"I'm home!" I called out as I opened the front door to my house. I didn't hear a response, but I could hear someone talking in the lounge room. I shrugged my bag off my shoulder and dumped it onto the ground as I made my way over."Ah, Issei, you're home."
I found my parents sitting on the couch. In front of them were what appeared to be at least a dozen brochures and pamphlets showing casinos, restaurants, tropical islands, tourist traps and other things that could only mean one thing.
"We're going on a vacation?" I asked excitedly, dropping into the seat opposite them. I picked up a brochure and my eyes widened as foreign women in tantalizingly skimpy bikinis filled my vision. Bikinis so small that you could almost see a hint of—
"Your father and I are going on vacation," my mother corrected me, and just like that my fantasy died a tragic death before it could even begin She smiled as she plucked the brochure from my fingertips and handed it to my father. "We won cruise tickets in a raffle!" she told me with a beaming smile. "It's leaving tomorrow—we've already packed."
I frowned. "How long will you be gone for? A week?"
My parent's smiles became strained. I became nervous.
"Two weeks?" I asked after hesitating a moment.
"Issei," My father began with a serious look on his face. "We're both very proud of how much you've …" he trailed off and glanced aside at my mother who looked right back at him with a confused look on her face.
"…we're very proud of you," my mother finished.
I winced slightly.
I might have deserved that. Still, it hurt that neither of my parents were able to come up with something they were 'proud' of. It said a lot about my life choices up to this point in my life.
"Very proud of you," My father quickly agreed. "Which is why we feel so comfortable with leaving you by yourself for the next fifty two weeks."
I stared blankly at my parents as I processed that number.
"F-fifty two weeks?" I stammered, my eyes widening. "T-that's almost a year!"
My mother gave me a look of resignation. "It is a year, Issei," she said to me gently.
"That's even worse!" I protested, folding my arms across my chest. "What about cleaning—or food or the bills?"
I winced and looked at my father whose smile had vanished.
"Your mother and I have made arrangements for bills, and we've also arranged for groceries to be delivered weekly as well as a small stipend for your own spending."
My mother picked up an envelope from the table and leaned forward offering it to me.
I gingerly took it and tore it open. Inside was a bank card as well as a sheet with a pin number and a payment schedule.
"Two thousand yen a week?" I murmured, my eyebrows raising. "That's… that's less than I get now!" I said, looking at my parents in confusion.
"Your father and I have been talking, and we believe it's time you took some responsibility," my mother said, glancing over at my father for confirmation, before continuing more firmly. "If you want extra spending money then you'll need to earn it yourself."
I felt the bottom of my stomach drop.
She was… she was talking about a job. That was the worst! That would get in the way of my personal time! That was when Matsuda and Motohama and I got together to watch por—respectable adult movies and read manga! I brought my hand up to my face. I felt ill. This… this wasn't happening. I'd already meticulously planned out my spending for the next two months! I'd already put a down payment on a limited edition Kaben Rider Pinky figurine which was non-refundable!
I heard one of my parents sigh.
"We aren't monsters Issei," my father said. "If you're having any difficulties you can call us and we'll transfer some money to help you if anything unexpected happens—like the stove breaking down or a pipe bursting—"
"Can't you just put the money in the account now? That way I won't have to call you if it's an emergency." I pointed out.
My parents glanced at each other and something unspoken passed between them. "Issei," my mother began gently. "It's not that we don't trust you to be responsible with the money, it's just that…"
"….we don't trust you to be responsible with the money." My father admitted bluntly, earning himself a light slap on the arm from my mother.
I began to tune out what was being said to me after that. It was all white noise as I failed to come to terms with the reality of my situation. I vaguely heard something about ground rules being mentioned, but before too long I found myself trudging up to my room and collapsing on top of my bed still in my school clothes.
The worst part was tomorrow was washing day and my sheets were dirty.
I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling.
I was going to have to learn how to use the washing machine.
I was going to have to learn how to use the stove. Mom had banned me from the kitchen after I had left a pot of instant ramen on and forgot about it. My nose crinkled. It had taken a month before the smell of the charred noodles had gone away.
I felt my eyelids begin to get heavy and each consecutive blink took longer, and longer. At some point I must have fallen asleep, because the next time I opened my eyes, I wasn't in my bed.
I found myself standing in the middle of a featureless hallway, at the end of which was a blank door with a brass knob attached to it. It took me longer than I'm willing to admit before I moved. I had expected my body to move of its own accord, as though it was a normal dream.
I took a hesitant step forward.
My step made no sound.
After a moment I realized I couldn't hear myself breathing either. I attempted to speak, and no sound came out.
