Silence enveloped the room, tight as a chokehold. The atmosphere was heavy. Cold. I panted, half expecting to see my own breath. I couldn't move, or speak. Frozen like a statue, I could only stare at the person in front of me.
She was human, or at least, she should have been. The rational part of me reminded that she was. It did so frantically, saying it again and again, as if desperate to cling to some concrete fact that would tie her down to the comfortable, mundane reality I was familiar with. But one can't always do that. Some things don't fit. Can't be moulded to conveniently adapt to one's perceptions.
She was slender, and sat with a posture of grace. Despite her lean build, the contours of her body curved, revealing a wonderfully feminine form that made the blood rush to my cheeks… and another part of me. I noticed right away that her skin was pale, almost inhumanly so, as if she were made of living ice. Her face had sharp, yet delicate features, soft lips parted just slightly in a questioning look. Set in that beautiful, pale face, was a pair of blue eyes that seemed to be staring right into me.
What was with that gaze? I hadn't locked eyes with someone like her since… well, ever. Normally, people avoided eye contact with me. Even when they were forced to make it, they looked away quickly. That was just a consequence of the way my eyes looked, and I had accepted long ago that it wasn't going to change. And yet, here this ice-princess like girl was, able to effortlessly look at me without the slightest flinch.
Was it just courage? Maybe she wasn't scared of me at all. Or maybe she just didn't consider me a threat. Whatever the reason, she looked at me curiously, if a little guardedly. Just because she wasn't afraid didn't mean she was happy about my sudden intrusion into the room.
As transfixed as I was, I forced myself to break out of the trance. This silence couldn't stretch on any further.
"Pardon the intrusion," I said, surprised by how steady my own voice sounded. "I was told this is the Literary Analysis class."
I looked around the room pointedly. It was empty besides the two of us, I tried to say with that gesture.
The girl finally spoke, and her voice was soft but in no way timid. Her pronunciation was clear, her grammar flawless.
"You were told so correctly."
She was still on guard, however. Though relaxed, I could almost feel an underlying tension from her, as though she could suddenly spring to her feet.
She was already aware that this was the Literary Analysis class, and didn't seem in any way surprised or perturbed at the fact that until a moment ago, she had been alone here… till I had walked in.
Were we not having class today? But that didn't make any sense: today was the first day of term, and in any case, if we weren't having class, there shouldn't be any reason for this girl to be here, in her seat.
The number of possibilities were endless, but there was only one that seemed to possess any appreciable level of probability.
Throat feeling slightly dry, I wondered what to do.
This girl was making me feel quite nervous, which in itself was a weird feeling, since I hadn't had a reaction like that to a woman since middle school. Moreover, she was eerily silent, not doing anything to fill up the silence that stretched between us. Normally, one would utter any number of empty statements to remove the awkwardness of the situation. Yet, she had done nothing of the sort, seeming content to simply watch me struggle with my thoughts. At the same time, she had answered when I had spoken to her.
I decided to take the risk a second time.
"Would I be correct in saying we are the only two students enrolled in this class?" I asked.
Her expression never changed, remaining guarded and perfectly neutral as she answered.
I had always wanted to avoid crowds whenever possible, and but this was honestly too much. In fact, this was worse than a crowd. When there are enough people, it's possible to blend in and become invisible, since everyone is too busy focusing on others. However, if there were only two people in class, such a tactic becomes impossible.
Feeling uneasy, I pulled one of the chairs back, creating some leg room, before sitting down. The seat I took was across the classroom from her, leaving plenty of space between us.
The minutes ticked by, and no one else came. Assuming the teacher was going to be late, I took out a book from my bag, and flipped to the page where I had stopped last time. I read a few sentences, but was unable to relax into the calm, receptive state I normally entered while reading.
Instead, I felt a continuous sense of something in progress, awaiting attention. It wasn't the book.
As interesting as the adventures of the latest schmuck to be hit by Truck kun were, the girl sitting across the room from me had a firm hold of my thoughts.
I snuck a glance at her, out of the corner of my eye, and nearly felt my heart pop out of my chest when I saw her eyes staring right into mine, wide and blank. It was so sudden, and so incredibly uncanny, I immediately looked away.
This proved to be the wrong decision.
I had chosen the most childish way possible of dealing with it: if I can't see it, it doesn't exist. Of course that's not how it works. She was still there, whether I chose to acknowledge that fact or not. And since I was too terrified to actually look in her direction, I had basically created Scrodinger's Ice Queen. Until I actually checked, she was both staring into my soul, and not staring into my soul.
Calm down, Hachiman.
Surely I was exaggerating the situation in my own mind?
Let's think about this rationally.
It makes me feel pathetic to acknowledge, but I think the truth is that for a virgin loner such as myself, who has spent several years actively avoiding girls, the stimulation of that unabashed, completely focused glare was simply too much. She was probably just one of those girls who had none of the typical nervousness, and thus had no issues looking right at someone. And my unprepared mind had distorted that into some twisted image of a pair of dead eyes glancing at me with all the focus of a psychopath.
I was imagining things.
Of course I was.
I took a deep breath. This really was pathetic. I should have listened to Komachi, and at least made an effort to get used to talking to girls a little. Then I wouldn't be on the verge of a panic attack just from this.
She probably wasn't even looking at me, right?
I glanced at her.
Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong.
She didn't seem to have moved even an inch, her wide eyes still glaring at me.
Okay, I definitely wasn't imagining things.
I was extremely unnerved now.
Every rational part of me was screaming at me to run for my life.
It didn't even matter that I'd end up looking like an absolute idiot if someone saw me. Something about this girl screamed danger.
