starting to get some creepy vibes.
At that moment, my brother came into an auditorium. He was frowning distastefully as if he had discovered that he had stepped on a piece of gum on the road. He sauntered over to Zaimokuza or at least tried to. The fat chuuni took the initiative (something that was no doubt rare of him) and rushed over to my brother.
"I saw your mail, dammit. Get your hands off of my shoulders."
My brother looked over at me and said, "You heard from this guy already?"
I nodded and replied, "I'm free right now, so I can help out."
He turned back and headed toward the door while beckoning for me to follow. That is, he completely ignored the existence of the chuunibiyou who was wishing him good luck. Smiling wryly, I waved goodbye to Zaimokuza and went out of the room.
I caught up to my brother, who already looked a little worn out. We began walking to the exit of the building.
"You're proactive today, you lazy bum," I said to him.
"Foolishness! I'm always proactive, especially when it comes to taking the easy way out and finding ways to give myself more breaks," he said sneeringly.
"Uh huh, you lazy bum."
"You give me a break on this, you little runt," he grunted as he flicked my forehead.
Kya! So painful!
"Isshiki's just been rather pushy today, so my bones are extra worked."
Doesn't he mean rather motivated? Regardless, the whip is being cracked even harder today.
He complained, "Ah, what the heck happened. It felt like my load suddenly shot up starting from a few days ago..."
"By the way Onii-chan," I spoke up, "Your chuuni friend is rather worried of that girl. What gives?"
"H-He's not my friend!"
The pure-hearted tsundere maiden Hikigaya Hachiman vigorously shook his head in denial.
He cleared his throat and said, "Uh, you sure you want to know?"
"Is it something disgusting?" I said while shrugging, "Don't worry, Komachi can handle it."
Trying to exude a professor-like aura, he crossed his arms and explained matter-of-factly, "You see, lolis are all the rage in anime, manga, light novels, visual novels, role-playing games, et cetera. Little sisters as well. Basically, if they look younger even if they're a hundred years old, they're in."
"You went off on an amazing tangent there, Onii-chan," I criticized, "And aren't you a little bold to be talking about the 'little sister' type character in front of your little sister?"
"No I'm not. This is the lead-up."
He cleared his throat before continuing, "Anyway, after experiencing all of these younger girls in anime and stuff, you would awaken what you think is 'fatherly instinct'. You go on anonymous image boards and post cute images of your favourite loli or little sister character and proclaim that, well, they're cute and that you shouldn't do lewd things to them. Like 'A-chan is for tender loving care' or something like that."
"Onii-chan, am I losing it for not understanding you or are you the one that's lost it?"
"But really, it's just the normal reaction to finding something cute. It's just that you've never really thought about it that deeply before until now since you're a guy. And 'fatherly instinct'? How do you even know that if you don't even, or will possibly never, have a kid of your own?"
"Just get to the point already, Onii-chan, because I didn't understand much of what you said so far."
"Zaimokuza, unfortunately, has huge troubles with separating anime and reality. I'm guessing he saw some moe anime, and the fuzzy feeling in his heart propelled him to do what he's doing now. But all of that is irrelevant, actually."
I placed my astonished face into my hands and, with my mouth muffled, spoke, "Then what was the point of saying all that?"
Ignoring me, my brother concluded, "I think that Ogura-chan probably did him a small favour like pick up something he dropped or helped him carry something, and he misunderstood it somehow. I guarantee you that tonight he'll be rolling around in his bed trying to forget his mistake."
I looked at my brother as if he were a worm, "Uh huh. Yeah, I definitely shouldn't have asked. By the way, Onii-chan, all of that was unusually long-winded and detailed, don't you think? Should I be aware of something?"
The pure-hearted tsundere maiden was, of course, dishonest, so he shut his mouth really quickly and walked a little faster.
My brother and I stood before the school gates, and gave ourselves a quick orientation of the whole courtyard.