I took another silent step forward, and another, until finally I found myself standing in front of the blank door.
I reached for the knob and turned it. I heard the sound of the locking mechanism click and the faint smooth grind of the brass as it turned.
I pushed the door open and stepped forward.
I found myself standing in a foyer.
I breathed in, and I heard it.
The air smelt of thick earthy mahogany and a faint lingering scent of perfume that I couldn't quite describe.
I walked forward. My footsteps sounded loudly in the otherwise quiet establishment. "Hello?" I called out after a moment.
Was this really a dream? It seemed so real.
I stopped walking as I reached an unmanned host stand, behind which there was a pair of blue drapes, hiding what laid beyond from view.
I noticed a small silver bell on the host stand, and after several moments, I reached over and tapped it.
It let out a crisp ringing sound.
I waited for several minutes before hitting the bell again.
And again, after several more minutes.
"This is dumb," I grumbled and stepped past the podium, reaching forward and pushing aside the drapes and going beyond.
I found myself standing in the middle of a large dimly lit room. To one side was a dust covered bar, behind which were several dozen bottles of liquor, most of which were empty. There were a dozen evenly spaced bar stools in front of it, beyond which were half a dozen blue velvet lounges, tastefully separated and arranged so that few faced each other directly.
On the other side of the room was a small stage, on which a deep black piano sat. The moment I noticed it, I realized that it had been playing the entire time I had been there.
A faint sound almost inaudible until I had noticed. It was soon joined by an eerie disembodied voice. A woman's voice, softly singing along, her words incomprehensible.
I felt a chill run down my spine.
I turned to leave, only to find the way out had vanished.
I felt my heart skip a beat, and I shut my eyes tightly, attempting to will myself awake.
After several seconds, still hearing the eerie music, I cracked open an eye. To my distress, I found myself standing in the same spot in the creepy blue club room.
"Welcome to the Velvet Room."
I let out a frightened yelp and spun around.
Bloodshot, bulging eyes stared at me from above a truly outrageously large, pointed nose like that of a Tengu. A man—if you could call him that had appeared behind the bar while my eyes were closed. He was balding, and his remaining hair was long and more white than grey, in front of which two pointed ears sat. He wore a crisp black suit with odd proportions. His arms were too thin for his body, and his hands were clad in white gloves.
I found myself staring, frozen like a deer caught in the headlights.
Seconds ticked on in frozen silence, before the man, unblinkingly smiled. "Your arrival is unexpected, but not unwelcome," he spoke, his voice odd—eccentric, cultured in a strange way. "My name is Igor," he introduced himself.
"N-Nice to meet you," I stammered, before swallowing. "My name is I-Issei. Th-this is a nice place you have here," I said nervously, "Sorry for barging in like this."
The strange man—Igor—continued to smile. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance." He lifted a white-clad hand up and gestured to the room around us. "This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter. It is a room that only those bound by a contract may enter."
"I uh, didn't sign a contract," I said awkwardly, reaching up and scratching my cheek. "I kind of just fell asleep and woke up here, well, not here. It was this strange hallway and there was this door at the end that lead here."
Igor tilted his head a degree to the right. "Truly? How curious." He lifted a hand and gestured toward the bar stools in front of the bar. "Please, have a seat."
I hesitated for several seconds, before berating myself. My mother had always told me not to judge other people by their looks—and he was part of my dream. There must have been a reason I had made him so… unique.
I stepped closer, and sat down on the bar stool in front of Igor.
"Do you believe in fortune telling?"
I shook my head. "No, not really."
Igor smiled and gestured toward the counter between us, and as he did, several large cards appeared on the surface. They were all face down, each a pale blue with a faint chequer pattern. Each had a blank mask in the middle, half of which was white and the other half black.
"Each reading is done with the same cards," Igor explained as I stared down at the cards. "And yet, the result is always different. Life is much the same, is it not?"
My eyes flickered between the cards and Igor. "I guess so?"
Was life really the same? Not everyone was dealt the same cards, after all. Some girls got dealt a larger hand than others in the chest department. Some boys got dealt pretty-boy faces and popularity!
While I was internally fuming, Igor turned his hand over, and one of the cards laid on the table flipped by itself. A creepy horned figure stared up from the card's surface with large bat-like wings and the face of a goat.
"The Devil, in the upright position, this represents the immediate future," Igor said.
"What is that supposed to mean?" I asked, frowning as I stared down at the card.
"It can mean many things, bondage, addiction, sexuality and even materialism. But in this instance I believe—"
"—B-bondage? As in… w-with a dominatrix?!" I asked, unable to contain my excitement. That was… that was amazing! I did a little fist pump. "Does is say who with?" I asked, unable to contain my excitement, a massive grin on my lips.