I closed my book and began to put it into my bag, only for her to speak.
"Why did you close that book?"
I gulped slightly, and ran a quick calculation in my mind.
If I were to shove the book into the bag and just run for the door, would I be able to make it out? She was between me and the exit, but she was still sitting, and judging by her poise, didn't seem the sort to hurry to stop someone.
Even as I thought this, my eyes involuntarily glanced towards her long, snow white legs. Lithe and sinuous, they were firm with muscle, bespeaking athleticism.
I might not look it, but I was actually decently fit. Still, I did not really fancy my chances against someone like that, especially considering the stat boost she was likely receiving from Mad Enhancement.
In other words, I had a feeling it would end extremely badly for me if I tried running away now.
Stuck without a means of escape, I decided to talk, just to keep myself alive.
"Er… because I lost interest in it," I said, going with the first thing that came to mind. It wasn't entirely a lie. It was a typical Isekai light novel, the sort I'd read a lot in school. As I'd gotten older, I'd started to lose interest in them. I'd bought this one several months back, and hadn't finished it yet.
My reply caused her to raise an eyebrow danerously.
"Why?" she asked. Her tone seemed slightly more relaxed than before though, and I took that as a sign that she wouldn't rush at me with a knife or something. Yet.
"Well, I said, "It's pretty poorly written. The plot lacks logic and consistency. The characters don't have a shred of realism to them, and the only way anyone would consider them believable was if they were deliberately deluding themselves. This is obviously written to pander to some tastes, and this is about the only thing it does, at the cost of everything else."
My rushed explanation seemed to pacify her to some extent.
She closed her eyes, nodding slightly. When she opened them again, they had reverted to normal again, once more the eyes of the beautiful, unapproachable girl I had seen when I had first entered the room. Except, she wasn't unapproachable anymore.
She couldn't be, right?
After all, we were talking now.
Tilting her head to one side in an unintentionally cute gesture, she looked slightly perplexed.
"I see. That certainly doesn't sound interesting. But… why would you obtain a book like that in the first place?"
Her innocent question scored a critical hit right away.
I couldn't very well come out and say that I had first gotten into Isekai novels as a horny high schooler who had very well accepted that any sort of real world relationship was impossible for him, and it was easier in any case to live in a fantasy world. One where I was holding all the cards, and could have everything I wanted.
That was the whole idea of the "rank average MC who gets overpowered just to be a good self-insert" trope.
Most of these protags didn't even have really good reasons to be overpowered. Sure, there were circumstantial issues at work. In a magic-based story, an MC might have a rare natural power. Or in a science fiction story, they might be dosed with a super serum.
But these things are a matter of chance. Things which these characters have no control over. It doesn't make them compelling, or interesting. Those traits would have to come from themselves. But of course, in order for them to be that way, they would need to have actual personalities. Which would in turn prevent them from being blank slates that the reader could project themselves on to.
The whole basis of the Isekai genre, or the new power fantasy tropes, seemed to be a completely average, ordinary guy somehow ending up with incredible power through no merit of his own. Oftentimes, he gets it purely because of the help he receives from others, notably the female characters, who, of course, have no real reason to be close to him either, other than forced plot progression. Even the work the MC does put in, isn't really exceptional compared to the efforts of the many other characters who would realistically exist in those worlds. One could certainly argue that it was more important to work smart than to work hard, but it didn't really apply to these MCs, who weren't that smart to begin with. Which, of course, leads us to the fact that the really effective methods they use aren't devised by themselves, but by other, more capable characters, who are in the story to play a supporting role.
All of which led back to point I was trying to make.
The point that really rankled, and annoyed me, now that I was an adult, and now that I had made some efforts to get somewhere in life, and managed to make it into college. I'd had to work both smart and hard to get here. My parents and sister had helped. But there had been no handouts.
It annoyed me, that even in fiction, there could exist people who were just handed gifts that others had fought, clawed, toiled, strained, bled, suffered, studied and worked for.
It annoyed me that a bunch of unmotivated, weak, lazy scrubs at life could achieve power and success and everything else for no good reason.
And it annoyed me that I had ever subscribed to such a shitty genre.
Maybe that was why I found it easy and natural to criticize the book I had hurriedly put away.
"A surprisingly well-thought out, logical and personal analysis, I must say."
The girl nodded, seemingly in agreement with me, and I realized, to my horror, that I must have been thinking out loud.
I began to sweat as I wondered exactly how much of my internal monologue had been, well, not internal. How much had she heard?
"Oh, I heard enough," she said, and I realized I must have said that part out loud too.
I was embarrassed enough at this point that I was half hoping the murderous side of her would emerge and just finish me off so I wouldn't have to live with this shame.
Before anything of the sort could happen, however, a bell rang, loud and clear.
It took a while for me to realize, but eventually, I understood what it was: the bell signalling the end of the class.
It was such an unlikely, yet welcome reminder of the world outside this classroom.
And this reminder of the outside world somehow seemed to shatter the suspended reality I had been trapped in.
The girl rose to her feet, picking up her bag.
"This was an interesting analysis. I look forward to something similarly stimulating tomorrow."
I blinked. This was it, then?
She was actually leaving?
I somehow survived.
But now that it had come to this, I was surprised to note that I was disappointed that my time with her was already over.
As terrifying as it had been… had I really enjoyed it?
As she reached the door, I couldn't help but ask.
"Hey. I'm Hikigaya Hachiman. I… did not get your name."
She turned around at the door, her expression still unreadable, but the tiniest hint of a crack in her ice-like aura.
"Yukinoshita Yukino," she replied.