The courtyard wasn't so big that you would lose your breath were you to sprint across the whole area while it was empty. Yet, the numerous food-stands lined up in rows and the scores of people eating, talking and wandering around created a noisy maze to navigate through. I guess you could consider this a continuously-morphing labyrinth as well since the openings to squeeze by between the wandering folk also shifted around as people walked.
Clearly, this search wasn't going to be easy. A short girl in a sea of adults and almost-adults fits the metaphor of a needle in the haystack scarily well.
"We're definitely splitting up," I ordered.
"You're so quick to get the hell away from me," said my brother with a wry smile.
"Don't be silly, Onii-chan," I spoke while shrugging, "There's always a reason for you to be alone!"
Although that doesn't mean that always being a solitary stick in the sand was always a good thing. No, no.
"Right... well, let's call each other if one of us finds her."
"'Kay. See you later, Onii-chan."
My brother headed off to search the east side of the courtyard. Therefore, my search area was to be the west side.
I shoved my way past all of the guests, or at least I tried to. Unfortunately, I also counted as a cute little girl who was smaller than everyone else, so I was easily pushed around, unintentionally or not. I weaved my way around each strip of stands, keeping my eyes peeled.
The thick crowd lessened only at the more unpopular area. I broke free from all of the pushing and finally got a bit of personal space around me.
I didn't see Ogura-chan in that brief search. I might've missed her while I was preoccupied with not getting squished. Ogura-chan has got to be even smaller than I was. I hope that she didn't hurt herself in any way.
"Oh? Komachi? Are you getting a little hungry, now?"
I turned around at that higher-pitched voice. Iroha's mischievous face met me, with her impish grin and narrowed eyes. Unfortunately for her, she wasn't getting any blackmail material out of the current situation.
I cut straight to the chase, "You seen Ogura-chan around here?"
Iroha pondered, "That kid? Hmm, no, not at all. Why?"
I placed one hand on my hip and said, "Well, she's lost, and she's needed for the rehearsals, so I'm kind've busy right now trying to find her."
"Is that so? Well, I aaaaam a little free right now, so I guess I can help you out," said Iroha matter-of-factly.
I looked around. The two of us who were standing still acted as a disruptive barrier to the vast stream of patrons frolicking about, engaging in their merry-making. They twisted their bodies to avoid us.
"Uh, wouldn't Miss President definitely have some important things to oversee, especially at a busy time like now."
"Anyway, let's find that little girl."
This cheeky girl. The way she wanted to avoid doing work is a little too reminiscent to a certain someone. Remember children, choose your role models carefully.
Like a mature adult, I respected Iroha's decision to play hooky, no matter what I thought of it (in actuality, I thought very little of it anyway). I resumed my search, now accompanied with extra baggage. I told Iroha to search on the right while I searched on the left.
"Uuuuu, how are we supposed to find such a little girl with all of these people... Maybe I shouldn't have made this event so big..." moaned Iroha.
"Oh, don't be silly, Iroha. It's good to get outside of your comfort zone. It helps you build character. Your character definitely needs building."
Iroha shot me a dirty look.
"Say, you're always being even harsher on me than your brother. That's strange as heck."
"As a kind and caring little sister, Komachi can't help but discipline those who are being bad so that they don't grow up to be trashy and useless," I said in my most motherly voice.
"Uh huh. Right."
Iroha turned away from me to focus on her search.
Even after that day in the café, we still mixed like oil and water. But thinking it from another perspective, we would make for a superb salad dressing.
Our search eventually led us to confront an ice-cream monster. More specifically, we came upon an Ogura-chan whose face was drenched in the sticky liquids of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.
Iroha and I escorted Ogura-chan back to the auditorium. It was a sugary-sweet experience. We had to make sure Ogura-chan was eating her ice cream properly, and we had to continuously wipe up her face and clothes when strawberry-flavoured liquid dripped onto her clothes. Truly, the journey back was sugary, sticky and disgusting.
"Aaaahhh, my hands are all gross," complained Iroha as we reached the auditorium's door.
"Let's not get the doorknob sticky now," I said, "Now, where did I put my last napkin?"