"It does not," Igor said, amusement reflected in his bloodshot eyes. He lifted his hand again and turned it over. A card on the opposite side of the table followed suit, revealing a skeleton riding atop a horse.
"Ah! I know that one!" I said, grinning. "It's the death card, right?" I asked as I reached down and picked it up. The card was light and crisp, as if it had just been taken out of a packet. "It means 'new beginnings' right?" I asked happily.
A new beginning with a hot girlfriend who was into bondage? I was so ready! Fortune telling is awesome!
Two spindly fingers gently plucked the card from my hand. "Traditionally, that is correct," Igor spoke as he set the card back down on the table. "In the upright position, the Death arcana symbolizes new beginnings, change and transformation." He paused. "However."
My smile dimmed slightly. "However?"
"I believe the Arcana are being literal in this instance."
I stared at him uncomprehendingly.
He lifted a hand, and the two cards floated into the air between us. Igor gestured. "You are destined to meet a devil," he said, pointing to the Devil, before his hand moved toward the other card. "And it is your fate to die."
I stared at him blankly for several long seconds, before I folded my arms across my chest. "Well that's stupid," I scoffed. "Devil's aren't real and neither is fortune telling." I stiffened and slammed my hands onto the bar surface, leaning forward. "Unless—are you trying to say that my bondage girlfriend is going to kill me?!" I exclaimed, my eyes widening.
Igor tilted his head a fraction of a degree.
I slumped back down into my seat. "Do… do I at least do it with her first?" I asked, dreading the answer. "Surely… surely I do it with her first, right?" I looked at him with hope. "I won't die a virgin like Kiryuu said, right?"
"Is it your sincere desire to change your destiny?" Igor asked, regarding me, his bloodshot eyes looming over his prodigious nose.
I took a deep breath and looked Igor in the eye. "Is it possible for me to… do it with her before she kills me?"
Igor regarded me for the longest time in silence. "All things are possible, within the fullness of time," he said. He lifted a hand, and the two floating cards moved towards each other. They twisted and turned, and in seconds a piece of paper took their place, before floating down and settling on the bar between Igor and I.
"What's this?" I asked, frowning and reaching down to pick it up. It was a menu of sorts. There were no drinks, or food items on it however. In their place it had things like 'Childhood Friend', 'Priestess', 'Tomboy', 'Tsundere' and 'Magical Girl'.
I looked up from the menu. "I don't understand," I admitted and set the menu down.
Igor's ever present smile widened and he reached down to the bar, and dragged a single white digit along it, leaving a clear trail in the dust. "The state of this room reflects the state of your own heart," he said, rubbing the dust covered digit against his thumb before, with his clean hand he drew a handkerchief out of his suit pocket and cleaned his hand.
The state of the room reflected the state of my heart? I took a moment to look around at the dimly lit room, from the dust covered surfaces to the empty bottles behind the bar. It was in a state of disrepair and looked like it could use some cleaning, but beneath the grime there was a charm to the place. It sort of reminded me of—my eyes widened and my jaw dropped as I realized what I was reminded of.
My grip on the menu tightened and I brought it back up, my heart quickening.
"Normally I would have an attendant with me, another resident of the Velvet Room. Your arrival was unanticipated, honoured guest, and yet you must have a companion for your journey forward."
Igor gestured at the menu I held in my hands. "Choose wisely, for you may only choose once."
I licked my lips and couldn't help but grin. "I can pick any of them right?"
Igor inclined his head.
There were… there were so many good choices on the menu! I was overwhelmed with choice!
I took a deep breath. "Just to clarify… this is... a hostess club, right?"
"It would appear so."
I nodded slowly, took another deep breath, and then looked at the menu once more.
It was a bit weird that there weren't pictures, or descriptions on the menu. Still, no matter how you slice it 'Catgirl' was a tantalizing option! I could just imagine it, a cute buxom catgirl sitting on my lap and purring as I pet her! Or maybe she'd be the tsundere type? No, no! Tsundere was its own item. Not that I liked tsundere types, I'd rather my girl be all dere.
My eyes roamed up and down the menu, each item evoking tantalizing fantasies—and they would be fantasies! Igor had said it, this wasn't reality! Anything was possible. Anything… any position!
I felt a line of drool spill out of the side of my mouth. I felt my cheeks burn as I reached up to wipe it away with a free hand.
I took a moment to close my eyes and consider.
By the time I opened them, I had made my decision.
I set the menu down and smiled at Igor. "I've decided!" I declared and pointed down to my selection. "This one, please."
"Very well. I will make the appropriate arrangements," Igor said.
With a wave of his hand the menu was gone and I began to feel light headed.
"It seems we are out of time," Igor said, his bloodshot eyes boring into my own unnervingly. "In the coming days you will experience an awakening and revelation, after which you will return here." His words echoed inside my head unnaturally. "This coming year is a turning point in your destiny. The wheels of fate are already in motion, and the forces beyond comprehension move against you, even now, Hyoudou Issei."
My head seemed to get heavier and heavier with every word, until I found myself struggling to keep it upright. I heard Igor continue to speak, but I couldn't comprehend his words no matter how hard I struggled.
It was, of course, at that point that I fell out of my bed and hit my head on the corner of my dresser.
"Wake up you baka!"
I groaned, clutching the top of my head as my alarm clock loudly scolded me.
"I-it's not like I want you to wake up or anything!"
I winced as I managed to pull myself onto my knees and reached up, fumbling with the alarm clock and managing to turn it off after several seconds of trying.
"W-who said you could touch me there? Pervert!"
I sighed and set the alarm clock back down on the dresser before I stood up and rubbed the top of my head with a wince.
I trudged my way out of my room, yawning as I made my way to the bathroom.
The inside of the bathroom was humid and the mirror was fogged over. I grabbed a nearby hand towel and rubbed the surface, clearing away the condensation and revealing a grumpy looking face.
I stared at myself for several long seconds, before sighing and beginning my morning routine.
Half an hour later I was dressed for school, my hair damp and my mouth minty fresh. I made my way down to the kitchen only to find it empty. On the bright side, my breakfast was there. Two slices of toast and a glass of juice.
"Thanks mom," I called out loudly as I dropped into the chair and picked up one of the slices of toast. "You know I had the strangest dream last night!" I called out before taking a large bite out of the slice of toast.
I blinked, and slowly chewed, before swallowing and looking at the slice with a frown.
The toast was cold.
"Mom?" I called out again, glancing over my shoulder toward the doorway.
There was no response.
Now that I thought about it, I hadn't heard anything since I'd woken up. Normally there would have been the sound of dad rushing to get ready for work but… it was quiet. Too quiet.
Wait—had they already left?! What kind of parents left without saying goodbye to their son?! The obvious answer being my parents—but still!
It was then that I noticed something peeking out beneath the glass of juice sitting on the table.
I lifted it up and peaked off a yellow note that had been wedged beneath the glass. It looked like it had been hastily written, but it was my father's handwriting.
Sorry we couldn't say goodbye, we tried to wake you up earlier than usual but you wouldn't budge. Don't stay up so late in the future. Your mother left a cookbook with several recipes bookmarked. Try not to burn the house down but if you do call us straight away!
I stared down at the note. I could feel my left eye twitching.
I closed both my eyes and took a deep breath, before calmly tearing up the note and unceremoniously dumping it on the floor beside me.
I picked up my cold toast and began to eat it slowly, contemplating the merits of patricide.
By the time I had finished breakfast and washed my plate it was time to leave for school. My bag was in the same position as I left it the previous night in the hallway, I picked it up and slung it over my shoulder, before locking the front door and making my way to school.
It was several hours later that I found myself sitting at my desk with my two closest friends.
Matsuda had pulled his chair over and was sitting on it back to front. He was a bit lanky and he sported a perpetual buzz cut.
"Seriously, check these pictures out!" Matsuda whispered conspiratorially to me as he turned his camera around and pointed the viewfinder this way. "I'm telling you, there is a super-hot blonde hiding in the Occult Research Club building! I've asked around and no one knows who she is!" he exclaimed, shoving his camera in my face.
I rolled my eyes and took the camera from him. "Isn't that a ghost story though?" I asked as I looked down at the viewfinder and saw… a very blurry shadowed silhouette cast against a set of thick curtains.
"Let me see!"
The camera was snatched from my hands by my second friend Motohama.
Unlike Matsuda who was lanky and practically bald, Motohama was a bit more stocky with medium length brown hair and a pair of thick glasses that he claimed gave him the supernatural ability to peer beyond Kami's Veil and instantly know the three sizes of any girl he looked upon.
"It's a bit fuzzy but…" Motohama adjusted his glasses with a serious look as he peered down at the camera. "…I don't recognize these proportions at all!" he exclaimed.
"Never mind that," I said with an annoyed look to the two. "Haven't you guys been listening? My parents have left! For a whole year!"
"Woah, really?" Matsuda said, his eyes widening. "So you have the whole house to yourself?! We should have a sleep over, I have new…" he went quiet and glanced around, before leaning in and whispering. "…material from that producer!"