With the tips of my fingers, I carefully withdrew a paper napkin from my pocket without dirtying my clothes. Once I got it out, I didn't use it to wipe my hands, which were so sticky that the napkin would be worthless in trying to clean them. Rather, used the napkin as a makeshift glove to open the door in front of us without transferring the residue onto the doorknob.
I beckoned Ogura-chan to enter, and she did so. I followed after her, or at least I tried to. Iroha tried to enter at the same time as me, and we collided with each other.
By some distortion in the laws of physics governing this world and possibly aided by the will of the mangaka Yabuki Kentaro, our sticky hands flailed about following the collision, and they ended up on the opposite person's body — my hands on Isshiki's chest on Isshiki's hands on my thighs.
"Nooooooo, what the heck!?" exclaimed Iroha.
"Hey, get off of me with those sticky hands!" I yelled.
Too late. The damage was done. Even as we withdrew from each other, saccharine pink residue was left on our clothes.
Iroha looked down at her shirt in distress and said, "Eeeeehhhhh!? I can't appear in front of the public looking like this!"
"What the heck, Iroha? Why'd you have to walk into me like that?" I chastised.
"Huuuh? What do you mean 'why'? You were holding the door open for me, weren't yooooou?"
"Isn't it just straight up common sense to watch where you're going?"
We placed our hands on our hips and glared at each other. After a few seconds, we realized that we had dirtied our clothes again, but again, we were a bit late on that realization.
"Aaaaaahhh, my good clothes... and I was going to show this to Hayama-senpai too..." groaned Iroha, "Komachi, I blame you for everything."
"...I don't even know where to start," I said in exasperation.
With a pitter-patter of footsteps, Ogura-chan rushed back over to us.
With a stern look and an ice cream-coated mouth, she said, "No fighting! No fighting!"
Iroha and I glanced at each other momentarily in embarrassment. Figuring that we were wasting our time, we pretended that nothing had happened and went inside the auditorium.
We needed to back to our duties in managing the event. Besides, I'll just get Iroha to pay me back in some way some other time.
"Eeeehh, what do I wear now?"
"Just change into your gym uniform or something, Iroha."
"But it looks so blaaaaand..."
"Yukino-san? What's up?"
"Have you, by any chance, seen Isshiki-san anywhere? I need to report something to her."
"She's in the student council room. Ah, but you should definitely knock before you enter. And don't bring any guys with you as you enter, either."
"...What strange advice. I'll keep that in mind, I suppose."
"Oh, Yui-san. You looking for something?"
"Ah, yeah. Iroha-chan needs to be over at the side that Kaihin Sogo High is in charge of right now, but I can't find her anywhere..."
"Oh man, that's bad. But I think I have a good idea of where she is."
"Hey, Chuuni, why are you wandering around like that?"
"Ah... the little sister... the great samurai such as mineself hath been faced with a great revelation about the younger fairer folk as of late..."
"So you got rejected by Ogura-chan?"
"Geh, to put it to words such as those! Not exactly, but something as such transpired that hath severed the thin heartstrings of mine. Please, just tell the president of this establishment that I am no longer fit for my duties..."
"Tell Iroha that you're taking a break? Got it."
Throughout the day, people began asking me more and more where Iroha was or to relay to her a message. Since when did I become Iroha's secretary? I mean, she already had one in the first place. By late afternoon, I just gave up doing most of the other things that I was supposed to be doing and took on that messenger role.
Why didn't she just make herself more easily found? As I thought, Iroha still had quite a way to go.
Still, I couldn't deny that Iroha had done a decent job for the things that she did do.
I walked along the street where the game booths were located, simply monitoring the situation and providing guest services, now that things have been in the groove for a while.
Everywhere was loud. There was not a single space where it was quiet enough to hear a wallet drop (so hold onto that thing, please). Quiet and loud were always words with a relative relationship, but at the same time, it was difficult for a person to consider rock music to be quiet relative to a jet plane when their ears would be bleeding in either situation.
My simultaneous search for Iroha and helping of guests had led me to become weary, so I began looking for a quiet place to rest. Of course, "quiet" didn't feel like it existed here, so I compromised. I, instead, looked for a relaxing place to rest.