"I can't believe… I'm saying this but…" I grimaced and my fists clenched against the desk. "This is… more important than porn."
Both of my friends gave me a strange look, as if they couldn't comprehend the words I had said.
I too, could barely believe they came from my open lips.
"They cut my allowance. I… I can't…"
"Oh?" Motohama's glasses took on a white sheen as he stroked his chin. "If you're hurting for funds… maybe I can buy that limited edition—"
"Never!" I exclaimed instantly, glaring at my traitorous friend.
Motohama clucked his tongue. "Tceh. It was worth a shot. So what are you going to do then?"
There was really only one thing I could do.
"I'm going to… get a job…" I said, my tone only half as grave as I felt. "It's the only way. This is greater than my own desire… this is for Kaben Rider Pinky."
Both my friends took on a solemn expression.
For exactly half a second.
"So, want to check out the peephole this afternoon?" Motohama asked Matsuda conversationally without skipping a beat.
I glowered at them.
"Is Hyoudou Issei present?"
I stiffened and glanced toward the source of the voice, ready to protest my innocence to whatever trumped up charges I was being accused of and pin the blame on the two knuckleheads beside me. Who the heck talks about looking at a peephole when surrounded by people?!
I found myself under the deadly gaze of a beautiful violet and hazel eyed dragon.
I swallowed nervously and raised a hand. "A-ah Shinra-senpai, I'm here," I said nervously.
One of the Four Great Onee-sama of Kuoh. A classical Japanese beauty with long black hair and straight cut bangs. Not only that but she had a cute pair of glasses as well! She wore the school's uniform well enough that it was a struggle to not look. Girls wanted to be her and every guy in the school would give their right hand to be with her.
She was also the Vice President of the Student Council.
"Hyoudou-san, could you please come with me?"
It wasn't a question.
I gathered my things and watched as Matsuda and Motohama made themselves scarce.
"O-of course Shinra-senpai," I said as I got up and made my way to the front of the room, the gaze of every other student on me.
Tsubaki turned around and made her way out of the classroom.
I followed her out, desperately thinking what I had done recently to earn the ire of the student council as I felt countless eyes staring at me as I followed the Vice President out.
It had been over a week since my friends and I had used the peephole on the girl's gym room—and we hadn't been caught yet! It couldn't have been that. Perhaps they had done a spot check of my shoe locker and found the erotic materials I had borrowed from Matsuda?!
I bit down on my thumb briefly, unseen by the vice president as my mind raced. I took a moment to attempt to calm down, before I stepped closer and smiled. "A-ah Shinra-senpai, can I ask what this is about?" I asked, politely, doing my best to resist letting my gaze drop below her neckline.
It was a significant challenge.
Tsubaki reached up and adjusted her glasses. "I am afraid I do not know the reason," she told me plainly as we walked along.
I studied her reaction and the carefully maintained stoicism of her expression.
No trace of barely concealed disgust or additional loathing… maybe I wasn't in trouble? But then, what could it be about? Someone as cute as Tsubaki wasn't going to just… unless?!
I straightened up. "Ah, Shinra-senpai, could it be that you're taking me to see Shitori-senpai?" I asked, attempting to keep my tone casual.
Tsubaki paused for a fraction of a second midstep.
There was only one reason—well not one reason—for her to be taking me to see the Student President!
My fists clenched at my sides and I resisted doing a fist pump into the air.
They were going to invite me to the Student Council! It was every guys dream in school! To join the council of buxom babes and be invited to their sleepover meetings!
I barely managed to contain my composure as he walked along.
We arrived at the student council room and Tsubaki opened the door for me. "Kaicho is inside," she told me.
"You're not coming in?"
She shook her head, her long dark hair fluttering briefly. "I have student council duties to attend to," she told me.
"Okay! Keep up the good work, senpai!" I told her with a bright smile, giving her a thumbs up.
She gave me an odd look. "Thank you Hyoudou-san," she said after a moment, giving me the tiniest of smiles. So tiny that I was almost entirely sure that I had imagined it—in fact, now that I looked closer it was less of a smile and more like a tightening of the corners of her mouth.
I wasted no more time and quickly made my way inside.
The door shut behind me with a soft thud.
I straightened up on instinct.
At the far side of the room Shitori Sona sat, her violet eyes looking at me through dark purple rimmed glasses.
She was the polar opposite of Tsubaki-senpai.
Where Tsubaki had long hair, Sona's had a stylish bob-cut.
Where Tsubaki was as tall as I was, Sona was several inches shorter.
Where Tsubaki was blessed in certain feminine attributes, Sona was… not.
And yet, somehow she was even more popular than Tsubaki! It wasn't hard to see why! She was the kind of girl whose gaze demanded attention. She was also the smartest student in the entire school if her test scores were to be believed.
"G-good afternoon, Kaicho," I said with a hesitant smile as I got closer to her desk.
Sona gestured toward one of the empty seats in front of her desk. "Please have a seat, Hyoudou-san."
"Thank you, Kaicho!" I said, giving her a bright smile as I moved to sit down. As I did, I noticed several dozen folders and loose slips of paper on her desk, one of which had my photo paper clipped to the front.
Sona regarded me for a long moment. "Do you know why you're here?"
"I think I do," I admitted, "And I'd like to say I'm honoured!"
Sona blinked. "Pardon?"
I straightened up in the chair. "I want you to know that I'll do my best!"
Sona's brow furrowed. "Could you tell me the reason you believe you are here?"
I hesitated for a moment.
Could I have… been mistaken?
"…Too join the student council?" I said.
They sounded so, so, so stupid when I said them aloud that I almost slapped myself.
"You are mistaken," Sona told me bluntly, her words striking my chest like an arrow loosed from a crossbow. "You are here because your guardians informed the school that they will be absent for the foreseeable future." She turned over a page in front of her and her gaze dipped down to read something.
"Traditionally this would be handled by your homeroom teacher, however due to unforeseen circumstances they are not available." She paused to let that sink in. "Naturally, this responsibility falls to the Student Council."
"Oh." I said dumbly, not knowing what else to say.
"Once per week a member of the student council will be visiting your residence after school."
"Why?" I couldn't help but ask.
Sona calmly folded her hands atop the other on top of her desk. "Kuoh Academy takes pride in its students and is conscientious of their health and wellbeing," she said, her tone crisp and leaving no room for interjection. "With your guardians otherwise absent it falls to the school, and with the faculty otherwise occupied, it falls to the student council."
She held up a finger. "Once a week a member of the student council will visit your residence after school for the duration of half an hour, during which time they will evaluate and record how you are adjusting to living by yourself, Hyoudou-san."
I stared at Sona wide eyed.
No… no! Anything but that! I had plans! Plans that involved moving my mattress to the lounge room and not bothering to wash my clothes or dishes until the weekend! Plans that involved the wide screen tv and strenuous marathon length activities!
None of which was possible if people were coming over to inspect my lifestyle!
Sona picked up a piece of paper and a pen, before turning the paper around and setting it in front of me, along with the pen. "Would you kindly read this and sign at the bottom to indicate you have read it?"
I looked down at the piece of paper she laid before me. I picked it up, my hands shaking ever so slightly.
It was everything she had said to me and more.
The more being the consequences.
The school would report to my parents once per month regarding my academic performance, any concerns the school had, or if there was anything unusual or untoward occurring. It didn't specify what that entailed, but… the message was clear.
My way of life was under attack. This was… unacceptable!
I glanced over the page at the violet haired demon sitting across the desk from me.
"Do I have to sign it?"
"No," Sona admitted. "If you choose not to sign there is no penalty."
I let out a sigh of relief.
My relief died as it left my lips.
"The school has received several complaints in… one form or another from students," Sona said, her words carefully measured. "As you know, Kuoh Academy is a prestigious institution that expects the utmost from those who attend. While your various…" she went silent for several seconds. "Eccentricities have been tolerated up until this point for one reason or another, there is a limit to what can be condoned by the school."
She gestured toward the paper I held in my hands.
"Do not look at this as a burden to shouldered, but a chance to turn over a new leaf and become more than you are."
My eyes dropped down from the student presidents to the paper I held.
They were pretty words coming from a pretty pair of lips belonging to a pretty girl. To my distress I found myself genuinely considering signing.
It wasn't like she was asking me to give up porn or anything.
"Earlier, you said something curious," Sona spoke up, breaking the silence that had developed. "You thought you had been brought here to join the Student Council," she observed.
I winced. "Y-yeah. In retrospect it seems silly."
"Do you want to?"
My eyes snapped up to meet hers. "What?"
"Do you want to join the student council?" Sona repeated, casually leaning her cheek against an arm propped up on the desk.
With her free hand Sona turned a page over in front of her, her violet eyes scanning the contents. "Your grades are below average," she stated bluntly, "Your work ethic is abysmal according to your teachers, and your reputation is among the… lowest in the school."
Say what you would about her, her words did more damage to me than the kendo clubs beatings!
"As you are now, I cannot see such a thing occurring."
"However," she continued. "If you sign this form and… put your all into leading an honest student life. Improving your grades and your reputation… perhaps concessions could be made."