...I must be going crazy from the fatigue. Only my brother and Yukino-san would play word games normally, like I just did with myself.
Relaxing meant sitting down, and so, I looked for a bench or table. I happened upon a seating area that was oddly less crowded despite the population density of this place. Either there was something about this particular place that was unappealing, or the writer of my life got lazy.
Sitting alone at one of the tables was Isshiki Iroha.
"Yeah, he or she really is lazy," I concluded.
"Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh? That was so totally random," remarked Iroha as she looked up at my approaching self.
I sighed to myself and sat down right in front of Iroha. She was busy typing away on a laptop.
"I have a mountain of things to deliver to you as your loyal messenger," I said with a smirk, "But I see that you are busier than I assumed, master."
"Ew, stop. Sometimes I wish that I'm a queen, but hearing your role-play is so totally gross, so just stop," vomited Iroha.
"So, why are you here instead of in the student council room or somewhere where someone can actually find you?"
"Oh shut uuuuup. You put the answer into your question already."
I leaned back on my chair and began looking random things up on my phone. I hadn't had a chance to do this all day. Across from me, Iroha silently continued typing.
Unusually, I felt no real need to keep the conversation going. In front of Iroha, I let myself indulge in the interconnected webs. Oh, it looks like Saekano is getting another season.
I kept at it until my eyes got tired from... everything. I peered over at Iroha. She gave a great big stretch and moaned softly. She loosened her whole body and went limp for a second. Then, she resumed typing at a slower pace, but with no less vigour.
"You know what, you proved me wrong, for once. Even an evil girl like you with no redeeming features can do something meaningful once in a while."
"...There's so many things wrong with what you just said that I can't even sum it up with just 'gross'," said Iroha with a frown.
Deja vu. Didn't I say something like that earlier?
"No, really. Throw Komachi a bone here. It's getting to be late, and even I'm feeling the drain. What's up?" I asked.
"Nothiiiing. I'm just, like, well— I guess I'm just carrying my own bags for once," said Iroha while shrugging.
"Oh, how noble of you, master," I remarked dryly.
"And don't worry. Leave it to meeee. I think you had enough on your plate as it is," added Iroha.
I rapidly shook my head and said, "No no, it's not about that. I was just curious."
"Same," replied Iroha, "It really is a pain in the butt. I wonder, when do the happy times kick in?"
"Never. You're destined to struggle the moment you take up something like this," I replied.
Working hard at what was essentially volunteer work was a whole different ballgame than doing work for a reward. Not only are you working for nothing, you, yourself, chose to do so. While there could be non-monetary, intangible benefits, if your own well-being were to be prioritized, working for a reward was far better.
To get a net benefit, to have something meaningful overwhelm the inconveniences rather than the other way around, you would need to trick yourself. That is, for something to be meaningful, you had to dig as far as you could until you either do hit meaning, or you decide that digging is futile and ship in meaning from elsewhere.
"Is that so?" pensively spoke Iroha.
She shut her laptop off. Evidently she was finished, whatever that definition of "finished" was.
"Then, I guess it's an eternal struggle," nonchalantly spoke Iroha, "People say that it's better if it's harder, but I guess it doesn't matter. Because, it's sour in the end, anyway."
"I'm missing something. It's just barely out of reach."
Iroha leaned back and gazed up at the sky. She looked more fatigued than appropriate even for one who had been working all day. Indeed, she looked like she was in need of a sip of MAX Coffee.
Iroha firmly spoke up.
"I'll sort myself out. I can't even look back without crying right now."
Iroha sprawled her upper body on the table like a spider.
"For the spoiled little me, maybe my genuine thing isn't what was obvious but that one thing that's unobtainable."
I wasn't a mind reader. The fatigue was definitely getting to Iroha as much as it was to me since she started spewing out barely-understandable sophistry. But I did understand one thing.
"'Unobtainable'? Says who?"
Oh, I felt so dead. Every minute spent awake and not sleeping felt like torture.