I found myself staring at her at a loss for words.
I hesitated for a long moment, perhaps too long.
I had to do it, and not just for myself. But for all the poor souls that would never be invited to a sleep over with the babes on the student council. I couldn't call myself a man if I let this opportunity slip away.
I signed the bottom of the form.
Not much else was said, and I soon left the student council room receiving a polite goodbye from Sona. The rest of the day went by in a blur. I vaguely recall being asked several questions in my next few classes and being unable to answer to the teacher's satisfaction, though that was nothing unusual for me.
By the time the final bell rang I had recovered somewhat from the ordeal of signing away my freedom for the chance of a slumber party with several of my soon-to-be colleagues on the student council. I couldn't help but wonder if spin-the-bottle was a real thing or something Hollywood had made up.
I turned toward my friends with a smile. "So you guys want to come help me… look for…" I watched as my two so called friends quickly made their escape. "…Well screw you both too!" I glowered and with a huff I shouldered my school bag and made my way out of the classroom.
Still, I couldn't blame them.
Kendo practice was on today, and if you weren't quick you'd lose out on the chance to sneak a peek at some of the fittest girls in the school!
I paused mid step.
I had changed my mind.
Apparently I could blame them.
I turned toward the instruments of my revenge who were currently making their way toward the door.
"Katase-chan! Murayama-chan," I said with a bright smile as I looked at my two favourite kendo club members.
I received two hostile looks in return.
Katase—the shorter of the two with strawberry blond hair held back by a white headband—clutched the strap of her bag, as if she was getting prepared to swing it at me. "What do you want Hyoudou?"
I held up my hands. "Nothing! Nothing," I reassured them. "I just wanted… to warn you."
Murayama was the taller of the two, with brown hair tied back into twin tails. Her cute face was framed by two bangs on either side of her short fringe. She also filled out her uniform more substantially, but that was beside the point.
She gave me a look as suspicious as they came. "Warn us?"
I leaned in, bringing a hand up to my mouth as I whispered to them conspiratorially. "Matsuda and Motohama are going to peek on you in the change rooms," I told them, my tone grave.
They both blinked.
Murayama shifted her weight to one side and set a hand on her hip, her eyebrows raised in disbelief. "And you aren't?"
"Not today," I reassured them.
Katase glowered at me, her cute looks twisted in an expression of a mixture of embarrassment and irritation. "You pervert it should be never!"
I clucked my tongue and folded my arms across my chest. "There's just no pleasing some people," I said with a huff and left the classroom, the moral high ground thoroughly on my side for once.
Either way, I'd done my good deed for the day.
Hopefully they would catch my traitorous friends and make them rue the day they chose peeking on nubile athletic girls instead of helping me find a soul crushing job for the sake of erotic memorabilia.
I made my way out of the school gates with a small crowd of other students who weren't attending after school clubs.
As I walked by myself I couldn't help but wonder what sort of job I would be able to get—somehow I doubted they were hiring porn critics my age, even though I was clearly over qualified for such a position!
It took a little while, but eventually I arrived in the city and made my way down the main street, peeking in windows and looking for wanted signs like they had in the movies.
In the end it turned out to me more akin to window-shopping than it was job-hunting.
Eventually I bit the bullet.
I found a restaurant that was in the middle of setting up for their evening customers and made my way to the front desk.
A tall man with slicked black hair wearing a waiter's uniform sat behind the cash register. He was filling out some sort of form. As I approached he looked up, his eyes filled with irritation.
"What do you want?" He asked me bluntly.
"A job," I admitted, giving him an awkward smile.
His eyes briefly flickered down to my uniform, before returning to my face.
"Do you have a resume?"
"…No," I admitted.
He raised an eyebrow. "Alright, I'll bite." He set down the pen in his hand and sat up, folding his arms across his chest. "Do you have any character references? From your teachers or previous work?"
"…No," I said with a wince.
The very idea of asking one of my teachers to vouch for my character seemed outlandish. I'd have to bribe them somehow—maybe one of the male teachers. I was certain that I could be very persuasive if given the chance! I had what every guy wanted, even if they were dishonest with themselves and everyone else!
Copious amounts of porn.
The man behind the counter regarded me for a long moment. "…You're a bit scruffy looking to be a waiter. We have a reputation to maintain," he mused, his hand reaching up and stroking his chin. "The cooks have been complaining about being understaffed—tell you what. I'll hire you to prep vegetables, a thousand yen an hour. It isn't much, but I doubt you'll get a better offer. You have experience doing that right?"
I fidgeted. "I'm willing to learn?" I said, giving a nervous laugh.
"….You're fucking with me." He clucked his tongue and waved a hand dismissively. "Get out of here kid."
I left with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth, my hands in my pockets and a grumpy look on my face.
The next several businesses went much the same way. Each of them asking for a resume, references or experience. None of which I had. With every rejection the bitter taste in my mouth grew, until my expression turned sour.
I found myself trudging along with a perpetual scowl on my face. If there had been a can to kick I would have been kicking it.
The day had well and truly come to an end by the time I decided to call it quits. The sky had been cast in deep shades of orange and the street lights were starting to flicker as they came to life.
I shook my head and slapped my cheeks repeatedly. "I'm not giving up!" I declared to the havens.
I wasn't going to give up.
Today was the first of many.
There was a job I could do somewhere.
I just knew it!
I took a moment to regain my bearings, before I began to walk home, which unfortunately found me walking toward the setting sun. I squinted, and lifted a hand up, blocking out the sun as I began to walk toward it, stepping around people walking into the city as I trudged forward.
The shadows became longer as the sun went lower and the sky dimmed, fading from orange to a purplish blue. Through my fingers I watched as it slowly inched down, slipping below the horizon. I felt a strange tension building that set the hairs on the back of my neck on end.
The sun dipped below the horizon and the tension that had been building shattered, and with it, the world.
One moment the world around me made sense.
The next, it did not.
I inhaled sharply, as though I had been holding my breath underwater and had just broken the surface.
The sky was red—and not the murky red of a late autumn sunset. It was solid red. The overcast sky of mere moments ago was gone. There were no clouds and no stars.
That wasn't the only thing that was wrong.
The buildings had changed as well. They were a solid white that made no sense, it was as if every property they possessed, their shape, their corners windows and features had been stripped away.
The people around me had vanished, and in their place strange shadows moved, their shapes reminiscent of people, and yet flat and wrong.
Some were as thin and as see through as rice paper, others were more distinct, more real.
One of the shadows bumped into me.
"Sorry," I said automatically, only to watch as it brushed by.
As it did, I noticed a strange crimson sigil on its chest over where its heart should be.
There were others like that, but none quite as distinct.
I felt my heart thud rapidly inside my chest, as though it wanted to burst free and run away from whatever the hell I had walked into—I know I certainly had similar plans.
I felt myself begin to panic, and I did the only thing that made sense.
I began to run home.
I ran toward where the sun had set.
I barely made it several feet before I stumbled.
The sun had changed as well.
I watched in growing terror as an orb of pure darkness crept up from the horizon. It radiated shadow and it was wrong.
I felt as though it would swallow me if I kept looking at it.
I turned away and I ran.
As I ran I noticed that the shadows that the dark sun cast were beginning to grow—and I didn't mean in length.
The shadows bubbled and coalesced, condensing and forming into twisted shapes.
I ran harder.
I had no idea where I was running, I just knew that I had to run.
If I stopped then that would be the end.
I could feel inhuman eyes staring at me from the corners and alleyways as I passed through what had once been the familiar streets of my home town.
To my distress, as I ran into the city the shadow people grew more numerous and I began to see more distinct features amongst them, and with the distinct features came more of the strange heart sigils.
I ran for the longest time until my legs ached and my lungs burned.
I leaned against one of the white buildings.
It had no texture or temperature and the longer I leaned against it the more unnerving it became.
I closed my eyes and counted to ten.
When I opened them I was still in the same spot.
"Okay," I said, my voice shaking as my hands trembled. "Think, just think."
Think about what?
This was the second strangest thing I'd experienced today.
I stopped trembling.
It was the second strangest thing?
What had been the first?
I shook my head. That had been a dream.
Had it though?
Had it been as much of a dream as this was a nightmare?
I bit down on my thumb.
The dream was still fuzzy.
I remembered that crooked nosed man and his prophecy of me getting a girlfriend.
He hadn't said anything about this nightmare world though!
I took a deep breath and held it, before exhaling slowly.
"Okay. Focus. What's first?" I asked myself.
"I need to get off the streets of course," I told myself.
"You have no idea where you are," I pointed out and looked around at the blank buildings.
The only real difference in them was the height and the weight. I couldn't tell anything else about them.
It was then that I realized that… not all the buildings were featureless—not all the buildings were white.
A little over a hundred meters down the road there was something else.
A building—and it had features! Not only that but it looked normal! It had windows—lots of windows actually. It looked sort of like a gallery or a museum, which was odd. I didn't recall something like that being in Kuoh.
I quickly made my way toward the strange building, well aware that the time that I had been idle the shadows had been growing the entire time.