Night hit us in the face. Our muscles, sore from the cleanup, had been slogging through the pain just moments ago. However, when someone pointed out that it was sure getting dark and that they had countless anime to catch up on and that they wanted to go home (at which someone else chastised him for using the same kind of complaint for the nth time), the sleepiness kicked in for everyone. We put the last things away, said our goodbyes, and went on our separate, drowsy ways.
Ahead of me was Yukino-san, who gave a cat-like yawn (so cute!). Yui-san was holding onto her hand to make sure that she wouldn't run into a pole — or at least that was her reasoning. To prove that she was doing so, Yui-san yawned reflexively after Yukino-san did, prompting her to crash right into a garbage can.
"Yuigahama-san... I don't really mind, so you can stop lying about it."
"Uuuu... I'm sorry..."
With me was Iroha and my brother. They exchanged unpleasant pleasantries.
"Isshiki, now you owe me big time. What do you think of that, huh?"
"Senpai, fine. Next time we go for a little 'practice', I can treat you again. I meeeean, I don't mind. In faaaact, we can add another one to my jacket."
Iroha slapped the left part of her stomache. The crisp crushing of paper could be heard.
"I-I don't think that's necessary... I-I mean, any more is... how about we consider ourselves even," stuttered my brother.
Iroha shook her head and said, "No, no, senpai. It'll be fun for you to 'help' me again."
"Onii-chan," I interjected, "What kind of totally uncute things is this girl making you do this time?"
"Who's uncute!?" cried Iroha.
"Just some stuff," my brother replied, "I don't really mind because a little of it is my responsibility, anyway."
Iroha looked a little stunned for a moment. Then, she sighed as if she was giving in.
"Senpai, don't treat me like some sort of mistake. Even I can get a little hurt if it feels like you're being forced to do something."
This time it was my brother's turn to go wide-eyed.
"Huh? Is that true?" said my brother as he crossed his arms to think.
Iroha puffed her cheeks. I laughed loud enough to make Iroha look my way.
"Hahaha, you really are uncute, unlike the totally cute me," I said with a grin.
Iroha didn't fire back a jab at me. She frowned, appearing genuinely upset.
"That's not something that I can change so easily," groaned Iroha.
"W-Well..." my brother started.
Iroha and I turned our curious eyes towards him.
"I-I mean, it's not so much that you aren't cute or are cute. I mean, I can't deny it so, I'm trying not to spoil— I-I mean, imagining you just wobbling around would drive me nuts..."
"Onii-chan, just what the heck are you trying to say?"
I turned towards Iroha. She was already coughing and clearing her throat several times.
"Is that a confession? I'm sorry, but just not ready to entrust myself to someone as lazy as yourself, not until I get some more experience in handling stupidly weird guys like you. Thanks and goodbye."
Iroha turned away with a pout. Contrary to her supposed farewell, she still stuck with us.
I could tell that this was some recurring shtick that the two of them did. I didn't feel particularly surprised. Rather, I realized something.
Iroha was exactly the type of girl that my brother would consider a bitch and avoid at all costs. Yet, the two of them today had an undeniably comfortable relationship where they poked at each other with harmless needles. They were opposites of each other, yet they had some sort of common ground that was hard to put a finger on.
It made me a little jealous.
I gazed forward at the two girls that were one year older than Iroha and were the same age as my brother. They, too, held that common ground with him.
I wonder, just how shiny or how sour was that common thing? Yes, to me, it was a little enviable, because I haven't come across it for myself. Rather, there was never a need for me to have it. Whatever it was, there was something that was equal to or greater than that common thing.
"Iroha, you have a long, long way to go. Keep at it."
Iroha turned to me. She showed me her trademarked impish grin, befitting a girl who enjoys dancing around you in circles.
"Make sure you get over to Sobu High at all costs because I'll make sure our days are very, veeeery long in the clubroom."
I replied, "Oh stop. If you make us overdose in Iroha, then I'll be forced to sell my patented Komachi medicine."
My brother scratched his head and spoke, "Isshiki, you aren't even a part of our club. Well, it doesn't matter, I guess."